This series is called “Random Tweets Reformatted as Telegrams.” It’s an easy trick, but putting these “virtual” messages usually consumed on smartphone screens on old-timey telegrams more redolent of the Wild West or the Hindenburg crash or something, it just works.
Gute notes that “there are notable similarities between formats, such as the economy of words and syntax imposed by a limited number of characters,” which is certainly true. Plus, the last Western Union telegram, a medium that had existed for more than a century, coincided almost exactly with the first Tweet—there was a gap of almost two months—so it’s like the one short-form method of communication passed the baton on to the other.
When you first hear about the Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art, one immediately wonders whether its purpose is in any way therapeutic or perhaps that actually plays some kind of odd and unexpected research role. But no, the point appears to be far more mundane: some embroidery enthusiasts just find brain scans and fMRI images visually appealing and enjoy reproducing the vibrant and oftentimes striated outputs of the complex medical devices in the form of embroidered quilts.
“I couldn’t help but look at them with the eye of a quilter,” says Taylor, a psychologist at the University of Oregon and a key contributor to the museum’s holdings. “I thought the folds of the cerebral cortex would be great in velvet.” Taylor’s first piece was a quilt with a cerebral cortex in blue velvet on a silver background; it took her several years to complete four brain-scan quilts. “Not very many,” she admits. “They take a long time to do.”
Curator Bill Harbaugh, whose day job is economics professor at the University of Oregon, welcomes visitors to the site with the following message:
This is the world’s largest collection of anatomically correct fabric brain art. Inspired by research from neuroscience, dissection and neuroeconomics, our current exhibition features a rug based on fMRI imaging, a knitted brain from dissection, and three quilts with functional images from PET. The artists are Marjorie Taylor and Karen Norberg. Techniques used include traditional Nova Scotian rug hooking, quilting, applique, embroidery, beadwork, knitting, and crocheting. Materials include fabric, yarn, metallic threads, electronic components such as magnetic core memory, and wire, zippers, and beads.
While our artists make every effort to insure accuracy, we cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of using fabric brain art as a guide for functional magnetic resonance imaging, trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, neurosurgery, or single-neuron recording.
Marjorie Taylor, “Warm Glow, or fabricMRI: Bill’s Brain,” 2009
For the past several days, I have been having an absolute BLAST messing around with the beta for Liverpool, England-based web developer Errozero’s Acid Machine. I learned about it via Fact last week, and I don’t even know why I didn’t just post it here right away, but better later than never, no? The Acid Machine is a free browser-based electronic composition device based around the legendary Roland TB-303, and it’s great fun.
Some background for those who need it: Roland’s Transistorized Bass 303 was a unique example, in the history of sound producing devices, of abject failure redeemed. It was (mis)conceived as a bass accompaniment tool/toy for guitar players, and God only knows why—has any guitarist in history ever despaired of finishing a song for want of a bass player who sounded like a ‘50s b-movie robot enduring a painful gastric incident? Since its target market couldn’t have cared less, production of the little wonders was stopped in 1984, after just a year and a half of their existence. But the deeply messed up sounds it could produce were like mother’s milk to the burgeoning Acid House movement just a few years later. That wonderfully mind-bending squelch/fart noise common to all early Acid House tracks was made by hitherto unwanted 303s that found proper homes where they’d be loved and cared for. The sound became so sought-after among techno artists and the happy-face t-shirt crowd, it’s eternally baffling that Roland didn’t just start making them again. Original devices perpetually hover around $2,500-3,000 on eBay. A clone made by a company called Cyclone Analogic can be had for much less.
The device inspired software emulators just about as soon as software synthesis became widespread in the late ‘90s, including the still legendary ReBirth, which was discontinued ten years ago but lives on as a (FREE!) Reason plug-in, and as a $15 tablet app. There’s seriously no reason to spend three thousand dollars to chase that sound unless you’re a collector looking to possess one of the devices as a trophy. The Errozero Acid Machine is a simplified take on the ReBirth interface; it features two 303 simulators you can pit against one another, and a basic drum machine. You can store up to eight patterns for each device, and organize them into compositions with an intuitive sequencer. Like I said, I’ve been having a FINE old time with this. I don’t have a tablet, and there’s no phone version (the iPhone screen is frankly just too goddamn small for ReBirth’s many controls), so I’m loving the browser-based Acid Machine beta. Other useful functions: it will generate a URL to make your finished composition shareable, or it will generate a .wav file you can download and save. No MIDI output that I can see, but this is, again, a beta: the tiny-print reads “A work in progress web audio tool by Errozero - Works best in Chrome.” Perhaps the ability to output MIDI files is forthcoming?
If you’ve made your way this far through this post still having no earthly idea what the hell I’m talking about, “Acid Trax” by Phuture is as definitive as 303 songs come. It’s a slow build, but the distinctive device starts fading in at about 1:05.
This wonderful 20-minute doc on the devices tells you anything you’d want to know about them.
In 1963 Jim Henson‘s resume consisted almost entirely of six years at a Washington, D.C., television show called Sam and Friends. In 1963 that experience paid off, as he roped in a pretty sweet deal for Bell System—or “Ma Bell,” as the nationwide telephone company was known before the Justice Dept. broke it up into regional companies in 1984. Bell commissioned two movies for use at a Bell Data Communications Seminar, which AT&T later described as “elite seminars.”
The first movie, “Robot,” clocks in at a tidy 3 minutes and 18 seconds and focuses exclusively on the eponymous and humorous automaton, which Tara McGinley, in one of my favorite DM headlines, called an “angry, flatulent robot.” Spot on.
Typical of the movie’s humor is this introductory statement made by the robot:
“The machine possesses supreme intelligence, a faultless memory, and a beautiful soul. Correction: the machine does not have a soul. It has no bothersome emotions. While mere mortals wallow in a sea of emotionalism, the machine is busy digesting vast oceans of information in a single, all-encompassing gulp.”
The second movie, “Charlie Magnetico,” is twice as long and, I daresay, twice as funny. “Charlie Magnetico” uses the same robot used in “Robot” (albeit in a less flatulent mode) while also branching out to include comic footage of a rocket ship exploding as well as entire family of employees called the Magneticos—the humor here residing mainly in the idea that an entire multi-continental supply chain could be administered from a single shack in the woods. Playing Charlie Magnetico as well as his mother was Henson’s first hire, Jerry Juhl, whom Henson later credited with “developing much of the humor and character of his Muppets.”
On the busy streets of Kinshasa, capital of Democratic Republic of the Congo, there’s a new sheriff in town—or rather, there are some giant robots now directing traffic. A local taxi driver said (ominously), “There are certain drivers who don’t respect the traffic police. But with the robot it will be different. We should respect the robot.” Of course people will “respect” the robot! We’ve all seen Terminator!
Humanity’s inevitable fall to robot overlords aside, there are some real benefits to these machines, who have already proven successful after earlier trial runs in 2013. There impartial, they can’t be bribed, they actually record evidence and they appear to be just as capable of writing tickets and directing traffic as a flesh and blood cop. They’re also solar powered, and at $27,500, I’m guessing they cost less than employing cops round-the-clock.
I remain suspicious. If we’re not doomed to enslavement by massive metal fascists, why do these robot cops look so much like Doctor Who’s Cybermen??? They couldn’t have designed them all tiny and Japanese and cute? Mark my words, this is only the beginning!
I’ve already written an item for DM on Secret Weapons, David Cronenberg’s near-incomprehensible TV short from 1972 about a dystopian state that uses mind control drugs and a rebel biker gang that opposes it—in that movie, however, despite the stated existence of a biker gang, there were scarcely any motorcycles to be seen in it. That problem, at least, does not arise in Cronenberg’s 1976 short The Italian Machine.
It’s almost jaw-dropping how much progress Cronenberg had made between these two movies. The Italian Machine relinquishes all aspirations toward big-dick sci-fi in favor of a far more nuanced, engrossing, unfussy meditation on technology, art, decadence, and, shall we say, the pet obsessions of warring subcultures. The idea of the movie, which lasts only 23 minutes, is that a bunch of motorcycle buffs, having learned that an incredibly rare and high-quality Italian motorcycle, specifically a 1976 Ducati 900 Desmo Super Sport, has come into the possession of a local art enthusiast who intends to keep it in his living room as a sculpture, take on the moral imperative of liberating the machine from its outré confines and restoring it to its rightful purpose of kicking ass on the open road.
What The Italian Machine, which first appared on the CBC television program Teleplay, most resembles is a really good short story; more specifically it reminds me a great deal of J. G. Ballard, which isn’t very strange considering that Cronenberg adapted Ballard’s Crash a couple of decades later. In The Italian Machine, Lionel, Fred, and Bug are three motorcycle nuts who enjoy the kind of nerdy oneupmanship that probably features on every episode of The Big Bang Theory. Upon finding out the identity of the Ducati’s purchaser, one Edgar Mouette, they concoct a plan to pose as a magazine crew of photographers doing a spread on Mouette’s interiors. That Ballardian angle resides mainly in Mouette and his cohorts, philosophical aesthetes to the max (when they’re not taking cocaine). Once Lionel and his buddies gain entry, it is the viewer’s task to decide which side is the nuttier of the two. Eventually they do get ahold of the bike, at which point their own ability to fetishize the machine unexpectedly manifests itself.
Truly, a top-notch piece of work, very in line with the many dark masterpieces Cronenberg would make in the years to come.
As most of the world, if not the galaxy knows, Leonard Nimoy passed away last Friday, and his many fans have since been celebrating a truly singular pop culture hero, a completely unmistakable actor who found his ideal role, with which he was forever identified—and who was also by all accounts a decent and much-loved human being.
Nimoy’s death has resulted in some priceless artifacts making the rounds, such as this awesome pic of Nimoy and Jimi Hendrix hanging out. But for my money you can’t beat this piece of vintage video technology advertising from 1981, a nearly 11-minute clip of space age hucksterism for the new technology of laserdiscs (actually “Laser Video Discs”), with the most credible witness outer space has to offer, Mr. Spock himself. The item in question was the Magnavision VH-8000 laserdisc player, which Wikipedia has called “poorly designed and quite primitive consumer player.” Oh well.
Scored to the unmistakable disco strains of the Network Music Ensemble (”The New West” followed by the even more familiar “High Combustion”), the mustachio’d Nimoy’s famously clipped, minimal and yet humane delivery of his “dialogue” with a glowing space rock makes him one of the few actors on earth who could pull this off without making it seem farcical—and it’s still pretty funny as it is.
It’s a real treat to watch Nimoy feign incredulity at the system’s inclusion of stereophonic sound or the existence of chapters to enable easier scrolling. He’s not just selling the system to us, he’s introducing viewers to a whole new chapter in American entertainment—the living room entertainment system era.
And also you get to hear a little bit of ABBA’s “Take a Chance on Me” and “Gimme Gimme Gimme.” The video makes you want to spend an evening in your den watching The Electric Horseman, inspecting some Rembrandt masterpieces, or improving your understanding of football strategy, doesn’t it?
Wearables just got a whole lot more practical… and personal.
Pornhub, a website that probably needs no introduction, wants horny folk to “save the planet” with their new wearable, the Wankband (I can’t link to it or else Google will stop our ads, but use Google yourself if you’d like to find out more at their website). It’s a wristband device that recharges smartphones, laptops, digital cameras, tablets, and other tech devices with the motion of masturbation. You know, the hand-shandy. The five-knuckle shuffle. Mother Fist and her five daughters…
Every day, millions of hours of adult content are consumed online, wasting energy in the process and hurting the environment. At Pornhub we decided to do something about it. Introducing The Wankband: The first wearable tech that allows you to love the planet by loving yourself.
Tossers, want to be a beta, er, be(a)ta tester for this thing? I wonder if chronic masturbators can sell their er… excess energy to the utility companies? This could fundamentally transform the entire world!
“Ladies and gentleman, the power is in your hand,” learn more about this sexy time gadget in their animated video:
Buying audio equipment is an addiction for some people (99.99999999999% of these “people” being male people, of course). Although it is perhaps a more respectable addiction than either drugs or alcohol, and less expensive than gambling, it is, at its root, still an illness. For once you begin climbing on the ladder of high fidelity audio… they’ve got their hooks in you. You’re never satisfied, because there’s always something better. Buy that better amp and it’ll just expose the weakness of your speakers. The solution? Better speakers! But those new speakers don’t really blend well with your subwoofer, do they, which now sounds kinda flabby, doesn’t it? Finally you simply can’t take it anymore and replace your sub with a better one… Repeat this process several times per decade, if not annually. The story ends with the death of the audioholic or else said audioholic’s better half putting her foot down on his headphones while he’s wearing them.
That said, high fidelity audio equipment, like HDTV sets, is getting waaaaay cheaper while quality and performance is going up, up, up. A $10,000 stereo system purchased in the late 1990s is nowhere near as good as what you can buy for a fraction of that today. Over the years, I’ve owned gear from Marantz, Pioneer’s Elite line, Sony’s ES series, Carver, Klipsch, Hafler, Rotel, Harmon-Kardon, Boston Acoustics, Polk Audio, Yamaha, Philips, Panasonic and others. I am by no means an “expert” but I do research this stuff obsessively and keep up with what actual experts have to say. And I look a lot at the Amazon rankings and reviews because the group mind is seldom wrong in consumer reviews (and where do you go to demo and hear this kind of equipment in action anymore? Depending on where you live, it might take a leap of faith).
Recently a friend of mine asked my advice on building his sound system and this is the gist of what I told him…
First off, you’ll note that I’m keeping turntables out of the equation entirely. I disagree with the likes of Neil Young and others, who feel that vinyl is superior to digital. It’s not. No audio engineer thinks that. Young told a reporter at the CES show that “[vinyl is] the only place people can go where they can really hear.” Bullshit. It’s where you can really hear pops, clicks and dusty grooves. These things can be tested and measured, of course, it’s not a subjective judgment call. A pressed platter made of a petroleum product with a needle running across it isn’t going to sound as good as a CD, SACD, Blu-ray “Pure Audio” disc or a download from HDTracks.com. A record will not—will never—have that kind of sonic range.
If you are someone who “feels” vinyl sounds better than a CD, that’s fine by me, but let’s not pretend that the technology is superior. After all, it’s Neil Young himself who is hawking the “high definition audio” 192kHz/24-bit downloads for his PONO device. His was the first major artist Blu-ray box set, too, so his message seems muddled at best. Nevertheless, Young should applauded for at least trying to educate the public about better sound quality. He’s done more than any of the major labels ever have, that’s for certain.
So how best to work with the newfangled audiophile formats like Blu-ray audio and HDTracks digital downloads kept on an external disc drive? There’s really only one obvious solution, if you ask me, and that is an OPPO universal Blu-ray player. The top of the line OPPO players are packed full of super high quality features and components like the SABRE32 Reference ES9018, the world’s best performing 32-bit audio DAC for high-end consumer and professional studio equipment, 4K video upscaling and a proper headphone amp. In a word, they are magnificent.
My first bit of advice: Make an OPPO player the centerpiece of ANY home theater AV system. More than a mere universal disc player, it’s a full featured, powerful digital media nerve center/switcher that can even take the place of a high quality pre-amp—there’s simply no longer a need for one—and handle just about any kind of format you can throw at it. This Amazon review gave me a hard on. Read it now and then come on back, I’ll wait.
We all know Apple fanboys, well I’m an OPPO fanboy. Listening to music is one of the greatest pleasures in life and my life noticeably changed for the better the day that my OPPO BDP-105D was delivered. Unboxing it was a lot like getting a new Mac, come to think of it, and the OPPO player’s solid, obviously high quality build is impressive indeed, just like getting your hands on a new Apple product for the first time. (It’s also VERY heavy. When the Fedex guy handed it to me, I wasn’t prepared for this and nearly toppled over.)
Everything I had sounded better on it. I am currently still in the process of rediscovering my entire music collection through fresh ears, and hearing nuances I have never heard before in familiar songs. That’s really a gift, isn’t it? In the event of a fire, after my pets were safe, my OPPO BDP-105D and the drive with my music on it are the very first things I’d grab.
Now the OPPO BDP-105D player is their most expensive model ($1299), a hot-rodded version, if you will, of their OPPO BD 103, with the addition of aforementioned DACS, headphone amp and something called Darbee Visual Presence Technology, which is essentially a subtle drop shadow/luminance value effect that brings out insane levels of extra fine details of an 1080 line video signal (something users of HD projectors will REALLY notice, especially with wide shots) and even improves upon standard definition video sources. (Here’s a video that explains how Darbee works.)
Bear in mind that a good outboard DAC can cost $1000 and a decent headphones amp about the same or more. If you’re on the more demanding team of audiophiles, you’ll have to have the BDP-105D—it’s drool-worthy—but the rest of the OPPO line are pretty damned amazing, too and are priced starting at around $499 for the OPPO BDP-103 (a decent VHS player cost $600 in the mid-1980s for some perspective) and $599 for the OPPO BDP-103D with Darbee Visual Presence (a stand-alone Darblet costs $200).
As I was saying at the start, acquiring a better component—and let’s face it, the OPPO BDP-105D player is the ultimate better component—can expose the weaknesses of your system. The OPPO line features 4K video upscaling so you’re going to want a receiver that can handle 4K too and that would mean something introduced to the AV market in the past year or so. If I was going to buy a new, mid-priced receiver right now, I might go with something like the Onkyo TX-NR636 which has really nice specs, sounds great, handles Dolby Atmos multidimensional sound and is 4K video ready. If you are buying a new receiver today, you’d want something that won’t become obsolete too quickly and the Onkyo TX-NR636 is a popular model that’s a great value (it lists for $600 but Amazon sells it for around $430) and about as “future proof” as you are going to find today considering that 4K sets are about to become the next new thing in home entertainment. It’s even got a phono stage if you want to hook up a turntable.
(Some of you reading this might get sniffy at the idea of a mid-priced receiver, but do keep in mind that much of the circuitry present in receivers costing from $300 to $3000 is EXACTLY THE SAME STUFF.)
Which brings me to some utterly amazing—and as these things go, dirt cheap—speakers. A few years ago, Pioneer put out a line of low cost speakers designed by their chief speaker engineer Andrew Jones, a man known for making reference speakers that sell for $70k and now even audiophiles who can afford speakers that are that expensive find themselves preferring his cheap ones. Jones set himself the challenge to make the best possible speaker for the lowest possible price utilizing Pioneer’s vast resources, bulk purchasing power and production chain. The result is that the various models in the line of Andrew Jones Designed speakers have absolutely mind-blowing sound for a fraction of what it normally costs to buy sound gear that is this crazy good. A pair of Jones’ bookshelf speakers—perhaps the best smaller speakers I have ever heard—cost just $127. Two of the towers will set you back around $260, the subwoofer around $156 and the center channel speaker $97, but the sound is pretty priceless if you ask me. Amazon also sells the entire Andrew Jones 5.1 home theater speaker package for $549.
So if you add all of that up, for a totally kickass 5.1 home theater surround system, 4K video ready to boot, it would be around $1500 for a system utilizing the OPPO BDP-103 and $2100 for one built around the OPPO BDP-105D. I think the modded audiophile add-ons of the BDP-105 are well worth it for getting the most out of the newer digital audiophile formats, and the Darbee processing highly desirable for use with HD projectors, but with any OPPO model, you really can’t go wrong.
In conclusion, some of you reading this will think “He’s right, that’s not a bad little system for the money” and others will probably totally disagree with me, although I suspect near universal agreement on the merits of the OPPO BDP-105D, because it’s just that amazing of a device and is, if you ask me, not only a total game-changer in the AV marketplace, but something that should be incorporated into ANY attempt to put together a high quality home theater system. (They rated the hell out of an OPPO BDP-105D on Audioholics, tests which showed levels of distortion almost too low to measure. It’s so close to perfection already that it would almost be impossible to improve on its specs… well, for years to come.)
Quibble with the details in the comments, please do, but I think I gave my pal some damn good advice. Although the price is certainly right, this is no mere “entry level” audio system that I suggested—with all of his money Tom Cruise can’t buy a better universal media player than an OPPO BDP-105D and neither can you.
*Fun fact, our own Marc Campbell’s video rental store in Taos, NM was the first authorized OPPO retailer. These days Marc’s the proprietor of The Sound Gallery in Austin, TX, probably the world’s largest retail selection of vintage audio gear.
Below, a reviewer from AudioHead on the OPPO BD 105.
If you’ve ever read a biography of the Beatles, you’ve probably come across the name of Alexis Mardas, or “Magic Alex,” as John Lennon called him. Mardas worked in electronics—Bob Spitz’s Beatles biography claims Alex was working as a TV repairman when he met the band—and the Beatles put him in charge of Apple Electronics, a company that was to have marketed Mardas’ inventions.
According to the books, Magic Alex was full of gear and fab ideas for the lads from Liverpool. Here’s one Ringo remembers: “He had this one idea that we all should have our heads drilled. It’s called trepanning. Magic Alex said that if we had it done our inner third eye would be able to see, and we’d get cosmic instantly.” My buddy Joel looked it up on wikiHow, and I am undergoing the procedure as I type this.
John Lennon and Donovan at Magic Alex’s wedding
When the New York Times called Mardas a “charlatan” in 2008, he sued the paper and issued a nine-page statement in which he attempted to set the record straight about his activities at Apple Electronics, his alleged role in the Beatles’ break with Maharishi, and the goodness of his name in general. (“As a result of these connections,” Mardas writes of his subsequent work manufacturing electronics, body armor and armored cars for governments around the world, “I developed personal friendships with the kings of Greece, Jordan, Spain, Morocco, and with the President of Egypt and the Prime Minister of Canada.”)
The whole statement is entertaining, but point fourteen is a special treat. In that section, to address “various allegations made by certain persons as to alleged promises by me to invent certain fantastical products,” Mardas enumerates every crazy gadget he is supposed to have pitched to the Fabs. I haven’t been able to read this list through once without laughing out loud. Can you?
I have never promised nor discussed, let alone try to invent any of the following:
14.1 an X-ray camera which could see through walls;
14.2 a force field which would surround a building with coloured air so that no one could see in.
14.3 a force field of compressed air which could stop anyone driving into one’s car;
14.4 a house which could hover in the air suspended on an invisible beam;
14.5 wall paper which could plug into a stereo system and operate as a “loudspeaker”;
14.6 an artificial sun which was intended to hover over Baker Street and light up the sky during the gala opening of the Beatles clothes shop, the “Apple Boutique” on 4th December 1967.
14.7 Magic paint which would make objects it was painted on invisible;
14.8 Electrical paint which could be plugged into a wall and would light up the room;
14.9 A flying saucer made from the V12 engines from George Harrison’s Ferrari and John Lennon’s Rolls Royce or
14.10 A force field around Ringo Starr’s drums that would isolate the drum sounds from the rest of the microphones in the studio. In this connection, I once had a discussion with John Lennon about this topic. I said that it was possible, theoretically, to create an ultrasonic barrier generated by ultrasonic transfusers. This would prevent sound travelling over a certain field. I never suggested that I would make such a barrier.
Just what is an ultrasonic transfuser, anyway? For fun, here’s point fifteen from Mardas’ statement:
15. Further, I deny any suggestion that I promised the Beatles in the presence of Liliane Lijn that I could levitate them using “electro magnetism” and also make them “disappear”. For a start, I never met this lady in the presence of any of the Beatles and the suggestion that I could “levitate” anyone is obviously absurd.
When Mardas refers to “certain persons” making these allegations, the Beatles themselves must be included among them. Some of these claims come from Paul, George and Ringo’s own mouths in the Beatles Anthology book. Paul: “He thought of using wallpaper which would act as loudspeakers.” Ringo: “Magic Alex invented electrical paint. You paint your living room, plug it in, and the walls light up!” George: “I was going to give him the V12 engine out of my Ferrari Berlinetta and John was going to give him his, and Alex reckoned that with those two engines he could make a flying saucer.” Faced with Mardas’ strenuous denials, one wonders where the Beatles got all these ideas, and why they attributed them to him.
In the outtake from Magical Mystery Tour below, a person who appears to be Magic Alex allegedly sings “Walls of Jericho.”