Posts Tagged ‘videos’

Spoilers: What is Omega Mart, really?

October 27th, 2021

In my previous post about Omega Mart I talked about it in general without any spoilers. 

Well now it’s time to dig in and discuss everything down to the last detail about Omega Mart with spoilers.

So if you want to avoid spoilers, STOP READING NOW.

 

Omega Mart

 

Yes, the above photo is of an actual sign inside Omega Mart. Seriously though: spoilers follow.

Getting in

As you enter Omega Mart, you’re handed a “Boop Card.” This is your employee badge of sorts. There’s no rush to become an employee and of course you’re not really signing up to work here.

I should point out that the real employees here have different roles. Some of them are actors, others are there to keep the place clean and safe. Regardless, guests need to follow their instructions.

What you see entering the store is a little under 1/4 of the total physical space you’ll go through on this adventure. To the left of the entrance is the bag check, and to the right is the checkout.

To be absolutely clear, Omega Mart is a real store in the sense that they have items you can buy. The only food items are things like snacks, cereal, and soda. Basically stuff that has a long shelf life. There are also gimmick boxes such as the mysterious “Done” and a can of something called “tattoo chicken.” The rest of the items for sale tend to be more gift shop items like t-shirts.

Oh and yes there’s also a typical gift shop. It’s located outside of Omega Mart though.

Back to the store. If you walk in and straight to the fridges in the back, on the left there’s the bathrooms, elevator, and stairs. To the right is the hall to the pharmacy, which is the location of the “hidden” bar called Datamosh. To be perfectly clear it’s entirely optional to visit Datamosh and has no impact on the story.

Datamosh is an upscale cocktail bar with prices to match. The theme from Omega Mart extends into the bar with drinks allegedly made from their products. One particularly alarming example is Old Fashioned Spray, a typical old fashioned cocktail dyed a shade of blue that makes it look like Windex. The worst part? The blue dye is sprayed out of a plastic bottle labeled “Old Fashioned Spray.”

There are a number of secret passages in the Omega Mart storefront, and all but one of them lead behind the store. There’s also an opening near the bathrooms where you can skip the secret passages to the back.

Before we get to what’s behind Omega Mart, let’s discuss your first mission.

Mission 1: Become an Omega Mart Employee

  • You simply need to “boop” your card with all the terminals in the store at the ends of the aisles and follow the directions on screen.
  • Two of the terminals on the back wall in the store show you your progress. The same information is displayed if you scan the QR code on your phone, or log into the Dramcorp website with the ID code on your card. Similar terminals exist throughout the installation.
  • Once you’ve learned about what the different colored cones are for, head upstairs to the employee breakroom to take a quiz on which colored cone goes with which spill.

And that’s it! You’re now an Omega Mart employee and more of the story unlocks.

Aside from the stairs, there are two other passages out of the employee breakroom. So let’s talk about what’s behind and above Omega Mart.

 

 

Secret passages: Dramcorp and The Forked Earth

On the first floor several portals to the left lead to a polluted desert town known as Seven Monolith Village, and the ones on the right lead to either Omega Mart’s factory or Dramcorp. Some also lead to the office of Seven Monolith’s gas station (“Alpha Service”) most notably the fridge door you probably saw people entering the second you walked into Omega Mart.

All of this back area is part of The Forked Earth. It’s sort of like a pocket dimension that you can enter or exit from via various secret passageways, or wormholes. Omega Mart built its factory there to take advantage of a well of an inter-dimensional life energy called the Source.

The Forked Earth was created when an alien race experimented with the Source in their dimension, and somehow accidentally fused them together.

Meanwhile former CEO Walter Dram has been adding the Source to all Omega Mart products because it increases customer satisfaction. It also has some unexpected side effects, especially on the Dram family themselves.

But before we get there, I should mention the next mission.

 

Omega Mart

 

Mission 2: Become a factory worker at Dramcorp

I forget if you have to do these in any specific order? Apologies in advance there.

  • There are two places you boop into outside the Dramcorp office on the second floor facing the factory. Both of these involve pushing a button or whatever, there’s not much to it.
  • The Source Door is downstairs behind a structure shaped like a beehive. You boop into this and then twist the on-screen knobs for a few seconds and you’re good to go.

In my opinion this mission is the least interesting one. It does two things though: it unlocks a mission and it gives you an excuse to explore the Factory.

While in the factory I encourage you to explore and experiment with the DJ pads upstairs. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover you have a new career in music? Probably not but it never hurts to try.

The Dram family

Still cool with the spoilers? Because I’m going to distill the crux of the story which takes an hour or two of reading letters, emails, etc.

So let’s get back to the Source and how it’s affected the Dram family.

Walter Dram founded Omega Mart and was CEO up until recently. He moved the Omega Mart factory into the Forked Earth to take advantage of the Source.

The new CEO is Walter’s daughter, Cecelia Dram who wants to push some kind of new age agenda based around leadership principles. She also wants you to believe that she’s supposed to be the new CEO and is pretty cagey about what happened to Walter.

Cecelia became pregnant with her now-teenage daughter Marin in a ceremony in The Forked Earth where she drank the Source with her uncle Charlie and his neighbor, an herbalist named Rose. Charlie’s an odd man who runs the local gas station, operates a paranormal tour, and makes a beverage called Mish Mash out of the mysterious glowing runoff from the Dramcorp factory.

Marin’s story is chronicled in her blog on her computer and is brought to life in this music video from the band Beach House:

 

 

Marin Dram (Marin is pronounced MAY-rin) has your typical teenage girl issues. On top of that she can’t leave The Forked Earth because she’s forever tied to the Source. Her mother rarely visits or communicates at all. She feels lucky to have a few friends her age in Seven Monolith Village.

The big Dramcorp spoiler

The big reveal is on several terminals in the Dramcorp office. This is easy to get to from upstairs but a plus one in my book if you figure out the secret passage from downstairs at Omega Mart.

So here it is: Cecelia introduces her father Walter to Marin for the first time. Marin is nearly an adult at this point. Walter reacts to the news that the Source is her father by suggesting that Marin could be the template for a new product. A furious Cecelia gets into an altercation with Walter where she accidentally pushes him into the Source Well. Marin jumps in to save him.

Since then Cecelia has been trying to rescue her daughter from the well through Dramcorp technology. However, she clearly isn’t making any sort of rescue efforts on her father.

Once you’ve learned all this you have a choice. 

Branching story paths

From here you have two options. You can help Cecelia locate Marin, or you can help Marin’s friends rebel against Omega Mart.

I should stop here and say I don’t think there’s anything stopping you from doing both on the same Omega Mart employee card. There’s no way I can say for certain because rebel activities don’t show up Dramcorp’s boop cards.

Let’s start with helping Cecelia. This is the less interesting of the two missions in my opinion, I’d skip it if you don’t have time.

Mission 3: Help Cecelia and Dramcorp

  • There’s a decryption program on Cecelia’s computer in the corporate office. Boop into the computer and save the program to your Dramdrive.
  • In Seven Monolith Village, boop into the computer at either Charlie or Rose’s hut. Run the decryption software and forward that mysterious email to Cecelia.
  • Return to the Dramcorp office and boop into any available computer. Run the leadership ascension program and wow, you’re on your way to becoming a VP or something!

Okay but really, did you want to help Cecelia? Why did you do that? At the end you get a notification that Cecelia will need your help again. Sigh… okay.

Let’s get to the mission you can and should do.

Mission 4: Side with the Rebels (Marin’s friends)

  • Visit either hut in the desert and when the hacker’s prompt appears, agree to join the rebels.
  • The three rebels have maps to where you need to boop your card in different parts of the building. Save these maps to your Dramdrive.
  • The most exciting part is the takeover of Omega Mart where the rebel’s message appears on the TV and speakers while employees “freeze” and the lighting changes. 

Once you’ve finished this storyline you will currently be asked for a name and email address for when the next part becomes available.

This is the most satisfying ending even though nothing is resolved. What I find interesting is that the same boop card allowed me to do both competing missions. Can I only finish one or the other in the future? 

Would I go back to complete the missions? I’m not sure I’d travel back to Las Vegas to finish it anytime soon… maybe if I got a really cheap flight.

 

 

In my previous post I recommended visiting Omega Mart. Since we’re going into details here I want to go into more depth.

Criticisms

Key parts of the narrative can only be accessed on one computer with your boop card. This often causes slow moving lines to form as people realize they need to access that computer. Like most people it makes me feel rushed in these situations when it’s my turn.

Although technically all of the story can be accessed from a wheelchair, some of the passageways are very narrow and short. The two huts in Seven Monolith Village have physical entryways that might be a challenge.

The slides… oh these are bad. They’re really fast and knock you around. Keep your chin tucked into your chest if you do ride them to avoid the worst of it.

The cost may turn some away, and I think that’s unfortunate. At the same time while I don’t have any insider info about the company, Meow Wolf is known for paying and crediting their artists, and providing a decent benefit package for their employees.

Praises

The physical space is really well thought out. For example, anytime there’s a piece of paper to read like someone’s mail or a pamphlet, there’s a reading light nearby. Might sound like a small thing but these design elements add up, letting you know when you’re on to something.

The employees were the right amount of helpful. As the story went on they became a little less helpful, unless they noticed a guest who was frustrated. I think this is a good balance. They’re not throwing you into the deep end nor are they coddling you all the way through.

None of this would work without the videos. The cast is good overall though I have to say Rachel de la Torre absolutely nails it as Cecelia Dram. Likewise the ads for Omega Mart have a dark sense of humor that set the tone perfectly. This extends to the entrance of Omega Mart where the somewhat disturbing Super Family Store video plays on a loop.

 

Omega Mart

 

My takeaways

Some critics call this sort of installation a “playground” which I think is fair in some ways… I mean there are slides after all. At the same time that can sound dismissive; since when did playgrounds have a lengthy story to follow and a sense of humor?

Meow Wolf went to great lengths to put this together: aside from the amazing physical space the story is told through videos, music, emails, physical mail, phone calls, lighting effects, etc. There’s so much to it I’m sure there’s a lot I missed over my three visits. I didn’t even get around to cracking the substitution cypher found in one room to be honest. Maybe I should have gone back one more time?

Despite the linear progression of the boop cards, the storytelling is entirely non-linear. The more time you spend exploring and reading the details you find, the more of the story you’ll uncover. 

Ultimately the question isn’t whether I like Omega Mart because I absolutely do. The true question is whether or not there’s a sustainable audience. I certainly hope so and I realize the current marketing push won’t last forever.

This is my first visit to a Meow Wolf installation. There are currently two others: The House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe and Convergence Station in Denver. I’m planning on visiting both at some point in the future.

I think if I had to recommend Omega Mart to a type of person, it’s the type who’s either creative or analytical enough to have immediately noticed that if you remove the first two letters of each word you’ve gone from Omega Mart to Mega Art. Because that’s what this is: one big art installation that’s up to you to figure out.

Review: Omega Mart (no spoilers)

October 18th, 2021

 

By now you’ve probably seen ads for something called “Omega Mart,” beckoning you to a specific address in Las Vegas.

If you’ve read this far, I bet you’ve already visited the Omega Mart website and learned it’s part of something called Dramcorp.

After visiting Omega Mart three times last week I thought I’d provide a review that doesn’t really spoil anything. (But don’t worry, I’m saving those for a post in the future.)

 

Omega Mart

 

What is Omega Mart?

Omega Mart is a new immersive experience from Meow Wolf, best known for The House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe.

This new story is framed by an allegedly normal American supermarket, Omega Mart. Just like your local Safeway, Kroger, or whatever the interior of Omega Mart has the same harsh lighting, the same metal shelves and price tags, and various sections like produce and dairy.

But just as the cheery jingle in some of their ads proclaim, “You have no idea what’s in store for you!”

Which is to say there’s a lot more to this exhibit than a supermarket. For one thing it’s a deeply weird supermarket. The products seem almost alien in nature. Oh and for some reason you’re invited to the employee training program.

And then there’s some sort of family drama going on behind the scenes. You need to explore and pay attention. At some point you need to make decisions about who you trust.

 

Omega Mart

 

Practical stuff

How do you get there? Taxis and ridesharing services are the best way to get to Area 15 and there are designated drop off and pick up zones. Limited parking is available on a first come basis. Unfortunately it’s not realistic to get there on public transit. Don’t consider walking there unless you’re staying on the same side of the freeway — it’s probably an okay walk from The Rio or Palace Station.

It’s strongly encouraged to buy tickets in advance. The center it’s located in is called Area 15, which may not let you in if you don’t have a ticket to Omega Mart or any of the other attractions in the building.

The entry requirements for Omega Mart forbid guns, knives, etc. and you will have to go through a metal detector and bag check on the way in. Larger bags have to be checked in for an additional fee.

Bathrooms, stairs, and the elevator are located to the left of the entrance. The staff will help guide you there if (or more likely when) you find yourself lost and need to pee.

With COVID-19 you must wear a mask at all times. Staff go around and disinfect spaces on a regular schedule so you may be asked to leave an area temporarily. 

Although all the key areas of the exhibit are available to wheelchair users there are plenty of physically challenging passages that I feel fortunate enough to still be able to do at my age. The most uncomfortable ones were the slides. These are not well made slides, they’re fast and knock you around. 

Also be aware that some areas have strobe lights, fog machines, and projection effects. There’s a lot that might give you a headache here if you’re not in the right frame of mind.

If you go to Omega Mart as a couple or small group (maybe four people max) you should stick together and use the same card. The card saves your progress in the story and you can access it anywhere on your phone by scanning the QR code on the front.

In theory the exhibit is all ages though I doubt the story would be relatable to anyone who’d never been a teenager. That said, most younger kids would probably lose interest by the time the more mature themes of the story appear. When I say mature themes I mean specifically: the story features elements of parental alienation, body image issues, and an implied “off camera” death. If you’re particularly sensitive to any of these issues at this time you may want to opt out.

There’s a bar located inside of Omega Mart. Where? You’ll have to find it on your own. For those who enjoy cocktails and don’t mind spending a little extra, I recommend ordering The Source.

Professional recording equipment is not allowed in Omega Mart but you’re encouraged to take photos and videos with your phone and share your experiences online.

I recommend booking tickets early in the day to beat the crowds if possible.

 

Omega Mart

 

My experience

For me these strange new immersive worlds are nothing new — they are the very reason I started this blog to begin with.

What sets Omega Mart apart for me was how well put together and contained it all is. The more I looked around and explored the more the story slowly unfolded itself. There were plenty of hidden clues I walked right past the first time — or a dozen times — before I realized there was something I could interact with. 

I went on three separate days during my time in Las Vegas though I could have finished all the stories in two if I’d pushed myself more. Personally I enjoyed spending my time there. By the end of my visit I kept finding myself eager to help out others who were confused or frustrated.

However there’s one very big caveat: as of October 2021 part of the story is unfinished. There’s a way to get notified when it becomes available. As a completionist type this bothers me more than it should. 

 

My recommendation: Omega Mart is an exemplary work of immersive storytelling within a large physical space. Although it’s not yet complete there’s already many hours of entertainment. Still, I understand some might want to wait until the last mission is built out.

Wink World at Area 15

October 16th, 2021
Selections from Wink World (no audio)

 

After checking into Wink World and putting on a pair of (optional) 3D glasses, I was told to make my way past a series of psychedelic 3D framed paintings to the end of the hallway.

From there, a series of small rooms with funhouse mirrors and wacky objects illuminated by blacklights and other whimsical lighting effects danced around to a rhythmic soundtrack. Think the sort of stuff you’d get at Spencer’s Gifts but attached to motors. Meanwhile a narrator explained pop psychology concepts related to the infinite.

Each room has a limited time before the door opens to the next and you’re expected to step through. All in all it took around half an hour to complete.

If pop psychology and rhythmic music is of interest to you there’s another show you should check out in Las Vegas: The Blue Man Group. Sure it’s about three times more expensive, but it’s also far more entertaining. And wouldn’t you know it, Wink World creator Chris Wink is also co-founder of the Blue Man Group.

My recommendation: This might be worth it if you’re looking to pass the time and you’re already at Area 15, otherwise skip it and go get tickets for the Blue Man Group instead. Now that’s a fun show.

teamLab: Continuity at the Asian Art Museum

October 4th, 2021
 

Recently I went to see teamLab: Continuity, the new special exhibit at the Asian Art Museum.

The basics

Haven’t been to the Asian Art Museum before? It’s a museum across from City Hall filled with ancient art and artifacts from Eastern religions. Also some stuff from the Middle East, which is only “Asian” if we largely ignore religion.

The collection isn’t the biggest but tickets are relatively cheap and you can easily spend an hour or so there if you do the audio tours — which are free if you download the app and bring your own headphones.

So what’s up with this special exhibit at the Asian Art Museum? Why is this here? The studio behind this exhibit, teamLab, is based in Tokyo. So in the most basic sense of the word it is “Asian art.” But it’s Asian Art in the contemporary sense, which isn’t the same definition as the rest of the museum. It’s an awkward fit but this is typical of special exhibits in smaller museums.

The exhibit

Let’s get into what Continuity actually is. At this point you’ve almost certainly watched the above video but let me put it into words.

Continuity is a series of rooms with a series of bright and pulsating organic computer generated scenery projected all over the walls and floor. A continuous soundtrack accompanies the visuals. Once in a while the scenes respond to visitors touching the wall.

The overall effect of the moving images and the high-end projection system creates an impression somewhere between dizzying and hypnotic. At times it was difficult to judge spatial distance. To some extent other people help because the size of other people is easy to intuit, but the fact that everyone is covered in projection effects can at times effectively camouflage them.

Allegedly there’s an element of scents involved but I don’t know, maybe it’s the mask requirement but I didn’t notice this at all.

The most intense room in the exhibit — and the one I spent the most time in — is located in the back. This room is by far the most dizzying with effects spinning all around you, especially when you first walk in. No worries though, there’s a staff member at the entrance who acts as a spotter for those having trouble.

After sitting down on the carpet for a while and laying against a slanted wall, I not only gained my bearings but realized I enjoyed feeling wrapped in this light show and the score that went along with it. As I started tuning in more to the music than the visuals the experience went from overwhelming to calming in the span of a few minutes. 

That’s the key duality to Continuity: a funny line between relaxing and unnerving. The artists behind this exhibit describe the visual effects as “Ultrasubjective Space,” an intentional blending of two dimensional and three dimensional planes. I think they’ve largely succeeded; at times the illusion is enough to make you feel like you’re in an otherworldly place despite the largely typical interior structure.

The only thing that worried me about this exhibit was a couple of children running around. While I think some of this falls on the parents there are also measures the museum could take like more active security or family hours. I’m definitely not saying kids should be banned, I probably would have loved it as a kid. But I also don’t want to accidentally trip (or trip over) anyone.

So… what is it?

Personally I think Continuity is primarily a light and sound show. I’ve never seen anything quite like it; teamLab has similar types of installations at other museums but I haven’t been to any of them.

One word I see getting tossed around to describe Continuity and similar exhibits is “immersive.” I don’t think that applies here for one simple reason: there’s no story. Nothing to really hook you in and make you want to uncover more.

While I don’t mean to gatekeep what the word immersive means when it comes to art, I think it’s important for terminology to have consistent meanings. Imagine a tour guide at a museum pointing at a Van Gogh and claiming it’s a classic example of Cubism. If that misuse of terms doesn’t make you frustrated, it should.

I also don’t want to use any terms that might back memories of planetarium laser shows with hippie music synced to boring visuals. For those too young to remember those, let me tell you a secret: you didn’t miss anything.

teamLab themselves describe their works as “digital art,” which is both technically true and kind of meaningless. But at least it’s good to know that even the creators can’t easily categorize their own works.

Maybe I’m asking the wrong question. I clearly don’t have a concise description, but if I had to come up with one it would be “an in person walkthrough audio/video experience.” Did I mention I don’t work in marketing?

In conclusion

In my opinion teamLab has kicked the… “digital art” (?) genre up a notch here. The original music and wild visuals with interactive elements, the incredible projection system that somehow prevents large shadows, and that room so dizzying they need a spotter to keep it safe are all elements I was on board with.

I know teamLab has many other installations and I’m curious as to how they compare. It’s probably not something I’d go far out of my way to see but I’d definitely check them out if I were in the area.

My recommendation: If you’re in San Francisco and this sounds interesting to you, the adult tickets fluctuate in price but I think are about $20 on average and the special exhibit tickets include general admission to the museum. It’s a totally reasonable price, particularly if you’ve never visited the Asian Art Museum before and need an excuse to go.

Looking back at Dispatches From Elsewhere, season 1

May 6th, 2020

Now that the first season is over I thought I’d give a non-spoilery take on Dispatches From Elsewhere. There will be some mentions of the events in the first episode, so if you want to go in completely fresh go watch it first.

This won’t be your typical review, as I was a participant of the real life events this series was based on.

My ears perked up when this series was announced. The name comes from a pirate radio broadcast participants would listen to in Dolores Park which introduced the second chapter of Games of Nonchalance — which I’m just going to call The Jejune Institute here since that’s what most of us called it anyway.

I’ll admit upfront I’m not particularly familiar with Jason Segel (aside from that one Muppet movie) so I wasn’t too certain what to expect from a show he produced, wrote, and co-stars in. Personally I very much enjoyed the show’s first season, with its many twists and entirely unexpected ending.

Just like it’s “real” counterpart, in Dispatches From Elsewhere its version of The Jejune Institute presents itself as a mystery, becomes an act of escapism, and when it’s all over nothing’s really changed. Except of course for the things you decide to change yourself. And maybe the friends you make along the way.

 

Episode 1

So let’s go into the setup in the first episode before I get into how real life events were switched around into a television show.

The series opens with The Jejune Institute’s leader, Octavio Coleman, breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging you’re watching a TV show. He introduces Peter (Jason Segel), a bored employee at a music streaming company in Philadelphia.

Coming across a series of inexplicable flyers attached to utility poles with a phone number attached, Peter eventually pulls off a tab, calls the number, and finds he has an appointment at The Jejune Institute.

After an intense initiation — which drives Peter to tears — he disobeys Octavio and follows the directions on the initiation card. This leads him on a short journey where he meets another participant, Simone (Eve Lindley), a transgender woman who seems ready to attack him at first. Their meeting appears to have been intentional somehow, and they wind up becoming friends, solving some unmentioned piece of the game together.

Later on The Jejune Institute holds an event where, after dancing with a breakdancer and a sasquatch in the rain, participants are assigned into groups of four; Simone and Peter are put into a group of four along with Janice (Sally Field), an energetic older woman, and Fredwynn (Andre “3000” Benjamin), a strange man who alternates between a Sherlock Holmes-style detective and a nutty conspiracy theorist.

What makes the show compelling is how it follows this group of four participants as they go through an experience where they’re never certain exactly what’s part of the game and what’s not, let alone what the rules are — or if there are any.

 

The source material

So let’s talk about similarities and differences between the show and what I recall based on my experiences. Obviously the show is set in Philadelphia, but real life The Jejune Institute took place in San Francisco (though one chapter was in Oakland.)  The flyers Peter finds look nearly identical to the ones I encountered in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. The real Jejune Institute didn’t have appointments as far as I’m aware — it was a walk-in affair.

Many aspects from the show were taken from the real Jejune Institute including certain characters’ names, notably the names of Octavio Coleman and his enemy Commander 14. The mysterious promise “To those dark horses with the spirit to look up and see, a recondite family awaits,” also originated at the real Jejune Institute’s induction session.

Obviously some of the events in the show are dramatized quite a bit, though many have clear nods to the source material. The Jejune Institute didn’t have rules exactly, though there was a sort of winking aspect to it that let you know you were safe and on the right track.

More information about The Jejune Institute can be found at the official summary web page. Or in numerous blog entries right here on this very site.

 

The other source material

Segel’s inspiration for Dispatches From Elsewhere wasn’t actually The Jejune Institute itself, but rather the 2013 documentary The Institute. In the documentary participants and creators give talking head style monologues about The Jejune Institute, and we see footage (much of which was recorded by participants) about each of the four chapters and the silly after party.

Although I went to see The Institute at its premier I don’t think I’d seen it a second time — until Monday, when it was streamed on Twitch. The documentary’s director, Spencer McCall, and the creator of The Jejune Institute, Jeff Hull, were in the chat to answer questions and provide context.

I have to point out that one of the talking heads in the film, a very enthusiastic participant named Kiyomi Tanouye, was tragically a victim of the Ghost Ship fire in 2016. The first season of Dispatches From Elsewhere is dedicated to her memory.

The Institute is a much better documentary than I remember. It’s easy to see how Segel was influenced not only by the wild stories and events, but also people’s reactions. Oh and the part with dancing with a sasquatch and a breakdancer in the rain? Yup, that really happened — only to a select few, however. See the clip below for proof:

I’ll also admit the few glimpses of me in the movie make me question what was going on with my hair at the time. Too much mousse or something, it looked terrible. What was I thinking? 

If you’d like to see The Institute yourself, it’s available for streaming on iTunes and Amazon Video.

Jason Segel explains “Dispatches From Elsewhere” on The Late Show

February 28th, 2020

 

In the above clip from The Late Show, Jason Segel explains his upcoming TV show Dispatches From Elsewhere to host Stephen Colbert.

The quick version: While searching for inspiration for a new TV show to create, Segel learns about The Jejune Institute and manages to contact the man behind it all, who Segel likens to Willy Wonka. This quickly leads to a story far more interesting than your average talk show anecdote as Segel travels to San Francisco, finding a trailhead laid out just for him.

Obviously I can’t speak to Segel’s experience, though what he described sounds more like The Latitude to me. I’d be interested to hear more about it.

Colbert is a great interviewer as always, and I really like Segel’s description of Nonchalance’s guerilla art installations as “magic as an act of defiance.”

Dispatches From Elsewhere debuts March 1st on AMC. Looking forward to confused people stumbling on my blog posts while trying to understand this TV show.

Exploratorium’s Curious Contraptions exhibit

December 22nd, 2019
The Curious Contraptions in action. No audio due to copyrighted music played at the event

 

50 years ago the Exploratorium opened, a first of its kind museum aimed at teaching science to kids and teens with a 100% hands-on approach to learning. Six years ago the museum relocated from their original Palace of Fine Arts to a new space at Pier 15, adding the new 21 and over “After Dark” series on Thursday evenings.

If there’s one thing both kids and tipsy adults have in common, it’s a tendency to break stuff. Which makes it all the more impressive that many of the exhibits I remember seeing at the Exploratorium as a kid are not only still there, but still work today.

The current Curious Contraptions special exhibit of hand made automatons doesn’t quite have the same hands-on appeal, but it still feels like a natural fit for the Exploratorium, filling the gray area where science meets art.

These automatons are whimsical hand made mechanical contraptions that bring a small scene of some kind to life. Some are powered by electric motors, others need to be cranked by hand. Most are small, not much larger than a shoe box.

As you can see in the video at the top of the post these are all relatively new automatons, built in the last 60 years or so. That surprised me the most; I tend to think of cuckoo clocks or the 19th century coin operated dioramas like you’d find at Musée Mécanique.

Compared to their predecessors the artists building automatons today aren’t as interested in hiding the mechanics in a cabinet, and feature more abstract scenes. What hasn’t changed is the humor — there’s something inherently silly about a little contraption driven by a crank where a more serious story wouldn’t fit the medium. If these were books they’d be pop-up books, not novels.

The largest and in many ways most impressive automaton is the Exploratory Lunacycle from British cartoonist Rowland Emett, featured at the end of the above video. It’s like a psychedelic Jules Verne story brought to life.

Although it wasn’t technically part of the exhibit, I couldn’t help but to notice the Exploratorium’s transparent pinball machine was located nearby, itself an automaton of sorts with all the guts exposed.

Curious Contraptions runs through January 26th.

The Jejune Institute is coming to the small screen

November 26th, 2019
Teaser trailer for Dispatches From Elsewhere

 

“Welcome to The Jejune Institute,” a disembodied female voice declares as someone enters a small room.

When I first saw a list of TV shows AMC was working on, Dispatches From Elsewhere immediately jumped out at me. Both the name of the show and one of the characters — Octavio — were lifted straight from Games of Nonchalance, an alternate reality game of sorts which ran in San Francisco from 2008 through April 2011.

In the first chapter, players would visit an office tower downtown at The Jejune Institute, where they’d be sent to a small room to watch a video recording about the “institute” and its founder, Octavio Coleman, Esquire.

For the show they’ve changed the setting to Philadelphia, but a lot of it looks similar — an unusual induction center for a mysterious institute, flash mob protests, cryptic messages from payphones, confusion about what’s going on… who knows what else could be in store?

According to IMDb the show will star Andre 3000, Sally Field, and series creator Jason Segel among others. It will debut sometime next year.

Angels Flight

October 30th, 2019

 

For my last day in Los Angeles I was determined to cross a few items off my bucket list, and in order to get there I thought I’d cross off another: riding Angels Flight, the “world’s shortest railway.” It’s really a diagonal elevator with two cars that act as counterbalances.

On my previous visit to LA I went on a walking tour that included Angels Flight, but I didn’t read the fine print correctly. Although they promised a 50% discount off the $1 fare if you had a TAP card, they were not capable of charging the fare to a TAP card and required cash payment — which I didn’t have on me.

This time around I had plenty of quarters left over after going to a fancy new arcade and doing laundry, so I figured I’d give it another go. In the video above I’ve documented this quirky, jerky short railway in all its original 1901 glory.

Well… sort of. The history of Angels Flight isn’t quite what you might think. It was originally located at a different location, closed in 1969, and reopened in 1996 at the new space, only to close repeatedly over the years after a fatal accident. You can read all the details over at Wikipedia.

Armed with a pocket full of quarters I took the trip up the hill — only to find they now have a TAP card reader at the ticket booth at the top. Better late than never.

I also took a few photos of Angels Flight:

 

Angel's Flight Angel's Flight Angel's Flight

The Last Bookstore’s upstairs labyrinth

October 25th, 2019

The Last Bookstore: Upstairs

 

On my last trip to LA I just sort of stumbled across The Last Bookstore, a large bookstore selling new, used, antique, and rare books and comic books as well as vinyl records.

Both times I wandered in I was a little distracted by well-attended events they were holding in the store with authors and poets. Not a bad problem to have for The Last Bookstore by any means, but it meant I couldn’t explore the space as freely as I would have liked.

As it turns out I’d missed two key aspects to the store. One I knew about: the upstairs. The other took me by surprise: the bank vaults. Yes, the building was once a bank, and the open bank vault doors now reveal small rooms lined with books.

So what’s upstairs? Balconies on each of the four sides of the building are roughly half devoted to art gallery spaces, and half to a quirky “labyrinth” of oddball book decor and oddly arranged shelving.

On those shelves you’ll find a strange blend of genres from science fiction to identity politics. A few bookshelves are devoted to single topics — Sherlock Holmes, for example.

Here’s a short video I put together of the crazy upstairs labyrinth at The Last Bookstore. I had to remove the ambient audio due to copyrights.