Sunday, December 31, 2006

The last post of 2006 and the new Blogger


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This blog is now running off of the new Blogger software. I'm a little nervous about this upgrade. Like the USS Enterprise zooming through some cosmic phenomena, I hope everything is intact and functional when we come through the other side.

2007 starts in a few hours.

Let's try out the label features on this post. I'm going to put this under "blogging".

Happy new year!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Battlestar Galactica Space Alert and Christmas Day


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In 1979 on Christmas Day I found a small box under the tree and knew by its shape and size exactly what it was. It was the game I wanted for Christmas.

The game was Battlestar Galactica Space Alert, a handheld electronic game from Mattel Electronics. Battlestar Galactica was cool in my little kid universe because it featured Cylons and spaceship battles. This game was cool because it featured the Battlestar Galatica name and was electronic.

This was the golden age of handheld electronic games. Graphics and sounds on these games were limited to the power a 9-volt battery or a pack of AAs could deliver. Space combat was reduced to little red dots making beeping noises while colliding with other red dots. Even by 1979 standards, this game was simplistic, but what other options were there? Atari games were just as crudely rendered. It would be another year before I saw a Space Invaders or Galaxian arcade game. On Christmas Day 1979, this was state of the art.

My original Space Alert game was burned up by a faulty DC adaptor. I found one on EBAY to replace it nearly two decades later. I was surprised to find that it still was a challenge to play. Getting a score over 100 is almost impossible. If you want to give Space Alert a try, stop by Peter Hirchsberg's page for the LED game simlulator.

This holiday season, people lined up in the cold and rain for Playstation 3s and the Nintendo Wii. It amazes me to see how far technology has come in a quarter of a century. It also makes me wonder what is next.

Monday, December 04, 2006

One year of blogging...almost

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About eleven months ago, I started posting on this blog. I was a little nervous about starting a blog and posting my writings this way.

Blogging has become a joke to some people, a sign of vanity and self-absorption in the hands of others.

In some ways I feel let down by falling short of my lofty goals. I have not built the community I set out to create. I have not made the new blog header I started to code. I have not written half the stories I set out to publish.

Good things have happened as well. I have made contact with people I never would have met if I had not signed up for that Blogger account that January evening over eleven months ago. I have rediscovered the joy of writing again, the act of spontaneously typing away to see what takes shape.

I have a notebook of stories and scribbles yet to be made into blog entries. I had hoped to put them live by now, but real life got in the way.

A new year begins in a few weeks, I can start anew then. I have walked away from this blog several times this year. Sooner or later I press the shortcut on my toolbar and fire up the blogger dashboard. My blog goes quiet not because I don't have anything to write about (I feel burdened at times because I have too much to write about), but because I'm off doing other things and the time to blog escapes me.

So far, I have always returned.

Today there was announcement that NASA wants to build a lunar base by 2024. What will our world be like by 2024? Many have fears that humans won't make it that far.

I can't predict or control the future, but someone close to me said our future is created one year at a time, one day at time, one step at a time.

One year has passed. I'm still here. NASA has big plans for the future.

So do I.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Kiwi - Animation by Dony Permedi - Putting the heart back in CGI


Every week it seems there is a movie with CGI animals making wisecracks and pop culture references. CGI animation used to be something I saw at art cinema animation festivals, now it is sold on DVDs by the ton at Wal-mart.

Then I found Dony Permedi's Kiwi on YouTube.

This digital short makes me remember back when I saw early Pixar films in the late 80s and early 90s, such as Red's Dream and Geri's Game.

Pixar is the top studio for CGI animation because their films feature a warmth and humanity that is often lacking it other CGI films. Kiwi has that spark that made early Pixar into the animation powerhouse it is today. It takes talent to turn a squat bird created in a 3D program into a character with charm and personality.

I hope as a new generation of computer animators emerges, they remember to put some heart into their work along with all the rendering and modeling.

Dony Permedi's website is http://www.donysanimation.com

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Web 3.0? A new internet that guides users?

According to the New York Times, researchers are working on Web 3.0.

What does this mean? Is Web 2.0 old and busted already?

According to the story, Web 3.0 means this "new" web will act more as an adviser than a collection of links and pages. The web applications would assemble information in ways that would give more rewarding results.

An example used in the story is vacation planning, where person runs a query looking for a packaget within specific budget, a warm location, and allow a child to travel too.

I know a query that this Web 3.0 can do for me.

Respond to this query: "Give me my e-mail without the spam!"

Friday, November 10, 2006

The five sins of blogging - The Charles G edition

I found this article on Webpronews.com about the five sins of blogging.

Pretty simple stuff. I've always thought of blogging as something similar to throwing a house party. If you invite people to your house, you should treat them with kindness and respect. It helps if you stock up on ice too.

Guests should be careful that they don't spill wine on the rug or steal the silverware.

I'm going to the kitchen now. Anyone want ice cream or beer?

While I'm gone, here are my five sins of blogging.

1. Sloppy unfocused writing - I've seen bloggers rant on for pages and repeat the same points over and over again. Sometimes after five or more paragraphs I just cry out "I GET IT! NEXT POINT PLEASE!" Some bloggers write in a form of stream of consciousness. That's fine. But if you are writing a post about Star Wars: Episode I and spend 10 pages bashing Jar-Jar...just let it go. If you have a point, make it. Then move on to the next point.

2. Rotten spelling - I find typos in my blog all the time. It frustrates me, but it happens. This isn't the New York Times. I fix them as soon as I find them. I have a high tolerance for spelling errors, but I wish to inform some of you that there is a difference between allowed and aloud, and between here and hear. If you have problems with this, please go over to Amazon.com and buy a basic book on grammar. I do not think that is asking too much. I hope we will see fewer spelling mistakes thanks to Firefox 2.0, especially in my own posts. I also recommend the Clusty Toolbar with its right-click access to a spelling dictionary. Google also acts as a dictionary too.

3. Background music - I know background music is big deal on MySpace, but it still annoys the hell out of me. MySpace is...well...MySpace. Certain sins can be forgiven there. I still shudder when I remember back to the bad-old days of the web, when every page thought it was clever to have MIDI or WAV files as background music. Oh boy! Bad to the Bone rendered Casio Keyboard style! When I go to a blog and suddenly have Linkin Park or Evanescence blasting out of my speakers at top volume, I reach for the volume first and the back button second. Let your words speak for you. I know you might love Coldplay, but put it in your profile, not as a slow-loading MP3 file.

4. IM speak - I use instant message short hand all the time...when I'm on IM. An occasional WTF or OMG is fine, but try to speak in complete words. You are on a blog. You have time to compose your thoughts and write complete words before you press POST. When U rite like this I h8t it! It's teh suck! PWN3D! :P Hey, it's your blog. Write anyway you want. Just don't expect me to take you seriously if you end every sentence like this. :)

5. Excessive amounts of images in posts - Most people who want to share images set up Flickr accounts. Show me one or two images of your hot girlfriend, your cool car, your sick computer gaming rig, or your new baby. Just one or two is fine. If you want to show me more, give me a link to a seperate site where I can scan thumbnails. If you pack ten or fifteen huge images into a blog entry, even my cable modem slows down to a crawl. I end up staring at blank pages while the images load.

That's my five sins of blogging. Go in peace. I'm out of ice cream. Sorry.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Disney's The Black Hole - A new trailer for an old retro scifi classic

Jusu, a YouTube user from Helsinki, Finland, made this trailer for the 1979 Disney classic The Black Hole.

I've written before about The Black Hole on this blog when I found some cool homemade animation, but this video is worth a second post on a film that amazed me as a little kid.

The Black Hole, was one of those films that I grew up with. I am still fond of this film in the same way I am fond of my Battlestar Galactica toys. I might have outgrown them, but they are relics that I cherish from a less than happy childhood. I keep The Black Hole on my DVD shelf the same way I keep old Star Wars toys next to my computer.

What makes this film stand out in my memory? I suspect it is because The Black Hole is an film that feels warped and pulled in many directions, much like the nature of space and time in a real black hole. As Disney's first PG-rated film, The Black Hole is filled with strange imagery and content that puts the film in a netherworld between being too intense for kids, but not hip enough for teens or adults. The Black Hole tries to be traditional Disney film in one respect, then a laser-blast shoot'em up in another.

The Black Hole reaches back to the style of films like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, but incorporates elements of Star Wars as well. The result is a pulp-style space adventure with memorable and odd moments.

One weird scene is when idealistic scientist Dr. Alex Durant is killed by the wirling blades of the menacing robot Maximilian. In a reversal of his role in Psycho, it is Tony Perkins' character who is murdered by sharp blades.

Another notable aspect of The Black Hole are the mechanical effects used to create space scenes. In the making of the Star Wars films, space battles were fought against blue screens filmed by robot cameras, then matted into starfields later.

The Black Hole features space scenes where ships are filmed against starfield backdrops live in-camera. This old-school method of filming effects turns space itself into a character. The stars in these shots are not the standard glowing white pinpoints against a field of black. In The Black Hole, the backdrop is a luminous blue nebula. The effects feel dated in an age where Hubble Telescope images shape our view of the cosmos, yet manage to create amazing widescreen vistas.

The lead ship, USS Cygnus, looms and glows in a mystical Disney blend of the Haunted Mansion crossed with the rocket-spires of Tomorrowland, creating a haunted rocket park of a far-flung future.

Suprisingly realistic are early shots aboard the spaceship USS Palomino. The cramped, Apollo capsule-like Palomino is not the Enterprise, or even Han Solo's Millenium Falcon. Astronauts are crammed into a living space that offers little privacy, designed for computers and equipment instead of people. Everywhere humans are confronted by buttons, keyboards, and viewscreens.

Until the crew lands on the cavernous ghost ship Cygnus, there is no artifical gravity. People float in the zero gravity (sometimes with wires showing) aboard a ship that twists and rotates around them. The viewer is forced to adjust to space the same way an astronaut would, with no up or down as the camera simulates a spinning ship dragged by the cruel gravity of a black hole, echoing directionless interior shots Apollo 13 depicted years later.

The crew is forced to land on the Cygnus to repair the oxygen supply. The USS Palomino is not the warhorse spacecraft of other Sci-Fi films. After being mauled by high gravity, the Palomino is crippled in the same way the command module of the Apollo 13 mission was. The Palomino, for all its gear and technology, is a delicate metal shell barely protecting the crew from harsh deep space.

Later on in the The Black Hole, bad science takes the helm and creates campy moments. Meteors roll down ship corridors like bowling balls. People float in airless space harmlessly without a helmet in sight. Yet for the first half-hour, The Black Hole has some strong space geek appeal.

Jusu's trailer is way better than the original trailer that was released in 1979. It clearly demonstrates editing is an art that can restitch an old movie, taking a film you have seen a billion times and transforming that movie into a new tapestry of images.

...now if only V.I.N.cent the robot did not look so much like a toddler's toy.

Friday, November 03, 2006

BEWARE! Google watches us all!



According to The Guardian newspaper, Google is becoming a database of human activity that tracks where we go and what we do.

Google stores all of our searches (gulp!), it caches our web pages and our blogs, it can even alter search results according to your wishes.

The real problem is not Google. Google is just a machine. The problem is what we choose to do with that information.

We long ago gave up our ability to travel a distance and be unknown, and in many ways that is a good thing. Criminals are followed by their computerized records no matter where they may lurk. An electronic society moves faster and offer more opportunity than a paper-based one.

Another mixed blessing are data-harvesting services to track your past and present. It's great when you are trying to pay a bill or get credit to make a big purchase, but a horror if your information falls into the possession internet bandits.

Now what you express verbally on the Internet can be stored and tracked, even years after you wrote or uploaded it. You leave a trail every time we speak out on a message board, write a blog post, or post our photo on the web. Google now sniffs it out and stores it. Our friends and allies can see it, but so can internet trolls or cyberstalkers.

Your potential employers can track your opinions too. For those of us who use blogs and social networking sites, we have to now make a serious decision on how much of our real life we let into our online life. I know I had to make this choice before I started this blog.

How many people are going to be forever haunted by their MySpace profiles or blog posts? Usenet already has a database that goes back to 1981. Two decades of conversations, arguments, rants and innuendo are there. Google now serves that up for public consumption.

Perhaps we will have to get used to the idea that humans are forever in flux. I'm not the same person I was last month, or last year, or last decade. You think you can know a person by what they posted on a blog last year, last week, or a decade from now?

With Google Earth and mapping services being added to the mix, people may soon be physically tracked by search engine services. Celebrities already have a problem, bloggers share where they are eating or walking with a snooping public. Will we all soon be ratted-out by our cellphones and Google accounts?

Like #6 from The Prisoner, we are not numbers, we are free people. The real question is as powerful tracking and search engine technology comes online, do we care if people watch us and read our blog posts as we act on that freedom?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Planet of the Vampires - Cheesy retro science fiction and inspriation for Alien?


One of the reasons I started this blog was to write about old science fiction films from the 50s and 60s, so when I found the trailer for Planet of the Vampires on YouTube, I had to write an entry about it.

If you have seen Alien, the plot of Planet of the Vampires might seem silghtly familar. It makes me wonder if Alien screenwriter Dan O'Bannon saw it and took notes.

The film begins when a traveling spaceship picks up a distress call and lands on a spooky planet. Upon landing, strange entities start driving the crew into a killing rage and taking over their minds.

Like the slimy xenomorphs in Alien, human bodies are warm places for creatures to seek refuge in, although there is a lot less splatter in this movie. It was the 1960s, and it would be another decade or so before an audience could withstand scenes where creatures tear and claw their way out of a human torso in a spray of red innards. The world was not ready for HR Giger's creatures yet.

There are other striking Alien-esqe similarities. In one scene, two astronauts explore a wrecked spaceship from a distant civilization, discovering a fossilized creature still at the controls.

Even shots and camera angles from Planet of the Vampires have a certain similiarty to Alien, especially as the crew leaves the their hulk of a ship, walking by the claw-like landing gear, or as the mothership lands on the planet, decending on a plume of exhaust through the wispy clouds.

The costume design of Planet of the Vampires looks like a cross between a flight attendant's uniform from 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Cenobites from Clive Barker's Hellraiser. Here space travelers are decked out in latex jumpsuits and medeval looking rubber helmets. If Helmut Newton ran the space program, it might look like this.

Alien, of course, leaves this film in the dust when it comes to special effects and creature design. But for all its silliness, Planet of the Vampires features a few good "boo" moments, similar to the type Alien executed with lethal precision.

The alien planet in Planet of the Vampires does not even attempt to look realistic, with multi-colored lights and fog right out of a carnval's haunted house ride and styrafoam rocks from Star Trek.

The low-budget effects are part of the fun with a film like this. It is matinee fare at its cheesiest...and we are in on the joke. We know the ship is a model on the end of a fishing line. The rubber wounds on the actors look like they were bought from a dollar store. The dialogue is crummy.

Planet of the Vampires
is bad science fiction meant for drive-in audiences. Perfect for a late night with the lights off and a healthy supply of junk food.

My type of movie.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

You Tube and the howling basenji - Watching the home movies of the world


I found this video of a Basenji named Lucy on YouTube recently. If you have watched the video, you can tell Lucy does not care much for the harmonica. This is one of the countless videos people have put on YouTube, many of their pets doing silly tricks or just acting cute.

Since YouTube (or GooTube as some people now call it since being purchased by Google) started pulling down videos from Comedy Central and other parties miffed about copyright infringement, I now realize that most of YouTube is home movies. These were videos that might have sat on the family shelf, shared only on VHS tapes in one family. Now anyone with a camcorder and a little Internet savvy can upload their videos for the world to watch, or wince at.

This Basenji video brought back a flood of bittersweet memories. My family once had two Basenjis. They grew up with me and were special dogs who I still miss even today. If you have ever owned a Basenji, you know the challenges that a headstrong dog can put you through. They are funny and aggravating. Watching this video made me remember moments I had not thought about in years. I admit, I got a bit teary-eyed.

That made me realize the power of YouTube in a way that ordinary TV has never replicated. Video that people shoot themselves for YouTube are of all types. You have animal comedy, but you have more serious fare as well.

YouTube users have uploaded video of visits to the World Trade Center, shot just weeks or days before the twin towers were attacked and destroyed. Their vacation footage has turned into an historical record. You see the towers and their view of New York City through the lens of a tourist's camcorder, never imagining what they were recording for future generations to see.

If YouTube stays up, or simply morphs into something else in Google's desires, it could become a giant collection of human experience rendered in video. If it lasts for years, people who shot those videos will grow up, grow old, and die, leaving their digital legacy behind for Internet users everywhere.

I can surf through YouTube videos for hours, like flipping through a thousand scrapbooks. I do not know the people, but I can see their lives of friends, family and pets. I see things that take me back to my own memories.

What is perhaps worrying for many owners of large media companies and network owners is that most of what is on YouTube is actually more entertaining that the recycled sitcoms and reality shows that they try to get us to watch. YouTube is the ultimate reality show channel, made by and starring real people.

We will have to see how Google uses the service they paid a hefty sum for. I could quote the overused Andy Warhol quote about 15 minutes of fame, but now it is more complicated than that. People can be as famous as long as they have bandwidth to burn.

There are hundreds of annoying and crass videos on YouTube too. I am just glad I was able to remember two beloved dogs that left me over two decades ago.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

That was no Martian...It's Halloween - NASA's new plan to outer space


On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles terrified radio listeners with the Mercury Theatre presentation of The War of The Worlds. Because of Welles's dramatic script and some clever sounds effects, many listeners thought slithering aliens were loose in New Jersey, frying humans with their heat rays and beginning their conquest of our pale blue dot of a planet.

It was years later that space probes showed us the red planet up close. What was once feared to be the home planet of invading martians was revealed to be a barren world. Mechanical rovers left their tracks in the red sands of Mars. Computers used digital scans to recreate deep martian canyons in CGI. We now look at Mars as a curiosity, not a threat.

It is fitting that almost to the day of the famous Welles broadcast that the Hubble Space Telescope was given a new lease on life. Like the War of the Worlds Martians of the famous book, radio play and George Pal movie, the Hubble was facing extinction in the cold realm of space.

If all goes well, brave souls will travel to the Hubble in May of 2007: the same month that a famous science fiction film lit up movie screens 30 years before.

For this overgrown kid, the Hubble announcement was a treat sweeter than any sticky candy.

This Halloween, as trick or treaters arrived at my front door, I watched one of my favorite bad science fiction films: Plan 9 From Outer Space. Plan 9 was produced during the paranoid 1950s, when some thought our neighboring planets teemed with wriggling lifeforms plotting to destroy us, fears about the spread of communism expressed through rubber monsters and plastic spaceships.

It also reminded me of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie, where a silly spaceship crashes into the Hubble and sends it to a fiery death. "Farewell sweet Hubble!" sobbed Crow T Robot.

At least for tonight, that scene has been delayed for a while.



Here is the planet Mars as seen by the Hubble. As I look at these images, I hear the voice of Orson Welles and his sign off from the War of the Worlds broadcast.

This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character, to assure you that The War of the Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be; The Mercury Theatre's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying "Boo!". Starting now, we couldn't soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night, so we did the best next thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears and utterly destroyed the CBS. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn't mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business. 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.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Blogging - Taking the red pill

Yikes! I haven't posted in over a month! Where did I go?

I guess you could say I went down the rabbit hole.

I know it's a lame Matrix reference, but that's the only thing that quite describes the last month or so.

I keep my real life off this blog, so I won't go into too much detail. I can say when I started up this blog back in January, it was more of toy than a serious venture.

Now it has proven to be a gateway to much larger things...and a window on to what is really going on with the Internet.

I've been using the web since the mid-90s, before I even had my own computer. I remember how clever I though I was when I coded my first crude HTML page.

I knew a little about the programing, search engines, graphic design, etc. Enough that I managed to create web pages and use the Internet for my own needs. I read blogs, used E-commerce sites, and bought stuff on Ebay. I used the net and I thought I knew how it worked. I considered myself an expert.

Since starting this blog, I realize that my self-confidence was a joke. The online world I used for commerce and recreation was filled with strange interworkings that I has scarcely explored. I knew about things...but rarely used them for my own purposes. Blogging was one such thing.

Over the last few months, I have researched topics such as blogs and the blog culture, search engines, social bookmarking, and CSS. Now I have found that ther are countless ways I can use these tools to expand my creativity.

Many of these tools have been around for years. but only now have I really immersed myself in it and started to use them.

This experience is both amazing and disturbing. I'm disappointed in myself that I haven't seized on these opportunities sooner. Like Keanu, I feel a little lightheaded after waking up and wiping the goo out of my eyes. I now realize where I am and what is going on.

The difference is for me, the machines are on my side.

Whoa.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 2006: Stanley Kubrick and taking back 2001

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There were no strange monoliths dug up on the moon in the year 2001. No missions to Jupiter. No glowing star children looked down from orbit upon the blue orb of Earth.

2001 was far from the "2001" of Stanley Kubrick's monumental film and Arthur C. Clarke's novel. I wasn't even alive when "2001" premiered in New York City in April 1968, only a few months before construction began on the World Trade Center.

I saw Kubrick's 2001 on TV as a child. It was too much for my childish brain to absorb, but I didn't care. The spaceships were cool.

So was the idea that I was going to be in the prime of my life when the real 2001 arrived. Maybe I would grow up to be one of the crew of a giant space station, or fly shuttles to distant moonbases.

But as the first space shuttles lifted off in the 80s, I knew already that reality would fall short of the sci-fi movies and novels. Moonbases and manned missions to Jupiter were still to be distant fantasy. But who cared? Real life was going to be exciting anyway.

Space probes sent back pictures of erupting volcanoes on the moons of Jupiter. The home computer was becoming a common tool. The Internet was promising a new frontier.

When the real 2001 arrived, I wasn't flying space shuttles or living in space, but I had built a good life. 2001 wouldn't be "2001", but we still had plenty of century to use. Who knows what might happen?

A day in September 2001 took the year away from Kubrick and Clarke. We did not have to fear insane computers in the real 2001, insane people were enough. Space seems safe compared to Earthy perils.

The year 2001 now belongs to images that conjure fear, not hope. Five years later, a button seems to have been pressed that has frozen many of us in time, like a magical stopwatch from the Twilight Zone. Time moves on, yet so much seems to be held prisoner to 102 minutes that keep looping forever.

I have had my share of fear and anxiety during the last five years. As September 11, 2006 arrives, I have decided to take back the year 2001...and all the years to come.

I remember how the year 2001 began, with the acts of creative pranksters, not thugs and terrorists. Brave and creative people are my heroes, and I will make it my mission to seek them out and celebrate them.

I also came upon this rare video of Stanley Kubrick at the "2001" premiere on YouTube.



As I write this, the space shuttle Atlantis is on its way to the International Space Station...part of that "2001" that was dreamed of by a child who was up way past his bedtime.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Man meets puffer fish - Don't mess with things that are round and prickly



I guess this diver thought that it would be fun to taunt a swollen puffer fish.

After the lovable Bloat made puffer fish look cute in Finding Nemo, it is easy to forget that they have sharp bony teeth.

They also have short tempers with anyone who likes to tease them.

The best thing would be to heed the advice of an old Saturday Night Live sketch. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Is your blog's sidebar drooping in Internet Explorer? Here's the fix!

Earlier today I was messing around with a template in Blogger. I made some graphic changes and realized to my horror that sidebar of my blog was "drooping".

I use the Firefox web browser for my default browser and my blog looked fine. When I looked at the blog in Internet Explorer, the sidebar section with the links was set far down the side of the page. No matter what I did, it stayed there.

So after some extensive searching I found a solution. It took some trial and error, but I managed to fix the problem.

I found the solution on Jon Aquino's Mental Garden, which is filled with useful information on web design and software.

The solution was to alter the CSS positioning of DIVs in the blogger templates. It took some tweaking, but it seems to have fixed my issue with IE.

If you're new to the whole CSS positioning game, check out Max Design's tutorial on CSS floats.

If you have no idea what CSS is or what the heck a DIV is, go read this tutorial at W3Schools.com.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Coming Home

I haven't posted a blog entry for a while. I fell out of the habit of regular posting. I have been reading and doing research, much of which I will share here as time permits.

Much has happened since I last posted. The shuttle went up and came home safely. Another launch is planned soon. The world has become much more dangerous due to the situation in the Middle East.

Sometimes I feel that I can't find anything positive to write about or inspire me. Yet every so often I find something that I just have to share. One such thing was a music video I hadn't seen in years that I found on YouTube, featuring incredible space footage set to a catchy beat.

A perfect song to start this blog anew with.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Asteroid flyby - No fireworks...thankfully

An asteroid zipped past Earth orbit on Sunday night.

What is it with space debris and holidays? First we have a comet breaking up around Memorial Day, and now an asteroid zooms past near July 4th.

Hopefully, the shuttle will launch this Tuesday.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Google Alerts - Surfing less and reading more

I recently read that Ridley Scott, one of my favorite directors, is going to be directing a new film about the Gucci family.

I also found three sites with technology news.

I read one of my college professors is publishing a new book.

The nifty part about all this news is that I never had to search for it.

Google Alerts is probably the most useful tools that Google offers. Properly used and configured, you stay informed every time you open your e-mail.

Alerts have been around for a while, but it was not till recently that I sat down and tweaked the settings to make sure I get the right information.

Part of the trick was using the advanced search operators to narrow my results. By using quotes on certain search terms, I get news about Ridley Scott, not everybody in the whole wide world named Scott.

I've routed my alerts to an e-mail address that the spammers haven't discovered yet. Reading mail from this account is like finding a stack of articles printed out by my own personal assistant.

There are days the articles retreved are ones I've seen before and I delete more links than I read, but that is worth the effort when I find sites and information that would have taken me hours of searching on my own.

Monday, June 19, 2006

China plans to land on the moon by 2024

Is this a new race to the moon?

Maybe this will get things rolling over at NASA?

A 2000 year old computer?

Rachel sent me a link to an article about an ancient device that might be one of the first computers.

Called an Antikythera Mechanism, the true nature of the artifact remains a mystery, but experts suggest that it may have been used to calculate the movements of the planets.

Like modern computers, it appears to have had lousy tech support.

There more on the Antikythera Mechanism over at Wikipedia.

Thanks to Rachel for the link.

Discovery to launch on July 1st

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STS 121 is scheduled to take flight on July 1 on a mission to the International Space Station. After last year's STS 114 "return to flight" mission, and nervous moments concerning loose foam falling off the shuttle's main fuel tank, this mission will be watched closely.

On a personal note, I am happy to know the shuttle sits on the launch pad and the countdown clock is running.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The six hour spacewalk

Two astronauts aboard the Internatonal Space Station completed a 6-hour spacewalk to make repairs and collect science experiments left outside.

I know that the modern spacesuit takes care of an astronaut's biological needs when they are in space, but what about that annoying urge to scratch an itch on one's neck or back?

Space is dangerous. Cosmic radiation and space debris are hazzards that come with the territory. But, I imagine space walks could be downright annoying if you are trying to scratch an itch, then discover the only thing you can scratch is the outside of your spacesuit helmet.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Giant meteor crater found in Antarctica

Space.com has a story about a 300 mile wide meteor crater, found by NASA satellites under Antarctic ice. Scientists suspect the meteor hit over 250 million years ago, causing twice the impact as the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs.

People were freaking out over chunks of a crumbling comet just a few weeks ago.

Why be scared of comet fragments when you can worry and fret over something the size of Ohio crashing into your house?

I'm joking. No hate mail please.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

GTD or Getting Things Done...or you never realized how sloppy you were!

David Allen's Getting Things Done is a book that changed my life. I do not say that lightly. Most of us have had to deal with gushing reviews of feel-good books from co-workers and friends, who hear about them from talk shows or late night TV.

Getting Things Done is about getting things out of your head. All that clutter in your head about what you have to do, what you should be doing, what you forgot to do...it all has to be taken out of your brain. Once that happens, you are free to work and be productive. There is a process involved, which is flowcharted by Allen, that is shockingly easy to follow.

I read about Getting Things Done (or GTD) on several blogs and websites, so I gave it a try. For a while, if you have been reading this blog you might remember, my computer room and my life were chaos as I put the GTD plan into action. So far it seems to be working. My blogging and my other projects are proceeding. If I am frustrated, it is only because I wished I had done this sooner.

I just discovered how much of a GTD following has grown on the web. I do not consider myself a big joiner, but I am intrigued by how many people are following and blogging about GTD's advice. I am slightly bothered how Wired Magazine called it a "A New Cult for the Info Age".

I guess as long as I do not start jumping on couches, I will be OK.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Disney's The Black Hole - Retro science fiction lives again!



While surfing YouTube awhile back, I found this stop-motion video by Matt Gorden. I thought it was a clever use of space toys and desktop video editing. With a desktop PC and some software, anyone can do special effects that would have cost millions to produce only a short time ago.

One of the guilty pleasures in my DVD collection is Walt Disney's 1979 film The Black Hole, the first Disney film to be rated PG and an attempt to cash in on the boom in science fiction films started by Star Wars.

The Black Hole is no Star Wars, but I remember it because it was one of the first movies I saw in a Dolby Stereo theater and featured elaborate special effect sequences.

The Black Hole also features early CGI in the opening credits, as the camera whirls and twists over a green grid floating against a luminous starfield.

The USS Cygnus, the lead spaceship of the movie, is a massive hulk of a ship constructed from metal girders. Looming in cold space with a sense of awe and dread, the Cygnus is Disney's Haunted Mansion meets the Battlestar Galactica.

The robots of the film often convey more emotion than the actors. From the kid-friendly, orb-shaped VINCENT and OLD BOB, to the evil Maximilian with his angry red eye and spinning blades. They look goofy (no pun intended) in a way that clearly carries the Disney stamp and made them destined to be sold as action figures.

Finding this video brought back some old memories. Thanks to Matt Gorden for letting me share his work.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Invasion - The finale

Wednesday night was the season finale (and probably last episode ever) of Invasion. Inavsion met mixed reviews and ratings, and now ends with a cliffhanger unlikely to be resolved.

I personally liked Invasion. It was slow and melodramatic at times and clearly took inspiration from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and X-files, but did add unique twists and surprises to an old formula as the town of Homestead, Florida is infiltrated by alien "hybrids" following a hurricane.

Some aspects of Invasion may reflect the cultural climate in post 9/11 and post Hurricane Katrina world (although I believe most of the season was filmed before Katrina made landfall.)

One aspect that I've written about before is how one character, Dave Groves, is a blogger. On Invasion, there are no plucky scientists or FBI agents to unravel mysteries. The person seeking out the truth is an overweight 30-something former apartment manager who writes a blog from a local coffee house. He even does podcasts.

Dave is humored at first as the local goofball who sees conspiracies and extraterrestrial critters hiding behind every palm tree. By the end of the show it is clear he was right all along. Dave never trusts the explanations from local authorities or media. Like many real life bloggers and webmasters, he takes it as a given he is being lied too. If he wants the truth that is out there, he will have to do his own reporting. In the final episodes, Dave was videotaping a documentary about the events in Homestead.

Another character, Larkin Groves, is a TV reporter, a member of the mainstream media. She discovers her local TV station is less than supportive as she seeks out story behind strange happenings in Homestead. It is remarkable that a network TV show would use skepticism and distrust of the media as such a prominent plot point.

In the world of Invasion, the human inhabitants of Homestead have to cope with their neighbors and friends becoming hybrids. The alien takeover divides families. Tension grows in the town as people take sides and form alliances based on their biology.

In 1950s sci-fi, all humans are united to fight slimy alien invaders from taking over the planet. Now the lines blur as people are absorbed by aliens, yet retain their human form and memories. The aliens themselves are divided on how to proceed, facing their own moral choice of learning to co-exist with the humans, or to conquer everyone and convert them.

The most chilling aspect of Invasion is the powerlessness and silence of the goverment. Again, it is strange to see this in a mainstream TV show.

In old 50s movies, such as Invaders from Mars and War of the Worlds, the military defends citizens against the martians and their death rays. In later films like Close Encounters and The X-files, the government covers up the presence of aliens to keep a fragile civilian population from panic, or to forward a shadowy secret agenda.

On Invasion, the goverment knows there are aliens and hides the truth, but even they cannot stop the hybrids from plotting and taking action. The military is unaware how much of their power has been compromised by the the aliens. The leader of a hybrid army is a former secret agent, following his own agenda like an alien Mr. Kurtz. The town sheriff is a hybrid, who finds his loyalty torn between his family and his new species.

Only at the last minute does the military defend the public against attack, and then it is because a private citizen (Dave the blogger again) sounds the alarm.

Invasion ends with a tragedy, and the sense that the alien conspiracy is now out in the open. The X-files teased us with the possiblity of an alien conspiracy going public, but ended most episodes with the truth buried yet again, letting the world go about its business. The end of Invasion leaves the impression that the secret is out and a traumatic conflict is to follow.

Unfortunately, we will probably never find out what really happened. We will have to imagine it. Like Dave the blogger, we are on our own now.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Finding the time to blog

Yikes! Another week has nearly slipped by and I have not posted anything.

It is funny how guilty I feel when I do not post every 24 or 48 hours. I have been busy lately and before I think of a topic to post about, the blog is stale as bread left on a forgotten corner of the kitchen counter.

Time to get back to work!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The battle of Linux - Chapter 2

After several more days of fighting with my computer, I have discovered to my horror that my system and Linux have a failure to communicate.

So I decided to try and older Pentium II machine.

SUCCESS!

I now have SUSE Linux 10.1 running nicely. It took some tweaks to get my monitor and video card to display the resolution I wanted, but that was a small task compared to the frustrating week I just went through.

What I have learned is that Linux is finicky. I cannot quite figure out why it did not boot correctly. Maybe it was the BIOS, or the brand of microchips on the motherboard. I will have to do more research.

For now, I have a running Linux machine, and it is time to get to work. Once I managed to get past the install process, SUSE has proven to be very user friendly.

I plan to learn the BASH shell, which is the way I can use my machine from the command line.

I also want to code web pages using Bluefish.

There is to much to describe in one post. For now, I have a new toy.

The battle of Linux - Chapter 1

Over the last week, I have been trying to install Linux. I have a Windows machine that I use for my day to day work, but I wanted to give Linux a try on a second computer I have.

The goal was to install Linux on my second computer, get it running so I could surf the net, download software, and see how much of my daily work I could get done without using my Windows machine.

So far...no luck.

Linux lovers claim that it is more stable than Windows and a superior operating system....once you manage to install it and get it running without major glitches.

I know Linux has an excellent repuation in the server room world, but as for a desktop OS, it is giving me a headache.

Here is the toll so far...

UBUNTU - Described as "Linux for human beings". Does this mean that regular Linux users are spiny xenomorphs who bleed acid and lay eggs? I managed to get Ubuntu to install, but then it would not boot unless I disconnected my CD ROM drive cable. Once I did that, it booted into the main OS. I thought I was home free. Then it would not find my Internet connection and made a very strange noise (a drumming sound...no kidding) that looped over and over again till I turned off the sound. It did find my sound card, I'll give it that, but I need an internet connection. I decided to try...

DEBIAN - Debian installed pretty easily, but then it would not boot into the desktop I needed. I had a nice server if I wanted one, but I want a desktop PC. Next up was...

SUSE - I had heard good things about SUSE. I had to download 5 ISOs (which are the files that you burn to CDs to install) and I thought I was ready to go. I put in disk one. SUSE started to load the installer, then asked me to "Insert Disk 1".

Huh?

For some reason, it will load up the installer, but then it keeps asking for Disk 1, which apparently it cannot find in the drive.

The score for this week.

Linux 3
Me ZERO

I consider myself fairly computer literate. I build and repair my own systems. I know how to install Windows, tweak its many functions, and deal with its problems.

Linux is kicking my butt. I am no Microsoft fanboy, but I can see why Linux has not caught on in the desktop market. Maybe it does not like my computer, but I cannot help that unless I buy a whole new computer.

Thankfully, there is a vast Linux community out there. I will consult with some message boards I found and see what happens. There are many distros of Linux. As long as I have blank CDs, I can keep trying.

I know by writing this I am in danger of getting a blizzard of hate mail for expressing my frustration with Linux. So be it. I am just calling it the way I see it. I cannot get this OS to run properly on my system. I will just have to keep trying.

To be continued.

Monday, May 08, 2006

No UFOs - The truth is not out there

According to a report from the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence, there is no proof of alien life forms.

The 400 page report does not just say there is no proof UFOs are spacecraft piloted by aliens, but that there is no proof that they are even solid objects.

For those of you who do believe in UFOs, there is some good news. There seems to be nothing in the report challenging the notion that aliens could show up in vehicles shaped like police boxes.

And for those who did not read my other post about UFOs over Norfolk, Virginia...the photo above is not a UFO, but just a picture I made in Macromedia Fireworks.

694 Million people are online

According to this story in Search Engine Journal, 694 million people are online.

And soon almost all of them will have three or four blogs that they never update.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Star Wars 1.0 - On DVD at last! Han shoots first...again!


Here is the first trailer for the first Star Wars movie, a very restrained and modest promo by today's slick standards.

It was announced recently that the original versions of the Star Wars movies will be available soon on DVD. Star Wars purists are celebrating because the only DVDs available have been the "special editions" which featured revised effects shots among other changes...such as the infamous "Han shot first" scene.

There has been a campaign to get original trilogy available on DVD for years, which seems strange to people outside the plastic-lightsaber wielding world of fandom.

Why would anyone want to see the old version of Star Wars, trading seamless digital spaceships for special effects that seem as dated as a wood grain Atari game console?

Although the new Star Wars 2.0 is sharper, faster, and more Dolbyized than the 1977 version, it is not the same film that a generation grew up with.

For those who waited in line in 1977, and again in 1980 and 1983, the old Star Wars is like a cherished toy that you once played with as a kid, with yellowing plastic, chipped paint, and peeling stickers. You could chuck it and buy a new one, but it would not be the same one you once so excitedly brought home from the store so long ago. You have outgrown toys, but this was the one toy you kept to remember your childhood as you embraced maturity.

This Star Wars, not the special edition, is the film that gave George Lucas stress related high-blood pressure as he struggled to finish shooting, fighting off the studio executives who believed it would be a late night TV curiosity in a matter of months. This Star Wars inspired wide-eyed youngsters to grow up to be artists, writers and filmmakers.

The original Star Wars is loved because of its flaws, like a toy worn by the years, but earning the status as a treasured keepsake.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Comet breaks up - No need to worry

This is an image from the Hubble of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 breaking up. Icy fragments are tumbling apart and creating a fireworks show in deep space.

NASA says on their homepage that there is no danger of the comet or its fragments hitting the Earth. Look here for a more detailed photo.

The NASA story says...

There will be no tsunamis, firestorms or mass extinctions to spoil your Memorial Day weekend.

Although the Internet is rife with speculation that a fragment of Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 will strike the Earth on May 25, neither the main comet nor any of its more than 40 fragments pose a danger to Earth.


It would seem a bit silly that NASA has to make a statement that we are free on a May weekend to eat burgers and hot dogs, get too much sun, go see crappy early summer movies, and still feel safe that we are not going to get pulverized by falling space debris.

However, this is the age of the Internet, and anyone with a blog or free homepage can start spreading stories.

Comet-related news also stirs creepy, decade-old memories of a certain group of science fiction fans, who happened to share the name of a historic movie flop, that took the arrival of a comet a bit too seriously.

I guess in the post-Katrina era, those in authority have to try even harder to reach the public and calm fears.

Here is to a Memorial Day where the only falling ice will be dropping into tall drink glasses with funny umbrellas.

Don't panic.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

China and NASA working together?

A story on the New Scientist website says that NASA is looking into the possiblities of cooperating with the Chinese space program. NASA boss Michael Griffin is planning to visit China later this year.

NASA wants to go back to the moon. China wants to go to the moon.

This could be big.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Cat in zero gravity


I have shown this video to several people. Some think it is funny. Others think it is just plain mean. You decide how you feel.

Either way, it is interesting how a cat reacts to zero gravity. Cats have the instinct to land on their feet, twisting themselves in mid-air to land paws first.

But what happens when there is no "down"?

Apparently this causes havoc with a cat's internal sensors, making them spin around in loops as they try to find which way to land.

If I were in space, where one small hole in my spacesuit could cause disaster, the last thing I would want in orbit with me...is a cat.

I did not make this video, nor did I post it on YouTube...so no hate e-mails please.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Roving Mars


I went to see Roving Mars this weekend, and was pleased to find it the best IMAX film I have seen since The Dream is Alive. It also played to a large crowd of people who turned out on a rainy day to see it.

The audience was suprisingly pulled in and awed by the science content in the film. Films that feature NASA scientists explaining things in detail usually make people, especially kids, get sleepy and shift in their seats. Because the content of Roving Mars is well edited, the drama of discovery is intact. When a NASA scientist tells us why they think Mars once had surface water, the visuals and the science talk work together, sharing the knockout moment as decades of work and research pay off.

Although I loved every minute of the movie, there were two parts that stand out in my mind.

When you see the Mars Rovers close up in IMAX, you can appreciate how complex they really are. On TV or in small images, they look pretty simple: solar panels, wheels, shock absorbers, a robot arm, and other assorted gadgets.

Up close, you see that they are teeming with wires, cables, and mysterious boxes filled with high-tech gear. These are not toy robots that a teenage gearhead could cobble together in his dad's garage with a soldering gun; these are very delicate and complicated instruments that no one person fully understands. To see the workmanship up close makes you appreciate the engineering prowess of NASA's geeks.


The other part that connects with me is seeing mission control on the day of the landing. Computer graphics show what the landers went through on their way down: the fiery ride through the thin Mars atmosphere, the landing airbags expanding like a space-traveling puffer fish, and the bouncing landing on the red soil. No earthly camera could capture that, so we see it through CGI.

But the cameras do capture the people in mission control. The men and women, with their headsets and computer screens, know all too well that it only takes is one missed signal, one malfunction, and all their work goes flying off into space, or is smashed on the martian plains. When a tiny purple line appears on a readout monitor, only then is it confirmed the rovers have reached the surface safely. Cheers and applause fill the room as the first pictures from Mars scroll on the main screen. The joy of this moment in the control room gives some human warmth to a movie about a very cold planet.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Star Trek - The Comeback


Star Trek is set to make a comeback in 2008 with a new movie.

As someone who grew up with Trek, and still has his models of the Enterprise that were build as a pre-teen, I have mixed feelings.

Part of me cares, and part of me has moved on.

As I re-organized my sloppy computer room, I found many old science fiction books and neatly ordered them on my shelf. I do not own many Trek books, and the ones I do own are mostly about the production and creation of the series.

I did find that I own lots of old school science fiction, like JG Ballard and Philip K. Dick. I also own the newer stuff (newer as in less than 30 years old) by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson.

I bought most of these books when I was in my late teens and early 20s. Some I read, others I just kept to read when I got around to it. Now that I am older and have more life-experience, I look forward to reading them with a new perspective.

I find that I mostly gave up on Star Wars and Star Trek when I got old enough to vote. I found myself drawn more movies like Blade Runner and Aliens, which reflected a much harsher and less-idealistic world of the future.

The Star Trek and Star Wars universes belong to a benevolent federation and a Jedi Order, where good and evil are clearly defined.
I still watched the shows and movies out of curiosity and appreciation of the sets and special effects, but they seems more like childhood relics, like the models that I built and painted as a kid. The world of Neuromancer or Snow Crash is our current world of corporations, rapid-fire technological change and moral quandaries.

Star Trek aired in the late 60s, when America was torn by social strife, war, and the fear of nuclear annihilation; quite a contrast to the Trek portrayal of an idealized future. Space travel was the exciting new science of the time, so the idea of humans zipping between planets several centuries from now did not seem so far out.

Now we have a much more science-literate audience who have grown up with the Internet and the Discovery channel. It might be harder for Trek to pull them in as viewers, since some of the future-tech in the show seems kind of cheesy compared to what we know today. Then again, young researchers at NASA were inpired by Star Trek to create the ION engine for space probes.

The really big question is do people really want to watch new Star Trek now? With all the talk of global warming, some are begining to doubt that humanity might be around for 30 years, much less 300 years and the time to develop warp-drive.

Who cares what happens 300 years from now? I care in the sense that I do not want humankind to be wiped out by plagues, pollution, comet impacts, or grey goo. It is one thing to hope humans explore the stars and create a circle of intergalactic pals, but right now so many earthly matters are in our face.

Can I really empathize with people who don't use money anymore, live to be in their 100s thanks to medical wizardry, and have perfect bods to fill out those pajama-like uniforms? They live in their perfect 23rd century while I'm stuck in the era of identity theft and global outsourcing.

Star Trek has been strongest when it took on controversial issues in a way even non-geeks could relate to. Like Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, Star Trek could use its science fiction veneer to allow writers to take on thorny topics, like race-relations and nuclear war, without irritating network censors or twitchy sponsors.

Maybe the writers and producers can pull it off. Like I have said before on this blog, we could seriously use some optimism about the future, even if it is a tad silly at times.

Whatever they do with the new Trek, I would like to see them use the designs of Matt Jefferies as a reference. He was the designer whocreated the design for the orignial Enterprise and gave the sets their unique look.

Friday, April 21, 2006

2001: A Space Ipodyssey



I always thought there was an unsettling similarity between the black case of an Ipod Nano and the famous monolith from a certain Stanley Kubrick film.

I guess I wasn't alone.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Scott Crossfield 1921 - 2006


I just heard the news about the loss of Scott Crossfield, the first pilot to reach Mach 2 (1,320 mph) and who flew the X-series research aircraft.

There is more about Scott Crossfield's life and career on this page over at NASA.gov.

As I was reading the official press release on the NASA site, I noticed that Crossfield was involved with the reliability engineering and quality assurance for the Apollo command and service modules and Saturn V second stage.

That part stands out for me because I think how mind-boggling it must have been to break the Mach 2 barrier and fly the X-15 plane to the edge of space and be part of putting humans on the moon.

What an extraordinary life...84 years...ended too soon.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Space age bowling alleys and coffee shops - Why I love Googie architecture!

Space Age Lodge - Gila Bend, AZ - Postcard photo from Greg Ottinger

What is Googie? I could spend hours trying to describe it, but the front page of Chris Jespen's Googie Architecture Online does it so well.

Googie architecture was born of the post-WWII car-culture and thrived in the 1950s and 1960s. Bold angles, colorful signs, plate glass, sweeping cantilevered roofs and pop-culture imagery captured the attention of drivers on adjacent streets. Bowling alleys looked like Tomorrowland. Coffee shops looked like something in a Jetsons cartoon.

Why do I love it?

If you have read my previous blog entries, you know that I have a soft spot for the era of Tomorrowland and the dreams of the space age.

Rocket to the Moon - Disneyland

I was not even alive during the age of Googie, but I feel a connection to its quirky vision of the future that never was.

Googie to me seems to be an attempt to create a sense of the future in a time that was still far away from the year 2000. In the 50s and 60s, space travel was still a technological marvel. Computers were giant and mysterious machines. Color television was nearly miraculous.

There were hints of a world to come, where these new wonders would be as common as the telephone, that was nearly a lifetime away.

Googie reflects an optimism of a time when the future and technology were still new and exciting, offering a sense of adventure that awaited us. It was cheerful when nuclear war fears were now looming over a nation.

Seimons Pavilion - 1964 World's Fair

Now we are used to computers and space travel. The future that Googie teased us with has come, and like a child who gets the shiny new toy on Christmas day, now that we see it out of the box, we are slightly disappointed that it is not everything we have hoped it would be. It is often difficult to be optimistic as we read headlines about global warming and bird flu. When we look to the future now, it scares the hell out of us.

The Pine Room - Cecil Motel, Manitoba, Canada -Photo from a postcard

Googie has made a comeback of sorts today. Retro furniture and the designs of the 50s, 60s, and the often mocked 70s are being rediscovered by a new generation.

For younger people who were raised with laptop computers and threats of terrorism, an age when civic centers, bowling alleys and diners looked like spaceports seems kooky.

Kooky is what we need a little of right now in our day to day lives. Most of us live in an identical landscape of stripmalls, office towers, and housing tracts, which cover an ever growing cookie-cutter America.

While we love our big box stores and coffee houses, it is a rare space (no pun intended) that has its own unique identity.

Googie is playful and often unique. In the world of Googie, an everyday place for eating, shopping, or entertaining is a trip out of our everyday world. That why Googie lovers mourn the passing of a bowling alley or a coffee shop that is plowed under: each example is usually one of a kind.

Perhaps that is why Googie is being appreciated over half a century later, because everyone could use a little space age whimsy: where even a common storefront can be a new frontier and where a brighter tomorrow is served up with pie and coffee.

Satellite Shopland - Katella Way, Anaheim, CA -(Near I-5 Freeway and Haster St.)

A very special thanks to Chris Jespen for his pictures and his amazing site.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Back to work!

After a solid week of organizing, putting it off some more, then organizing, I finally have my workspace in order. Now I can get back down to blogging.

I have not sat down with a book that was not related to school, computers, web design or buisness for a long time. It has been too long since I have read a book for fun.

I am also shocked to discover that I have not read many books by writer Philip K. Dick. After reading about his life, I am ready to dive in and read his works.

A whole shelf of classic science fiction, that I bought back when I was teenager, awaits. These are books I meant to read, but never got around to it. They have been waiting, like a hidden treasure, for me to re-discover.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Cleaning house

I've been tearing apart my workspace lately. You do not realize how much stuff you own till you have to move it around.

I have come up with some great stories to blog about, but now I have to put back my collection of paperback books in its proper order.

I also discovered that I own a copy of Spacetime Donuts by Rudy Rucker: a very rare book.

Once my computer room is back in order, I can get back to work.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

3 months of blogging...and still here

I have read that most blogs are abandoned after three months. Some bloggers have the will and the drive to keep posting. Others find that real life eclipses their blogging and stop writing.

I have not written as much as I would like to. I wanted to be an everyday poster, but it has not worked out that way.

I am still here after three months. Let us see what the future holds.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

That was no martian...It's April Fool's Day

I know the CBS radio broadcast of War of the Worlds does not really count as an April Fool's Joke, but I am listing it here anyway. It may have happened on Halloween, but the echoes of Orson Welles drama can still be felt in the internet age. You could say that Welles was the first "troll".

For a list of other April Fools Day's hoaxes, check out this list at the Museum of Hoaxes.

The official sites for Star Trek and Star Wars post April Fool's jokes yearly.

StarTrek.com is announcing their "new redesign". Yuk Yuk!

StarWars.com is announcing a new chapter of the Star Wars trilogy called The Shadow War Chronicles. Before you get your hopes up, be sure to look carefully.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Space Walk - A video by Josh Thomas



While searching through YouTube and discovering the Aliens video, I also found this video by Josh Thomas, featuring his music.

No pulse rifles. No xenomorphs. Just images of the cosmos and music.

This video makes me think back to when I would go stargazing on cold winter nights, looking through the telescope at the distant rings of Saturn, or the bright stripes of Jupiter.

Special thanks to Josh Thomas for his video.

Jill Carroll is free

American journalist Jill Carroll is free, after being held hostage in Iraq since January.

I was hoping for some good news to counter all the gloom and doom I have been reading lately.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

LET'S ROCK with Aliens!

I have been busy lately, so I have not been blogging as much as I would like to, but something has been on my mind that I wanted to blog about.

This summer it will be over 20 years since the movie Aliens was released.

I plan to write a special blog entry about the impact of James Cameron's masterpiece of slime, guns, and long, sharp, pointy teeth. That will be coming later.

For now...check out this music video featuring rapid-fire scenes from Aliens and the techno-version of O Fortuna.

I love these YouTube clips!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A lost space age is found


Rachel from Babayaga has sent me this photo of space age wallpaper in an old house, with an amazing backstory.

It's the scanned photograph of the vintage 'space' wallpaper I told you about. One summer while hiking, I found this wallpaper adorning the walls of a child's bedroom in an old abandoned house in a secluded region of this province. The entire area has never had access to electricity and this house had never been wired for power or phone service (and still hand a hand-pumped water well). Can you imagine the life of the children who had this wallpaper on their walls and no doubt grew up reading novels and comic books by candlelight (or oil lamps etc)? This 'futuristic' vision must have seemed far away and completely inaccessible to them. These were kids who probably had to travel to "town" to see the first moon landing on a television set in a local store.

My thanks to Rachel for the picture and words.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Secret space plane? Hold on there a minute!

The Space Review has a skeptical take on the Blackstar story from Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Reports of top secret aircraft have surfaced before, such as a story about an atomic powered Soviet bomber in the late 1950s. Some of the stories seemed convincing, but lost credibility under scrutiny.

Does the Blackstar story hold up? Read the story and make up your own mind.

Like before, the picture above is of the XB-70A, which I found on the NASA Image eXchange(NIX)....NOT the secret plane.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Mars rover loses a wheel, but keeps on going

Spirit, one of the two Mars Rovers, has lost function in a wheel. Despite this problem, the rover will still keep rolling along.

The two mars rovers were expected to function for only 90 days. Today, the mission is on its second year.

If only we could expect this sort of performance out of cars.

I found the location of Spirit on Google Mars, which features a nifty page showing spacecraft landing sites.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Michael Wolf and Architecture of Density

I recently discovered the photography of Michael Wolf and his exhibit Architecture of Density, focusing on the urban landscape and culture of Hong Kong.

To me, these images are like peering over the edge a high-rise balcony that has no guardrail. The view is amazing, but you get kind of nervous realizing how small a single person is in comparison to the walls looming above and below you.

In other photo exhibits, Wolf documents the people who live in this landscape, such as this woman in a toy factory and this painter.

My thanks to Michael Wolf for allowing me to share his extraordinary images.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Dark energy, dark matter, black holes and stretched light

New Scientist.com features an article on how dark energy, dark matter, and black holes may all be related. If this new idea holds true, what we think of as a black hole will be changed forever.

Black holes were once thought to be a star that collapsed on itself, becoming so dense that their gravity pulled in everything, including light. Nothing could escape.

That sounds simple enough, but the black hole theory is filled with strange possiblities. One of these theories was how light would become so enlongated by the pull of gravity that it might leave a "ghost" image...lingering at the black hole's edge forever.

This new dark energy theory could solve some of these problems, but it helps if you are aware of what dark energy is, and you know it has nothing to do with "The Force" from Star Wars.

The most mind-bending concept in the article is that our whole universe might be a giant dark energy star. How such a star would come into being...who knows?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Saturn's moon Enceladus - My God...It's full of water!

Water is jetting out of Enceladus, one of Saturn's many moons.

The Cassini-Huygens probe detected plumes of water escaping into space, an indication there may be liquid reservoirs hidden below the surface.

What has scientists all excited are not images of Enceladus spewing water out like a lawn sprinkler, but the possiblity that conditions might be right for life to exist in such an enviroment.

This might be a great time to read Arthur C. Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two again, which features the discovery of life forms sloshing around on Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter.

The surface of Enceldaus the moon is geologically active, pulled and torn by the gravity of Saturn.

The Enceldaus from Greek Mythology was a legendary giant, buried under the Earth by the goddess Athena. Eruptions from Greece's Mount Etna were supposed to be his breath.

On Earth and in space, it is a rough time for Enceladus.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Blackstar - The secret spaceplane gets grounded?

Aviation Week is reporting that a secret spaceplane program known as Blackstar, after being in operation since the 1990s, may have been grounded due to budget cuts.

Please note: the photo above is NOT the secret plane. The plane above is the XB-70 which may be similar in appearance to the secret plane. The other aircraft in the photo is an X-15. I found this picture in the NASA Image eXchange(NIX).

If you want a better look at the XB-70, check out the movies in this NASA archive.

According to the story, the capablities of the Blackstar are still unconfirmed, but it may have been used to release a smaller spacecraft to perform missions such as intelligence gathering or even satellite launches.

Now I have a question.

If this spaceplane program exists and has been shut down, what is going to happen to all the hardware? Are they going to just mothball it?

Maybe they could sell it to Sir Richard Branson, paint some corporate logos on the side of it, and then put it to use as a spaceplane for the rich and adventurous. If it is a proven working system, then it should be ready to go. All that would have to be worked out is a price for a ticket.

That is...if the aircraft exists in the first place.

Shhhhhhh!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Fearful Cinema - Be afraid, be very afraid...of the movies!

Newsweek magazine features an article on the fearful tone of films this Oscar season.

Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck both feature George Clooney and echo the tradition of films like Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove: films that reflected the Cold War fears of the 1960s.

The article focuses on Clooney, the reasons that motivated him to be in such controversial films, and why these two films reflect the fearful nature of our current time.

My question is, when have the movies NOT been fearful?

Even during the supposed happy days of the 1950s, cinema unleashed paranoid science fiction, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Invaders From Mars, as thinly veiled attempts to tap the paranoia of the Cold War.

Today we think of these films as drive-in classics from the era of poodle skirts and cars with tailfins, but they share that time with backyard bomb shelters and the Hollywood blacklist.

Audiences then and today can laugh these films off as cheesy science fiction, but the helplessness of a boy who sees trusted adults turned into glassy-eyed martian servants, or a man shrieking "YOU'RE NEXT!" in the middle of street can still make people feel a slight shudder.

In my memories of the 1980s (a decade now filtered through VH1 specials as nothing but Rubik's cubes, John Hughes films, and spiky-haired pop stars), there were many sleepless nights brought on by nuclear war movies like The Day After, and the much meaner and grittier Threads. The fear of nuclear war seems quaint today when compared to many of our current troubles, yet the threat still hovers over us.

Could the current trend of political and "fearful" movies be connected to moviemakers' desire to attract more adult ticket buyers? There could be more at work here than George Clooney or particular political point of view.

It could be just business sense at work: the realization that movies need to serve a purpose other than being a celluloid fun house.

Back in the 1970s, movie makers aimed for the youth market with like Star Wars and Jaws. That continued through to the 1980s with films like E.T. and Batman. The kids were the ones to aim for because they bought tickets...and they also bought lunch boxes and action figures.

Now the kids have Playstations, webcomics, and MySpace. If I were a teen today, why would I want to pay ten bucks to sit still for two hours in the dark when I can blow stuff up, chat with friends in my own cyberspace clubhouse, or watch DVDs on my parents' plasma screen home theater?

Cinema used to be the place to see amazing images and action that blocky video games could not deliver. Pac-Man was no match for 70mm Dolby Stereo.

Now video games have the action and splendor of blockbuster movies, which a commentator for Wired expressed while reviewing Star Wars: Empire At War.

The demands of the action film audience are higher than ever. Back in the 1970s, the slimy creature from Alien was scary. People have thicker skins now. After watching gross-out reality shows and seeing disasters both man-made and natural on video, it is a more daunting task to shake us up. The trailer for yet another rapid-fire action film, hurling flaming car parts at the camera, now provokes eye-rolls and jeers from cinema audiences the same way an untended ringing cell phone does.

Yet some moviemakers are looking to polish up the old thrill ride, taking on the challenge of jaded audiences.

Take a look at the trailer for Posideon. What reason exists to remake The Posideon Adventure? Wolfgang Petersen is directing, and the CGI and stunt artists have more tricks in their bag, but it is still the same Irwin Allen movie at heart.

Movies like this can be fun, but we know that this is just two hours of highly-paid actors running around expensive sets, with the danger to be green-screened in behind them later. We can walk away from them afterwards and focus on getting dinner. A film like Syriana tends to linger in your mind for a while, like the after image of a flash bulb on a retina.

After thirty years of special effects, epilespy-inducing editing, and thundering music...perhaps we are ready to start watching movies about serious topics again.

The old movie formulas are showing their age. Moviegoers can spot the plot twists minutes after the lights dim, or even finish the characters' sentences of cliched dialogue.

Perhaps moviemakers can focus on our brains instead of trying tweak our already overstimulated nerve endings?

I am not scared of that.