Random notes and a whole bunch of obits: September 19, 2016.

September 19th, 2016

I didn’t have much to say about the Mew York attack because:

1) I was busy Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday.
b) It was an emerging situation that I don’t think blog posts could have done justice to.
III) I didn’t have anything to add.

I still don’t have much to add (except that I went “Holy s–t!” when I read about this morning’s shootout), but I did think this was kind of interesting: the NYT on the finding of the second device and taking it away in a “total containment vessel”:

The total containment vessel is essentially an inside-out diving vessel, Lt. Mark Torre, the commanding officer of the department’s bomb squad, said in an interview in July. “Instead of keeping the pressure out and keeping you alive in five fathoms of water, it keeps the pressure in,” he explained. Should a bomb explode inside, tiny vents allow pressure to escape. “It sounds like a hammer hitting a piece of steel,” he said.

I don’t remember if the APD has one (or even if we talked about that during the bomb squad presentation) but I’ll try to ask next time around. I keep thinking I should do a post on the APD bomb squad, bomb squads in general, and the weirdness thereof. (Did you know: you can’t just have a bomb squad? Even if you’re a police force. In some cases, even if you’re a major metropolitan police force, as opposed to East Podunk that has six officers and makes their entire budget off of catching speeders where the limit drops from 70 MPH to 25 MPH. Nope, no bomb squad for you.)

I made note of most of the big obits over the weekend, but there are quite a few others that I think are worth observing and commenting on.

NYT obit for W.P. Kinsella.

Charmian Carr, who was the eldest von Trapp in “The Sound of Music”, was in “Evening Primrose” with Anthony Perkins…and that was pretty much it. No snark intended, but I bring this up because: I keep thinking about a new series spotlighting actors and actresses (but most of the ones I’ve found so far are actresses) who had very short careers – like one, maybe two, at most a small handful of credits – and then left Hollywood for whatever reason. I’m thinking the first entry may be sometime in October.

James Stacy, TV actor. He was in a series called “Lancer” that ran for three years and which I have no memory of. Not long after “Lancer” ended, he was hit by a drunk driver while riding his motorcycle: Mr. Stacy lost a leg and an arm, and his passenger was killed. He kept working in what the NYT describes as “specialized” roles, though his career was interrupted by a suicide attempt and prison time for child molestation.

Howard E. Butt Jr.. oldest son of the founder of the HEB grocery chain. HEB is huge in this part of the country, and Mr. Butt, Jr. was in a position to take it over. Except…

But Mr. Butt, a Southern Baptist, who as a college student and lay minister had led a Christian youth revival movement, wrestled with the dual pressures of the business and his spiritual pursuits. That struggle led to severe depression, which he later discussed openly.

He ended up turning leadership of the chain over to his brother, ran the family foundation, and continued his ministry.

At the same time, he continued to encourage the evangelical movement to engage other Christians, even those unaffiliated with a particular church. In 2000, he began giving a one-minute radio homily, a segment he titled “The High Calling of Our Daily Life,” which highlighted the role that faith has played in the successful careers and personal lives of ordinary people. His homilies were carried on 3,000 stations in every state, reaching millions of listeners.

I used to catch this on KLBJ-AM when I was driving to work at Dell and still listened to the radio.

Duane Graveline, who I’d never heard of before. And neither had my mother, who was an adult during this time. Dr. Graveline was an astronaut:

With much fanfare, the space agency named Dr. Graveline one of six new “scientist-astronauts” on June 26, 1965. The group included two physicians, two university teachers, a research physicist and a geologist, Harrison H. Schmitt, who would later walk on the moon and become a United States senator.

He was in the program for about two months. A month in, his wife announced she was divorcing him. Shortly after that, he “resigned”:

In his memoir, Donald K. Slayton, one of the original seven astronauts and a longtime NASA official, said: “The program didn’t need a scandal. A messy divorce meant a quick ticket back to wherever you came from — not because we were trying to enforce morality, but because it would detract from the job.”

I don’t recall Dr. Graveline being mentioned at all in any of the histories of the space program that I’ve read (and I’ve read several). It sounds like he had some issues: he was married a total of six times and lost his medical license twice. The first time, it was suspended for two years after “a large number” of Demerol went missing. The second time, it was revoked permanently “over allegations that he had sexually abused children” (though not, apparently, ones that were patients of his).

C. Martin Croker, animator and voice actor. I was most familiar with him as the voices of Zorak and Moltar on “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”. I’d include a clip here, but the one I want to use is actually on the A/V Club page. And: according to the A/V Club, most of the “Space Ghost” episodes are now up for free streaming on the Adult Swim website.

Don Buchla, one of the early electronic music innovators. I’d never heard of him (perhaps because Bob Moog got all the press). I’ll try to remember to ask Todd next time I see him if he was familiar with Mr. Buchla’s work.

Mr. Buchala and Mr. Moog were contemporaries:

In the early ’60s, the better-known Robert Moog, who died in 2005, and Mr. Buchla arrived independently at the idea of the voltage-controlled modular synthesizer: an instrument assembled from various modules that controlled one another’s voltages to generate and shape sounds. Voltages could control pitch, volume, attack, timbre, speed and other parameters, interacting in complex ways.

Part of the reason Mr. Moog may have gotten more press was that he put keyboards on his machines. Mr. Buchla “wanted instruments that were not necessarily tied to Western scales or existing keyboard techniques. To encourage unconventional thinking, his early instruments deliberately omitted a keyboard.”

More:

Mr. Buchla’s instruments had modules with more colorful names, like Multiple Arbitrary Function Generator, Quad Dynamics Manager and, for his random-voltage noise generator, Source of Uncertainty.

Damn. I want a “Multiple Arbitrary Function Generator”.

In 1965, with $500 from a Rockefeller Foundation grant made to the Tape Music Center, the composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender commissioned Mr. Buchla to build his first voltage-controlled instrument, the original Buchla Box.
It included a module that would transform both avant-garde and popular music. Called a sequencer, it vastly expanded the concept and functionality of a tape loop by generating and repeating a chosen series of voltages, enabling it to control a recurring melody, a rhythm track or other musical elements. It would become an essential tool of electronic dance music.

Bookmarks.

September 17th, 2016

Two things I found on the YCombinator Twitter feed that I want to bookmark:

“JavaScript Systems Music”. I’m not really good at music in general, nor am I the audio guy of my group of friends (Hi, Todd!). But I am kind of generally interested in computer audio, and the subtitle of this one sucked me in: “Learning Web Audio by Recreating The Works of Steve Reich and Brian Eno”. Yes, you can do in JavaScript what Steve Reich did with tape loops in 1965.

To say I actually enjoy listening to this piece would probably be stretching it. It wouldn’t be among the records I’d take with me on a desert island. But it is certainly fascinating and kind of hypnotic too. If you allow it to, it does evoke a certain kind of mental atmosphere.

I like “It’s Gonna Rain”, but, yeah, this.

YComb also linked to an article here, but I actually find the whole site interesting and want to bookmark it: Gary McGath’s “Mad File Format Science”. Or everything you ever wanted to know about file formats, identifying them, and recovering data from them.

As you know, Bob, I’m not a “Star Trek” fan, but I did find this interesting:

Some time after his death in 1991, Roddenberry’s estate discovered almost 200 floppies of his. They went to a company called DriveSavers Data Recovery, which took years to recover the documents due to the unusual challenges.

The floppies were written on CP/M systems custom built for Roddenberry with special disk drivers.

“DriveSavers took three months to reverse engineer the disk format.”

Anyway, I want to spend more time exploring this site. I’m also tempted to spring for his udemy course: $20, open-source tools, and hey! I can actually make a case that it is job related!

Things you may have wondered about. (#5 in a series)

September 17th, 2016

Somebody asked me this question this morning, and I thought the answer was interesting enough to make for a post in this department:

What was the name of Pavlov’s dog?

Turns out “Pavlov’s dog” is actually sort of a misnomer: good old Ivan had a bunch of dogs. I’ve seen 37 in one source, and 40 in another.

But did they have names? Yes.

Eleven years ago, I began a scientific mission with a trip to Russia, to find the names of Pavlov’s dogs. My intention was to name Drosophila memory mutants after the dogs.

This is a pretty cool article that I commend to your attention (especially for the photo of the author wearing Ivan’s old top hot).

The Quora article (with appropriate citations) lists the names of all forty known dogs, Just in case you’re looking for a good name for your new puppy,

Speaking of animal behavior, I’ve been wanting to link to this, and it seems like here is a good place for it. There once was a scientist named John Bumpass Calhoun, whp specialized in studying the behavior of rats and mice.

By 1954, he was working under the auspices of the National Institute of Mental Health, which gave him whole rooms to build his mousetopias. Like a rodent real estate developer, he incorporated ever-better amenities: climbable walls, food hoppers that could serve two dozen mice at once, lodging he described as “walk-up one-room apartments.”

His ultimate experiment, Universe 25, began in 1968 with eight mice.

The mice themselves were bright and healthy, hand-picked from the institute’s breeding stock. They were given the run of the place, which had everything they might need: food, water, climate control, hundreds of nesting boxes to choose from, and a lush floor of shredded paper and ground corn cob.

The population grew to 620 in about a year.

Then, as always, things took a turn. Such rapid growth put too much pressure on the mouse way of life. As new generations reached adulthood, many couldn’t find mates, or places in the social order—the mouse equivalent of a spouse and a job. Spinster females retreated to high-up nesting boxes, where they lived alone, far from the family neighborhoods. Washed-up males gathered in the center of the Universe, near the food, where they fretted, languished, and attacked each other. Meanwhile, overextended mouse moms and dads began moving nests constantly to avoid their unsavory neighbors. They also took their stress out on their babies, kicking them out of the nest too early, or even losing them during moves.

The last mouse was born in May of 1970.

And by the way, there’s also a literary tie to this story, but you’ll have to click through for that; I won’t spoil it here.

Obit watch: September 17, 2016.

September 17th, 2016

Edward Albee, noted playwright (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”).

I remember when I was growing up in Houston, Albee came to town – I think they were doing the world premiere of one of his works at tha Alley Theatre, though I can’t for the life of me recall what it was – and it was a huge deal at the time. As a teenager, I didn’t understand why; in retrospect, it may have been that Albbe’s coming to town put sort of stamp of cultural legitimacy on the city, at a time when many people outside Houston thought of it as a grotty oil boom town.

Thing I had forgotten:

He was also involved in one of the great flops in Broadway history, becoming a script doctor for the producer David Merrick’s 1966 staging of the musical adaptation of Truman Capote’s novel “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which starred Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain and closed on Broadway before it opened, after its fourth preview.

He also did a disastrous adaptation of “Lolita” in 1981.

The Onion A/V Club is reporting the death of noted author William Patrick Kinsella. Kinsella is perhaps most famous for the novel Shoeless Joe, which, of course, was filmed as “Field of Dreams”

(I’ve never read any of Kinsella’s work, though I’d consider it: some of the things I’ve read about his work indicate he’s more interesting and complex than those other lyrical magical baseball happy horseshit writers. I did see the movie and didn’t care much for it, but, yoy know, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.)

(Amazon also lists something called “Rice Field of Dreams”. Turns out this is a documentary about the Cambodian baseball team; whle that sounds interesting, I was thinking it was some sort of Hong Kong movie. Perhaps one of those one-eyed priest/apprentice monk things Lawrence likes, where the good guys have to use martial arts and magic to battle evil spirits. Add some sort of sports element – not necessarily baseball, maybe soccer – and I’m sure it would make money.)

A few notes from the police blotter…

September 15th, 2016

…or, in this case, sort of the blotter.

The City of Austin approved a budget for next fiscal year in an 8-2 vote. The approved budget “will charge the typical resident about $87 more in city taxes and fees next year”.

And what will we get for the money?

Next year’s operations include a 2 percent pay increase for city employees, to kick in during the pay period before Christmas. There’s funding for a new curbside composting program, at a cost of $4.2 million to the city and a phased-in cost of $64.80 to homeowners after five years. There’s $600,000 more for housing aimed at reducing homelessness.

But the news isn’t all bad. The city is hiring eight new employees to do DNA testing. (But the lab is relying on grant money and whatever they can scrounge elsewhere to actually get the testing done.) And the Transportation Department is hiring 13 new people, “most of which will be dedicated to traffic signal timing”. Traffic signal timing? In Austin? You don’t say.

And what of the cops? What of APD’s request for more officers?

In the new budget, Adler explained, Austin will add 52 emergency service workers, 12 police officers, 21 civilian police staff and 38 development service employees intended to speed up Austin’s notoriously arduous permitting and building inspection process.

Exactly what the city manager asked for. (Well, the cops and police staff anyway: I don’t know about the development staff.)

As a side note, I mentioned when I was taking the Citizen’s Police Academy class earlier this year that we got to go on a tour of the forensics lab. I’m attending CPA again this fall, but as an alumnus rather than a student. (What this means in practice is that I’m basically volunteering to help set stuff up before the class, knock things down after the class, and sit in the back and keep my mouth shut during the class.)

Point of this digression: the lab tour isn’t being offered to CPA students this time around.

In other news, the APD suspended an officer for 20 days for improper use of a stun gun: specifically, the officer tasered a restrained person.

The other part of the story: the guy who was Tasered is the same guy who got pepper-sprayed in the back of the police van.

Wilson had been arrested on suspicion of public intoxication. At the booking facility, Wilson was restrained with handcuffs and a set of belly chain handcuffs, but later stood up from a chair and argued with several officers. Wilson refused to remain seated and a struggle ensued, the memo said.
Jimenez fired her stun gun once at Wilson, discharging a five-second pulse as the struggle concluded, the memo said.

Apparently, Tasering a handcuffed possibly drunk guy who is struggling with officers is FROWNED UPON IN THIS ESTABLISHMENT!

Jimenez admitted during her disciplinary review hearing that she should have used less violent means to control Wilson. She expressed regret for her actions, the memo said.

No appeal is once again part of the deal.

And from the department of “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”: the APD shot and killed a guy earlier today. The initial reports make it sound like a good shoot: they got a call about a suspicious guy wandering around an apartment complex with a backpack looking into cars, responded, didn’t find him initially, came back 2o minutes later after a second report and found him…

Officers radioed for air support and K9 units to help find the man as they continued to chase him on foot. An officer eventually ran the man down and used his stun gun to try to make an arrest, officials said.

The guy went down, the officers stated yelling at him to show his hands, he initially wasn’t compliant, and then…

“What we can see on video is that the suspect very quickly rolls over, produces a handgun and begins firing shots at our officers,” Manley said. “Our officers immediately retreat and return fire. There are multiple shots that are fired, again by both the suspect who initiated the gunfire and our officer who returned fire.”

Part of the referenced video (taken by a resident of the complex, not the police) is on the KVUE website. It isn’t the best quality, and I swear I saw a better version elsewhere, but it seems to show exactly what the APD is saying happened: they told the guy to roll over, he came up shooting…

(Edited to add 9/16: the video I was thinking of is on Facebook and linked from this Reddit thread. I recommend ignoring the comments.)

Noted: this is the second fatal police shooting in Austin in 10 days. A week ago Monday, the APD shot a man whp was wandering around an apartment complex holding a “high-powered rifle”: the police took cover, repeatedly asked the man to drop the weapon, actually shot him several times with “beanbag” rounds, and finally (the exact chain of events is currently unclear) shot the man. It sounds like classic “suicide by cop”: the man was being described as emotionally distraught after a recent break-up with his girlfriend.

TMQ watch.

September 15th, 2016

Our blog traffic has spiked up in the past couple of days, and we haven’t been able to figure out why. It doesn’t seem to be tied to anything specific we’ve written (our stats just show a lot of folks looking at the homepage/archives) but there do seem to be two things that are kind of popular: our list of Austin city council members, and people looking for Gregg Easterbrook’s ‘Tuesday Morning Quarterback”.

We don’t have anything new to report on tha second front. Here’s what Easterbrook is saying:

TMQ

We are trying to keep an eye on his Twitter for more substantial updates, but that’s all we have for now.

Obit watch: September 15, 2016.

September 15th, 2016

Julio Gonzalez is burning in hell.

You may not remember the name, but you probably remember the crime. Maybe you were alive then, or maybe you’ve heard me talk about it in the context of gun politics.

Early in the morning on March 25, 1990, Mr. Gonzalez got into an argument with his girlfriend at the Happy Land Social Club, where she worked as a coat check girl. Mr. Gonzales was ejected by a bouncer.

According to testimony, Mr. Gonzalez walked three blocks to an Amoco service station, where he found an empty one-gallon container and bought $1 worth of gasoline from an attendant he knew there. He returned to the club. Upstairs, a disc jockey had just spun the reggae tune “Young Lover,” by Cocoa Tea.
Mr. Gonzalez splashed the gasoline at the bottom of a rickety staircase, the club’s only means of exit, and ignited it. Then he went home and fell asleep.

The resulting fire killed 87 people. At the time, it was the worst mass murder in United States history.

Mr. Gonzalez was tried and sentenced to 87 concurrent sentences of 25 years to life.

The Happy Land inferno left some 90 children as orphans. More than 40 parents lost sons or daughters. Five of the victims were students at nearby Theodore Roosevelt High School.

Mr. Gonzalez first became eligible for parole in March of last year. He was denied at the time, but would have been eligible again in November of this year.

William Gibson, call your office, please.

September 15th, 2016

The street finds its own uses for things.

The Wi-Fi kiosks in New York were designed to replace phone booths and allow users to consult maps, maybe check the weather or charge their phones. But they have also attracted people who linger for hours, sometimes drinking and doing drugs and, at times, boldly watching pornography on the sidewalks.

Your NFL loser update: week 1, 2016.

September 13th, 2016

As foretold in the prophecy.

NFL teams that still have a chance to go 0-16:

Miami
New York Jets
Buffalo
Cleveland
Jacksonville
Indianapolis
Tennessee
San Diego
Washington
Dallas
Chicago
New Orleans
Carolina
Atlanta
Los Angeles
Arizona

I’m kind of disappointed that Bobby Three Sticks wasn’t enough to pull Cleveland out of the dumpster (and he’s apparently going to be out for at least eight weeks). But hey, half the teams lose their first game anyway: we’ve still got 15 games to go.

Likewise, I’m semi-happy the Texans won, but we’ve still got 15 games to go…

Sadly, no chance of a Detroit repeat this year. Maybe San Diego? Or Jacksonville?

Loser update update.

September 12th, 2016

NFL loser update returns tomorrow, for the record.

Obit watch: September 12, 2016.

September 12th, 2016

Bobby Chacon is dead at the age of 64.

His death was confirmed by the Riverside County coroner and attributed to a fall while he was being treated for dementia, which had been linked to brain injuries from boxing.

Mr. Chacon won the featherweight title in 1974 and the super featherweight title in 1982. He was 59-7-1 over his career (1972-1988).

In 1984, Chacon was stripped of his title in a dispute with boxing officials and promoters over his next opponent. By then 32 years old, he moved up one weight class to challenge the lightweight champion Ray Mancini, known as Boom Boom.

This inspired one of Warren Zevon’s best songs:

Also among the dead: Eddie “Crazy Eddie” Antar.

Cary Blanchard, NFL placekicker. He was 47.

Alexis Arquette, character actress and member of the Arquette acting family.

Cahiers du cinéma: September 11, 2016.

September 11th, 2016

We were watching movies last night, and a question came up. I don’t remember the exact context, but basically: was The Paper Chase actually John Houseman’s first film?

The answer turns out to be: yes, and no, and it’s interesting.

Before The Paper Chase, Houseman is listed as having an uncredited (and I assume small) role in the film adaptation of Seven Days In May.

But before that, in 1938, Houseman was in something called Too Much Johnson. Just the name sparked immense hilarity among our little group (though to be fair, it was also late) but there’s an interesting story here. Too Much Johnson was never shown in public while Houseman was alive…

As most of my readers probably know, long before he was Professor Kingsfield, Houseman had quite a stage career. Among his other credits, he was a leading member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre. Welles had an idea: he wanted the Mercury Theatre to do an adaptation of a 1894 comedy, also called “Too Much Johnson”, by William Gillette. But he also wanted to integrate a silent film into the stage production.

Welles planned to mix live action and film for this production. The film was designed to run 40 minutes, with 20 minutes devoted to the play’s prologue and two 10-minute introductions for the second and third act. Welles planned to create a silent film in the tradition of the Mack Sennett slapstick comedies, in order to enhance the various chases, duels and comic conflicts of the Gillette play.

There’s some very funny stuff about Welles editing the film, in his hotel suite, while up to his knees (according to Houseman) in nitrate film. Another of Welles collaborators recalls the film catching fire in the projector, Welles being so absorbed in the editing he didn’t even notice…

“What I remember, most remarkably, is me running with the projector in my hand, burning, trying to get out of the door into the goddamn hallway, and Houseman racing for the door at the same time … while Orson, with absolutely no concern whatsoever, was back inside, standing and looking at some piece of film in his hand, smoking his pipe.”

Anyway, they put the film together and went to stage “Too Much Johnson” at a place called the Stony Creek Theatre in Connecticut before they took it to Broadway. But there was a problem: the ceiling in the Stony Creek Theatre was “too low” for film projection. So the Mercury Theatre staged “Too Much Johnson” without the movie part. Depending on who you believe, the audience reaction was poor. In any case, Welles shelved the “Too Much Johnson” project before he finished editing it: in later years, he claimed that he’d looked at the stored footage, and it still looked pristine. But that footage was destroyed in a 1970 fire at Welles home, and the movie was presumed lost…

…until 2008, when a copy was discovered in Spain. The film was restored and shown for the first time in late 2013. In 2015, the combined film/stage production was staged for the first time. And now you can watch the 66 minute work print and reconstructed 34 minute edit of “Too Much Johnson” at the National Film Preservation Foundation website.

This is probably too much “Too Much Johnson” for most of you, but I make no apologies for my interest in Welles and his work, and I think this is a great story even without Welles and Houseman.

After the jump, topic changes…

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