Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday Movies - Star Wars Uncut: Director's Cut

Screen grab from Star Wars Uncut: Director's Cut
Just one movie for you today, and it’s great as it is bizarre, surreal, and funny.
In 2009, Vimeo developer Casey Pugh had a dream: to create an entire remake of the original Star Wars: A New Hope using only 15 second fan-made clips; they could recreate the scenes whichever way they wanted, whether using action figures, beer bottles, animation or dogs. Now, a 2010 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media later, the entire crowd-sourced project has been completed.

You can see the completed fan-made Star Wars Uncut: Director's Cut, below. The two hour film includes animation, live action, puppets, Lego figures, and the weirdest collection of 15 second clips ever assembled into one delightful pastiche that pays tribute to George Lucas’s groundbreaking film.

Thanks to Gothamist for bringing this to my attention.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Things You Discover Walking – Clifton Hill Shot Tower

Clifton Hill Shot Tower looms over local homes

Have you ever wondered how they made those little round balls that passed as bullets in the olden days? You know the type I mean. Small, round, lead balls that had to be rammed down the barrels of primitive muskets and pistols, before they could be fired at an assailant or enemy combatant. Well, today’s Things You Discover Walking entry provides the answer.

A couple of kilometres from the home I am currently house sitting (in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy North), is a tall chimney-like structure that towers high over the neighbourhood of Clifton Hill. A little research reveals the column to be the Clifton Hill Shot Tower, a structure that was first erected in 1882.
Would you like to hazard a guess at the number of bricks that went into
the towers construction?
But what exactly is a ‘shot tower’?

“A shot tower is a tower designed for the production of shot balls by freefall of molten lead, which is then caught in a water basin. The shot is used for projectiles in firearms.” ~ Wikipedia

Let’s examine this process in more detail. Inside the shot tower, lead was heated until molten before it was passed through a copper sieve high up in the tower (presumably, the furnace to melt the lead was located at the top of the tower). As the molten lead dropped through the air it solidified as it fell, and the surface tension generated by the fall, formed tiny spherical balls.

The partially cooled balls dropped into a pool of water at the bottom of the tower where they were left to cool down completely. And that in a nut shell is how lead shot used to be made before the development of modern bullets.

To make larger shot sizes, a copper sieve with larger holes was used. However, the maximum size of the lead shot was limited by the height of the tower, because larger shot sizes needed to fall farther to give them time to cool.

Originally, molten lead was poured into moulds of various sizes to create lead shot, but as you can imagine, this was a long, slow, time consuming process. The advent of the shot tower sped up the process considerably until even newer modern methods were developed. 

Clifton Hill Shot Tower
The Clifton Hill Shot Tower rises 49 metres (160 ft), and can be found on the corner of Alexandra Parade and Copper Lane. The tower (the tallest shot tower ever built in Australia), was operated by the Coops family, who also managed the Coops Shot Tower. Remarkably, this tower has also been preserved and can be seen inside the Melbourne Central Shopping Centre. Both towers are on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Modern methods for producing lead shot for shotgun shells, have of course done away for the need for shot towers, but many examples of these fascinating relics of a bygone age still survive.

Two of the oldest towers still standing are the Jackson Ferry Shot Tower in Wythe County, Virginia. This was built in the 1790s, and is now part of a state park and open to the public during the tourist season. Another is the Chester Shot Tower, in Boughton, England. This tower, built in 1799, is the oldest surviving shot tower in the Britain. Other examples still survive in countries as diverse as Germany, Finland, New Zealand, and elsewhere.

Clifton Hill Shot Tower
So there you have it: the Clifton Hill Shot Tower. It now stands like a silent sentinel on a nondescript corner just metres from the entrance to Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway.

It would be wonderful to see the tower turned into more than just an old relic from a bygone era – I’m sure the view from the top would be well worth the climb – but sadly, money, politics, and planning constraints will no doubt conspire to stop that.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday Movies – The Vanishing El

The elevated line at Broadway and 125th Street

If you are a keen moviegoer like I am, you will almost certainly be familiar with the elevated railway lines that are used to such great effect in films like The French Connection, Saturday Night Fever, and the opening credits of Welcome Back Kotter. While most of the elevated lines in New York City (colloquially referred to as the ‘El’), have long disappeared from Manhattan, wonderful examples of these amazing engineering works can still be seen in Queens and Brooklyn. However, a short section of elevated line for the ‘1’ Train still soars high above Broadway and 125th Street in Harlem.

Manhattan’s most famous surviving section of elevated line today must surely be the formerly abandoned, by now newly renovated west side line. This has undergone a new lease of life, and been reborn as the incredibly popular High Line (see Walking The High Line, Street View Comes to The High Line, and here...). All of which serves to introduce today’s series of Monday Movies featuring the former Third Avenue El.

If Things Could Talk: The Vanishing ‘El’ [10:00]

As the name implies, the Third Avenue El, ran the length of Manhattan’s Third Avenue before crossing over into the Bronx. The first segments of the line opened in Manhattan in 1878, and service continued before the line was eventually shut down in stages – beginning with the Manhattan sections in the 1950s – before the complete shut down of the Bronx section in 1973.

The Third Avenue El was featured in a number of films, including The Lost Weekend (1945),The Naked City (1948), On the Town (1949), The Killer That Stalked New York (1950), and On the Bowery (1956).

The 3rd Avenue El [10:39]

In this film a beatnik photographer with a tripod, a stumbling drunk from the old Bowery, a giddy little girl travelling with her father, and a couple on a romantic excursion help create a loose narrative of life on the old El.

See more films at: 

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Flinders Street Station by Adam J.W.C.
~ After an exhausting eight hour day wandering around central Melbourne – buying books and visiting the Melbourne Museum and the Australian Centre for The Moving Image (ACMI), I returned to my house sitting base in Fitzroy North, and pretty much collapsed from the effort.

It doesn’t bode well for the rest of my five week stay, but I’m sure I will adjust to the routine – as long as I don’t make the purchase of books a regular part of that routine. Personally, I thought my Training For Travel program of daily hour long walks would have prepared me better for the rigours of extended city walking, but of course, there is a big difference between walking for an hour, and being on my feet for at least seven of the eight hours I was out and about yesterday.

Right now, I am still in recovery mode. Thankfully, my feet are complaining less, and my back is a lot happier now that I am spending most of the day reading, writing, and relaxing. But watch out, body, tomorrow we hit the streets again. So suck it up, and make the most of your layover day. The adventure is only beginning.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Monday Movies: Musicians Below New York

One of the many things I love about New York City is the range of amazing musicians and singers who eke out a living performing across the city’s subway network. Actually, ‘eke out’ may be the wrong expression. Judging by the amount of money some of these musicians are able to earn in tips (based on my observations), they may in fact be making quite a good living.

Of course, this only applies to the best of the performers, but then to survive as a performer on New York’s subway stations you have to be more than good, you have to be very good. So today, I thought I’d feature some short films that focus on a few of these subway singers.

The first film was uploaded to YouTube by a person using the pseudonym/profile name: mybs86. Regarding the video s/he writes:
"okay- what you are about to watch is a true new york experience. what originally started out as a typical nyc subway ride (sitting across from guy who smelled like urine) turned into an awesome performance by two people who have never met before. i captured the whole thing on video. the singer continued with another great song after the entire subway car demanded an encore. her name is jessica latshaw- make sure to check out her music."


Whether the meeting of musicians was a set up or not is immaterial. It’s a great clip, and Jessica exudes confidence and charisma by the bucket full. Jessica Latshaw has her own Facebook profile [], so if you feel so inclined – get in touch and become a Friend/Follower.

Thanks to Gothamist for bringing the Jessica Latshaw video to our attention.

Below New York 
Below New York is the name of a documentary for CamLin Productions, whose first feature “…is a unique and stylized look at some of New York City's finest subway performers, musicians and artists. The film draws the audience into the amazing lives these local performers lead, and how their quest for a venue and sustenance adds a truly wonderful aesthetic to one of the greatest cities in the world.”


Below New York – Select Blendz 
One of the groups featured in the Below New York documentary is Select Blendz, an (almost) a’ Capella group that clearly has the doo-wop thing down pat. I say ‘almost’ because they do include an upright bass player in their lineup. This second clip from CamLin Productions showcases the group on an unnamed New York subway station.


More Information
Below New York...
CamLin Productions...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Make Your Dream a Reality

Matt Green’s celebratory cake (see below)
In my first post for the year (Welcome to 2012), I mentioned that many people have found ways to indulge their love of travel, often for extended periods of time, and that if you are prepared to make the commitment and sacrifice, you too can travel sooner rather than later. What I didn't include in that post, however, were links to some of the many blogs and websites from these travellers. So today, I have decided to address that omission.

All the travellers highlighted have embarked on amazing personal journey's that often defy logic, logistics, money, and maybe even common sense. But as I also wrote in that entry:

“You will … encounter naysayers, sceptics, and critics who will argue that the world is filled with dangers lurking around every corner – as if watching an hour of the evening news doesn’t reinforce that time and time again.

Then there are others who argue that you need to knuckle down and focus on finding a life partner, or family, or career, or homebuilding, or making a fortune, or [add your own inner nagging voice].”

The intrepid travellers noted below, have all chosen to ignore the critics and live their dreams.

Bearing the tag line: An ongoing adventure of travel and living while using a wheelchair, Tim and Darryl Musik’s website is a detailed record of the father and son’s travels across America and further afield. Tim has been disabled from birth. Darryl is his father and caregiver. Together they have embarked on journeys to Austria, Belgium, Dominican Republic, England, France/Monaco, Germany, Ireland, Mexico and throughout the United States.

Filled with numerous images and short, high quality videos, The World on Wheels is always positive, uplifting, and insightful. And it shows that confinement to a wheelchair is no excuse for staying home, when there is a world of wonders waiting to be discovered and experienced.

Someone else who is exploring ‘the world on wheels’ is Keiichi Iwasaki. In April 2001, the Japanese national, then aged 28 decided to ride his bicycle across Japan. He had just 160 yen (around $2) in his pocket. His plan was to perform magic tricks wherever the opportunity presented itself, and to pay for his bike ride as he went. Keiichi not only completed his ride across Japan, but he enjoyed it so much he caught a ferry to South Korea and kept going. Ten years, thousands of miles and dozens of countries later, according to this September 2011 report on the National Geographic website, Keiichi is still riding – and still paying his way by performing magic tricks.

Along the way he has been robbed by pirates; arrested in India; nearly died after being attacked by a rabid dog in Tibet, and narrowly escaped marriage in Nepal! But he has also climbed both Mont Blanc and Mount Everest; used a rowboat to travel from the source of the Ganges River in India to the sea (a distance of over 800 miles), and also rowed across the Caspian Sea just because he wanted to see “…how big Caspian sea is?” It took him 25 days.

Irish author Dervla Murphy has written over twenty travel books, many documenting the details of her journeys by bicycle across an incredible range of countries. In 1963, at the age of 32, Dervla embarked on her first major bike ride – from Dunkirk, France to India, and wrote her first book Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, about that ride. Still travelling at 80, she recently published her latest book, The Island That Dared: Journeys in Cuba.

But why ride when you can walk?

The Longest Way…

German born, Christoph Rehage set out on November 9th, 2007 – his 26th birthday – to walk from the Chinese capital Beijing to Bad Nenndorf in Germany. One year and 4600+ kilometres later he ended his walk – still in China – at Urümqi, a couple hundred kilometres shy of the border with Kyrgyzstan. Although he didn’t complete his walk, Cristoph (who now studies in Berlin), writes that “…getting as far as I got was an experience for which I am very grateful.”

His website, The Longest Way, documents his walk in great detail, with this time lapse film of the journey receiving over a million hits.

Someone who did complete his walk across America was Matt Green, who walked from Rockaway Beach, Long Island, to Rockaway Beach, Oregon, crossing New York state, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and finally Oregon. After roughly five months, 3,000 miles, and 1500 blog entries, Matt said:

“A couple years ago I started a walking group called Hey, I’m Walkin’ Here! in New York City, and my love for walking really blossomed over the course of our adventures. Moving through the world at three miles an hour, you can fully take in your surroundings. There’s nothing separating you from your environment. You notice things that go completely undetected by people zooming by in cars. It’s such a rich experience: you can see, hear, and smell everything around you, and even touch and taste things if you feel like it.”

Having completed his walk across America, Matt began 2012 with the goal of walking every street across the five boroughs of New York City. As you would expect, he is documenting this challenge on his website I’m Just Walkin’ (NYC)…

Want more? Check out this list of people who have also walked across the United States.

Going Slowly...

Tara Alan & Tyler Kellen set up Going Slowly in February 2008, to document their bicycle tour around the world. That epic ride may be over – but the website acts as a permanent scrapbook of their many adventures together.

Also going slowly are Anna Rice and Alex Hayton. Anna and Alex are currently undertaking a year long round the world journey by rail, road, ship and whatever other forms of transport they can arrange – short of flying. They have decided to embrace the concept of slow travel with all its joys and challenges, aiming to eat and sleep locally, and travel with as small a carbon footprint as possible.

Ok, I know I have chosen some pretty extreme examples, and I don’t expect you to walk or ride in the footsteps of the people mentioned. But the point of this entry is to push home the message that anything is possible if you are prepared to make the commitment and sacrifice to see your travel dreams come to fruition.

Folks, if it was easy – everyone would be doing it!

It isn’t easy, but as the examples above show, it is doable. So remember…

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Friday, January 6, 2012

Zuccotti Park, New York City

Mark di Suvero's, Joie de Vivre
On both my trips to New York City in 2008 and 2010, I have at various times found myself wandering through Zuccotti Park. Strictly speaking, it is more of a plaza than a traditional park, and in fact it used to be known as Liberty Plaza Park. Created in 1968, the park was one of the few open spaces with tables and seats in the Financial District. It is located just one block from the World Trade Center. Following the events of September 11, 2001 it was left covered with debris, and subsequently used as a staging area during the ensuing recovery efforts.

As part of the Lower Manhattan rebuilding efforts, the park (renamed Zuccotti Park in honor of John E. Zuccotti, a former City Planning Commission chairman),  reopened on June 1, 2006, after an $8 million renovation which involved regrading the area, the planting of numerous trees, and the reintroduction of tables and public seating.

The park is home to two sculptures: Joie de Vivre by Mark di Suvero, and Double Check, a bronze businessman sitting on a bench, by John Seward Johnson II.

Double Check, John Seward Johnson

When I first saw Johnson’s life sized statue of a businessman sitting on a bench, I was some distance away. Initially, I thought the figure was one of those ‘human statues’ that can be seen in many major cities around the world. You know the sort I mean: they cover their clothing in paint, strike a fancy pose, and only move if you put a coin or two in their tip jar.

On closer inspection, I realised that this incredibly life-like figure was forged in bronze. Apparently, the artist John Seward Johnson II, uses casts of real people as the basis of his work, which accounts for the realism of his sculptures.

Double Check, John Seward Johnson

Joie de Vivre, seen below and in the top image, is a 70-foot-tall sculpture by Mark di Suvero. The work, consisting of bright-red beams, was installed in Zuccotti Park in 2006, having been moved from its original location in the Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, NY.

Mark di Suvero's, Joie de Vivre
Of course, since I was last in New York City, and by extension Zuccotti Park, the area has become known around the world as the location of the "Occupy Wall Street" protest which began on September 17, 2011. It will be interesting to see if the OWS protests are still taking place when I visit New York again over the summer of 2012.

Here is a short video I shot during my April, 2008 visit to the park.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Scammer Alert!

Blogging can be such a thankless task. Most of us do it because we think we have something of value to offer, or because we like to contribute in some way to the body of knowledge and information that multiplies at an exponential rate across the Internet.

Some bloggers, myself included, try to reap some small monetary reward for the hours of writing, researching, photo editing, and everything else that goes into maintaining a blog. We do this by running Google and Amazon ads on our sites, but the vast majority of bloggers, again, myself included, make no income worth talking about via these ads.

Still, we live in hope that one day, we will begin to earn something worth boasting about. So when someone sends you an email enquiring about the possibility of buying ad space on your blog, your heart tends to leap in anticipation of the riches that might be waiting.

Well, folks, a couple of days ago I got one of those emails, and this post recounts the sorry tale as a warning to other bloggers and webmasters. Here is the complete text of the first message I got from a Maxence Leclerc:

To: Webmaster
From: Maxence Leclerc
Message: Hi,
We are looking for new advertisement platforms and we are interested in your site Is it possible to place banner on your site on a fee basis?
Best regards, Maxence Leclerc

On replying to M Leclerc that it was definately possible to place a banner ad on my site, I recieved this reply:

Thanks for reply to our proposal!
I represent Nami Agency. At the moment we are preparing an advertising campaign for Lacoste Company (it is a French company producing clothes, footwear, perfumery etc.) We already have designed banners for the campaign, they are the following sizes: 160x600, 240x400, 300x250, 336x280, 468x60, 728x90.
What can be your price for one banner (banner should appear at ALL pages of your site) of abovementioned sizes (please specify the place for the banner – top, bottom, left, right)? Please mention a normal link for banner, without javascript code and set prices in US dollars per month.
Best regards,
Maxence Leclerc. site: e-mail: phone: + (0)9 78 62 68 47

Well, as the saying goes, "There's one born every minute," and for about four or five days I was that person.

It now turns out that M Leclerc has been very active spamming blogs and websites at random across the internet in an effort to scam as many people as possible. The gist of the scam seems to be that once he has agreed to your price (and he always agrees), you have to install a piece of code on your blog or website which displays the agreed to advertisement.

I have not been able to find out yet what this code does to computers, blogs, or websites. It may be that the scam simply involves the blogger/webmaster installing Leclerc's ad code across their website, which results in Leclerc getting all the income that may result from visitors clicking on his ad and completing a purchase. In effect, Leclerc is piggy-backing his ads onto other peoples websites. We do all the work, but he reaps the rewards.


For him.

But it is a bitter pill for us, the webmasters and bloggers.

As someone who has been online in one form or another for at least 15 years, I thought I was too smart to get caught out by scammers, but the prospect of turning my blog into some sort of money earner clouded my judgement, and I too *almost* got sucked in by M. Leclerc.

I say almost, because right now I am waiting for him to get back to me about a 'quote' for an ad placement on my website. I did check out the Nami Agency site, but did not think to Google his name, otherwise I would have saved myself a lot of trouble and dashed hopes.

Today, I did Google the name "Maxence Leclerc" and was led to this page: where I read more about the scam.

The Google search reveals more than one person going under the name 'Maxence Leclerc', and of course this scammer may or may not be one of the listed people. In fact, it is almost certain that none of the people so named are the perpetrators of this scam. I further Google search reveals that this attempted rip off has also been carried out under the names of 'Martin Dumont', 'Gabriel Petit', and 'Evan Hubert'.

Anyway, I just thought I should write about this scam today. If you are a fellow blogger or webmaster - be warned. M Leclerc is on the prowl sowing the seeds for his scam even as you read this.

Have a safe, scam free new year.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Monday Movies – January 2, 2012

~ I have said it before, but it doesn’t hurt to  repeat it from time to time: the world really is a beautiful place, and the two films I have selected today for the Monday Movies reflect that very much. The first is a stunning seven minute NASA video of footage shot from the international space station and presumably from various Space Shuttle flights. The video is narrated by Dr. Justin Wilkinson from NASA's astronaut team.

In the film you can see some of the planet’s most impressive landscapes, including the coast of Namibia, Tunisia and Madagascar, along with Sicily, China, the Zagros mountains in Iran, Australia’s Gulf of Carpenteria, and the Great Salt Lake in Utah to name some of the birds-eye views on offer.

The second video is less than three minutes in length, but shows a full year in the life of our nearest neighbour – the moon. The time-lapse footage is quite hypnotic, but for me the real impact comes from comparing the views that both films offer of life in our universe. The stark contrast between the ever changing, blue, green and red landscape that is our beautiful planet, with that of the bare pockmarked surface of the moon, is frighteningly obvious.

As I said about another recent Monday Movie featuring different footage from the International Space Station:
"... if you think we humans are going to find a better place elsewhere in the universe – you are kidding yourself. This is it. This really is as good as it gets, and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can focus on protecting the planet, and doing everything possible to ensure it, and we, survive for many future generations."
Touring The Earth From Space


A Year in The Life of The Moon 

If you were stuck somewhere far away from the recent lunar eclipse, here’s some consolation courtesy of NASA. The Scientific Visualization Studio at the Goddard Space Flight Center has put together this two and a half minute video from over a year’s worth of data recorded by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has been orbiting the moon at 50 kilometers above its surface for over a year.

Related Content:

Thanks to Open Culture for bring this to our attention.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome to 2012

It’s traditional to offer some homilies and reflections at the end of one year, and at the beginning of a new one, and being a bit of a traditionalist I am happy to add my few words to the millions that have been written already, or to those that are being uploaded across the Internet as we speak.

Last year was not the best in my extended family, coming as it did with the loss in May (at age 70), of an older brother, George. There was also the untimely passing of a brother-in-laws much loved mother, and family matriarch, Maureen (who lived a long and fulfilled life of 91 years). Of course, all deaths are untimely, when it comes down to it, but Meg, as she was affectionately known by one and all, passed away just a couple of weeks before Christmas, and any death close to Christmas seems to have more impact than if it had occurred well before significant events that are normally celebrated by most families, or the larger community.

There were other deaths along the way, all of which served to remind me that I am not getting younger, and that if I am going to make the most of the rest of my life I need to focus my time and attention where I can get the most benefit out of the years ahead. Of course, life marches to its own beat, and it has a way of getting in the way of our best laid plans – no matter how carefully we have made our arrangements.

So for myself, the new year begins with much reflection and the hope that last year’s farewells will be the last I am going to see for some time. The new year also begins with the promise – and planning – of new journeys. Next week I head to Melbourne for a five week house sitting stint, and in July and August I should be apartment sitting in New York City. Then there is a much anticipated return to my ancestral home on the Greek island of Ikaria – and another stay in Paris, France would not go amiss either.

Dear reader, life is finite. The clock is ticking.

Travel blogs are filled with comments from readers wishing that they too could embark on journeys they have been daydreaming about, in many instances, for years.

If this sound like you, take heart. You can have your cake and eat it too – but you will have to decide on your priorities. You will almost certainly have to sacrifice something to make your dreams come true. And you will again, almost certainly, have to overcome many doubts and fears to bring your dreams to fruition. You will also encounter naysayers, sceptics, and critics who will argue that the world is filled with dangers lurking around every corner – as if watching an hour of the evening news doesn’t reinforce that time and time again.

Then there are others who argue that you need to knuckle down and focus on finding a life partner, or family, or career, or homebuilding, or making a fortune, or [add your own inner nagging voice].

Ignore them all. Travel blogs are also filled with articles from people – young and old – who have decided to live the dream they have been nurturing for many years, and who have left the 9-5 rat race behind to travel the world, in many instances for years at a time.

Some work their way from country to country, others busk or perform on city streets and subway station platforms. Travellers can join a wide variety of networks and organizations filled with friendly people that are happy to offer accommodation and advice for the passing traveller. All this information and more is available online via the monitor or portable device you are reading this post on right now.

Make a plan. It doesn’t matter if your plan is to travel in five years instead of five months. The important thing is to make a plan and stay focussed on it. Nurture it. Feed it. Grow it. Read, research, make notes, make plans, make contact with fellow travellers, and aim to put some money aside each week until you reach your ultimate goal – and departure date.

I say again – life is finite. The clock is ticking.

So, Love The Life You Live – or change it – and may all your dreams and more come to pass in 2012.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...