Friday, December 21, 2007

Carl Sagan remembered 11 years later

Yesterday was the eleventh anniversary of the death of Carl Sagan, astronomer and host of the TV show Cosmos.

I grew up watching Carl Sagan on Cosmos and spending many frozen winter nights looking at distant stars and planets through a telescope. His pop culture appeal helped bring an appreciation of astronomy to a generation who would grow up with space shuttle launches and images from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Sagan is memorialized on the planet Mars, where the landing site of the first Mars rover bears his name. Sadly, Sagan died before the first amazing images from that mission were transmitted back to Earth.

I found this video narrated by Carl Sagan where he talks about Earth as the "Pale Blue Dot" and featuring music by Vangelis.



Blogger Joel Schlosberg has posted a vast number of links about Sagan's life.

Bad Astronomy's Phil Plait remembers Carl Sagan and what he learned from him.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Epcot at Disney - 25 years old


Today marks the 25th anniversary of Disney's Epcot, which opened on October 1, 1982.

1982 was a futuristic year. Schools were offering the first computer classes for kids. Blade Runner and The Road Warrior were two stunning and scary futuristic films destined to become classics. On the same date as the Epcot opening, Sony introduced the first CD player.

Epcot was something that Walt Disney himself had imagined as an experimental community, where people would live and work. The Epcot of 1982 was far from Walt's grand vision. Epcot was more of a World's Fair, offering a glimpse of an optimistic future and a celebration of world culture.

The Epcot that stands today is different than the one in 1982. The World of Motion, Horizons, and other exhibits have been demolished and or modified. Rides like Mission SPACE and Test Track have replaced them.

Several blogs have sprung up to discuss what Epcot has become and what its future might hold. Some lament that Epcot has become more of a kiddie ride than an expo for learning about the future.

One may argue that Epcot is more of a relic than a park, made obsolete by the rise of the Internet. With tools like blogs and Wikis, the amount of information available on the web makes any information a park exhibit might share old news before it even gets off the drawing board.


But Disney has a legacy of inspiring the future. Aerospace engineer Burt Rutan has said he was motivated to pursue a career in aviation, and eventually spaceflight, after watching Disney's Man In Space shows as a child. Tomorrowland left an impression on me that was enough to start blogging. Who knows how many countless children passed through the gates of Disney parks and left to follow creative lives as they matured.

Epcot's identity crisis is a sign of how predicting the future has changed. I jokingly made the slogan of this blog "Until I get a flying car or a jetpack...this will do". Flying cars, jetpacks, space colonies were practically assured to be reality by the time the 21st century came along. Some of Epcot's demolished or retired exhibits were filled with such lofty visions.

The kids of the 1980s are all grown up now. Raised on computers and science fiction, they now face the very real problems of e-waste, climate change, and preserving a fragile planet. All humans are all forced to become futurists now, not just speculating about futuristic gizmos and techno-wonders, but for our very survival.

Epcot has always faced a daunting challenge. How do you get easily-bored kids and their parents, who are paying for a pricey vacation, to go to a place to have fun and actually learn something? Disney parks have been able (with generous corporate sponsorship...of course) to make it work. I will be watching closely to see what Disney's imagineers will do to help Epcot adapt.

The world of Epcot enters its 25th year facing an uncertain future. So do we all.


LINKS

Epcot Central - A blog about Epcot
Re-Imagineering - A blog written by Disney Imagineers and with several entries about the future of Epcot
The Official Epcot Homepage - The Epcot Page on Disney.com
Walt Disney's Original Plan for Epcot - A film where Walt Disney himself proposes the original idea for Epcot
The CDP-101 - The first CD player by Sony. Introduced on this date.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

September 13th and Space 1999 - The day the moon was hurled out of orbit

It's been years since the date of September 13, 1999 has passed, but the moon still orbits the Earth...and is still unvisited by humans since the Apollo missions.

Between the years of the cancellation of Star Trek and the debut of Star Wars, Gerry Anderson's Space 1999 had its own unique style. From the tight-fitting uniforms to the funky opening music, Space 1999 is classic 1970s science fiction.

One of notable qualities of Space 1999 is humility. The inhabitants of the year 1999 do not have warp drive, light sabers, or a federation of mighty starships to explore the vast reaches of space.

The crew of Space 1999 are trapped on Moonbase Alpha, an outpost on Earth's moon flung into space when a pile of nuclear waste explodes and acts as an accidental rocket motor.

The survivors on Moonbase Alpha are cut off from Earth, forced to conserve their precious resources and dealing with the unknown. While rubbery aliens show up at times, loneliness and vacuum of deep space are bigger foes than Klingons or Stormtroopers.

Space 1999
is not as campy as Star Trek. Martin Landau's Commander Koenig is not the scenery-chewing and alien-maiden-seducing Captain Kirk. Disco-dance-floor worthy title music aside, the music score by Barry Gray echoes the somber string music used by Stanley Kubrick for the Discovery One scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. For a science fiction show, the presentation is amazingly mature...even if the computer terminals are occasionally revealed to be made of paper.

Years like 1999 and 2001 used to conjure up visions of a world much different than our own. Commentators and pop culture observers often flog the dead horse of how we do not have jetpacks or flying cars. While we don't have moonbases and Eagle Transporters, today's cellphones are slimmer than the comlink devices featured as one of Space 1999's futuristic tech gadgets.

The interior of Moonbase Alpha is spare and clean, reflecting the look of the 1970s, which has seen a recent resurgence in the appreciation of the fashions and design of that era.

The Eagle Transporters, the workhorse spacecraft of Space 1999, are surprisingly realistic. They are the great grandchildren of the lunar modules of the late 1960s, all grown up and sporting bigger engines. I doubt they could fly through the atmosphere of a planet like they do on the show, but hey...it's a TV show. And they make a great toy for any kid.

Here's the opening credits of Space 1999. Rock on in the 21st century to that theme music!



LINKS

Space1999.net
Space 1999 on Wikipedia
Space 1999 Catacombs - Resource guide
Martin Bower's Model World - Space 1999 spaceship models
Space 1999 tech section - Displaying the stun gun and comlink

Thursday, August 30, 2007

TNT's 100% Weird promo


Back before I could get my favorite old Sci-Fi films by the truckload on DVD, I used to catch them on a show on TNT called 100% Weird.

I found the old promo on YouTube. The music and jingle remind me of old corporate films and ads that sold cars and kitchen products.

I love the part where the TNT logo is wheeled into the psychopathic department on a gurney. What company today would be brave enough to suggest their logo needed to be put into a padded cell and sedated?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The new world of "internet" back in 1993



I found this video of a newscast talking about the "new computer network called Internet".

How long has it been since I've heard an old phone modem make that buzzing sound?

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Space Shuttle Endevour and sunrise

An incredible photo from the NASA site as the Shuttle Endevour is stands ready for liftoff. To get a really close-up look, check out the high-res version.

More photos of the Space Shuttle roll-out on the NASA Space Shuttle gallery.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Extinct Disney World attractions live on through YouTube

During the same trip to Walt Disney World I visited the Sci-Fi Dine-In, I also took a trip to the Magic Kingdom. While most of the park was as I remembered it as a kid, there were some rides that were gone or replaced.

One of them was the 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea ride, where visitors could ride a replica of Captain Nemo's Nautilus and come face to face with a giant squid. It was a cheesy ride by modern standards, but still great fun.

It was gone when I visited the park this time. The lagoon was still there there and still filled with water...but Nautilus was closed for good.

Time does not stand still, and neither do theme parks. The ride would eventually be replaced with some new attraction. Like anything you love as a kid, you feel a twinge of loss when it is lost, even if it was a little worn-out.

A couple years later I was looking through YouTube and found that home movies of the old 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea ride had been uploaded by users. There were was the Nautilus again! Watching the video put me back to my first Disney trip with my parents so long ago.



I found that YouTube had become an archives of old Disney rides. From Epcot's The World of Motion to videos of the original Tomorrowland, YouTube had stored the home movies and memories of countless vacations and images of long extinct attractions.

The video sometimes is shaky and the sound a little muddy, but something has been salvaged that captures the experience more than pictures and words.

For generations who never got a chance to see these attractions while they were around, this will be as close as they get. Perhaps virtual reality or Second Life will mature enough not just to bring back old Disney rides, but the exhibits of the 1964 Worlds Fair and other fanciful places that have met with the wrecking ball.

Until then, some streaming video and mono sound will have to do, but that is enough to bring back memories.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Sci-Fi Dine-In at Disney-MGM Studios and the worlds of old science fiction

Over five years ago I took a trip to Walt Disney World. A decade had passed since I visited the park and I was curious to see what had changed.

One of the places I was determined to visit was the Sci-Fi Dine-In at Disney-MGM Studios theme park. I had seen the entrance on my last visit, but I didn't have time to stay and have dinner.

The Sci-Fi Dine-In is a 1950s drive-in movie theater re-created indoors. It fits into theme of the Disney-MGM Studios park's appeal to baby boomer nostalgia for Hollywood's past and retro design.


Visitors to the Sci-Fi Dine-In sit in booths shaped like small cars. The walls are decorated with stars and a nighttime landscape. On the menu are drive-in favorites: burgers, fries, shakes. Clips and trailers from old black-and-white science fiction films play on the screen up front. Even the drinks play up the sci-fi theme, with electric glowing ice cubes.

While I am part of the generation that grew up with Star Wars rather than The Day The Earth Stood Still, 1950s and 60s science fiction was part of my childhood. I saw most of those films on Saturday afternoons on TV. The special effects (and often the plots) were tacky, but the filmmakers and artists who made those films often pulled off amazing visions with no CGI or lavish budgets.

Visiting the Sci-Fi Dine-In made me reflect on how much of my childhood was influenced by design and culture created long before I was born.

I realize the 1950s were not the idealized time that some believe them to be. Read some history and you will know it was not Leave It To Beaver or Ozzie and Harriet. However, the 1950s were marked by an excitement about the future (especially space travel) that is missing from our more cynical times. The events of the last fifty years have insured we will never go back to a state of innocence, yet the music, movies, architecture, and graphic design of that time period have endured.

The films and TV shows of the 1950s are part of my past and continue to inspire me. The Sci-Fi Dine-In is a tribute to the era of tin-pie-plate flying saucers and rubber monsters, and entertaining no matter what era you live in or what age you are.


To see more of the Sci-Fi Dine-In, here are some links....

YouTube videos are here, here, and here.

Photos on Flickr are here.

Here is the official entry on the Sci-Fi Dine-In on the Disney World Home Page.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Design for Dreaming - The freeway fantasies of the 1950s

I first saw Design for Dreaming on a laserdisc of 1950s short films over a decade ago. I was more bemused than impressed. What the heck was this weird promotion film for GM Cars with a pixie-ish woman being whisked off to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel by a masked stranger?

This was my first introduction to the charm of retro-culture. This film is silly, and somewhat sexist to boot, but it clearly captures the optimism of the 1950s. The cars are classics, especially the Corvette. The stainless steel kitchen with the bubble-domed oven echoes the sleek futurism that lives on in today's modern designs.

The girl and her magical guide ride off in a rocket car (sporting a tail-fin that belongs on the back of a shark) down a glitter-dusted freeway of the space age. The future highways are devoid of traffic jams and happy drivers smile from behind the wheels of atomic-powered luxury cars. After experiencing the depression and World War II, highways must have seemed like futuristic blessings to the adults of the 1950s.

Design for Dreaming
is remarkable for the 1950s for centering a vision of the future on a woman's dreams and desires. While she is still expected to toil in the kitchen, she also wants her own sports car.

The giddiness of Design for Dreaming is unforgettable. I still hear that Toooooooooomorrrrrrowwwwwwwwwww song in the back of my mind when I see designs for future electric cars.

I doubt those new cars will have fins.



I dedicate this post to my wife as we celebrate five years of marriage.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

July 24, 1959 - The Nixon/Khrushchev Kitchen Debate



I find the "Kitchen Debate" fascinating because the weighty issues of world peace and atomic destruction were discussed within the placid setting of an American kitchen.

The newsreel footage mentions that the event is being recorded on COLOR videotape, a futuristic technology for the time period, now a standard feature on cellphones and laptop computers.

I love the architecture of the building for the American Exposition. The dome reminds me of the 1964 World Fair and Disney's Tomorrowland.

Who would have thought that washing machines and blenders would provoke such a reaction?

Maybe those color schemes of the 1950s shocked Khrushchev's senses.

Wikipedia has more detail about the Kitchen Debate.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Stars and planets to scale

You can't help but feel small after looking at this.

Friday, July 20, 2007

One small step...


Here is the famous TV broadcast of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the lunar surface.

While the moon landing of July 20, 1969 is considered to be a major success for NASA and space travel, there were some tense moments leading up to the landing on the moon.

Wired.com features a look back at the moon landing and fears that astronauts would become marooned.

Looking forward, NASA's home page features pictures and details on the Constellation Program, designed to return to the moon.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The liftoff of Apollo 11



I found this video on YouTube of the liftoff of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969, the mission that put the first humans on the surface of the moon.

This must have been an amazing sight for those who saw the Saturn V rocket lift off into the skies over Cape Canaveral. I've heard that watching a rocket this big take off is something you see and feel. The engine sound is so loud that it shakes the ground like an earthquake. The fire and smoke plume from the engines are visible from miles away.

When I watch this video, I try to place myself in the moment as an wide-eyed kid watching science fiction become real, or an older person who might have remembered the first flight of the Wright Brothers.

The excitement of the launch started even before Apollo 11 fired up its engines. As the countdown clock marked the seconds before liftoff, viewers had to contemplate that this machine sitting on the pad contained three men who were going to the moon. After years of testing and designing space hardware, this was the day.

I wonder if another generation will ever see a sight like this again and feel the same awe. We are more jaded about the promises of science and space travel. Memories of Apollo missions are sometimes painful, reflecting on the past lofty dreams of space travel with a current humble reality.

But there are still engineers and dreamers who are inspired by the past, and they have plans for their own spacebound ambitions.

One day, I hope I get to see a trail of fire against a blue sky with my own eyes, while the ground rumbles beneath my feet.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The mars rovers need all the luck they can get.


Today is July the 7th of 2007, which is supposed to be the luckiest day ever. From wedding chapels to gambling tables, many hope the luck of a line of sevens in the date will rub off on them.

Some of that luck is needed on the planet Mars right now. Massive sandstorms are posing a threat to the Mars Rovers. The storm that is brewing right now is so big that it could freeze the rovers and end their already extended missions.

In the film Roving Mars, one NASA scientist said the day would come when the rovers would go to sleep in the Martian night and not wake up the next day. The cold would claim them as they powered down.

That day will come...but hopefully not too soon. The rovers still have a lot to explore.

Wish them luck.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Darth Vader, bad dads, and Father's Day

It is Father's Day, and here's Robot Chicken's tribute to the one of the worst dads ever: Darth Vader.

Darth Vader has been a looming presence this Father's Day. And Still I Persist features a profile of a Star Wars gift set for Father's Day, featuring figures of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. What kind of message are you sending dad with a gift like this?

Pajiba.com features a collection of clips of the worst movie dads of all time, ranging from Jack Nicholson from The Shining, to Darth Vader, to Rodney Dangerfield in Natural Born Killers.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A lunch break in space - The daily chores of astronauts



This is a YouTube video from a previous mission of the Space Shuttle Discovery. There are plenty of videos of shuttle available showing the Earth from space. This one I think is unique because of the the background audio.

Mission control is contacting the shuttle during their lunch hour. Mission control apologizes for bothering them during lunch hour, then lists chores and technical issues they have to resolve.

While they discuss their daily duties, the majestic Earth rolls by overhead.

If humans do manage to build space colonies and live in orbit long-term, daily life would be a contrast of constant wonder and the daily grind of work that most of us put up with.

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey offered a glimpse of this working space-life. The famous shuttle docking scene with the Blue Danube is followed by Dr. Floyd having to make small talk with station officials and make phone calls, just like any business person traveling to Dulles or LAX today.

What did you expect? That space travelers would spend all their time with their noses glued to the window in a state of rapture? There is work to be done.

The view would be amazing, but your boss would still find ways to bother you on your lunch hour, sticky notes would probably be all over your workstation, and as the sun rises and sets dozens of times a day, hitting that SNOOZE button on the beeping alarm clock would start your morning.

Space is the final frontier...and a job.

Make sure to bring coffee.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Atlantis lifts off - Amazing images and the giant pencil sharpener


STS-117 lifted off last night and is on its way to the International Space Station.

Back before the web, the only information you could learn about a shuttle launch were the few tidbits that fit into a half-hour broadcast. Today, NASA's website offers more detail about all the work and ingenuity that goes into a launch.

One detail I learned this morning was the tool engineers used to repair the main fuel tank, which took a beating during a hailstorm as Atlantis sat on the launch pad.

A machine, nicknamed "the pencil-sharpener", sanded down the foam on the tank's delicate surface.

Right after a launch, NASA uploads huge hi-res photos of the shuttle to their website. Before, you had to buy an special large-format magazine to see such detail.

Now you can see a launch close-up only hours after it happens.

These are the times where I get chills. We might not live in a perfect EPCOT future, but some of mass communication wonders I saw as a kid in science fiction films and Disney Parks have come true.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

World War II presented Star Wars style - The circle is now complete

Today is the 63rd anniversary of the D-Day invasion and the beginning of the Battle of Normandy. Over 3000 allied soldiers died during the start of the invasion.

World War II is now the war of a previous century. The veterans of the war are aging and passing away in greater numbers. Images from the war are preserved on black and white film, a media that looks older than ever compared to video and digital images. Film itself is fading away with time, replaced by the memory card and hard drive.

Here is some video about D-Day.



Last week was the 30th anniversary of the release of Star Wars. The images of World War II shaped the story and images of George Lucas's science fiction space opera. From the Nazi-inspired Galactic Empire (right down to the word Stormtrooper) to the space dogfights over the Death Star that mimic the air battles over Britain and the Pacific, Star Wars harvests the images of a real war and remixes them with special effects into a cinematic thrill-ride.

Leon Hughes has edited a series of videos called World Wars. John Williams's score from Star Wars plays as backdrop to images of the real battles of the Second World War.

According to what I have read and seen, John William's score for Star Wars was more theatrical and powerful than Lucas had dare to hope for. Play any track from any of the Star Wars soundtracks and scenes from the movies start flickering on a cinema screen inside your mind.

With World Wars, the music of Star Wars superimposes the science fiction movie images over their all-too-real inspiration. The choosing of film clips and music is often clever, sometimes inspiring, and sometimes chilling.

Here is part one of three.



World Wars reminds me that the struggle of World War II still captivates filmmakers and artists today, and will continue do so for generations to come.

You can view part two here.

You can view part three here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A visit to "Todayland" in Meet The Robinsons



I saw Meet the Robinsons recently, the first digitally-projected film I've seen in a regular theater. I was curious to see how Digital-3D technology would play in full length feature.

3D has been used as a cheesy gimmick (Jaws 3D anyone?) in other films, or the technology was so ill-used I felt I had been looking through a a stained-glass window for two hours. This 3D movie was easy to watch and the "in your face" gags were kept to a minimum.

Meet the Robinson's is more a kid's film than a Pixar production. There are plenty of gags involving food getting splattered and slapstick to keep the ADD kids in their seats, along with tributes to past science fiction films to satisfy adult film geeks.

One such tribute is a robotic bowler hat named Doris, sporting a menacing red lens for an eye...much like a famous computer from a certain Stanley Kubrick film.

The Disney animators paint the backdrop of Meet The Robinsons from a palette cinematic futures, ranging Fritz Lang's gear-driven Metropolis to fiery towers of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Even Disney's own The Black Hole gets a nod when Doris deploys spinning metal blades, like Maximilian the killer robot.

The central inspiration for the pastel towers and art-deco curves of Meet the Robinsons are the over-optimistic futures ranging from pulp science fiction covers of the 1930s to Disney's Tomorrowland (Space Mountain and the old Astro-Orbiter make a cameo in a section of the future city called Todayland).

There is clear affection of Disney's creative crew for the futures that tantalized (or terrified) generations from the pulp-scifi of the early 20th century to the cyberpunk worlds of the 21st.

Meet the Robinsons
is a kids film at its core. Like the real Disney World, it is meant for kids, but that doesn't mean adults can't enjoy it too, and a refreshing change from some animated films that drop crude adult-oriented jokes in a vain attempt to be hip.

And the 3D didn't give me a headache.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The space shuttle tries again for a launch...and so does this blog!


Just as soon as I completed a new header for this blog and started writing new posts, I was sidetracked by all sorts of issues, projects, and other distractions.

Sometimes I find myself drifting away from this blog, but like an object with a strong gravitational field, it pulls me back.

The shuttle Atlantis rolled back out to the pad again to take another shot at a launch. Atlantis was supposed to launch in March, then was dinged-up by a hailstorm and had to be rolled back for repairs.

Over the last month I have learned more about blogging and space travel. I was not here typing away, the mission behind this blog has continued.

The mission of this blog originally was just to be a new toy for me to mess with and to post nifty stuff I found web-surfing. I once compared this blog to my own personal Tomorrowland where I would pick the attractions.

Now with the new graphics and new array of links I have added, part of that mission has been completed. This blog has survived over a year and has shed its old Blogger template. Much work remains to be done.

Shuttle launches are often nerve-wrecking affairs. Space travel is dangerous but also filled with moments of heartbreak. People wait for hours to watch a shuttle launch, only to have the mission scrubbed for the day due to bad weather or a leaky valve.

I've had my share of false starts here. There have been times I have planned to go full blast with daily posting and building some traffic, only to get distracted or delayed. Delays happen...but I always come back.

Like the Atlantis launch, I hope this time I don't have to roll back to the hangar for more repairs.

The mission continues.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A new template!

After using the plain rounders template for over a year, I finally spruced up the template for this blog.

With the retro-futuristic look of the new header, all I need is some Theremin music for the background music, but I'm not cheesy enough to annoy people with a looping sound file.

While I was creating the graphics for this new header, a song that was playing in the background was Telstar by The Tornados.

I found this video on YouTube of Telstar by Ed Miller. The images of early satellites with electronic music reminds me of old science films, the ones that inspired my love of space and the reason I started this blog in the first place.



There is also a new URL for this blog. www.charlesblogspace.com is the new home of Charles G's Blog Space.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Friday, March 16, 2007

Pilotless Drone - A grammar complaint becomes video art

Newspaper editorial errors can provoke nasty letters and phone calls from irate readers. One particular phone call featured on SFgate.com about the term "pilotless drone" has taken on a life of its own.

This video by chiefbluefeather from YouTube features several famous robots science fiction history, including Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet and VINcent from The Black Hole.

As a fan of old science fiction films, I can't help but love this video.



My thanks to Abby for the tip.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Empire as Office Space? Darth Vader mocks an officer

Members of the YouTube community continue to amaze me with how they can take a piece of footage you have seen a million times, re-cut it, and make it into something completely different.

This ominous scene from The Empire Strikes Back is an example. With a few simple edits, the whole scene changes into slapstick.

The Empire from the Star Wars films was supposed to be a formidable adversary to the Rebel Alliance. This clip makes the mighty Empire look like the dysfunctional company from Office Space.

If you compare the Empire to Office Space, does that make Darth Vader the character of Bill Lumbergh, or does that make him Milton? Lumbergh was the boss, but Milton had a red stapler and Darth Vader's lightsaber was red.

The Empire as Office Space? I am sure someone is hunched over their computer making that video right now.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

You're gonna play POLE POSITION!!!!!

While doing some research on YouTube, I found this commercial from the 1980s for Atari's Pole Position.

What strikes me about this ad is how nasty it is. Video game commercials, even back the the 1980s, appealed to a demographic that loved pushing buttons to blow things up...and Pole Position is a racing game where you are supposed to avoid causing destruction.

While this ad might not be as brutal as a session of Quake or Doom III, Atari's marketers seemed to think the way to get the MTV generation (back when MTV used to PLAY music) to open up their (or mom and dad's) wallet to buy a video game was to put a family of stereotype preppies in the the middle of a flaming car crash. Appealing to American kids' thirst for anarchy did not start with Grand Theft Auto.

The family in their Volkswagen looks "nerdy", with the dad and kids wearing big glasses. Ironically, 20 years later geek chic has now become a fashion trend, while the Volkswagen Rabbit has returned as a car aimed at hipsters.

I guess if this ad were made today, the dad would be a trendy looking baby boomer with his kids out for a drive to the local Starbucks in their hybrid SUV.

Considering how much bloodshed goes on in modern video games, I fear that family would wind up someplace very bad if the giant hand came to get them. They would be pursued and devoured by toothy demons or riddled with bullets by feuding urban warlords.

They would not last five minutes on the mean streets of Liberty City.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Floppie the Banjo Clown hand puppet

Mystery solved!



Floppie has his own site too.

Floppie is connected to a story that I've already written about, and to say anymore might ruin the surprise for some. If you want to know more about Floppie, you can do some searches on his name and find out.

Besides...clowns kind of creep me out.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Helen Mirren in the movie 2010

Actress Helen Mirren won an Academy Award recently for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen. Critics have praised Mirren's performance as a monarch dealing with the aftermath of death of Princess Diana.

I remember seeing Helen Mirren in her role as the Russian Cosmonaut and commander of the spaceship Leonov in 2010: The Year We Make Contact in 1984. Mirren is playing similar roles in both The Queen and 2010: a woman who has to face a dire situation and adapting to a world (or worlds) threatening to overwhelm her.

Back then I though Mirren was a Russian actress. Most of the Leonov crew are played by Russians actors, but I was suprised when I found out that Mirren is British. I also had seen her in Excalibur and did not recognize her.

Helen Mirren has Russian ancestors, and her original name was Ilyena Vasilievna Mironova, but she was born in Ilford, Essex, now a part of Greater London.

Early on in 2010, Mirren is the classic stereotype of a Russian woman in the movies during the cold war era: a stern personality as steely as the ship she commands. She's harsh and snippy with the American crew on her ship, who are there to repair the lost spaceship Discovery.

There is a dual conflict in 2010: as an extra-terrestrial presence emerges in the orbit around Jupiter, a political crisis back on Earth could start a nuclear war.

Mirren's cosmonaut reveals her softer side as the tension grows, expressing her fears as an officer, a wife, and a mother. She realizes the events around Jupiter are escalating beyond her ability to comprehend them.

The mysterious monolith has plans to transform Jupiter into a cradle new life, while the Earth spins toward atomic doomsday. In the middle of this, a woman who is used to being in control of her destiny finds herself having to embrace ideas that shatter her familiar thinking and dwarf her authority.

Like the Queen of England dealing with the crisis of confidence in the monarchy in 1997, the commander of the Leonov has to face the situation or be consumed by it...literally.

While 2010 does look more melodramatic nearly two decades after the cold war's end, it is remarkable that a film that came out only a few months after Red Dawn and a year before Rambo II, featured a crew of sympathetic Russian characters.

Space itself becomes a character in 2010. This is not the space of the Star Trek films, where ships bounce between star systems with a push of a button. The giant Leonov (designed by futurist Syd Mead) is formidable looking, yet when the ship has to maneuver into the upper atmosphere of Jupiter, you see how puny and delicate human technology is compared to the vastness of space and the gravity of giant planets.

Helen Mirren has played more dramatic and recognized roles, but I still remember her from 2010, even as she became more well known for her roles in TVs Prime Suspect and now The Queen. 2010 took a beating from fans of 2001 and from critics for not being as cerebral as Kubrick's film, nor as exciting as the Star Wars epics.

As the actual year 2010 approaches, perhaps the success of The Queen will encourage a second look at this film and Mirren's performance.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Blue Man Group - Disco meets CMYK

Last Friday I saw the Blue Man Group in concert. I did not sit in the "poncho" section, so I returned home with being splashed with anything, but I was close enough to get a good view of the show.

I sometimes find it hard to lose myself in a show like this, my brain is trying to interpret all the design choices and elements. I find myself asking in the middle of the show "Why did they pick that font for a title?" or "Is that a Stanley Kubrick reference?" This time the analytic side of my brain took a break for the evening.

One part of the Blue Man Group show that did appeal to the graphic arts geek of my personality was the song I Feel Love, where the lead singer wears a dress that flashes on and off in sync with stage lights. The effect was like a cross between the sound meters on graphic equalizer and a Pantone guide. Disco meets CMYK.

Here's a clip I found of the Blue Man Group in action with the electric dress.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The UFO powered car - Can alien technology can stop global warming?

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Yahoo News features a story about a former Canadian defense minister who demands that the governments of the world admit that they possess secret alien technologies, which could be used as an alternative fuel source to fossil fuels.

Are there really UFOs? I have no idea, but this story intrigued me as I tried to imagine what would happen if this former Canadian defense minister got exactly what he wanted.

What if governments of the world admit that they have hangars full of crashed UFOs, then they hand them over to companies who start backward engineering them?

Soon, I'm able to drop by my local dealership and pick up a new sedan that features the latest in alien engineering under the hood. Forget fuel cells, soon we are all driving cars powered by Men In Black style technology.

Steve Jobs would be offering new UFOIpods, offering music and cellphone tech powered by extra-terrestrial microchips. Maybe Microsoft could use UFO tech to make a version of Windows that expands Internet access across the solar system. That would give a whole new meaning to the slogan "Where do you want to go today?"

But wait a second...why would UFOs crash in the first place? If alien tech is so powerful, why do flying saucers keep smashing into the ground? If these bug-eyed aliens are so bright, how come they have had so many accidents that more than one country has a UFO sitting in some secret garage? Are there lemon flying saucers that are more crash prone than others?

If we did get UFO powered cars, we would need qualified mechanics to fix and service them. Would we have to recruit aliens to repair our new cars? I shudder to think what the illegal drag-race scene would do with these new engines.

And what about the aliens? If we use their technology to conquer global warming, couldn't they show up court and demand a cut of the royalties from all those new products? It would be a field day for the lawyers.



What would be the reaction of the public to all of this? Perhaps Hollywood already answered the question back in the 1950s with The Day The Earth Stood Still. Here is the trailer.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Where's Gamecube?

Since I posted the ADD Shopping Network by DCLugi, I thought I would post this video too. WARNING...the video game consoles in this video use a few four-letter words. I would say they have dirty mouths...but they don't even have mouths. Viewer discretion is advised.

In a related story, it seems that Gamecube is still alive and well.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Blogging, writing, and the ADD Shopping Network

For the last month I have been working on other projects and this blog has been quiet. Now that I have more time to post here again, I'm back.

After a month of not posting here, I have to brush off the cobwebs and dust. When one stops posting on a blog, even for a month, it gets old and moldy.

One thing I have noticed is that it is easer for me to write quick posts. This blog has helped me to sit down in front of a keyboard and feel relaxed about writing again. I used to feel a pressure when writing to make every single word perfect, like I was back in school and writing a term-paper.

It is possible to overedit what your write and make blogging more like drudgery than fun. That can be just as bad as being a careless and sloppy writer. A balance must be found between solid editing and being too picky.

This blog has bucked the trend by not dying after three months. Most bloggers seem to move on after 90 days. With so many choices for self-expression available, from instant messaging to MySpace, it is no surprise that blogs are built, then go silent after a few posts.

With Ipods and video game systems transforming from must-have items to garage-sale bargains, technology has never been so disposable.

Blogs are just digital information, sent to the trash with a push of a button, or abandoned by their owners like old furniture on the side of a freeway. With so many blogs competing for attention, readers have attention spans you can measure with egg timers.

There is a positive side to the ADD nature of blogging. The bloggers who are determined to be heard keep posting away like mad, while the casual blogger moves on.

This reminds me of a video I found on YouTube from DCLugi.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Do young people care about space travel?

Discovery lights up the night sky
The Space Review features a story on young people and their interest (or lack thereof) in space travel.

I contemplated the same issue in blog entry a year ago . Do kids today see space travel playing any role in their lives? Space is part of the subculture of American youth, from Star Wars movies to video games like Halo.

Do kids see space as a real place for human exploration, or is it just a fantasy-land where lasers guns and space fighters get to blow up slimy aliens and hordes of armor-plated bad guys? When NASA talks about going to the moon or Mars, images from pop-culture come close to eclipsing the real thing.

Children and teenagers today were not alive for the first days of Apollo program, or the first flights of the shuttle. For young people in our hyper-competitive culture, space travel might be the new frontier, but more earthy pressures are always in their face.

Little kids learn about science and rocketry in grade school, but by the time they get to their teenage years, it is time to focus on something that will get them into college, then a job to pay off those student loans. A select few might realize a dream of working for NASA or for a private space travel company, the rest are off to grad school or the office cubicle.

This could change if private space travel takes off, along with NASA's plans to return to the moon. When you go to a museum and look at murals of astronauts walking on lunar soil, the idea of space flight seem noble, yet so far away. When you see a rocket launch with your own eyes, everything changes.

Only a few weeks ago, the shuttle took off and flew by my city, zooming past the East Coast after launching from Florida. People of all ages went into their backyards on a cold December night, looking for a fleeting speck moving across the night sky.

Why would they go out on a freezing night to look up to see something so small and, honestly, unspectacular? The shuttle would only be a blip in the sky, not quite like seeing it roar up into the blackness at Cape Canaveral. Why did they bother to look up?

The reason might be they knew that moving star was a group of humans, moving faster than the speed of sound on their way to space. The sight was not nearly as spectacular as seeing the real launch at the Cape, but a bit of the awe of space travel had come to visit them where they lived.

In a time when we have become bored with technology, the idea of humans going into space still make people yearn to be part of the adventure themselves. Space travel can reach into the imaginations of jaded adults, returning the wonder of youth for a few precious moments.

Will someone find a way to harness that imagination? If they do, there will be many who will be ready to brave the cold and watch them go forth, even if it is just bright pinpoint moving against the starry night.

Blogger Vs WordPress - The battle begins

I've been away for a while, working on some other blogging projects. I have been using WordPress for the new blogs I have been setting up.

Now I get to see what is better...WordPress or Blogger.

WordPress is more of a challenge because the user has to set up the software, the domains, and deal with all the choices that WordPress offers.

A few months ago, WordPress would have been the winner by a long shot. That was before I took the new blogger for a spin. With Blogger's new labeling feature, WordPress does not automatically have the advantage.

I wish Blogger offered a heavy-duty corporate edition that was meant for business and corporate use. I would not mind paying for it if it got the job done.

Like so many things in my life, this was supposed to be fun. Now it is more like work. That is not a bad thing. It just creates more frontiers to conquer.

Monday, January 01, 2007