Wednesday, December 23, 2015

SpaceX Falcon 9 landing!

This is a fantastic clip of a very important achievement - the first time a rocket has boosted a payload into space and vertically landed the first stage. Why is that a big deal? Because we are now, as a species, entirely reliant on access to space - half our technology wouldn't work if we could get access at least to low Earth orbit. And it has to be affordable - we're no longer in a "money is no object" Cold War race to space - we're dependent on space for our day to day lives.
So the privatization of the space industry is vital and reusable rocket technologies are obviously an inevitable part of the sustainability of space access as a business.
Depending on how much of a nerd you are you may be aware that several private companies have been experimenting with vertical landings for years. Several successful tests have been made with vertical liftoff/landing but this one is different.
This rocket was not a low altitude test - it put 11 satellites into orbit AND landed (the first stage) vertically - it didn't just go straight up and down - it boosted the second stage to around 5000 kph, turned around and landed safely - wow!
Now this video was a live feed from Space X and it's actually quite moving! The emotion is contagious! This was an incredible achievement!
If you're VERY nerdy you'll enjoy the whole 45 minutes - if you're just Nerd-curious you'll want to watch from lift-off at around 22:00 to landing at around 33:00 - the actual mission was to launch the satellites which happens later in the film but the really big news was the landing of that first stage - VERY EXCITING! (and they end with a Star Wars pun - beautiful!)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Coloured Stone - Black Boy

Who remembers this beautiful song (and film clip) from 1984? This is my absolute favourite piece of music from Australia - impossible to listen to it just once and it still brings a tear. Like Nina Simone's version of "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free", "Black Boy" deals with such heartbreaking issues in the most positive, uplifting, empowering way - truly a great piece of art.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Jaguar XJ13

A look at the incredible Jaguar XJ13 from 1966. The ultimate "could-have-been" supercar. Only one was ever made (though there are loads of replicas around now) and it never got to race. But this is a great clip of the real one - listen to that 5L V12 - glorious!

Monday, December 14, 2015

(un?)Restoring Star Wars

 For my generation Star Wars was the biggest thing in the galaxy - department stores were entirely filled with Star Wars merchandise - not just the toy section - the clothes, bedclothes, toiletries, stationary, sports equipment, furniture - Star Wars was everywhere!
And we watched Star Wars at the cinema, on TV, and over and over again on VHS. We'd record it from TV and wear out the tape by the time it was repeated on one of the other four channels!
Now I wont talk about the "other" three movies here because I simply didn't like them - sure I was disappointed they weren't better - but we still had the original movies to watch - until we didn't!
While George Lucas was and is perfectly entitled to make movies about whatever he wants which we can like or dislike - changing the original movies we grew up with and preventing the sale of the un-modified versions was a very strange decision.
Partly because it was pointless - partly because they are a part of pop culture history - and partly because it was so clumsily and poorly done from a technical and artistic point of view!
The corny CGI effects didn't blend at all with the live action footage and the extra aliens and droids detracted from the realism of the scenes filmed in Tunisia and Death Valley particularly - it looks like "Song Of The South" or "Mary Poppins"!
Adding dialog by different voice artists by placing shadows over actors mouths?! Adding a Muppett looking Sarlacc - even adding Gungans into Return Of The Jedi! "Weesa free!".
And the extra scene with Jabba the Hutt is just bizarre - Han Solo repeats, word for word, the conversation he just had with Greedo while a cheesy CGI Jabba slithers agilely around...No. Just no.
So some years ago I downloaded some reasonable quality versions of the original films (I assume they're from good quality VHS copies? I don't know.)
But Petr Harmy has gone a good many steps further to produce a "Despecialised Edition" - this is a triumph of the human will and the power of SciFi fandom! Read the article here.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Friday, December 11, 2015

1952 Ferrari 212 "barchetta"

One of the most beautiful early Ferraris - one of the most beautiful machines ever built in my opinion - a 1952 212 Export "barchetta" by Touring. This car competed in the Targa Florio in 1952 and 53 and sold this year (2015) for EU 6,720,000 (around 10 million AUD).

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Boyd Rivers & Ruth May Rivers

This is a great clip of the brilliant Boyd Rivers and Ruth May Rivers, filmed by Alan Lomax in 1978 - check out all their other songs too including Boyd's brilliant version of "You Got To Take Sick And Die" - what a voice!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Climb Dance

This is one of the great motorsport films. Directed by Jean Louis Mourey it depicts Ari Vatanen driving a four wheel drive, all wheel steering Peugeot 405 up Pike's Peak in 1988 before it was paved. Very, very fast! When the sun gets in his eyes he drives one handed. Great film. The original version of "Climb Dance" had Randy Weston's "African Village/Bedford Stuyvesant" playing over the first minute of the film -  I believe Peugeot didn't have permission to use it in this remastered version which is a shame - but the extra definition makes it well worth watching. (As usual - go full screen and full volume!)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Techmoan looks at the smallest Discman

I love Techmoan's channel - and here he looks at the smallest and strangest Sony Discman from 1988.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

1964 Ferrari GTO

The Ferrari GTO is the most valuable car in the world and while it is not the most beautiful Ferrari in my opinion (though I do prefer the Series II body this car has) - listen to this 3L V12 go! This is footage shot for this film where Derek Hill talks about this particular car. This clip however is just the sound of the car! Make sure you put it on full screen, HD, and turn the volume UP!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Peacock Spiders

 When people think of Australian spiders they usually think of our most dangerous ones but we also have amazing little things like these!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

"Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE" and "The Smile Sessions"

The 2011 release of "The Smile Sessions" added another layer of confusion to the complex history and mythology of  Smile but it's really simpler than it seems - this is my attempted explanation of where "The Smile Sessions" fits in this history.
After the critical acclaim and artistic success of "Pet Sounds", Brian Wilson attempted to surpass his achievement with the much more complex, multi-layered, intertwined "song cycle" or "rock opera" that was to be Smile.
The writing and recording process for the project followed on from the "modular" approach Brian used on the Good Vibrations single. Hundreds of different segments of the songs were written and recorded seperately to be assembled later - the overall blueprint only existing in Brian's head.
As well as hundreds of small sections of songs there were also multiple different versions of each segment with different instrumentation and different levels of completion. No one other than Brian knew which bits were finished or where they belonged in the whole.
As deadlines passed, legal action loomed, criticism grew and Brian's mental health deteriorated - the massive task of juggling all these fragments in his head and arranging, conducting, recording and producing the album became too much to face and the project was abandoned. And the whole process had been so stressful and depressing to Brian that it seemed he would never want to even talk about it ever again.
However enough fragments of it were released on later Beach Boys albums and bootlegs to give a tantalising glimpse of how good it could have been and in the late 1990's and early 2000's as Brian's health improved and he returned to touring, he began to re-evaluate his musical history.
In the year 2000 he began performing Pet Sounds live in it's entirety and in 2001 he performed "Heroes AndVillains" at Radio City Music Hall.
In 2003 Brian, Van Dyke Parks and Darian Sahanaja began compiling the segments of Smile from the original, reportedly 50 hours of tape(!) and written notes from 1966-7 with the aim of creating a live version to perform similarly to the Pet Sounds concerts.
Now it's important to realise that the main task, which had prevented Smile's release thus far, was the actual ordering and reassembling of all these song fragments into a whole work - it was a mammoth task that couldn't have legitimately been done by anyone except Brian Wilson.
Indeed fans have been assembling their own running order of the bootlegged segments of Smile for decades and this is where some of the complaints and confusion come from - some people have gotten used to their favourite bootlegged recreation and think Brian should have used that running order or shouldn't have added new lyrics (Brian and Van Dyke Parks who wrote all the original lyrics, added some new lyrics to tie the different sections together - they no doubt would have done that in 1967 had the project progressed that far...?)
Anyway - the project was completed and performed in 2004 and was followed by a studio version and a world tour (which I was lucky enough to see in Adelaide).
The 2004 studio version is brilliant and brings a wonderful closure to the whole Smile epic but the 2011 release of The Smile Sessions" confused everyone again!
The Smile Sessions follows the format of the 1997 "Pet Sounds Sessions" which had a newly created stereo version of Pet Sounds on disc 1 - a "what if Pet Sounds came out in Stereo" mix - followed by other discs of out-takes.
Likewise the Smile Sessions features a "what if Smile was finished" mix on disc one followed by several discs of out-takes.
The Smile Sessions is a fantastic release but since it came out a lot of people have been saying "why didn't they release this version back in 1967?" because it sounds so NEARLY finished.
But the fact is (besides Brian didn't want it released in 1967) this 2011 version is essentially a recreation of the 2004 version using 1966-71 recordings - it is NOT representative of Smile's state of completion in 1967.
Mark Linett, Alan Boyd and Dennis Wolfe followed Brian's 2004 running order and chose the versions of particular segments to follow the format of Brian's 2004 version.
The production of the Smile Sessions version was still an amazing achievement - as Alan Boyd said "There were just so many pieces, and keeping track of them all was a bit of a challenge...We had 70-some reels from the 'Smile' sessions; not only the session tapes but old mix-down reels and third-generation masters and safety masters and multitrack fragments here and there. You had the songs, which essentially had to be created from spare parts, or the sessions, which had to be whittled down from, in some cases, they would be 40 minutes long to seven, eight, nine minutes. So we had a few months of just sort of living this seven days a week, you know, walking around with 'Bicycle Rider' going through your head or falling asleep with different pieces of 'Heroes and Villains' playing over and over and over in your brain."
As well as existing Smile material, several other, later recordings were flown in to complete missing sections. From Wikipedia -

    "Brian Wilson's lead vocals for "I'm in Great Shape" and "Barnyard" are taken from his and Van Dyke Parks' piano demo of "Heroes and Villains" (which includes the other two songs), recorded on November 4, 1966 for KHJ Radio and featured in full as track 36 on Disc Two in the 5-CD box set edition. The vocals were stripped from the demo and laid on the existing backing tracks, comprising instrumentation, backing vocals and animal noises by the band.
    "The Elements: Fire" contains wordless vocals that were recorded for "Fall Breaks and Back to Winter" on June 29, 1967.
    "Holidays" and "Wind Chimes" segue together with a pitch-shifted version of the Smiley Smile "Wind Chimes"coda, recorded July 11, 1967.
    The water chant intro to "Love to Say Dada" was recorded on October 29, 1967 for an early version of "Cool, Cool Water".
    Carl Wilson's lead vocal on "Cabin Essence" was recorded for the 20/20 album on November 20, 1968.
    The "bygones", Carl Wilson's backing vocals and the "Child Is Father of the Man" coda of "Surf's Up" was recorded on June 18, 1971."

The Smile Sessions version is an incredible achievement and a fantastic listen but it shouldn't be seen as areplacement or improvement to the 2004 Studio version. While it's brilliant to have these segments arranged and released and it's wonderful to hear Brian's 25-year-old voice and the rest of the Beach Boys - there are many segments that are very obviously not finished, the mix is not always optimal and it doesn't flow from song to song like the completed 2004 version.
As a historical document it's priceless - particularly the other four discs of out-takes! The main revelations for me were how much work was still required to put it together - potentially too much work for it to ever be completed in period (for example many of these segments would have had to be re-arranged and re-recorded to get them to flow together).
As Alan Boyd said "One of the things we discovered as we got deeper into working on this project was that the process of assembling the album from all the modular little bits and pieces and fragments that were scattered over so many different reels, using the technology of the day -- which would have been a razor blade and some sticky tape -- that would have been probably an unbearably arduous, difficult and tedious task."
The other major revelation is how much work the other Beach Boys put into the project - there is months and months of very hard work there - including all the wacky vocal sound effects and avant garde sections legend has the Beach Boys objecting to - there is no sign of any objection throughout what must have been a gruelling and probably very boring ten months of recording!
No doubt the complaints built up as the project began to appear un-finishable and to someone suffering from paranoia and depression, even percieved criticism of your artwork could be crippling.
The Smile Sessions was always intended as a collection of session out-takes, alternate vesions and studio chatter that sheds a brighter light into the mythical beginnings of Smile - not a replacement of the 2004 version.
The 2004 version is still the only 100% completed version of Smile - the 2011 version is as close as we can get to a glimpse of what SMiLE might possibly have sounded like if it was completed in 1967 - and they're both wonderful!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Some nice news...

There's not much to say about this story - it speaks for itself. Much as people hate for it to be true - love and peace are the answer not hatred and violence!

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Beast Of Turin

The Fiat S76 was factory built in 1911 to attempt the land speed record. It has, still to this day, the largest automobile engine ever built (there were cars built with bigger engines but they were all aeroplane engines).
Four in line cylinders, four valves per cylinder, overhead camshaft and a ludicrous displacement of 28.3 litres!
The record attempt was ultimately unsuccessful due to bad weather and the fact that the two clear runs had to be made between trams! So while a top speed of 290kph (180mph) was supposedly possible - the recorded attempt "only" managed an average of 225kph (140mph) - only 1.7mph below the world record.
Only two S76's were made and only one has been restored and it's one of the most terrifying things on four wheels! Here's a clip of the restored "Beast Of Turin" going for a drive at Goodwood earlier this year - what a sound!!!

edit 20/12/15 - Having just watched "The Force Awakens" I'm pretty sure this car was the inspiration for a vehicle featured prominently early in the film!

ABC News - Body Dysmorphia Disorder

This is a very eye-opening article about Body Dysmorphia Disorder. What makes this article so revealing is that the young woman featured has one of the most beautiful faces you'll see anywhere. It's an excellent example of how mental illnesses can have no connection whatsoever to reality.
It's very important to challenge the stereotypes around mental illness and this article does exactly that. I'm so glad the subjects are coping better and I hope others will get help the more these issues are brought into the public consciousness.