Friday Evening Videos: “Pac-Man Fever”

Here’s something that will blow your mind, assuming you’re of the same general age as myself: Today is Pac-Man’s 35th birthday. Yes, Pac-Man, that minimalist yellow avatar of insatiable hunger, made his debut in Japan on May 22, 1980. (He wouldn’t arrive in the U.S. until October.)

Younger readers won’t see the significance, I’m sure, but to those of us who were there, Pac-Man was a very big deal indeed. Video games were still in their infancy in 1980, but were fast becoming a generation-defining fad, thanks to the popularity (and near-ubiquity, it seemed then) of Space Invaders and Asteroids. But then came Pac-Man, the first video game that was predicated on an activity other than shooting things (eating things, in this case) as well as the first game (as far as I know) that centered on a relatable, appealing character, unlike the so-called “space shooters” where you controlled a starship of some sort with no personality. Because of that cute little protagonist (and let’s be honest, Pac-Man’s enemies, the ghosts, were pretty cute too), the game actually appealed to girls, expanding a market that had been pretty much limited to the male of the species up until that time. Add the doubled audience to its fiendishly addictive gameplay, and it’s little wonder Pac-Man became the most popular arcade game of all time. The game’s manufacturer, Namco, sold nearly half a million units of the original version (not counting the sequel, Ms. Pac-Man), and continues to produce variations of it for every gaming platform now in existence. It’s still not unusual to run across a vintage Pac-Man cabinet these days, and it remains as fun and compelling as it ever was, unlike its contemporaries (when was the last time you saw, let alone dropped a quarter into a Space Invaders game?).

But it wasn’t just a popular game. Pac-Man the character became a genuine cultural phenomenon as he was licensed to all sorts of ancillary products and media. Pac-Man turned up on t-shirts and school folders, there were (still are!) toys of every description, there was a Saturday-morning cartoon series on television, and you could even eat Pac-Man cereal… if you were brave enough.

And on the radio there was the novelty song “Pac-Man Fever” by a duo called Buckner & Garcia.

Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia had had some success with novelty songs before, and even co-wrote the lyrics for the extended version of the WKRP in Cincinnati theme song, which was released as a single in 1979. But it was a silly little ditty about a hot new fad that really gave them their 15 minutes. The song hit number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in March 1982. Here’s a clip of them performing it on the television series Solid Gold, which if you don’t recall — and if you don’t, I’m really sorry, because the Solid Gold Dancers were something, man! — was a syndicated television countdown of the top-ten pop hits of the week, featuring live (or more often lip-synched) performances by the stars themselves. I never missed it back in the day.

Ladies and gentlemen, Buckner & Garcia in a perfect time capsule from a better era:



Sunday Morning Playlist: Ben E. King

On Friday, we lost the master bluesman B.B. King. On a Friday two weeks ago, I learned that we’d lost the great R&B singer Ben E. King. Apparently I need to stop reading the news on Fridays.

Ben E. King is best known for recording the sublime “Stand by Me,” which he coauthored with the legendary songwriting duo Leiber and Stoller; it’s one of the greatest ballads of the early rock era, as well as one of my personal all-time favorites. But Ben’s smooth, expressive voice was also the key to a string of other classic hits, both with The Drifters and in a later solo career. I grew up on this stuff, listening to my mom’s scratchy old 45s and, later, to the oldies station that was about the only thing the tired old AM radio in my beloved ’63 Galaxie could actually pick up. Hearing it always makes me feel mellow and happy, so I figure it’s the perfect background music for this crystal-clear Sunday morning following all the rain yesterday. I’m off to pour another cup of joe and fix me some eggs; enjoy!

Bonus: This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Ben E. King and “Stand By Me.” Check out my earlier entry on the subject…


Review: Mad Max Fury Road


I am baffled by the level of hype surrounding director George Miller’s return to the Max Max mythos. As of this morning, Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregator website, is showing Fury Road has a 98% positive rating, out of 211 reviews counted. That’s highly unusual; I’d wager most films don’t crack 75% on that thing. Meanwhile, the fanboy gushing on social media has become frankly kind of embarrassing. One of my Facebook friends actually compared seeing this film to losing one’s virginity; he said something to the effect of, “You know going in that’s going to be good, but it turns out to be so much more than you imagined.” Um, yeah… okay. I saw Fury Road last night and, well… it wasn’t like that.

It’s an okay movie. It’s well-crafted and entertaining enough, and the visuals are frequently quite beautiful, if stark. It has some interesting ideas underlying the mayhem. But overall I just don’t see what everybody is losing their damn minds about. The only thing I can figure is that it’s been so long since anyone saw a movie with real stuntmen facing real danger on real machines, in service of action scenes that are actually intelligible, that people are getting kind of drunk on the idea. Or something.

I should probably stipulate that I am a big fan of the original Max trilogy that starred Mel Gibson, especially The Road Warrior, or Mad Max 2 as it’s known in much of the rest of the world. But this isn’t another case of me stamping my feet and getting in a snit over one of my personal touchstones getting remade by the insatiable Hollywood branding machine. Honest. I really tried to keep an open mind with this one, and in any event, it’s never quite clear if Fury Road is meant to be an out-and-out reboot anyhow. There’s nothing in the film that suggests this Max is the same character that Gibson played, but there also isn’t anything to suggest that he isn’t. There are some nice callbacks to the earlier films — I especially liked a subtle one that I’m willing to bet most viewers missed, involving a little hand-cranked music box, which was one of my favorite bits in The Road Warrior — but these are more echoes than specific references to any events from Gibson’s trilogy. And while Fury Road doesn’t fit anyplace in the timeline of the originals, I never got the sense that this one was intended to displace the earlier films either. Rather, it’s just… another Max Max story. Perhaps it’s best to think of it as an alternative Max story, maybe a glimpse of the Max from a parallel universe or something.

I suppose that’s my issue with the movie, now that I think about it. It never feels like it’s happening in our world. Everything is too outlandish, too over-the-top. The original trilogy — well, the first two, anyhow — had a fairly modest scope, in part because of their limited budgets, but also because of the stories they were telling. They were human-scale stories, and that was a big part of what I’ve always liked about them. I’ve always been able to imagine the people in those stories were once backyard hot-rod enthusiasts like my dad, forced into doing whatever they could to survive as the world fell apart around them. It felt real, in some way, or at least plausible, and that was what made it all so powerful… and so frightening. Fury Road, by contrast, is consciously designed to be epic; George Miller cranked the knob up to 11… and then broke it off. The vehicles, the costumes, the bad guys’ lair, the landscape… none of it looked recognizably devolved from our modern-day civilization so much as the phantasmagorical fantasy of a half-insane gearhead tripping on ‘shrooms while listening to an Iron Maiden album. I’ll be honest, the production design in Fury Road reminded me less of the classic Mad Max trilogy than Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zonewhich, as I recall, was widely panned back in 1983 for being derivative of, yes, The Road Warrior.

And then there’s Tom Hardy, the actor who’s replaced Gibson in the title role. A number of my friends are just ga-ga for this guy, but again I’m the odd man out in that I just don’t see the appeal. Perhaps it’s not fair to judge him based on this movie, as Max is pretty underwritten in Fury Road — I think he has a dozen lines of dialog, maybe? — but I can’t detect much in the way of charisma or magnetism coming from him. As Max, he’s a far more anonymous presence than Gibson was. It’s not that I can’t abide another actor assuming the role; it’s that Hardy brought nothing to the role, in my opinion. He was just… there.

I’m not saying Mad Max Fury Road was a bad movie. It’s not. But I never once felt the adrenaline surge I still experience while watching The Road Warrior. And I doubt I’m going to want to see it again, or remember much about it a year from now. So when I read all the breathlessly enthusiastic comments out there in the InterWebs, when I hear people saying it’s the best movie of the year so far and they just can’t get over its awesomeness, I wonder if I saw the same movie everybody else did.

I suppose this is just one more example of how out of touch with popular culture I’m becoming. I’ve been out of sync with my peers a lot over the past couple of years, liking things other folks say are mediocre, not liking the stuff everybody else is wetting themselves over. I don’t understand what’s happened, where and when I disconnected, and it troubles me. I don’t like being the cranky dissenter all the time. I don’t like feeling like everybody else is in on something that I’m incapable of perceiving. But I guess there isn’t much I can do about it. You like what you like, right?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch a real Max Max movie…


Friday Evening Videos: “Better Not Look Down”

When I read this morning that the legendary master of the blues guitar, Mr. B.B. King, had passed away overnight at the age of 89, I found myself trying to recall when and where I first became acquainted with his work. Not surprisingly, for me anyhow, it was in a movie.

Now, I had some familiarity with blues music by my early twenties. Like a lot of people — maybe even most people — of my general age, I was introduced to the form by John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd, first with their Blues Brothers sketches on Saturday Night Live, and then through the feature film spun off from those. And I’d had an epiphany at some point that much of the rock music I enjoyed was heavily rooted in the blues. (Led Zeppelin took on a whole new dimension for me once I understood that a huge chunk of the oeuvre was simply blues cranked up to 11.) But somehow I remained only vaguely aware of actual blues music.

And then in 1991, I bought the soundtrack for Thelma & Louise, the Susan Sarandon/Geena Davis buddy-adventure movie that had turned out to be an unexpected hit… and unexpectedly controversial. (I never did fully get the gender-based controversy surrounding that film, personally; in spite of what a lot of people were saying, I didn’t think it was hostile to men. On the contrary, I loved it… it remains one of my favorites from that era.) Whatever else you might think of that movie, though, it had a great soundtrack… and one of my favorite tracks on it was “Better Not Look Down” by the King of the Blues himself, B.B. King. I liked it so well, I started exploring the rest of B.B. King’s oeuvre, as well as the rest of the blues genre. And while rock will always be my first love, I soon learned the dividing line between the two is very thin, and there’s a lot of listening pleasure to be found in the blues as well.

This song isn’t what you probably imagine when you think of “the blues.” It’s upbeat and relentlessly optimistic in outlook, without any mention of cheatin’ women or hard times… but I soon learned that there’s a lot more to the blues than just those cliched cries of pain. It is possible to play “happy blues,” for lack of a better word. B.B. King could play both kinds — any kind — with equal grace and mastery.

This version of the song isn’t the exact one that appeared in the film, which I assume was an album track. Instead, this is a live performance from 1983, and while it doesn’t feature much in the way of guitar pyrotechnics, it does show how effortless B.B. made it look, and what a warm, gentlemanly presence he had on stage:

Anne and I had the privilege of seeing him perform live twice, both incredible concerts. Not the raucous, arena-rock spectacles I’m usually drawn to, more like old-fashioned road shows from an earlier time. We had a third opportunity to see him as well, but for reasons I no longer remember, we didn’t make it happen. It seems like there was something else around the same time competing for our attention or our dollars, and I said something brilliant like “We’ve seen him before, we can catch him another time…”


I’d Watch an Entire Series of This!

Any Star Wars fan worth his or her salt knows that George Lucas was heavily inspired by the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s. I also fell in love with those serials as a boy, when they aired on television as part of a locally produced children’s show called Lighthouse 20 (it was on channel 20, get it?). They were pretty primitive looking by the standards of the late 1970s (never mind how they look today!), but I was enchanted by their earnestness and sense of exotic adventure, as well as the compulsively addicting cliffhanger endings of each episode. (It didn’t hurt that the serials were one of the very few bits of sci-fi I could share with my father, who didn’t understand my nerdy obsessions at all but had happy memories of watching these on TV himself as a kid in the 1950s.)

Flash is one of those great characters, like Sherlock Holmes or Superman, who seems to get reinvented every few decades for a new generation, and who can adapt to just about any medium. He started off in a newspaper comic strip written and drawn by the great artist Alex Raymond, and has since appeared in the film serials starring Buster Crabbe; in radio serials; in a 1950s TV show starring Steve Holland; in a variety of animated TV versions; in a plethora of comic books and novels; and of course, in the infamous 1980 feature film that’s likely remembered more for its bombastic soundtrack music by the rock group Queen than anything (although weirdly enough, it’s actually pretty faithful, visually speaking, to Raymond’s original strips!) The most recent effort to revive the character, a live-action series produced for the Sci-Fi Channel in 2007, was a misfire, but I’ve no doubt some big Flash project will be coming along again before too long.

In the meantime, we Gordon fans can content ourselves with a little treasure I’ve just discovered called Flash Gordon Classic, a fan film produced by a professional animator named Robb Pratt, who has worked on a number of features and TV series for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Pratt has blended elements from the ’30s serials (the opening crawl, the music, the giant lizard) and the 1980 feature (Flash’s origin as a football player and Ming’s magical ring), and spiced it up with a bit of Heavy Metal-style pulchritude (you’ll see what I mean), and the end result is, well, charming. Doctor Zarkov sounds a bit too much like Groo from the Despicable Me movies, but that’s a middling complaint. The truth is, I’m in love all over again…

I wish there was more of this… I’d not only watch an entire series of this Flash Gordon, I’d watch the hell out of it!

Hat tip to Christopher Mills, proprietor of the Space: 1970 blog, as well as many other interesting things, including his own Flash-inspired planetary romance comic, Perils on Planet X.


Friday Evening Videos: “South of I-10″

The early ’90s was a frustrating time for me, musically speaking. (Also on a number of other fronts, but hey, we’re talking about music now.)

The debut of those depressing mopes Nirvana and the other Seattle bands — a.k.a. grunge music — had alienated me from what was going on in rock circles; hip-hop had never appealed to me in any way, so its increasing ascendancy and far-reaching influence annoyed me; and between the boy bands and the rise of a certain kind of male balladeer I can only describe as “whiny,” pop music had gone completely to hell. But I wasn’t yet ready to lock my tastes in amber and content myself with listening exclusively to the oldies, so I found myself casting about for… somethinganything I could call “my music.” I even dabbled a bit with country, if you can believe it. I found I enjoyed a lot of older stuff from that genre, notably the 1970s “outlaw” acts like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. But Garth Brooks and other contemporary country stars — in particular, Brooks and Dunn and their damn “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” one of the most irritating (and thus, naturally, catchy) songs I’ve ever been subjected to — were dragging that genre toward a sort of phony sound that was absolutely intolerable to me, so I quickly dropped my explorations there.

It was getting pretty depressing scanning around my radio dial vainly searching for a sound I liked. And then one day I stumbled across a new station called “The Mountain” (I can still remember the call letters: KUMT, 105.7 on the FM dial). According to the scant handful of references I’ve been able to find online, The Mountain’s format was something called “adult album alternative,” a mixture of classic rock from the genre’s earliest days up through the ’80s, with some blues and folk and soul thrown in for good measure. There were deep album cuts from artists I knew for only one or two songs, and stuff by artists I knew but never heard anywhere else on the radio, like the Grateful Dead and Jimmy Buffett. The Mountain was the station that finally identified Marc Cohn as the singer of “Walking in Memphis,” a mystery I’d been trying to solve for at least a year at that point, and it was the station where I first heard Shawn Colvin and Keb’ Mo’ and Sheryl Crow and Melissa Etheridge. The Mountain reminded me very much of the fictional KBHR radio on the television series Northern Exposure, if the comparison means anything to you. It was just plain good music. Naturally it was doomed.

An archival article from 1999 says that “KUMT had never been focused enough in the overloaded Wasatch Front radio market” — that lack of focus being what made it interesting, in my opinion — “and also never attracted a sizable audience.” So overnight, The Mountain switched to 1970s soft rock in the vein of Bread, and thereafter went through a succession of other formats that were progressively less appealing before finally ending up as a right-wing blabfest hosting Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, and others of that ilk. The world moved on.

But every so often… on a night like this one, when the rain is dripping from the eaves outside and the house is growing cool around me… a night when I can’t help remembering the sultry dreams I used to have of living in places a lot more colorful than Salt Lake where I would dance the night away with girls in skintight jeans and sip beer from long-neck bottles beneath the red and blue light of neon signs… I remember The Mountain and the music that expanded my repertoire beyond the hair metal and ’80s pop I still love, but can’t listen to constantly. Music like this song here, by a cat named Sonny Landreth:

That’s not an official video — as far as I can determine, Landreth doesn’t make videos. And I honestly don’t know a lot about him, other than he’s an acknowledged master of slide guitar and has worked with Jimmy Buffett, among others. But I know I love that sound. And I know this is what I used to call good music, back in the day when it didn’t seem like there was a lot of that to be found…


We Forget What It Was Like…

These days, it’s easy to take the original Star Wars film for granted. Nearly 40 years after its release, it seems like it’s just always been there in the background, doesn’t it? We’ve all seen it a hundred (or more) times and we’ve all got it memorized, and there have been five other films and three animated TV spin-offs (so far), not to mention countless books, comics, videogames, toys, posters, and god only knows what else. By my count, three generations of kids have grown up with the saga of a galaxy far, far away as their personal mythology, and it’s very hard now to remember what it was like when it was all new and fresh. Hell, I’ve even heard the Damn Kids™ of today think the first film in the saga — I will not call it A New Hope, sorry — is kind of boring and slow-paced. (Terrible to be so jaded at such a young age!) But that’s not how it used to be.

Here’s a fun little reminder of what it was like when Star Wars was the most exciting, mind-blowing movie-going experience we’d ever had, courtesy of YouTube user William Forsche. It’s an audio recording he made inside a crowded theater on a summer day in 1977. It’s pretty fun to hear the audience grow quieter during Luke’s Death Star trench run… then absolutely silent when “the Death Star has cleared the planet…” and Artoo gets taken out, followed by a spontaneous eruption of joyous applause (and even some tension-relieving laughter) as Han Solo and the Falcon arrive in the nick of time, and again when the DS explodes, and again as the closing credits begin. And check out William’s “pew! pew! pew!” sounds at the very end of the recording, as he and his mom are walking to the car. We all did that, didn’t we? That’s what the experience of the original Star Wars was like. When was the last time you applauded at the end of a big summertime action movie? (I think I did at Godzilla last summer, but you take my point…)

Nice montage of vintage photos, too. As much as I still love the Star Wars franchise and all the imagery associated with it, my very favorite iconography remains the stuff that came out in those very earliest years between Star Wars and Empire, 1977-80…

I found this on Boing Boing, of course.


In Memoriam: Michael Blake

I just read over at SamuraiFrog’s place that Michael Blake, who wrote both the novel Dances with Wolves and the screenplay for its hugely successful film adaptation, passed away last week. I hadn’t heard, which, as long-time readers know, is kind of odd for me. I hear about all of them, usually.

I have to confess that the movie version is the one that made an impression on me, not Blake’s original novel. I remember reading the novel not long after the movie came out, but that’s about all I remember about it. The truth is, I don’t have very good retention for books anymore, and if I’m being honest, it’s always been movies and television that have had the greatest impact on me. That’s a pretty unsettling thing to admit after believing myself to be a literary person for much of my life… perhaps that’s something to explore in another entry someday.

Dances with Wolves the movie, though… it’s one of my all-time favorites. I know a backlash against it has developed in recent years, with serious movie buffs saying it unfairly took the Best Picture Oscar that’s should’ve gone to Scorsese’s Goodfellas, and anti-PC political types criticizing it for simplistically depicting all the white people except star Kevin Costner as loathsome and all the Indians as noble. (This is untrue if you’re paying actually paying attention to the film, by the way, but it’s not something I’m inclined to argue right now.) Whatever. The movie worked for me. It came out shortly after my 21st birthday, at a time when I was floundering a bit with the whole life thing. A bit more than I usually am, I mean. I was lonely and hurting from breaking up with a girl some time before, and I was longing to explore the world while trying to decide what college major to choose. I fancied myself a Byronic hero, battered by affairs of the heart, outwardly mysterious, closely guarding all these feelings that no one else had ever felt and no one could understand… especially no one of the opposite sex. (It’s not coincidental that my other favorite movie of 1990 was Darkman, about a horribly scarred man who hides in the shadows and ultimately tells his former love he can’t be with anybody ever again, that he’s just a monster now.) And then along comes this sprawling epic that simply looks beautiful, with a lush, melancholy John Barry score, a bittersweet ending, and a theme about the end of an era… it pushed a lot of buttons in my Romantic (in the classical sense) young heart. It still does now, 25 years later, in particular the reason Costner’s Lt. John Dunbar gives for wanting to be posted to the distant fort (“I want to see the frontier…before it’s gone”) and the final scene, in which the stoic Wind In His Hair shouts out in despair to the departing Dunbar that he will always be his friend… I actually got a little teary-eyed just thinking about that scene as I typed that. Guess I still have a Romantic heart.

The bottom line is that Dances with Wolves (the movie) appeared in my life at the right moment and it resonated for me and touched me in ways that are hard to articulate. Ways that make the film immune to criticism in my book. I recently spent a small fortune to obtain a BluRay from the UK of the original (superior) theatrical cut, because the experience I had in 1990 was that important to me. I owe Michael Blake my thanks for his part in creating that.

Blake was 69 years old. For more information about how he came to write the novel and the movie (hint: Kevin Costner played a big role in both) check out his New York Times obit.



Friday Evening Videos: John Carpenter’s “Night”

One of my favorite directors is John Carpenter of Halloween fame.

Although his career largely fizzled out in the 1990s, he was the mind behind behind at least six bona fide classics of either horror or science-fiction filmmaking — and possibly more, depending on your personal preferences — all produced during an extraordinary ten-year run that began with the aforementioned Halloween in 1978 and ended with 1988’s They Live. During that period, he was cranking out a new feature film every year, as well as writing and producing other things that he did not direct himself. Most of these projects were box-office failures when they were originally released, but later found their audiences on home video. Two of Carpenter’s movies from this period — Escape from New York and The Fog — are pretty consistently in my personal top ten, and the rest of them are among my favorites, not counting Prince of Darkness (1987), which is well made but has never really grabbed my socks, and They Live, which was a great premise that didn’t quite come together, in my opinion.

Carpenter movies have a certain distinct atmosphere, in part because of the way they’re shot. Inspired by the legendary directors John Ford and Howard Hawks, Carpenter prefers widescreen formats (his favorite being anamorphic 2.35:1, if that means anything to you), and this helps give even his smallest-budgeted films a big, immersive environment. But I think the more important component of “the Carpenter feel” is the music, which he himself composed and performed in most of his significant works. Based on synthesizers, and enhanced with piano and occasionally guitars, Carpenter’s movie music is minimalistic, moody, evocative, and as distinctive as his camera work.

Which brings me at last to this week’s video selection. Carpenter hasn’t directed a feature film since 2010 (and may not ever again, considering his last film’s dismal performance), but he has continued to noodle with music, and just three months ago released his first non-soundtrack album, Lost Themes. As the title suggests, the album sounds very much like music from Carpenter films you’ve never seen, in particular the track “Night,” which to my ear belongs in a good sequel to Escape from New York that we didn’t get (as opposed to the dismal sequel/remake/spoof/hot mess Escape from LA). The video for the tune is interesting, too, looking like something from the ’80s with its night-time cityscapes, Miami Vice-style driving shots, and weird sodium-vapor lighting, and yet curiously modern in that Carpenter himself appears to be using a virtual-reality rig to control a member of Daft Punk. If you, like me, tend to sit up by yourself way too late on Friday nights, I think you’ll find it’s the perfect soundtrack to whatever you’re up to…



But Will the Machine Misspell Your Name on the Cup?

Remember a couple weeks ago when I wondered how the ISSpresso — that fancy orbital coffee-maker recently delivered to the space station — actually worked? And how it avoids the danger of steam clouds drifting around inside the enclosed environment of the ISS? Well, when you have a question, the Internet provides an answer! From a year-old article I dug up:

Those requirements included finding a way to keep the hot water inside the machine after the espresso is finished. While water residue is normal in Earth-bound espresso machines, the prospect of boiling-hot bubbles seeping from the device in microgravity forced Argotec [the manufacturer] to seek a solution.


… in general terms, a small container in the machine collects the water. Also, stainless steel has replaced the usual plastic tubing inside the device, making it more resistant of pressure…

The machine itself resembles a microwave oven — it’s just a box — and works something like those coffee “pod” machines that brew a single serving at a time. Again quote, the process works like this:

Astronauts can operate the device with only the push of a button. An astronaut will take a pouch of water from the station’s room-temperature potable system, about 8.4 ounces’ (250 milliliters) worth. Those who like sweet coffee can add a dash of sugar to the mix.


Next, crew members will select how much coffee they want, insert a capsule in the top of the machine and press “brew.” It takes the device 60 seconds to heat the water to 167 degrees Fahrenheit (75 degrees Celsius), then 40 seconds to dispense the espresso.


The coffee will spew out into a pouch, ready for the astronaut to drink. And if there’s a lineup, the company says the machine can easily make a second serving in the same time, about 40 seconds.

The machine can also be used to make tea, consomme, and other hot beverages, and supposedly the machine has some scientific value — NASA has mentioned studying fluid dynamics in zero-g and how things learned from the ISSpresso may lead to improvements with similar machines back here on Earth — but come on, we all know what it’s all about: the astronauts feeling cozy as they relax inside that observation cupola…

Speaking of the cupola, you may have seen this widely circulated photo of astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti wearing a Star Trek uniform, with the arriving Dragon spacecraft visible in the windows behind her:

ISS_astronaut-cristoferetti_star-trek-uniformIt’s a cool photo, and the fact that a real-life astronaut is wearing a Trek uniform has no doubt generated a lot of grins from nerds and civilians alike… but the really amusing thing (to this nerd) is that she’s not wearing just any old Trek uniform. She’s dressed as Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager, the fourth television series of the franchise. And one of Janeway’s little character quirks was a hopeless addiction to coffee… black. Cristoforetti is Italian and has reportedly been eager to try out the ISSspresso machine. Life reflects fiction and vice versa, in an infinite regression…

Finally, if you’re not completely bored with the subject (I’m not), here’s an infographic that details the workings of the ISSpresso:


After all this build-up, I hope the silly thing works…