Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Disney, The Gremlins, and World War 2.

From The
Illustrations from Jim Hill Media

"According to Keith Larue, in the darkest hours of World War II, the British Secret Service, led by "A Man called Intrepid" (aka William Stephenson), infiltrated agents into both enemy and neutral countries. The purpose of these agents behind enemy lines is obvious; but in neutral America, Intrepid's agents had a less obvious purpose: inspire sufficient public sympathy to enable Roosevelt to openly support Britain.

These agents included actors, astrologers, and — a children's author! Not only that, but the children's author was infiltrating Walt Disney's studios!

Roald Dahl, then a pilot injured in action with the RAF, was sent to the U.S. as an air attache. His outspoken style made him at once unpopular with his Air chiefs, and a favorite of the cocktail set. He was packed home, recruited by Stephenson, and sent back with a promotion, much to the chagrin of the Air chiefs.

Dahl With actress Pat O'Niel

In 1943, Dahl wrote "The Gremlins", a book for children about the hazards of being an RAF pilot. The Gremlins were little havoc-wreaking creatures, the anthropomorphized explanation for any mishaps experienced by pilots and their machines. If a plane experienced a hydraulic failure over the North Sea just as it was being bounced on by Nazi fighters, it was said that it was the work of the Gremlins. According to the Warner Brothers Cartoon Companion,
[The Gremlins were] mythical beasties, "the little men who aren’t there," allegedly responsible for "die-a-boll-lickal sab-o-tay-gee" in aircraft. While the Roald Dahl versions of the critters are probably best remembered — he wrote a best-selling book about them while serving in the war — variations on the characters go back to at least World War I. The critters took on a life of their own, and became part of the lore of World War II. The Disney studio attempted to make a movie out of the Dahl book, but ultimately abandoned the project. Disney tried to urge other studios against working with his characters — so of course, Robert Clampett went on to make two separate cartoons featuring Gremlins. First, he used a gremlin to battle Bugs, who, unusually, gets the worst of it in Falling Hare (1943). The title of the second cartoon was changed from Gremlins from the Kremlin to the somewhat less effective Russian Rhapsody (1944) before being released.

Gremlins weren't quite Dahl's invention though: the name gremlin was first coined during the 1920's. RAF insider jokes blamed gremlins for all the technical malfunctions in airplanes. Douglas Bader tells of a German Lager-Offizier nicknamed "Gremlin George" in early 1942. Gremlin jokes were widely used by the RAF during the World War II and so got into popular culture as well.

The book came to the attention of Walt Disney, who planned to make a cartoon film version. In the process, one small edition of a cartoon book was printed, featuring somewhat Mickey Mouse–ish Gremlins. These certainly looked much milder than some more recent portrayals of their species, and probably much milder than Dahl's idea of them. At any rate, the film was never made, some say because of the difficult task of making loveable creatures who exist solely to destroy Allied airplanes.(Disney actively tried to stop others from making Gremlin cartoons, however.)"

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

When is a box not just a box, when is a cup not just a cup? Himitsu-Bako

From Wikipedia:
A puzzle box (also called a secret,or trick box) is a box which can only be opened by a non-obvious and sometimes complicated series of manipulations. Sometimes, a simple squeeze at the right spot will do the trick. On the other hand, sometimes many movements of small pieces are necessary for the box to open. Hence some puzzle boxes are closely related to burr puzzles. Jewelry used to be kept in trick boxes so that a potential thief would have problems seeing and stealing the contents. Puzzle boxes have been crafted all over the world, including Morocco, Poland and South America. By far the most intricate and beautiful is the Japanese puzzle box, covered in complicated patterns of rich wood inlay called Yosegi and featuring complex mechanisms to open them. At first glance they appear smooth and without any opening, but by various obvious or hidden panels, may take anywhere from 2 to over 200 movements to open.

yoshio okiyama

The Japanese puzzle box can be as small as an inch long, or up to over a foot in length. They are adorned with elaborate inlaid wooden geometric designs, an independent craft in itself. They are produced in a few towns in small area of Japan. The town of Hakone in particular is regarded as the center of both the creation and the continuing evolution of this National Traditional Handicraft as designated by the Minister of Industry in 1984. In Japan the boxes are known as "Himitsu-Bako" or "Secret Box ...."

These boxes were made in various complexities and consist basically of 4 moves with a variety of twists here and there to trick the person trying to open these exquisite boxes, but the real trick is finding the correct series of movements that can range from 2 to 125 moves. Mr. Yoshio Okiyama is credited with making the most complex box which requires 125 moves to open. He also made boxes which require from 78 to 90, 102, 122 moves to open and his final box, made while he was in his late 70's, was a 119 move box with a wood picture of a Geisha on the top and a bow, as on a gift, on the bottom. Only 19 of these complex boxes were made for sale while another 8 in a different style were made for sale in foreign markets. Mr. Okiyama passed away in March of 2003 approximately at the same time as another great Master of this craft, Mr. Kenji Suzuki. On the other end of the scale of complexity is the greatest Master Craftsman of them all, the famous Mr. Yoshiyuki Ninomiya, who makes the finest most perfectly made Himitsu-Bako to ever grace a collector's display area. Finding the Kannuki on one of his boxes is often nearly impossible to the untrained eye. Mr. Ninomiya has made fit and finish his life's work, at least in terms of the Himitsu-Bako. For over 50 or 60 years now he has perfected the creation of these boxes to such a degree that he is far and away the finest woodworker of this craft.

There's also this excellent practitioner of himitsu-bako: Akio Kamei

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Maybe Too Weird for Here: The Pussyfoot

Since s.a. and I have - intentionally or unintentionally - kept meine kleine fabrik Safe For Work I didn't want to break with that tradition, but I also found something too weird to at least mention. So, if you want to see something very definitely weird and/or wonderful but very Not Safe For Work, click this link that'll take you to my M.Christian site.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The great and unknown US/Russian jet powered commuter train race.

From Dark Roasted Blend:

Our boys: The M-497 jet powered commuter train. Hobos lived in fear of it being put into full service..

"This jet-enhanced train car was tested (successfully) in the summer of 1966. This was the time when rail-road usage declined in America, as the interstate highway system completed its major routes and airlines drew increasing numbers of travelers. New York Central research team, led by Don Wetzel, was assigned a task to collect data on possible high-speed rail service and whether the tracks could handle high-speed passenger traffic.

Wetzel and his crew adapted two General Electric J-47-19 jet engines, which had been designed as boosters for the Convair B-36 intercontinental bomber. These were mounted just above the engineer’s station at the front of the car. Wetzel’s original design had the jet engines at the rear, but this changed after his wife, making her point with some sketches on a dinner napkin, suggested that the locomotive would look better with them mounted up front. This switch also helped keep the nose of the locomotive on the tracks. The Cleveland shop fashioned a black streamlined cowling for the front of the Budd car, which was designated M-497. Workers called it the Black Beetle."

"Them": Its maximum speed was around 249 km/h (around 180 mph). And it had engines from Yak-40 passenger jet plane. It was shown at the Great Siberian Railway main terminus..but being too cold to go outside so no-one saw it and therefore its actual excistance was denied for many years,..even by its own crew.
God bless silly-assed Russian hating America. It was a glorious never-to-be vision of the future. Just imagine it dear reader: Local trains blowing through the sleepy local suburban stations at 180 MPH sucking wayward luggage and small children off the platforms, geeky life-hating trainspotters being inhaled by the screaming of the General Electric J-47-19 jet engines sadly even before they could even take its number and the dull, sooty, and painfully traditional blue and white pillow ticking of the engine drivers uniforns being replaced by the bright silver of Chuck Yeagers hand-me-Downs.

I will shed a single tear for the future we were deprived of.....

Movies You Haven't Seen But Should: Mishima, a Life In Four Chapters

Only things we have to say:
1. It's directed by Paul Schrader
2. It's soundtrack is by Philip Glass
3. It's about the weird life of Yukio Mishima (the gay novelist, bodybuilder, and right wing fanatic who unsuccessfully tried to insight a coup, but ended up committing seppuku)
4. It's brilliant
From the IMDB:
A fictionalized account in four segments of the life of Japan's celebrated twentieth-century author Yukio Mishima. Three of the segments parallel events in Mishima's life with his novels (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), Kyoko's House, and Runaway Horses), while the fourth depicts 25 November 1970, "The Last Day"...

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Future Will Be Nomadic: Mary Mattingly

From Wikipedia:
Born in 1978 in Rockville, Connecticut, Mary Mattingly is an artist living and working in New York. She received her BFA degree from Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon, and is also the recipient of a Yale School of Art Fellowship. Her work explores the themes of home, travel, cartography, and humans' relationships with each other, with machines, with corporate and political entities. She is known for creating photographs depicting futuristic and obscure lands, for creating wearable art "wearable homes", and her ecological installations including the "Waterpod."

"In the design of the Wearable Home, I examine the cohesive threads of cultures’ and groups’ clothing throughout the world; from Inuit cultures to saris in India, Muslim, Hindu, Zen Buddhist garments, American Gap, Banana Republic, the Khaki Overcoat, muslin design prototypes, construction uniforms, kimonos, Dockers, safari camouflage, military uniforms, the blandification and brandification of garments spanning cultures worldwide to make one, general look de-emphasizing self and re-emphasizing everything else (collaboration, ideas, survival, modularity, etc.). I think this, over time, is a creative way to think about the outcome of mega-mergers and the illusion of choice, technology and the idea of utopia, as well as wiki-run systems. The result, then, may be that one wearer would be indistinguishable from the other, thus greatly alleviating the threat of the end of privacy. Our distinguishing features would be greatly masked in this context to the naked eye, however the pervasiveness and scrutiny of high-powered networks would still catalog our movements and whereabouts."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Too Fast For Smart People to See: Skyfish and Rods

From Wikipedia:
Rods, a rather new entry in the field of Cryptozoology, are said to be creatures that flit about in the air at such a high speed as to not be seen by the naked eye. Rods appear to be observational artifacts produced by rapidly flying animals. Practically all sightings of rods are based on video evidence, due to the propensity of video cameras to produce characteristic stroboscopic artifacts when imaging rapidly flying animals, especially insects, but also including birds. Their recent popularity seems to be a result of media exposure in television and in tabloids. Jose Escamilla, who runs the website, has appeared in numerous interviews and television "investigations".

And there are even toys - collect the whole set (if you can find them, that is):

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Wizard in a Sick Green Jacket

One of our fondest memories of the doing the SF con 'thing' back in the 70s was getting introduced to the Wizard of Speed & Time, aka Mike Jittlov, a wildly imaginative short (and even long) film maker.

Here's two of our faves:

"Finales are always memorable because they're at the end of a movie, and everyone knows they can leave soon" - Mike Jittlov

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Welcome to Weirdsville: Oooops!

No one is immune: tyops typos slip in, numbers get misdialed, directions are screwed up. We all make them; no one is perfect.

Accidents happen.

Which makes this piece a runner-up for a no duh award. After all, the people involved are just like the rest of us, with the same quirks, frailties, and lapses of judgment that everyone else has. The fact that they were trained professionals, that they’d be trusted with world-shattering responsibility, is inconsequential. No one on this globe, ever, has gone through his or her days without making at least one, and more than likely millions, of accidents.

Or, as a witty bumper-sticker put it: shit happens. That these particular instances of crap could easily have reduced a sizable hunk of this world to a Geiger-clicking pit doesn’t make them any different than any other form of ‘oops’.

Except that these mistakes involved thermonuclear weapons.

Ever since man split the atom, it seems, he’s been dropping the little suckers. Oppenheimer and those wacky guys at the Manhattan Project even started the trend, with their precious little game of trying to guess if that first atomic firecracker was going to set the atmosphere on fire. Though every time I hear that story I wonder what the posted odds had been.

While I don’t have the time or the space to list all of them, here’s a sample of nuclear boo-boos guaranteed to make you at least look up the next time a plane scrawls a contrail across the sky, or go fishing.

Just a few years after Oppy and crew turned a piece of the American desert into a glowing tourist spot, a B-36 putting its way from Alaska to Texas had a slight problem staying in the air. Luckily for the crew they managed to drop their bombs, which fell 8,000 feet, landing with a bang off the coast of British Columbia. Luckily for Canada only the bombs’ high explosives went off, not their nuclear cores. It was a very nice opening shot, a 1950 intro to ‘nuclear weapons accidents’.

Eight years (and several similar accidents) later a bomber from Hunter Air Force Base, Georgia made a severe ooops when it dropped its cargo of one nuclear device onto the backyard of the Gregg family in South Carolina. Fortunately for the Greggs, and South Carolina, again ONLY part of the bomb that went off was the ordinary component of the warhead which injured six members of that clan and made a nice divot in their garden: a hole 70 feet wide and 30 feet deep. The blast also took out five other houses and damaged a church. For almost irradiating a sizable hunk of the US, the Air Force coughed up $54,000.

One of my favorite atomic butter fingers is the one that almost plays out as a Zucker Bro’s gag: A bunch of US sailors at a Scottish base, rollicking it up, maybe wolf-whistling at some highland cutie, did a boo-boo and dropped (yes, I said dropped) a fully-armed Poseidon missile some twenty or so feet. It is pretty safe to say that the base laundry was very busy that night getting stains out of underwear.

Another tragic yet almost comedic incident of near nuclear devastation occurred in 1980, this time with almost Pythonesque timing. A sudden explosion in a Titan missile base near Little Rock, Arkansas popped the top of a silo off like a cheap champagne cork and tossed the missile’s 9 megaton warhead straight up. Landing some 1,000 feet away, it was later found to be pretty much intact.

Like said, this little piece is much too short to do into the couple ... no, wait, that isn’t quite fair, more like the dozens and dozens and DOZENS of nuclear weapons mishaps that have livened up the lives of US and international servicemen. But I haven’t even touched on the ones that got away.

Imagine if you will, some sport fisherman trying to forget a hectic few months at the office by hooking himself a handsome marlin. He’s out there, casting and reeling, casting and reeling, letting those stressful workdays melt off as he imagines how nice that deep sea beauty will look on his office wall, when he has a nibble, then a bite.

And, boy, what a bite!

In a hot flash of atomic fusion, the ocean for miles around simply vanishes in an expanding bubble of superheated steam. The shockwave travels through the surrounding ocean, a compression sledgehammer that kills everything it encounters, reducing life and the sea floor into component molecules. For a moment, the sun blooms under water.

It would be inaccurate to say that there are a few stray thermonuclear devices ‘floating’ around out there because there are certainly more than a few.

In 1957 a C-124 hauling three atomic devices from Delaware across the Atlantic suddenly developed serious engine trouble. The crew, rather than ride the nukes down to the briny deep, dropped their cargo somewhere between Rehobeth, Delaware, and Wildwood, New Jersey. Got that? Get your charts out and rent yourselves a boat or two, because there’s nuclear treasure to be found out there.

The very next year a B-47 smacked into another plane, spilling it’s own atomic cargo into the ocean off of Savannah, Georgia. They looked and they looked but they couldn’t find it. Savanah used to be quite a lovely city ....

Also in 1956 (not a very good year for the military) another B-47 bomber flying to Europe vanished without a trace. Poof! In addition to one very excellent aircraft, the Air Force also lost a nuclear device.

Somewhere sperm whales are using it for a back scratcher: in ‘65 an A-4E jet simply fell off the USS Ticonderoga as it steamed somewhere near the coast of Okinawa and sank in 20,000 feet of water. That little plane was also carrying one hellava large bomb and, somewhere in all that water and pressure, it’s still there.

The Russians have also had their own share of nuclear mishaps, and while we haven’t heard about most of them , the ones we HAVE heard of it enough to make you pack your dehydrated beans and go live up in the hills. For instance, in 1986 a Soviet Yankee class nuclear sub sort of .... well, sank some 600 miles from Bermuda. In addition to its own nuke power plant, this fine example of Russian engineering was also carrying a few thermonuclear weapons ... 34 of them to be exact.

My all-time favorite, and the one that spawned this little trip to radioactive weirdness, is this little tidbit of cold war fear. While it doesn’t rank with 34 missing warheads, you’ll see how that doesn’t necessarily mean that this story has what you’d call a happy ending.

In 1961 a B-52 decided to do a shake-and-shimmy over North Carolina, dropping two 24-megaton nuclear weapons. One of the little toys released its parachute and glided down to a less-than-gentle landing.

The other device though smacked down somewhere in waterlogged farmland. Not at sea, not in 20,000 feet of water, not ‘off the coast’ of anywhere. Farmland, near North Carolina. Anyone live in North Carolina? Come on, a show of hands … gee, quite a few of you. Isn’t North Carolina a great place to live? You might, though, consider a quick relocation because even though this little boo-boo happened over twenty years ago the capable US military never recovered that little gizmo. It’s still out there. Tick, tick, tick, tick ....

I can hear some of you die-hard optimists mumbling something about ‘safety’ and ‘redundant backups’. Well, you just keep mumbling that comfortable little mantra to yourself while I casually bring up that other bomb, the one that parachuted down. Well, while they found that little fissionable puppy, the guys that inspected it found something very interesting. You see, a device of that type has six safety devices -

- and five of them had failed.

Good night, America, and all the ships at sea. Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite, and always remember: accidents will happen.