Archived entries for world
The Phobos Grunt was supposed to have been a curse-breaker. The Russians have had a hard time sending probes to Mars since, oh, 1960. Everyone they’ve sent up has gone wrong in some for or fashion. Nineteen of them in total over the past five decades.
But Phobos Grunt was going to be different. It was going to work.
The Russians were going to be the first to put a probe onto a Martian moon, and then they were going to bring part of it home with samples for analysis. It was going to be the biggest Martian endeavor since the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. It was going to break their curse and put them back on the bleeding edge of space exploration.
Notice how I’m talking about all of this in past tense? Was? Were? Yeah, there’s a reason for that.
See the area with the blue on that map above? If you live within any of those lines you might want to take care this Sunday when the Phobos Grunt comes burning back down through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. Four hundred plus pounds of the thing are expected to survive reentry, and while the Earth is mostly water, they can’t guarantee it won’t come down on your head.
Just what happened to the great Russian hope? No one’s really sure. The Phobos Grunt hit Earth orbit in November and then sort of stalled out and went dead. They weren’t able to stir the probe back to life, and the orbit’s been decaying ever since. I’m just glad it didn’t hit anything while it was up there. We don’t need any more debris up there.
So this Sunday, keep your eyes up and your head down. Michael Bay doesn’t need any reason to make an Armageddon 2.
Putting this here so I don’t forget about these beautiful things:
This gallery of Yugoslovian monuments is a feast for the eyes but, even better, if you read through this thorough explanation of their past you will get a little treat for the brain. The diversity of the designs is impressive and the motivation behind their initial construction makes their neglect even more poignant.
I’m sure by this point, you’ve all heard of the Cthulhu dildos. Boing Boing had them, and people were tweeting about them even before that.
I’m not sure what more you need to know beyond the phrase “Cthulhu dildo”, but here’s what I’m talking about if you are (luckily) in the dark.
That bit of eldritch sex toy plastic got me thinking about all the weird mass market tie-in sex toys that have come out lately.
Take the Hustler/Fleshlight alien-vagina-in-a-flashlight-case. It was part of a partnership between the two companies to promote Hustler’s porn parody of Avatar. Think of it this way – if Avatar took 3D filmmaking to a new heights of technology, the Avatar porno was going to take masturbation to new heights of technology as well. Which I guess is great for people that fantasize about watching adult film stars dressed like Thundersmurfs go at it while sticking their bits into the triangular orifice of a piece of molded plastic.
If you ask me, the real technical achievement of the Avatar porn parody was that they managed find body make-up that wouldn’t smear all over everything once the bow-chica-wow-wow started.
But, I digress.
Twilight fans of both sexes can also have their plastic genital needs seen to, as well.
Chief amongst them is what L and I laughingly refer to as the “sparklecock“. (We’ve named a band in ROCK! after it.) It’s a pretty standard dildo, except for the infusion of sparkle glitter to make it match the sparkle that Twilight’s vampires have. Yes, I know, vampires aren’t supposed to sparkle, but whatever, they do in Stephanie Meyers’ head. The other key feature of these things is their temperature retention properties. See, the vampires in Twilight are dead – their bodies are cold. And this plastic was designed to stay cold if you stuck it in the fridge for a while. For the “authentic experience”, as the seller promises.
For those with their genitals on the outside, there’s also the Fleshlight-esque “Succu Dry“, a plastic woman’s fanged mouth. It’s pretty much your standard plastic cavity, except this time the mold is of a mouth and not of lady parts. Branding-wise, the manufacturers are leaning more toward the True Blood angle than the Twilight kids. Probably a smart idea, since most of the male Twi-hards probably wouldn’t want a blowjob anyway, at least not from a girl. But, it is still a sex toy cash-in on the popularities of vampires right now.
It does make me wonder, though. I mean, teeth are a perpetual worry during the specific sex act the Succu Dry is designed to replicate. What sort of laissez-faire attitude must you take toward your sexual well being when you decide that not only are teeth OK, but that bigger more, dangerous teeth are BETTER. It makes me feel that the world is probably better off with that person sticking their penis into plastic that some one else, you know?
Not to be out done by American perverts, the Japanese also have their own versions of a Fleshlight. They call it the “ona-hole”. Yeah. Can’t make this shit up. Anyway. The “ona-holes” get branded just like Fleshlights do here. Except sometimes they go a bit…awry. Like when instead of making the internal part into something that would seem to fit what you’re putting into it, you instead make it into a negative space molding of a famous anime character. An underage, marginally pubescent anime character, at that. I can only assume that the Japanese are training their men to use their penises as lock picks. Because nothing else really makes sense.
Jesus fucking Christ.
Title: A Way to Die
Prompt by Kerry Crawford
200 words about the thing that really matters in life – booze.:
Baba-Yaga’s frozen tit it was cold.
He could feel his testicles pushing up ever farther into his gut – searching for any signs of warmth. He laughed at the foolishness of his balls.
For this was winter and they were in a Russian’s sac. There was no warmth anywhere to be found.
Passing by the church, he noted the orange light in the windows, curling smoke from the chimney, and hymns from the crack in the door.
He took a lantern from the church steps and continued down the road.
Trees rose up around him, blotting out the sky,
He felt the wolves before he saw their eyes. Dirty yellow asterisms, moving back and forth amongst the trees.
“Back, you pack of mongrels!”
He flung the lantern at them, sinking it into the snow.
“My mother was more a bitch than any of yours! She squatted me out on a night twice as cold as this! I am Russian! A bear fears no pack of wolves!”
They scattered into the night.
He recovered the lantern from the snow, relighting it.
After all, the church might be near, and the road dangerous. But tavern is far, so he will walk carefully.
Just a note about this one – That last line? That’s basically a paraphrasing of a real Russian proverb:
The church is near but the road is icy; the bar is far away but I will walk carefully.
Now that we’ve been over the “What” of Hatsune Miku, let’s go over the “Why”. As in, why she’s important.
Pat commented yesterday that on stage Hatsune’s not that different from The Gorillaz live shows, and that her voice is still based on a real person’s voice. And he’s right about both of those things. The Gorillaz project animated performers onto a screen that masks human musicians, and Hatsune’s voice is built up from the phoneme recordings of a real person.
But her key difference from previous, similar things is that her plasticity, her artificiality, is COMPLETE. Absolutely nothing about her is real.
First, let’s think about her as an animated character.
Animated characters are tied to visuals and to voices. It can be argued that Mel Blanc was more key to popularizing most of the Warner Bros characters than their visual representations. The problem here is that Mel Blanc is a human, and humans, well not to spoil the end of your life for you, die. And when Blanc finally did expire, Warner had several years where they had to convince people that Bugs Bunny really sounded like this new guy, and not at all like that old, dead guy. Same thing with Kermit the Frog, or Tony the Tiger, or any character that’s deeply engrained in the social consciousness and voiced by a real human with an expiration date. Hatsune Miko has no expiration dates. Because her voice is created in a computer by the clever application of a few billions ones and zeroes, she’ll never get die. She’ll never get old, go through puberty, or ruin her voice with smoking and whiskey. A thousand years from now, she’ll sound the exact same as she does right now. She is the first voice of the future, because in the future she’ll sound exactly the same.
Now, let’s think about her as a commercial character.
Ultimately, Hatsune Miko was created as a bit of stunt by Crypton Future Media. They’re sound technology people. So, they made the apex of current sound technology. She was meant to raise awareness of the company that created her, and I’m sure her records sales are a nice bonus. Like Pandora and her box, Crypton’s unwittingly unleashed something on the world. There is no question that most Disney pop stars are trained and groomed from a young age to become billion dollar industries. There is also no question that Disney would probably love to not have said pop stars taking a chunk of their revenue and then spend it on things that get them plastered all over the front of grocery store tabloids. Making a pop star out of ray tracing and vocal synthesizers is one way to do that. And it doesn’t have to be Disney doing it, either. If a relatively small company like Crypton can do it, anyone can. Every new product or initiative could have a fake pop star attached to it, filling the air waves and fiber optic cables. And speaking as a guy in advertising who could pitch that to a client, this is fantastic and frightening
Lastly, let’s think about her as a musical character.
Touched on this a bit in the first one, but Hatsune and the future things like her, are fixed point in space. The point can be fixed as a 16 year old pop idol, or a 60 year old torch singer, or a 20 something folk-rocker. And since they are artificial, and built up by a team of people, they’ll never go off on some bizarre introspective tangent and make a record like Pet Sounds. Their music will be consistent, uniform across all of their releases. And if the people behind them ever get bored or want to try something different? They’ll just whip up a new vocaloid and create a new artist.
Hatsune Miko is important because of the simplicity of what she represents: The idea of an unchanging, easily replaceable commercial entity that you owe nothing to and will never do anything to embarrass or betray you.
While I could put money on their never being an indie-rock vocaloid success (ONLY because the hipsters won’t allow it, not because it couldn’t be good), I can’t put that same money on idorus like Hatsune Miko carving out a niche for themselves in pop music.
I give you Hatsune Miku.
A teal-green haired Japanese school girl that’s apparently holding a leek or onion or something in this picture.
She’s fake. Completely not real. She’s the intellectual property of Japan’s Crypton Future Media. And probably the most crystal clear vision of the future that I’ve ever seen.
Crypton Future Media makes sound…things. Mainly digital libraries of sounds or programs to generate those libraries. They’ve sold their products to video game companies, software developers, and even Japanese government agencies. After looking over the list of companies they’ve done work for, I’d be willing to put money that everyone with a toe in the digital world has probably heard their stuff.
So what is a glorified MIDI card of a company doing whipping up an anime character with an apparent obsession with vegetables of the Alliaceae family?
The answer lies in a translation of her name.
Hatsune Miku can be loosely translated to mean “First Sound of the Future”.
And that’s exactly what Hatsune Miku is. She’s a completely artificial anime-esque pop sensation. In a world where pop stars are more often than not manufactured people with equally fake personalities and musical talents, Crypton Future Media has taken a visionary step and gone ahead and cut out the fleshy animal medium entirely.
Here’s the result, performing live in concert:
Hatsune Miku’s voice is created through the use of Yamaha’s Vocaloid voice synthesizer technology. Crypton took the vocal patterns of a young female anime voice actor, Saki Fujita, and through some technical wizardry and the Vocaloid synthesizer, created their most important product yet – a pop star.
God, I can’t tell you how surreal typing that line was. Anyway.
When she…err…it preforms, it’s a pre-rendered holographic projects done against a semi-permeable screen that lets you see the band behind her (featuring some of the crew from Crypton Future Media) and gives an illusion of depth.
Check out this longer video:
William Gibson, the Father of Cyberpunk, was speculating about creatures like Hatsune over a decade ago in his novel Idoru. But some how, I don’t think this is what he had in mind. While she’s not the first, she’s the biggest and most popular digital synthetic artificial whatever pop idol created yet. Hatsune Miku really is the first voice of the future.
Albeit a very, annoying, grating, saccharine future.
More on this tomorrow.
From Dark Roasted Blend -
We’d like to call them “ghost towns”, but they are clearly not abandoned. Amazingly, people still live in them, go to work in harshest possible conditions (paradoxically making it the richest and mightiest industrial area in Russia) and then come “home” to relax in this inhuman weather, non-existing infrastructure, in dangerously dilapidated buildings…
Taken from a bit on English Russia about the vanishing culture of the Mari people.
There’s also a photograph on that page of what I think is a mother and her daughter. The mother has the fatted, leathery, burst-capillary face of the stereotypical Russian matriarch. But her daughter, maybe in her early teens, looks just like anyone you’d find anywhere else in the world. She’s young, she’s pretty, and that’s when it hits you. The line gets drawn from mother to daughter and you realize that the life these people lead changes them. Hard lives, Russian winters, all of it conspiring to turn a person into something completely different.
That’s the HRP-4C. Some kind of crazy Japanese robot. Sex robot, probably, considering the Japanese do everything they can to have sex with anything but each other.
Honestly, though, I can’t find a damn reason for them building this thing. They’ve been working on it for years, and so far they’ve taught it to walk like a model, and prance like a pop star.
Which considering both of those are completely pointless activities, gives credence to my sexbot theory.
Robots are a Big Thing in Japan. They’re so scared of dealing with an entire population of infirm elderly, they’re dumping hundreds of millions of dollars in an attempt to build a robot that can change out grandpa’s bedpan. And so far they’ve really only succeeded in doing things like the above. Oh, and building tech that lets people control robots with their brains. Which, admittedly, is kind of cool – and also really fucking scary.
It’s always amazed me that they can’t get robots to move right. In animation terms, there’s no ease-in/ease-out. The motion curves are essentially straight lines, and their platforms are so unstable they wobble like palsy case every time they finish a gesture. With just a little bit of collaboration from some one who understands how to make motion look good, they’d be able to fix a lot of the Uncanny Valley problems they are running into.
I’m rambling now.
One last look at the HRP-4C, showing us some of her its emotional range.
I mean, who doesn’t love that freaky, pore-less, super Muppet face?
Via Pink Tentacle
Carribbean Island to Offer Rides Into Space – (note: that’s their typo, not mine!)
XCOR Aerospace is teaming up with the southern Caribbean island of Curacao to develop a space port for future suborbital tourist and scientific flights. The agreement is with the territorial government of Curacao and a group of Dutch investors with the hopes of offering flights in 2014.
The joint venture is known as Space Experience Curacao, or SXC. The group will lease one of XCOR’s Lynx spacecraft. The Lynx is a small two-seat spacecraft (pictured above) designed to launch to more than 100 kilometers (about 328,000 feet).
The pilot and passenger would experience weightlessness at the apex of the flight. And from that altitude they will be surrounded by the darkness of space and see the curvature of the earth with the sandy beaches and turquoise waters of Curacao 62 miles below.
The cost of a single ride is expected to be $98,000.
I’ve been wondering why it’s taken so long for a small nation to try something like this. You’ve got an isolated landmass, limited international treaty recognition, and not much else. They’ve got billions of dollars of investment money to try out some crazy tech idea. Why don’t you two get together and party like mad scientist from 1967?
Now, commercial space launches are nothing new. All sorts of developing nations partner with telecom companies to put communication satellites in orbit, but this is the first time I’ve seen such a small country partner with such a big idea.
My hope is that it leads to a hole in the dam. Maybe make some small nation realize they’ve got nothing to lose by taking partnerships like this even farther. Make protected enclaves for gray-market tech research.
Feel like studying human cloning for organ harvesting? C’mon down to Nauru! Want to develop new wireless technologies but don’t want to bother with all of those government licensing restrictions? The Marshall Islands are here for you! Want to offer quick turn around experimental medical treatments in FDA-free research environment? Tuvalu has everything you need, and miles of tropical beaches!
I’m being a bit hyperbolic here, but I’ve always wondered why a small island nation never just went and gave the rest of the world the finger then threw their doors open to bleeding edge, morally ambiguous research. I mean, in a lot of ways, it is their right. We’re causing the ocean levels to rise, fucking them over, so why should they give us any mind?
From the BBC:
In a grimy shipyard in St Petersburg, an ugly hulk of red-painted metal sits floating in the dock.
On deck, workmen scurry back and forth, hammering, drilling and welding.
This strange construction, part ship, part platform, is unique and lies at the heart of Russia’s grand ambitions for the Arctic.
When it is completed in 2012, it will be the first of eight floating nuclear power stations which the government wants to place along Russia’s north coast, well within the Arctic Circle.
“These [floating nuclear power stations] have very good potential, creating the conditions for exploring the Arctic shelf and setting up drilling platforms to extract oil and gas,” says Sergey Zavyalov, deputy director of the operating company, Rosenergoatom.
“Work in the Arctic is very complicated and dangerous and we should ensure there’s a reliable energy supply.”
He says each power station, costing $400m, can supply electricity and heating for communities of up to 45,000 people and can stay on location for 12 years before needing to be serviced back in St Petersburg.
“We can guarantee the safety of our units one hundred per cent, all risks are absolutely ruled out,” says Mr Zavyalov.
Although Moscow denies it’s setting up special military forces or bases to protect its interests in the Arctic, it is establishing a new coastguard under the control of the all-powerful intelligence agency, the FSB.
The route along the Northeast passage from Russia to Asia which is now opening up, is many days quicker than the traditional route via Europe, the Suez Canal and around India.
Although the ships still need to be escorted by ice-breakers, it is a tantalising opportunity for Russia which wants to sell more oil and gas to energy-hungry countries like China.
With some scientists predicting that there may be no ice at all in the summer by 2030, Russian officials are confident the Northeast passage will become a major route for energy supplies to Asia.
Ah, Russia, Russia, Russia.
Nearly every day you give me another reason to believe that your legendary winters freeze out any common sense you might’ve had.
Remember those nuclear powered lighthouses you dotted your northern frontier with? Remember how well those turned out for you?
And now you think that by repeating that exercise, only in much hasher environments, on a much bigger scale, is a brilliant idea?
You can’t even keep your own infrastructure from destroying itself, for Christ’s sake, and now you’re setting the stage for a disaster that will make the Deepwater Horizon seem insignificant in comparison.
But, it is quite the image of the future, isn’t it? Ships the size of city blocks, powered by atomic fire, moored to the ocean bed, floating on near-freezing seas during the summer, frozen in them during the winter. Millions of parts working together, billions of people praying nothing goes wrong. The crushing weight of statistical odds saying that something will.
That’s the trailer for Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, the new series from Gainax, the studio behind such classic mindfucks as Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL.
Yes, this does look like they took something from the cartoon network and forced it through the seediest Japanese adult novelty store they could find. Yes, it does revolve around two female characters who are able to make their unmentionables into weapons. Yes, it will be cut down to 12 minutes episodes to give that extra bit of speed-freak pacing.
No, we have no idea when it’ll see this side of the Pacific. Or if it’ll be prosecuted for indecency the second it gets here.
Oh, and the soundtrack to all of this is little more than a techno-mashup of porn sounds, so be careful of that if you watch this at work.
A pair of action-packed Ultraman Monster paintings by Toshio Okazaki were published in Shōgakukan’s 1979 edition of Ultra Kaiju (Shōgakukan Nyūmon Hyakka Series #97).
From the incomparable Pink Tentacle, which you should visit immediately to see these in full size and in detail with each monster named.
Satoshi Kon passed away yesterday at the age of 46. He directed and created high concept animated feature films and television series.
His directorial debut was the beautifully twisted Hitchcockian thriller Perfect Blue in 1997. I saw it my sophomore year of college, and it’s stuck with me, like broken glass jabbed into my brain, since then. The way he dealt with the concepts in that movie, especially the creation and destruction of celebrity, are incredible.
He followed up his debut with award winning films like Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers. They’re less scarring, but still just as intriguing as his first film.
After those two, he took a break from the big screen to bring the bizarre Paranoia Agent to the small screen.
His last release was Paprika, which won him the most exposure for his mind bending works.
Kon was a visionary and an advocate of his medium. There were decades of work ahead of him, and the world is diminished by his passing.
Coming to DVD and Blu-Ray July 27th from Tokyo Shock!
The kappa, in Japanese folklore, are water goblins that are closely associated with a certain town in the country. Unfortunately, the area is also home to a militant splinter group of researchers dedicated to developing amphibious super soldiers based on the kappa of legends. When their experiments result in murders by some escapees, the appearance of an actual kappa, and the triggering of an atomic bomb, the consequences are of epic proportions. A monster arrives in the midst of the nuclear fallout, and Japan’s defenses are helpless against it. Mankind’s only savior is an irradiated water goblin that is on the rampage with death in its eyes.
Yes, this exists. And yes, it is already sold out on Amazon.