Friday, October 31, 2008

The Panic Of War of the Worlds - 70 Years Later

Photo Source: Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NASA Turns 50 Years Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 26, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What Awaits On Mars - 1957 Versus 2008

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Star Trek Enterprise - alternate opening credits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Explorer 1 - America's first satellite

After writing about the loss of Columbia and killer toy robots, I forgot to mention the 50th anniversary of the launch of Explorer 1, America's first satellite.

I love how the announcers for old newsreels read the copy with such dramatic tones. Before 24 hour cable news and the Internet, this is how many average people saw the events of the world.

Along with the news of Explorer 1 on the newsreel is news about Gamal Abdel Nasser and the merger of Egypt and Syria into one nation. Even back in the 1950s, politics and tensions in the Middle East were headline news.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Killer robot toys from the 1960s

Boing Boing features a video of a weird and icky looking robot toy called "Great Garloo". Like something from a drive-in science fiction movie, Great Garloo is shown knocking over bridges and buildings to terrify puny humans.

I can imagine the disapproving stares of 1960s parents when kids asked for this toy. There was probably some mom in horned-rimmed glasses and frosted hair saying "I will NOT let that monstrosity in my house! He'll scuff up my new linoleum kitchen floor! For the LAST TIME...NOOOOO!", then dragging a sobbing kid out of a department store toy department.

While I was looking for the embed code I found this video for Robot Commando, a giant purple robot who fires missiles and attacks tanks. There seemed to be a trend here with kids wanting to drop bombs on peaceful cities and squash their residents. What was it with the kids of the 1960s? Did they harbor the secret wish for a giant robot to show up and stomp all over their hometown? Did the toymakers back then know something about restless suburban tots that the rest of the country did not?

Those wacky kids of the 1960s...what was the world coming too? Can you imagine if those parents had to deal with Grand Theft Auto and Bioshock?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Space paper airplane to soar from space station to Earth

According to, researchers from the University of Tokyo and the Japan Origami Airplane Association plan to create a paper airplane that can fly from the International Space Station to Earth.

This is not your average paper airplane. This is a plane that has been wind tunnel tested to fly at Mach 7 (8,600 kilometers or 5,300 miles per hour) and made of a special material to withstand the heat, average notebook paper just won't do.

How will they find it when it lands? Most of the Earth is ocean, it could wind up floating in the water.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Homemade Star Wars filmed in glorious Super 8

The Website @ the End of the Universe features a homemade version of Star Wars shot in glorious Super 8.

Star Wars was inspired by so many sources, from Akria Kurosawa films to old cowboy westerns, it seems fitting that a new generation of filmmakers would pick up a camera and try to re-create it.

What is amazing is the ingenuity of the young filmmakers in re-creating scenes with paper sets and no blue-screens.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Heads up display of the space shuttle Discovery landing

Spaceships take off and land easily in science fiction films. In the world of fantasy, flying between planets is as easy as flying between two cities on a bargain airline.

Most science fiction filmmakers do not even bother to deal with re-entry in their films. X-Wing fighters and the Millennium Falcon may look pretty on the big screen, but in real life they would burn up in a few seconds of contact with the outer atmosphere.

Every landing of the space shuttle is a dramatic event, sadly underscored by the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.

This video of the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2006 shows viewpoint of the astronauts as they glide tons of spacecraft in for a soft landing.

Watching the features of the Earth emerge and the green glow of the heads up display creates a symphony of nature and machine, similar to what Stanley Kubrick filmed in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Arthrur C. Clarke's 90th birthday video

This video was released by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke on his 90th birthday.

Clarke's insight and eloquence are still strong after, as he puts it, 90 orbits around the sun. He also expresses a peace with his own mortality and the possibility that this is the last time we may see him.

Arthur C. Clarke has been revered as a writer and a futurist, but this video is very personal: the reflections of one man who has seen a lifetime of scientific and social change. Even for a person as intelligent and learned as Clarke, it must be overwhelming to consider the world he was born into to our present day.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2008 and another great big beautiful tomorrow

Two years ago I opened an account on Blogger and started this blog. Over the last 24 months I have let this blog sit and gather dust for weeks at a time. But I always come back. 2008 is here and I feel a new enthusiasm for writing posts again.

I originally started this blog as sort of a testing lab for my blogging and graphic skills. It has become more than that. I have made friends that I never would have found otherwise. Technical and creative demons have frustrated me along the way, but I learned to overcome them.

I wished to start this blog off on an optimistic tone. In my first post I quoted the song "A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" from the Disney Ride Carousel of Progress, which dates back to the 1964 Worlds Fair.

Carousel of Progress is representative of the positive view of technology and futurism of the early 1960s, when the space race was on and the moon landing would close out the decade. I was not alive to see it myself, but I still have a soft spot for futurism of the 50s and 60s. I grew up with it in the books and movies that filled my childhood.

I was around for the early days of the 1980s home computer and internet revolution. I saw clunky early computers evolve into the somewhat less-clunky machines that we have grown to depend on as part of everyday life. I have seen the web emerge from blocky graphics and text into search engines, blogs, e-business, and wikis.

I was amused to see Cory Doctrow bring the two together in a recent post on Boing Boing. He writes about the Carousel of Progress and how it has influenced his writing.

He also mentions how the Carousel is sadly in need of an update. The final act of the show features a family using a rather hefty looking computer and playing a virtual reality game with oversize goggles. That was cutting edge stuff in the early 1990s, but now seems as dated as rocket packs and art deco cities filled with flying cars.

While the Carousel's last act looks laughable by 2008 standards, it does echo some current trends with accuracy. The Nintendo Wii features controls that are descendants of the early experiments to mass market virtual reality. The Guitar Hero games also work off a similar idea.
Online shopping and email are so common that it is hard to imagine living without them now.

Visions of the future are warped in much the same way ripples in the atmosphere distort the view of telescopes, the further we try to see the hazier the image.

2008 is here. It is a great big beautiful today.