Friday, January 01, 2010

The Year Is Now: 2010

I remember seeing "2010: The Year We Make Contact" in a multiplex theater in 1984. A number of classic sci-fi films came out that year: "Star Trek III: The Search For Spock", the ill-fated adaptation of Frank Herbert's "Dune", and James Cameron's legendary "The Terminator".

1984 was the year my family bought its first VCR. I had a VHS copy of "2001: A Space Odyssey" that I nearly wore out watching over and over again, absorbing the beauty of Douglas Trumbull's visual effects and the eerie music score.

"2010" was the sequel to the Arthur C. Clarke book "2001" and the movie by Stanley Kubrick. Some critics slammed "2010" as being a lackluster follow-up to the majesty of Kubrick's "2001".

In my opinion, "2010: The Year We Make Contact" ties up the loose ends of "2001", but it stands on its own as a film from Kubrick's film. Director Peter Hyams created a steely world of space travel in "Outland" with Sean Connery. "2010" has a similar feel, aided with spaceship designs by the visionary Syd Mead.

I also saw the horrific British film "Threads" in 1984, which depicted the aftermath of a nuclear war. "2010" was the opposite vision, where humanity unites to explore space and avoids the destruction of civilization in the process.

By today's standards, "2010" seems hokey and sentimental, but that is forgivable. Not every future has to be as bleak as "The Matrix". Someone has to make films where humans are not enslaved by machines or wander through burned out ruins.

With the beginning of the real 2010, the film and the book deserve to be looked at with fresh eyes. After so many apocalyptic films, I was grateful for a movie that ends with the hope humanity survives beyond the year 2010 and beyond.

When does someone make the book "2061" a movie?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Large Hadron Collider - A Simple Explanation

Hello again! I haven't been here in months, but I finally found something that I had to share and this blog is the best place for it.

You probably have heard about the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and highest-energy particle accelerator built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Last summer there were wild news stories about the fear of the LHC creating homegrown black holes and devouring the Earth. YouTube users uploaded computer animation of the Earth getting sucked inside-out like a deflating balloon. The LHC black-hole fears were even mentioned on MTV's "The Hills".

Friends asked me how the LHC worked and why were billions of dollars being spent to race charged particles around in circles. I have tried to explain the concepts, but I was still fuzzy on certain details and how to articulate them. Sure, they race energized particles around and smash them together...but where did they get the particles in the first place?

This video on YouTube is the simplest explanation I have seen so far about the workings and goals of the LHC. I find it remarkable that the whole process starts with a simple container of hydrogen gas.

For more pictures of the LHC complex and hardware, check out this story on

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Panic Of War of the Worlds - 70 Years Later

Photo Source: Wikipedia

This is a monument to a battle that never happened, except in the minds of some very scared radio listeners over seventy years ago. It is located in Grover's Mill, New Jersey, where the first battle of the War of the Worlds took place.

Seventy years ago last night, fear gripped the United States as Orson Welles and The Mercury Theater on the Air broadcast War Of The Worlds as a radio drama on CBS. The October 30, 1938 broadcast was the Halloween episode.

The drama was too realistic for some listeners who were mesmerized by the sound effects and dramatic script. The broadcast led many to believe that martians were actually stomping their way across New Jersey and towards world domination. According to some studies, 1.7 million thought the story was real.

The aftermath of War of the Worlds was an angry public and a new appreciation for the power of broadcasting.

Here is film of Orson Welles speaking to reporters after the broadcast.

We can chuckle today at how 1938 was a simpler time and how easy it was to fool a radio audience with  spooky noises and passionate acting.

Disinformation is alive and well in the 21st century and powered by the Internet. The term truthiness is a recent invention. When was the last time you had a silly rumor forwarded to you by email?

Here are some more links about the War of the Worlds broadcast.
My favorite part is the last words of the broadcast...

So goodbye everybody, and remember please for the next day or so the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no Martian, it's Halloween.

On that note,my doorbell just rang.  It is the local Trick Or Treaters...I hope.

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NASA Turns 50 Years Old

 I was looking at Google's home page this morning and saw yet another one of their clever logos celebrating an event. This time it was the 50th anniversary of NASA.

According to a story on the Scientific American website, NASA officially started operating on October 1, 1958, with only 80 staff members.  Today, NASA employs more than 17,000 staff.

The last fifty years have seen the triumphs of the moon landings, the launch of the Space Shuttle, and the exploration of Mars with robotic rovers.  These accomplishments also came with setbacks and tragedies along the way with the loss of the crew of Apollo 1, and the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia.

Just last Sunday I saw the repeat of the 60 Minutes broadcast on the new plans for a manned moon landing, the first step to sending a mission to Mars.

Watching footage in the story of actual engines and launch systems being tested was inspiring.  The hardware has left the drawing board and is getting ready for the day when world will watch as rockets roar skyward for a new generation of space travelers.

The 60 Minutes story also reported on the risks and costs involved. Critics say the idea of going back to the moon is a pricey project the United States cannot afford right now.

With the shuttle program reaching retirement in 2010, it will not be till 2014 till the first Ares I rockets take off from Cape Canaveral.

It will take optimism for NASA and those who love space travel to face the challenges ahead.  I think astronaut Gene Cernan says it best in the 60 Minutes story...

"When I came back from the moon in ’72, [I] stood on my soapbox and said, ‘We’re not only going back to the moon, we’re gonna be on our way to Mars by the turn of the century.' I believed it with my whole heart. But my glass has been half empty for the last 30 years. Now, it’s half full."

Monday, May 26, 2008

NASA's Phoenix Spacecraft Survives To Land On The Angry Red Planet

I watched the touchdown of NASA's Phoenix spacecraft in the northern polar region of Mars. You don't really get to see the lander itself on TV, only the the people in mission control. It was clear that the lander had landed safely when they stood up and cheered.

The first images from the lander brought back memories of the first Viking Missions in the late 70's, or the days in 1997 Pathfinder mission strained dial-up connections downloading images of dusty red rocks.

According to, only 50 percent of Mars missions have made it safely to the surface. Others missions, like the ill-fated Mars Polar Lander, reached the planet, only to be smashed into the rocky surface due to glitches with engines or software.

The description of Mars mission failures sometimes feel the planet itself has something to do with the loss of spacecraft, reaching out to swat away the pesky landers like metal mosquitoes.

The treacherous nature of Mars exploration brings to mind an old science fiction movie: The Angry Red Planet.

This 1960 film was filmed in a process called Cinemagic, which was supposed to make the Martian surface seem alive with animated creatures. The trailer boasts how aliens and hungry plants will reach out to get you...IN CINEMAGIC!

The scene I remember the most is when a giant "space amoeba" chases the crew back to their rocketship, then encases it like fruit in a jello mold.

Considering how many space probes have been lost on Mars, the red planet doesn't need gooey blobs to devour visiting spacecraft. The planet is quite capable of doing that job itself.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What Awaits On Mars - 1957 Versus 2008

When the first space probes sent back detailed pictures of the Martian Surface, years of fanciful speculation by filmmakers, writers, and artists were replaced with cold facts. Mars resembled the deserts of the Southwest United States, not the exotic plains imagined by science fiction. Mars was more Arizona than Barsoom.

Paleo-Future features a fine example of the 1950's vision martian life: a furry creature with an anteater-like snout. Considering this was the era of cold-war paranoia, with drive-in screens offering a barage of hostile communist-like aliens bent on destroying our cities, this fuzzy Dr. Seuss-esque martian looks harmless and cuddly.

On May 25, 2008, NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander will touch down on the arctic plains of Mars. The Phoenix Mars Lander will use sensors to "sniff" the soil for chemicals and try to determine whether conditions at the site ever have been favorable for microbial life.

Microbes are not as exciting as the ALF-like creature in the 1950s illustration. Any sign of life on Mars would be big news. If a little creature did emerge from the rocks and waved to the camera, it would be the shock of the century...not to mention a chance for toy companies to cash in selling plush dolls.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Star Trek Enterprise - alternate opening credits

I watched part of the Sci-Fi channel Enterprise marathon tonight, catching a few episodes I never saw or never got to see all the way through.

Enterprise has a mixed reputation with Trekkies. While some younger fans the enjoyed new characters and stories involving the days before the original series, others hated the scripts deviated from Star Trek's historical timeline.

One common gripe about the show was the Enterprise theme song that played over the opening credits. Earlier Trek shows featured the famous theme music by Alexander Courage, or the rousing orchestra score composed by Jerry Goldsmith for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

The Enterprise theme song was criticized by its detractors as too pop-rock or folksy for a science fiction TV show and out of sync with the Trek universe.

I did not mind the theme song, but I did love the opening image of the history of human exploration and space travel.

Enterprise debuted shortly after the attacks of 9/11. After being worn down by the violent images of the attacks on the Twin Towers on cable news, I played the opening for Enterprise on my VCR over and over for a quick uplift. Anything that celebrated positive human endeavors was a change from images of destruction.

Some YouTube users have re-mixed the opening of Enterprise with new music and new images. With today's digital technology, anyone with a modest computer can remake their favorite TV shows and movies to their liking.

Out of all the Enterprise opening credit remakes I've seen, this one by YouTube user Portland182 is my favorite.

The use of NASA footage and clips from The Right Stuff, along the theme music from the movie Judge Dredd, is powerful, especially as the Enterprise pulls out of spacedock and sheds connecting cables and hoses, similar to the footage of Saturn V rockets leaving for the moon.

I hope the makers of the new Star Trek film are paying attention to all the fine work that Trek fans are sharing online.