Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

If you haven’t seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog yet, I highly recommend it. It’s Joss Whedon’s 42 minute web opera, a marvel of tight scripting, strong acting, and some real toe-tapping musical numbers. Whedon’s description of how it came about is worth a read too. Essentially, it grew out of the free time provided by the writer’s strike. As Whedon puts it:

“Frustrated with the lack of movement on that front, I finally decided to do something very ambitious, very exciting, very mid-life-crisisy. Aided only by everyone I had worked with, was related to or had ever met, I single-handedly created this unique little epic. A supervillain musical, of which, as we all know, there are far too few.”

It’s an old story, but it feels like a new genre. And whether or not you think there’s anything truly novel about it, it’s still darned entertaining. Courtesy of Hulu and a few ads, here it is:

http://www.hulu.com/embed/Z4kt7M5Uta51JuIDJV6HeQ/0/330

Incidentally, this is an example of something good that I learned about only because people were talking about it on Twitter. I find I’m picking up all kinds of stuff that way these days.

Historic “Blockbuster” Store

This is a fine example of what The Onion does best. The premise is simple and potentially very unfunny: historical re-enactors at a carefully reconstructed “video store” of the future. But the writing and the delivery is just perfect.

http://www.theonion.com/content/themes/common/assets/videoplayer/flvplayer.swf

Historic “Blockbuster” Store Offers Glimpse Of How Movies Were Rented In The Past

I grew up in a town with a carefully re-created historical village (Old Salem), and Massachusetts, where I live now, is positively lousy with them (Plimoth Plantation, Old Sturbridge Village, and so on). I can never make up my mind if these things are living treasures or pretentious exemplars of a past that never existed, much in the same way that Monsanto’s House of the Future never will exist. I can just picture old Ben Franklin laughing himself silly, his face wet with tears, as he takes a tour of modern day Colonial Williamsburg.

Watching a bad re-enactor perform is painful in the extreme, but even the good ones make me want to knock them off balance with impossibly hard questions. Who is the Crown Governor of the Virginia Colony? How much did you pay for that pewter salt cellar? Who are you kidding with that ridiculous accent? And if I ever visited the Historical Blockbuster Shoppe, I would ask to rent videos that wouldn’t have been released yet. That would show them! Ha ha!

(Thanks for the Onion link Matthew!)

Swiss spaghetti harvest

Happy April First!

From tingilinde I found this gem: a genuine BBC documentary on the Swiss spaghetti harvest of 1957. At first I thought it was a newly minted faux-old spoof. But, my God! you just can’t fake that BBC voice over. What a pro! Fortunately, there was an attached link to the Museum of Hoaxes that described in great detail the story of the Swiss spaghetti harvest. In it, we learn that the commanding voice belongs to one Richard Dimbleby (that name! that voice!).

Since 1955 Panorama had been anchored by Richard Dimbleby, whose authoritative, commanding presence had made him one of the most revered public figures in Britain. If Dimbleby said it, people trusted that it was true. As one of his colleagues at Panorama put it, “He had enough gravitas to float an aircraft carrier.” Which is one of the reasons why the spaghetti harvest hoax fooled so many viewers. His participation lent the hoax an air of unimpeachable authority.

“Many of you will have seen the vast plantations of spaghetti in the Po valley.” Lovely! I can only guess that global warming might be good news for the spaghetti crop. I hear they’ve got fettuccine growing as far north as Smolensk.

The Electric Company’s “Sign Song”

From my earliest TV-watching years, I remember we had a movable antenna on the roof that you could orient based on which channel you wanted to watch. You had your pick of three or four channels, depending on your appetite for static and snow.

By the time we got cable TV, thereby enabling our local PBS affiliate, I was already past the Mister Rogers and Sesame Street years. But I was in the demographic sweet spot for The Electric Company. And because nothing ever goes away anymore, I now have the pleasure of sitting in front of YouTube with my daughter and dredging up my favorite bits of 1970s educational TV.

For example, I was trying to remember all the words to the Sign Song that starts off like this: I like fish food, you do too. Don’t look now your hair is blue. Doesn’t sound so clever, eh? Well, here it is. Judge for yourself.

Just you try not humming that later on today.

In fact, looking back years later, I’m amazed at the talent they drummed up for that show. Morgan Freeman was a regular on the show. And although I knew that Tom Lehrer wrote the LY song for The Electric Company, I was surprised to learn via YouTube that he actually wrote a handful of other tunes, including the Silent E and the charming N Apostrophe T number that I only just discovered.

It’s amusing to think that my daughter is watching this on a small screen with low quality video, just like I did in the 70s, only for her it’s a TCP/IP feed to a small corner of my computer monitor.

Animal-like robots

We’re definitely entering a new realm with robotics. Before robotic motion was always painfully awkward and stilted, not something you would ever mistake for the smooth motion of an animal. But these days you can find plenty of examples of remarkably fluid “un-robotic” behavior. Things will progress very rapidly from here. The YouTube video below shows human-controlled robots. They’re being driven by remote control, but they’re still a treat to watch.

This next example is a video of a robotic eel, and it truly has to be seen to be believed. Again, it’s radio-controlled, but still, LOOK AT THAT FELLER SWIM! Straight out of a Bond movie.

They’re called “rockdots”

Jon Udell’s Heavy Metal Umlaut video is being passed around a lot these days, and with good reason. He took a quirky page out of Wikipedia, coupled it with some quick and dirty video manipulation from Camtasia, and made a compelling illustration of how the Wikipedia actually works.

Here’s the current Wikipedia entry that initially tickled Udell. This odd little article started out two years ago with this inauspicious note about the spandex and umlaut circuit. Over time it morphed into a richly detailed socialogical digression. But how did that transformation come about? Udell decided to make a movie about that process: here it is.

Udell is on a roll these days, putting new and consistently interesting commentary into his InfoWorld columns and his weblog. In addition, he writes the occasional column for O’Reilly. If you’re so inclined, you can read a detailed account of how he created the umlaut video here.