Brake for disappointment

typed for your pleasure on 24 January 2009, at 1.21 am

Sdtrk: ‘Skullcrush’ by SALEM

Had things gone as planned, you would be reading an extremely detailed review of the 2009 North American International Auto Show (long known to Michiganders as the Detroit Auto Show, despite fervent efforts to the contrary on the part of the Auto Show organisers), from when Zip Gun, goshou and I attended this past Tuesday, but between then and now, I managed to lose the paper I’d written it out on during work hours. This is why I loathe paper — it’s always getting lost, or wet, or being set ablaze, or eaten. DAMNIT PAPER, WHAT AM I PAYING YOU FOR
In lieu of a legitimate post, however, here are the highlights that I recall scribblin’ down:

+ We got to Cobo Hall about 7.30pm; about twenty feet from the entrance, a derelict/scalper asked us if we were going to the Auto Show. ‘Nope!’ was Derek’s enthusiastic reponse, as we walked briskly past him to go to the Auto Show.

+ Jack Lessenberry, a writer for our local free alternative paper, the Metro Times, mentioned in one of his recent columns:

I also don’t understand why they hold the North American International Auto Show in January, a month when no sensible human being in Detroit wants to go outside if they can help it. To attend what mere mortals still call the “Detroit Auto Show,” one has to try to navigate the potholes, the ice, the potholes filled with ice, and then try to find an affordable parking lot downtown. After that, all you have to do is walk however far on salt-studded and pitted streets, before getting into Cobo Center.

People who live in this climate should hold auto shows in late May, or September or early October perhaps, and have much of it outdoors. But no, we would rather make our already gritty experience a little more so.

In the interest of full disclosure, we happened to locate a car park for us roughly two blocks away. Good eye, goshou!

+ Considering that Ford, General Motors and Chrysler had recently gone round to the government with begging bowl in hand, it was a rather subdued affair this year. In fact, maybe it was the fact that I’d not been to an Auto Show since probably about 2005, but it looked somehow smaller. There weren’t a lot of attendees, either, but then, we were there on a Tuesday eve, as opposed to a week-end, which worked out fine, as I despise crowds…

+ One of the Maybach models had curtains inside! It had curtains inside. It looked a bit like a hearse! It was AWESOME.

+ Honda had a few large-scale banners that had pictures of ASIMO on them, so of course, in my mania, I was thinking ‘hey, ASIMO’s gonna be here!’
Of course he wasn’t!

+ ZG and I sat in a smart car. I was impressed with it; he was less so impressed. More smart cars for me, then.
ZIP GUN: ‘Where would I put my kids?’
ME: ‘Glove compartment, durr hey!’

+ Tesla Motors, you are so fab of a concept and company that you will probably be crushed by the other automotive giants, much like previous auto innovators Edsel and Tucker. We miss you already!
Also, why no brochures? I understand the whole drive behind ‘thinking green’, but give us something to take home and drool over, eh?

+ We encountered a crowd in the Mercedes-Benz area, and saw that they were gathered round this sexy beast: the Mercedes McLaren SLR Stirling Moss. The fact that the car was 90 per cent hood reminded me of the Sixties-era Jaguar E-types. Lovely lovely.

+ I sat in a MINI, and didn’t want to leave.

+ We saw the Brilliance motors area, which was oddly bereft of people. Partly because, I dunno, who the hell is Brilliance motors? O, it’s these also-rans. They’re Chinese-made vehicles that are being promoted in Europe, and now they’re making a go for the States. I guess? There were no brochures, and we couldn’t get in their cars, as they were all locked, so we kept moving.

+ Before taking off, we saw the concept Chevy Beat, which was ace. Not only was it in the kind of lurid neon green that only I could love, but they eschewed wing mirrors altogether, and replaced them with cameras. That’s future thinking. But again, no brochures?? If you’re not giving out brochures, you’d better be giving out cars.

Yes, that’s the lot. Of course, there were other interesting spectacles like the all-white Audi display area, or the Volkswagen area, or how we filled out contest forms to win a Hyundai and will now probably get put onto all manner of mailing lists for rubbish, but that’s the highlights from our two-hour tour. The crowning point of the eve, though? Zip Gun and I getting our photo taken with Bibendum.

I had no idea where his shoulder was

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O, don’t get my hopes up

typed for your pleasure on 11 September 2008, at 2.36 am

Sdtrk: ‘Today’s rhythm people’ by The Focus group

Hrrm. Is anyone else here somewhat disappointed that, upon activation yesterday, the Large Hadron Collider didn’t spawn a cluster of black holes, thereby compressing this miserable planet into gravel in moments? Go on, raise your hands

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‘Here in my car / I feel safest of all’

typed for your pleasure on 25 June 2008, at 12.07 am

Sdtrk: ‘Rockaway beach’ by the Ramones

Far be it from ‘Shouting etc etc’ to go on about current events — unless it’s Synthetiks-based, suffice to say — but with US fuel prices reaching lunatic levels, we might well be seeing a upswing in sensible thinking regarding vehicles. Namely smaller, more sensible cars, such as the smart car.

No, I didn’t take this pic, I was too busy driving. Plus, it’s in Europe

They’ve been around in other parts of the country (namely the West coast) for a while, but they’re just now popping up in Michigan, which is lovely. Just the other day, I saw two of them, which is what inspired this post. But a mate of mine, Dave Z, has a bit of a problem with them, as there’s one at his workplace, and when he’s driving through the parking lot trying desperately to find a space, he’ll approach one he thinks is empty, but in actuality is already occupied by a smart car. They’re so tiny, you could probably cram like two and a half into a single parking spot!
I understand they get shitty gas mileage (40 mpg) for the prices they’re being sold for ($12,000 USD). Nevertheless, you have to start somewhere, I suppose… Also, maybe distributors in the States will follow the example of light-years-ahead Europe, and build these vertical dispenser buildings. Clever! You should thank me from not saying ‘smart’.

On the same day I witnessed those smartcars, however, I saw this beauty driving around, which made me squeal like a schoolgirl:

I didn’t take this one, either

Fiat has updated their iconic and sexy 500 model (not to be confused with Model 500) for the Twenty-first Century. The one I saw was headed towards me on the opposite side of the road, and from a distance I thought it was yet another smartcar. But then I recognised the curved front with the rounded headlamps, and that clinched it.
Any and all news of a new Fiat 500 slipped completely under my radar, so that was a pleasant surprise! Undoubtedly, the car will be bastard expensive, but… wow. Well done, Fiat!

Apparently, the most famous Fiat 500 enthusiast in anime, Lupin the Third, will be getting a new 500 as well, which killed me.

And when hanging out with Zip Gun and goshou later that day, ZG mentioned that he spotted a MINI Clubman, as BMW have gotten round to releasing the updated station wagon variation of the MINI.

Nor this one

As I’m subscribed to the MINI USA newsletter, I received an Email months and months ago, mentioning that the Clubman was slated to make its debut soon, but that was the only thing I’d heard, so I’d kinda forgotten about it. Upon seeing pictures of the 2008 model, it’s not as impressive as I thought it would be, mainly due to its lack of a crucial aesthetic element:

Don’t even ask

Where’s the wood body trim? It’s not a true station wagon if there’s no imitation wood somewhere on it! As we all know, Wood Panelling is Good Panelling, so BMW, you missed a trick there. However, the new Clubman has a suicide door on the passenger side, so that’s somewhat redeeming.

Tiny cars! The oversized vehicle backlash has begun! Patrick, looks like your wish might’ve come true after all

Technorati tags: smartcar, Fiat, Fiat 500, BMW MINI, MINI Clubman, Juan Atkins

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typed for your pleasure on 16 November 2007, at 1.43 am

Sdtrk: ‘The torture garden’ by Death in June

Attention, those of you who grew up in the Eighties or are into late-Eighties anime culture: hands up if you remember the show ‘Spiral zone’. Right, that’s three of you. Hrm.
To jostle your memory somewhat, leprous-looking bad guys were going round a future Earth with these huge generators that emanated a gas that turned ordinary people into, uh, zombies or something? I’m not entirely sure. I do know that the show was based on a series of highly-detailed action figures from Japan that competely impressed me, as they were about six inches tall with removable cloth suits and plastic armour — kinda like a precursor to all those Dragon / 21st Century Toys / Blue Box 12″ figures that seem to be so popular these days. But the reason I’m dragging you lot by the hair down Memory Lane is that the good guys rode motorcycles with one giant wheel, which I thought was ace. ‘OMG,’ you scream at the top of your lungs, pronouncing it ‘omj’, ‘I remember those cycles! I always wanted to ride one myself!’ Well, thanks to some lunatics from the Netherlands, now you can. Introducing: The Wheelsurf.

Not as fab as a Vespa, but definitely cooler than a Segway

The Wheelsurf consists of an inner and an outer frame. The inner frame has three small wheels that make contact with the outer frame. The outer frame is the actual rotating wheel and has a solid rubber tire. The rider sits inside the inner frame that also contains the engine, drive train and petrol tank.
The Wheelsurf is steered by shifting your weight. Although it has a hand brake, braking is limited to the counterbalance you can provide by leaning backwards. If you brake too hard, you will start spinning with the outer wheel. Which of course is exciting…

Of course it’s ‘exciting’! That doesn’t mean it’s ‘good’! I keep picturing that nutty YouTube video with the hamster and the wheel and the momentum and the Schadenfreude. You know which one I’m talking about.
Apart from any errant braking incidents though, the Wheelsurf looks rather neat. If they came in colours apart from red and yellow, I’d buy one! And if they weren’t $7,000 USD, that is

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typed for your pleasure on 4 September 2007, at 12.30 am

Sdtrk: ‘Inner mind mystique 7’ by Masonna

Who likes Stuff? You like Stuff. Yes, you do. Here’s some Stuff that I like, that I think you’ll like too, if you think like I think.

+ Remember back in the days when you could easily tell the difference between house, acid, techno, rap, hip-hop, et al? Those were great days, but they’re long gone; now you need a scorecard to keep track of all the hybrids and mutations of the differing genres and offshoots of electronic music. Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music would be that scorecard. Between the various irreverent-yet-detailed descriptions and helpful samples, you’ll kill an hour there, guaranteed

+ These are Items Essential for Living, as seen on Wired’s website:

Left, an LED alarm clock that looks like a telly from the Seventies, and right, a reproduction in miniature of a late Shōwa-era Japanese livingroom, with A/V inputs for the functioning television. MUST HAVE BOTH NOW

+ I’ve never seen more than like half an hour of LOST, but I have friends that are addicted to that show. Recently, they told me about a new theatrical release in production by that show’s co-creator, J.J Abrams. By this point, I’m sure a lot of you know what I’m speaking of: the upcoming film referred to as either ’01-18-08′ or ‘Cloverfield’. If you’ve not seen the trailer yet, cast your gaze here, cos it’s kinda enticingly freakish in that whole post-Blair Witch-pseudo-reality context. It’ll be interesting to see if my own interest is maintained between now and when it comes out next year

+ As it is, I own a passel of videogames for my PS2, and a handful for my XBOXEN, so I really don’t see the need of picking up a PS3 (too feckin’ expensive) or an XBOX 360 (not inexpensive enough) in the near-future. However, I might rescind that statement — at least as far as the XBOLLOX 360 — cos I’ve just seen trailers for Bioshock, and it is, in the parlance of our times, gripping my shit. An intelligent first-person shooter that manifests a sense of immediate terror in a retro-apocalyptic landscape, where you have the ability to set people on fire or launch insects out of your forearms through the use of hazardous on-the-fly drug enhancements?? Sign me up! My gods, have you seen the trailers? I swear, between Bioshock and Dynasty warriors: Gundam, that XSLAB 360’s lookin’ kinda good…
(aside to PB Shelley: do you have enough Plasmids?)

+ Thanks to Bandai Visual, the DVD imprint that’s known for their pricey-but-well-done releases, such as the very fab Gunbuster boxset, now I can look forward to buying a crystal-clear copy of one of my top three favourite anime films of all time: ‘Wings of Honneamise‘, which is due out in September. Only thing is, Bandai is forcing people to purchase the regular DVD with either an additional HD-DVD or Blu-ray disk along with it (or, if you’re an A/V elitist, forcing you to buy a mere bog-standard DVD with your HD-DVD or Blu-ray disk). I suppose not just including a book with the regular DVD — like what you’d done with the Patlabor films — wasn’t good enough, eh? Ah well, as long as I have my Honneamise, I’ll be happy

+ It’s a tiny house!

The micro compact home [m-ch] is a lightweight, modular and mobile minimal dwelling for one or two people. Its compact dimensions of 2.6m cube adapt it to a variety of sites and circumstances, and its functioning spaces of sleeping, working – dining, cooking, and hygiene make it suitable for everyday use.

Under normal circumstances, I’m not too keen on studio apartments, as usually they’re slightly larger than a shoebox, but I think the space-age austerity of the micro compact home would make it quite appealing. It’s a bit like a more permanent version of the Hotel Everland, now that I think about it… [m-ch] actually contains two levels, if you can believe that, and can accomodate about six or seven of your closest mates. At the very least, if you weren’t close before, you will be in short order

+ Finally, for years, I’ve wondered, and still wonder, why as super-hygenic as the American populace claims to be, the whole concept of the bidet confuses and frightens most people. It’s a good idea. I suppose you could chalk it up to the expenditure of having to make bathrooms slightly larger to accomodate both a toilet and a bidet, but concessions could be made. Other countries don’t have to worry about that shit (pun), as Japanese bog manufacturer TOTO has been exporting fancy high-tech bogs for years; the Washlet is a product that’s like a bidet, yet fits over your existing toilet like a big seat. Lovely! I don’t mind saying: I would love to own one of those bad boys

ta very much to Dave Z and Derek for some of the links

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typed for your pleasure on 16 August 2007, at 1.21 pm

Sdtrk: ‘Across the universe’ by Laibach

At times, I’m glad I’m not rich, as I am a bonafide sucker — perhaps one could even call me a sucka — for obscure and anachronistic technologies. ‘Technological white elephants,’ as Danielle Dax once called them. I used to own one of the infamous Fisher-Price PXL-2000 camcorders back when they debuted in the late Eighties — you know, the ones that record sound and image onto normal audiocassette tape — and since I sold mine, I start each day weeping softly into my pillow, regretting the tragic mistake that I’d made. Especially since working PXL-2000s run about $400 – $500 on eBay these days.
So you can imagine my Glee Meter (and my Esoterica Meter) going well into the red when I saw this online: VinylVideo.

VinylVideo™ is a fake archeology of media.
We designed a device that retrieves videosignals (moving image and sound) stored on a conventional Vinyl (LP) record. The discontinuity in the development of electronic film technology constitutes the historical background for this fictitious video disc technology: Even though television, the electronic transmission of moving images, had been feasible since the late 1920’s, storage of these images became possible only after development of the video recorder in 1958. Recording images for private use did not become available until the mass introduction of the VCR in the early 1980’s (!). Before, the average consumer was confined to use Super-8 film, a technology dating back to 1900, usually without sound. Recording of television was not possible at all.
VinylVideo™ reconstructs a homemovie technology of the late 40’s/early 50’s and thus bridges a gap in the history of consumer technology. The images are stored on a conventional analog record, with a running time of ca. 8 min / side (Singles 4 min / side). These records are played on a standard turntable with an ordinary diamond needle, the signals are then processed by the VinylVideo Home Kit into a videosignal that is displayed on a black and white TV-set.
taken from the presskit

So it’s basically like the bastard child of Edison’s wax cylinders and SelectaVision, RCA’s well-meaning-but-doomed analogue storage format from the Eighties. Huh!

The site is fab, in and of itself; there’s a lengthy infomercial that explains, in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion, what VinylVideo has over boring conventional television. Essentially, VinylVideo is a medium for video artists to make their art arguably more available to the public — it’s easier and cheaper to purchase a VinylVideo kit than it is to buy a work by Nam June Paik — and its super-lo-fi technology (they call the image’s quality trashpeg, tee hee) makes it easy to use and alter for one’s own purposes, if you’re into the whole deconstructionist thing. Personally, the biggest draw for someone like me is that it’s composed of sexy retro-tech!

You hook up your telly and home hi-fi turntable to this outsized converterboxthing, fiddle with a few knobs to fine-tune the image, and voila! Greyscale visuals flicker across your screen in a ghostly fashion, for as long as the record plays. The images that the conversion present seem like the perfect sort of medium for videos done by the growing crop of ‘eldritchtronica’ artists, such as those found on the Ghost box and Blank workshop labels — even the high-contrast pictures seem washed-out and murky. Lovely stuff…

It’s a shame I’m not rich, as the playback kit alone for VinylVideo goes for the horrifying amount of just over $3,400 USD. Kinda makes the highway robbery that extortionists want for a PXL-2000 seem quite reasonable and pleasant, eh?

Technorati tags: VinylVideo, Ghost box, Blank workshop, SelectaVision, Fisher-Price PXL-2000

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typed for your pleasure on 31 May 2007, at 9.17 am

Sdtrk: ‘Hide away’ by Midnight movies

It’s hardly a secret that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Japanophile, but who can blame me? Seriously, what other country would come up with the idea of marketing one of their auto company’s latest vehicles by using a giant robot?

Now THAT’S a sport utility vehicle

Technically, the Nissan Dualis isn’t a robot, but a ‘powered suit’ (think the Garland from Megazone 23, or the Knight Sabers’ Motoslaves from Bubblegum crisis), but then technically, the real Dualis, which is merely another SUV, doesn’t transform. Way to get my hopes up with your false fecking advertising, Nissan. And the videos hosted on YouTube, that feature the Dualis skating around Japan’s busy metropolitan streets, don’t help either. Still, it certainly gives one something to look forward to.

The Dualis powered suit was apparently designed by Shoji Kawamori, the most overworked mecha designer in Japan. Good lord, man, wasn’t working on most of the Macross series / the Armored core series / GUNHED / Escaflowne / Eureka7 / Aquarion / the AIBO ERS-220 enough for you? When was the last time you slept, sometime in the Seventies??

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