Tuesday, September 26, 2006

L’Origine du monde

[What a title!]

L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World) is an oil on canvas painted by Gustave Courbet in 1866. Measuring about 55 cm by 46 cm (21.7 by 18.1 inches), it depicts the close-up view of the genitals and belly of a naked woman, lying on a bed and spreading her legs.

The framing of the scene, between the thighs and the chest, emphasizes the eroticism of the work. Moreover, an erect nipple and the redness of the vaginal lips suggest that the model had just had a sexual encounter....

L’Origine du monde was painted in an era when moral values were being questioned. By the very nature of its realistic, graphic eroticism, the painting still has the power to shock....

During the nineteenth century, the display of the nude body underwent a revolution whose main activists were Courbet and Manet. Courbet rejected academic painting and its smooth, idealised nudes, but he also directly recriminated the hypocritical social conventions of the Second Empire, where eroticism and even pornography were acceptable in mythological or oneiric paintings.

Courbet later insisted he never lied in his paintings, and his realism pushed the limits of what was considered presentable. With L'Origine du monde he has made even more explicit the eroticism of Manet's Olympia. Maxime Du Camp, in a harsh tirade, reported his visit of the work’s purchaser, and his sight of a painting “giving realism’s last word”....

In February 1994 the novel Adorations perpétuelles (Perpetual Adorations) by Jacques Henric, reproduced L’Origine du monde on its cover. Police visited several French bookshops to have them withdraw the book from their windows. A few proprietors, such as the Rome bookshop in Clermont-Ferrand, maintained the book, but others such as Les Sandales d’Empédocle in Besançon complied, and some voluntarily removed it. The author was saddened by these events: “A few years ago, bookshops were counter-powers. When the Ministry of Interior, in 1970, banned Pierre Guyotat’s book, Eden, Eden, Eden, bookshops had been resistance places. Today, they anticipate censorship…”.

Although moral standards and resulting taboos regarding the artistic display of nudity have evolved since Courbet, owing especially to photography and cinema, the painting remained provocative. Its arrival at the Musée d'Orsay caused high excitement. A guard was permanently assigned to the monitoring of this sole work, to observe the reactions of the public....


Friday, September 22, 2006

Honor system

[Note: Doesn't work with thieves.]
The honor system is a philosophical way of running a variety of endeavors based on trust and honor. Something that operates under the rule of the "honor system" is usually something that does not have strictly enforced rules behind its functioning. In the UK, it would more often be called a "trust system" and should not be confused with the British honours system.

A person engaged in a honor system has strong negative connotations associated with breaking or going against it. The negatives may include things like community shame, loss of stature, or in extreme situations, banishment....

In some places, public transportation such as trains operate on an honor system. The local government may find it impractical or overly expensive to install ticket-checking turnstiles at every station, and instead rely on casual human surveillance to check if all train riders possess tickets. In such a system one could thus ride the train without paying, and simply hope to be lucky enough to avoid a random ticket check during the trip. Though unethical, such behavior is impossible for an honor system by itself to prevent, although the behavior can be reduced by enforcing penalties for those who choose to cheat the system.

Some hotels in continental Europe operate an honor bar, allowing guests to serve and record their own drinks and saving the cost of a night bartender. Patrons could theoretically lie about their drink consumption, and the hotel would have only limited powers to verify their claims. The concept of hotel "mini bars" in the United States is similar.

Many publicly funded museums and art galleries around the world ask for a certain "suggested" or "minimum" donation in exchange for admission. Patrons are almost never supervised during their donations, so there is no way of making sure the suggested minimum is being paid.

In some colleges, the honor system is used to administer tests unsupervised. Students are generally asked to sign an honor code statement that says they will not cheat or use unauthorized resources when taking the test. As an example, at the Washington & Lee University a student taking an examination is required to sign, date and include the following pledge: "On my honor as a student I have neither given nor received aid on this examination." There is but one penalty for transgression of the honor code, and that is dismissal from the University.

Another example can be seen in fundraising drives. Many charities distribute boxes of confectionery to businesses, which are placed in waiting rooms or similar for people to purchase items from. The confectionery is free to be removed by anyone who wishes to take it, and there is no enforcing of payment other than through the expectation of honesty. Indeed, most such boxes of confectionery bear the comment 'Your honesty is appreciated' near where money is deposited....


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The video game crash of 1983

[I wonder if anyone decided that video games were a fad.]

The video game crash of 1983 was the sudden crash of the video game business and the bankruptcy of a number of companies producing home computers and video game consoles in North America in late 1983 and early 1984. It brought an end to what is considered the second generation of console video gaming.

The crash was followed by a gap of three years, during which there was a much smaller market in games for home computers in North America, and no significant development for video game consoles. That gap ended with the success of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) that was first introduced in Japan in 1983 (as Famicom) and then in the United states in 1985 and would break out in popularity in 1987.

This period is sometimes referred to as the "video game crash of 1984," because that was the year the full effects of the crash became obvious to consumers. Hundreds of games were in development for 1983 release, most of which ended up in bargain bins. But few games were developed in 1983 for release the following year, resulting in a drought of new video games in 1984....

The world wide video game crash of 1983 was caused by a combination of factors, though with different factors in several markets:

  • In Europe, the boom years of personal computing [1981–1985] were trumpeted by very aggressive marketing of inexpensive home computers, especially the Commodore 64, with the theme “Why buy your child a video game and distract them from school when you can buy them a home computer that will prepare them for college?” Marketing research for both sides tracked the change as millions of consumers shifted their intention to buy choices from game consoles to low-end computers that retailed for similar prices. A similar campaign occured in the U.S. without the same effect, where instead the personal computer industry grew because of the crash and is not seen as directly causing it.
  • A flood of consoles on the market giving consumers too many choices. At the time of the U.S. crash, there was a plethora of consoles on the market: Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Bally Astrocade, Colecovision, Coleco Gemini, Emerson Arcadia 2001, Fairchild Channel F System II, Magnavox Odyssey2, Mattel Intellivision (and its just released update with slew of peripherals, Intellivision II), Sears Tele-Games systems (which included 2600 and Intellivision clones), Tandyvision, and Vectrex. Each one of these had their own library of games, and many had (in some cases large) 3rd party libraries. Likewise, you had many of these same companies announcing yet another generation of consoles for 1984, such as the Odyssey3, and Atari 7800. [1]
  • A flood of poor titles from hastily financed startups, combined with weak high-profile Atari 2600 games based on the hit movie E.T. and the red-hot arcade game Pac-Man[2].
  • The news media sensationalized both the boom days of 1980 and the problems of 1982–83. In particular, the story of Atari burying thousands of E.T. cartridges in a New Mexico landfill shifted the outlook of the video game market in the eyes of many media outlets....
The crash had two long-lasting results. First, dominance in the home console market shifted from the United States to Japan. When the video game market recovered in 1987, the leading player was Nintendo’s NES, with a resurgent Atari battling Sega (actually founded by an American, David Rosen) for the number two spot. Atari never truly recovered, and finally stopped producing game systems in 1996 after the failure of the Atari Jaguar.

A second, highly visible result of the crash was the institution of measures to control third-party development of software. Secrecy against industrial espionage had failed to stop rival companies from reverse engineering the Mattel and Atari systems, and hiring away their trained game programmers. Nintendo—and all the manufacturers who followed—controlled game distribution by implementing licensing restrictions and the implementation of a security lockout system. Would-be renegade publishers could not publish for each others’ lines—as Atari, Coleco and Mattel had done—because in order for the cartridge to work in the console, the cartridge must contain the appropriate key chip for the lock inside the console and the publisher must acknowledge their license to Nintendo in the copyright notices. If no key chip was present or if the key chip did not match the lock inside the console, the game would not work. Although Accolade achieved a technical victory in one court case against Sega, challenging this control, even it ultimately yielded and signed the Sega licensing agreement. Several publishers—notably Tengen (Atari), Color Dreams, and Camerica—challenged Nintendo’s control system during the 8-bit era. The concepts of such a control system remain in use on every major video game console produced today.

Nintendo reserved the lion’s share of NES game revenue for itself by limiting most third-party publishers to only five games per year on its systems. It also required all cartridges to be manufactured by Nintendo, and to be paid for in full before they were manufactured. Cartridges could not be returned to Nintendo, so publishers assumed all the risk.[5] Nintendo portrayed these measures as intended to protect the public against poor-quality games, and placed a golden seal of approval on all games released for the system. Although most of the Nintendo platform-control measures were adopted by later manufacturers like Sega, Sony and Microsoft, the others never used such strong measures to hold a larger share of the games market for themselves, which later forced Nintendo to follow suit.

The hardware manufacturers of 2005 routinely receive $9 U.S. or more for every licensed software product sold by authorised third party publishers, and defend their legal rights aggressively. This allows console manufacturers to cash in on the success of third-party publishers, and it also gives the console manufacturers control over shoddily produced, pornographic, or otherwise controversial third-party games such as Custer’s Revenge that could taint the console’s reputation.

A lesser effect of the crash that lasted through the end of the 1980s until a new generation of console hardware had arrived: Surviving game development and publishing companies began targeting home computer platforms in the absence of a strong console to target. Electronic Arts, for example, was founded in 1982 and began shipping titles in 1983; it avoided being caught in the crash because of its business plan to develop only to computers. The computer game market was worldwide, but proved to be particularly strong in the United Kingdom....


Monday, September 18, 2006


[Corgan, sometimes.]
Shoegazing (also known as shoegaze) is a style of alternative rock that emerged in southern England in the late 1980s. Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, released in 1991 (see 1991 in music) is said to have defined the sound, although this is increasingly disputed by those artists associated with the genre who claimed a closer identification with the more hypnotic, rhythm based bands like Loop....

Shoegazing is characterised by a self-deprecating, introspective, non-confrontational feel. Generally employed are distortion and the fuzzbox, droning riffs and a Phil Spector-esque wall of sound from the noisy guitars. Another way to describe the guitar effects would be "lead-guitarlessness", typically with two distorted rhythm guitars interweaving together and giving an exceptionally amorphous sound. Although lead guitar riffs were often present, they were not the central focus of most shoegazing songs.

Vocals typically are subdued in volume and tone, but underneath the layers of guitars is often a strong sense of melody. While the genres which influenced shoegazing often used drum machines, shoegazing more often features live drumming. Chapterhouse utilised both samples and live drumming, while drummers such as Chris Cooper of Pale Saints and the late Chris Acland of Lush often displayed complex drum patterns.

The name was originally thought to be coined by the New Musical Express, noting the tendency of the bands' guitarists to stare at their feet (or their effects pedals), seemingly deep in concentration, while playing. In 2006 it was also claimed that the name was invented as a term of mockery by Andy Ross, founder of Food Records, for members of his staff who attended gigs of emerging shoegazing acts such as Lush and Moose [1]. Many of the band members were young, inexperienced & shy. The subdued vocals were not just subdued for effect, but due partly to a lack of confidence in the singers. Some fans will argue another story, that shoegazing music was originally made with the intention of being listened to while taking heroin, and that the name refers to a passage from the book Naked Lunch. Indeed, Spacemen 3 had a record called Taking Drugs (To Make Music To Take Drugs To), but they were pre-shoegazing, so even if they had been inspired by Naked Lunch, neither they, nor their fans or critics, discerned the link to shoegazing. Melody Maker preferred the more staid term The Scene That Celebrates Itself, referring to the habit which the bands had of attending gigs of other shoegazing bands, often in Camden. The key record labels associated with the genre were Creation Records (My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive) and 4AD Records (Lush, Pale Saints)....

The first stirrings of recognition came when indie writer Steve Lamacq referred to Ride in a review for the NME as "The House of Love with chainsaws". In the U.S. the music is sometimes now referred to as "dream pop".

The genre label was quite often misapplied. Key bands such as Ride, Chapterhouse and Slowdive emerged from the Thames Valley and as such Swervedriver found themselves labelled 'shoegazers' on account of their own (coincidental) Thames Valley origins - despite their more pronounced Hüsker Dü stylings. Curve were once described as "the exact point where shoegazer meets goth" and the genre did overlap with others to some extent. It was certainly the case that bands such as Blur, on occasion, adopted elements of shoegazing ('She's So High' for instance) on a purely commercial basis. The careers of second-wave shoegazers like Thousand Yard Stare and Revolver were caught up in a general backlash which affected the scene. In spite of this, bands like Chapterhouse, Ride and Slowdive ("the My Bloody Valentine Creation can afford" went one wry review) did leave behind several albums that on reflection have stood the test of time as indicative of early-mid 90s British indie....

The coining of the term "The Scene That Celebrates Itself" was in many ways the beginning of the end for the first wave of shoegazers. The bands became perceived by critics as over-privileged, self-indulgent and middle-class. This perception was in sharp contrast to those bands who formed the wave of newly-commercialised grunge music that was making its way across the Atlantic, and those bands who formed the foundation of Britpop, such as Oasis and (despite their advancing years) Pulp. Britpop also offered intelligible lyrics, often about the trials and tribulations of working class life, another contrast to the "vocals as an instrument" approach of the shoegazers which often left vocals as merely another noise in the mix, with little concern for lyrical content.


Friday, September 15, 2006

Gasoline pill

[But imagine if it were true!]
The gasoline pill or gasoline powder is one of several fictitious or fraudulent concoctions that claim to turn water into gasoline, which can be used to run an automobile. The gasoline pill is one of several suppressed inventions that circulate as urban legends. Usually these urban legends allege a conspiracy theory that the oil industry seeks to suppress the technology that turns water to gasoline. A more current gasoline pill claims to improve gasoline efficiency by 20%....

In the United States, the best known claim to have created a gasoline pill was the work of one Guido Franch, who was active from the 1950s through the 1970s. Franch called the resulting liquid Mota fuel, mota being atom spelled backwards.

Guido Franch was a blue collar worker who lived in Livingston, Illinois. His invention was a green powder that was added to water, which he claimed had actually been invented by a fictitious German scientist named Dr. Alexander Kraft. Franch took money from a number of small investors who read about his claims in the National Tattler or a similar publication. In what became a frequent motif, he claimed that the water-into-gasoline powder formula could not be disclosed for fear that the oil industry would have it suppressed. Franch, when pressed into providing samples of his transmutation powder, produced samples of green food coloring.

As a result of his activities, Franch was prosecuted several times for fraud. His first trial, in 1954, resulted in his acquittal when a prosecution witness admitted that it might be possible that "mota fuel" worked. His second trial, in 1979, resulted in his conviction.[1][2]

In 1916, Louis Enricht claimed to have a water to gasoline pill. Enricht was convicted of fraud in a related case, claiming to have a method for extracting gasoline from peat, and served time in Sing Sing prison. In 1917, John Andrews pitched a water to gasoline powder to the United States Navy. Andrews disappeared after making his pitch, but it turned out that he had returned to Canada, where he was serving in the Canadian Navy.[2]

In 1996, Ramar Pillai claimed to be able to transmute water to gasoline by a herbal formula that he claimed was the result of a miraculous bush. Pillai obtained 20 acres of land to cultivate his bush, but in fact it turned out that he was using sleight of hand to substitute kerosene for the liquid he claimed to have derived from the bush....


Thursday, September 14, 2006


[I had one of these with my Nintendo; I didn't really know how to use it.]

R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy) was an accessory for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was released in 1984 in Japan as the "Famicom Robot" and in 1985 as R.O.B in North America....

The R.O.B. functions by receiving commands via optical flashes from a television screen. With the head pointed always at the screen, the arms move left, right, up, and down, and the hands pinch together and separate to manipulate objects on fixtures attached to the base.

Gamers without experience might wonder how R.O.B. relays data back to the NES, and in fact there is no direct way to do so. In Gyromite, one of R.O.B.'s base attachments holds and pushes buttons on an ordinary controller. In Stack-Up the player is supposed to press a button on his or her own controller to indicate when R.O.B. completes a task. While the Robot Series games were among the most complex of its time, they were reliant upon the honor system....

In Japan, the Famicom Robot was sold with Robot Block (a.k.a. Stack-Up).

The Robotic Operating Buddy was sold in two packages. One was the NES Deluxe Set, which featured a control deck, the NES Zapper, two controllers, and two games (Duck Hunt and Gyromite). The other package only included R.O.B. and Gyromite.

While in production, R.O.B. was not widely accepted. The reason why it is not exceedingly rare today is due to its brief inclusion in the NES Deluxe Set. It was compatible with only two games, neither of which were simple enough for a game market that, at the time, was composed almost entirely of younger children.

Its most successful use was as a "trojan horse" to garner interest following the video game crash of 1983. Retailers, reluctant to stock video games, were successfully tricked when Nintendo snuck the NES in with R.O.B. as a "robot toy" instead of a video game. It worked, as retailers stocked the NES, giving Nintendo its first major foothold in the western market [1].

On the other hand, most consumers saw R.O.B. only as a novelty. The slow pace with which R.O.B. performed its movements was a source of frustration, since cheating at Gyromite was far easier to set up and play than controlling the game in its intended fashion. In fact, many people did not understand how the accessory worked. These perceptions, along with a high price tag, led Nintendo to exclude R.O.B. from further bundles and discontinue it after only two years on store shelves.