I heard this interstitial while listening to “Car Talk” today:
“As soon as you wake up, you need the latest.”
Do I really? This seems presumptuous.
“And that is why ‘Up First’ is here. It is NPR’s morning news podcast.”
Yikes. That sounds like a stressful way to spend the first minutes of consciousness.
“In just ten minutes, you can start your day informed.”
Yeah…no. In just ten minutes, I can start making my second Americano.
The trailer for “Apollo 11” is out, and the reviews for its premiere last week at Sundance are quite enthusiastic, so there’s a chance of it having more than the very limited theatrical release Sundance-selected documentaries usually get. Here’s hoping.
“It’s one thing to boast about the specs of these images, and quite another to see the spruced up footage for yourself. It’s rare that picture quality can inspire a physical reaction, but the opening moments of ‘Apollo 11,’ in which a NASA camera crew roams around the base of the rocket and spies on some of the people who’ve come to gawk at it from a beach across the water, are vivid enough to melt away the screen that stands between them. The clarity takes your breath away, and it does so in the blink of an eye; your body will react to it before your brain has time to process why, after a lifetime of casual interest, you’re suddenly overcome by the sheer enormity of what it meant to leave the Earth and land somewhere else.”
– David Ehrlich, Indiewire
I was glad to see that, at least in the trailer, they used none of the footage previously seen in the 1972 “Moonwalk One” documentary.
“There was one guy, his name was Urs Furrer, and he was a well-known cameraman. He was a big guy – his name means ‘bear’ and he was big like a bear. I’d look for him because I knew that he could put this camera on his shoulder. I don’t know how much it weighed with a thousand feet of film on it; it was a ton. But he could use it like a handheld camera.”
– Theo Kamecke, director of “Moonwalk One”
Here’s some beautiful descent footage from the Chang’e-4 spacecraft that made the first ever soft landing on the far side of the moon last week. When it rotated quickly toward the surface at 1:01, I found myself instinctively saying with a grin, “Pitchover!” I’d suggest viewing this full-screen.
Here’s the descent profile you’re seeing in that video:
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team have determined where Chang’e-4 touched down, its approximate position in the Von Kármán crater shown in the older LRO imagery of the area below. LRO will next pass over the Chang’e-4 site toward the end of this month, when they ought to be able to snap a picture of the lander on the surface. Depending on LRO’s altitude at the time, it will show up as anything from a few bright pixels – remember that it’s just the far side and not a dark side – to something showing a bit more detail of the lander, the rover, and perhaps its tracks.
First full panorama released of the landing site, produced from 80 images:
Above, my Christmas present to myself this year: a 1991 Looney Tunes sculpture by Ron Lee. When the Warner Brothers Studio Stores still existed, I would visit whenever I was near one – almost never buying anything, but spending fifteen or twenty minutes admiring all the Ron Lee stuff in the back of the store, where two or three dozen of his latest sculptures would be on display. I think he produced well over a hundred Looney Tunes sculptures over several years, possibly approaching two hundred. They were too expensive for me back then, but their extraordinary quality and beauty were compelling. Like all his work, this is made of white metal with a solid polished onyx base, so it’s pretty hefty at nearly six pounds. It’s about ten inches high.
Lee has done a lot more than just Warner Brothers characters – he’s most well-known for clown sculptures (shudder) – but the Looney Tunes and Betty Boop designs are my favourites. I have four now – five if you count the Tweety duplicate I have over at my office.
A new documentary called Apollo 11 that features never publicly seen footage is in its final stages. That footage is part of a miles-long cache that’s been squirreled away in the National Archives ever since a planned MGM Studios project on the story of Apollo was cancelled in 1969. After the cancellation, some of the footage was used in the 1972 Moonwalk One documentary – included below – and the unseen footage being used now is the leftovers from both of those projects. Vanity Fair has the details on the discovery here.
A few weeks ago, the new film was selected as one of the documentaries that will be premiered at the Sundance Festival early next year. If I wasn’t in the final few months of my five-years-to-debt-free project, I think I’d give serious consideration to visiting Utah for the first time. I’d have to find something else to do as well, of course – I rarely make even a local trip without at least two purposes in mind.
From the Vanity Fair article:
In May of last year, [director Todd] Miller received a startling e-mail from [National Archive and Records Administration archive supervisor Dan] Rooney. “I was used to the way in which archivists and librarians communicate, which is typically very monotone, very even keel,” Miller said. “But I get this e-mail from Dan, and it’s just insanely long and full of exclamation points and bolded words.” Rooney’s staff had located a cache of old reels that he identified as the “65mm Panavision collection.” (In this format, the negative is shot on 65-mm. film and then printed as a 70-mm. positive.) “The collection consists of approximately 165 source reels of materials, covering Apollo 8 through Apollo 13,” Rooney wrote. “Thus far, we have definitively identified 61 of those 165 that relate directly to the Apollo 11 mission, including astronaut mission preparations, launch, recovery, and astronaut engagement and tours after the mission.”
Apollo 11 teaser trailer:
Moonwalk One full version, from 1972. If you’ve got Amazon Prime, a much better recently-restored copy is free there.
I’m a wee bit more interested in this film than First Man.
Continuing the title quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “The Method of Nature,” originally in a speech to the Society of the Delphi at Waterville College, Maine, 11 August 1841:
Avarice, hesitation, and following are our diseases. The rapid wealth which hundreds in the community acquire in trade, or by the incessant expansions of our population and arts, enchants the eyes of all the rest; the luck of one is the hope of thousands, and the bribe acts like the neighborhood of a gold mine to impoverish the farm, the school, the church, the house, and the very body and feature of man.
It came to mind today as I wrote to a bookseller from whom I had ordered, last Monday, the one book by Ricky Jay that I don’t own. After I got the “shipped” email from Amazon, the third-party seller cancelled and refunded my order, claiming this: “We were in the process of packing and shipping out your order from the warehouse when we discovered significant damage.”
You would be wrong if you thought I believed that. You would be right if you think I’d be hopping mad if I then actually caught them in the lie. Just now, I did…and I am. I composed and sent this message to them only after counting to ten (see the clip below):
People are so predictable. Once you discovered Ricky Jay had died, you refunded my $54 order for this book, claiming you found the “Good” book was not even in acceptable condition when you went to ship it. I have to tell you that I didn’t believe a word of it. Now, a week later – exactly as I expected – you’ve re-listed the Good condition book at more than three times* your original price.
Did you really think, in these days filled with avarice, that I would accept your inexpert explanation and forget about it? That I wouldn’t think to check for you re-listing it on Amazon? That I wouldn’t also see it re-list in places like Abebooks? I mean, I am looking to buy the book, right? Frankly, your optimism surprises me.
Ricky Jay, for forty years one of my few heroes and a serious book collector himself, probably would have summarized this behavior with one word: despicable.
I can’t blame you too much for yielding to the temptation to cash in on Jay’s death as so many others are trying to do. I am, however, disappointed that you ended up fitting so precisely into the mold I imagined you would. My cynicism level remains unchanged.
*After I sent this, they of course sent no reply but did increase the price to four times their original, so no conscience at all. Wouldn’t it be amusing and immensely satisfying if they’ve priced themselves right out of the market?
Ricky Jay has left us – and left us bereft.
I have two recommendations for the uninitiated: The “Secrets of the Magus” profile of him that appeared in The New Yorker in 1993 – happily not behind their paywall – and the 90-minute documentary “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay” (2012). The latter also aired in a severely edited, half-length form on the PBS series “American Masters” in 2015. The full version is preferred and you can find it on several streaming services. It’s free if you’ve got Amazon Prime, here.
From The New Yorker article:
The playwright David Mamet and the theatre director Gregory Mosher affirm that some years ago, late one night in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, this happened:
Ricky Jay, who is perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive, was performing magic with a deck of cards. Also present was a friend of Mamet and Mosher’s named Christ Nogulich, the director of food and beverage at the hotel. After twenty minutes of disbelief-suspending manipulations, Jay spread the deck face up on the bar counter and asked Nogulich to concentrate on a specific card but not to reveal it. Jay then assembled the deck face down, shuffled, cut it into two piles, and asked Nogulich to point to one of the piles and name his card.
“Three of clubs,” Nogulich said, and he was then instructed to turn over the top card.
He turned over the three of clubs.
Mosher, in what could be interpreted as a passive-aggressive act, quietly announced, “Ricky, you know, I also concentrated on a card.”
After an interval of silence, Jay said, “That’s interesting, Gregory, but I only do this for one person at a time.”
Mosher persisted: “Well, Ricky, I really was thinking of a card.”
Jay paused, frowned, stared at Mosher, and said, “This is a distinct change of procedure.” A longer pause. “All right—what was the card?”
“Two of spades.”
Jay nodded, and gestured toward the other pile, and Mosher turned over its top card.
The deuce of spades.
A small riot ensued.
The trailer for “Deceptive Practice”:
HBO aired a somewhat trimmed version of his show “Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants” in 1996. As with all of his stage shows, he only performed “52 Assistants” in small venues. Given the speedy scarcity of tickets every time he performed, he could have easily done larger halls, but he wanted to make sure everyone got a good view. To him, the art was far more important than the money.
A fair-to-middling full copy of the HBO special is on YouTube and linked below, but if you search a little, you should be able to find a 558MB version that’s 640×480 and twice the quality of this version.
I first saw Jay perform on “Saturday Night Live” in early 1977. Several months later, an article about him in the December 1977 Playboy – part of it shown below – further piqued my interest. The article mentioned that his first book, Cards as Weapons, was coming out, and I bought it a few weeks later. It sits on the bookshelf behind me as I type, along with his Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women: Unique, Eccentric and Amazing Entertainers (1986), Jay’s Journal of Anomalies (2003), and others.
I’ve traveled to see shows in New York City just twice – not Broadway shows, but off-Broadway masterpieces by Ricky Jay. The poster from “52 Assistants” is on my office wall and “On the Stem” is at home.
While showing dinner guests around my place last week, I noticed that all the 8×12″ photos that I have up in the kitchen and bathroom had taken on a distinctly aqua/turquoise tint, meaning they had lost a fair amount of their original red component in the years since I printed them – around 2003, I think.
I took all of the originals with the first digital camera I owned, a Kodak DC280 with a measly 2 megapixel picture size, so they’re not ideal for enlarging, but they still look pretty good from a foot or two away. These days, I have some good quality coated 11×14″ presentation paper from Epson that I can trim down to the 8×12″ clip frame size, not to mention a better printer with hardier ink, so I reprinted them all yesterday and brought out the big paper slicer to make quick and accurate work of the trimming. I also added to the bathroom the panorama I stitched together with Hugin from a series of three photos I took of the Golden Gate Bridge with the DC280. You can click on the galleries below to see the original photos and the newly-printed copies in situ.
For those with enquiring minds, dinner was my fortified version of Comfort Diner meatloaf, Julia Child’s Purée de pommes de terre a l’ail from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1, and carrot coins slowly braised in butter, glazed with a touch of brown sugar, then garnished with their close cousin parsley. I hadn’t tried braising carrots in butter before, but I certainly will again. They retained good texture long after the same time simmering in water would have turned them to mush, and they were decadently rich.
For some reason, the thumbnail of the first shot here looks normal on my Galaxy Tab A but appears fuzzy in Firefox on my desktop, as if WordPress is using an inappropriate resize for the mosaic. In any case, the image looks okay if you click on it.
Freshly reprinted and back up on the walls:
Low earth orbit is not the most exciting place to be in space, but I’ll admit it is extraordinary at times. This is the launch of a Progress cargo ship taken from the ISS eight days ago, captured in a fashion Stanley Kubrick would have appreciated. Best viewed full-screen and in the dark. The Soyuz launch vehicle first appears about 6 seconds in.
Downloadable in MP4 form here. The “Source” link there is full HD.
- Title Progress launch timelapse seen from space
- Released: 22/11/2018
- Length 00:01:10
- Language English
- Footage Type Music Clip
- Copyright ESA/NASA
- DescriptionTimelapse of the Russian Progress MS-10 cargo spacecraft launched on 16 November 2018 at 18:14 GMT from Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, taken by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst from the International Space Station.The spacecraft was launched atop a Soyuz rocket with 2564 kg of cargo and supplies. Flying at 28 800 km/h, 400 km high, the International Space Station requires regular supplies from Earth such as this Progress launch. Spacecraft are launched after the Space Station flies overhead so they catch up with the orbital outpost to dock, in this case two days later on 18 November 2018.The images were taken from the European-built Cupola module with a camera set to take pictures at regular intervals. The pictures are then played quickly after each other at 8 to 16 times normal speed. The video shows around 15 minutes of the launch at normal speed.The Progress spacecraft delivered food, fuel and supplies, including about 750 kg of propellant, 75 kg of oxygen and air and 440 l of water.Some notable moments in this video are:
00:07 Soyuz-FG rocket booster separation.
00:19 Core stage separation.
00:34:05 Core stage starts burning in the atmosphere as it returns to Earth after having spent all its fuel.
00:34:19 Progress spacecraft separates from rocket and enters orbit to catch up with the International Space Station.