Monday, September 28, 2009

Michael Collins (astronaut)

I was actually going to write up this post in late July during the 40th anniversary celebration of the moon landing, but shockingly I was sidetracked by procrastination and laziness (totally unbelievable, I know). I could have just scrapped the whole entry and wrote about some other current topic, but as the Catholic church has demonstrated, it's better to have an egregiously belated response than no response at all. Besides, there are far worse examples of tardiness when it come to news about the moon landing.

If you haven't already figured it out from the title, I was going to write about Michael Collins, Apollo astronaut, member of the first manned spaceflight to land on the moon, one of only 24 human beings to have flown to the moon, and the receiver of one of the rawest deals in history. Ask most average people on the street to name the first three men to go to the moon and you're likely to get mostly Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin; but more often then not, Michael Collins would be completely overlooked. Some people might not even have known that there was a third guy involved. It'd be like that episode of Seinfeld where everybody kept forgetting the name of the third member of the Three Tenors after Pavarotti and Domingo (Jose Carreras).

Of course you can't really blame most people for forgetting about Collins, such is the lack of fame one gets for being the poor sap who makes the historic journey all the way to the moon, reaching the zenith of human progress and ingenuity, and then getting stuck with the selfless job of sitting in an idling spacecraft while your other two crew mates go and take a historic jog around the lunar surface for a global audience. Obviously, his role was absolutely crucial to the success of the mission, but you have to believe that somewhere along the crew selection process for the Apollo 11 mission that he must lost a wager or a coin toss to have been relegated to such an undeniably thankless position.

So while Neil Armstrong gets the eternally bad ass distinction of being the first guy on the moon and a soundbite for the ages and Buzz Aldrin get sloppy seconds distinction and a memorable Simpsons cameo; poor Mike can't even beat Irish freedom fighter Michael Collins for wikipedia priority on Google searches. It's really an unfair double twist of history that he would have the least prominent role on the space mission and have a name that was already made famous decades prior to his own birth. Had he even had a cool nickname like Buzz, I figure he'd have at least twice the recognition he has today. It would have been a lot harder to relegate to the forgotten background of history a "Iceman" Collins or a "Superfly" Collins.

Well, at least they got Cary Elwes to play him in HBO's "From the Earth to the Moon" miniseries back in 1998, a pretty flattering choice for any astronaut.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


I came across an interesting article in TIME about how a computer scientist at the University of Warwick in England devised a way to modify a Xbox 360, to detect heart defects and help prevent heart attacks. Apparently the powerful computing power of the gaming system provided a faster and cheaper tool for detecting heart defects than the usual supercomputers utilized by current doctors.

When I read this, it immediately struck me as the complete opposite version of those old 3DFX commercials where cutting edge chips and processors are used to play PC games rather than save lives:

Of course anyone familiar with the subpar quality of later 3FDX products would agree that even if they used the technology for medical science, grandpa would still be keeling over at the birthday table. There's a good reason the company has been long defunct. Product quality aside, these commercials were pretty spot on though. Seriously, they're probably about a decade old, but giant tech company ads they are paraodying are still as bland and generic as ever.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Great Lessons of Slick Rick

As some of you may recall, a couple weeks back right after Labor Day, as the new school year was beginning for students all across America, the President decided to give a little back to school pep talk to all the young students out there. Of course there was some notable controversy over this seemingly harmless gesture; some considered it a worthwhile gesture to give kids an encouraging and uplifting message to start the school year, others considered it straight up brainwashing and the diabolical early steps of the gradual cultivation of Stalinesque cult of personality.

There were some protests here, some boycotts there, some counter protests here, kids were pulled out of school to miss it, kids were pulled out of school to catch it somewhere else. Eventually nothing much came of it and people moved on to other substantial controversies (like taking back America one tea bag at a time). As for me, my verdict on the speech was through the perspective of if I was still high school student: it was a harmless presentation to kill some time off the school day with a fairly pretty generic PSA message I'd forget by lunch.

I had all but forgotten about this mildly current event, until I found myself listen to Slick Rick's all time classic 1988 debut album "The Great Adventures of Slick Rick", the album that established Slick Rick as the greatest storyteller in the history of hip-hop. Within all the elaborate, outrageous, arrogant, vulgar, hilarious, raunchy, irreverent, genius, stories spun by Rick over the album's 12 tracks, there emerges more than a few important lessons to be taken away from the Ruler's tales. Through some of the most well known and sampled classic old school hip hop beats and Rick's distinctive British accented delivery one comes away from the album with such valuable life lessons like: the folly of a life of crime ("Children's Story"), the dangers of getting caught up with the wrong crowd ("The Moment I Feared"), the importance of Native American cultural sensitivity ("Indian Girl (An Adult Story)"), maintaining healthy relationships ("Treat Her Like a Prostitute"), and of course properly acknowledging Slick Rick's superior rapping prowess ("The Ruler's Back").

However the track most relevant and helpful to the youth of today and the one that reminded me of the President's speech was "Hey Young World". Stripping away the usual braggadocio and lurid misogyny of his other songs, the Ruler takes a moment aside to directly address the kids (although I can't imagine that many kids buying Slick Rick albums at the time) and sings with the genuine, eye patch wearing "real talk" wisdom of a guy who would eventually be deported for attempted murder. The song is both a great motivational challenge and heartfelt plea to the young people of the country as Slick Rick drops some common sense truth bombs about the perils that are holding back the generation and pushes everyone to realize their full potential as the future of the world.

So in the end I think perhaps the President could have just gone with broadcasting a little MC Ricky D at the start of the day and maybe have avoided the accusations of indoctrination and socialist brainwashing (I mean really who's going to challenge the Ruler?). After all if you boil down the meat of the President's flowery speech he's just saying it's not "cool to look bummy and be a dumb dummy and disrespect your mummy" (in addition to avoiding teenage pregnancy, crack, crime, and being a drop out). Essentially the same.

...and kids do you chores.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Picture This!

So one of the featured stories on the Yahoo! front page was a link to some article about Michelle Williams sharing her grief about the death of ex boyfriend and baby daddy Heath Ledger in the new Vogue issue. Unfortunately the headline of the link and the accompanying picture is sending me some mixed messages.

Click to enlarge

I have always considered Michelle Williams to be one of the more insufferably serious and generally un-fun celebrities around today, but that accompanying picture looks about as happy as I've ever seen her. I just have to say it's a bit incongruous with the "I thought we had lost everything" quote directly to the right of it. I don't know, maybe there are more solemn and introspective looking shots in the magazine.

Also, where would the internet be without a steady stream of "animals doing human stuff" pictures like that surfing dog on the bottom right?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Yo! Bum Rush the Show

Wow, from all the facebook updates currently blowing up all over about Kanye's sudden storming of the VMA stage you'd think it was the equivalent of Kennedy being shot (the president not the former VJ). Frankly, I'm surprised that so many people even watch the VMAs (you know with the almost complete decline into irreverence of the music video as an important cultural force and all).

As for Kanye's actions, I'm not going to hate on him for it. As far as award interruptions go, it was fairly mild. I'm chalking it up to Kanye being Kanye. Nobody's feelings were hurt, MTV's got another great moment to throw in future VMA retrospectives, and we're all obviously better off for it. However, I do have to disagree with his fervent claim that "Single Ladies" is "one of the best videos of all time". I don't see it. I don't think it was even good enough to beat Taylor Swift. Now the 1994 VMAs, when MCA as his alter-ego Nathaniel Hornblower ran up to the stage to announce his absolute outrage at R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" winning best direction over "Sabotage", he was well within his rights to protest that injustice.

"This is an outrage! This is a farce!"

Of course no post about famous music award show disruptions would be complete without mention of the late ODB's moment at the 1998 Grammys, still the gold standard for award disruptions.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Bored Photoshopping: Goofus and Galant

For me (and most likely everyone else around my age) the entirety of my childhood experiences and memories reading "Highlights" magazine all come exclusively from doctors' office waiting rooms. I never subscribed to them and I never knew any other kid growing up who subscribed to them. Frankly to this day I can't imagine anybody in America, aside from private medical practitioners, who would subscribe to them. I don't know, maybe kids growing up in the 40s and 50s subscribed to them. Maybe at the start of every new month they'd eagerly rush home from their stick ball games and their malt shops or whatever kids did before television and video games got big, in the hopes of finding a fresh new copy of the latest "Highlights" magazine waiting for them in the mailbox.

I figure there must be some people other than members of the American Pediatric Society still dutifully renewing their subscriptions because it's surprisingly still around today. Even with all the newspaper bankruptcies, publishing industry struggles, ominous discussions about the impending end of print media, and the recent cancellation of "Reading Rainbow", "Highlights" is somehow apparently still doing business without being reduced to a blog. Despite all contemporary evidence indicating its imminent demise, it soldiers on quietly and unremarkably; like "COPS" or Lindsey Hunter.

I don't know if it was because they were forever associated with dreaded doctor visits or that the articles just plain sucked, but I can't really associate any lasting memories about reading "Highlights". The only thing I (and once again probably everyone else around my age who read them) remember are the Goofus and Gallant cartoons demonstrating proper and improper child behavior. In retrospect, I sort of sympathize with the bad sheep Goofus. Really, his parents are the ones to blame here. Not only did they do a poor job in terms of parenting and establishing proper discipline in raising him, they really stacked the deck by sadistically naming the poor child Goofus. How could a parent name their child Goofus and not expect them to constantly have anger issues and display antisocial tendencies?

On the other side, Gallant is a pretty lousy name to saddle a kid with as well, but at least it has positive, noble-minded connotations. And while I am more than a little suspicious as to what questionable degree of strict disciple and conditioning the parents may have engaged in to create such a disturbingly polite and mannered boy, at least he'll stay out of trouble as he grows up (or completely snap one day and release his long held repression in a murderous rage). It is only quite recently that I actually noticed that his name was even Gallant (like a gallant knight). For years the name I had in my head was Galant (like the Mitsubishi Galant). Apparently I wasn't too off, galant is the original French word for gallant. I actually kind of like my old "Galant" better, it sounds more believable as a person's name.

Still I wonder how old Goofus' antics would stack up against a Japanese mid-size sedan with no free will....

(click to enlarge)

I think I might be safer with the Galant.