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Monday, October 29, 2001

Referred to by Terry Gilliam as the War and Peace of superhero comics, Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen (illustrated by Dave Gibbons), along with Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, paved the way for people to actually start taking comic books seriously. In fact, it even won a Hugo Award in 1988. The story takes place in the 1980s when superheroes have been outlawed and the only ones still in operation are under direct control of the United States government. Suddenly, those heroes both still in action and retired find themselves targets by an unseen enemy, who wants to kill them one by one. Of course, there has long been talk of adapting it into a movie, though many doubt it can be done faithfully. The biggest name associated with the project was director Terry Gilliam, but with costs spiraling and no major stars attached, Gilliam never really got the project off the ground. The first draft of the screenplay was written by Sam Hamm, and many, while enjoying some of the subtle touches that Hamm provides, consider the major plot changes (specifically, the ending) to be a bit of a letdown. Recently, there appears to be somewhat of a revival in the project, with screenwriter David Hayter (X-Men) becoming interested in writing and possibly directing a Watchmen movie, but I'm not holding my breath quite yet... [Thanks to MLP for the Hamm Script]
Posted by Mark on October 29, 2001 at 09:21 AM .: link :.

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Amusing Plot Synopsis
The City of Lost Children:
Set in and around an eerie, oddly futuristic yet late 19th-century waterfront (it's a setting seemingly inspired by Samuel Beckett and Fritz Lang), the film follows a hulking but pea-brained circus strongman (Perlman) known only as "One" who is on a desperate search to find his ward, Little Brother, who was abducted by a freakish, quasi-religious group of cyclopes. Along the way, he joins forces with a group of street urchins who steal for a Fagin-esque Siamese twin. The search ultimately leads to a sea-platform/laboratory where Krank, the genetically created orphan of a mad scientist, lords over his siblings (including six identical twins, a female dwarf and a talking brain in a box) and conducts diabolical dream experiments.
If you can read that and not want to see this movie, my hat is off to you, good sir. The City of Lost Children is actually an intriguing modern fairy tale with a seamless visual style, good acting and some interesting special effects. This description comes from TLA Video's Film and Video Guide and believe it or not, it does the movie justice. By the way, TLA is a wonderful, wonderful little store (actually 6 stores). If you are ever in the Philadephia area and need to rent something offbeat or hard to find, check them out. They've never let me down.
Posted by Mark on October 16, 2001 at 01:21 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, October 10, 2001

Planetarium is an on-line puzzle story in twelve weekly instalments. The story is presented one week at a time; each week containing three puzzles. At the end of the twelve weeks, the answers to the thirty-six puzzles can be put together to solve a metapuzzle, which ties back into the plot of the story. Planetarium is primarily a story, so it doesn't matter if you solve the puzzles or not; they'll tell you the answers after twelve weeks anyway. Each Planetarium instalment consists of an illustration of a scene in the story, framed in a border with other puzzle elements and buttons. Clicking on the characters (or objects) within the illustration evokes text relating to that character - perhaps a dialogue they are having with another character, or part of the story narrative, or possibly a riddle that the character is presenting. I'm only on the first week, but I think I'm hooked.

I found this link via Mindful Link Propagation, which is notable in and of itself, as it is the latest project over at the Laboratorium and it contains many interesting and thoughtful links.
Posted by Mark on October 10, 2001 at 11:58 AM .: link :.

Tuesday, October 09, 2001

The Fifty Nine Story Crisis
In 1978, William J. LeMessurier, one of the nation's leading structural engineers, received a phone call from an engineering student in New Jersey. The young man was tasked with writing a paper about the unique design of the Citicorp tower in New York. The building's dramatic design was necessitated by the placement of a church. Rather than tear down the church, the designers, Hugh Stubbins and Bill LeMessurier, set their fifty-nine-story tower on four massive, nine-story-high stilts, and positioned them at the center of each side rather than at each corner. This daring scheme allowed the designers to cantilever the building's four corners, allowing room for the church beneath the northwest side.

Thanks to the prodding of the student (whose name was lost in the swirl of subsequent events), LeMessurier discovered a subtle conceptual error in the design of the building's wind braces; they were unusually sensitive to certain kinds of winds known as quartering winds. This alone wasn't cause for worry, as the wind braces would absorb the extra load under normal circumstances. But the circumstances were not normal. Apparently, there had been a crucial change during their manufacture (the braces were fastened together with bolts instead of welds, as welds are generally considered to be stronger than necessary and overly expensive; furthermore the contractors had interpreted the New York building code in such a way as to exempt many of the tower's diagonal braces from loadbearing calculations, so they had used far too few bolts.) which multiplied the strain produced by quartering winds. Statistically, the possibility of a storm severe enough to tear the joint apart was once every sixteen years (what meteorologists call a sixteen year storm). This was alarmingly frequent. To further complicate matters, hurricane season was fast approaching.

The potential for a complete catastrophic failure was there, and because the building was located in Manhattan, the danger applied to nearly the entire city. The fall of the Citicorp building would likely cause a domino effect, wreaking a devestating toll of destruction in New York.

The story of this oversight, though amazing, is dwarfed by the series of events that led to the building's eventual structural integrity. To avert disaster, LeMessurier quickly and bravely blew the whistle - on himself. LeMessurier and other experts immediately drew up a plan in which workers would reinforce the joints by welding heavy steel plates over them.

Astonishingly, just after Citicorp issued a bland and uninformative press release, all of the major newspapers in New York went on strike. This fortuitous turn of events allowed Citicorp to save face and avoid any potential embarrassment. Construction began immediately, with builders and welders working from 5 p.m. until 4 a.m. to apply the steel "band-aids" to the ailing joints. They build plywood boxes around the joints, so as not to disturb the tenants, who remained largely oblivious to the seriousness of the problem.

Instead of lawsuits and public panic, the Citicorp crisis was met with efficient teamwork and a swift solution. In the end, LeMessurier's reputation was enhanced for his courageous honesty, and the story of Citicorp's building is now a textbook example of how to respond to a high-profile, potentially disastrous problem.

Most of this information came from a New Yorker article by Joe Morgenstern (published May 29, 1995) . It's a fascinating story, and I found myself thinking about it during the tragedies of September 11. What if those towers had toppled over in Manhattan? Fortunately, the WTC towers were extremely well designed - they didn't even noticeably rock when the planes hit - and when they did come down, they collapsed in on themselves. They would still be standing today too, if it wasn't for the intense heat that weakened the steel supports.
Posted by Mark on October 09, 2001 at 08:04 AM .: link :.

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