Friday, September 29, 2006

Large Heads

Two images representing the video games of my youth. The first is an ad depicting some of the original artwork for Kid Icarus, the game the lent me my all-purpose screen name.

And secondly, we have the Apple Kid. You know — the Apple Kid?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Made for the Minds of Children

Three rather nice images that some nice person scanned from their old children's books. Presenting a Mexican marketplace:

The house of the future:

And your circulatory system, as explained by an Italian canary:

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Creepier in Monochrome

Two slightly unsettling images I ganked from Miz Bri. Meet Medie Jones:

And her new pal Grace Bradley:

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Minus World

A large part of why I started to like video games as a child stems from the strange features that these Japanese-created pieces of software sometimes presented. Often, the simple eight-bit graphics presented visual ambiguities that my little mind couldn’t comprehend. For example, at the end of a level in the original Super Mario Bros., what was that design on the flag supposed to be? A mushroom? A peace sign? A skull? I never knew. But I’d notice these little things and my curiosity would suck me into the world of these games — however pixilated their presentation — and I’d be hooked.

A prime example of this was the Minus World. For the uninitiated, the Minus World is a glitch in the original Super Mario Bros that, with some finesse, could sneak Mario into a glitch level. (Level in this game are named “1-1,” “1-2,” “3-3,” “3-4,” etc., all the way to the final level, “8-4.” The so-called Minus World, however, didn’t display the first digit. Instead, the level name was displayed “-1,” which looked like “negative one,” hence the term “Minus World.”) Once there, the level didn’t really present anything all that spectacular: only an endless underwater stage that players could send poor Mario through over and over again, until the timer ran out and he died. At the time, however, I had no reason to suspect anything other than that the Minus World was a deliberate secret that developers put in the game, and that there was some important meaning behind it.

There wasn’t, of course, but the idea intrigued me nonetheless.

Today, the gaming blog Kotaku posted this video of an alternate version of the Minus World, from the Japanese Famicom Disk System version of Super Mario Bros. As Kotaku notes, it’s all the more surreal. Seeing this today made me feel once again like the awestruck little kid that first stumbled into the Minus World so many years ago.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Unknown origin. Funny nonetheless.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Same Cannot Be Said for Tannis Root

The article I’m currently writing has required me to find a date for a certain issue of Time magazine that purportedly features Bob Dylan on the cover. All I know is that the issue came out during the Vietnam War, so I went to Time’s online archive and began browsing old issues from the 1960s. I still haven’t found the issue, but the process is entertaining. One cover in particular jumped out at me.

For those who have seen the film “Rosemary’s Baby,” the magazine should look familiar. Mia Farrow’s character glances through this particular issue in a scene at her doctor’s office. Of course, it ties in nicely will the film’s themes of religion, but I’m most amused by the fact that the answer to the question on the cover would seem to be “no.” By virtue of being a film in which the Devil is a physical presence and an active participant in the plot, I imagine one would have to conclude that “Rosemary’s Baby” is also a film that acknowledges the existence of God. In the same way that “The Exorcist,” to me, is one of the most artfully pro-religious movies I’ve ever seen, any film that concerns the Devil so literally would have to simultaneously concern his opposite. The Devil can’t exist without God, at least in the Catholic conceptions of these two entities. Oddly, the reverse isn’t true, as lots of films feature God but don’t necessarily imply the existence of the Devil.

Funny how that works.

In any case, I’m mostly amused that a magazine featured so prominently in the film was not fabricated just for it. Good work there, Roman Polanski.
[ link: The Time magazine online archive ]

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Double Date

Neat photo that Flickr user Diastema posted. I like it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

To Buffalo

This morning, the righteous Dina sent me a link to the Wikipedia page for a certain linguistic parlor trick. “I'm sure you've seen this and probably blogged about it, but it makes
me happy, and I would like to share,” she said. In fact I had not heard of this, but Dina nailed it on the head when she decided it was something worth sharing.

Generally credited to William J. Rapaport, an associate professor at the University of Buffalo, the following sentence is grammatically correct, at least in a technical sense.
“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.”
Technically correct, of course, is the best kind of correct. It describes the social hierarchy of buffalos at the Buffalo Zoo in Buffalo, New York. It employs three definitions for the word “buffalo”: the animal, the place and the verb meaning “to intimidate.” (Also, I should note that this is one verb I neglected to list in the post regarding animal name verbs, “Don’t Make Me Platypus All Over You.”) Translated into easier words, the sentence is trying to relate the fact that some buffaloes from the Buffalo Zoo that other buffaloes intimidate themselves also like to intimidate a third group of buffaloes in the zoo. Initially the sentence was problematic to me, even with the explanation. I kept feeling that any way I read it, the sentence omitted a crucial “that” whose presence grammar demanded.

In my mind, the sentence should have either read
Buffalo buffalo that buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo that buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
Then i realized I was leaving out one "buffalo." Furthermore, neither of these interpretations really express what the sentence should, however, and I had to read the Wikipedia’s explanation of it several times in order to get it. Even still, the correct interpretation fades out of my head the instant I avert my attention to anything else, kind of like how you can work to see the alternate interpretation in an optical illusion, but then revert back to the initial image if you stop concentrating and then have to work back to the secondary one. A major clue is which words are capitalized, as you can tell those words have to be the city, excluding the first one, of course.
To explain, I’m going to employ so font modifications. In the below sentence the bold buffalo represents the city name, the italicized buffalo represents the animal and the plain one represents the verb.
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
This, to me, is the easiest way to parse the sentence. Think of every "Buffalo buffalo," with the capitalized one followed by the lower-case one, as "a group of buffalos from the city Buffalo." With that, you have
Various buffalo at the Buffalo zoo that other buffalo at the same zoo tend to intimidate in turn go and treat this third group of buffalo at the zoo in a similar way.
[One group of] Buffalo buffalo [that other] Buffalo buffalo [tend to] buffalo [themselves] buffalo [other] Buffalo buffalo.
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
It's like making algebra out of grammar, which you'd think I hate but apparently don't. Still, I can't believe I've typed the word "buffalo" this many times. Likely, more than a lot of people have in their lives, rather than Buffalo Bill. I can no longer even look at the word "buffalo" without thinking that it now looks wrong, just by virtue of me having stared at it for so long and noticing how weird it is.

The Wikipedia article also suggest others, including "Badgers badgers badger badger badgers." but I don't even want to attempt delving into those today. All of them, however, are what is known as "garden path sentences" — that is, a sentence you can't correctly understand without doubling back and re-reading. "The horse raced past the barn fell," for another example, in case your head doesn't hurt like mine.

And it's with no small sense of humor that I note "buffalo" can also mean "to confuse." Seriously, who thought "buffalo" was suitable to being a real word, anyway?
[ link: Wikipedia on "garden path sentences" ]

The "Video" in "Video Games"

An admittedly random assortment of video game-based art that I enjoy. I've played video games since I was very young, and since they're such an inherently visual medium, I've always thought people could do something cool with the pixilated visuals that they beam into our heads. Turns out a lot of people agreed.

Flickr user skinny coder posted this on his account. It's Duck Hunt, realized in Legos. What's especially cool about this project is that he's managed to preserve the blocky graphics of the early age of video games while still creating his art in a three-dimensional space. I like it. He's done a few other games, too, including Excitebike and Bionic Commando.

This piece, titled "Pipe Dreams" was made by an artist calling himself Danimation. He re-styled a whole lot of Mario characters in a more fluid, cartoony style. For Mario fanboys, this is the equivalent of a centerfold.

This piece apparently first showed up as a poster in Nintendo Power, a magazine I actually used to subscribe to when I was a kid. I just like that the artist, some guy named Gabe Swarr, bothered to put as much effort into it as he did. He's covered most of his bases by showing a healthy cross-section of the various Mario-related games I played when I was wee. And I can't help noticing that he seems to have drawn Mario to look like the Mayor from "Powerpuff Girls." Gabe Swarr, by the way, has his own blog, where he posts a lot of his work.

I'm not sure who's actually responsible for making this Mario-related installation, but it's a neat idea for public art. The pigeon presumably agrees. Can't remember where I found it.

Flickr user Neil Fiddleton posted this on his account. It's strangely vacant landscape art created from the original Super Mario Bros." graphics. This one is titled "Martin Short." He's also made ones called "Steve Martin" and "Four Sisters."

This is a snow sculpture representing a character named Totakeke, whom I wrote about earlier in a Back of the Cereal Box post concerning him and the Pet Shop Boys. The image was posted on Flickr by somebody named Mr. Pippo. A good likeness, really.

This next one is utterly confounding. I think I picked it up from Kotaku or Destructoid or some such other gaming blog. It's Japanese in origin, so it makes no sense. In it, you can see realistically drawn humans dressed up like Mario characters. You can also see Mario in a car being driven by Mario. Oh, Japan.

The final three images come from work exhibited in the i am 8 bit show that I saw in Los Angeles last year. Neat stuff. I don't know who did the below work, but I know it was featured in the show. Using fabric to show the princess in a more playful sense really works to get at what the artist was going for.

The above pieces stands in stark contrast to the next two, which both depict familiar Mario characters in a dystopic setting. Below is Isaac Pierro's "Don't Be a 2nd Player Hater." Poor Luigi.

And finally we have this piece, "The M.K.," by Jose Flores.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Diamond Dog

Another enemy from EarthBound, the quirky game I liked so much when I was younger. I think the only reason this character stayed with me is that it was called Diamond Dog, like a singular version of the David Bowie song.


I had intended to be on a long-postponed hike this morning, rather than sitting before my laptop in all-too-usual Drew fashion, typing away in hopes that someone somewhere would actually read what I had to say. The hike — a quick and easy adventure to Tangerine Falls, a spot in Montecito that in all actuality sounds like it belongs on the Candy Land game board — did not happen, this time due to a rain of ash drifting north from a wildfire near Ojai. I’ve honestly never seen anything quite like it before. Upon looking out the window, you’d expect the typical Santa Barbara morning: cool, damp, blanketed by fog. Instead, what looks to be the usual fluff is this sinister, opaque gray that reeks of barbecue-gone-bad and has the air burning a good fifteen degrees hotter than it should. Hiking was out of the question. The sun, shining weakly through this, is casting everything in a creepy orange light and termites — rendered homeless, I’d guess, by the destruction of their homes in Los Padres National Forest — are floating about aimlessly in the air, which I can image they’re not too happy about. Some measure of good news in all this, however: smokers don’t have to shell out for a pack right now. Instead, all they need to do is step outside and take a few deep breaths.

Here’s hoping for bluer skies.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Kendall Effect

If there’s one thing I love more than self-referencing TV shows, it’s self-referencing TV shows that references other self-referencing TV shows.

Case in point: the Kendall effect. Before Sarah Michelle Gellar became the girl who spends her time running from or after various supernatural terrors, she had a two-year stint on All My Children as Kendall Hart, the scheming long-lost daughter of the Susan Lucci character. I never saw her in action, but Gellar apparently won a Daytime Emmy for her performance. Years later, Gellar was on Buffy, where she frequently butted heads with Cordelia Chase, the snobby cheerleader character played by Charisma Carpenter. Cordelia was often aided in her efforts to make Buffy feel bad by her cohort, Harmony, who was played by Mercedes McNab. Despite her vapidness, Harmony is actually the longest-lived character in the Buffy universe. She appears in both the original unaired half-hour pilot for the show and the series finale of Angel, the spin-off in which she appeared as a regular during the last season. Midway through her run, however, Buffy’s gang goes searching for Harmony, using their senior yearbook as an identifying photo. There, viewers saw for the first time that Harmony’s last name was, in fact, Kendall. Knowing Joss Whedon’s pop culture savvy, I have to believe the reference is intentional, especially given that Gellar’s soap opera work is what landed her the title role to begin with.

That brings us up to the present, with me watching too much Veronica Mars. In the most recent season, Veronica clashed with a new character, played by Charisma Carpenter. The scheming step-mother of two of Veronica’s classmates, the character’s name was Kendall Casablancas — which, by the way, would be a great soap opera name. Seeing as how series creator Rob Thomas — no, not that one — has a propensity for referencing the other great TV shows of our day — there’s an episode featuring George Michael and Maebe from Arrested Development, for example, and another one featuring the cursed numbers from Lost and another in which Joss Whedon himself actually appears — I have to again believe that the presence of this name is no accident. In fact, this name seems to have traced through three TV shows and each time attached to attractive, minorly villainous women.

And things like that make watching TV fun.

A Wild Butterfly

I'm shocked — shocked — to know that the 80s hit "Obsession" is not, in fact, by Human League, as I've long thought. The song was actually song by the band Animotion, whose lead singer, Michael Des Barres, later had a son who started what was once my favorite publication: Diehard Gamefan.

Weird what Wikipedia teaches you.

Friday, September 15, 2006

What’s So Funny About Mountbatten Pink?

According to the Wikipedia, its own entry for the color Mountbatten pink is fraught with a few problems: namely, the article contradicts itself, several time. Allow me to demonstrate.

Apparently, the color gained popularity when famed British naval officer Louis Mountbatten noticed that a certain ship painted a grayish mauve color seemed to vanish into the sunrise-lit sky earlier than others. He promptly had all the royal vessels painted this color in an effort to make them less detectable during dawn and dusk.
[ link: all about Mountbatten pink ]
The article continues, strangely, that the rosy hue allowed the HMS Kenya — nicknamed “The Pink Lady” — to escape a German attack off the Norwegian coast because the ship’s color was indecipherable from the pink marker dye the Germans used in their shells. Thus, the German’s couldn’t tell the different between a big pink boat and water or sky or the very shots they fired.

The article concludes by stating that the color was disbanded by 1942, as pink ships were easier to see at sunrise and sunset than the traditional gray ones.

Oh, the Wikipedia — home to pointless and factually dubious clumps of words passed off as fact.

Perhaps the best thing about Mountbatten pink, however, is that the article on Louis Mountbatten notes that he was known for carrying on affairs with both sexes and was “widely known as the military as “Mountbottom.” Ha.
[ source: Prance Closer ]

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Missing Kitty

Somehow, when I was hired as a personal assistant with the possibility of graphic deisgn, I didn't expect that it would entail this:

Keep in mind, this is all the cat's owners, not me. I'm not the one who decided to list Tito's distinguishing feature as "looks like the picture." Also, I find it secretly hilarious that I just had to type that little Tito may, in fact, be wearing the collar that belongs to his brother, which raises up a whole lot of other weird questions.

But since I bring it up, have you seen this cat?

He Thinks He's People

And it's water-skiing squirrel. You can't really elaborate on these things. This was originally posted, I think, by Amamba on my MySpace profile.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

The Lady in the Lampshade

And from way back on Fiesta weekend, here's a little sketch the talented Dina Dina Canklesaurus drew in the dust on my lampshade. Those familiar with Dina's artistic style should not be surprised.

lady in the lampshade

Friday, September 8, 2006

The Dream Factory

Because my mind was dwelling on the subject, for whatever reason, here are some more images from Doki Doki Panic, which I wrote about in a previous post.

This one shows art from the game's instruction booklet. I don't read Japanese, but what I can gather from the pictures is that the big frog thing kidnapped two kids in dorky hats through a book. Or something. And then the Arabian family chases them. Also, the kids have wings. Also, before the kids got kidnapped, they apparently had a neat impish friend in a beanie. Got, I love Japan.

This is some promotional image showing a strange partnership between Mario and Imajin, the latter being Mario's counterpart in the game he eventually stole. It's comforting, to me: Italy and Arabia, being friendly. Or, more accurately, Japan and Japan.

And finally: Mama, dying. She's the blue-hooded lady whose high-jumping skills translated to Luigi, who's been a high jumper ever since. Funny thing is that she dies just like Mario died in the first Super Mario Bros., which came out two years before this strange Japanese game did. Terrified look, jumping facing the screen, hands in the air — all as if to say "Damn you, you shitty video game player! May I haunt you forever for killing me!"

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Don't Make Me Platypus All Over You

Some time ago, I posted an entry here that detailed what, as far my experience and research yielded, was a list of verbs the English language has derived from its words for the various parts of the human body. There were many, and quite a few more so were pointed out by my readers. The post, “Don’t Cock This One Up,” stands today as the one that generated the most comments ever. This surprised me somewhat.

In any case, I was struck this weekend by the inability to recall the animal-derived verb we English speakers use to mean “to search out, to rummage, the produce with much effort.” Only because my dad eventually spoke this phrase later the very day I was trying to remember it did I get to put my mind at ease. “Something something and then he ferreted out what was really up.” I can’t remember what the context was. But does it not seem odd that we’d have such a readily recognized expression taken from an animal with which most English speakers, I’d wager, I have little to no contact? Yes? It does? Good. I thought so as well.

As a consequence of this very problem, I’m listing here below what, as far as my experience and research can yield, is a list of the various verbs we derive from animal names.
  • to dog (as in, “to fix a negative, aggressive facial expression on someone”)
  • to hound (used similarly, but more in the sense of fixing a vendetta upon someone)
  • to wolf down
  • to horse around
  • to monkey around (meaning much the same as the previous one)
  • to pig out
  • to pony up
  • to ape
  • to parrot (again, meaning much the same as the previous)
  • to fox (though this one is most always spoken as “to out fox,” with the adverb preceding the verb, it stands to reason that it is as valid as “to horse around” despite its jumbled word order)
  • to cat around (meaning, surprisingly, "to look for a sexual mate")
  • to duck (which does come from the same word as the kind of bird, I found)
  • to goose
  • to skylark (though I think we usually just call them “larks”)
  • to leech
  • to sponge (most often meaning “to freeload” or something like it, though I’d bet this came from the synthetic, inanimate kind of sponges used for cleaning and not from the sea creatures, which, I think we can all agree, are for all practical purposes just barely count as animals)
  • to clam up
  • to mole (which apparently can be used in the sense of acting as a mole, though I can’t imagine how those near-sighted tunnel-diggers ever got tangled up in espionage)
  • to coyote (in a similar sense, when speaking of illegal immigration across the Mexican-U.S. border)
  • to beaver (though it’s more referring to the anatomical sense rather than to any function of the animal)
  • to pussy out (and likewise)
  • to dragon (in the sense of inhaling from a cigarette and blowing it out one’s nostrils; though I’ve heard this spoken, I must admit it is a stretch at best)
  • to rat
  • to crow (which may be spurious in that the verb only connotes making a noise like the animal does)
  • to snake (as in “to steal”)
  • to fish (perhaps the only of these verbs that derives from the act of killing the animal it is named for)
  • to worm (okay, so there's two)
  • to whale (okay, so there's three)
  • to chicken out
  • to squirrel (most often spoken as “to squirrel away”)
  • to weasel
  • to badger
  • and, of course, to ferret
If you’ll note the “Don’t Cock This One Up” post, you’ll notice that the list of body part-derived verbs is longer. I find this very surprising, for although we, being human beings, spend much of the day with out bodies and their various parts, we also have a long history of interacting with animals — certainly for as long as English has been around. And though we have a limited number of body parts, there's a far greater number of animals for us to interact with. Granted, there are other expressions that I’ve kept off the list. They’re all mainly longer ones that incorporate some form of the verb “to be” and an adjective derived from the animal’s name, like “to become sheepish” or “to be bullish” or whatever.

(Also, just so nobody calls me on it, I’d like to point out that a handful of homonym verbs that resemble animal names but have no actual animal associations, like “to bear.” I think I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention “to cuckold,” which if I’m not mistaken arrived long ago into English from an old version of French, hence the fact that it doesn’t directly resemble the word “cuckoo.” Most wordologists, however, agree that the word comes from the notion that the cuckoo bird kicks out the eggs of some unknowing hen and tricks her into raising a brood that’s not actually her own.)

Furthermore, a surprising number of the entries in the above list have duplicate meanings: namely “to horse around” and “to monkey around”; “to ape” and “to parrot”; and “to clam up” and “to turtle up.” Why, the cunning linguist must ask, should such disparate animals yield verbs with the same meanings? Why must everything that a parrot and an ape do, for example, be boiled down to mere mimicry? I for one have observed both animals — though, admittedly, never at the same time — and I feel that their collective actions should rightfully include clucking (parrots), snapping (parrots), scratching (apes), eating bananas (apes), crawling up cages (both), exposing their genitals (apes), frightening me on some level (both) and mastering crude sign language computer programs (apes). Parrots copy us as a parlor trick, sure, but do apes really even imitate humans? Or does their mere existence as our distance evolutionary relative renders them mimics? And isn’t that a little self-centered, especially since apes have been around longer than we have?

Additional weirdness: “to squirrel,” “to weasel,” “to badger,” and “to ferret.” Why should four slender, nimble, toothy, furry and altogether similar beasts all get verbs, when animals that are much more frequently the subject of interaction by humans — cows, for example, or goldfish or seagulls or rabbits or raccoons or ants — get the shaft?

And finally, why should any of the meanings we associate with these verbs have stuck so soundly? Humans, as a rule, generally love dogs. And dogs, in my experience, generally love us back, a fact that is so often exhibited by the glazed, tongue-lolling expressions of absolute mirth and complete loyalty they shoot us. Rightly, “to dog” should mean something else — to fetch a ball or trot faithfully by one’s side or to eat one’s vomit only moments after having purged it. For this, I feel that the notion of “dogging” as we currently understand it is a total misnomer.

I speak no language besides English fluently, but I know enough of others to understand that we writers are lucky to have it. Its status as a verbal melting pot makes it a convenient one to write in since we’re afforded so many ways to say the same thing that we’re nearly never without a word or phrase that can describe the precise shade of meaning we’re striving for. Thus, I’m not suggesting that we should crawl back through centuries of lexicon-building and omit these words. No, as much as some of their strange associations bother me, I’m happy to keep them. However, I have to wonder why we don’t utilize other members of the animal kingdom — both domestic and exotic — in a smarter way and derive more of these spot-on, that’s-exactly-what-I-meant terms from the various unused beasts.

For what else could one mean by the expression “to penguin about” than to frolic and slide about on the tundra while eating fish and dressed in formal wear? If I said that Barnaby’s younger, slighter brother refrained from speaking to the party guests and merely moused about his family’s grand ballroom in an earnest attempt to remain at the event but escape notice, wouldn’t you know exactly what I meant? Would any explanation be needed if I told you that Yoyo Ellenboggan could have easily avoided the wrath of the minister’s daughters had she refrained from peacocking about town in her new jewel-encrusted dress and matching hat? To mosquito? To sphinx? To vulture about a buffet table, awaiting the appropriate time to dive in for seconds? I find it’s all fairly straightforward, especially if you simply take in the words and the images they suggest, rather than rhinoing through without any caution to the deliberation the writer took in selecting each word.

And beyond the mere colloquialisms we could use the ignored animals for, the writerly readers currently reading this and readying to write their own response should stop to consider the more poetic implications of pairing the perfect animal for the action needing to be described. “By late October, the leaves had already begun to lose their green and, one by one, butterfly away from their branches in their final act of natural beauty.” How perfectly does that verb — one, as far as I know, undiscovered by English speakers — capture the motion of a leaf through the air? And what could be meant by the verb “to moth,” other than the notion of being destroyed by the thing that one desires most? And how obvious? And how beautiful, if even in a melodramatic sense?

And how — for God’s sake — could any of these await coinage while every one in the United States can immediately understand “You’re badgering the witness” despite the fact that relatively few have ever actually been harassed by a badger?

Off the Grid

Towns and former towns I was in, was near or drove through this weekend:
  • Mi-Wuk
  • Sugarpine
  • Confidence
  • Standard
  • Soulbsyville
  • Twain Harte
  • Ralph
  • Tuttletown
  • Quartz
  • Chinese Camp
  • Angels Camp
  • Copperopolis
Ah, the Gold Rush.