Friday, January 27, 2017

John Hurt, 1940-2017

John Hurt, one of the greatest British actors of an incredibly great generation, has died a week after his 77th birthday. He is pictured here as the emperor Caligula in I, Claudius, welcoming a horse that he has made a senator onto the Senate floor. Hurt played a lot of great roles, but I, Claudius was the first time he showed up on my radar as a callow American youth. Other British actors of his generation who were in I, Claudius include Brian Blessed, Derek Jacobi, Sian Phillips, Patrick Stewart and John Rhys-Davies. If you've never seen it, find a copy in the library or buy it or steal it if necessary. The production values are weak by today's standards, but the writing and acting are second to none.

Another great project many people haven't seen is the 1984 version of Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which Hurt plays the protagonist Winston Smith. A British TV version in the 1950s starred the gaunt and haunted Peter Cushing, The 1950s American version starred the hefty and clueless Edmond O'Brien. Let's just say the casting directors in one of these two countries actually read the book before casting.

Without checking, the other projects I know I saw Hurt in are Alien and a parody scene of Alien in Spaceballs, Harry Potter, The Elephant Man, Only Lovers Left Alive, Snowpiercer, The Naked Civil Servant and V for Vendetta. I decided to show pictures from a TV mini-series about an obviously insane character being given absolute power and an unhappy cog in the machinery of a vicious totalitarian government where the truth means less than nothing.

I wonder why I chose those?

It's a puzzlement.

Best wished to the family and friends of John Hurt, from a fan. May he never be forgotten.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Mary Tyler Moore 1936-2017

I find myself unable to be clever talking about Mary Tyler Moore. I loved her and that was that. We shared a birthday, so she was 19 when I was born, and even before I knew that I always thought she was a wonder. She could sing, she could dance, she was a brilliant comedian, and she was a low flying angel. That's quite the combination.

A lot of people are remembering comedy scenes, most notably the funeral of Chuckles the Clown, but the scene that I remember today is Dick Van Dyke and Miss Moore singing Mountain Greenery.

Best wishes to the family and friends of Mary Tyler Moore, from a brokenhearted fan. May she never be forgotten. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Two obiturary tributes to two bands that didn't quite make it

Another pop music obituary from the 1970s is in the news today. Philip Overend Watts, guitarist first and bassist later for Mott the Hoople, is dead at 69. No one back in the day would have dreamed of putting them on the same bill with the sister group The Roches, who lost Maggie Roche this week, but both groups wrote brilliant songs about the death of the rock and roll dream.

With the rule of ladies first, here are The Roches with Mr. Sellack, a song about getting back in the job market once the dream is over.

Mott the Hoople had more success in Great Britain, or maybe it was easier to get to a certain level of success as a rock band versus a folk rock band. This is The Ballad of Mott the Hoople, in memory of Philip Overend Watts. This is a live recording in Zurich from 1972. They weren't truly at the end, but they certainly saw it coming. Oddly enough, The Roches survived as a group much longer after Mr. Sellack than Mott the Hoople did after this song.

 As a mathematician, I see two projectiles in the air that with different trajectories. As a man 61 years old who can still hit all the notes he could when he was 30 and many with more power and clarity, I think of heights I never reached.

I love both songs though they make me sad. Your mileage may vary.

Best wishes to the family and friends both Maggie Roche and Philip Overend Watts , from a heart stricken fan. May they never be forgotten.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Maggie Roche 1951-2017

Maggie Roche, one of three sisters comprising the musical group The Roches, has died at the age of 65 of cancer.

I owned several of their albums back in the day, including The Roches, their first record as a trio produced by Robert Fripp, I also picked up Keep On Doing and Speak. I saw them live once in San Francisco in the late 1980s. As you listen to their harmonies, Maggie has the lowest of the three voices, a contralto that almost qualifies as a baritone.

By coincidence, I saw the movie 20th Century Women last night, which takes place in 1979. It didn't feel much like the 1979 I experienced, but the Roches' first album certainly takes me back.

Off the first album, here is The Hammond Song.

Also from The Roches, Maggie's composition The Married Men, later recorded by Phoebe Snow.

And from Keep On Doing, another of Maggie's songs, Losing True.

Best wishes to the family and friends of Maggie Roche, from a fan. She will never be forgotten.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Ahlgrimm Harlequin

Using the same pieces as before but moving the colors around, here is the Ahlgrimm Harlequin.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Dick Gautier 1931-2017

Dick Gautier, the actor whose best known role was as Hymie the Robot on Get Smart!, has died at the age of 85 after a long illness. On TV, he was usually in comedies and was a regular in two short lived series, Mr. Terrific in 1967  - as the best friend of the main character -  and When Things Were Rotten, Mel Brooks' parody of Robin Hood that aired for 13 episodes in 1975. He later became a regular on several TV game shows.

One of the reasons I like obituaries is finding out things I did know about people. After leaving the Navy, Gautier worked as a nightclub singer and Broadway musical actor, including playing Conrad Birdie in the first run of Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway, a show whose cast included Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera, Paul Lynde, Michael J. Pollard and Charles Nelson Reilly, as well as Broadway stalwarts Susan Watson and Kay Medford. Besides that, Gautier was a talented cartoonist and did a lot of voice acting, most notably as Rodimus Prime/Hot Rod on the 1980s cartoon Transformers.

Best wishes to the family and friends of Dick Gautier, from a fan. He is never to be forgotten.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Ahlgrimm Cube

I haven't been posting pictures of the OctTetra pieces recently because having pictures online could make the patent process more difficult. But today I throw caution to the wind to present a new shape I call The Ahlgrimm Cube, in honor of my CAD programmer and collaborator Dörte Ahlgrimm. She was playing around with the pieces you can see which are called Cylinder Wedges, rounded versions of the Wedge, which can most easily be described as half a pyramid. If the blue pieces were Wedges instead of Cylinder Wedge, we would have Size Two Corner, and if we we replaced all the wedges the shape would be a Size Two Cube, where all the faces would be flat. The half blue half green face on the lower right gives you a good idea of the shape of all the faces, which are kind of like square throw pillows with a button in the middle.

It's been a while since I've been playing with OctTetra on a regular basis, but it is my plan for the winter and spring to see if I can take the next steps to making the toy now in prototype into a viable product.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Semi-slipped My Mind Saturdays
Fleetwood Mac Oh Well

I ran errands yesterday and did not get back home in time to put up a Half Forgotten Fridays post, so it's a Semi-slipped My Mind Saturday post instead.

Fleetwood Mac is by no means forgotten, but their original line-up before the additions of Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Bob Welch and Christie McVie is definitely obscure. The closest thing they had to a hit in the 1960s is this long song in two very distinct parts, Oh Well, written and sung by Peter Green. It starts with one of the greatest guitar hooks in rock history, breaking into a hard driving instrumental section that could easily be identified as early heavy metal. Then it breaks into a completely different melody on acoustic guitar and recorders, little wooden flutes famous for going out of tune after about a month of use due to saliva and heat warping the little bastards. I know, I used to play the recorder.

Then the symphonic section with flamenco guitar begins, which could be fairly considered a distinct third part.

I fucking loved this song in high school, when it was only FM radio that would play it. As a single, it had to be broken into Part 1 and Part 2, but FM radio would play whole thing straight through. I would lie in bed in the morning hoping the DJ would play it before I had to go to school. The only thing I can compare it to when I was a kid was the Traffic album John Barleycorn Must Die.

Peter Green had schizophrenia and the drugs didn't help. He has been in and out mental institutions much of his life. Still, he wrote some great songs and other musicians could see how damned good he was. His other great contribution to rock history is writing Black Magic Woman, turned into a hit by Santana. Oh Well has been covered by a whole passel of musicians, including Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Joe Jackson, Ratt, and The Black Crowes with guest guitarist Jimmy Page. Musicians loved the hell out of this, but it's public reception is tiny compared to the album Rumors took off.

Here's Fleetwood Mac, led by the musical genius Peter Green, playing the original version of is composition Oh Well.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Math Thursday:
The math of life and death, part 3
Death by overdose

A major culprit in the increasing death rate are drug overdoses. This study from the CDC follows the number of deaths over the five year period from 2010 to 2014 for ten drugs: Six opioids (fenatyl, heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine), two stimulants (cocaine and methamphetamine) and two benzodiapazines (Alprazolam and Diazepam). The rate of deaths from these causes, which are difficult to separate in many overdose cases, rose from 12.4 per 100,000 in 2010 to 14.8 per 100,000 in 2014. The drugs listed separately as causes all have been under 2.0 per 100,000 except for heroin, which rose steadily throughout the five year study from 1.0 per 100,000 in 2010 to 3.5 per 100,000 in 2014. In 2015, the numbers for heroin continued to rise and for the first time in any recent year, more people died from heroin overdose than from gun homicides, though the difference in the reported numbers - 12,989 to 12,979 - could be over-turned on a recount.

What's going on? Let me be the first to say I don't really know, but the old, often discredited idea of a "gateway drug" is re-surfacing here. It is assumed that the prescription opioids are introducing people to the opiate experience and they are more likely to take heroin after experiencing Oxycontin or some other doctor prescribed painkiller. I have no personal experience of this phenomenon, so I was surprised to find that heroin is much cheaper than the prescription drugs. We have assumed illegal drugs were an urban phenomenon for maybe a century now, but the deaths we are seeing now are definitely not limited to the cities or even the suburbs. When Rush Limbaugh was outed as an Oxycontin abuser, I first learned of its nickname Hillbilly Heroin. Obviously, some enterprising job creator has been able to introduce real heroin to real hillbillies.

The epidemic is most prevalent among whites and is also seen in the African American male demographic.  It is much less common among African American females and both genders of the Latino community. The current prevailing assumption is doctors prescribing pain relief in ways that show both racial and sexual bias, which actually hurts white males by this measurement rather than helps them. Many commentators linked these death statistics to the alleged spring of Trump's victory, the set upon white working class. We now get a four year experiment, possibly longer though I certainly hope not, as to whether having a guy in the White House who is "on their side" will see a drop in these numbers. Given that heroin is the leading edge of the problem, my assumption is that no slogans or cheering rallies or increased policing will make much difference. Like with the numbers in the early 1990s at the height of the AIDS epidemic, the at risk population is going to have to figure out how to pull out of this tailspin by themselves.