Sunday, May 29, 2005

---Warning! Incoming Movie Review 

SW3-ROTS (with a few "spoilers"):
I finally got to see "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith ". It was actually very entertaining, certainly the best of the latter series.
Okay, when you start and end a gigantic, 28-year story in the middle, there are bound to be plot holes you can drive a [fill in the large interstellar SW spacecraft of your choice here] through. The movie contains some of the least convincing romance and death scenes in recent movie history. It suffers from a problem with all of the Star Wars movies; there are so many bits and pieces of story to be explicated that much of the movie is filled up with a multitude of all-too-brief snippets of action cut up with rather amateur scene transitions. The attempts to make Obi-wan both a loveable dingbat and a master Jediwho must overcome the most dangerous enemies in the universe almost singlehandedly are confusing and frustrating. That Anakin is constantly hanging around an obviously pregnant Padme and none of the Jedi masters get a clue that something is "up", ranks with Clark Kent's glasses for overall believability. The Senate jumps from a spirited defense of democracy to cheering acceptance of empire without the slightest evidence of transition.
But you get to see Yoda---at his animated best and most believable in the series---get seriously old-school up in the bad guys' faces one more time. The spacecraft, battles, and cities are truly astounding. The planetside battles include some very convincing attack ornithopters---now I wish various implementations of Dune had tried a little harder on this. The final climactic battle, which everyone knows is coming with teeth-grinding inevitability, is titanic and horrible, and probably the main justification for the PG-13 rating.
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---The Science of Sarcasm, More Russian Space Fallout, Viral Extortion, Witchful Thinking, Vehicular Dumbness, Trump's new "Musical" 

This explains everything:
New Scientist Breaking News - Understanding sarcasm is a complex business
Unless they were being sarcastic. I’m never really sure anymore.

Russian spacecraft fallout, revisited:
Space.com: Living Off Space Junk

This time it’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northwestern Russia. The scrap gatherers have adapted to the frequent hail of rocket parts, learning which parts to leave alone to avoid toxic propellants.

Internet extortion scheme:
FOXNews.com - U.S. & World - Virus Hold Computer Files 'Hostage' for $200
The payload in this case apparently encrypted the victim’s important data, making it inaccessible. The “hacker” next offerred to release the data for money. The scheme has more holes in it than Star Wars™, but it shows the directions that more enterprising Internet entreprenuers are moving. They just need to reformat it to make it look like advertising. That, for any prefrontally challenged readers, was sarcasm.

Witchful thinking:
FOXNews.com - U.S. & World - Wiccans Ordered to Not Expose Son to Beliefs
The judge in this Indiana divorce case has ruled that the parents can’t expose their child to their beliefs. He probably couldn’t just say idiotic, perverse, or socially, morally, and spiritually destructive, or any of the obvious adjectives which "Wicca" brings to mind. It seems unlikely that the judgement will hold up in the present legal climate. And if we arrive at a place where doing what’s right isn’t also legal, where does the problem lie?

Too dumb to walk?
CNN.com - Study: 20M licensed drivers may lack basic safety knowledge - May 27, 2005
I’m sure GMAC could have saved a lot of money by simply asking competent drivers in metropolitan areas of the U.S. about this. What is surprising about the study, though, is where the greatest concentration of vehicular dumbness lies---in the Northeast, with the worst self-propelled cluelessness in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.

FOXNews.com - Foxlife - 'Apprentice' Musical to Hit Broadway
Is this a threat? Elect him President or he’ll make an “Apprentice” musical? Couldn’t be much worse than the other current 2008 prospects, I guess.

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Sunday, May 22, 2005

---Darth Tater, Space Junk over Kazakhstan, Rutan on NASA, Logistics Failures at ISS, Beating the Crane at WalMart, and Other Stories 

Darth Tater strikes back again, or something:
Mr. Potato Head - MR. POTATO HEAD Star Wars Darth Tater Figure
Okay, so I haven’t seen the "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith ", yet---didn’t line up at the wrong theater two months before it opened in pre-release, and now I can't get into a theater. I'm just too old for this stuff. As far as this blog is concerned, for now, the release of the Mr. Potato Head™ version will have to do. That's a really intimidating potato.

Way more than anyone should want to know about SH:
FOXNews.com - U.S. & World - U.S. Condemns Tabloid's Saddam Photos
Why would anyone want pictures of SH in his underpants?! I’ll second that condemnation! Let’s have some huge riots and trample each other to death! Oh, wait….

Space junk over Kazakhstan:
EurasiaNet Culture - Photo Essay: Kazakhstan's Spaceship Junkyard
This has been around for a while. Someone posted it on a sci.space newsgroup several months ago. There’s something nostalgic about rustic farmers tending their rustic farms beneath a hail of contaminated spacecraft junk.

Traffic jam at Mars, relatively speaking:
New Photos are First of Spacecraft Orbiting Mars
Mars is getting to be a busy place. This is a pretty remarkable picture of Mars Odyssey taken by Mars Global Surveyor. There’s also a very blurry shot of the ESA’s Mars Express.

Rutan on NASA:
Burt Rutan Chides NASA for Dullness, Says Space should be Fun
Rutan’s aviation/space adventures continue to be incredible, but his assessment of the current problems with aerospace is perplexingly off-target. Step off into the unknown and expect to have “fun”? The unknown is an enormous and terribly dangerous place for a playground.
Rutan criticized NASA and it's supporting contractor community for unwillingness to take risks, an inability to excite public interest, and lacking the goals to inspire future explorers, all of which are generally true.
But NASA isn’t dull, Burt, it’s evil .

Logistics breakdowns affect ISS:
Mounting delays stress space station systems - Space News - MSNBC.com
From Oberg at MSNBC. A more detailed account of the problems facing ISS due to the failure of US Shuttles and the imminent financial collapse of the Russian space program. One ironic result of the serious failures of foresight and contingency planning will have the crew “burning” (it’s actually some kind of exothermic decompostion, apparently) the infamous lithium perchlorate cannisters (the “candles”that came close to destroying the Mir station) before they start using up the 100-day gas supplies attached to the US Quest airlock. The Quest is already a monumental embarassment, having failed to be usable as an actual airlock, and further having crippled the US EMU’s attached to its faulty and contaminated plumbing. It now appears that it may not be possible to replenish the oxygen supplies in its tanks, even if the STS resumes flights to the station. I guess Lance Bass is off the hook.

IEEE not in a big hurry for WiFi improvments?:
New Wi-Fi standard takes the slow road | CNET News.com
The article doesn’t seem to mention any improvements in practical, usable security. In my service experience, the main problem which keeps wireless from practical everyday use by normal people is that it takes considerable skill and a lot of background reading to get a even a minimal level of security. As a result, typical wireless users have none. Try explaning standard security setup with WPA encryption on a standard consumer wireless switching router to your grandmother. Speed would be nice, but now IEEE seems to have better things to do, or something.

911 drop-dead date for VoIP:
FCC requires VoIP to clean up its 911 act | CNET News.com
It seems like an obvious requirement for any telephonic system---emergency services are a matter of life and death. It also looks like a working 911 implementation faces a number of serious technical hurdles. Most providers seem to be able to manage it if you pay extra.
It would be nice to have options to POTS and the traditional phone company if they get it all working right. After fighting for two weeks to get a second land line installed, and getting a different price quote for the installation every time I talked to someone else at the phone company, I would really like to see options.

Los Alamos breakdown continues:
My Way News:Los Alamos Management Up for Bids
The ongoing string of scandals and mismanagement at the LANL continues unabated. Many of the people who know how to make the “stuff” work are ready to move on. It’s so bad that a consortium sponsored by the University of Texas and Lockheed Martin may actually be an improvement.
Some of the employees have put together a blog to anonymously criticize LANL management.

E3-2005 coverage:
FOXNews.com - Foxlife - Gaming Big-Guns Unveil New Consoles at E3
I never got to go to E3, even during my two years with a small game developer for mostly obsolete games. I’m not really complaining, though.
The new generations of Xbox, Playstation, and various mobile platforms are getting massive advertising campaigns at the convention.

I never understood what you’re supposed to do with these things, either:
FOXNews.com - U.S. & World - Boy Gets Stuck in Wal-Mart Toy Machine
This one is mostly visual. What’s really heartbreaking is, the kid didn’t even get a toy for his ingenuity.

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

---Newsweek recants, NASA-Pokemon Team-Up, Worst Place in the Galaxy?, Death of Elektron, BP reports on Texas City disaster 

Newsweek apologizes, retracts US Guantanamo Koran-flushing story:

Now that's a headline! This is what blogging is all about! You won't see traditional journalists stringing together a---string of---stuff---like---that!
Okay, I was ready to really expound heavily upon this, but I sort of waited too long. Several people have it pretty well covered, including Coulter (Check her archives if you see this after the commentary expires). The punch line: " Is there an adult on the editorial board of Newsweek?"
Then there’s the old “Dilbert” cartoon about using journalism majors to keep the motion-sensitive office lighting on by flapping their arms when the other employees fall asleep at their desks…I wish I still had a valid link. In any case, most people who are going to figure out what the problem is here already have.

NASA-Pokemon Team-Up:
A renewed effort to bring “fun and energy to education ”…apparently in their spare time from restoring public confidence after their last massive failure of corporate and individual judgment.

“Stars spotted on the edge of a massive black hole”:
And you thought your neighborhood was tough. A cluster of stars has been found apparently spiralling in toward the supermassive BH at the center of the Milky Way (can we get a better galatic name here? What are we, a candy bar?) only 0.26 light-years away. It isn’t clear yet how the stars can be intact in such a nightmarish environment.

ISS Oxygen generator RIP:
From Todd Halvorson at Florida Today. The cantankerous, increasingly unmaintainable “Elektron” oxygen generator of ISS has finally packed in. The 2-man crew has plenty of reserve, but it is going to be tough to restore that gas supply if the STS doesn’t start making regular flights again for some reason.

BP acknowledges major errors in Texas City plant explosion:

We’re in the neighborhood, relatively speaking. We know people who work at this plant. The explosion has been devastating both physically and emotionally to many in our area, especially since it is the second fatal accident at this plant this year.
It is remarkable, however, to see such candor in a disaster report from a large corporation with so much to lose from an admission of liability. And unlike our favorite US space agency, it seems unlikely that those found responsible will be promoted or given pay raises.
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Saturday, May 14, 2005

---Time Travel Con, Underpass Stain Again, Fools with Bombs, Marburg Continues in Angola, Stray Dogs, Star Trek off the air, and other stories 

Probably with Federal grant money:
From FOXNews.com: "Student Organizes Time Traveler Conference"
Amal Dorai, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has asked friends to place invitations to his “conference” in obscure library books, among other things.The idea goes that future scientists will find the invitations, presumably while excavating the rubble of the libraries, and travel in time via advanced future technologies to attend.
"The chance that anybody shows up is small,” Mr. Dorai said, “but if it happens it will be one of the biggest events in human history."
Right…like any of our descendants will be speaking to us.

Underpass stain said to resemble the “Virgin Mary” revisited:
From FOXNews.com: "Row Over 'Miraculous' Image on Underpass"
As we saw in our last episode, Mr. Victor Gonzales of Chicago, Illinois has been charged with a misdemeanor for writing “big lie” over the revered stain---which some said resembled a portrait of "Mary" holding an infant John Paul II--- in shoe polish. Mr. Gonzales cited the Second Commandment, the Biblical proscription against worshipping images, as the reason for his actions. Transportation workers later painted over stain and shoe polish with brown paint at the request of police, and were not charged with anything. Still later, two car wash employees voluntarily scrubbed off paint and shoe polish, expertly restoring the stain to its original, uh, stained quality.
I don’t know what else to say, except to point out the painfully obvious irony in who is being punished, and for what.

But at least Hilary hasn’t been elected President yet:
From FOXNews.com: "Iran Confirms It Took Key Nuclear Step"
…and nuclear deterrence still works!

How does that acronymn go?
From Space.com: "Mars Express Probe Suffers Radar Deployment Snag"

Unfortunately, there’s no acronymn for---
Don’t Drive Through Large, Shifting Sand Dunes. Don’t try to pronounce that one at home, either.

The fruit flies were messed up, too
From FOXNews.com: "Gay, Straight Men's Brain Responses Differ"
More studies to “prove” that homosexual men were born that way. The story cites "an expert on brain anatomy and sexual orientation" in Canada (who obviously has a paying job), and researchers in Stockholm and Philadelphia.
Like previous efforts in this direction, these are a waste of time and money. The facts are here and here and here. It is completely irrelevant whether or not such sexual predispositions exist or not. We have all the Power we need to overcome our natures, but we have to choose to use it.

Marburg in Angola, continued
From New Scientist: Marburg outbreak now devastating all age groups"
According to the article, the previous reports on containment of the outbreak seem to have been overly optimistic. The agent may have graduated from transmission by unsafe medical practices---mainly affecting children--- to direct means---by human contact.
We may lose an entire continent of human beings here, folks---to HIV/AIDS and a growing menagerie of almost unstoppable killers.

Stray dog for “Man of the Year”?
From FOXNews.com: "Stray Dog Rescues Newborn Baby"
At the risk of belaboring another obvious irony---
While humans in this country are killing their own children like stray dogs, the stray dogs in Africa are saving children.

Ahem---but I’m sure glad that nuclear deterrence still works!
From FOXNews.com: "North Korea Claims Step Toward Nukes"
Oh, wait….

Trekkers moving on
From Space.com: "'Star Trek: Enterprise' Ends, Along With an Era"
It’s actually the second time that I haven’t made it through the first season of a Trek series. It’s been fun, mostly, but it’s nice to see that people are exercising their sci-fi-related imaginations it new directions. We’ve about used up StarGate, Andromeda became completely incomprehensible several seasons ago, and the new Galactica is interspersing a unique and thoughtfully-developed crisis of command and politics with increasingly egregious indulgences in soft pornography, but at least we’ve outgrown the “transporter” deus-ex-machina/forehead of the week/silly-physics-and/or-biology-plot era. Why exactly do spacecraft need carrier landing decks, again?

But at least Hilary hasn’t been elected President yet:
Yes, boys and girls, if your parents didn’t leave the TV at the curb after learning about “Runaway Bride” toast, they now have action figures.

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Friday, May 06, 2005

---Underpass stain defaced, Crews may have to evacuate ISS, The Iraqi Information Minister has a job, NASA starves out RTF committee 

Underpass stain defaced
Chicago’s “Virgin Mary” underpass stain revisited. A Mr. Gonzales has been arrested for writing “Big Lie” over the revered stain.
How is this going to work? Will they take him down for arraignment to the local courthouse, which has presumably been meticulously sterilized of all religious references, and file criminal charges for defacing a ground-water seepage?

NASA is considering Space Station evacuation plans:
From Oberg at MSNBC, dated 4-6 (I’m a little late in my blogging duties). It's indeed one of the 3-D's ( de-commission, de-man, de-orbit). NASA is finally being forced to seriously consider de-manning the ISS, not because of the repeated serious equipment and supply failures, the repeated extremely hazardous requirement for the 2-man crew to venture outside with no backup on board, or the fact that the ISS has no discernable mission of measurable worth, but because the Russian space program is on the brink of financial collapse. Then there’s the ironic possibility that the imminent, historic grounding of the human race may all be Lance Bass’s fault.

Still here?! The Iraqi Information Minister has a new job!
I didn’t even suspect that this web site was still in business. The loveable scamp is now apologizing for SH on Abu Dhabi TV! So that’s what it takes to stay employed these days….

STS return-to-flight committee argues about NASA safety compliance
From Oberg at MSNBC, dated 4-6. The Stafford-Covey Return to Flight Task Group is apparently in a state of near civil war about NASA’s less-than-forthcoming attitude toward meeting CAIB safety goals before STS returns to flight. It appears that NASA is doing what is does best: obfuscate, maneuver, mangle the statistics, and mismanage its responsibilities. As I noted earlier, NASA management has already announced that it will ignore the Stafford-Covey committee in its final RTF decision at its sole convenience. After all, the only thing that matters is the press release.

Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly.
Proverbs 17:12

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Monday, May 02, 2005

----Warning: Incoming Movie Review 

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy made it to theaters after "a long time". It was "mostly harmless".
It seems to represent a desperate effort to make long-time fans of the "five-part trilogy" and people who know nothing about it equally happy. It throws so many haphazard, partly- or completely undeveloped plot points at the screen, that it pretty much dissolves into an unintelligible jumble of wierd images and stuff blowing up or turning into petunias. Past halfway, almost all of the jokes, old and new, fall flat. The legendary pangalactic cynicism for which the series is most loved by its fans, is replaced by a rather undeveloped love story (They share a towel, and kiss later). The Guide itself, which is one of the most hilarious comedy mechanisms of the original story, shows up perhaps 3-5 times, none particularly funny. It wasn't a complete waste of time, but its main impact was to make me nostalgic for the old, ridiculously low-budget PBS mini-series version. It probably made enough money to warrant the sequel which its ending obviously intends, but I will probably have better things to do.
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Sunday, May 01, 2005

---A somewhat more modest proposal 

Runaway bride
To all the news services on every major cable and network station in the US, who have been covering this story virtually 24 hours a day for almost a week, I have a suggestion:
Shut up! We get it---she didn't want to get married, and ran away! Now find something else to talk about, or just SHUT UP!
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