Come On, Let's Go.


I am, quite literally, a year behind on the times with this, but I just started watching Portlandia (it just arrived on Netflix) and the opening song from the first episode has been stuck in my goddamn head for a week now. It's always good to see that a sketch comedy show with a budget you could hold in a change purse can produce something like this. Even without the humor, it's a good and almost unfairly catchy tune.


Three Ring Orchestra

So, in the early 1990s composer Marc-André Hamelin decided to create a piece of piano music specifically for the player piano. How is it specifically for the player piano? Well, it is completely impossible for a single person to play this. Several might be able to do it, but then it wouldn't be played as intended. Here's a MIDI rendition, along with the sheet music. Now, I'm sheet-music-illiterate -- I got out of Music Appreciation in high school with my school's equivalent of a gentleman's C (meaning I made it clear that having me repeat the class would be to no one's benefit at all) -- but you can plainly see the complexity.

Of course, it's not the same without seeing it on an actual player piano. Or, more specifically, an actual player piano that looks as if it's possessed by ADHD-riddled ghosts trying to chase a cat off the keys:




A few years ago, a guy named Shamus Young coded something really cool: a procedurally generated city. Using just a few assets (a bit of texture, some general building models, a bit of code for cars) he makes and entire world appear. He explains it much better than I do in the video. You can download it here. It exists as a Windows screensaver file -- .scr, remember those? -- and is a whopping 127K.


Bonus Get

So, I bought the Humble Indie Bundle this year -- something I suggest everyone who likes video games do -- and I got into a game I never thought I would. Bit.Trip Runner is a game reminiscent of Rez and Vib Ribbon: an auto-moving platformer that "generates" music. It's a game that requires memorization and very strict reflexes, neither of which are my forte or even something I thought I would enjoy. But it somehow it all comes together. The controls are incredibly limited; you can jump, spring off platforms, slide and kick through obstacles. Each obstacle has only one way around it. Playing the game becomes something more akin to practicing a musical instrument than beating a stage in Super Mario Bros. The minimalist chiptune/synth tracks it creates are things of beauty. Here's a play-through of the stage I am currently stuck on:


Little Boxes

So, I don't really like CGI. While I understand the effort that goes into it, I just don't think it'll ever look as good as miniaturization, pyrotechnics and the like. So I am really digging on this HBO intro from 1983.

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Charlie and the Laughter Factory

Ever wonder where canned laughter came from? Well, a man named Charley Douglass and his invention the Laff Box [sic] was responsible.

The one-of-a-kind device was tightly secured with padlocks, stood more than two feet tall, and operated like an organ. Douglass used a keyboard to select the style, gender and age of the laugh as well as a foot pedal to time the length of the reaction. Inside the padlocked concoction was an endless array of recorded chuckles, yocks, and belly laughs; exactly 320 laughs on 32 tape loops, 10 to a loop. Each loop contained 10 individual audience laughs spliced end-to-end, whirling around simultaneously waiting to be cued up. There was also a 60 second "titter" track in the loop, which consisted to individual people laughing quietly. This "titter" track was used to quiet down a laugh and was always playing in the background. When Douglass inserted a hearty laugh, the titter track was played along with it to smooth out the final mix. This titter track was receive minor changes every few months. A man's deep laugh would be swapped out for a new woman laugh, or a high-pitched woman's giggle would be replaced with a man's snicker.

Witness! the apex of simulated mirth with the Laff Box:


Define “Well-Adjusted”

I, and most other people with functioning hearts and souls, love Calvin and Hobbes. And if there's one C+H tradition reinforced above all others, it's Calvin's crazy-ass snowmen. Bill Watterson, through Calvin, created some marvels during the strip's run, many of them being considerably (and hilariously) more adult-oriented than the rest of the strip. So, here's a tribute to the man, the boy, and their mutual genius by Jim Frommeyer and Down in Front's Teague Chrystie. The fact that this was made by hand is rather impressive as well. Good job all around!

(Also: I just want to make it clear that, despite the language of the finale, Bill Watterson is alive and well. Just retired and spending his days fishing.)

Thanks to this attribution-less page, I can show you which strips the scenes in the above videos came from. Unfortunately, there's no datestamps, so I can't get you higher quality shots than the ones available on that incredibly old-school webpage (that was almost certainly Designed In Notepad! For Netscape Navigator! IE Keep Out! and so on.)

...and, finally, my personal favorite snow strip, and the source of the title of this post:


The End of Laughter

We all love dumping on Jim Davis. Garfield hasn't been funny in, well, ever, and his career is the Platonic form of selling out. Even when I was twelve years old and going through Garfield books like mad, I never remember finding it more than clever and familiar; Garfield was one of the first cartoons I remember enjoying in America. However, in 1989, Jim Davis did something really strange one October week. He had Garfield wake up in an abandoned house, alone and afraid. Reading some comments on the strips, there's a few individuals who say that he is haunting the old house. Others think it's a sad Rip Van Winkle-type situation. Either way, it's not one-liners about lasagna and Mondays. Plus, check at that eye in the first panel of the last comic and the Twilight Zone-style ending narration. I read this as nothing less than the last hurrah of Jim Davis' soul before he exchanged it for a pile of money the size of my apartment.

(Then again, he did give his personal blessing to the bleak and surreal garfield minus garfield so who knows what's going on in his head)

Co. Mind=Blown!


Ode On A Grecian Urn

Arrested Development and Andy Richter Controls the Universe are two shows which really, really stand up to repeated views. And, therefore, I have seen the entire runs of the two series at least a half-dozen times apiece. That is slightly over six and a half straight days of the same twenty-six hours of television. Needless to say that after such viewings, certain things tend to jump out. For instance, I love this prop from Lucille's apartment in AD. It almost looks as if it were painted on the wall and then a frame set out in front to make it look like a painting; a sort of trompe-l'œil.

So, when I was watching Andy Richter tonight, for the first time in a while, I saw this image, and ended up fast-forwarding through three episodes of AD to figure out if I was looking at the same Fox studios prop, two years apart in time (that Richter episode aired in '02, AD in '04.)

As you can plainly see, they are two separate vases, but are almost certainly created by the same individual.


I Was Victorious

Orson Welles didn't just shill frozen peas and cheap wine. No, he also phoned-in an ad for a long-forgotton Milton Bradley board game called Dark Tower (no relation to the Stephen King epic.) If you remember Krusty the Klown showing Bart how to record for a toy -- I'd try to find a link but I've no intention of even trying to find a iPhone recording of a VHS tape that somehow hasn't been taken of YouTube yet -- the acting is roughly that quality.

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