Wallpaper of the Week: Kurt Vonnegut, or Slaughterhouse-4scrape

August 1, 2009

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FROM JASON’S IMMEASURABLE GRIEF — It’s true. That fool’s paradise of visual filth, flamboyance, and foolery known as 4scrape is no more. It’s just another 404 now.

So it goes.

When it comes to image boards, as we’ve said before, 4scrape was the best way to scan for new desktop art. It not only cut out everything but the wallpapers themselves, but it also reduced the need to click through hundreds of links and page loads.

On July 27, the creator’s blog said the site is down and he/she won’t cast rez on it. The source code and SQL were posted, though, so the entire engine is open to the public for any willing to continue the good fight. There might even be a torrent release of the 150GB of image data cached by 4scrape (though that kind of a download is impractical at best and retarded at worst).

It didn’t take Ice-9, a prison riot, a Martian invasion force, a timequake, or nuclear holocaust to bring down 4scrape. Apparently, there were too many problems with the code to put more blood, sweat, and tears into it:

  • Cache for searches (potentially just post searches) is broken.
  • Threads need to be cached as a whole unit — assembling them from a 500,000-row table is too slow.
  • General consistency errors — there’s a bunch of images missing (???)
  • The scraper likes to shit itself to keep things lively.
  • The backend would occasionally crash/spinlock (???)
  • The JavaScript shit is a horrible mess.

So it goes.

Right before the site folded, I had been searching almost in vain for Kurt Vonnegut wallpapers to share. The top-most one was easy to find; but when I went looking for others — well, that’s when the 404 struck.

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The subsequent announcement that the site will be abandoned put me in a particularly grouchy and very Vonnegut-story-defeatest mood. I stomped around a bit, and then figured the universe will manage to realign this mistake somehow.

Truth is, even with 4scrape’s help, Vonnegut ‘papers are awfully rare. I turned to customized Google Images searches. They turned up very little. The best I could find, aside from a few badly-patched-together and quite ugly photo mosaics were oversized scans of some of book book illustrations and one fairly large but grainly photo that didn’t make Kurt’s face look like a catcher’s mit.

Some Photoshop filters, sharpening, and color-tweaking later and here are some (moderately) presentable pieces of Vonnegut-icana to ease us all through the rough patches.

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As always, I’ve put the images in 1024×768 — which despite some protests is still the most widely used m0nitor resolution (and 4:3 is still the most widespread aspect ratio). Enjoy.

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Wallpaper of the Week: A-10 Warthog

July 4, 2009

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FROM JASON’S WALLPAPER FOLDER — Like a lot of boys, I spent a lot of hours as a teen building model planes, and even had an early aspiration to fly for the Air Force. Most kits were Strike Eagles or Migs or the like — anything you could see in the movies.

But sleek and sexy as those were, a different type of aircraft always appealed to me more: the chunky, decidedly awkward A-10 Warthog. I don’t know why; maybe it’s because it’s shaped like me, slim in the wrong places and with too much weight in unattractive places. (There’s a body image crisis for you.)

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Or maybe it’s that the Warthog is packed with frightening power. It’s an anti-tank, anti-personnel plane that flies in low over combat operations and blasts a path clear for advancing ground forces. If I were the Taliban and I heard the grumble of an approaching Warthog, I’d crap myself and run. Maybe not even in that order.

The Warthog’s almost a flying tank. It can take direct hits with armor-piercing rounds. It can survive explosive bullets. It can fly with one engine and only one and a half wings. Fuel tank gets hit? No problem — the Warthog’s got auto-sealing systems that button up the holes. The whole cockpit is wrapped in titanium armor. It’s 30mm Gatling gun fires off 2,100-4,200 depleted Uranium shells per minute. And when rounds won’t do, the Warthog’s packed with air-to-surface missiles and laser-guided bombs.

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I’ve long since given up any desire to be part of the military, and my feelings on even being in Afghanistan right now are mixed. I’m long past that Top Gun-fueled phase every young guy hits where we romanticize armed aircraft. But if you have to rain down death and destruction from 1,000 feet up, and you don’t mind an entirely functional, non-aesthetic means of delivering said bloody interdiction, then I’m glad the Warthog’s on our side.

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And yes, Andrew, that third wallpaper is taken from ArmA. Stop jumping up and down in your seat. I know you like ArmA. And I know ArmA2 is out. I hope you’re enjoying it.


Wallpaper of the Week: Futurama

June 22, 2009

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FROM JASON’S WALLPAPER FOLDER — I was going to write about how Comedy Central’s ordered 26 more episodes of Futurama to start airing sometime next year. And I was going write about how Vanity’s reporting that Fox, which canceled the show in 2003 after four seasons, still has the option for first-run rights on broadcast television.

But you already know all that, unless you’ve been incapacitated for the past week by coma, bear attack, or alien abduction, and the aliens’ Internet was broken.

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But instead I’m just going to linger for a second on what makes Futurama so damn good — it’s all about abject failure, and that’s something all of us greasy-faced nerds can relate to.

There’s not a redeemable character in the whole cast. They are stupid, conniving, fragile, egocentric, criminal, arrogant, ignorant, velour-wearing, stubborn, feeble-minded, and cowardly. They say the wrong things at the wrong time. They make big mistakes and escape the consequences only by blind luck. By all rights, every single character should be condemned for eternity to robot hell. And we love them because they are just like us.

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More importantly: Futurama is helping me lose weight. The wife has recently put me on a treadmill regimen to help me shed some of the pounds with which marriage has cursed me. To make sure I walk/jog/kind of run in a shambling way long enough, I’ve got the infernal machine set up in front of my basement TV and I exercise through an entire Futurama episode every morning. I’m already about half-way through season one.

Three pounds down, 47 to go. I wish the professor would invent a Fat-Suck-O-Scope.

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And I wish somebody would get to work inventing some decent Futurama wallpapers. I spent about three hours looking for ones that didn’t look A) like they were hand-drawn with crayon, 2) busier than Britney Spears, or ♣) like cut-and-paste jobs by a mental patient using MS Paint for the first time.

Unfortunately, the best ones I found were entirely Bender-less. Enjoy what little fare there is.


Wallpaper of the Week: Batman

June 19, 2009

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FROM JASON’S WALLPAPER FOLDER — There used to be Hercules, Arthur, Marduk, Beowulf, Conn of the Hundred Battles, Odin, Samson, Huangdi, Odysseus, and all the other heroes of ancient legend.

When you think about it, Batman is cut from the same literary cloth. Comic book characters are just modern mythological warrior-heroes. It’s enough to make you wonder whether Zeus was just a very popular-selling title of the time.

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And why does the Dark Knight resonate so well with us? Probably because he embodies good intentions clothed in lawlessness. Batman is an ends-justifies-the-means personification. He’s the animated Jack Bauer, carrying out swift street justice using the tools of evil — fear and pain and malice. He’s a natural (and as a vigilante, wrong) reaction to our overburdened, over-bureaucratized system.

So, because his goals are so honorable, we find ourselves rooting for Batman’s antisocial behavior, ignoring how illicit are his activities, how every criminal he captures would be released due to lack of proper arrest and Mirandizing, and how he quite possibly has split personalities or other forms of schizophrenia. We even justify his actions as moral instead of reclusively egoistic and dangerous.

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But that’s television for you.

It was that medium that lured me to Batman in 1992, with Batman: The Animated Series‘ “dark deco” styling and gritty storytelling. Here was a cartoon with noir pacing, relying more on the Bat’s detective skills and character development than explosions (though those were to be found as well).

Warner Bros. let Bruce Timm make a mature, sophisticated take on what superficially could be described as another “underwear” superhero; part of that came from elaborate and often sympathetic retellings of classic villains’ backstories. There were the go-to baddies, sure: Catwoman, Penguin, Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, The Riddler. But some of the best episodes of TAS focused on obscure ones such as the Clock King, Killer Croc, the Ventriloquist, HARDAC, Hugo Strange, Red Claw, and the Sewer King.

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And some of the most interesting twists came when the right question was posed: Was Batman really that different from the criminals he fought? Motive counts for a lot, true, but means and method are also very important. There’s also the Frank Miller alternative to  consider: Could Batman actually be insane?

While we’re thinking about Batman and comparative ethics, have some fun with these wallpapers, conveniently sized to 1024×768.


Wallpaper of the Week: Jacek Yerka

May 22, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — Ferocious, living alligator-mobiles. Villages carved from hulking strawberries, onions, and loaves of bread. A steam locomotive roaring from the maw of a cavernous dragon’s head.

This is the mind of Polish fantasy artist Jacek Yerka.

Yerka’s canvases are places where physics doesn’t give a damn about enforcing its own rules, where the mundane and the unlikely collide in a matter-of-fact way. Often, the paintings show two worlds living on top of each other — one recognizable and the other entirely alien.

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The result is that you start to doubt your grasp on the known; another land could be lurking a few yards under my feet, filled with goblins, unearthly cities, strange dreamscapes, and peril.

It’s a nice thought to foster in this work-a-day world.

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Yerka, now 57, bucked his college art instructors, who wanted his style to fall more in the camp of loose and unstructured modernism. Instead, he insisted on elevating his neo-Dali-ism with exacting detail in the classical northern European tradition.

The pieces are better for it. The composition gives incredible depth to each world he creates, while hinting that there’s even more lurking below the surface. He shows me so much that it causes me to imagine even more — which is what good art should do.


Wallpaper of the Week: Devastator

May 11, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — Maybe historians will call this The Summer of Nostalgia, or maybe I’m just getting to an age where I notice that everything old is new again.

I’m talking about movies, of course, and (as usual) about the resurgence of the 1980s pop culture I loved so much (to the point of wearing Optimus Prime Underoos as a five-year-old twerp).

This season sees a swell of iconic small-screen sensations at the cinema, with Star Trek, X-Men, Terminator, G.I. Joe, and Transformers getting franchise sequels and reboots. Fear not… The A-Team movie isn’t slated to launch until 2010.

I’ve already talked about the one that I think will be the biggest nerd-gasm of the bunch — Star Trek — but I’m getting more excited as Michael Bay and company leak an increasing number of teasers and stills from the set of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, due out June 24.

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Don’t get me wrong. I normally cringe at Bay’s name because he’s all about popcorn and explosions rather than characters and plot innovation. But giant robot movies aren’t about the later, and nobody should expect them to be. They are about enormous alien machines giving each other the smack-down and threatening the fate of Earth. Revenge of the Fallen will be about lasers and special effects. It’s not like the source material is a deep well of emotion that must be respected. So go Bay!

To rouse my enthusiasm, recent HD trailers for the film show the unmistakable form of Devastator, the giant combined robo-form of the evil Constructicons (see the very bottom image).

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I love seeing Devastator in the old Generation 1 cartoons. He was huge, lurching, animalistic and simple-minded as well as insanely powerful. He gave the Autobots a run for their money and shook up the internal Decepticon power structure. Plus, he boasted the same awesome baddy color scheme as the best of villains: Purple and green.

I never felt Devastator got enough love.

The Joker stylings are ditched in RotF in favor of a more naturalistic approach, and it’s impossible to tell from the trailers whether he’ll get even as much screen time as Scorponok did in the 2007 iteration.

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Either way, I’ve packaged up a few Devastator wallpapers here for you. I had to go a-hunting, because there really are very few large-scale Devy images on the web — and right now, they are all mostly pointed at the RotF concept art desktop (above). As always, they are in 1024 x 768 resolution.

Click the thumbnails in this post to enbiggen.


Wallpaper of the Week: Plastic Army Men

May 1, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — No moving parts. No interchangeable weapons. No transforming. No bright colors. No battle damage chests. No remote controls.

Army men were just solid-stamped molded plastic. And that left the door open for so much creativity.

My family didn’t have much money when I was young, so shelling out $60 for an Optimus Prime or even $7 for a G.I. Joe was pretty much out of the question. But grabbing a 30-piece army men set off the grocery store rack for $2 every once in a while was well within the budget, and it was enough to keep a five-year-old amused for hours.

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My army men waged thousands of campaigns. The sandbox became the desert theatre. The tall grass became the African front. The loamy dirt beneath the trees became home to jungle warfare.

The brave soldiers of Jason’s Army also lived and died to protect countless staircases, book shelves, and wooden block forts.

After some digging around, I discovered the toys I loved so much were the Vietnam-era M-16 Infantry line made by Tim Mee. They were actually the last run before the company cut production.

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Mine had all the classic members of the corps: Crouched machine-gunner, pistol-wielding commander, flame-thrower, bazooka-guy, radio guy, minesweeper, crawling soldier, the soldier swinging his bayonet overhead, the soldier waving his troops forward with machine gun in hand, the mortar launcher.

Once in a while, the army men would come bundled with half-tracks, tanks, jeeps, and emplacements.

Some folks have since created a papercraft world and a tabletop game around those little plastic dudes. Combat Storm looks incredibly interesting, not to mention visually appealing:

If you want to be cheap, though, you could always take the tack my little brother and I once did: Use army men as chess pieces. Bayonet guys make great pawns. Bazooka guys make excellent rooks. Flamethrowers work just fine as bishops.

Mortars make sense as knights. Machine-gunners are the logical queens, and the pistol-wielding commander is the only choice for king that makes sense.