Saturday, January 24, 2009

A dent in the world

Twenty-five years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh at an event in the Flint Center for the Performing Arts to an audience of about 3000 people.

The above link has links to many historical resources about the occasion, including a YouTube video of that event a quarter century ago. Highly recommended!

It would be fair to say that the Macintosh changed the course of my life. Believe it or not, at one time I was fairly well known in the Mac shareware community for my user interface designs and was training to go to work for Apple itself. Some of the highest highs and lowest lows of my life have been connected with Apple hardware and software and the people I met because of them.

And if you're reading these words now, you can say the same thing. You owe the web itself to Tim Berners-Lee developing his global hypertext system on the NeXTstep platform -- which was both successor to the Macintosh and direct ancestor of the current OS X operating system. But more than that, by marrying the vision of Jef Raskin back in the late Seventies of a relatively affordable computer for ordinary people to the mouse-driven graphical user interface borrowed from Xerox PARC, the Macintosh so fundamentally altered the way people thought of computers that we can't even see it anymore.

Computers used to be Colossus: The Forbin Project and math geeks with pocket protectors handling stacks of punched cards with loving care. All of a sudden, the world of computers became a space ordinary people could see and reach into. In one sense, the Internet had existed back in late 1969, well before there was an Apple Computer...but we would not now think of it as a place for us to be in, if not for the innovations brought to us by the Macintosh.

That is some big dent in the world right there.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Images found at grickily's Krazy Kids Items set at Flickr via the amazing collection of Dan Goodsell.

I remember buying these because they featured the JLA, but I'm pretty sure I never wore any of the tattoos.

This post inspired by a chance sighting at Jon's Random Acts of Geekery.

Update: a bit more here and here -- both of us drawing on the original post here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Feel free

Another treat from the XTC vaults with this video for "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" taken from The Laughing Prisoner, filmed on location in Portmeirion and broadcast in April 1987.

Simply because of the title, I'm going to call this a tribute not only to Patrick McGoohan but also to John Mortimer -- barrister, champion of civil liberties and freedom of expression, political activist, writer of the autobiographical A Voyage Round My Father (a film which helped me better understand my relationship with my own father) and, of course, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey.

(Funnily enough, McGoohan and Mortimer are both most famous for their work involving Leo McKern, who played both Horace Rumpole and the most formidable yet ultimately sympathetic Number Two in The Prisoner.)

A while back, I swore off making any more posts about the deaths of any of my childhood icons...but I had to violate that promise once again, because the careers of both these guys were so important in my life. (Mortimer also advised Monty Python on avoiding prosecution over the film Life of Brian so he gets a twofer in my personal pantheon of heroes.) So here's to you both, for the things you did in both fiction and real life that helped other people become a bit more free.

As a bonus, here's the real meaning of The Prisoner so far as I'm concerned:

The correct answer to "Why did you resign?" is it's nobody else's business. That's not avoiding the answer, it is the answer.

Hope that clears up any questions.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

From the blueprint of the weird

This might be the best thing ever.

I have almost no tolerance for Kirby pastiche. Whenever I see people refer to GØDLAND as "Kirbyesque" I wince inwardly, even though the artist is an old chum from the Jack Kirby mailing list. The very word "Kirbyesque" or the term "Kirby as a genre" employed in the pages of The Jack Kirby Collector causes me pain. Even Rick Veitch doing his best Kirby just makes me shrug and go "yeah, cute, whatever" and put up with it. The only Kirby homage I've genuinely enjoyed is Doris Danger by the thoroughly wonderful Chris Wisnia. And now this.

Unlike the equally good Crime and Punishment by Dick Sprang pastiche by R. Sikoryak, this isn't a mashup intended to produce irony via the juxtaposition of incongruous source materials. At least, I don't think it is. These guys seem to get that Kirby's Fourth World genuinely is about personifying these inner drives and primal urges...and that Freud really does present psychoanalysis as a heroic struggle against vast power principles locked in Cyclopean conflict. Kirby and Freud were already speaking the same language anyway; Ryu and Hans Rickheit just pointed it out to the rest of us.

(Thanks to Matthew Brady for the link.)

Update: Among previous Kirby tributes, I forgot to mention I also liked the charming Donatello TMNT one-shot from 1986 by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the entirety of which is available online.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I choose to believe what I was programmed to believe

One nice thing about recuperating is the chance to catch up with all those old episodes of Futurama I've only seen seventy times, especially now that we've also got the direct-to-DVD original movies I've only seen twenty times.

I associate Futurama with sick beds and recuperation because Cartoon Network aired a farewell marathon of the show at the beginning of last year, right when I was laid up with severe bronchial pneumonia. I spent all that time propped in front of the television set, unable to function and hoping only for a momentary distraction from my misery. If I'm ever in a severe auto accident and suffer frontal lobe damage, I'll spend all my time saying "People said I was dumb, but I proved them!" and "I'll make my own theme park! With blackjack! And hookers!" and "I'm literally angry with rage!" -- or conversely, "I've never heard of such a brutal and shocking injustice that I cared so little about!" -- and "Teach me to love, you squishy poet from beyond the stars!" Presumably I'll still be trying to sputter out "Hey baby, wanna help me kill all humans?" when someone finally smothers me with a pillow.

So anyway, I'm out of the hospital and back home and everything is going well. In medical terms, my body has sustained what it considers an unprovoked assault and is retaliating against this perceived insult by trying to drive out all intruders. When this immune response calms down a bit, I should be able to breathe better than I have in many years. Soon I'll have to get caught up on work I've missed over the past few days in order to be ready for NYCC at the start of next month, though right now I'd gladly skip the convention this year...which says more about how tired and achey I am at the moment than anything else.

Thanks to everyone who posted a comment or sent an e-mail wishing me well. You deserve a special treat for that. Since folks seem to like the links I find, please enjoy Andy Partridge of XTC discussing how "The Man in the Ant Hill" by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers in Tales to Astonish #27 inspired a song on the 1989 album Oranges and Lemons.

P.S.: That song is called "Across this Antheap" and may be listened to here.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A joke for the occasion

"O woe! O misery!" cried the wealthy lady. "My son is in the hospital, having an operation! His promising musical career is at an end! He may never play the grand piano again!"

Her butler was confused. "I beg your pardon, madam? Your son doesn't play the grand piano!"

"What? Of course he does!" she replied. "I hear about it all the time. People are always telling me, your son really is an incredible pianist, isn't he?"

Maybe it works better if you read it out loud.

Anyway, this is just a heads up to say I'm off to the hospital today for some minor surgery, and I might be out of touch for a few days while I recuperate. Obviously my wonderful blog readers are forebearing and patient folk who aren't ever bothered by me going for days or even weeks without posting...but it seemed worth mentioning here in case anyone is waiting for an e-mail or other communication from me.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Highly interesting link

According to the anonymous author, "The Gerber Curse is a work in progress. As of this writing, there are three chapters covering Steve Gerber's life and work up to 1978. More information and illustrations may be added to these chapters in the future, or some information may be deleted or altered. There's still another 30 years to cover."

I don't know who the author is, but there's a lot of good stuff in these three chapters so far...though it's much less detailed than it could be. I hope the author will a) step forward to receive credit, and b) expand and continue the project as promised.

On a personal note, if you consider that essay I wrote about my childhood move to New York from Pennsylvania while reading the description of Omega the Unknown in The Gerber Curse, it should be fairly obvious where my fixation on the Omega series came from. My parents were not, to my knowledge, robots...but I definitely had that too intellectual, trying too hard to be a detached observer thing down pat. Part of the reason I still feel cheated we never got the resolution Gerber and Mary Skrenes had in mind for the series is that I really was desperately hoping to get some more tips on how to cope with life from James-Michael Starling.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Students of abnormal psychology take note

Sayre, PA was an almost impossibly perfect manifestation of the ideal American small town. It was unbearably picturesque: the town in which Norman Rockwell paintings seem to take place. Fictional towns like Smallville or Riverdale would have seemed bustling and cosmopolitan by comparison. But the town was also narrow minded, parochial, conservative, economically depressed and oppressive, with little hope of escape for those born there. The television series The Prisoner never seemed like science fiction; I always felt as if I'd lived it.

Among the half dozen highly entertaining blogs maintained by indefatigable blog master Rob Kelly at any given moment, perhaps my favorite is Hey Kids, Comics! Its mission statement is "to share the beloved memories of discovering comics for the first, second, tenth, or hundredth time" and over the past couple of years, some two dozen contributors have stepped forward to share heartfelt, sentimental, touching, and sometimes painfully honest essays and ephemera about their childhood memories and earliest associations with comic books. The focus is not so much on the comics themselves but rather on the authors' lives and formative experiences.

In the latest installment, Rob has posted an essay by me about a major change in my life at the start of a new year and how it connects with my childhood fixation on comics, written in one sitting shortly after midnight this New Year's Eve. This is probably the most openly I've ever written about my childhood; normally I like to keep my cards a lot closer to my chest and not reveal a lot about my past. But Rob had graciously invited me to contribute...and though I didn't think I could offer anything up to the level of what usually appears on that blog, when this anecdote bobbed to the surface it seemed like the best thing I could offer in the way of thanks to the other contributors for their excellent posts.

As I told Rob, I have a sinking feeling this essay will convince everyone I'm secretly autistic. Well, maybe so: I am pretty devoted to watching The People's Court every day. Be that as it may, I promise anyone who reads this will know me a lot better...even if it does make you look at me a bit more suspiciously from now on.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Unsung casualties of the new year

The year 2008 has claimed one final victim. The guys who invented those New Year's novelty eyeglass frames in the shape of the year numbers starting in 1991 are closing shop as of 2009.

"It doesn't look very good for 2010. You wind up with a '1' in front of one of your eyes."

You see these things at parties and high school graduations and on television every year and you just take them for granted until suddenly they're gone. Even worse, like all true innovators, these guys were undercut by cheap knockoffs and never received their full due for the original idea. But here at least, we celebrate the names of Richard Sclafani and Peter Cicero, unsung visionaries.

More details here.