Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday with Memento Mori

I first encountered the Dance of Death in the form of a beaten-up book checked out from my High School Library. It was a reprint of the Hans Holbein Alphabet of Death from the 16th Century. Working in an antiquated style that was a world away from the restraint and sophistication of his paintings, (see his famous portrait of Henry the 8th here) Holbein brilliantly rendered his take on a common theme: the universality and rough equality of death.

In a brutally democratic way, Death came for Popes and peasants. The mighty and the miserable all must bow to a common end. Death could come for anyone at anytime, extending a bony hand in an invitation for a final pas-de-deux.

This was a popular notion at a time of famine and plague in Europe, and there are many other examples. In Lucerne, Switzerland a series of these paintings adorn the rafters of a centuries-old covered bridge. A traveler could look up as he passed over the bridge to see Death going about his business.

Macabre? Yes. But there is a flip side to the message as well. We are here for a limited time only, look around and appreciate the wonder of it all while you can. A reminder of death, a memento mori, can be a powerful reminder of the value of life, too.

As Nouveau-Feudalism struggles to make a comeback in the 21st Century with its radical separation of the winners and losers, emphasis on Crusade and Jihad, and preference for faith over thought, it seems like a good time to look at this theme again. This is the first of a series. Death extends a bony hand...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Alaska, the Blast Frontier

In Alaska during the mid-twentieth Century, it was an open question whether the U.S.S.R. or our own Government would be the first to nuke us. The honor went to Richard Nixon, although Edward Teller was in hot contention. It was deadly atomic game that played out in our skies, across the Northern tundra and the playing fields of Anchorage. Learn all about it in my new short animation, "How Alaska Won the Cold War" now available exclusively on U.A.A's fabulous Litsite.

Here's the trailer

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Autocorrect, Autoasking For It

To use something called "Autocorrect" is to challenge the Gods to humiliate you. The divine ones reserve perfection for themselves, and are quick to punish lowly humans who aspire to that lofty state. This means every time you text someone your perfect, autocorrected message, you run the risk of offending the Gods. I know, technology is supposed to make life simpler, but it is also an area where the law of unintended consequences is most rigidly enforced.

Compare "Autocorrect" to the humility of "Spell-check". Spell-check won't catch you every time you fall. For instance, if you happen to type "exotic sex" when you meant "exotic sects", you're on your own, pal. But it won't actively trip you. Not so with autocorrect. This is bad news for the millions of us that have some form of autocorrection as a built-in feature on our electronic devices. It's a cosmic "kick-me" sign we blithely tape to our own backs. The Gods are only too happy to oblige. And their wrath can be terrible.

Errors introduced into messages are so numerous, devastating, and hilarious that there is even a website dedicated to them. The site is a schadenfreude smorgasboard. Who says words don't have consequences?

It's bad enough that this program will put words in your mouth. What's deadly is a tendency to put the kind of word there that inspired my 8th grade choir teacher to devastate a class clown with the observation "I wouldn't have in my hand what you just had in your mouth".

Things can go sideways fast when you're up against divine jealousy. With typical fiendishness, the dissed deities make the instrument of your sin the instrument of your punishment. One minute you're texting your boss that you'll be late for work, and suddenly the two of you are talking with acute embarrassment about scatological terms that theoretically neither of you should have the vocabulary for. It's as if Tourette's Syndrome somehow jumped the gap between man and machine, and went viral on the internet.

So I'm trying to keep my head down. Like the careful Navajo who include a tiny flaw somewhere in their intricately woven rugs to ward off offense to the supernatural, I have a plan. My idea is a computer program that automatically includes a transposed pair of letters, a misused hyphen or an errant apostrophe. This, in theory, inoculates the user against innocently inviting wrath from above. When you find some small error, some warped syntax, some flawed logic in my work, don't automatically put it down to sloppiness or stupidity. It may be a typo, or it may be an act of deliberate humility by one who is all too aware of human frailty, and gives the Gods hteir due.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Doodle

One of the fun things about touch screens, there is always something handy to doodle on. As a hard-core doodler my only worry is running out of battery,