Saturday, June 30, 2012

An Ill-Advised Trip Down a Pixelated River

Today, Square has a good name in video games.

And what I just said is a lie, since Square — the company responsible for the Final Fantasy series as well as heaps of other games that allowed kids like me a little escapism back in the 90s — merged with rival company Enix back in 2003, so it’s Square Enix. (I assume they decided against my suggestion, Squeenix!, because I did not call their corporate offices frequently enough.) However, before the release of the first Final Fantasy back in 1987, the old business name didn’t carry much prestige. In fact, the company didn't end up focusing on what it does best — swords and magic and all that — until a few more years down the line. In the year between Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III, Square made a strange attempt to capitalize on the success it had found with the turn-based RPG. Springboarding off the Euro-vague medieval world of the Final Fantasy games, someone apparently said, “Hey, who likes Mark Twain?” And that’s why Square’s Tom Sawyer was released in Japan in 1989, causing there to be a reason for eight-bit representations of famous literary scenes such as the one you see here:


Note also the anime-ized Tom Sawyer on the cartridge, even if he looks more like Rod Flanders than anyone else:


And while it seems strange to see iconically American characters rendered in an inherently Japanese style, the existence of this game hardly marks a unique meeting of east and west. Case in point: Laura, Girl of the Prairies — an anime adaptation of Little House on the Prairie that I blogged about here a few years back. So what makes Squares Tom Sawyer so notable? And why did it never reach American shores?

Well, it wasnt necessarily that the game was unplayable, even if it straddles the platformer and RPG genres in a way that a lot of players probably found awkward when Nintendo tried it with the second Legend of Zelda game. You can see in the below video that how the genre mishmash plays out.


No, the reason that Americans werent afforded an opportunity to traipse about a digital version of the Missouri swamp probably stemmed from how the game represented poor Jim, who still wasn’t getting any breaks more than a century after Mark Twain created him. This is what Jim looks like:




Yes, “Good god, what the fuck?” is the correct response to orange Ronald McDonald hair, jet black skin to the point that his white dot eyes just float on the void that is the background screen, and the lower half of his face being comprised of grotesquely large, orange-striped lips. Jims face is so bizarre that you have wonder if the person designing him had not only never seen a black person but also had felt that previous racist depictions had erred on the side of subtlety. And lest you think that Jims in-game sprite resulted from the technical limitations of eight-bit video game graphics, I have this to demonstrate otherwise:


There he is, near the bottom of the pile, sporting the same bizarre lips. (Apparently only the orange Ronald McDonald hair resulted from the graphic constraints.) You have to wonder, given what became of Jim, how Injun Joe might have turned out. He appears in the game, too, and Tom can even recruit Joe to join his party, but I couldnt find any images of him except for this one, in which he, Tom and two other characters are apparently fighting a jack-o-lantern:


(Twain-literate: any guess about the identity of the bag-lady looking character wearing the sack dress?)

So that, friends, is the most noteworthy thing I can say about a game that was never released here in the U.S. and that was instead included on two different lists of the most inappropriate video games ever.

Squares Tom Sawyer isn't the only game to portray a non-Asian, non-Caucasian character in a questionable manner, and even a decade later, Square released Chrono Cross, which featured an “islander” character who looked and acted remarkably like a mammy, so the company clearly didnt learn a lesson. The company fared slightly better with two black male characters in later Final Fantasy titles, but Barret from Final Fantasy VII earned some criticism for being overly fond of Mr. T-isms such as foo and Sazh from Final Fantasy XIII did as well for keeping a baby bird in his afro.

I should probably point out that Squares Tom Sawyer never received a sequel in Japan, while Final Fantasy is currently anticipating its fifteenth installment, so presumably game quality also factored into Squares decision to keep this one to themselves. Historically, however, some games that have make it to the U.S. underwent cosmetic tweaks to make debatably racist imagery less offensive. Consider Oil Man, a boss character added into a remake of the first Mega Man game. On the left, Oil Man appears as he did in Japan. On the right, he's as he appeared in the American version of the game.


Clearly, Capcom took a look at the character and realized that it could be construed as an unflattering depiction of black people — a tar baby, in fact — but then put forth only the bare minimum of effort to disguise this. “Hey, I recolored his lips from pink to yellow! I think were good! Lets call it a night!”

Oh, Japan.

(Also? Back-to-back references to pixelated water. Who would have guessed? Oh, you would have? Smartass.)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Pixels Crashing on a 16-Bit Shore

I can’t remember the last time I set foot in an actual ocean.


That might be excusable if I lived in Ohio. But I live in California, and for the last decade have never resided more than a short drive from the beach. Still, as the thick heat of a Los Angeles July is creeping up on me and into my house, I’m looking at this Super Nintendo approximation of sun and sand and just getting lost in it. It doesn’t bother me that I can see the tile pattern in the ripples on the water or that I can tell that the palms are so clearly the same arrangement of pixels, copied and pasted. I love it. It’s nostalgic. It’s aspirational. It’s calming.

Mom was right: I did spend too much time staring at screens.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Porn for Border Collies

~ WOOLY WILMA ~


“Hi. I’m a fully grown ewe who’s been from one end of the pasture to the other. I’m currently separated from my flock, as I’ve been sunning myself on a grassy knoll all afternoon and now I'm sitting all alone. I’m looking for a big, strong herding dog to bark in my face and nip at my legs until I’m ushered back to safety. Do I hear your collar jingling already?”

~ MISS MUTTON ~



“Baa baa. I’ve just been freshly shorn, and the feeling of the brisk Scotland air against my skin has made me impudent. I’ve been stomping my hooves and jumping up on the feedbox where I’m not allowed. Please, I need a collie to come and stare directly into my eyes until I can’t help but do what he wants. Help me be a good little lamb again.”

~ COTTON & CLOUD ~



“We’re twins. We just turned a year old today, and a guess what? Our ears have never been chewed. Ooh, yeah — the cartilage is still so resilient. Later today, we’re both going to wriggle through a hole in the fence and eat milady’s daffodils. Since we suffer from the typically poor ovine memory, we might just wander back and forth all day along the fence, searching for just the right spot to get back into the pasture. Hope we don’t tire you out!”

{ FIN }

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Singing, Dancing, Mystery-Solving Actresses of the 1940s

Ann Rutherford has died.

This may not mean anything to you. But because Ann Rutherford starred in Gone With the Wind, I had to take note of her passing at work. I researched her life a bit. I found out what else she did during her life aside from play Scarlett O’Hara’s sister, Carreen, she with the car accident verb name. It turns out that Rutherford had a rather rich body of work, and she played roles as diverse as the Ghost of Christmas Past in an adaptation of A Christmas Carol to Lydia Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. As near as I can tell, the best role of her career didn’t occur onscreen, however, but in a book: According to Wikipedia, Rutherford in 1942 starred as herself in the Nancy Drew-esque mystery novel titled Ann Rutherford and the Key to Nightmare Hall.


Rutherford didn’t write the novel, nor was the novel about “her,” strictly speaking. Instead, it’s about what amounts to an alternate universe version of her in which she’s not famous and leads a life wholly different and more skeleton key-rich to the one she led in actual 1942. It’s not as ridiculous as it might initially seem. Really, didn’t the Olsen twins have an entire line of books based on this very concept? (And if they somehow didn’t, shouldn’t they have?) In spite of the strangeness of this concept, the book was not unique. It was just one entry in a series of similar books — not centered around Rutherford but a who’s-who of actresses popular enough but not so prestigious that they’d be above lending their likenesses and names to a story in which they’d be imperiled but presumably not killed. The Whitman Authorized series, as these books are known, often pitted its actress-sleuth protagonist against various Axis powers, sometimes even mentioning how the heroine performed for the troops between detective escapades. (Patriotic! Emulatable!) 

There are sixteen books in all:


The best titles, by far, have to be Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak (because “Hey! Way to do something more than just dance!”), Shirley Temple and the Screaming Specter (because “Hey! Way to extend that career beyond the ‘child actor’ years!”), and Gene Tierney and the Invisible Wedding Gift (because “Bitch, who brings an invisible gift to a wedding?”). In a different way, it’s also amusing to see titles like Jane Withers and the Swamp Wizard and Bonita Granville and the Mystery of Star Island, because I feel like these books would be the modern-day equivalent of Rachel Leigh Cook and the Haunted VHS — in short, no one knew who the hell the protagonists were approximately ten minutes after the books were published. (Alternate jokes: Leelee Sobieski and the Demonic Dial-Up and Stacey Dash and Fiendish Furby.) But far funnier than any just-short-of-modern-day equivalent is the fact that these books actually existed. Really, can we look as the beyond-child-stardom Shirley Temple on the cover of Shirley Temple and the Spirit of Dragonwood?


What kind of World War II-era, dragon-symbolized, anti-Japanese adventure could pseudo-Shirley Temple possibly have gone on?

And then there’s also Judy Garland. Now, for everyone else featured in these books, the stories were purely fictional, but given Garland’s history, I prefer to imagine that The Hoodoo Costume is actually a nonfictional account of her investigating such mysteries as “Who the hell drank all my rum?”, “Why won’t the doctor prescribe me more pills?”, “What day is it?”, “Toto? Where are you, Toto?” and “Where the hell do I live?” I mean, look at the illustration below. I think she’s actually trying to find her own house.


And what the hell is she carrying? Some sort of Basset Hound-skin handbag that matches her coat? The world’s wrinkliest muff? Does she just have one long arm? Where the hell is Liza?

I’m clearly already committed to this world of star-studded mystery. In closing, I’d like to express my hopes that we all one day become entangled in an actress related mystery.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Putting Fabiano in His Place

Meet Fabiano.


He swears he’s the one Italian who likes Americans, and he thinks it’s downright quaint how little you and your friends know about this region of Italy. Have you been backpacking long? From what tailor do you get your clothes that have so much writing on them? Oh, yes, he’s been to California, and he’s heard that you’re very proud of your wine. It’s important that you have some pride, no matter where you’re from, he says. Then Fabiano points out that it’s probably better than you don’t try and pick up a little Italian while you’re in the country. He doesn’t think your American mouth could do it justice, but you’re certainly speaking English loudly enough. Is it true you’ve never used a bidet?

And this whole time, you’re standing there, fully aware that Fabiano doesn’t have the highest opinion of you and your culture and your apparently obvious Americanness, but you have one bit of information to hold over him. Fabiano and other names in that family — Fabio, Fabian, Fabiana, Fabiolaall mean “bean.” Like fava bean, which, by the way, means “bean bean,” or the rather unflattering adjective fabiform, “bean-shaped.” And though you keep it to yourself, there’s just something magical in the fact that completely undercuts any notions of culture or superiority you might have about some Italian schmuck named Fabiano.

Aw, you know what? Fuck it. “You know your name means ‘bean,’ right? Did you know that?”

Etymology, previously:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Who Put the Smile on the Cheshire Cat?

More than Lewis Carroll could have ever dreamed, Alice in Wonderland has crept up the rabbit hole and into pop culture consciousness. Thank Disney and thank that particular sort of blacklight-happy head culture, but it’s a book people tend to drop references to a lot more often than other works published in the last 150 years, to the point that falling down a rabbit hole now functions as a readily understood shorthand for accidentally happening upon some strange world and losing yourself in it. (And that’s handy, now that we have the internet.)

But just as it’s rarely noted today that the book’s actual title was actually Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a few of Carroll’s references today get lost as a result of Alice growing more popular than anything of-the-period that Carroll was riffing on. Take the Mad Hatter, for example. It’s somewhat well-known today that this particular tea party attendee acts so strangely because hat-makers in Carroll’s day used mercury to cure felt and therefore lost their minds. The whole character is a literalization of the then-popular expression mad as a hatter. As I said, a lot of people have heard this explanation, but a great many more people would have heard of the Mad Hatter than those who have actually come to understand why Carroll invented him.

And even fewer people know the logic behind the Cheshire Cat.


If there’s one thing to know about the Cheshire Cat, it’s that it smiles. It smiles even when the cat itself is not present, in fact. If you’re like me, you have unsettling memories of the Alice in Wonderland ride at Disneyland, which at one point sent the passengers through a dark tunnel and towards the Cheshire Cat’s grinning face, which vanished all but the grin, which then just wobbled back and forth in the darkness, detached from a body.


But why does it smile?

In the same way that the Mad Hatter arose from the phrase mad as a hatter, the Cheshire Cat comes from the phrase grinning like a Cheshire cat. And while a few theories exist about why anyone in Carroll’s region of England would have used it, the simplest and most widely accepted is this: Cheshire, England, had a lot of dairies, so plentiful, flowing milk would have made any local cats extremely happy. Barring a few theories to the contrary, that’s why the Cheshire Cat can’t stop smiling.

As far as making one more pop cultural connection, it’s worth noting that DC Comics has since 1983 had the villain Cheshire. And while she’s retained the same look more or less since her inception — long black hair and a green ninja dress, making her look more or less like a complementary color Elektra — she’s depicted more and more often with a grinning cat mask. Here’s how she appears on Young Justice.


It’s a nice way of making her costume reflect her literary origins, especially when consider how she’s a ninja that, like the Cheshire Cat, disappears whenever she wants to.

Memories of Boom Boom Mountain

My apartment’s nook-like room is featured on Offbeat Home this morning.


Here’s to not throwing anything away, being indecisive about wall art!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

In Defense of My Instagram Account

This:


“Denied a spot in the oxygen tent, she perished shortly after.”

What You’re Calling Your Finnish Copyeditor

I’ll be upfront about this one: You will seldom have an occasion to use this latest word of the week. However, if you love words and especially love well-crafted insults, you’ll go through the rest of your life feeling just a bit happier that this word exists.
pilkunnussija (pill-KOO-noos-EE-ja) — noun: a person with exceptional and unnecessary attention to detail; a punctilious person; a pedant.
In short, pilkunnussija names every micromanaging, nitpicking, calling-you-out-on-a-technicality asshole who’s ever made your life terrible. But why would I go out of my way to introduce a new word when English clearly has a rich vocabulary for describing dickish people? It’s what pilkunnussija literally means: “comma fucker.” And that, friends, a thing of beauty. What a creative way to capture the essence of some terrible person who lusts for the opportunity to check and re-check the minutia that no one else cares about and which likely doesn’t matter in the long run — “comma fucker.” Someone who literally gets off on commas.

Brilliant. A hearty way-to-go for all your Finns out there — and a happy thumbs-up for me, too, for I now know one thing about Finnish people.

(An aside: I actually didn’t find a clear pronunciation for this word, so I just sounded out how an English-speaker would tackle those letters. Do correct me if you know better, Finnish-fluent portion of my reader base, which maybe exists for all I know.)

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

No, I Can’t Think About the Sun Right Now

In the shower this morning, I thought about whether the long-ago people who invented and told myths actually believed that the moon was the sun’s wife and that a dyspeptic giant caused earthquakes. It’s possible people some people didn’t believe the stories, even back then. Maybe some of them took an atheistic or agnostic stance and regarded those old stories as a method of putting the world in a context that people could deal with. Could anyone have been that clever back then? Maybe some math-minded person who saw the world as its bare components instead of imagining a face on everything, Super Mario Bros.-style?


In fact, I’d be shocked if the ancient world didn’t have a few pessimists walking around, imagining they lived in less of the fairyland that everyone perceived. But how lonely it must have been for them — having no one with whom to discuss the fact that dueling gods in heaven were not, in fact, responsible for a recent spate of bad luck, not to mentioned that they wouldn’t envision a spirit inhabiting every rock and tree. They’d be alone. Not only would their view of the world put them in a minority, but they’d know that humans, as a race, were flying solo.

Then, after showering, I began putting on sunscreen. I burn easily, so I put on sunscreen everyday. But today, mid-application, I stopped, because the whole of me was consumed with the realization that I have a personal relationship with the sun.
The sun — a giant ball of fire that has burned for the entirety of existence as I can perceive it. Dinosaurs saw it, Cleopatra saw it, my great-great-grandparents (none of whom I was able to meet) saw it, and it will be hanging in the sky eons after you and I aren’t here anymore. 
The sun — a deep-space chemical fire so massive that it could fit a million Earths inside in, and which I notice every day but I can’t even look at directly, because it’s powerful to the point that it’s harmful to perceive it, to say nothing of attempting to get much closer to it than we currently are. 
The sun — a celestial body that, almighty though it may seem, is merely one of many stars also pulsating with unimaginable energy throughout the galaxy, heating up space and making existence happen.
Because of this entity, which I’ve read about in books and which I am unable to not notice during every daylight hour, I have to pay Rite-Aid a few bucks in order to purchase goop that I put on myself to prevent my skin from revolting against me and causing me to die early. The sun is the source of all energy. The sun could kill me and not think twice about it. I have to buy goop. I live on Earth, close-ish to the sun, relatively speaking.

. . .

It is perhaps preferable to imagine instead that the sun is a magical man driving a shiny chariot across the sky every day.

Friday, June 22, 2012

With “It” Being a Set of Dead Doll Eyes

Generally speaking, I would agree that Kim Kardashian should be mentioned less. However, when I’m reading an old Tezuka comic and a come across an evil, soulless sex robot with a vacant expression framed by a wall of dark hair, I think that warrants a mention.


It must be the eyes that give me a Kardashian vibe — that blank expression that says both “Whatever, do me, I guess” and “I’m unacquainted with this love you speak of.” Not that I’m saying Kim Kardashian is a robot. No, I’d guess she sucks too much at math to be a robot.

Who Wore It Better?, previously:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Unusual Incident on the Fourteenth Floor

(I’m off clocks now, I think, but springboarding off yesterday’s post, I’m now writing about the strangeness of my office building.)

I work at a desk, which means I sit at a desk, which means the parts of my body that get the most daily exercise are those not suited for the motions I put them through — namely the waggling of fingers on a keyboard and the furrowing of my brow on a regular basis. If I’m to exercise during my workday, I must create the opportunity to do so.

(Note: This preceding paragraph could be read as an analogical explanation for what follows next. Just wait.)

Aside from joining my office tower’s gym, which sits on the bottom floor behind glass walls in a way that could hardly do more to make one understand the concept of physical exertion as public performance, I can score a bit of exercise simply by taking the stairs. When I’m feeling stumped or lost or inwardly deadened, I can simply exit through the stairwell door and put the drone of office life behind me. It’s strange, really, how differently this vertical space functions that the flowing horizontal space of a cubicle-free work farm.


It’s silent, except for the noise of my footsteps on metal stairs, and it’s also isolated: I’ve yet to encounter a single other person on the stairs when I take my daily upwards constitutional. That last fact would not be if the building were more populated. As far as I know, only four floors have people on them. The rest are vacant and unrenovated — as hollow and spartan as the stairwell. In fact, the floor above me is the last one, moving from the ground up, that has people on it. The top half of the building features only that: the structure and nothing more.

Keep that in mind.

Weeks ago, I hiked up the steps all the way to the top, where there’s a roof access door that has never opened. (I was superstitiously frightened to touch it the first few times I trekked all the way to the top. Isn’t that strange?) I allow myself a few moments up there on the fifteenth story, where the air feels hotter and I know that I stand taller than anyone else, literally speaking, in this one physical structure.

This time, a door opened.

Picture a typical emergency access stairwell, in which you can’t see directly above or below wherever you stand because the steps form tight rectangles as they spiral down. Standing at the top of the spiral, I couldn’t see which door directly below me had opened, but I know I heard it. I stood there quietly for a few minutes, expecting to hear someone else step out and take the steps one way or the other.

Nothing.

I’m a grown-up — newly thirty years old, in case you hadn’t heard — and I have a reasonable expectation about how much danger I should expect during my work day. Figuring that whatever would shortly step through this door probably wouldn’t kill me (and knowing that I had to get back to work soon), I began back down. Full disclosure: I walked a little more quietly, as if that would make a difference in the face of knifey death. Just one floor down, I saw that the door to the fourteenth floor was open. It looked like my office, more or less, just minus paint, carpet, furniture, lights, and any other sign of professional infestation. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave the safety of the stairwell and step out into this unsettled space, mostly because all the stairwell doors require key cards to pass through and I didn’t want to be trapped on the fourteenth floor if the door somehow closed while I was exploring. After all, I’d left my phone at my desk. So I just backed away and continued down the stairs.

About two flights down, the door slammed.

{ The ending that doesn’t make me sound crazy }

Obviously, this new building needs to be rented out. Someone probably had prospective tenants to see a vacant floor and merely propped open the door while they were up there. Then, a short time later, they realized they’d left the door open, so they closed it.

{ The ending I prefer but which kind of make me sound crazy }

Maybe I’m not too embarrassed to admit that I stayed out of the stairwell for a week or so following this strangeness. Eventually, I did return. It’s good exercise, after all. Like I said before, I still have yet to meet anyone else on the stairs. However, on one of the subsequent trips during which I had my phone — I always bring my phone now, actually — I realized something that, were a character in a book to put two and two together in the same fashion, I’d decry as being heavyhanded and trite. Nonetheless…

High-rises don’t have fourteenth floors.

The door that opened was the thirteenth floor, made over to look like a fourteenth floor because in the year 2012 humans are still that superstitious.


I guess I can’t hold it against the building builders, you know?

{ A one-sentence epilogue }

“If I’m to exercise during my workday, I must create the opportunity to do so.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Terror of the Bird Clock

It’s not that I intended to blog about something as mundane as clocks twice in one month or even that I wanted to write more than one post about haunted clocks in particular. Yet here I am, writing about the possessed timepiece that rules over my office.

You see, my office has a bird clock — a chronometric equivalent of Big Mouth Billy Bass that every hour, on the hour, lets out with a birdcall. (It’s a relic, I think, from some previous incarnation of the office in which employees liked birds.) Most hours in the day, I can deal with it just fine. However, the two-o’-clock bird — allegedly a black-capped chickadee — needs the intervention of priests and rabbis and imams to drive out the evil spirit that has caused it to make an awful, ungodly noise. If I had to guess what sort of demonic infestation we were dealing with, I’d say it was probably the same sort of presence that occupies those automated Halloween dishes that scare trick-or-treaters when they attempt to take candy. Because that’s exactly what this sounds like.

Using a cutting-edge, ectoplasm-ready iPhone app, I made the following video of the demon unleashing its evil upon the office:


Right? It’s totally an evil candy dish demon. Please, I need your prayers and positive energies, for every day I’m just counting down the hours until dreaded strike of two.

An aside: Why aren’t nuns sent to drive out demons? Nuns are far scarier and far better as forcing others to do their bidding.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Emoji That I Demand Should Exist

Kissy-faced, Flirtatious Squid

Weeping, Devalued Yen

Turtle Representing Rapidly Aging Populace

Island-Bound Xenophobia (Represented by Raccoon)

Ashamed Deer

The Six-Tailed Fox of Rigid Business Practices

Puppy Cautioning Recipient Against Honor Suicide

Cat Purchasing Soiled Undergarments from Erotic Vending Machine

Sparkling, Whale-Free Ocean

Less Happy-Looking Poo


Because let’s face it: Sometimes you want to make sure that the recipient knows you’re not emoji-ing about coneless chocolate soft serve. You want your poo dollup to be angry.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Hadouken of the Undersea World

— “Hey Drew, what’s the coolest thing you learned this week?”
— “Oh, just something that made me more impressed with crustaceans than I ever thought possible.”
— “Is that a fact? Well, can you some up this whole miraculous marvel with a word that sounds too goofy to be scientifically accurate?”
— “Why, yes I can. You know, I should make it my word of the week.
shrimpoluminescence (SHRIMP-oh-loom-in-ESS-ens) — noun: sonoluminscence — that is, the emission of short bursts of light from imploding, sound-agitated bubbles — caused by the pistol shrimp or mantis shrimp.
According to Discover magazine’s blog Not Exactly Rocket Science, one sea creature has a left hook mean enough to destroy even the toughest mollusk shells and crustacean exoskeletons: the mantis shrimp. Bruiser reputation notwithstanding, it looks like the offspring of a Chinese parade dragon and that gay lobster that the B-52s once sang about. 

Observe:


Also, it’s neither a mantis nor a shrimp, as the NERS article points out. Take care to remember this. You wouldn’t want to offend this creature, for he owns a set of claws that he can unfurl at speeds of 23 meters per second — about the speed of a .22 caliber bullet, according to Wikipedia and the fastest “punch” of any animal, according to NERS. And if that first punch doesn’t break through the target — say, an oyster shell or your scuba-masked face or whatever — the mantis shrimp can punch again. And again. Just from a “Hey, look what nature gave me!” perspective, that alone is impressive, but these blindingly fast attacks have surprising results in addition to reducing fellow undersea-dwellers into ceviche with brute force. According to NERS, “[The punch] creates a pressure wave that boils the water in front of it, creating flashes of light (shrimpoluminescene — no, really) and immensely destructive bubbles.”

So a real-life hadouken, more or less.

(modified from creative commons-friendly photo found here.)

Now hold on: My analogy is actually less stupid than you might think. According to Wikipedia, the shimpoluminescent attack allows the mantis shrimp to further damage its opponent without physically touching it.
The collapse of these cavitation bubbles produces measurable forces on their prey in addition to the instantaneous forces of 1,500 newtons that are caused by the impact of the appendage against the striking surface, which means that the prey is hit twice by a single strike — first by the claw and then by the collapsing cavitation bubbles that immediately follow. Even if the initial strike misses the prey, the resulting shock wave can be enough to kill or stun the prey. The snap can also produce sonoluminescence from the collapsing bubble. This will produce a very small amount of light and high temperatures in the range of several thousand kelvins within the collapsing bubble, although both the light and high temperatures are too weak and short-lived to be detected without advanced scientific equipment.
Among the myriad special moves that an animal could unleash in a fight, you probably wouldn’t imagine that bubble creation would be among the most damaging, but it apparently is. The shock waves created by the collapse of these bubbles — inertial cavitation, in sciencespeak — can create small dents in the stainless steel boat propellers, NERS claims. Amherst’s Patek Lab features some videos that offer us slow-eyed humans are best chance at seeing the mantis shrimp’s attack in motion:


Given all the build-up of preceding paragraphs, that may not look like much, but consider that the video was shot at 5,000 frames per second and is shown in the above clip at only 15 frames per second. See the little flash? That’s shimpoluminescence in action. Isn’t it strange to know that there’s a real-life equivalent of those cartoony smacks and pows you see illustrating when a punch has connected? Here’s another video:


And yes, in case you’re wondering: Mantis shrimp can break through aquarium glass — in a single strike, no less.

(Hat tip on this one: this tweet by Adam Norwood.)


Previous words of the week after the jump.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Who Names Their Daughter Pistol?

(A quick one for Friday.)

Hey, remember Goof Troop? Remember how Goofy lived next to Pete, the old-timey Disney bad guy? Remember how Pete had a wife and daughter who kind of receded into the background behind whatever Goofy and Pete were doing with their sons? Remember how the daughter’s name was Pistol? Wasn’t it weird that that was her name?

Here’s Pistol, in case you don’t remember:


So why was her name Pistol? Well, back in the day, when Pete was playing this villain or that villain, he took on different names. When he was a pirate, he went by Peg Leg Pete, hence Pete’s wife normal-seeming name, Peg. When he was a bandit, his name was Pistol Pete, and Pistol’s name is a callback to that.

And that, my friends, is why a minor Disney cartoon character was named after a firearm.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Danger in Deling City

I’m going through a Serge Gainsbourg phase. That’s something awful people say to indirectly tell you that they’re classy, worldly, cultural, hip and other adjectives that, when combined, usually equal awful. Nonetheless, it’s true. I have been listening to him lately, because in spite of the pretentious people who may count him among their most recent obsessions, he’s actually quite phenomenal. In fact, he’s so good that you can be a non-French-speaking person who’s missing out on his expert worldplay and still enjoy his songs, and that’s saying quite a bit, seeing as how his lyrical prowess is one of his best qualities.

The song I’m posting today, however, is instrumental, so you monoglots and francophobes needn’t worry any.

Gainsbourg scored the 1970 Anna Karina film Cannabis, and one of the tracks happens to be one of my all-time favorites of his compositions. It’s titled “Danger.” Here it is:


But the thing about this track is this: It’s good on its own, but every time I hear it, I think of a track from a video game soundtrack I played years ago: “Under Her Control” from Final Fantasy VII. Here’s that one:


Can I explain why one makes me think of the other? No, not really. There’s not one specific detail about the former that I could say reminds me of the later. However, the whole gestalt of the Gainsbourg track nonetheless makes me think of the one my Uematsu. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve heard something “legitimate” in something from a video game, but somehow this one seems to linger more heavily than the others.

Anyone?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

With “It” Being an Octopus Hat

I have exactly two posts on this blog featuring the label “what I think happened” — the one from Monday about the secretary posing with the opium in the candy box and then one from last October with the girl trying to do her best Mila Kunis from beneath a crocheted octopus hoodie. And it’s kind of weird that just two days after the candy box post, I get to refer to the other of the two posts. See, this new Fiona Apple video came out and lord-oh-God WHY IS WEARING AN OCTOPUS HAT?!

Who cares why, really? It gave me an opportunity to make this little side-by-side.


And while I hate to be a member of the faction saying “Boo, Fiona Apple, you demonstrated realistic aging since 1997 and now you no longer look like a teenager,” I have to say that Mila Poonis over on the right might look better with a cephalopod affixed to her noggin.

All that aside, I would just like to say that I’m really excited about the idea of more people wearing octopuses.

Who Wore It Better?, previously:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Questions I Have About the Movie We’re Watching

Wait, why are they killing all those people now?

But how were we supposed to know they were bad?

Okay, so what about that one blond chick — why was she in the helicopter?

So she was lying the whole time and then she died? So we won’t find out what her deal was?

Well, if she was just going to die, why did we waste that much time on her?

Isn’t that actress the one who everybody says is a lesbian?

Okay, well, don’t you think they look exactly the same?

So I’m the only one who knows who I’m talking about?

WAIT — didn’t that guy just die?

So is he a twin or is he a clone?

But we saw the helicopter take his head off, right?

Hey, do these open credits remind anyone else of a James Bond movie?

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Triumphant Return of Fluffy Butternums

I spent last Easter at my parents’ house and, while there, had a close encounter with a real, live, wild rabbit — a baby jackrabbit, in fact. And though he could not offer me chocolate in any traditional, acceptable or edible sense, he did exhibit commendable courage in the fact of what to him must have looked like a pink, hairless giant. And that’s something.

A photo:


Just today, while sorting through old photos on my phone, I realized I’d also taken a video of him. Just by virtue of nose-wiggling cuteness, this is a video the world needs to see. Apologies in advance for any motion sickness-inducing camera work. I am a novice rabbit documentarian.


I don’t know what became of him — and to be frank, his lack of fear in the face of a towering camera monster does not bode well — but I wish him the best.

Sweets for the Sweet Who’s Addicted to Opium

From the UCLA archive of old L.A. Times photos, I present a photo that ran in the June 5, 1947, edition of the paper with the following caption: “UNDER THE CANDY: A District Attorney’s secretary exhibits $40,000 worth of opium found concealed beneath candy in box. Drug was discovered in connection with investigation of robbery, kidnapping ring.”


And now, how this happened, according to my brain:
“Hey, Rocko — what’s the name of that set of ankles at the desk in the D.A.’s office? You know, the one who’s been sore at me ever since I busted her ma for pushin’ hop. Doris? Dorcas? Doreen? Ah, okay — Ada. Well, lemme run by you my idea to make Ada sweet on me like she yoosta. I assume you recall that stash of gum that Lou and Maloney found in that Jamaican candy store that turned out to be a dopehouse. Here’s what I say: We ask ol’ angelface Ada to pose for the news hawks tomorrow afternoon and finally yank that sour look off that button of hers. Yeah, see? It’s the ol’ gooseberry lay. Tell her that she needs to go out, find a fancy new set of rags to pin on, get her hair done like Betty Grable and then show ever shamoo in Los Angeles how greats she looks. I even got the lined picked out: ‘That’s some fancy candies you got there, but they’re not half as sweet as you, Doris.’ What’s that? Oh yeah — Ada.

And if Ada’s not my new lady by the end of the week, I’ll just tell everyone she’s a communist.”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Embiggening Your Understanding of Embiggen

Even in its most Jerkass Homer-y seasons, The Simpsons has always manages to toss off a joke or two that suggest the writers know language well enough to play around with it. This, after all, is the show that assigned Alexander Graham Bell’s short-lived method of answering the phone, ahoy-hoy, to Mr. Burns, that got the phrase cheese-eating surrender monkeys in the news and that made a certain segment of humanity think that the name for a mythical horse with the head of a rabbit and the body of a rabbit is esquilax. The Simpsons popularized both meh as a term indicating apathy or disinterest and yoink as an interjection to punctuate thievery. And now even people who don’t watch the show would know what you meant if you D’oh-ed.

However, if you asked most Simpsons fans what comes to mind first when they think about the show and words, they would probably say embiggen and cromulent — in that order.



They are introduced in the same episode, “Lisa the Iconoclast.” Embiggen first appears in the motto of Springfield’s founder, Jebediah Springfield: “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.” When Mrs. Krabappel points out that she’d never heard that word before she moved into town, Mrs. Hoover responds, “I don’t know why. It’s a perfectly cromulent word.” Later the same episode features Principal Skinner using both words in the same sentence: “He’s embiggened that role with his cromulent performance.” However, it’s only embiggen that found a notable life outside the show. And while some may have have heard it used since “Lisa the Iconoclast,” few seem to know that the word began before more than a century before The Simpsons hit the airwaves.

And that’s why it’s my word of the week.
embiggen (em-BIG-en) — verb: to make or become bigger.
There’s a connotation to embiggen that you wouldn’t find in a dictionary entry, and that’s the geekiness inherent in using it. We already have the word enlarge, but when you want to be all cute and reference-y about it, you can use embiggen. That’s why Will Wheaton uses it. And that’s probably why it was used by the science-minded types — or, if you will, dorks — who wrote this paper on gravity duality for the academic journal High Energy Physics. But embiggen was not technically born on The Simpsons, even if the show is solely responsible for the uses mentioned in the preceding paragraph. By a total coincidence, embiggen also appeared on page 135 of the 1884 edition of the British journal Notes and Queries: a Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc., according to Wikipedia. Quoting writer C.A. Ward:
But the people magnified them, to make great or embiggen, if we may invent an English parallel as ugly. After all, use is nearly everything.
So, yeah — he uses this word but then immediately points out what an awkward and unpleasant construction it is. And then it sat, alone and unloved, until The Simpsons used it. And now it belongs to the dorks.

A few other Simpsons coinages worth mentioning, via this page:
  • acceleratrix and velocitator — what Mr. Burns calls the gas pedal and the brake
  • walking bird and yellow fatty-beans — what Grampa once called turkeys and bananas, respectively
  • ovulicious — a portmanteau of ovulate and delicious
  • unfaceuptoable — which is actually pretty self-explanatory
  • swishifying — gay-making, basically
  • land cow — a buffalo
  • zazzje ne sais quoi for awful people
  • kwyjibo —a big, dumb balding North American ape… with no chin… and a short temper
And yes, by the way, I think that Australians should have to call something chazwazzahs, even if it’s not bullfrogs.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Beyond Castle Frank-N-Furter

If you’re talking about what the Rocky Horror Picture Show movie cast did with their later careers, it’s easy to name off projects that Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick and Tim Curry appeared in post-“Time Warp.” Oh, and Meat Loaf continues to be Meat Loaf. How could he not be? The rest of the castmembers, however, didn’t exactly ride that midnight movie magic to mainstream success. But they didn’t just vanish, either. For example, Patricia Quinn, who played the evil domestic Magenta, appeared prominently in the BBC series and public TV mainstay I, Claudius.

guess which one is from i, claudius. go on — guess!
Quinn plays Livilla, Claudius’s sister, whose affair with solider played by a weirdly hunky Patrick Stewart earns her the grim fate of being locked in her room… forever. Literally. Her pained screams do nothing to move her mother, who’s so ashamed of Livilla that she’s fine with just letting her starve to death in the family home.

(Quinn is also the aunt of Jonny Quinn, the drummer from Snow Patrol. Who knew?)

But my favorite from Rocky Horror was always Magenta, the tap-dancing maid who talks like a gangster’s moll and whose solo in “Time Warp” is one of the best parts of the movie:


(Does Columbia kind of remind you of Harley Quinn a bit? The voice and the accent and the penchant for slapstick?)

So what did the actress who played Columbia, “Little” Nell Campbell, do after Rocky Horror? Well, she has acted quite a bit. She was in the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Great Expectations, the Michael Caine-less sequel to Alfie that I just found out existed, and most randomly of all, The Killing Fields. But she also had a recording career that saw a disco cover of “Fever.” Weird as that is — and, I mean, go ahead and click that link, because it’s pretty weird — it’s not what ultimately prompted me to post all this. No, the song really worth mentioning is “Do the Swim,” from the album Aquatic Teenage Sex & Squalor. Honestly, it wouldn’t have been out of place in Rocky Horror itself, and it’s no surprise that the video has been screened before some presentations of Rocky Horror.

Here it is:


Some stray thoughts:
  • Wow.
  • If that’s how she actually swam, she’d have drowned by now.
  • Actually, the way the camera pans up into the bubbles at the end — and away from Campbell — kind of makes it look like she did drown.
  • I like how the song tells a story, and that it makes a point of setting the story last long weekend. Post pop songs lack such explicit narratives.
  • Doesn’t she kind of look like NewsRadio-era Vicki Lewis? And isn’t this something Vicki Lewis’s character from NewsRadio might have done?
  • You can’t say she’s not trying her damnedest up there.
  • I wonder if this arises from the same pop-cultural trend that was responsible for similar retro throwbacks by Kristy MacColl (1979’s “They Don’t Know”), Dee Walker (“1984’s “Jump Back”), Pat Wilson (1983’s “Bop Girl” — check for a 15-year-old Nicole Kidman in the video), Tracey Ullman (1983’s “Breakway”). And yes, that Tracey Ullman — the one responsible for The Simpsons.
  • All the names in the above bullet point sound like those belonging to women my mom might be friends with.
  • Doesn’t it sound like it’s “Yummy Yummy Yummy (I’ve Got Love in My Tummy)” at the beginning?
  • I will always be okay with songs that explain to you how to do the dance. This is why I continue to hate “The Loco-Motion.”
  • Her red one-piece makes it seem like one of the less famous Baywatch chicks got real drunk at a party and embarrassed herself.
  • I wouldn’t say it’s a great pop song, really, but it’s catchy as hell. I will be muttering “She’s a mer-mer-maid” for hours now.
And that, friends, is everything I have to say about the non-Susan Sarandon female castmembers of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Friday, June 08, 2012

If You’re Happy and You’re Handless, Clap Your Nubs

Because Friday is the day I blog without trying very hard, here are two photos of handless boy mannequins that I spotted at an airshow. They — along with this posting — were easily the most interesting parts of the airshow.




Why were they handless, you ask? I can only imagine that it stemmed from the presence of antique airplanes and a desire to teach children about propeller safety.

(Via my Instagram account, which I'm apparently plug on my regular blog because 2012 of course.)

Thursday, June 07, 2012

On Stopped Clocks

Clichés will strangle your writing, the writers are told. I agree. If you can say something in a new way, you’re worth reading. Of course, if you phrase it in a particularly catchy fashion, you may well create a new cliché, but that’s something the future can worry about. (Come on — you live in the present.) However, a cliché isn’t necessarily dead text, I have recently realized. My example?

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.


I can remember learning this expression as a kid, and I’d never thought about it until just recently. I’d always just assumed it meant what I’d been taught it meant: That even someone with a habit of being wrong all the time will eventually end up being right, so you’d better listen to them anyway, just in case this time happens to be the one when they’re shockingly not wrong. I’m guessing this is the meaning most people are getting at when they tilt their head, wag their finger and admonish someone who’s completely discounted some dumbass who has consistently proven that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Just recently, however, I was confronted with a second interpretation. It’s less positive. Just as a stopped clock is almost always giving you the wrong time, it will occasionally get it right, entirely on accident. But that doesn’t mean that you should consider it a timepiece worth keeping around the house. Similarly, someone who’s always offering bad advice — “It feels like there’s going to be an earthquake today” or “You might get salmonella” or “Dump him! He seems like a murderer” or “The world is ending on October 22!” — could offer it every day for their entire lives and then, by sheer luck, turn out to be correct. But that doesn’t mean they knew what they were talking about.

The moral, I guess: Either listen to everyone or don’t listen to them ever, because they will either end up being right or never be right, depending on variables you have no control over.

No, fuck that. The moral is that clichés truly are awful.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Berserk for Etymology

I’d like to think that I’ve made the point here that video games, if experienced by a mind destined for dorkery, can teach you a thing or two. Just today, I realized that I’d learned one thing without realizing it.

If there’s one thing you could say sets Final Fantasy V apart from the entries in the series that directly proceed and follow it, that thing would probably be the fact that it wasn’t translated for English-speaking audiences until years after it hit shelves in Japan. If there were a second thing, it would probably be the fact that it features this weird homoerotic subplot in which two male leads seem to have crushes on a third male character, a pirate. That tension only gets resolved when the pirate reveals himself to be female, at which point the lusty feelings are never mentioned again. And that is a little unusual, if you think about it, for a video game.

But if there were a third thing, and your conversation partner hasn’t left the table because they don’t give a shit about Final Fantasy, it would be that the player is given a great deal of control over his or her heroes. With the mere change of a costume, their role in the game shifts. Princess Lenna, the main heroine? She can be your bruiser if you elect to have her play the part of the night. Butz, the hero? (Yes, Butz.) He can be a sissy healer and wave a magic health wand over everyone else. In that sense, it’s quite egalitarian.

The classes your little people can claim are largely based on stock types that had existed in the Final Fantasy series for years, but one class was new in Final Fantasy V: the Berserker. This type of character provides an interesting challenge. Though they’re ferocious in a fight and can take and receive damage like a pro, the player has no control over them. See, they’re berserk. They call their own shots, so they’re basically like an enemy character who just happens to be on your side.

They also wear animal skins — adorably pixelated little animal skins. See?


This is all information I learned back in high school, when Final Fantasy V received its first official English translation. Years later, that job title Berserker was rattling around in my head when I decided to look it up and find out exactly what it means to go berserk.

The goods, via Etymonline: Though the term Berseker was introduced to English by Sir Walter Scott, it comes from an Old Norse word berserkr, meaning “raging warrior of superhuman strength.” And while the history of that word isn’t precisely known, it’s presumed that it comes from the root ber, “bear,” and serkr, “shirt.” Bearshirt — or someone wearing a bear’s skin as clothes.

Thus, ol’ Final Fantasy V and later sequels weren’t too off the mark when the clothed their big-headed berserkers in animal skins.

And that is neat.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

I’m Not a Thief; I’m a Treasure Hunter

As if I didn’t have enough secret routes leading toward some sort of representation of my life online, I have finally decided to make something of my Instagram account. I’m using it. Do follow me if you feel like you don’t have enough of me being beamed to your various screens. It’s hardly news, I know, but I suppose I might as well make every effort to publicize the things I’m sinking my free time into. Follow me on Instagram and you could see works as interesting as this one:


Which is to say that it’s not anything I can take credit for so much as a collection of somethings that I just appropriate, then ruin chromatically and then maybe blur in some hamhanded way.

This is how we seem creative now.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Owning It, I Guess

Well, some news:


But I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about it. A lifetime of TV and movies have led me to believe that my thirtieth birthday should be some milestone, dreaded as it approaches and then, once passed, a means to mature into the kind of person who can make sound fiscal decisions and maybe varnish a deck. Only I don’t feel like that will happen and am therefore forced to acknowledge that TV and movies may have lied to me. The closest I’ve come to varnishing a deck was polishing my wooden floors with a substance that later turned out to be specifically not for floors because it makes them dangerously slippery.

Cartoon watching and video game-playing, meanwhile, continue into my third decade unabated.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Know Your Irregular Demonyms!

A demonym is the adjectival form of a place name used to describe the people from that place. For California, for example, the demonym is Californian. But be warned: Not all demonyms work the way you’d expect. To avoid insult to your foreign visitors, please consult this list of irregular and unusual demonyms.

The people of Monaco prefer to be called Monagasque.

The residents of the English town of Manchester are Mancunian.

Those from the island of Cyprus are called Cypriot.

Those from the island of Crete are, unfortunately, Cretans.

If you’re from the Seychelles, you are Seychellois.

If you’re from Madagascar, you’re Malagasy.

If you’re from Halifax, Nova Scotia, you’re Haligonian.

If you’re from Oxford, England, you’re Oxonian.

Technically speaking, people who live in the Vatican are Citizens of the Holy See.

Citizens of Barbados are Bajan.

Those living in Mexico City refer to themselves as Capitalinos.

If you’re from the Belgium region of Wallonia, you’re a Walloon.

While the world knows the people of Peru as the Peruvians, they actually prefer to be called the Pervs.

Similarly, the people of Bhutan are the Booties.

Residents of Utah take great pride in their demonym, Utard.

If you’re from St. Kitts, you’re a Kitty Cat.

The people who live in Budapest are Budapasta.

You’ve probably heard the joke about people from Albania being Albinos. In truth, however, they prefer to be called Abba-Zabbas.

The people of Saskatoon generally prefer to be called the Saskatoodles.

Residents of Chad like to be called by their full name, Chad Ethan Allen Hollingsworth III.

When meeting residents of the Irish city of Cork, don’t call them Corkers. They’re actually Corky Thatchers.

Natives of the German city of Munich prefer the term Munchers.

Those who live in Antarctica just like to be called.

When discussing those from the isle of Lesbos, it’s best to tiptoe around the subject altogether.

And, finally, it’s very impolite to mention the fact that someone is from Fresno, so there is no word for that.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Everything You Need to Know About My Hometown

I don’t write all that much about the place I grew up, but this headline sums it up fairly neatly.


Yes, it’s an actual headline, just reproduced on a foam stand for an airshow, and yes, I was at an airshow. But that’s not important now. What you should be focusing on is how it’s all here: the ambition, the inability to see that ambition through to the desired end and downfall as a result of farm animal intervention.

Home.