Arcade Attack

I discovered this on cable in 1982, as one of those shorts that HBO used to play between movies. Being a seventh-grader who read Heavy Metal magazine and spent every weekend in arcades and pinball palaces around the north side of Chicago, it was of course the most awesome thing I'd ever seen. I told friends about it, and none of them knew what I was talking about.

Seeing it now for the first time in 27 years, it's still pretty rad. And much better than Tron.


Ghost Rider

The Dungeons of Mutato Muzika

Every morning I pass by the lovely headquarters of Mutato Muzika on the Sunset Strip, location of my ultimate dream job (I was served my termination papers yesterday, so I'm waxing poetic). Mark Mothersbaugh, co-founder of Devo, started the company along with two other original band members, and composes original soundtracks for films, television series, commercials and video games.

The Chartreuse Turbine-Building's dungeons are the stuff of legend. Devo never threw away or sold anything, so the place is a museum of vintage electronics:

The most prized possession must certainly be Raymond Scott's Electronium, currently not working but hopefully to be repaired someday.

Upstairs, we find Mr. Mothersbaugh caressing his organ:


The Jaquet-Droz Automata

(all text is from wikipedia)
The Jaquet-Droz automata refer to three doll automata built between 1768 and 1774 by Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis and Jean-Frédéric Leschot: the Musician, the drawer and the writer. The dolls are still functional, and can be seen at the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire of Neuchâtel, in Switzerland. They are considered to be among the remote ancestors of modern computers.

The automata were designed and built as advertisement and entertainment toys designed to improve the sales of watches among the nobility of Europe in the 18th century. They were carried around, and lost at several points. The History and Archeology society of Neuchâtel eventually bought them in 1906 and gave them to the museum, where they have been ever since.

The Musician
is a female organ player. The music is not faked, in the sense that it is not recorded or played by a musical box: the doll is actually playing a genuine (yet custom-built) instrument by pressing the keys with her fingers. She "breathes" (the movements of the chest can be seen), follows her fingers with her head and eyes, and also makes some of the movements that a real player would do -- balancing the torso for instance.

The Drawer is a young child who can actually draw four different images: a portrait of Louis XV, a royal couple (believed to be Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI), a dog with "Mon toutou" ("my doggy") written beside it, and a scene of Cupid driving a chariot pulled by a butterfly.

The drawer works by using a system of cams which code the movements of the hand in two dimensions, plus one to lift the pencil. The automaton also moves on his chair, and he periodically blows on the pencil to remove dust.

The Writer is the most complex of the three automata. Using a system similar to the one used for the Drawer for each letter, he is able to write any custom text up to 40 letters long (the text is rarely changed; one of the latest instances was in honour of president François Mitterrand when he toured the city). The text is coded on a wheel where characters are selected one by one. He uses a goose feather to write, which he inks from time to time, including a shake of the wrist to prevent ink from spilling. His eyes follow the text being written, and the head moves when he takes some ink.

(bonus link: the creepiest automaton I've ever seen on youtube here)



Red Light, Green Light

I had to watch this horrible film at least twice in the mid-seventies as a first or second-grader in school. It's the kind of experience you don't forget so easily.

At first you might think it's filled with good intentions, but there are a lot of bad suggestions: a sexual predator might not necessarily "look dangerous". The signals aren't always so clear, and the basic advice of "be careful around people you don't know" would be more beneficial and less harmful than what they're promoting here. There's also no mention of the fact that most sexual abuse happens within the family. The glib, irresponsible statement that parents, teachers, clergymen, authority figures are "green light" will only make the children who are the victims of these people feel more confused and helpless.

Then there's the more obvious message: All pedophiles are homosexuals (and by that logic, all homosexuals are pedophiles). Even the girl at the movie theater gets accosted by a woman. We have a long way to go in accepting different lifestyles, but at least some progress has been made in recent decades, and children aren't exposed to this degree of prejudice in the public school system anymore.

If you sat through that whole 20 minutes of fear and hate, you might want to follow it up with a few tips from The Safety Gang (courtesy Robert Smigel's TV Funhouse):