Today was another visit to my in-laws for lunch, and we got the cloud
sensor fully deployed for the first time! Check it out:
The enclosure is a plastic container, one of a set of 6 I got from London
Drugs for $15. It's got clamps to keep the lid on tight, and a rubber
gasket to keep water out. I cracked the lid of the first one I worked
when I drilled a hole without proper support, but my father-in-law has
a drill press (one of the many advantages of marrying well) and we
were able to get a second container set up.
We drilled a hole in the top for the sensor can to poke through and
sealed it with silicone. I thought that would hold it in place (ie,
that it would act as a glue as well) but no dice. Instead, we placed
the first container -- which is smaller and was designed to nest
inside -- in there as well. It sat under the sensor and kept it in
place. It took a little bit of arranging to route all the USB cables,
but we got it sorted out in the end.
My father-in-law crafted a shelf for the container out of some cedar
planking and some steel bits he had lying around. We screwed that to
the patio, then the container to the shelf. Plug in the Raspberry Pi
to a nearby outlet, and boom -- we had data!
...until yesterday at noon, that is; that's when the last update was
posted. (I'm starting to regret not having set up an SSH tunnel back
home.) I'm not sure at this point what happened, but overheating
seems a reasonable guess. We made some holes on the bottom of the
container for ventilation, but it's a concern. I think the Pi itself
should be good for longer periods -- I had it running outside my house
here for days in a row, just not inside the container. I'll have to
power cycle it and see what happens.
On the data front, I realized a while back that the CSC is only
updated twice a day...which means downloading every hour is overkill.
The script still runs every few hours, but now it checks whether the
newly-downloaded chart's checksum is the same as the
previously-downloaded example; if it is, it throws it away. And I've
got the analysis script set up to convert the colours of individual
squares in the CSC into cloud coverage predictions. Next step is to
figure out how to store this info so I can work on it. All in all,
not a bad bit of progress.
Today we visited my in-laws for our usual Sunday lunch, and I took
along the cloud sensor to demonstrate for my father-in-law. He's a
retired millwright with a strong sense of curiosity, so he enjoyed
seeing it a lot. We set it up by a gazebo (?) he has in his back
yard, with the Pi hanging from the wall and the sensor clipped to the
After some clouds rolled out, it got seriously sunny. The data
For the record, the ambient temperature is not really to be trusted.
It kept reading in the mid-thirties, but a nearby thermometer showed
nothing higher than 25 all day. And when the sensor is deployed here,
it seems to register about a 10 degree higher temp for the sky;
doubtless it's the combination of the wide FOV (90 degrees) and the
narrow slice of the sky it can see from my front porch.
The day before I'd bought a plastic container to use as an enclosure,
so we kicked around ideas about how to make it work. I'd picked it
because the clipping lid seemed like it would keep out the weather
quite well, especially since the lid completely overhangs the
container -- but I'd forgotten to think about shedding water. The lid
is recessed maybe half a centimetre, and any rain would just pool in
there -- not what I want. We agreed that the enclosure definitely
needs at least a flat roof, and ideally something rounded that would
let rain roll off. A plastic bowl with a flat bottom would do the
So what worked well?
Wireless worked without a hitch -- very happy with this, as I wasn't
sure it would reach from inside to the back yard
Data logging worked too, including status updates when rebooting
Good to kick around ideas
Got script working to analyze the CSC and turn it into hour-by-hour
predictions; some initial ideas about how to store that data, and
how to visualize that and logged temperature data
Committed API key to git without noticing; had to generate a new one
Desolder header pins so eval board can be mounted with the sensor
poking through the lid of whatever
The MLX90614 eval board arrived at last. I managed to get the header
pins soldered on without melting much, and hooked up to the Raspberry
Pi. The default firmware logs the temperature in Fahrenheit to the
serial port every tenth of a second, and I was able to read it out
with screen without a problem.
Next up was adjusting the firmware slightly to slow it down a bit,
write out ambient temperature as well, and to switch to Celsius. (Cue
feeling bad about not using Kelvin.) That took all of ten minutes, so
huzzah for that.
Finally, I set up an account at ThingSpeak.com (free as in beer,
plus free as in freedom software, plus export of data whenever
you like), and set up a stupid simple script to send data both to a
CSV file and to, you know, the cloud. The result? SWEET, SWEET
Clockwise from top left, that's: sky temperature (sensor pointing
up), ambient temperature, and the delta (ambient - sky). It's
interesting to see how smooth the ambient temp is compared to the
Oh, and here's a shot of how it looks sitting on top of the BBQ
Not at all weatherproof, of course, so that comes next. With the way
I soldered the header pins on (all pointing up), that's going to be a
challenge; I may de-solder them and have the top as bare as possible.
That would let me (say) drill a hole in a Tupperware container, push
the sensor through, then epoxy around it for waterproofing. As for
the Pi...not too sure. I may try to mount it out of the weather, then
run the sensor out under the sky.
I've ordered the MLX90614 eval board plus a Redboard from Sparkfun
(can't have too many Arduinos!) (arriving shortly)
I've done some initial playing around with the Arduinos and the
accelerometer included in the Sunfounder kit, as a standin for the
MLX90614. It amazes me how easy it is to get started with all of
I've grabbed one of the Raspberry Pis around the house and got it
logging data over the USB serial port from the Arduino
Even got WiFi working on the Pi; it's an older one that doesn't have
it built-in, but I've got an extra Asus N13 lying around that seems
to work well
I've modified ttylog to include the date in its output; may not
seem like much, but I'm no C programmer
Rough plan right now is:
Have the Arduino log once a second to the serial port; that's far
too much data, but at least it'll be easy to see if it's working
Log that with ttylog; it'll be running under supervisor, and will
log for an hour before exiting (and starting up again)
Once an hour, assuming WiFi works in its final location, try to rsync
the log files home; if not working, pick up the log files manually
Put it all in a waterproof case of some sort, and find a place to
plug it in at my in-laws (they've got a nice big yard)
Yesterday at work, I set up the live cast of the CRS-8 launch on the
big TVs in the kitchen:
There were a lot of people watching with me. The footage from the
rocket was absolutely amazing...but of course, the landing was
spectacular. I found myself swearing with amazement, over and over
again, I'm sure much to the amusement of my coworkers.
I'm fortunate enough that there are a string of evening ISS flyovers
happening for me right now, and Heavens Above has tracking info for
the Dragon as well. Sure enough, there was one tonight just before
I went out to a local baseball field with 10x50 binoculars; nothing at
all resembling a dark sky, but of course it was enough to catch the
ISS as it rose. At first I thought it might be the Dragon -- it was
faint and looked smaller through the binos than I've seen it
previously. Of course, most times I see it much higher in the sky
(and thus closer, larger & brighter). As it rose, it became apparent
that it was indeed the ISS. It went slowly through the Pleiades (now
that was pretty!) and right by Menkalinan (Beta Aurigae). But where
I stopped following the ISS with the binos and let it rise out of view
-- and just a few seconds later, following almost exactly on the same
track, a dim satellite came into view. Dragon! It was maybe two
degrees further from the ISS than would fit in the FOV of the binos.
I followed it along until nearly the zenith, then tried to catch it
with the naked eye. Sure enough, there it was -- maybe 4th mag or so,
much dimmer than the ISS but still visible. Although it was harder to
see this way, it was so much more wonderful -- it was so obviously in
pursuit of the ISS. It's amazing to see a supply ship on its way to a
space station. I like living in the future.
So after doing some digging around, I think there's a simpler approach
than using Peltier coolers, and that's using an IR temperature
sensor. This guy has built his own using this approach, though
he's using Arduino controllers to read them. That led me down the
Arduino path, and after a lot of reading I think I've got an approach
that might work.
Sparkfun sells the MLX90614 temperature sensor in a couple of
different formats: bare sensor, or on an eval board. After reading
that tutorial, my understanding is:
I can connect the evaluation board to an FTDI cable/breakout board,
and hook that up via USB to the Pi. The default sketch in the
evaluation board will give me temperatures in Fahrenheit once per
second over a serial port. Later, I can change the sketch by using
the Arduino IDE. Pro: Quick to start, USB is dirt simple, and I
don't need a RedBoard or similar. Cons: Not as flexible as it would
be if connected to RedBoard, since that would give it lots of
expansion possibilities (humidity sensor, motion-activated
potato cannon, etc.)
I can connect the evaluation board to the Pi via I2C. Can still
reprogram the sketch later. Pro: Not really sure. Cons: Have to
build my own I2C connector....not that hard, from what I can
see, but I'm a newbie.
I can get the bare sensor (no eval board) and hook it up to the Pi
via I2C. Pro: Unsure. Cons: Much more fiddly than anything I've
I can jump right in to Arduino and get an Inventor's Kit. I
can use the bare sensor (as shown in the tutorial -- start on
breadboard, package it up somehow when I'm confident it's working),
or the eval board (doing something like [this example4), using I2C
in both cases. Pro: Lots of room for expansion, Arduinos are fun,
etc. Cons: Will take me a while to get up to speed.
Assuming I've got all that right...my inclination is to start with the
FTDI breakout board and USB; that'll make the learning curve easier,
and I can get the Inventor's kit later on.
I've asked on the SparkFun forum whether I've got all this
right...time will tell. But getting quickly started with the USB
seems like a good way to start.
For a while now I've been wondering idly how I could measure
cloudiness. My goal is to both track how cloudy it is now (and over
time), and to compare actual cloudiness with predictions from
A few days ago I came across an approach that I think might work.
This person measured the current coming from a Peltier cooler
when exposed to the night sky. The difference in temperature between
the ground-facing side (warm) and the sky-facing side (cold) varied
depending on whether it was cloudy (less difference in temp == less
current) or not (greater difference in temp == more current). It
occurred to me that I could use a Raspberry Pi I've got lying around
to take that same approach.
Since then I've been browsing around, and here's what I've found:
April 1 was a busy day: second day of the semi-annual OpenDNS
Hackathon (Team Sales Grenade represent!), and Clara's and I's 10th
Housiversary. But despite being tired, and the forecast going back
and forth, I went out to Boundary Bay to tackle the Virgo galaxies
again. In fact, it'd been so long since I'd been able to go out that
I had the time to think hard about what I wanted to do. Here's what I
came up with:
Compare the XT10i (10" push-to Dob) and the Meade LX10 (8"
Schmidt-Cass). I haven't used the LX10 in a while, and maybe I need
to think about passing it on to a new owner -- but I wanted a chance
to evaluate each one first.
VIRGO GALAXIES MOTHERFUCKER. Seriously, every spring it seems like
there's a 90% chance I'll wake up one day and say "Crap, there goes
Virgo...maybe next year." I really wanted to see Markarian's Chain,
and between the trees on the horizon and light pollution at my usual
location (suburban park), I figured this was my chance this year.
A fun, long night observing. Later the better, amirite?
Didn't have this on the list but should've: I broke down recently
and bought a Televue 6mm Radian. It was time to try it out.
I arrived about 8.20pm and started getting set up. I had a nice talk
with a birdwatcher while waiting for darkness to fall; he told me that
the big hawklike birds I'd spotted on the drive in were almost
certainly juvenile bald eagles, and I showed him Jupiter. We were
Comparison first: I looked at M42, both when the sky was still light
(who can wait to look at M42?) and when it was darker, and Jupiter.
M42 was much brighter than the Meade. This shouldn't surprise me,
since the Dob gathers ~ 1.5x more light than the Meade (not even
thinking about the central obstruction)...but I was. It made the
difference between seeing subtle details in M42 quite easily (or is
that a contradiction? whatever) with direct vision, and only being
able to see them with effort and averted vision. M43 was also a DV
object, though faint, in the Dob. Not only that, with the 6mm Radian
in the Dob I was able to resolve the E component of the Trap. The
Meade, though, showed no sign of the E with the Radian.
This brings up something about the Meade: higher magnifications just
leave things fuzzy, with a real loss of contrast and an inability to
focus cleanly. I have adjusted collimation once before, but my
impression is that Cats are meant to hold collimation much longer --
I'm not sure what's going on here.
This became quite apparent with Jupiter. The 6mm was high mag on the
Dob, to be sure, but it held -- moments of clarity with the zones &
belts (swear I saw some kind of triple banding on the South Equatorial
Belt), and Callisto and Ganymede clearly resolved as disks -- tiny,
but disks nonetheless. The Meade showed markedly less contrast
(central obstruction?) and as mentioned didn't hold up to the
increased magnification. Backing off to the 12mm helped, but focus
was still hard and the contrast was still noticeably less.
Objections, accusations & fixmes:
Having tracking is nice -- very nice. So is the fine adjustment.
There's no question that the bump-bump-bump in the Dob can be a
pain, particularly when swapping in a higher-powered eyepiece --
it's easy to lose your target and have to back out to find it again.
I really should look into the collimation.
Two objects obviously isn't enough to do a thorough comparison.
But...I didn't feel the need to keep going. I stuck with the Dob the
rest of the night and don't regret it at all. The extra aperture does
wonders, and despite being fast held up to the added magnification of
the Radian well.
Speaking of which...OMG this eyepiece is wonderful. Comparing it to
the 6mm Expanse I've got, it's got practically zero CA, and resolution
of stars is pin-fucking-point. It's amazing. Eye placement is a bit
of a problem -- kidney-beaning happens pretty easily if you shift your
head to the wrong place -- but by the end of the night I was pretty
comfortable with it. It is very, very nice, and I'm pretty sure I'm
going to be spoiled for other eyepieces.
So -- settled on the Dob, and I like the Radian. What else did I do?
First off, I observed the ISS through the Dob for the first time. It
did a flyby low in the sky (right by Sirius) early in the night, and I
was able to follow it relatively easily with the 17mm (1.2 degree
FOV). And WOW -- WOW. Detail was apparent -- this was very obviously
an H-shaped object. The stars flying by as I followed it gave a
wonderful impression of its speed -- it was amazing to see it zoom
across the sky like this. And on top of everything else, it went
right by Jupiter -- within an eyepiece view of it. Truly amazing.
I went to M81 and M82, which were way high up in the sky. (I
tripped over another faint fuzzy getting here -- I'm guessing one of
NGC 3307 or NGC 2976.) It was interesting to compare the view with
last week's session in the park; the 6mm showed detail in M82
that I simply wasn't able to see previously. I tried sketching it and
am not happy with the results, but it was a good exercise in bringing
out what I could see: two knots of brightness near the center of the
galaxy, with maybe a dark lane between them -- something like what was
sketched here or here. It's 12 million light years away,
and is 5x more luminous than my own galaxy. I love this hobby.
M51, by contrast, was hard to find (the Intelliscope was a little
off in this area of the sky), and didn't show much detail at all. I
saw two faint but distinct blobs, with maybe a hint of a larger area
of fuzziness around the larger galaxy. I certainly didn't see any
connection between the two.
I decided it was time to head over to Markarian's
Chain. The Intelliscope took me there without any problem.
Following along with both Turn Left At Orion (God, I love that
book) and a photo I'd printed out from Cartes du Ciel, I was able
to pick up a lot with just the 17mm (71X). M84 and M86 were
obvious; NGC 4438 and NGC 4435 took a bit more effort, but not
much. I also saw NGC 4461, NGC 4473 and NGC 4477, to give me
the tail (?) of the chain. NGC 4458 came out, but only with averted
vision. By putting in the Radian and then using AV and jiggling the
scope, I was able to pick up NGC 4388 -- a thin slash, and obviously
elongated. I might have picked up NGC 4413 with AV, but can't say
for sure. I couldn't find any sign of NGC 4402 or NGC 4387. I
sketched it all -- not a great sketch, but a great souvenir.
I swapped in my 30mm Antares Erfle for a broader view (40X, 1.85
degrees). M84 and 86 were there, of course; 4438 and 4435 were
ghostly and barely visible. (Thin, patchy clouds were starting to
roll through, so that may have contributed to their faintness here.)
4461 was only visible with AV, and 4458 not at all; 4473 was an easy catch
The FOV stretched from M84 all the way over to 4473 in one go -- five
galaxies (may have been more, but my notes don't record it; must
revisit this again) all in one look, 50-60 million light years away.
I switched up to M87 for a closer look; since
tripping over it in 2013, I've had a chart from Cartes du Ciel
ready for a return visit. M87 was obvious, of course, but so was NGC
4478 in the 17mm. Throwing in the 6mm Radian brought out NGC 4476
was well; after that, I tried for it in the 17mm again, but couldn't
M89 was an easy find, just by panning over. M90 was easy as well,
but very faint.
Over to M66 and M67, which surprised me with how obvious they were
-- they've given me problems in the past (though not at Boundary
Bay...I need to re-read my posts more often). NGC 3628 was barely
visible in the 18mm -- very faint. But hey, got the triplet!
At this point I decided to pull out the list of Messiers I haven't
observed yet, and start going through them. I got to M105 without
problems and picked up NGC 3384 as well; no sign of 3389. I
sketched them and used my new blending stump. (Everything I sketch is
now a faint, featureless blur.) M95 and M96 were nearby, so why
not? They were both obvious in the 17mm.
Back over to M49 -- quite obvious. I picked up NGC 4469 (though
it was quite faint) and NGC 4526; no sign of 4535.
M53 was a change -- a glob rather than a faint fuzzy. Not that I
could tell it from a faint fuzzy in the 12mm -- there was maybe a hint
of resolution with AV, but honestly it felt like another Virgo
elliptical. But oh, when I put in the 6mm, there was that beautiful
sparkling around the edges that I love in globs. It looked like maybe
there was a brighter star, or a detached section, in the NE corner.
I switched back to Jupiter, briefly trying the 6mm with the TeleVue
Barlow. It was too much; Jupiter wouldn't come into focus, but
Ganymede and Callisto seemed to be obvious disks.
One more before packing up: either M61 or M64. I labelled it in
my notebook as 61, but the sketch I did resembles 64, the Black Eye
Galaxy, more -- and it was on a page in TL@O that I was looking at
Obviously I was getting quite tired. Clouds were starting to
seriously roll in, and I decided to pack it in at 1.20am; an hour
later, I was home, reviewing my notes and nodding off on the couch.
I'm really, really glad I went out. The forecast had been all over
the map all week, and I wasn't sure it would be worth going out.
But the clouds held out 'til about 1am, and it was an amazingly fun
I don't think I want to hang on to the Meade; it's time to pass it
on to someone else. I'm sure I'll reconsider a Cat at some point in
the future, but for right now I'm happy with the Dob. (Might
trade for a refractor...we'll see.)
OMG the Radian. That is one sweet eyepiece. I stuck to that, the 17mm
and the 30mm Erfle pretty much the whole night.
Met all my goals, hurrah!
New Messiers: M49, M53, M61, M90, M95, M96 and M105. Total is now
Having the printed charts from Cartes du Ciel really, really helps.
The best part is being able to download photos from
the ESO's Digital Sky Survey; this helps immensely when
looking at a particular area -- 1 x 2 degrees, say, or 2 x 2.5.
Even with the C-series of the TriAtlas pages for (say) the
Virgo cluster, it is just immensely crowded, and really hard to pick
out everything I can see in the eyepice. I love the Triatlas series
-- I've got the B series and bring it with me when I observe. But I
would seriously consider bringing along a cheap laptop (this
Chromebook, say), and using it out in the field to fetch images for
things I'm looking at. Hm. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
All in all, a fun, fun night. I'm immensely happy with how this all
OMG, at last a clear night! It has been a ridiculously long time
since I went out with the scope -- October 3, in fact, when I went to
Seymour Mountain. I've set up on the front porch a few times, but it
was really, really nice to be able to go out. Even if it's just to
the local park, it's an enormous difference from the house, and
wonderful because of that.
So yeah, out to the park with the wheels for the first time. They
worked wonderfully, and I was able to zip around with very little
difficulty. It would have been nice to have some kind of clip for the
dust cover, and handles on the side of the scope would also be good --
but other than that, everything is very, very nice.
So how was the observing? In one sense, something of a failure; I
came up with a big list of targets and barely hit any of them. But
for having fun, it was great.
Jupiter and its moons were wonderful to see. Even when clouds
well, high haze rolled in, it was still worth looking because of
hte steadiness of the view. This is the first time I've ever seen
the moons as disks, not points -- and I swear, at times Callisto
looked grey and mottled. Wonderful.
200X was not out of line when it was still; neither was 400X. But
the 6mm I've got one of the Owl line is definitely on its way out;
too much CA. Even if it's got a narrower FOV, a 6mm Plossl is in my
Dialed in M51, but between a suburban location and haze all I saw
were two disconnected, extremely faint points of light.
M81 and M82, though, were great. Faint but obvious, and I was able
to see them both in one FOV with the 18mm eyepiece. I might have
seen a dust lane in M82 before the clouds rolled in?
During the past week, in a series of interviews and events, Trump
has articulated a loose, but expansive set of principles that, if
enacted, would mark a fundamental shift in the strategy the Obama
administration has employed to fight violent extremism. In addition
to arguing in favour of reinstating waterboarding, a technique that
mimics the sensation of drowning, and "much more than
that," Trump has advocated the killing of militants' wives
and children, which appears in violation of international law.
"We have to play the game the way they’re playing the game," Trump
said in an interview on CBS’s "Face the Nation" Sunday, one day
after he told an audience in Florida that he would fight to expand
and broaden the laws that regulate interrogation.
"I would like to strengthen the laws," he added Sunday, "so that we
can better compete."
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden and others also have weighed in,
saying military officials would refuse to carry out any Trump order
that violated the law.
During the last GOP debate, Trump insisted that U.S. military
officials would obey any orders he gave them, saying,
"They're not going to refuse me. Believe me."
So help me, I'm left wondering which would be worse: a Trump
presidency, or a military coup against a Trump presidency.
"Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet" is a Roger Corman-produced
remix of a Soviet Union film; given the times, I'm really quite
curious how this happened. Basil Rathbone and Faith Domergue make an
appearance, but other than them it's five Soviet actors and a robot
that (as my wife pointed out) sounds like David Byrne does in "Burning
Down The House".
I'm just going to come out and say that this is a much, much
better review than anything I can write.
Tonight was Eli's last soccer practice of the season, and the coach
declared that it was going to be Kids vs. Parents. Clara has writing
class this week, so I went along; I took Arlo with me, who had
homework to do. We sat on the front steps of the school by the soccer
field, staring at math problems and waiting for the game to start,
then joined in when it became apparent that all the other parents were
eager to go.
The kids had fun, but I was out of my element. Not just because it
was sports but because many of the parents were really good at
soccer and really cared. (That's not a dig; I care about Emacs and
rocket ships, so what the hell do I know?) I found myself looking
around, staring at the sky (cloudy but maybe there would be some
stars? nope) and checking out in a way I've recognized in myself since
I was 18, and see a little bit of in Arlo.
Eventually it was over; I let in the winning goal, and the kids won.
The parents talked about strategies for next time, and promised to see
each other at the pizza party on Sunday. I'll be there; and doubtless
I'll be looking around, seeing what there is to look at.
About a year ago I read Lars Ingrebritsen's blog post welcoming
new Emacs developers, which gave step-by-step instructions on
submitting Emacs patches, and decided to give it a go. I tackled
bug #96, seven years old at that point, which asked for the grep
commands to prompt to save buffers before running. A bit of digging
around showed that there was a function ready for copy-pasta, so I
submitted it. I got asked for a couple of improvements, which I'm
ashamed to say I never submitted, and after a while it dropped off my
Well, what do I find in my mailbox today but a note from Lars his own
bad self saying that the patch had been committed (Github mirror;
easier to link to than the official repo), along with the
improvements requested. So, in a minor and somewhat undeserved way,
I've added a small brick to that edifice of human knowledge, Emacs.
(It would be possible for me to be more grandiose, but not easy.)
"Three The Hard Way" is a 1974 film that came in a four-pack of
"Urban Action" films. I've watched the other three already, and of
all the cheap films I've bought these are the ones I've enjoyed the
For an entertaining film, the plot is pretty dark: a group of white
supremicists have come up with a plague that kills black people.
Before they can unleash it, though, three supremely bad-ass brothers
are on the case: a record producer producer, a Chicago businessman,
and a kung-fu master. (They're also backed up, at least for one scene
by three equally bad-ass sisters who for some reason enjoy torturing
bad guys while topless.) There are explosions, really odd slo-mo kung
fu puctuated by drawn-out groans, gun fights, crooked cops, and bad
guys who sneaking into a hospital room to kill a witness using a
cherry picker. (Er, the sneaking is done with the cherry picker, not
This movie is way, way above the others I've watched so far. It may
be cheesy and full of it's time, but it's well made and entertaining.
It had a budget and it shows.
There's a long, drawn-out Wikipedia article on the film, its
stars, its director, and its role in black cinema.
The number of machine-gun wielding bad guys taken out by wonderfully
accurate pistol shots is, um, suspicious.
All the 70s action film cliches are here: kung fu, vehicles that catch
on fire and explode for no discernable reason, dynamite, stunt men wearing
what look like parkas as they catch fire and roll around on the
ground, cars rolling off cliffs, shrieks and cries of people falling
off roofs...about the only thing not here is quicksand.
The racists celebrate the (supposed) success of their plan by
throwing a party, which features Budweiser, waltzes and buffets
(ambrosia salad has a starring role). Speaking as a white person, I
can attest to the accuracy of this depiction.
I started this movie last week, then put it aside in favour of more
sleep; thus, it's a coincidence that I'm finishing this on the night
of the 2016 Oscars. Not sure what to make of that, but there you go.
I picked this up years ago at, I think, HMV in Vancouver back when
there were still record stores (ask your parents); apparently
the release date was 1997. It was a "video magazine", and I've
got it on the original VHS, baby. It starts with a (sigh) couple of
bicycle couriers robbing a office that apparently is run by A LARGE
AND EVIL MULTI-NATIONAL CORPORATION:
The half-time show, "99 Year Phone Call", is a, um, performance
piece? --wait, sorry, "post-modern culture jam" about the Y2K bug as
a metaphor for, uh, fear and video editing and stuff; it's like
watching a community theatre production of a William Gibson novel.
But these are the easy targets. There are a lot of interviews with
people discussing corporate ownership of media, economic fairness and
the FCC (among lots of other things). It wanders, but I suppose
reflects the magazine format. Overall, a lot of this reminds me of
the essays I wrote for English class in high school: they wander, they
dance around, and they bring up lots of questions, but come to few
conclusions. They don't like TV, but maybe it can be used as a way
to, you know, liberate the people. (That is, as long as they
believe the right things....one of the talking heads points out that
giving people video cameras to make their own media is all well and
good, but they're likely to only remake what they've already seen.)
There are lots of Chomsky and MacLuhan quotes, painful-to-watch skits
(op cit.), and gratuitous scrolling text, jump cuts and repetition of
the words "control", "corporations" and "governments."
I would have been all over this once upon a time. (Obviously not
enough to actually watch this, since I never made it past the first
twenty minutes until now...) I'm still broadly sympathetic to the
concerns outlined here. But I have such little patience anymore for
the cliches they wallow in, and the lack of citations for anything
they assert. (Yes, I know it's video. I don't care: sources or GTFO.)
Amusingly, the name Channel Zero is now being used by a Canadian media
company that owns Bloomberg TV Canada and several adult film
channels. Also, at least a few of the people involved in this are
listed in LinkedIn.
This week's movie is 1961's "Bloodlust", written/directed/produced by
Ralph Brooke. It's yet another adaptation of
"The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell, which is the
great-grandaddy of all those hunting humans tropes.
Four young people, while out on a boat, go to an island they
shouldn't; one falls into a pit, and they're rescued by Dr. Balleau,
the be-goateed, be-smoking-jacketed owner of the island, and his
be-striped-shirted henchmen (who resemble rather tough French mimes).
Back at his mansion he explains that he's developed a taste for trophy
hunting, and brings exotic animals to the island with his pots of
But are animals enough? No, they are not. Case in point: his wife and
a drunken friend make an appearance during this explanation, and of
course it turns out that they're having an affair. Knowing that their
host knows that they know he knows they know, they decide to help the
kids escape. Hijinks (by which I mean MAN HUNTING) ensue, but not
before Dr. Balleau displays -- rather ostentatiously, I might add --
his human trophies, set up in an underground cave, to his horrified
visitors. They get a chance to leave the island...if they can avoid
being MAN HUNTED by Dr. Balleau. I won't spoil the ending, but that's
because I did not finish it. Sue me.
Robert Reed, better known as
the father from the original "Brady Bunch" series, plays one of
the kids trapped the island. Wilton Graff played the
be-smoking-jacketed hunter of humans; he did a crapton of TV
roles as a character actor. Ralph Brooke did more than a dozen bit
parts in movies, mostly uncredited, in 1945-1946; after that, he broke
into B movies as a writer, producer, production manager, and finally
director...then died at the age of 43, just two years after
"Bloodlust" was released.
The DVD is from the good folks at Digiview Productions, which has a
Tripod fan page (remember Tripod?) and a slightly more
informative page on Wikia. Like a lot of other budget DVD
producers, they released a lot of movies that were in the public
domain...but they screwed up, and released a copy of the 1954 animated
version of "Animal Farm", which was not in the public domain. They
got sued, lost and promptly filed for bankruptcy.
Like I said, I didn't finish this -- but that's not reason for you not
to give it a try! The Internet Archive has generously made this
available to you; they do lots of good things, so please consider
making a donation to support them.)
This week's feature is "Ants", a 70s movie-of-the-week:
It had that feel when it started up...the music (that SEVENTIES
OMINOUS SYNTH haunts me from my childhood. I'm not kidding about
that. There was a movie I saw when I was a kid about mind-controlled
people that I thought starred Michael York but now I can't track down;
anyway, it was freaky as hell and had THAT SEVENTIES SYNTH. ...Wait,
where was I? Right...the music), sure, but also Suzanne Somers, who I
don't think I've ever seen outside of televsion. It's also got Brian
Dennehy, Myrna Loy (!) and Brian Casey, a character actor I
recognize from about a thousand different angry-figure-of-authority
The movie leads off with a hard-working construction worker, working
on an expansion to a century-old resort hotel, getting attacked by
ants that are drunk on industrial-strength pesticides. ("Modern
poisons are so complicated," sighs a lab worker.)Then there's the
hitchiker sleeping rough on a nearby beach, who convinces the blond,
muscled lifeguard to let her grab a quick shower. Then there's the
hotel owner who doesn't want to sell the hotel, being pursued by the
greedy developer who wants to knock the place down to build a casino.
Then there's the uppity hotel manager who likes rough trade with the
bearded construction foreman, who in turn is trying to figure out why
his employee died. Then the super-ants come back, attacking a
tow-headed kid who's collecting bottles for the money, because he
needs to take care of his divorced mom; they jump him in a dumpster
(no, really). I think the only plot element missed was a hooker with
a heart of gold.
The ants go FULL-ON METAL ATTACK at this point ("The ants are climbing
fast! Call the police, the fire department, anybody! We need as much
help as we can get!"). Suzanne Somers gets eaten by ants, or
something. Everyone holes up on the top floor of the hotel, while the
lab tech advises them to dig a trench, fill it with gasoline and
ignite it ("Containment by fire! Tell them I'm on my way!"). Brian
Dennehy finally shows up as the local fire chief who bears the
terrible responsibility of LARPing Leiningen Versus the Ants
while horrified townspeople watch.
The finale: we're down to the last three survivors (two good buys and
one bad guy, so you know who's gonna flip out). They're holed up in
the attic of the hotel, staying perfectly still and trying not to
provoke the ants. ("They're basically non-aggressive!" says the lab
tech over a radio. That's right, it's just like every airplane
disaster movie ever, and they're being talked down to the ground.) In
order to keep still, no matter how much the ants climb over them, they
breathe through rolled up cones of wallpaper held to their mouths. It
looks for all the world like they're smoking the world's biggest, most
amateurishly-made joints, particularly when the room is flooded with
insecticide by hazmat-suit wearing rescuers.
The executive producer was Alan Landsburg, who not only had > 50
movies-of-the-week to his name, but produced a biography of the
Kennedys that got a standing ovation at the '64 Democratic National
Convention. Interesting career path....
The DVD was made by Direct Source Special Products, which a) sounds
like either a mail-order sex toy business or a CIA front, and b)
apparently went bankrupt in 2009. Court paperwork offers this
The Company's business consists primarily in selling and distributing
music CDs, DVDs and videos and focuses on a market niche within the
music industry selling as well as repackaging low or modest priced
motion pictures and non major labels music discs. In the past year,
the Company has experienced a sharp and long term decline of their
sales and reported significant losses. Management attributes this
declient in sales volume to various factors, in particular to both
legal and illegal downloads of music and movies....
Fifteen employees were laid off, and the company "pursued negotiation
efforts to recover inventory located in the United States". Guess
selling Kids Mix Sing The Hits of Elvis wasn't viable in the long
"Crash of the Moons" was released in 1954 as three parts of a
long-running serial; it has since fallen into the public domain. I
picked it up years ago on VHS, but now it's available from the
Internet Archive. Since I like cheating, I watched it that way.
It's not bad for a 1954 SciFi serial, but it definitely ticks all the
boxes: handsome lead, vaguely Einstein-ish scientist, pretty actresses
in short skirts as haughty Space Queens, aliens with names like
Cleolanthe (the haughty Space Queen in question) that look exactly
like humans, a tow-headed child actor, and incomprehensible SciFi
gibberish (the phrase "atmosphere chain" gets repeated about 23 times
during the film.)
Sally Mansfield, who played spaceship navigator Vena Ray, was
obliged by her contract for the series to not marry; lead actor
Richard Crane was obliged not to divorce his wife. (At least,
so says Wikipedia, which we know is never wrong.)
"Ninja Death II" and "Ninja Death III", packaged by
EastWestDVD.com, were picked up long ago at a
dollar store for $1.99, and remained unwatched until today. There are
lots of reviews of these films, but this one is mine.
"Ninja Death II" starts off with wonderful cheesy 70s music playing
while ninjas bounce on a trampoline in front of a spotlight. Then
there's a ninja in -- no word of a lie -- a gold lame suit:
He's apparently named Tiger Y. Then there's another ninja wearing a
...fighting another ninja whose main skill appears to be sweating:
Then there's a flute player, who I can't find a picture of but who
rounds out the 70s theme nicely. A guy practices Kung Fu by a
waterfall, then he swims with a woman and writhes in pain while the
woman laughs merrily. There's a brothel, because brothels maybe?
There's a mother who dies to save her son but then isn't dead after
all. There's a chicken-eating scene that is positively obscene. And
it goes on from there.
If that sounds half-assed and disjoined, it's because it is. At a
rough guess, this appears to be at least two and possibly as many as
twelve separate movies edited together incoherently. IMDB claims
this was directed by Jospeh Kuo, who seems to have made a ton of
movies and been a pretty major figure in Taiwanese cinema. (Among
other things, he directed Mystery of Chessboxing, from whom the
Wu-Tang Clan got the name for the song of the same name.)
Top quote: "Just keep your concentration on your mind."
I don't have Part I around, but fortunately you can
watch all three online c/o the good folks at Archive.org. Having
gone through Part II, though, I honestly don't know how much
difference this would have made to the story. I will be honest: I did
not finish Part II, and will not be watching Part III; this is heading
straight to the Sally Ann.