the painted smile

Detail of the cover of 'V for Vendetta' #1
The fifth of November it is, and indeed we do remember …

The next problem was the creation of the main character and the actual setting for the strip. Since Dave [Lloyd] and I both wanted to do something that would be uniquely British rather than emulate the vast amount of American material on the market, the setting was obviously going to be England. Furthermore, since both Dave and myself share a similar brand of political pessimism, the future would be pretty grim, bleak and totalitarian thus giving us a convenient antagonist to play our hero off against. Not unnaturally, I recalled my original idea for “The Doll” and submitted a rough outline to Dave. It was a pretty conventional thing really and little more than predictable comic book fare with a few nice touches. It had the sort of grim, hi-tech world that you could seek in books like Fahrenheit 451 or, more recently, in films like Blade Runner. It had robots, uniformed riot police of the kneepads and helmets variety and all that other good stuff. Reading it, I think we both felt that we were onto something, but that sadly this wasn’t it. […]
    One night, in desperation, I made a long list of concepts that I wanted to reflect in V, moving from one to another with rapid free-association that would make any good psychiatrist reach for the emergency cord. The list was something as follows; Orwell. Huxley. Thomas Disch. Judge Dredd. Harlan Ellison‘s “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.” “Catman” and “Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World” by the same author. Vincent Price‘s Dr. Phibes and Theatre Of Blood. David Bowie. The Shadow. Nightraven. Batman. Fahrenheit 451. The writings of the New Worlds school of science-fiction. Max Ernst‘s painting “Europe After The Rains,” Thomas Pynchon, The atmosphere of British Second World War films. The Prisoner. Robin Hood. Dick Turpin
    There was some element in all of these that I could use, but try as I might I couldn’t come up with a coherent whole from such disjointed parts. I’m sure that it’s a feeling that all artists and writers are familiar with… the sensation of there being something incredibly good just beyond your fingertips. It’s frustrating and infuriating and you either fold up in despair or just carry on. Against my usual inclinations, I decided to just carry on. […]
    The big breakthrough was all Dave’s, much as it sickens me to admit it. More remarkable still, it was all contained in one single letter that he’d dashed off the top of his head and which, like most of Dave’s handwriting, needed the equivalent of a Rosetta Stone to actually interpret. I transcribe the relevant portions beneath:
    “Re. The script; While I was writing this, I had this idea about the hero, which is a bit redundant now we’ve got [can’t read the next bit] but nonetheless… I was thinking, why don’t we portray him as a resurrected Guy Fawkes, complete with one of those papier mache masks in a cape and conical hat? He’d look really bizarre and it would give Guy Fawkes the image he’s deserved all these years. We shouldn’t burn the chap every Nov. 5th but celebrate his attempt to blow up Parliament!”
    The moment I read these words, two things occurred to me. Firstly, Dave was obviously a lot less sane than I’d hitherto believed him to be, and secondly, this was the best idea I’d ever heard in my entire life. All of the various fragments in my head suddenly fell into place, united behind the single image of a Guy Fawkes mask. (Moore 1983—hyperlinks inserted by me)

MOORE, ALAN AND DAVID LLOYD. 1982-1989. V for vendetta [graphic novel]. Warrior 1-16, 18-26.
MOORE, ALAN. 1983. Behind the painted smile. Electronic Document. Available online.

who is emerging?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #48
Who is emerging?
Who is emerging from that door? And where is he headed to?
    Just leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]

UPDATE and solution (11 November 2011):
Titlecard of 'The Face of Fu Manchu' (Sharp 1965)
And again Alexander Rabitsch almost immediately recognized the movie the screencap stems from: The Face of Fu Manchu (Sharp 1965), starring Christopher Lee. But he is reluctant to tell us who it is, emerging from the doorway:
Opening scene of 'The Face of Fu Manchu' (Sharp 1965)
It’s Christopher Lee, yes, and within the story it seems that it is Dr. Fu Manchu, heading towards his own beheading. Even his arch-enemy Sir Denis Nayland Smith (Nigel Green) believes so. But it isn’t. Rather the sinister Doctor has hypnotized an unnamed Chinese actor who now is executed instead. That’s not too much of a spoiler, because the ruse is quite obvious within the first few minutes of the movie.
Christopher Lee as Dr. Fu Manchu in 'The Face of Fu Manchu' (Sharp 1965)

SHARP, DONALD HERMAN ‘DON.’ 1965. The face of Fu Manchu [motion picture]. Munich: Constantin Film.

flippy floppy sim

A sim card trimmer and a floppy disk hole puncher
A well-known carrier over here once advertised the iPhone 4 as featuring a ‘new SIM card technology.’ What they meant was the so-called ‘micro-SIM.’ Well, meanwhile we have reached the ‘nano-SIM’—yet another unbelievable leap of technology. But hold your breath, it gets even better. By investing five bucks you can be at the forefront of innovation yourself, by buying the ‘Nano SIM Cutter,’ which ‘takes any regular or micro size and trims the excess off to provide you a precision cut nano SIM. It’s simple, you insert your SIM card with the contacts facing downwards, push the SIM card all the way in, and push down on the lever. The cutter will provide you with a perfectly cut nano SIM card every time! These Nano SIM Cutters are built from hi-quality stainless steel to ensure high precision cutting.’ [pictured on the left]
    This reminded me of a technological triumph from back in the 1980s, from my time with a C64. We used 5.25” floppy disks (which indeed were floppy). Unfortunately you could only write data on one side of the disks—unless you cut a square whole into the disk cover at the right spot along its edge. Then you could simply flip the disk over, insert it into the drive, and read/write on the backside. This procedure made a floppy disk into a flippy disk. Some clever businessman professionalized the procedure and manufactured a precision floppy disk hole puncher [pictured on the right]—I even owned one of those.
    Under the bottom line: micro-SIM to nano-SIM equals floppy disk to flippy disk.
    Isn’t historical continuity in technology a wonderful thing?


o’bannon and lovecraft

Over at Strange Shapes they have a fine article on The Engineer Mythos.’ Here’s the opening paragraph:

When Dan O’Bannon was twelve years old he stumbled across an old anthology of stories in a book store. He paid the nickel and took it home. Inside was a story titled The Colour Out of Space, by HP Lovecraft. “I stayed up all night reading the thing, and it just knocked my socks off,” O’Bannon said. In Lovecraft’s fiction the universe is a source of both awe and terror. Humanity’s dominion over the world is illusory. Revelation is destructive and victory is often paltry, if attainable at all. Humans are beleaguered by demons, devils, minor and major gods, and chthonic beings. Lovecraft would go on to inspire O’Bannon’s creative life, with HR Giger telling Cinefantastique in 1988 that Dan was “definitely one of the greatest Lovecraft experts around.” In 1979 Giger and O’Bannon brought their own form of Lovecraftian terror to the screen with Alien, which according to Dan, “went to where the Old Ones lived, to their very world of origin … That baneful little storm-lashed planetoid halfway across the galaxy was a fragment of the Old Ones’ home-world, and the Alien a blood relative of Yog-Sothoth.” Whilst Lovecraft’s influence on Alien was expressed as a very palpable undertone, in Prometheus Lovecraft’s notions of alien creators would be embodied further through the daemonic Engineer race. [hyperlinks inserted by me]

What a wonderful connection between Lovecraft and cyberpunk :)

via Strange Shapes @ fb

hand fixing hand

'Hand fixing hand' by Shane Willis
Like countless others I am a huge fan of the work of M. C. Escher since my boyhood. Like his ‘Reptiles’ Escher’s Drawing Hands are apt to serve as a metaphor for countless things, like e.g. the process of ethnography. The Hand fixing Hand version by photographer Shane Willis transposes this to yet another level.

via entry at io9

behind the metropolis

Metropolis scenery
Just refound these two behind-the-scenes stills of the set of Metropolis (Lang 1927), showing how one of the most famous vistas in the history of the moving images was built. From looking at them alone it becomes understandable why the movie was so costly.
At the set of 'Metropolis' (Lang 1927)

LANG, FRITZ. 1927. Metropolis [motion picture]. Berlin: Ufa.

massive filing up

A filing cabinet
You might perhaps have noticed that during the past weeks the overall number of entries here at xirdalium has substantially increased. Including this one, there now are 1058 posts all in all. This is due to my finally having imported all the content from my first blog, ye ole xirdalium, which is no longer in existence. You can access all this content via the pages menu at the very bottom of the page, via the monthly archives at the bottom of the sidebar to the right, or, best of all, via the search field, also in the sidebar. Every single post is probably indexed by Relevanssi, the search module implemented in xirdalium—even the free version I am using here is excellent, employing logical search operators AND and OR, highlighting the search terms in the search results, giving you the results weighted by relevance, and so on. In contrast to the indexing for the search function, which is done by Relevanssi itself, the tagging and sorting of posts into the congeries unfortunately has to be done by me handishly—there simply is no other way. Hence the tagcloud and the congeries menu, both also in the sidebar, have not yet caught up with all the imported content. I already began with sorting and tagging, but for quite some time the search function will remain the most reliable and comprehensive means of finding things here. Above that you will run into posts which not yet are formatted properly, which lack pictures, and which contain broken links. Fixing of all this is under way, but will take some time. Nevertheless, all the text is there.


between which worlds?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #47
Between which worlds?
Between which worlds is the man the depicted hand belongs to travelling?
    Just leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]

UPDATE and solution (31 October 2012):
This was a slip, I have to confess. Normally, before I post a quiz, I check for the most obvious search terms, so that the riddle isn’t solved too fast by the help of mere technological assistance. This time I omitted that step. Maybe because I found the title ‘between which worlds?’ just too compelling. Anyhow, that way Alhambra immediately solved #47. Without having seen the movie, and without ever even having heard of it, as she confessed to me via e-mail. Congratulations nevertheless—John Carter (Stanton 2012) it is! And here is yet another slip of mine: In the movie the hand doesn’t belong to Carter (Taylor Kitsch), but to his nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara).
Title card of 'John Carter' (Stanton 2012)
The movie is largely based on the novel A Princess of Mars (1917 [1912]) by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who also invented Tarzan. As a homage the character of Burroughs as Carter’s nephew was put into the 2012 movie’s script. ‘A Princess of Mars,’ originally published in serialized form as ‘Under the Moons of Mars,’ was the very first story Burroughs wrote. All in all ten sequel novels followed, telling the adventures of John Carter and his offspring. Although not the first of its kind, the ‘Barsoom series’—’Barsoom’ being the ‘indigenous’ name of the planet we call ‘Mars’—is an early, well known, and very influential planetary romance (a peculiar fusion of science fiction and fantasy). Another well known example are the adventures of Flash Gordon, from whom we just recently heard two times (what is this? and the the flash inspirations). While Gordon travels from Earth to the planet Mongo the ‘conventional way,’ by rocket ship that is, John Carter seems to be teleported from Earth, from the Arizona Hills to be precise, to Mars by an, at first, inexplicable force. In the novel this happens at the end of the second, and the beginning of the third chapter:

As I stood thus meditating, I turned my gaze from the landscape to the heavens where the myriad stars formed a gorgeous and fitting canopy for the wonders of the earthly scene. My attention was quickly riveted by a large red star close to the distant horizon. As I gazed upon it I felt a spell of overpowering fascination—it was Mars, the god of war, and for me, the fighting man, it had always held the power of irresistible enchantment. As I gazed at it on that far-gone night it seemed to call across the unthinkable void, to lure me to it, to draw me as the lodestone attracts a particle of iron.
    My longing was beyond the power of opposition; I closed my eyes, stretched out my arms toward the god of my vocation and felt myself drawn with the suddenness of thought through the trackless immensity of space. There was an instant of extreme cold and utter darkness. (Burroughs 1917 [1912]: chpt. 2)

I opened my eyes upon a strange and weird landscape. I knew that I was on Mars; not once did I question either my sanity or my wakefulness. I was not asleep, no need for pinching here; my inner consciousness told me as plainly that I was upon Mars as your conscious mind tells you that you are upon Earth. You do not question the fact; neither did I.
(Burroughs 1917 [1912]: chpt. 3)

Another planetary romance, which I read as a teenager and admire until today, is the epic graphic novel saga around the hero Den by Richard Corben—very much inspired by John Carter of Mars [and by Lovecraft—a cosmic demon god in the world of Neverwhere is called Uluhtc …]:

Then it came to me. My name is … was David Ellis Norman. I was mourning my Uncle Daniel’s death. They had never found him but now, after seven years it was legal. Some of his belongings had come into my possession including his collection of Burroughs fantasy novels. In the back of one was a piece of paper with an electronic schematic on it … there was also a letter … addressed to me. (Corben 1977-1978, part 2: 49)

David decides to build the device described by the plans of his uncle, takes it ‘to an abandoned farm area’ and tries it out:
David Ellis Norman trying out the device he built by the plans his uncle left to him (Corben 1977-1978, part 2: 50)

David Ellis Norman trying out the device he built by the plans his uncle left to him (Corben 1977-1978, part 2: 50)

Planetary romances, sometimes even dubbed as the ‘sword and planet‘ genre, of course are not cyberpunk at all. But it is remarkable, I think, that during the historical treshold, when the cyberpunk discourse became manifest as a literary genre, Richard Corben integrated technology into the saga of Den, with otherwise comprises fantasy and the downright supernatural: David Ellis Norman is transported from Earth to Neverwhere, and is transformed into Den, by a force or principle which can be made to work by both electronics and magic:
David Ellis Norman for the second time spawning in Neverwhere as 'Den' (Corben 1981-1983, part 6: 89)

David Ellis Norman for the second time spawning in Neverwhere as ‘Den’ (Corben 1981-1983, part 6: 89). This time he presumably didn’t travel by the means of technoscience, but made his journey using magic—mind the amulet around his neck.

In this I sense something similar like in the story about how the cyberpunk discourse infested the zombie genre.

BURROUGHS, EDGAR RICE. 1917 [1912]. A princess of Mars. Chicago: A. C. McClurg. First serialized as Under the moons of Mars in The All-Story.
CORBEN, RICHARD. 1977-1978. Den. Heavy Metal 1(1): 5-12, 1(2): 45-52, 1(3): 45-52, 1(4): 12-18, 1(5): 9-17, 1(6): 9-17, 1(7): 45-52, 1(8): 9-16, 1(9): 7-14, 1(10): 33-40, 1(11): 9-16, 1(12): 7-14, and 1(13): 6-13.
CORBEN, RICHARD. 1981-1983. Den II. Heavy Metal 5(6): 6-15, 5(7): 33-40, 5(9): 17-24, 5(10): 76-79, 5(11): 39-42, 5(12): 84-89, 6(1): 21-24, 6(2): 21-24. 6(3): 20-23, 6(4): 12-16, 6(5): 73-76, 6(6): 19-24, 6(7): 19-24, 6(8): 20-25, 6(9): 36-41, 6(10): 78-86, 6(11): 14-20, and 6(12): 37-43.
STANTON, ANDREW. 2012. John Carter [motion picture]. Burbank: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

nand to tetris

Two years ago I belatedly reported on Shimon Schocken’s and Noam Nisan’s book ‘The elements of computing systems: Building a modern computer from first principles’ (2005). Since then quite some things have happened, and at the website From NAND to Tetris you’ll now find a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC ;)—the whole course, including all the materials, has been put online open-source fashion. The idea is to lead you from the uttermost basics, in this case the logical NAND gate [Negated AND or NOT AND] to build a system on which you finally can program and run a Tetris game. The rationale behind that is to correct the fact that first principles got lost within much of our contemporary computer science syllabi. Here’s from the TED talk above:

So, it’s not surprising that about twelve years ago, when Noam and I were already computer science professors, we were equally frustrated by the same phenomenon. As computers became increasingly more complex our students were losing the forest for the trees. And indeed it is impossible to connect to the soul of the machine if you interact with a black box PC or a Mac which is shrouded by numerous layers of closed proprietary software. So Noam and I had this insight, that if you want those students to understand how computers work, understand it in the marrow of their bones, then perhaps the best way to go about it is to have them build a complete working general purpose useful computer, hardware and software, from the ground up. [from 03:30 onwards | my transcription—put the blame on me]

Whenever I hear about the first principles of computer science, I am reminded of something engineer Frederic Williams (1911-1977) said. Williams, together with Tom Kilburn (1921-2001), oftentimes is quoted as having invented the Manchester Mark 1, the ‘Manchester Baby,’ the first stored-program digital computer. But Williams himself impressively set the record straight:

Now let’s be clear before we go any further that neither Tom Kilburn nor I knew the first thing about computers when we arrived in Manchester University […] Newman explained the whole business of how a computer works to us.
    Tom Kilburn and I knew nothing about computers […] Professor Newman and Mr A. M. Turing […] knew a lot about computers […] They took us by the hand and explained how numbers could live in houses with addresses […]. (Williams cf. Copeland 2006: 112—bold emphasis mine)

The creation of the computer as we envision it today mainly began during World War II and came to full fruit immediately after the war. This span of time is the historical threshold of the discourse ‘modern computer,’ if you’d like it in Foucaultian terms. The sames is true for cybernetics. Sometimes, especially during the 1970s, it was spread that cybernetics came first, and that the ‘invention of the computer’ was founded on it. That’s an ill conception. Rather both discourses were very much in parallel chronologically and mutually inseminated and influenced each other, had and have a dialectical relationship, if you will. Put the other way round: they depend on each other. The cybernetic cosmology, among many other things, very much influenced that shape of our educational systems. The whole idea that education and learning can be controlled, regulated and steered by using the tools of quantification stems from the enormous success of cyberntics, especially during the 1960s. In respect to this I only can again urge everybody capable of reading German, to dive into David Gugerli’s great article ‘Kybernetisierung der Hochschule’ [‘Cybernetification’ of the university] (2008).
    Shimon Schocken, musing about the thousands who are going through his and Noam Nisan’s MOOC, has matching thoughts:

These people can not care less about grades. They are doing it because of one motivation; they have a tremendous passion to learn. And with that in mind I’d like to say a few words on traditional college grading—I’m sick of it. We are obsessed with grades because we are obsessed with data. And yet grading takes away all the fun from failing. And a huge part of education is about failing. Courage, according to Churchill, is the ability to go from one defeat to another without losing enthusiasm. And, and Orwell—Orwell said that mistakes are the portals of discovery. And yet we don’t tolerate mistakes, and we worship grades. So, you collect your B-plusses and your A-minusses, and we aggregate them into a number like 3.4, which is stamped on your forehead and sums up who you are. Well, in my opinion we went too far with this nonsense and grading became degrading. So, with that I’d like to say a few words about upgrading. [from 10:00 onwards | my transcription—put the blame on me]

And now scroll up again and watch the whole of Shimon Schocken’s TED talk.

COPELAND, B. JACK. 2006. “Colossus and the rise of the modern computer,” in Colossus: The secrets of Bletchley Park’s codebraking computers edited by B. Jack Copeland, pp. 101-115. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
GUGERLI, DAVID. 2008. “Kybernetisierung der Hochschule: Zur Genese des universitären Managements,” in Die Transformation des Humanen: Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte der Kybernetik edited by Michael Hagner and Erich Hörl, pp. 414-439. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
SCHOCKEN, SHIMON AND NOAM NISAN. 2005. The elements of computing systems: Building a modern computer from first principles. Cambridge: MIT Press.

mountains of madness

Panel from 'At the Mountains of Madness' (Lovecraft & Culbard 2010: 89)

Panel from page 89 of ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ (Lovecraft & Culbard 2010).

Back in late 2010 we had scottish illustrator and graphic designer Murray Groat‘s wonderful TintinLovecraft crossover covers [check out Murray’s blog, portfolio and deviant art page—there’s more Lovecraftia to discover]. Matchingly enough in the same year a wonderful graphic novel version (Lovecraft & Culbard 2010) of H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (1936) by I. N. J. Culbard was published—drawn in the best ligne claire tradition. For the full experience you first might want to read Poe’s ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket’ (1838) … and if you want to know every fictional story which ever happened in Antarctica, here they are.
Detail of the cover of Astounding Stories 16(6) [February 1936]. Art by Howard V. Brown.

Detail of the cover of Astounding Stories 16(6) [February 1936]. Art by Howard V. Brown.
LOVECRAFT, HOWARD PHILLIPS. 1936. At the mountains of madness. Astounding Stories 16(6): 8-32, 17(1): 125-164, and 17(2): 132-164.
LOVECRAFT, HOWARD PHILLIPS AND I. N. J. CULBARD. 2010. At the mountains of madness [graphic novel]. New York: Sterling.
POE, EDGAR ALLAN. 1838. The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. New York: Harper & Brothers.