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: 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: G.I. Joe

April 24, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — I’m not sure how I feel yet about the upcoming live-action G.I. Joe movie, The Rise of Cobra. But if it is anything like the recently-launched G.I. Joe: Resolute on Adult Swim, then it at least has a fighting chance.

And that’s half the battle. The other half, as you can imagine, is knowing.

I was grinning madly and hopping up and down in my chair watching the Resolute webisodes the other night. This ‘toon is serious. People die. They get shot in the head at close range. There’s blood. A familiar Joe is assassinated, and 10.4 million Russians are murdered in a single thrust by Cobra.

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There are no Viper pilots parachuting to safety at the last second. And Snake Eyes… let’s just say Snake Eyes is badass, even with a trench knife through his palm.

Like anyone born in 1980 or thereabouts, I watched the old cartoons and played with the toys until the legs and thumbs were broken. Lots of days were spent building sandbox Joe forts and waging complicated campaigns, so there’s a powerful nostalgic connection.

One thing I’ve always found interesting with any 1980s cartoon franchise is how much more compelling the villains are than the heroes. I mean, who else found themselves silently rooting time and again for Destro and the Baroness to finally hatch a winning scheme, or for Cobra Commander to grow a pair (boy, does he ever in Resolute!)?

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I think much of that feeling is wrapped up in character design. While Cobra agents are slick and powerful and domineering almost to the point of being alien or robot, the Joes are near-uniformly tall, strapping lads and lasses, clean-cut and boistrous in all-American gear. They’re practically quarterbacks and homecoming queens in red, white, and blue-speckled military garb.

Which gives birth to a realization, watching one or two episodes recently as an adult: The series was incredibly jingoistic, to the point of being an overt recruiting tool for the armed forces. It’s probably just as responsible for today’s rash of “rah rah sis boom bah” patriotism as any Reagan speech.

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The ‘toon might as well have been intercut with Starship Troopers-level nationalist propaganda. They’re doing their part. Are you? Join the Mobile Infantry and save the world!

I can’t imagine that the new movie will have that same slant. After all, this is war-weary America, and Hasbro and Paramount surely are smart enough to understand that cheerleader patriotism doesn’t really jive with post-Korea, post-Vietnam, post-Iraq viewers. Right?

At any rate, just given the leather outfit and sexy glasses, I’m already backing Sienna Miller’s Baroness.

That aside, enjoy these older-school Joe wallpapers. More can be found, strangely enough, at Skywarp’s Hardy Boys Casefiles Encyclopedia. There’s a mash-up for you.


Wallpaper of the Week: White rooms, soft lighting

April 17, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — Most days, I want a wallpaper that tells a story, or at least taps a pop reference like Batman or Cowboy Bebop. I’m not so much one for landscapes and still-lifes unless they are of a superior artistry or convey some deeper emotion or attachment.

Which is why I’m so surprised that I like the chan-famous white rooms motif. These wallpapers are all about chunky shapes, sharp corners, and blazing sunlight cutting slants and squares across walls and floorboards. They are about clean, open spaces and contrasting soft and sharp natural light. They’re about balance and proportion and symetry.

I do not have an eye for interior design; that’s my wife’s bailiwick. Left to me, our walls would not be laden with decorative wrought iron, candles, and deep-stained wooden shelves. There would be no hanging plants and pictures.

I like straight lines. I like clean slates. My walls would be tabula rasa. I’d be living in an empty studio with spartan furniture and bare pine planking.

And that’s why I love these wallpapers. They give my desktop a feeling of space and organization — of perspective and freedom.

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Wallpaper of the Week: AT-AT walkers

April 10, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — The Empire Strikes Back is easily the best of the original (good) Star Wars trilogy, due in large part to the ginormous quadruped attack dogs called AT-ATs.

They only appear for a few brief scenes during the Battle of Hoth, and they’re not strictly dogs, really, but the slow-marching mecha are so animistic that it’s easy to assign them some canine properties. I mean, they’re stomping around with the “head” looking back and forth — you can almost imagine an All Terain Armored Transport wagging its tail (if it had one) as it zeros in on the rebel shield generators.

The wallpaper at the top of the page is typically-brilliant concept art by Ralph McQuarry, who I think is just as responsible for the design success of Star Wars as is George Lucas.

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This one, though, comes from a Flickr set about ATilla the dog in various poses: Getting a bath, wearing a hat, taking long walks on the beach…. Every guy loves dogs. Geeks are no exception; we’re also born with the Old Yeller gene. And a lot of sci-fi (or should I say SyFy?) finds a way to work in man’s best friend, whether it’s Boxey’s daggit in the old Battlestar Galactica, Megaman’s dog Rush, K9 from Doctor Who, the mechanical hound from Farenheit 451, or Chewbacca.

Everybody loves a dog. And any boy born in the early 1980s is going to be infatuated with the idea of mecha — I mean, how many hours did I spend watching RoboTech and Voltron? So mix the two and you get AT-ATs (or the Gobots Command Center).

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But as canine-pomorphic as we’ve made them, the cinematic AT-ATs are still terrifying in an almost zombie-like way, slowly encroaching on the rebels’ hidden base and deploying waves of snow troopers to harry the retreating Alliance soldiers. There’s no escape from their heavy, plodding assault once they land on the horizon.

I first saw the Battle of Hoth when I was four years old, and it remains one of the most captivating sequences I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t ever seen it, take a gander and be amazed:


Wallpaper of the Week: Flight of the Conchords

April 3, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — Flight of the Conchords might have been deported in their season two finale, but muddy comments by HBO president Michael Lombardo suggest the New Zealand parody popsters could get a green card for a third season.

The duo have not confirmed this news, not even using their telepathic text messaging super powers.

I discovered FotC sickeningly late, just this January, and have been getting a big kick out of the band’s self-depricating-haha-we’re-simple-mumbling-shepherds humor. The HBO show’s gag is almost entirely a fish-out-of-water one, playing on the ethnocentric American view that New Zealand (which is better than Old Zealand) is just a backwater nation where Vikings and hobbits clash in epic warfare against a pastoral background filled with sheep.

It’s the kind of humor that’s not going to stick with most New World viewers, simply because it doesn’t have enough fart jokes, guys getting hit in the balls with baseball bats, or fratboys having hilarious sexual mishaps — the three most common and egregious forms of American comedy.

Witty cracks (like riffs on robo-genocide or Footloose dance homages) take a little more thought. Maybe that’s why FotC have been relegated to “cult” hero status instead of mainstream entertainment.

So to celebrate a possible continuation of the Conchords’ television success, I hunted down some desktop wallpapers featuring Bret and Jemaine in all their glory. They seem to be made using fan art from whatthefolk.net, which uses the appropriate three w’s (www.) in its URL instead of alternately four or seven. Click to enbiggen:

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