Archive for March, 2006

50 Movie Pack SciFi Classics, Disc 8

Friday, March 17th, 2006

Two of the many “sons of Hercules” (at least 60-odd, between Hercules and his hundreds of sons)—both “invicible” in the Italian originals—and two with Venutians as villains out to conquer the Earth, although in one case they’ve already failed. In other words, pure B-movie goodness—but with badly damaged prints.

Son of Hercules: The Land of Darkness (“Ercole l’invincible”), 1963, color, Alvaro Mancori (dir.), Dan Vadis. 1:21.

It’s another Italian/French/Spanish Hercules flick, which means pretty good production values, lots of beefcake (but the women also wear short outfits), and some wacko plot involving Hercules or a son, at least one beautiful young woman in peril, probably evil royalty (and an evil beautiful woman), and of course Legendary Feats of Strength. This one was apparently Americanized into a two-parter, with chunks of other flicks dropped in here and there. Turns out there was even a cheesy “Sons of Hercules” theme song, used over the opening montage and titles on both of these movies. Watchable. $0.75.

Devil of the Desert Against the Son of Hercules (“Anthar l’invicible”), 1964, color, Antonio Margheriti (dir.), Kirk Morris, Michele Girardon. 1:33.

See comments above—but this time, the continuity is pretty good. Unfortunately, for much of the flick there’s a white damage stripe down the center of the screen. Oh yes: A serious anachronism, with lots of time spent in a Hall of Mirrors that almost certainly wasn’t feasible when the Sons of Hercules actually roamed the…well, never mind. If not for the damage, I’d give this one a slightly higher value; the acting and plot are pretty good as these things go. $0.75.

First Spaceship on Venus (“Der Schweigende Stern”), 1960, color, Kurt Maetzig (dir.), Yoko Tani, Oldrick Lukes. 1:19

East German, chopped by 16 minutes for American release. Actually quite well made, with good visuals and a workable plot, which blames the Tunguska explosion on a Venutian spaceship—which turns out to be the scout for a doomed invasion of Earth. Generally good color. A few too many blips in the print for a higher rating, but still quite watchable. $1.25.

Zontar, the Thing from Venus, 1966, color, Larry Buchanan (dir.), John Agar, Susan Bjurman. 1:20.

John Agar: What more do you need to know? The calmly mad scientist, in this case helping Zontar to snatch a new research satellite (pulled from orbit to Venus, then back to orbit, in half an hour—but Zontar somehow needs that satellite to invade?), come to Earth, shut down all fixed and mobile power sources (including hand-cranked power and car engines, but somehow not including gunfire), and send out growths to take over key people and control the Earth. (Agar’s fed up with being ignored, and believes the infinitely superior oversized vampire bats from Venus will bring peace on Earth, until his best friend argues him out of it.) Apparently done as a TV movie. The color’s badly faded in most of the flick, frequently looking like sepiatone. Lots of sound damage as well. Could be better, could be a whole lot worse. Agar does such a great job of playing John Agar, sci-fi-crazy, and the ideal method for making a monster movie on the cheap: Zontar’s in the movie for, oh, two minutes, except as blurps and beeps on Agar’s radio. $0.75.

C&I 6.5: Temporary replacement for PDF

Thursday, March 16th, 2006

It’s clear that the PDF for C&I 6.5 is unacceptably large and slow, with at least one user saying that page 1 never appears. I credit my stupid agreement to accept a 36MB “upgrade” to Acrobat 7.0.7 for this wonderful state of affairs.

For now, I’ve replaced the typographically accurate but uselessly slow version with a very fast, very small, and unfortunately very Ariel (or “whatever”) version (the PDFWriter output from Word); it’s certainly readable, if certainly not what I want.

I’ll replace it with a proper version if and when I can get Acrobat downgraded to 7.0 and get it working properly again..

Update Friday, March 17: I’ve managed to “downgrade” to Acrobat 7.0 and generated a new full PDF, still larger than it should be, but the first page seems to show up in ten seconds or so. So I’ve uploaded that accurate PDF, and will try to solve the underlying problem before the next issue appears. Which is, of course, exactly how I want to spend my writing time…

But for now, you can either download the HTML version (lots more pages, Book Antiqua) or the PDF version (ugly typeface, 28 pages).

I knew it was going to be a special issue. I just didn’t know how special!

Cites & Insights 6:5 available–Diamond Anniversary issue

Thursday, March 16th, 2006

It’s the seventyfifth day of 2006, and C&I 6:5 is the seventyfifth issue of Cites & Insights. The special Diamond Anniversary edition is now available for downloading.

The 28-page issue, PDF as always (but also available as one big HTML file) consists of a tiny little Bibs & Blather and a 28-page

Perspectives: Seventyfive Facets–75 brief essays (average 290 words each), mostly new, some old (but most of you haven’t seen them), covering a range of topics.

The PDF is unusually large (about 50% larger than it should be), and I’m not sure why. If the problem continues next month (when a more normal issue should appear), I’ll rebuild the journal template to try to correct the anomaly. For now, well, expect a slow download and slow printing for Page 1; it should be fine after that.

Fair use: A brilliant comic book!

Thursday, March 16th, 2006

If you care about balanced copyright, fair use, and real creativity (which almost always means creating new works based in part on existing works), you really should go look at Tales from the Public Domain: Bound by Law?.

It’s a 70+-page comic book (color covers, b&w interior), with the first and last pages done in “Tales from the Crypt” style, and it tells an interesting and difficult story–and does so about as fairly and clearly as I’ve ever seen the story told.

It’s from Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain. You can view it online, download it, or buy print copies.

What can I say? I’m impressed. I’ll certainly revisit it when I get around to a big C&I piece on balanced copyright. (This is important: The comic book is not an attack on copyright or a claim that everything should be up for grabs–but it also doesn’t buy into the “permission culture” where every use of every artifact, no matter how fleeting, requires rights clearance.)

Fair warning and random notes

Wednesday, March 15th, 2006

Fair warning: I’m adding AdSense to this blog, later today (if I get the HTML right). For those of you who actually go to Walt at Random, there should be a new sidebar section. If the ads interest you, feel free to click on them. But only then: I don’t anticipate earning any significant amount of money here. But who knows? Over the next year or two, I might earn the $100 it takes to get paid by Google (that is, the advertisers).

I’m not adding AdSense to Cites & Insights; since that’s hosted by a public institution, I don’t think it’s appropriate.

Random notes: OK, I just wrote and then deleted a screed about TV critics, cheerleader outfits, and HBO dramas. Never mind.

However… It’s the ides of March, and the next issue of C&I marks an anniversary, diamond to be precise. It’s ready, and maybe it will emerge this evening instead of this weekend (as originally planned). It’s a little peculiar. (It’s a lot peculiar. Fortunately, the next real anniversary issue is almost two years down the line.)

Ironies abound

Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

A brief and blind blog item…blind because the blog involved is not within the biblioblogosphere, and I don’t need the hassle.

A biblioblogger (I believe) linked to an open source-related blog post talking about open source and libraries.

The open source-related blog uses blogging software that I don’t recognize as being open source, unlike, say, WordPress. (At least I can’t find any mention of open source or GPL or anything similar on the blogging software’s site, and it’s a priced product.)

That software typically supports printing of long posts in Internet Explorer, but not in the open-source Firefox. Unlike, say, WordPress.

I guess it’s another case of “Do what we say, not what we do.”

In this case, the post looked interesting enough to keep for further study–but it’s considerably more than one page long, so I have the choice of reading it online, copying-and-pasting the text to Word, or …I suppose…using IE. To read more about open source. Bwahahah…

Nerds and geeks on ebooks

Monday, March 13th, 2006

I don’t normally get anywhere near /., but I was pointed to this discussion by a blog that I read regularly (outside my aggregator, for some reason).

I certainly didn’t read all 577 comments (who knows? by the time you read this, there may be 600), but my general sense is that if the slashdotters are this…um…enthusiastic about ebooks, then even the sensible uses for ebooks are in trouble (never mind “replacing dead trees”).

A wiki for ALA New Orleans

Friday, March 10th, 2006

Meredith Farkas informs us that her brilliant unofficial ALA Chicago conference wiki will be succeeded by an official ALA New Orleans conference wiki.

I thought the Chicago wiki was an exceptional source both before and especially after the conference. I regard this as Very Good News.

Congratulations to Mary Ghikas (an old friend) for contacting Meredith Farkas and suggesting the wiki–and to Mary and Meredith both for choosing what’s almost certainly the path of least resistance, for an experienced Wiki hand like Ms. Farkas to set it up at her site.

Important note: “Official ALA wiki” does not mean that ALA will be building the wiki or constricting the flow of information. If you have information (which, for local arrangements, includes opinion, I believe) that should be part of our collective knowledge universe as we return to the not-so-Big Easy, make your voice heard. I don’t promise I’ll be contributing to the wiki, but I’d call the chances better than even.

Don’t feel any urgency to read this

Friday, March 10th, 2006

Today’s San Francisco Chronicle has a column that I find charming, even though it’s by a writer I generally find annoying. It’s available right here. (This columnist was originally an SFGate-only columnist, then the print newspaper added him. Maybe a mistake.)

“Don’t feel any urgency” because the last thing I want to do is add to the epidemic of adult deliberate attention deficit/”continuous partial attention.”

I’m beginning to realize that there may be yet another answer to the old question, “How do I get so much writing done?” While “I’m lazy, but I’m efficient” is an honest answer, another one may be that I don’t try to do two or three things at once (except for watching old B movies while exercising). Focus does wonderful things for effectiveness, and maybe even quality.

I found other things in the column resonated. Maybe I sleep reasonably well because, at home, I have one cup of excellent Kauai coffee around 6:30 in the morning (and don’t drink either regular tea or soft drinks, so that’s about it for caffeine)–and because I don’t make any effort to stay on top of multiple things at once.

As always, YMMV–but I’m increasingly convinced that multitasking as a way of life is a great way to do many things badly instead of a few things well, and I wonder if it doesn’t mess up your mind and body in the process. Time will tell–or won’t, because in our “post-truth society” people will ignore evidence that doesn’t suit them.

Architecture and youthful enthusiasms

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

[Caution: Mini-memoir ahead, very little relevance to libraries–well, except for maybe SFPL]

The local paper has an urban design critic, which I suspect is fairly rare; it used to have an architecture critic (an irascible and delightful one at that), but the new critic’s charge is much broader. One theme in a few recent items hits home with me: The resistance of too many communities to any new design ideas in buildings. The most recent hook: a strikingly modern building in downtown Palo Alto, a break from all the faux Mission and similar buildings.

It’s an interesting point. It’s sad to see creeping homogeneity–every town having the same kinds of malls with the same set of chain food outlets–and it’s always a delight to find the differences that are around the edges of that sameness. (San Antonio’s a paradox in some ways: the Riverwalk in general is a celebration of locality–but the Rivermall at one nexus could, possibly sans river, be dropped unchanged in any medium-size city with almost no changes. Still, the downtown has regional character, and more local restaurants and bars than chains.)

But while it’s great for a city to have a style, it’s sad if that style becomes frozen in time, with all new buildings being more-or-less successful imitations of old buildings (usually with less panache, frequently with cheaper materials and techniques). There’s a slightly related issue–taking preservation so far that even the crappiest old buildings are hard to replace–but I won’t get into that here.

“and youthful enthusiasm”? Yep. Back oh, say, 35-40 years ago, I used to care a lot about architecture. When Architectural Forum was a Time Inc. magazine, I subscribed for several years (and read every issue: I’m one of those people who really does read every magazine I get cover to cover). I dropped the subscription when it became difficult or very expensive for non-architects to subscribe. I lived in Berkeley then, not a bad place for a lover of architecture.

Some youthful enthusiasms grow into adult hobbies or passions. Some fade. This one faded. I still pay some attention to design, but with no real knowledge to back it up; I don’t read about famous architects or subscribe to any architecture or design magazines. (I never considered studying architecture formally, as I never had or have any suspicion that I would have any talent for design. Quite apart from my inability to sketch or draw…)

One somewhat heretical point kept making itself over the years, possibly reinforced by the fact that my father’s an engineer: Some (many? most?) big-name architects design buildings that are great architectural Statements but lousy Buildings.

If you don’t know what I mean by that, it’s a little difficult to explain; if you do, you can probably think of some examples. Great constructions with wonderful window-to-window joints, which behave like most window-to-window joints: They leak. Always. Magnificent shapes with so many interior load-bearing walls that the building can’t be modified to meet the changing needs of its inhabitants. Buildings that require constant care to keep working at all. Need I mention Fallingwater? There’s also Wright’s design for a mass-produced house; I visited the one example, and was horrified by the extent to which it insisted that the inhabitants live The Way Frank Wanted. Buildings that you can’t walk near because the sun blasts off their swoopy metal exteriors. Auditoriums with awful acoustics.

Not all of them, by any means–either all famous architects or all of their buildings. But too many for comfort. One problem (particularly with leaky roofs and joints, sagging foundations, lousy acoustics, etc., etc.) is that some architects lack respect for engineers and don’t consult them.

I have to admit, I wonder how people will feel about most Frank Gehry buildings, say, 20 years after they’re built–and how well they’ll be used. In some ways, I’m sad to see the great old TWA terminal at JFK being gutted–but I had occasion to use that terminal, and it was a horrendous place to actually use in the last two decades of the millennium (and apparently a bear to keep running).

So maybe it’s just as well that the youthful enthusiasm faded. I’m sure I loved Statement Architecture as much as anyone else; I’d be sad to see so many of those Statements turning into sad legacies. Buildings are for use; that’s not always an easy thing for an artist to hear.