Monday, March 31, 2008

Personal Update

As I am sometimes wont to do, I have been hiding under my rock lately.

Jes and I are still settling in here in New England, and I am still adjusting to my new job. It's looking more and more like Spring, and the shop is getting busier. I'm definitely glad I had a few months to get used to the place before the riding season hit, because if the last few weeks are any indication, it's gonna get really nuts soon.

Strangely, working at a Vespa / Motorcycle dealer has increased my self-censorship on scooter blogging. I really expected the opposite. But I'm discovering huge aspects of the culture (particularly pertaining to motorcycles) of which I am pretty ignorant. This experience has caused me to shut-up and listen at work, and I guess that is carrying over to blogging. It has also inspired some thinking about the differences and similarities of scooterists and motorcyclists, but I'm still fine tuning those thoughts, so you can look forward to them at some point in the future.

Sadly, Quell, the Steampunk Vespa, has been stuck in the stable for several months. His plates expired in November, and he needs to be registered and insured here in CT. Since Jes and I are still recovering from our moving expenses, and the last months haven't been amenable to riding what with the snow, and ice and sand and salt, getting the trusty steed legal hasn't been a top priority.

Also, when I was putting Quell away for his long Winter's nap, a couple months ago, he had a slight mishap. His center stand has always been a touch woppy-jawed, and the floor of his shed being uneven hard-packed dirt, he fell over into a wrought-iron plant stand. It was basically a minor mishap, but the front brake lever broke off, and the right-hand mirror was destroyed.

So, as yesterday was one of the first temperate Spring days I've had off, I spent it installing an after-market reinforced center-stand, and new black control levers. These were both mods that I'd been wanting to do since I'd gotten the P, so no harm done. Except bolting on the new center-stand was much more of a pain-in-the-ass than I'd expected.

I also removed the cowls, fairing, and top case for some more painting. But more about that as it progresses. I haven't replaced the mirror yet, it was a strange 70s aftermarket design that I've not been able to locate, and I haven't quite found the perfect replacement. I'm hoping for something rectangular with black stems, as I have almost completely eliminated chrome from the scoot. All-in-all it was a good day, as wrenching and tinkering on the scoot is a close second to actually riding.

Speaking of tinkering, Jes recently brought home a couple hand-me-down laptops, which just needed a little love to become productive and useful members of our household. One is currently acting as Jes's sleepytime DVD player, and solitaire machine, after having its OS reinstalled. The other I'd set up with pdfs of 1st edition AD&D rulebooks, and a few DOS DM tools... before it had a very final crash. I don't think the harddrive is really dead, it hasn't made any of those horrible grinding noises which make a geek's heart sink faster than hearing, "I just want to be friends." But there is some proprietary weirdness going on somewhere between the BIOS, CMOS chip, and HDD. I've been running it through some low-level disk utilities, with the hope that I can get the factory restore disks to recognize the HDD, or at least load Ubuntu on it.

More on that as it happens, but I do want to recommend the amazing Universal Boot CD. It's a great collection of freeware and shareware utilities on a burnable, bootable disk image. If you can get your sick PC to boot from a CD, you can run a metric shizzle-ton of diagnostic and repair programs. Only they may take awhile. I've been running a low-level disc scan for three days now...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Yet Another Memorial for Gary Gygax

Sounds like it was a piece of guerrilla public art, erected on the MIT campus.

My favorite so far.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Metalheads for Obama

I'd like to say something clever about this, but am overwhelmed by its inherent cleverness. Sheer metal genius from Jay-Jay French, guitarist for Twisted Sister.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

New Serenity/Firefly Comic

Looks like Joss Whedon is not quite ready to abandon the Firefly universe. The first issue of a new Serenity limited-series comic called Better Days was published just a couple days ago.

I haven't been able to get my grubby little talons on a copy yet, but I'm pretty excited about the project, especially since it is set as a prequel to the feature film, so two of my favorite characters should still be on board.

You can get issue #1 here.
and preorder #2 here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Potato Soup

Monday nights are my Sunday night, the last night of my weekend, so I usually try to do something nice for dinner. It being St. Paddy's day, I thought a nice potato soup might be in order, since I didn't really feel up to doing corned beef and cabbage.

Potato Soup is something of a tradition in my family. A quick and cheap comfort food that reminds me of my Gaelic and German roots. My grandmother has her "recipe," which is really more of a technique, as I don't think I've ever seen her measure out any ingredients, or check any of index cards when making it. Mom has personalized her technique, she frys up some bacon to add to the pot, and grills onions in grease... mmmmmm....

Since I can rarely leave well enough alone, I've been tinkering with potato soup, trying to make the family recipe my own. Below is what I came up with tonight, which was the best potato soup I think I have ever made.

1 qt. chicken broth (vegetable broth for vegetarians)
6 medium russet potatoes
4 slices of bacon (omit for vegetarian version)
1 small onion
2 small shallots
2 leeks
4 cloves of garlic
6 healthy stalks of kale
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon whole coriander
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds
1 tablespoon whole cumin seed
fresh ground pepper as you see fit
half cup of whole milk
half cup of cream

Chop the potatoes (with skins intact) into medium sized chunks (I like 'em about the size of two sugarcubes.) Add the potatoes and broth to a large pot and simmer over medium-low heat.
Chop up the bacon into pieces about the size of a postage stamp torn in half, and brown in a skillet. Your goal here is for the bacon to be as crunchy as possible with out being burnt. Keep an eye on it, and stir it occasionally while you chop up your veggies.
Chop the onion, shallots, and leeks into thin long slices. Compost the tough tops of the leeks. Mince the garlic.

Once the bacon is crunchy, remove it with a slotted spoon, or some such implement which will allow the grease to stay behind, and add it to potatoes and broth. If you want to do a vegetarian version just add some kombo seaweed and a dash of liquid smoke to the broth instead of the bacon. You might also want to slightly increase the amount of coriander, cumin, and fennel you use in the next step, maybe x 1.5 .

Turn the heat down a little on the skillet, and add the coriander, cumin, fennel, and garlic to the grease (or preheated sesame oil, if you are doing the vegetarian version.) Once these have just barely browned, add the onion, shallots, and leeks. This should about fill up your skillet, so you will have to stir it occasionally. Your goal here is to shrink this mass down, and get the onion and shallots to turn translucent. If I was doing a vegetarian version, I think I'd add four or five shitakes cut into thin strips, as well.

While you are waiting for skillet items to sweat, you can prep your kale. Tear the green bits off the stalk and chop them coarsely. You will probably have enough kale to fill an average size cutting board twice. Now would be good time to stir your soup, and onions. Grind as much white pepper onto onions as you think is appropriate (two to four good twists should be fine.) Those veggies might need more oil at this point, too, so I'd add two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of sesame oil (toasted will give you much better flavor!)

You probably have time for a smoke and to start a beer or glass of wine now. You just need to stir the veggies occasionally.

Once the onions and their ilk have cooked down and are translucent, add them to the soup. They will probably have soaked up most of the oil, so add the other two tablespoons of butter and sesame oil to the skillet. Once it has warmed up and melted, add half of the kale (which should pretty much fill the skillet.) Stir this constantly until it has all darkened and wilted. Pull it out of the skillet and stir into the soup. Then repeat with the second batch of the kale.

After all the kale has been added to the soup, turn off the heat and stir in the milk and cream.

Serve with buttered, crusty, homemade bread, like the great stuff Jes's mom has been giving us lately. (Thanks, Janet!) If you want to get really fancy you could garnish with bacon bits or crumbled seaweed, and some chopped green onions. Personally, the cooking process drains all my patience, and it's all I can do to butter the bread and shake some Cajun seasoning over the bowl. Mmmmm!! Like Tony Bourdain says, Peasant food is the cornerstone of all great cuisines.

(edit: Most published recipes for this kind of soup call for sticking it in a blender as a final step, but I prefer them unblended. In this instance the potatoes should be just disintegrating, and I like all the different textures. It's closer to the peasant roots as well.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Origins of D&D, and other Legends

So it seems that Wired was actually working on a story about Gary Gygax to go with the upcoming release of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. The whole of it is up, and it's pretty nice, they even talk to Dave Arneson some, who has been overlooked a lot lately for his contribution to the early development of the game.
And of course, the good natured jokes about missed saving throws have given way to snarkier commentaries about how lame D&D (any version) is compared to system X.

Here's the narrative arithmetic that Gygax came up with: You come across a family of sleeping orcs, huddled around their overflowing chest of gold coins and magical weapons. Why do orcs and other monsters horde gold when they can't buy anything from the local "shoppes," or share a jug of mead in the tavern, or do anything but gnash their teeth in the darkness and wait for someone to show up and fight them? Who knows, but there they are, and you now have a choice. You can let sleeping orcs lie and get on with the task at hand—saving a damsel, recovering some ancient scepter, whatever. Or you can start slitting throats—after all, mercy doesn't have an experience point value in D&D. It's the kind of atrocity that commits itself.

Yeah, maybe to a ten-year old who's watched Conan the Barbarian, and Red Dawn too many times on cable. But a good DM would quickly disavow them of that notion, as they did me. Frankly, a houserule which is just about as widespread as free-parking in Monopoly, or "around the world" in gin rummy, of rewarding good role-playing with extra experience points, and penalizing out of character actions with experience point deductions, is almost as old as D&D itself.

It is interesting to me, that it is the geeks who are whining about Gygax's posthumous laurels. But such is ever the nature of near-asperger's afflicted geeks to miss the forest for the trees. Indeed Uber-Geek that he was, Gygax frequently focused on minutia while just glossing over the larger scene.

I myself had been toying with the idea of posting some about role-playing games in the last year. Researching Steampunk lead me to some interesting Steampunk themed role-playing games, in particular Space 1889 and Forgotten Futures. I even purchased the original hardback rule book for Space 1889, and some of the Heliograph reprints. It's a fascinating setting, and I hope to be able to play it some day. If you are at all interested in gaming in a steampunk setting, I'd recommend checking out Marcus Rowland's Forgotten Futures site. His material is shareware/freeware, and he has an amazing collection of period source material to help you flesh out the setting.

Mr. Rowland's idea-heavy, but rules light approach to rpg's brings me to the main gist of this post. I mean if you dig deep enough, he has some suggestions for role-playing with younger kids which don't really involve dice at all. They are just based on refereed cooperative storytelling. Like if your favorite uncle made up "choose your own adventures." Which is really freaking cool, if you think about it.

Back in the day, I played a LOT of different systems. I owned and studied even more. I even designed and played tested a couple of my own game systems. Role-playing geeks talk a lot, or at least they used to, about the balance between realistic game mechanics and playability. It's a complicated subject, which I just want to scratch the surface of.

Some of the funnest games I ever had were with a game called Tunnels & Trolls (I was always attracted to the alliteration & ampersand games.) T&T is about as rules lite as you can get, I think it would be seen as ridiculously so by "modern" gamers, but I frequently found that this encouraged role-playing. The less players were concerned with the trivialities of game mechanics, the more they could unloose their imaginations and embrace their characters.

And that's kind of why I'm attracted to playing some 1e AD&D (First edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, to those of you not fully acquainted with the current web-accepted abbreviations.) Because as byzantine as some of the rules might be, it's like having English as your native tongue. It's complicated to explain, but it's also just second nature. It just comes naturally to me, as it is the geek lingua franca for geeks in their mid-thirties. And luckily, there is a thriving community of first edition AD&D afficiandoes online.

I'll post some more about the 1E AD&D community which is to be found online soon, but until then, enjoy this awesome documentary on D&D, courtesy of YouTube:


So if you watched the whole thing through, which you should have, especially if you didn't already know much about the history and (sub) culture of D&D, you realize that it is basically just a codification of kids playing make-believe. A way to determine whose "bang-bang", impacted first.

So if the Gygax eulogies have made you nostalgic, but you think you might be too old now to pick up a Player's Handbook or Dungeon Master's Guide, all I gotta say is:

D&D never forgets:

So you're a little bit older and a lot less
Than you used to be
So you used to roll percentiles and D20s
But now you feel your life lacks some fantasy
So now awkward thirteen turned thirty-one
You can't remember the last time you had real fun
Well all you got to do is sit down and and pick out a class
One that kicks some real ass
Come back buddy
D&D never forgets
You better get yourself a dice-bag
Go down to your basement or hobby shop
Check Craigslist or
Chances are you wont have to go too far
Yeah the vorpal swords will be going snicker-snack
The ranger and the paladin will lead the attack
And all you got to do is roll 3d6
If you need a fix
Come back buddy
D&D never forgets
Oh the orcs are still ugly and mean
And the mind-flayers still make your brain scream
All you got to do is crawl through a dungeon tonight
Heh tonight

Well they say youth is wasted on the young
But maybe your Bard still has some songs to be sung
Your player character's a legend waiting to be told
if you can be bold
Come back buddy
D&D never forgets
Said you can come back buddy
D&D never forgets

D&D never forgets is Creative Commons licensed for non-profit reproduction, if you use it and make a profit, I get 10%.

(with apologies to Bob Seeger)

Monday, March 10, 2008

What do Scooterists Want in a Steed?

Steve over at The Scooter Scoop recently conducted a survey which polled scooterists on what they would like in a dream scooter. (Though I participated in the survey, I didn't link to it, because The Scooter Scoop wasn't displaying in my browser for several days.)

The results of the polling are pretty interesting. Though no brands are mentioned, the statistics give a pretty good idea of why Vespas rule in the North American market.

So, out of Price, Performance, Handling, Comfort, Appearance, Build Quality, Brand Reputation, Reliability and Storage capabilities, "Reliability" came out on top, followed closely by "Build Quality", then "Handling" and "Performance (speed)". Most found Storage and Brand Reputation to be of least importance.

These findings pretty much eliminate the no-name Chinese imports, as well as to a lesser extent Korean and Tiawanese scoots. Japanese and Italian products both score well on these features.

When it came to body-styling though, the classic Italian design was the strong leader among American Scooterists. This tips the scales toward Vespas, in my opinion significantly, because while Honda has the Metro, and Yamaha the Vinos, both of these models look a little too much like imitators of the style. But when we get to question #4:

Question #4 asked for your prefered engine size or displacement. Answers ranged from the petite little 50cc all the way up to the monstrous 400+cc class. Looking at the answers it was a pretty close call with "Large (200-300cc) just edging out "Medium (150-180cc)" at second place and "Extra Large (400cc+)" taking third. Again, if you want a closer look, just click on the image. 50cc came in last with just 4.8% of the vote.

Now we can see why Vespa continues to dominate the desires of the American scooterist. When you look at all that data as a whole, it seems that we yanks want scooters like Vespa's GTS 250, GT 200, and LX 150. We don't want maxi-scoots for the most part, and 50cc bikes are sadly too underpowered for most American roads. When you throw in Reliability, Build Quality, Handling, and Performance, you pretty much come up with a Vespa. The Japanese just aren't importing scoots that we want. (Except perhaps the Vino 125.)

Some random thoughts about this survey: Manual versus Automatic wasn't included in the questions, neither was 2-stroke versus 4-stroke, I assume because the conventional wisdom is that manual and 2-stroke machines are headed the way of the dinosaur. Still if a major manufacturer were to come out with a classic bodied, manual 250 cc, even in a 4-stroke, I think they would find a lot of buyers. (Are you listening, Piaggio?)

And to throw some pointed comments to the Japanese: What the Frak are y'all thinking? You all have some great 50cc designs, such as the Metro, the Ruckus, the Vino and C3, but these bikes are useless for most American commuters. You offer us little to nothing in the most desirable ranges of 150cc-300cc, and what you do offer us is only what a small niche of American Scooterists want. Most of us do not want a step-through version of a GoldWing! Yamaha, for instance should bring back the Riva 200, perhaps in a Vino-styled body. Sure, many of the old school scooter-boys would laugh, but they'd be doing it as they were rebuilding carbs, or waiting for essential parts for their GTS.

I also think it is interesting that 200cc to 300cc catergory came out ahead of 150cc to 180cc. I wonder if this would have been the case 5 to 10 years ago. It is my suspicion that the arrival of the Vespa GT and GTS, introduced a lot of scooterists to the idea that they could have a machine that came in the styling they wanted, was freeway capable, and was still nimble in an urban environment.

Anyway, Good Work Steve! Are we gonna see something that incorporates these findings from Italjet?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

More Thoughts on Gary Gygax's Passing

I was just watching CSI, and they ran an episode about a game that involved problem solving, which was described as being like clue, but the play-testing which the episode centered around seemed much more like a role-playing game. There was even a scene which showed a bag of dice and miniatures. I guess there are some geeks in scheduling at CBS.

For the past couple days, most of my spare internet time has been spent trolling through the plethora of internet eulogies and tributes to Gary Gygax. Being a new transplant to New England, I've yet to really develop any geek friendships, so in true geek style I am fulfilling my social needs through the internet. Because this has impacted me, it's hard to really explain, unless like so many of the other nerds posting, you understand what D&D meant to a certain clique of youths in the late 70s and the 80s.

"It's kind of like the death of Elvis for me," one fan told a Canadian newspaper. ...

There's no denying Mr. Gygax's game drew a certain kind of person – most of the time, we preferred books to basketballs, and the only time you would see us running on the football field is if we were trying to get away from a linebacker who was trying to give us a wedgie.

We would grow up to be engineers, artists and maybe a journalist or two. But back then, the game gave us a safe harbor during the stormy passage from youth to adulthood. More accurately, the people we played with – on our parents' castoff dining room tables, with bags of chips and liters of soda almost crowding out the gaming materials – became both anchor and shelter.

-From the Dallas Morning News

Culturally, Gygax was a crazy favorite uncle to an entire generation of geeks. Before the internet and computer billionaires made nerdiness sexy, D&D was like that favorite uncle's garage where we could talk about Tolkien, and Conan, and Greek Mythology freely. Myself, the only hippie kid at a junior high in an army town in central Texas, well, words fail to express how safe that garage made me feel.

It is soothing to read others' memories of similar experiences. Mathematicians, anthropologists, folklorists, lawyers, computer programmers, theologians, artists, writers, and of course, game designers have all fondly recollected how playing this silly game of make-believe indelibly influenced them.

Almost from the inception of D&D there was the outcry from religious fundamentalists, that a game which included magic, demons, and thievery was a diabolical influence on young people. Let me tell you, as a teen, I indulged in pretty much every vice that has been damned by Upright Citizens Brigades. Comic books, Punk Rock, Alcohol, premarital sex, and psychedelics, and while all of these led to both positive and negative experiences (well, except for comic books), I have nothing but good to say about role-playing games. At worst they are a harmless parlour game. At best, they can introduce practioners to a variety of higher-thinking techniques, strategies for reality simulation, techniques of problem solving, as well as ethical and moral inquiry.

Personally, I know that some of my earliest thinking about moral philosophy came about through heated discussions about the Character Alignment Graph in the AD&D Players Handbook. Where earlier versions of D&D mapped the moral code of individuals in the game as Good, Neutral, or Evil; AD&D was a little more complex:

For the uninitiated, "Lawful," is just that, someone who follows the letter of the law. "Evil," represents complete self-interest. "Good," shows a concern for the greater good, for the community over the self. "Chaotic," represents a total disregard for rules and dogma. For a twelve-year old, this is pretty heady stuff.

I have for sometime decried the blinding limitations of a binary value system. As an artist, even value systems that allow for shades of gray seem limited for mapping the whole of human experience and action. I think we would be far better suited to discuss ethics if we could see it as a color wheel, rather than black and white, or even gray-scale. I suppose it would be too much to hope for a culture of such sensitivity that we could even conceive of a value system based on the Munsell color solid. But the philosophical/artistic/gamer in me thinks what such a system lacks in playability, it more than makes up for in verisimilitude.

Still, when discussing ethics with other gamers, I have taken for granted that I had a model which allowed me to discuss it in "color," rather than in "black and white." It is only in writing this post that I have put this all together, and realized why I have such frustration in discussing moral issues with non-gamers. It is because in this arena, like so many others, AD&D is like a Common Tongue (or Lingua Franca for non-gamer academics) for discussing simulation.

As a counterpoint to the Bible-thumpers, I think is interesting that Mr. Gygax was quietly practicing Christian. In fact he last publisher reports:

Gary had a favorite Bible verse: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:16

Gary's light was that he liked a good game. And games will never be the same for the incandescent beam he shown upon them.

Godspeed, my friend.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

R.I.P. Gary Gygax

If you felt a great disturbance in the force yesterday, like the wailing of millions of geeky souls, it was because Gary Gygax, creator of the original fantasy role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons has left the prime material plane.

Nerds around the world are singing his praises on message boards, forums, and blogs. The stories are all very familiar, and mine doesn't stand out as being particularly special. If you never played the game, never knew the joy of a "natural 20," you won't understand. Mr. Gygax gave a generation of youths an excuse to not only hang onto the wonder of imagination, when most are putting it away with the other trappings of childhood, he gave us a reason and structure to exercise and nurture our imaginations.

Fittingly, the original Dungeon Master, failed his final saving throw on Game Master's Day.

Monday, March 03, 2008

What is a "Honky-Tonk Dragon"?

I've just realized that we are rapidly approaching the Dragon's second birthday.
And I guess it is about time that I publicly address the question of just what this blog is really about.
Like writing an artist's statement, this is a project I've attempted many times, but never been able to satisfactorily complete. The working definition I've been operating under for at least the last year, is that Honky-Tonk Dragon is a lifestyle blog for weirdos.

As an adolescent, I was always attracted to the term "alternative lifestyle." Examined superficially it has so much potential. It suggested to me, someone who was deeply influenced by the writings of Thoreau, Kerouac, Stewart Brand, Douglas Adams, and Hunter S. Thompson. It took me a while to realize that it was really a euphemism for someone who enjoys the intimate company of their own gender.
Not that the Dragon has any issue with that. In fact, socially, I prefer the company of sexual deviants. But, when it comes to the bedroom, well, I think men smell bad.

As an aside, I was in college when the term "metrosexual" first entered common parlance. My roommate Klint, in trying to define the term, tried to use me as an example. After all, I'm urbane, educated, creative, obsessed with the arts and independent film, love to cook, and had the worldliness of being ten years his senior. But somehow, almost as soon as he'd said it, he realized that it didn't fit. I was still a little too redneck, and a little too much the burnt-out grandpa punk, to fit the exfoilating lotion stereotype of a metrosexual.

So, in a sense, that is what a Honky-Tonk Dragon is, a metrosexual punk-rock redneck.
The smoldering remains that are left after the explosion of that cognitive dissonance, that is what a Honky-Tonk Dragon is.

But the intent of this post was to help you, the innocent reader, comprehend what you can expect from a Honky-Tonk Dragon Blog. And, as always, I am merely dancing aroung the issue. And that might be the best definition of what you can expect. Not dancing around the issue in general, as I hope that I will always say what I mean. But, dancing around the issue as to what you expect.

This blog is, has always been, and will most likely continue to be, a record of my Asperger-like obsessions, whether those be scooters, art, steampunk, or pop culture. I hope that it is a place for you to come to find things that are ignored by the mainstream media. And personally, I see a connection between these disparate themes. I don't know what else to call that connection besides Honky-Tonk Dragon.

Like I said, it's a Lifestyle Blog for Weirdos. And like the man says, "When the going turns weird, the weird turn pro."

I hope you'll stick with me, to see what develops.

Steampunk Courtship

I've seen this a couple of places today, but the Make! Blog was the most recent.
Jake Von Slatt, who I've mentioned more then once in these photons, has linked to a heart-struck young tinkerer who has turned his predilection to not-leaving-well-enough-alone to matters of the heart.
Dave Veloz borrowed heavily from Von Slatt's designs to create a steampunk workstation based around a Mac Mini for his bride to be.
Now, that my friends is some true romance. Seriously, click on the title link for some pics that will redefine your concepts of industrial design.
If my sweetie wasn't so philosophically opposed to the concept of marriage, I'd do something like this for her... of course my source material would be a Vespa LXS, not a Mac Mini, but you get the idea.

Scooter Rumors

2Stroke Buzz is also reporting that LML, the former Vespa licensee and manufacturer of Genuine's Stella, is going to be producing a four-stroke, manual-shift, P-series clone. Even better the scoot will be available in displacements up to 250cc!
No word yet, if Genuine will be importing them stateside.
I've also heard some rumors that Piaggio is at work on a similar project. I don't recall a link, off the top of my head, and am a little dubious about this one. Right now, I rank it up there with the perennial rumors that Apple is about to release an OS X based Newton. It's definitely something that should happen, just like Fox should bring back Firefly.

Some other Vespa rumors, which have a little more weight behind them:
There has been some buzz in Europe that Piaggio will be coming out with a GTV and an LXV "Navy." These scoots will have the distinctive retro-inspired bodies of their V-series older siblings, but will come in Midnight Blue, (which is currently one of my favorite of the standard Vespa paint colors) and their split-saddles will be vinyl instead of leather. The Navy versions will have stock wheels instead of chrome, and may lack the rear-rack that comes standard with their predecessors. They will also sell at a lower price point than the GTV and LXV. That's pretty exciting, and though there is some speculation as to whether or not these bikes will make to this side of the pond, I'm gonna bet they will. Piaggio makes a bunch of dumb moves in the American market, but I'm pretty sure they know when it comes to 2-wheelers here, retro-appearance is king, and I think they know the only reason the current GTVs and LXVs aren't flying outta the showrooms is the significant markup on the already luxury-priced marque.

Yet another Vespa rumor is that there will soon be a GTS Sport. This rumor is a little more solid than the one about a Vespa four-stroke P-series, but not as solid as the Navy ones. But there is some interesting speculation going on. Some folks believe the GTS-S will sport a 300cc engine that Piaggio has developed. More conventional wisdom holds that for many reasons, such as small wheel size and the constraits of the GTS body, 250cc's is as large as they will ever get.
Along these lines, the more believable rumors are that the GTS-S will be akin to the LXS: it will feature some physical changes which recall the Sport models of the 60s and 70s, but will be mechanically the same as the previous GTS. Still I find this pretty exciting, as my main complaints with the modern automatic Vespas and the seats which are sculpted to a single riding position and don't allow a single rider to slide into the most comfortable angle for them, and the gloveboxes which intrude so far down into the footboards as too significantly reduce the rider's ability to stretch their legs out.
Having said that, I'd like to direct a couple points directly to Piaggio. First is that the above mentioned adjustability of a rider's position is one of the things which initially hooked me on scooters as opposed to motorcycles. I have long and restless legs, they like to be able to change position every few minutes. Though I deeply desire to move up to a larger, touring capable scooter, my next purchase will probably be an LXS, because my sweetee needs and automatic to learn on, and I'd like a scoot with old school leg-room. I expect you will find that a lot of the old -school 2-stroke scooter kids will make their first entry into modern Vespas with the LXS for similar reasons. If you are considering a GTS-S, that would be something to keep in mind.
On a related note, I'd hope that Piaggio would consider making a larger, touring retro-styled scooter, something in the 500cc range. You have already shown great responsiveness and insight into the American scooter market by rebadging the Gilera Fuoco, and bringing it here. Thanks again for that.
But we Americans are hopeless addicts to the bigger-is better-mindset. Touring for us means thousands, not hundreds of miles. I know you will never make a 300 or 500 cc Vespa. But what about resurrecting the Moto Guzzi Galleto? You could keep the big wheels a scooter of that displacement would need, while still having the aura of retro chic. Properly handled, a 500cc Guzzi Galleto could dominate a certain niche of the American maxi-scooter market, putting a serious hurting on Honda, Suzuki, and even Kymco. Heck, I can even direct you to an industrial designer for the project. Oh, but if you are going to do that, please improve your support for dealers on this side of the pond. The Vespa nuts aren't defecting yet, but your Guzzi sales are definitely hurting because of shoddy dealer support.

Oh, and Piaggio, I'm available as a freelance consultant on the American scooter market.

Scootering in the Wall Street Journal

No less a mainstream media institution than the WSJ ran a story recently about scooter usage by suit wearing executives in Paris.

For Parisians in the business world, motor scooters -- two-wheeled vehicles with engines that are generally smaller than motorcycles and have automatic transmissions -- are an acceptable means of transportation. The convention has moved into the highest ranks of some French companies and has gotten even more widespread as heavier traffic jams tie up the city streets. Scooters are cheap to drive, easy to park and, some say, the only way to arrive at appointments on time.

Scooters are really only news to Americans. From Madrid to Madras the bikes are an indispensable part of a typical street scene, and to urban dwellers in other major European cities, seeing a man or woman riding one in business attire isn't a surprise. But the spread-out cities and gaping highways of the U.S. make the bikes impractical, and therefore rarer.

They aren't as safe as cars. And helmet can quickly kill a good hairdo. But many Parisians feel the risks of riding a bike are worth taking, and expats working in the city -- as Ms. Oxendine discovered --will have to consider them, too.

"I used to be one of these executives," said Cyril Masson, a native Parisian who said he found himself trapped in a car. "I missed a few planes because traffic."

It's an interesting piece, though I wonder if the average American has advanced enough from their disdain of the "Cheese-eating Surrender Monkeys," to really consider this traffic solution.

via 2Stroke Buzz

see also this old post

Vitruvian Barbie by Michael Morris

Well, it seems that Michael Morris read my belated post about his recent print exhibition, and was kind enough to send me images of my favorite pieces from that show.
Above is Vitruvian Barbie, which obviously comments on ideals of beauty, both classical and modern, as well as consumerism and mass production. Those themes seem pretty accessible to any viewer with a passing exposure to pop culture and art history. Digger a little deeper, I think there is some struggling here with the conflicts of art and commerce. This also seems fairly obvious to me, but this is a conflict I've spent no small amount of brainpower considering. Perhaps it would not be so apparent, or even valid, to a non-artist.
The appropriation of DaVinci, barely needs to be commented on. Except I'd like to point out, that to many artists, Leonardo can represent the pinnacle of "Fine Art." Not exactly "art for art's sake," Leonardo's works, especially his sketches, are the paragon of the concept of art as a means of inquiry.
A layperson can easily understand how art can comment on reality and human existence; can communicate existential, philosophical, and even scientific truths.
It is perhaps more difficult for the uninitiated to grasp, that art can also be an extremely effective tool for discovering those truths. And I don't mean that solely in the sense of the tired chestnut of "Truth is beauty, Beauty is truth." (Though the validity and import of that truism should not be underestimated.) Science and Art both involve intense study of a subject, intense observation. Leonardo Da Vinci represents to me, and I suspect to Morris, how disciplined observation links painting and the harder sciences.
An interesting example of how Da Vinci's art blended and melded with his science, is his study of water and hydraulics. This is an excellent example of how close artistic observation can be to scientific observation. There is also the interesting corollary of the impact the study of water had on Morris's work:

An emphasis on the elements is found in Morris’ paintings, and it was his experimentation with water that prompted him to pioneer the Massurrealist art movement 15 years ago.

“Painting water took a long time to learn,” Morris said. “I spent about six months on it before ‘Orange Crush’. Water is made up of secondary colors—green, orange and violet—and blue added on top for the reflection of the sky, then the foam…water is what got me started, it got me excited."

Of course, the artist and the scientist face a similar dilemma: How does one get paid to study, get paid to observe? Scientists, are perhaps fortunate in that they may still rely on the strategy Leonardo exploited, patronage. Of course corporations and federal agenicies now fund laboratories, rather than merchant princes... but ultimately that is a difference of semantics.
This brings me to the second artist who Morris alludes to with his Barbies, Andy Warhol. The use of repetition, the staccato rhythm of the army of jumping-jack dolls in their multi-hued uniforms, brings to mind many of Warhol's works, where one subject is explored with the same rainbow-tinted bass line. The fact that this subject is an artifact of mass-produced consumer culture, only reinforces this association. In fact for commenting on the effect of marketing on standards of beauty there is no better subject than Barbie. It is actually surprising that Warhol didn't attempt a similar work, though he would not have executed it with the complexity and humor that Morris has.
If Leonardo represents the artist as scientist, as an curious observer kept almost as a potentate's pet, then Warhol represents the artist as marketer, as a factory for images. Warhol, more than any other artist with whom the layperson would be familiar, represents the commodification of art. If one were to distill a single theme from his life's work, from his place in art history, it would be that images are products for commercial distribution, just like cans of condensed soup.
Interestingly, Morris, like Warhol, was an art director for many years. But he is doing something very different with that experience. While Warhol's Marilyns and soup cans were the epitome of cool or cold art as Baudrillard would describe it, there is something else going on in Vitruvian Barbies. The dolls don't quite fit the molds. They are held up to measure against the proportions of classical beauty, and they are found wanting. No other artifact of American consumer culture so sums up our standards of beauty, as does Barbie. Yet she doesn't fit the geometries of the golden ratio.
Some how, Morris has discovered an aesthetic cold fusion. The analytical structure of Vitruvian Man is cold, and analytic. The Warholian use of repetition and subject matter is cold, and even cynical. Yet in bringing these two cold elements together, he has created a friction, like dead twigs they rub against each other and they spark. The dissecting eye of impersonal geometric analysis is superimposed on plastic, and yet the viewer comes away with a sense of warmth, wit, and reassurance.
If even the unobtainable Barbie body-type doesn't measure up, perhaps we with our love handles, our oily skin, and our cellulite, are OK. The humor here is more than schadenfreude at Barbie's failing. It is a hopeful giggle that beauty is too slippery to be captured in simulacra. It is a chuckle at the realization that flesh is prone to joys and pleasures which fall outisde of hyperreality. It is the Monty Pythonesque protest of painting..."I'm not dead yet! I feel better!" It is art chomping on Samuel Clemens cigar, and ribbing us that, "Rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated."

Well, I rambled about this piece far longer than I expected. I'd wanted to talk a little about my favorite piece by Michael, Homage to Munch, but I have some paintings of my own to work on, so it will have to wait for another post.
Oh, and having mentioned art and commerce, I'd be amiss if I didn't tell you that prints of Vitruvian Barbie are available from Morris's website. $140 for a high quality 15”x 15” gicleé print. That's a steal, art lovers!