Late summer morning at the Goldenrod

I had an errand to run this morning north of Portland and thought I’d stop in at the Goldenrod Garage. I’ve heard about the Goldenrod for ages, but this is my first visit. I took quite a few pictures – some to document, some to capture badges and textures, some to try to show the feel of the place – I guess that’s  one way of saying that the slide show below is all over the place. Three favorite shots, then the show – enjoy!

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Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Local color

A bookstore down the road a ways gets a notice in Bookride:

A bookseller on Route 1 in Porstmouth NH recently got in the papers yet again – he makes Bernard look like John Inman (‘Are you Being Served?’)–he charges a $5 browsing fee and has been known to knock out customers who venture in his shop without permission. I had heard of him over the years as an example of a dealer who had seriously lost the plot and have always been amazed that he stays in business.

Go and RTWT – the man is nuts. I was warned away from there 15 years ago by a friend who told me about the browsing fee and the generally threatening (“Why should I sell you my books, you POS?”) vibe. Portsmouth Herald article here.

The Telegraph's 100 fugliest cars of all time.

Here. (They are up to number 41 at this point).

Agreed:

  • 88 – Aston Martin Bulldog. Should be driven by Jan-Michael Vincent in a bad sci-fi movie.
  • 78 – Bond Bug. Just for the ‘what were they thinking?’ – “A three-wheeled vision in tangerine. Top speed 78mph, but quite easy to tip over. And then it was impossible to get out.”
  • 76 – Yugo 55. Driving one does allow you to heap scorn on Trabant drivers, but that’s it.
  • 59 – 80s Mustang. Sorry. Fugly.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

  • 100 – Bugeye Sprite. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
  •  79 – Rambo Lambo. Sure, it cost an arm and a leg and nothing worked properly, but if this is at 79, the civilian hummer better be in single digits.
  • 60 – Saab 95. Great car. Great styling. Want.
  • 56 – Citroën 2CV. I agree with the editors: “Perfect in form and function, so really shouldn’t be here. You’re all heartless.”
  • 42 – Tatra T603. I’d drive one in a heartbeat.

Feel free (please!) to weigh in in comments.

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via Hemmings.

Plastic fantastic Citroën

Something you don’t see every day – in fact, something I didn’t know existed until two hours ago. A Citroën Mehari – 602 cubic centimeters of tonnerre! The body is ABS and it reminds me a bit of a Kurierwagen/dune buggy mashup. It looks like a lot of fun, but one wonders about (minor) collision safety…

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Update: Check out citroenazu’s Flickrstream – fantastic!

Go Steam Venture!

Maybe it’s just the zeitgeist in the corner of the universe I inhabit, but I gotta admit, last night’s Venture Bros. episode made me do a little victory dance. First off, we got to meet Col. Venture – Hank and Dean’s great (great-great?) grandfather – a guy who flies around in an airship with Sam Clemens, Fantomas, Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley and Sandow pursued by Nikola Tesla. Cement the retrofuture-steampunk-Venture connection? I’d say so. Also – a glimpse at the origin of the Guild of Calamitous Intent. Then, during a commecial break, this ad for Scion.

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Say what you will about the Scion line (I understand many are put off by the officialitude of the Scion factory mod parts) the fact remains that what they are trying to do is to tap into the customizer vibe – something that I noted earlier.
Update – I predict the orb is either a seed (universal self-replicator as in The Diamond Age) or a complete kludge/failure – or both. If it’s a seed, I really appreciate its incremental genesis – like the Cryptonomicon in the eponymous novel. Is Jackson Publick a fan of Neal Stephenson?

Fungus walk

I took a camera with me this morning when I ran the dogs. We’ve had three weeks of very wet weather (a flash flood killed a girl a few days ago and a tornado killed a lady up the road in Northwood a week and a half ago) – if it’s not pouring all day, there’s almost always thunderstorms in the afternoon. I figured the wet ought to encourage fungi to fruit – turned out to be a good guess. I’ve pulled Toads and Toadstools off my bookshelf for re-reading; seems weather appropriate. Some pictures, then the slide show.

The Oyster River in August is normally low enough to walk across using stepping stones without getting your feet wet – this is obviously not a normal year.

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I think  one of the local bruins ate too many green apples and gave himself an upset stomach.

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The Sun God. It’s not hard to see why toadstools are so important to old religions and folkways. You’ve got solar discs and phalluses emerging spontaneously from Mom Earth – let the myth making  proceed!

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The big guy – Amanita. I still like Wasson’s  soma theory, even if there are other equally good candidates – its a rippin’ idea.

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Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

A big nod to Lord Whimsy for the proximate stimulus and to the Querencistas, where fungoblogging is a tradition.

Random thoughts on Steampunk

I told Matt M. ages ago that I’d post some thoughts on steampunk – here goes nothin’.

First, a little scope narrowing/definition – the steampunk I’m talking about is the steampunk of things – the design sensibility that takes inspiration both from Verne et al. and from the second generation of steampunk lit. It’s too bad Gaslight Romance didn’t take as an appellation for gen 2; it’s more accurate, but -punk seems to be to speculative fiction genres what -gate is to political scandals. So, across the board, punk it shall be, though the first generation – Gibson, Sterling and friends – was the true punk: a critique rather than a celebration. Steampunk things, especially now that the subject is getting some mainstream attention, can be all over the place. If pressed, I’d offer up a top hat and goggles as the essential pieces of clothing and when it comes to other ‘stuff’, I’m going to point to Jake Von Slatt’s keyboard and Morse code RSS reader as sitting firmly at the center of the Steampunk universe.

Steampunk is the child of maker culture. I’ve posted about makers before – the steampunk practice of modding, hacking and fabricating is of a piece with what many others are doing to make commodity items uniquely their own. Steammakers are well positioned: many of their favorite materials – brass, wood, leather – are relatively easy to work and they are echoing/emulating a period when the inventor in his workshop was paradigmatic (they don’t call ‘em Edisonades for nothing). If you want to tinker, taking as your model a period when the tinkerer was king ain’t a bad idea. Doing it in a time when sharing ideas and information with like minded people is incredibly easy? Another good idea.

If maker kulturny is how, retrofuturism is why. Retrofuturism (or postmodern paleo-futurism, if you prefer) addresses a fundamental question: “Where’s my friggin’ flying car?” More seriously, it’s an attempt to look at past visions of the future to see what we can learn about the times the predictions were made in and figure out something about how the world works (why were the predictions so wide of the mark). For many of us, retrofuturism and disappointment go hand in hand – I was brought up on Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, saw 2001: A Space Odyssey on my tenth birthday and bought into the Star Trek “Little UN on the Bridge” vision of science and Vulcan rationality overwhelming all our petty differences (yeah, I know Kirk was white, male and a bit of a hound, but you have to start somewhere). Where are we now? It’s been 35 years since Apollo 17 left the moon – we’re dinking around in low earth orbit, going noplace fast. Further, if you take a hard look at the distances and energy budgets involved in interstellar travel you’re left with a choice between non-starter and Clarke’s 3rd law. Yes, the future will involve magic tech, but relying on the Underpants Gnomes (collect underpants, ?, a starship!) isn’t where I’ll be putting my money. The ultra-modern future predicted in the sixties is nowhere to be found and the road to Infinity and Beyond has a Darien Gap the size of the Pacific in it. Instead, what we have looks disturbingly like plain old day-to-day life.

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I’m going to skate past the fact that the world has changed – maybe even progressed – quite a bit since ’68 and ignore the incredible stuff our metal and silicon kids are doing around the solar system. Part of it is that we tend to adapt to change when we’re in the middle of it. Cell phones? Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. GPS receivers in damn near everything? Yawn. Another piece – and the root of retrofuturist disappointment IMHO – is the tendency of sci-fi types and futurists to concentrate on extremes – Mad Max or Futurama II. Utopia or dystopia; is there a word for a -topia where baldness is an issue, where kids get frustrated with their parents, where one waits in long lines to renew a drivers license? The biggest single tech change of the last quarter century – data networking/the Internet – is used to connect people to each other and to information with unprecedented ease. It’s also used for v1agr@ spam, 419s and zombies. The problem with the future is that there are people in it – a fact that I think we’re realizing.

I know I’m veering  a bit, but I need to acknowledge the ultimate superscience sendup – The Venture Bros.

The series’ predominant homage is to Jonny Quest, as it is the basis for many of the main characters. Dr. Venture is loosely modeled on Benton Quest, Brock likewise on Race Bannon, and the Venture boys correspond to Jonny and Hadji. The comparisons, however, are taken to the level of an extreme parody by making the characters the “next generation” after an age of scientific heroism – and the next generation doesn’t always fare well.

Thus Dr. Venture is a pill-popping, barely-competent scientist who treats his children and those around him with overt disdain and contempt; Brock is a hyper-macho man with a (frequently used) license to kill; and the boys are nincompoops stuck in an out-of-date mindset. One newspaper critic remarked, “if filmmakers Woody Allen and Sam Peckinpah had collaborated on Jonny Quest, it would have come out a lot like this.” *

We have seen the future and it looks like a cross between the alley behind a liquor store and  a Massachusetts DMV office (with costumed supervillians!). (Also – proof blogging makes you smarter – I knew I’d seen the Venture Industries building somewhere before – now I know where.)

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 So… recent superscience boosterism is bunk. Maybe Verne and company got it right. If not, at least their miscues aren’t within living memory (too cheap to meter, anyone?). Steampunk  goes back farther for it’s optimistic vision of the future for practical (brass), thematic (Tesla) and temporal (old enough to be malleable) reasons, but it does – in spite of it’s frequent darkness – have it’s own customized, idiosyncratic view of a possible good life.

Finally, Matt asked whether Steampunk might be the new counterculture. I responded in comments, but I want to elaborate slightly. The 60s/early 70s counterculture – as a label applied by the mainstream -  merely identified a large group of people who were not pleased with the way things were going and/or thought they had a better way. Within this population there were a million different tribes and tendencies; one could develop a taxonomy of different kinds of acidheads, let alone try to figure out what tied together SDS, jesus freaks and Merry Pranksters. I think we’re seeing similar kinds of things happening today – makers overlap Steampunks overlap (yes, clothing counts) goth and on and on – with one important exception. The center – mainstream culture – is less dominant and more easily fragmented than it was 40 years ago. It’s CBS/NBC/ABC (then) vs. The Golf Channel/Discovery/Versus/etc., etc. (now) to use an obvious example. Personally, I think this is a good thing – diversity (and tolerance) in cultural systems builds in some resilience – if you’re going to fall victim to groupthink – and you will – smaller, more amorphous groups sound good to me.

I’d like to do my part in the mash-up/creativity/fragmentation movement – allow me to point to a series of posts on Lord Whimsy’s LiveJournal. For those of us who would rather be in the woods than in the workshop – neoleatherstockingism (I gotta clean up that name). Where steampunks have brass goggles, we’ll have silver gorgets (also gunstock clubs, dogs, hawks, optics, net access)! Manifesto to follow – I’m 75% serious about this.

Quote of the day

I suppose this blogging is often merely a therapeutic measure, as though one were laying one’s self on Freud’s couch while the great man was out of the room, in his stead standing a curious, humming device much like an evil oboe, which took in one’s spoken words and distributed them across an incredible, instantaneous, world-wide network of tin ear-horns. *

Read the linked posts from the bottom up and enjoy.

North by Northwest

I watched North by Northwest (again) last night; what a wonderful movie. So cool – the clothes, the 20th Century Limited, the cars (especially the Continental convertible), Vandamm’s house on the top of Mt. Rushmore and it’s furnishings, even the tail of the Connie in the Chicago airport scene. Just enough vinegar to cut the sweet – at least for a modern viewer – the black faces of the porters on the train are a reminder of how other Americans experienced the 50s.

My favorite aspect of the movie (at this moment – subject to change without notice) is the double MacGuffin. Sure there are the government secrets on microfilm that motivate Alexander Waverly’s The Professor’s pursuit of Vandamm, but I also think Kaplan counts as a MacGuffin – he is Vandamm’s central concern. Hitchcock makes it clear early in the movie that Kaplan doesn’t exist – a perfect placeholder for the characters to play-act around. What could be better? Hitchcock: “People, there’s nothing there, but I’m going to use that empty suit as the center of the story – watch me.”

Put it in your movie queue and when it arrives, mix yourself a nice Gibson, sit back and enjoy. (Editorial comments: 1) Gin, dammit. 2) If you don’t want to drink vermouth, don’t – just call it a cold glass of gin w/ onion or olive – dirty martinis are acceptable – the second component bumps it back to cocktail status).

And the last shot? Canonical.