Tuesday, November 27, 2012

If You Haven't Uploaded Chrome, This Will Make You Do It

Google, as you already know, isn't just a search engine. Visit their street views to find your own house and the cars parked out in front (or at least the ones that were there for the last satellite photo) or, amazingly to check out some of the world's most beautiful coral reefs, landmarks and art museums.
Google's Cultural Institute is a collaboration with a number of museums and universities to offer an amazing array of archives online. They have made a vast collection of materials about World War II available in an engaging format, including personal stories about the build-up to fascism. Another archive explores the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa from several points of view. One of the most recently added collections explores the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe.
I wrote yesterday for Open Culture about another cool Google endeavor. Their Chrome Workshop has designed an interactive 3D map of the Milky Way with the locations of more than 100,000 stars. Zoom around, tilt the galaxy this way and that, and click on the names of stars to learn more about them.
Check it out and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Falcon is Empty?

Have you ever watched a movie you've already seen numerous times only to be completely shocked by the film's ending? No, I'm not talking about movies you've slept through (I'm known for that) or about selective memory loss, I'm talking about conflating endings of films with similar story lines.
The other night we watched The Maltese Falcon and my daughter wanted a little plot summary before the movie started. Do I need to indicate SPOILER ALERT here? Doesn't everybody know how the movie ends? I thought I did. Oops.
If you too have forgotten (or never seen it....shame on you) the epynomous falcon is a fabled statuette said to have been intended as tribute from the Knight Templars of Malta for King Charles V. Solid gold and encrusted with jewels, the bird was sent by ship to Spain in 1539, but it never arrived. Pirates captured and looted the ship at sea and the falcon's whereabouts remained a mystery, at least in 1941 when the movie was made.
Bogart, playing detective Sam Spade, gets involved with a ring of sinister characters who've all heard that the precious bird has surfaced.
I've seen the movie a few times and was SURE that at film's end, as the rags are unwound from around the statuette, somebody in the group tosses it on the floor, cracking it open and revealing a roll of microfilm inside. Turns out, in my imagined ending, that the bird's value is in its contents (war-related spy pictures) and not in the statue itself.
Needless to say, this isn't how the movie ends.
But what movie am I thinking of?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sledding About Calvin and Hobbes

The last Calvin and Hobbes strip, December 31, 1995.

My eight-year-old has taken to carrying a copy of Revenge of the Babysat with her to school and holding forth to a small group of kids on the yard before the bell rings. She reads like her dad—scanning the text to herself once and only reading aloud once she's got it. She has a real gift for dramatic reading. I especially like her voices for Calvin's parents. Droll for the father, a little insouciant for the mother.
It's worth it to think a moment about Calvin's world. Without being overly nostalgic, Bill Watterson creates a scene of unbelievable hijinks and freedom that just doesn't exist now, not for my kids at least. I'm not sure I want them to rig a bucket of water over the bedroom door as protection against monsters, but I sure love it when Calvin does and that his mother gets doused.
And the pair of them, the boy and his tiger, are one of the classic comic duos, a lá Woody Allen and Tony Roberts:

Calvin: I have a hypothetical question. Suppose a kids at school called me a nasty name...Should I kick him real hard in the shins?
Hobbes: No, I don't think violence would be justified.
Calvin: Here's another hypothetical question. What if I already did?

Watterson's affection for the ultra-imaginative Calvin, who turns bathing, bedtime and meals into epic battles with sharks, monsters and super-villains, is not outdone by his affection for Calvin's parents. They're lovably snarky and ironic with their six-year-old. We can see where he gets it from from the dad's sideways glance. The mom lets it loose when things break down or when Calvin outright ignores her.
Best of all are Calvin's philosophical musings while careening down a snowy bank on a sled, Hobbes doing all the reacting from behind. My favorite was a Sunday strip from December, 1988.
From the front of the sled, Calvin wonders aloud whether being good only in order to get more loot at Christmas counts as truly being good. All he's doing is saying he can be bribed. He wonders if that's good enough, or does he need to be good in heart and spirit. As they crash into a tree and go flying, Calvin asks if he really has to be good or does he just have to act good. Hobbes, covered in snow, says in Calvin's case, Santa will have to take what he can get.
Priceless.
And then there's little stuffed Hobbes whenever anybody else is around.
Adorable.
Thanks Bill Watterson for keeping it real. Oh, and for never selling out to product merchandising.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Lake Merritt's Grand Dame



One of Oakland's most beautiful buildings has been closed for six years. A dozen bulldozers and earth-movers are parked at odd angles in front of the elegant Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium at the southern tip of Lake Merritt, but the work isn't happening in the 1914 Beaux-Arts landmark. While the lake itself gets a major landscaping and structural face-lift, the old Oakland Auditorium's remains shuttered.
Oaklanders: Remember when the Grateful Dead played their famous three-show New Year's Eve events at the Kaiser in the '80s? Before that the Oakland Symphony was based there. The theater is still named after the late, great conductor Calvin Simmons.
In the '50s and '60s Elvis Presley played there and there were hundreds of roller derby games in the sports arena. For almost 70 years the auditorium was home to the Oakland Children's Holiday Pageant, where kids played the parts of elves, pointsettias and fairies.
As recently as 2000, the building played host to Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama.
Of course the building needs millions of dollars worth of repairs. Its last renovation was in 1985, when it was officially named after Henry Kaiser. In 2006 the city voted down a $150 million measure to house library facilities in the auditorium.


The building has ping-ponged between the city's redevelopment agency, which the went the way of all California redevelopment agencies (closed to save the state money) and the city of Oakland.
During the building's brief time as a redevelopment project, there were two corporate proposals to lease and restore the building. Those proposals are before a state commission, which includes Mayor Jean Quan.
Personally, I'd like to see this jewel put to positive use. Let's continue to energize our downtown area by making the best of what is already, and preserving a big piece of Oakland's cultural history.