Tuesday, 15 March 2022

minutes to midnight

Via Open Culture, we learn about the history of the Doomsday Clock, first presented as symbolic representation of the likelihood of a human-created global catastrophe to the public nearly seventy-five years ago, starting at a comfortable buffer time of 23:53 but now wound up to a hundred seconds before the eve of destruction and seen its hands adjusted back and forth twenty-four times during the course of world events since 1947. A group of scientist who had contributed to the Szilรกrd petition and subsequent Manhattan Project began circulating a newsletter following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to encourage restraint and never again seek recourse to nuclear weapons with a clock to represent the countdown to the inevitable outcomes should we stay this course and not make a decision to turn back the hands.

i’ll do my exploring in the laboratory, if you don’t mind

First subjected to the MST3K deluxe treatment on this day in 1997, Terror from the Year 5000 is a Samuel Z Arkoff and Robert J Gurney Jr. collaboration from 1958 about a science experiment that first involves an exchange of objects and artefacts from the distant future, sort of like the show’s regular invention exchange segment. Eventually (about an hour into the movie) this trading beckons a disfigured, Greek-speaking envoy to travel to the present and present a warning about the nuclear holocaust in the hope intervention will change the timeline. The Observers’ forcing Bobo and Dr Pearl Forrester to engage in combat is a reference to “The Gamesters of Triskelion” when the disembodied minds called The Providers demanded Uhura, Kirk and Chekov fight to the death.

Saturday, 5 March 2022

black tulip

Premiered in 2019 during the Venice Film Festival and the country’s Oscar entry for 2021, the Ukrainian dystopian, post-apocalyptic Atlantis by Valentyn Vasyanovych is set in 2025 and profiles the trials of a recovery organisation in a desolate wildness rendered arid and nearly uninhabitable after a protracted war with Russia and securing an arguably pyrrhic victory with asymmetrical fighting—with the message ultimately hopeful and optimistic rather than the cynical echoes of the reputed words of Caledonian chieftain Calgacus who fought the Romans in Scotland: they make a desert and call it peace. Categorised at least formerly as science fiction, the movie is available for streaming and to invoke another loose quotation, this time by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen.”

Sunday, 20 February 2022

a boring project

Granted a patent in the US in September of 1972—with the strong intimation that the Soviets built and tested a prototype well before that, the proposal from a team of scientists at Los Alamos Laboratories that a controlled occurrence of the China Syndrome could be used for drilling tunnels under the Earth’s surface, displacing the molten materials through adjacent cracks and forming a vitreous lining in the process, like an insulating glass coating that would also support structural integrity, with a bit powered by a mobile nuclear reactor. Still on the drawing board, the subterrene, as its sci-fi models were called, was a contender for the Chunnel linking Dover and Calais as well as touted as a more efficient mining scout. For colonisation of the lunar surface, a subselene was suggested. More at Weird Universe at the link above.

Tuesday, 1 February 2022

we come not as enemies but as allies

Following the announcement from their respective presidents that Russia will stop targeting the United States and her allies with nuclear weapons and the US responded with the same pledge plus a concerted effort on both sides to reduce the stockpile of warheads down to no more than twenty-five hundred, Boris Yeltsin meets with his American counterpart, George H. W. Bush, on this day in 1992 at the country retreat of Camp David to make the formal declaration that the Cold War was over—expanding on an announcement first made during the Malta Summit in 1989 between Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev just weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

7x7

tomm¥ €a$h: rapper presents a sofa in the shape of bread  

banana republic: an exhibit that takes a critical look at the fruit trade—see also  

field manual: the predecessor agency to the US CIA issued a guide to simple sabotage which speaks to America’s present state 

bio-rovers: Marimo moss balls (previously) could become ambulatory—see also here and here  

spinthatiscope: an actual 1940s toy harnessing radioactive decay fragments of life: a suite of animated emoji from Andreas Samuelsson 

 middle c: a space-saving piano designed to fit in a corner—see also

Monday, 17 January 2022

iron triangle

In a farewell address to the people of the United States of America, on this day in 1961, outgoing US president Dwight D Eisenhower (see previously) issued a stark warning about the detriment that vested interest between military contractors, corporations and their lobbyists and the Legislative and the Executive could have for public policy. Admonishing the people that that they must not fail to comprehend the “grave implications” of recursive network and rotating-door politics, Eisenhower went on: “Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved—so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the Military-Industrial Complex… Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

a carol for another christmas

Commissioned by the United Nations and intended to be the first of a planned series of television specials to educate the public about the its mission and foster global cooperation, the modern retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by Rod Serling (previously) aired on this day in 1964, the Joseph L. Mankiewicz not shown again until December 2012. The score is by Henry Mancini and stars Sterling Hayden and Eva Marie Saint.

Saturday, 25 December 2021

fait accompli

Having persuaded the Supreme Soviet to vest within the office of president (a different entity altogether from the Presidium whose chair was sometimes conflated by Western governments and press) all executive powers for an amount of time not to exceed two years—like the Roman tradition of appointing a limited-tenure dictator, during this time of transition and upheaval, incumbent just since mid-March of 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev, his position strengthened by withstanding the failed August Coup but unable to reverse the party’s decision for dissolution, announced his resignation as commander-in-chief at the Kremlin before television cameras broadcasting internationally on this day in 1991. Expressing remorse for the breakup of the union, Gorbachev at the same time welcomed the reforms of a market-economy, greater political and religious freedoms as well as the end of the Cold War and its attendant brinksmanship, the Supreme Soviet the next day voted itself out of existence, allowing the Soviet Union to expire at midnight 31 December (Julian Christmas of course falling on the seventh of January on the Gregorian calendar but not reinstated as a holiday until 1992, with New Year’s the big celebration—see also) with the Russian Federation the successor to all Soviet Institutions.

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

teenage caveman

Airing for the first time on this day in 1991, MST3K’s lampooning of the 1958 Roger Corman film revived its status as a contender for the worst movie ever made. Summarily, the plot follows a tribe of primitive humans eking out a survival in a barren wilderness, prohibited from crossing in to lusher lands within sight over ancient superstitions, until one old teenager dares to defy societal norms. Beyond the barrier, the protagonist and his followers encounter the enforcing spirit of this taboo and kill the demiurge—only to discover that it is merely a much older man with mysterious dress and markings. The expository voice-over for the denouement reveals that the apparent supernatural being was a survivor of a long ago nuclear holocaust forced to live inside his radiation suit and wander his side of the river for decades. The triple-feature includes two shorts before the main film. You're wasted!

Saturday, 23 October 2021

7x7

floh u. trรถdel: couple’s costume ideas—via the ever excellence Everlasting Blรถrt 

boutonniere: Harriet Parry’s flower arrangements reproduce iconic fine art and classic tarot card designs—via ibฤซdem

microface: a quick quiz to identify whether the subject is a font or a Marvel character (see previously)—via Kottke’s Quick Links  

์˜ค์ง•์–ด ๊ฒŒ์ž„: Squid Games Funko-Pop characters—see also 

pyrrhic victory: the rules of play for a variant called Atomic Chess allows a pawn crossing the breadth of the game board promotion to a scale that would instantaneously annihilate all pieces—of both sides

rollercoaster tycoon: Saudi Arabia transforms a decommissioned drilling platform into an extreme amusement park  

hell no: a sensible horror film

Monday, 20 September 2021

5x5

fallout boy: the legacy of Albania’s seven-hundred-thousand bunkers  

al forno: Barilla (previously) sponsors an annual contest to solicit for innovative designs for its 3D pasta printer  

mathmos: how lava lamps are manufactured—see also 

stowaways: butterfly researches in the ร…land islands accidentally introduce a parasitic wasp that relies on the caterpillars as well as a hyperparasitoid that the wasps host 

 รฎle flottante: a boat camouflaged as a rock tours the coastline of Marseille—via Everlasting Blรถrt

Sunday, 12 September 2021

shower-thoughts or super criticality

Though precedents in chemical chain-reactions that could lead to explosions were well understood and the mechanism of nuclear fission had yet to be fully articulated, scientist Leรณ Szilรกrd (previously) first hypothesised the possibility of an atomic chain-reaction whilst waiting on a stop light on Southhampton Row at the crossing of Russell Square in Bloomsbury. This flash of insight on the part of the exiled Hungarian physicist, realising that an atom could be split with the recently discovered neutron, cascading with the release of more neutrons plus massive amounts of energy would be self-perpetuating, self-amplifying, would lead to nuclear applications in warfare and power production.

Friday, 10 September 2021

6x6

central solenoid: installation of a powerful giant magnet brings experimental fusion project a step closer to completion 

clรฉo from 5 to 7: discovering an Agnes Varda classic 

la sociรฉtรฉ du spectacle: an update of the 1974 Situationist Guy Debord’s critique of mass marketing and estrangements of modern society  

raise high the roof beam: experience a house inside a barn 

wtc: a profile of architect Minoru Yamasaki, best known for designing New York’s World Trade Center  

ccs: Iceland’s carbon capture and sequestration plant (previously) goes on-line

Saturday, 4 September 2021

space: 1999

Though only running for two seasons, the titular BBC programme (renewed the second year by ITC Entertainment) that premiered on this day in 1975 was quite ahead of its time and established among many other tropes the “cold open” scene that preceded the credit sequence, itself boldly a spin-off of a narrative in the Supermarionation production Thunderbirds by the same creative duo Sylvia and Gerry Anderson in non-puppet form. A radioactive waste dump on the far side of the Moon, detected by the research staff at Lunar Base Alpha, experiences a magnetic anomaly, which causes the material to reach critical mass and triggers a thermonuclear explosion 13 September 1999 and propels the Earth’s satellite into deep space. This spaceship Moon wanders into a black hole and several “space warps” to continue its exploration of the Cosmos.

Monday, 2 August 2021

6x6

roll for perception: the official video for the 1987 Rick Astley hit (previously) surpasses one billion views   

until proven safe: EURIDICE, the eponym from the mythological Eurydice who Orpheus failed to retrieve from the Underworld, is the acronym for European Underground Research Infrastructure for the Disposal of Nuclear Waste in a Clay Environment  

a clokey production: a bot scours Gumbasia for random screen-grabs

pelagic waters: exploring the oceans’ midnight zone beyond the reach of the sun’s rays

portrait of a teenage alcoholic: a 1975 after school special starring The Exorcist’s Linda Blair and Star Wars’ Mark Hamill  

an eternal golden braid: some crib-notes and a course on the 1987 classic Gรถdel, Escher, Bach

the manhattan project

The phenomenon of nuclear fission only just discovered and prompting the United States to eventually establish its own research programme, with the endorsement of Albert Einstein Hungarian physicist Szilรกrd Leรณ (*1898 - †1964) dispatched his letter to president Franklin D. Roosevelt on this day in 1939. Immediately comprehending the ramifications for energy production or warfare having conducted experiments with less fissile materials and unable to sustain a chain-reaction, Szilard first in mid-July thought to warn Belgium as their colony in the Congo held the largest known reserves of uranium and was fearful that the Germans could persuade them to part with it handily, not realising what they were trading away and had recruited Einstein to speak on his behalf through consular channels as Einstein was friends with the Belgian royal family. With the closing salutation, “Yours truly,” the letter began: 

In the course of the last four months it has been made probable – through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America – that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future. 

Specifically citing the suspension of the sales of uranium from occupied Czechoslovakia and on-going research in German universities, Szilard further conjectured that while it probably was not feasible to miniaturise the components necessary for a nuclear reaction for portable bombs and mobile warheads, he did believe it likely that the process could be accommodated on board a ship that could attack a city from the harbour. FDR (his reply pictured) was delivered this executive summary plus a longer, more detailed explanation of the science underpinning his forewarning.

Sunday, 25 July 2021

i feel the earth move

On this day in 1976 at the Avignon Festival—title taken from the post-apocalyptic novel about the aftermath of global thermonuclear war—the Philip Glass Ensemble premiered the four act opera Einstein on the Beach—see previously here and here—a trilogy of portraits of personal vision and transformational thinking that spurred revelation through ideas rather than brute force and might. This two-hour excerpt from 1979 faithful recreates the staging from the five-hour debut.

Friday, 23 July 2021

1962-alpha epsilon 1

Launched into orbit just under a fortnight prior, the Telstar 1 communication satellite relayed the first live transatlantic television broadcast (see also here, here and here) on this day in 1962. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was supposed to give the inaugural address but the engineers acquired the signal before the US president was ready and to avoid dead-air filled the first few minutes with a televised baseball game from the Wrigley Field in Chicago before rotating through studios and field stations in Washington, DC, Quebec City, Cape Canaveral and the Seattle World’s Fair. Kennedy’s speech consisted of direct appeals to Europe that America wouldn’t devalue its currency and further frustrate plans for post-war recovery (see also) before giving the stage to news anchors Walter Cronkite (CBS, previously) and Chet Huntley (NBC) in New York and the BBC’s Richard Dimbleby in Brussels for a panel discussion of this marvel of technical achievement that they were part of. Later that evening, the first satellite telephone call was carried out between parties US vice president Lyndon Johnson and the head of AT&T (the company whose Bell Laboratories were primarily responsible for it) and in the following months, synchronised time between the continents and facilitating the first computer-to-computer data. By November, a casualty of the geopolitics that pushed such advancements as showcase and civilian applications, due to ongoing high-altitude nuclear testing that irradiated surround space, Telstar’s transistors were overwhelmed and eventually failed and could not relay signals. Though no longer transmitting, Telstar I and II (launched the following summer) are still orbiting Earth and will continue to do so for millions of years barring interference by another body.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

so what if we do develop this solaronite bomb? we’d be even a stronger nation than now

Starring Mona McKinnon, Tor Johnson, Dudley Manlove, Vampira and Bela Lugosi with narration by The Amazing Criswell (an American psychic renowned for his wildly inaccurate prognostication—personal spiritual advisor to Mae West, Criswell predicted that West would be the American president one day), Ed Wood’s sublimely rotten Plan 9 from Outer Space enjoyed its general release in US cinemas on this day in 1959 after a limited preview two years earlier in Los Angeles under the title Grave Robbers from Outer Space, workshopped and re-worked. Aliens initiate the titular plan to stop humans from creating a weapon that’s too powerful for them to wield by resurrecting the deceased and confront those embarking on this enterprise with an army of the undead.