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 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.


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 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 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".


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

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.