comic book newsstand

Mike’s Amazing World of Comics features an amazing tool for historians of popular culture: The Newsstand. It allows you to choose any month, beginning in 1934, and then the system will give you the covers of all comic books which were on sale [in the US of A] this very month. Included publishers are: Marvel, DC, Archie, Charlton, Dark Horse, Dell, Gold Key, Harvey, and Image.

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the quantified body

Whenever I hear or read about the quantified self—a lifestyle obviously deeply influenced by the heritage of cybernetics—I am reminded of conversations I led and overheard while I still was visiting the gym regularly, three times a week. Already when just eavesdropping I was amazed by the topics the real bodybuilders talked about. The weights lifted almost aren’t a topic at all—with the exception when they spot somebody they care about using too heavy weights. This not only has negative training effects but greatly heightens the risk of injuries, too. Then, somewhat related to the former, there is the topic of correct execution of the exercises. But, roughly estimated, almost eighty percent of the conversations the big boys lead is filled with training plans and nutrition en détail. This was corroborated once I could take part in the discussions, after having been socially accepted by the circle of the big boy regulars at my gym—doing ten repetitions in the fifth set with 90 kgs on the bench is the threshold, I guess. Not that I myself was a big boy then, far from it, but to their satisfaction they had seen that I was serious about their sport and cared for it. Exactly the same experience I had with all communities of practice I ever had to do with, be they composed of hardcore gamers, game modders, Karatekas, or whatyouhave. Once you have demonstrated respect, prolongued interest, and willingness to invest, you’re in.
    Anyway, back on topic. It’s obvious that the quantified self movement has its roots not only in cybernetics, but also in flight medicine, sports science, and the like. I always thought that sooner or later the practices and scenes of the gym will be reconnected with the quantified self. Bruce W. Perry’s book ‘Fitness for Geeks’ (2012) does it.
    Unqualified addendum: You people must have time …

PERRY, BRUCE W. 2012. Fitness for geeks: Real science, great nutrition, and good health. Sebastopol et al.: O’Reilly.

moving the map

Here is yet another example from the games with defects: PlaygroundPong. From the documentation:

PlaygroundPong is a proof of concept for inverting Avatar & Playground. The player cannot move the paddles at all like in a regular Pong game. The ball seems to move from side to side but clearly it does not! The player cannot identify with the avatar (playing object), he or she has to get to terms with moving the background (from left to right, right to left, top to bottom and bottom to top) in order to bring the paddles in a position where they manage to hit the ball back. The paddles themselves slightly move up and down according to what direction the player moves the playground to. An utterly unfamiliar set up for a player who expects to play and navigate an avatar. He or she now plays the playground and tries to keep avatars and object in position. The player needs to rewire his or her brain before succeeding with the inverted gameplay.

This reminded me of two fine Quake-related Chuck-Norris jokes: ‘When Chuck Norris rocket jumps, he doesn’t launch up, the map moves down’ and ‘Chuck Norris doesn’t need to move, map moves for him.’
    But isn’t that almost always the case, at least with the absolute majority of 3D-games? When playing Quake my crosshairs are fixed to the middle of the screen. When I hit ‘jump’ neither my screen nor the crosshairs attached to it move upwards, rather the representation of the map moves downwards on my screen. Same for all other directions of movement.
    I hate to say that, but in this respect we all are Chuck Norris.
    This somewhat awkward fact is covered by the design of gameplay mechanics, foremost by inversion of controls: when I hit ‘right’ the map moves to the left, etc.
    And while we are at it, all this also reminded me of an almost six years old idea of mine, which in a way fits into the games with defects philosophy: second person view.


Favorite what is this?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #46
What is this?
What is the tiny shiny artefact displayed by the hands? From which movie does the screencap stem, and what role in the plot of that movie does the artefact play?
    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 (25 October 2012):
Title card of 'Charlie Chan in London' (Forde 1934)
Although Gutterflower had a fine association, nobody seems fit to solve the riddle, so here it is: The screencap is taken from Charlie Chan in London (Forde 1934). The artefact depicted is an airgun projectile. As Inspector Chan (Warner Oland) draws closer and closer to the solution of the story’s mystery the murderer gets ever more nervous and makes an attempt on Chan’s life using said airgun:
Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) examining the airgun with which an attempt on his life was undertaken in 'Charlie Chan in London' (Forde 1934)

Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) examining the airgun with which an attempt on his life was undertaken in ‘Charlie Chan in London’ (Forde 1934)

The exotic weapon plays only a minor role in the movie, but I was struck by the design of its projectile. I can’t prove it, but I have a hunch that this design goes back to the very first science fiction comic strip.
    The first installment of Buck Rogers was published on 07 January 1929—originally written by Philip Francis Nowlan (1888-1940) and, from 1929 to 1947, pencilled and inked by Dick Calkins (1895-1962). Early on in the story rocket ships appear which look quite similar to the projectile above. ‘Buck Rogers’ immediately got tremendously popular and was widely circulated. Even back then a merchandising industry already existed and soon matching toys were produced:
Ca. 1935 Buck Rogers tin rocket ship toy manufactured by Louis Marx & Co.

Ca. 1935 Buck-Rogers tin rocket ship toy manufactured by Louis Marx & Co.

Rogers developed into a full-fledged franchise from which spawned movie serials, feature films, a 1980s television series and much more. The early success of Buck Rogers inspired Alex Raymond (1909-1956) to create his own sci-fi hero comic strip: Flash Gordon,’ which had its debut on 07 January 1934. In it we already find ‘our’ rocketship design. For illustration I chose a later strip, the Sunday strip of 08 September 1940, showing off Raymond’s artistry at its peak:
The 'Flash Gordon' Sunday strip of 08 September 1940 by Alex Raymond
In the panel at the far left there are several characteristic rocket ships. The tank in the middle panel at the top follows the very same design language. By the way, at the top right you can see the epic’s main heroes, from left to right: Dale Arden, Dr. Hans Zarkov and Flash Gordon himself.
    ‘Flash Gordon’ in no time reached and even surpassed the popularity of ‘Buck Rogers.’ Already in 1936 a first movie serial was made, starring Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe as Gordon, Jean Rogers as Arden, Frank Shannon as Doctor Zarkov, Priscilla Lawson as Princess Aura, and Charles Middleton as the Princess’ father, Emperor Ming the Merciless (clearly inspired by Sax Rohmer‘s evil genius, the sinister Dr. Fu Manchu). In the serials of the time Crabbe played not only Flash Gordon, but Buck Rogers and Tarzan, too. He was the ultimate hero icon, and, just like the soon to be iconic silver-screen Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller, an Olympic swimming champion.
    Here is a screencap from ‘The Planet of Peril’ (Stephani & Taylor 1936), the first episode of the first ‘Flash Gordon’ serial:
Screencap from 'The Planet of Peril' (Stephani & Taylor 1936)
The rocket ship depicted is used by the soldiers of Emperor Ming who capture Arden, Gordon and Zarkov.
Screencap from 'The Planet of Peril' (Stephani & Taylor 1936)
Here we can see the same rocket ship in full flight, bringing the captives to Ming’s citadel in the background. In the lower left corner, parked on the ground, is the ship in which our heroes travelled from Earth to the planet Mongo. This ship was built in the USA by the earthling Dr. Zarkov but features the same design as Ming’s extraterrestrial ships. So the peculiar æsthetics were known on Earth, too. Little wonder then that the projectile meant for Charlie Chan looked alike.

FORDE, EUGENE. 1934. Charlie Chan in London [motion picture]. Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox.
STEPHANI, FREDERICK AND RAY TAYLOR. 1936. The planet of peril. Episode 1 of Flash Gordon [movie serial]. Hollywood: Universal Pictures.

why technologies fail

Boingboing’s Maggie Koerth-Baker has written a fine column for the New York Times Magazine called Why your car isn’t electric,’ investigating the question why some technologies fail, and others succeed. For a deeper understanding of the matter at hand and and the examples used, I recommend Pinch & Bijker 1984 and Pfaffenberger 1992.

PFAFFENBERGER, BRYAN. 1992. Technological Dramas. Science, Technology, & Human Values 17(3): 282-312.
PINCH, TREVOR J. UND WIEBE E. BIJKER. 1984. The social construction of facts and artefacts: Or how the sociology of science and the sociology of technology might benefit each other. Social Studies of Science 14(3): 399-441.

low poly mask

The low-poly mask by Stephen 'kongorilla' Kongsle
Stephen ‘kongorilla’ Kongsle designed this wearable cardboard mask and has put all you need for it online under a creative commons licence. When I first saw it I immediately had three associations: 1) A Bizarro t-shirt would go perfectly with the mask, 2) there was a time when I perceived the everyday world around me like that, and 3) if you are learning to draw the human head and face this is a wonderful inexpensive tool for understanding the planes of the face. As it turns out association #3 hit it:

Sometime in the future I hope to make a full head version, but I wanted to post what I’ve gotten done so far in case someone could use it for Halloween 2012. The original idea was to make a papercraft alternative for artists who can’t afford the “planes of the head” plaster model, so keep your eyes peeled for further developments.

If you now feel an itch to do something with folding paper, go and watch Vihart‘s Hexaflexagons and Hexaflexagons 2[there’s Richard Feynman in it :-]

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the flash inspirations

The 23 June 1940 King Features Flash Gordon Sunday strip by Alex Raymond
This is the King Features Flash Gordon Sunday strip by Alex Raymond as it was published on 23 June 1940. We see Gordon [whose adventures began on 07 January 1934] disguised as a ‘Power-Man’ [‘the experts on whom Mongo’s electrified civilization depends’] infiltrating the palace of Ming the Merciless—and being detected. Please note the design and colour-scheme of the Power-Man uniform Gordon is wearing. The full uniform first was depicted two weeks earlier, in one panel of the strip of 09 June 1940.
Covers of Flash Comics #1 (January 1940) and Showcase #4 (October 1956)
Earlier the same year the DC-superhero The Flash first appeared in Flash Comics #1, published in January 1940 [above left], drawn by Harry Lampert. The long-sleeved t-shirt worn by the fastest man alive is practically identical with the one of Flash Gordon as a Power-Man. The rest of the dress is totally different. Nevertheless does it seem like Raymond was inspired by the Golden Age‘s speeding superhero.
    The Silver Age Flash had his debut in Showcase #4 [above right], pencilled by Carmine Infantino and inked by Joe Kubert. This time it seems to be the other way round: the inspiration for the superhero’s looks comes from Raymond’s work.