Saturday, February 28, 2009

Paul Harvey has passed away

You want to know one of the biggest reasons why this blog exists?

It's because for the longest time, I dreamed of being like Paul Harvey.

I first discovered Harvey as a kid in elementary school. Dad always had one of the local AM radio stations playing on his truck as he drove my sister and I to school, and the timing of the commute every morning happened to coincide with Harvey's fifteen minutes of news. And then later on I started listening to his "The Rest of the Story..." broadcasts.

That's what first turned me on to realizing the "other side" of the people and incidents that I read about in the history books. That more often than not there was something else that for whatever reason never got widely chronicled, but always made you appreciate that much more the person or situation.

Well, when blogging came about, picking up on the more weird or odd news of the day, and sharing the more unusual tales from times past, became something that I relished doing here. And there was never a time that I've done that, that I didn't think of Paul Harvey. That I could hear that distinctive "Paul Harvey... good day!" sign-off that he always used.

Today, Paul Harvey, radio legend and communicator extraordinaire, signed off for the last time... and passed away at the age of 90 at his winter home in Phoenix, Arizona.

I am compelled to speak of him as Thomas Jefferson once said of Benjamin Franklin: "No one can replace him." He was... and will ever remain... a true American original.

Meditation on baptism

"Baptism in Kansas", John Steuart Curry, 1928

It was ten years ago today that I was baptized. It happened at First Baptist Church of Elon, the church that sponsored our college's Baptist Student Union. I put on a big white nightshirt and my friend Arnold Gosnell, one of the associate ministers, dunked me down in the bathtub at the front of the church. Later that night I came down with something like the flu and a high fever and leaving the church still damp into late February cold air was admittedly not something conducive to my health...

...But you know what? I couldn't have cared less how sick I might have gotten. That I had finally been baptized, after very many years of struggling to have faith in God, was one of the supreme triumphs of my personal life. Just as Martin Luther was known to often remind himself that "Baptisatus sum" ("I have been baptized"), so too have I looked back on my own baptism as a reminder, however dark the road of life has become, that I have placed my hope in Christ. And that He will never fail me in spite of how often I still do fail Him.

I haven't written very much on this blog about how I came to be a follower of Christ. The reasons for it are myriad: for one thing, the entire story is enormously long, and would doubtless be the largest essay that I'd ever post to this site (and this is one writer who has been accused too much already of being a "wordy wordy monkey"). For another, it goes into territory that I've never been completely comfortable with exploring in any public venue.

If you want the Cliff's Notes abbreviated account: for the better part of ten years I had found it first impossible to believe in God. And then suddenly impossible not to believe in God… but also found it incomprehensible that He would still want anything to do with me. And then I started finding myself around people who did have Christ and were joyfully living for Him, and I began wanting to have that same kind of joy as well... but I didn't think that I deserved it.

So I spent a long time "outside looking in", always hovering around the edges. Gazing longingly at those who had something that was more precious than they might have even realized. Because you can't know how wonderful something like that is until you've spent some time being without it, like I had.

But when I started attending Elon, well... God began letting things happen, I like to think. Starting with how I literally stumbled into the Baptist Student Union my first week there. And then hooking up with the terrific Christian guy who became my roommate in our first apartment. And then, finding the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and a congregation of followers of Christ that had a worship service on campus every Sunday morning. And then there was the InterVarsity retreat on the North Carolina coast that to this day, still burns bright in my memory...

A month after that, I at last came to a place where I not only became reconciled to God, but I could at last also start letting loose the things in my life that had held me down. And I've been following Him ever since. Not perfectly, mind ya. And I'll be the first to admit that my walk with God has fallen and faltered more times than I can count. But the amazing thing about God is that He is merciful. And just as the apostle Paul discovered, His grace is sufficient.

A little over two years later after that, I told Arnold and Debbie, our Baptist Student Union advisers, that I wanted to be baptized before I graduated. So we had the ceremony on the last Sunday of February, 1999. All of my friends from Baptist Student Union and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship came to the church that day to witness me taking this step in identifying with Christ. And that's why I did want to do this. It wasn't to "join a church" or to "wash away my sins". Accepting Christ into my life had already done that. I had been a redeemed follower of Him for a little more than two years. A "saint" as the pastor of the congregation that had been meeting on campus was fond of reminding us. Albeit one who was already undergoing extreme sanctification.

So why did I want to be baptized?

I don't believe that baptism is required at all for salvation. Scripture reminds us repeatedly that we cannot boast of anything that we do. That would be adding a work of our own, to the finished work of Christ on the cross. And nowhere in scripture do we find it anywhere that baptism is an absolute must in order to be saved. We are simply told to believe on Christ, and to have faith in Him.

If that seems too easy for some people well guess what: it is that easy. Christ came to tear down the burden of legalism and slavish devotion to rules unto themselves. We are now living under grace, not law. And there is no way that striving to stick to "the law" will add more of His grace to us.

But I do believe that a person who is sincerely seeking after Christ for His sake, will desire to be baptized. In 1st Peter chapter 3, Peter tells us that baptism is "the pledge of a good conscience toward God". The pledge by itself is meaningless without the desire to live up to it by the person making the pledge. But for the person who does want to make such a pledge, baptism is an enormously wonderful and powerful tangible reminder that we have died unto the old being and that we now reside in this world as His ambassadors.

I hate to say this, but modern Christianity has all too often made baptism something that it's not meant to be. It has become an initiation rite into not just the body of Christ, but into a particular sect of that body... which in turn, is not really baptism into Christ at all. We are taught in the Bible to lean not on our own understanding. So it is that such "baptism" has in many places become more a promise to accept and adhere to the limited reasoning of carnal "wisdom".

So my baptism, while taking place in a Baptist church, wasn't something I did to become a "Baptist". As from the very beginning, I have chosen to call myself simply a "follower of Christ". Which is not meant to be disparagement on those who are Baptists: I readily understand their perspective as fellow servants of God. And I have never met a Baptist who has claimed to be saved by merit of what kind of church he or she worships at either. Just as I've never met a Methodist or Presbyterian or anyone else who stakes their salvation on what the name on the church sign outside says. But I do believe that baptism for simply its own sake, is the most sincere baptism there can possibly be. And in those terms, it is... I believe anyway... one of the most powerful commitments that anyone can make in this life.

On a similar note: baptism has become too much the jurisdiction of an "elite class of Christian" to administer. Please don't take that to mean that I hold any ill regard to those who have followed the calling of God to be pastors, elders and other kinds of ministry who normally perform baptisms. But nowhere in scripture are we told that it is only to be a "higher elect" that can baptize. In truth, any Christian can baptize a new follower of Christ. And I have believed for many years that it is time that we begin encouraging all of the body of Christ to practice our responsibilities as His priests. I once witnessed a sixteen-year old baptize his younger brother in a swimming pool. It was one of the most moving scenes that I ever had the honor of witnessing.

Have we ever seen the spigot turned on full blast for followers of Christ to practice not just baptism, but the love of Christ and love toward others? I can't say that we have...

...but maybe it's time that we did. That we should break baptism out of the church buildings and, like Philip and the eunuch from Ethiopia, let it be anywhere that there is clean water.

And consequently, that we should break the love of Christ out of the buildings... and pour it out wherever God had put us.

More classic SESAME STREET: Ernie's Thunderstorm

I really need to post more vintage Sesame Street clips, especially the older Bert and Ernie skits. In this one, Ernie confronts his fear of thunderstorms... with hilarious consequences! By the way, this one mentions Olivia and David, who haven't been on the show since the 1980s, so that makes this sketch a clear product of its time...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Warner Bros. made Zack Snyder cut out smoking in WATCHMEN

Alan Horn, head of the movie studio at Warner Brothers, demanded that the smoking be cut out of the film adaptation of Watchmen to such an extent that Laurie won't be enjoying that weird but neat-looking pipe of hers. According to director Zack Snyder, it was either remove the smoking or "the movie wouldn't have been made, literally." Although the Comedian will still be puffing his cigars because he was deemed "evil" enough.

So let me get this straight: Watchmen is a story that includes a hero who is racist and anti-black (Captain Metropolis), another who speaks favorably of Hitler (Hooded Justice), features a brutal rape scene, shows a little girl murdered then cut to pieces and fed to dogs, has a main character who is struggling with sexual dysfunction, and maybe a dozen other very bad images and concepts...

...and yet showing a grown woman smoking is supposed to be worse than all of these things?

I can't figure that one out at all. Especially since Laurie's smoking, I thought so anyway, is foreshadowing for a certain big reveal about her character later on in the book (and presumably the movie).

This kind of "political correctness" all too often goes way too far. Studio execs like Horn really should take a more hands-off approach with stuff like this, and trust the directors and producers and script writers with how they want to bring their vision to life. I'm not saying forgo all accountability, but this situation really is micro-management to the extreme.

TSA forcing costumed mule drivers to submit to background checks

Ya see, this is why I've come to say that TSA stands for "Too Stupid for Arby's"...

The Transportation Security Administration is enforcing federal law that requires background checks on those involved with the transportation industry to such an extent that mule skinners - AKA costumed, seasonal mule drivers at a historic park in Easton, Pennsylvania - must also submit to the same rigorous scrutiny.

Sara B. Hays of Hugh Moore Historical Park is boggled by TSA's mandate. As she puts it: "We have one boat. It's pulled by two mules. On a good day they might go 2 miles per hour." The article also states that the "park's two-mile canal does not pass any military bases, nuclear power plants or other sensitive facilities. And, park officials say, the mules could be considered weapons of mass destruction only if they were aimed at something." Hays tried to get a waiver from the Transportation Security Administration. It responded to her request by "noting the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 applies to all mariners holding U.S. Coast Guard-issued credentials."

I hate that things in this country have devolved to the point that I have to state such an obvious truth, but: any government that thinks two ornery mules are a threat to national security, is a government that has clearly gone out of control and gotten too big for its britches.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tapped-out Hollywood

They are remaking Total Recall.

And they are remaking The NeverEnding Story, too.

And as if that were not enough, they are also remaking Arthur.

I can kinda see how a re-do of Arthur (a movie that I haven't seen in ages) might work. But Total Recall and The NeverEnding Story? I have Total Recall on DVD: nineteen years after it first came out and it still holds its own against just about anything contemporary.

But regardless, I guess we are going to "Ged yor ahss to Mahs" all over again.

Regarding that individual who asked for my help on live television

This is all I intend to say about this...

It's not my policy to render assistance to anyone who is not only a heartless liar, but has also without any evidence whatsoever accused a church of engaging in child pornography.

And I do not believe that this man was sincere at all in asking for my "help" to begin with. It was no doubt some silly stunt. The purpose of which likely only making sense within the confines of his own gray matter.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

So here's what I thought of tonight's LOST, "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham"...

HOLY #@$&!!!!!!!!

Quite. Possibly. Best. Lost. Episode. Ever.

"The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham" is how brilliant television rewards the loyalty of its viewers. Future showrunners, take note!

That one hour of television, by direct implication or indirect inference, touched on nearly every bit of mythology of the past four-some seasons. And then it kept pouring on more.

WHY DID BEN DO IT?!? Everything was hunky-dory, until the moment that Locke mentioned Jin being still alive. That was... DANG!

Did anyone else catch that the Ajira plane landed on what looked like a prepared runway... perhaps the "quarry" that Kate and Sawyer were made to work on in Season 3? I caught that immediately.

"There's a war coming, John." At this late in the game, it's still not clear who are the good guys and who are the bad. Or is this just some private tiff between Benjamin Linus and Charles Widmore, with the entire world caught in the middle?

Let me be the first to say: "WAAAAAAAAALT!!!"

(Sorry, couldn't resist :-P )

Okay. Must watch again. Best episode of the season by far. Darned better television than we possibly deserve.

Faith, hope, and love... New Hampshire style!

Whether by fate or fortune or free will, this blog - I like to think anyway - offers up something for everyone. In the past five years it's been an outlet for commentary, a chronicle of what it's like to run for office, a "cinema" of sorts for rolling out new movies, a quiet spot to meditate on God and His wondrous ways, a front line in the fight against evil in this world, a rallying stump for civil disobedience, a showcase of community theatre, and many other things. It has made national and even international headlines a time or two.

But you know what? None of those things thrill me nearly as much, as being able to share with you, Dear Readers, the all-too-rare and unique stories that make one stop and appreciate that in a world that has seemingly gone off the rails and full-tilt bonkers, there still exists a lot of good. And that is exactly what I'm having The Knight Shift celebrate today...

Through friends that it turns out we share, I recently found a new one in Kristel Reid Faris. She lives in New Hampshire and as of this month is the newly-minted wife of husband Keith! And Kristel and Keith had made arrangements for their wedding, but a fierce snowstorm, in addition to other things, caused them to have a smaller ceremony instead.

But really, it's much better if you read Kristel's account in her own words...

"Keith and I are both 33... and had both, on our own before ever meeting one another, submitted to the Lord's will last summer that we were single because that's what He wanted. Then... through a mutual friend... we met and a cosmic, supernatural, only-God-can-do-that kind of atttraction gripped us and we feel deeply in love.

"We had planned a big ceremony... complete with gowns and tuxedos and hors d'oeuvres, but that plan was interrupted when I became suddenly ill and nearly died of liver failure. It was an odd turn of events, but one that the Lord used, in His infinite wisdom, to reveal to my fiance Keith and me the true extent of our love for one another.. .and our complete and utter love for Him. Once I was released from the hospital, we sought out our pastor and pulled together the wedding. Our immediate families, as well as our friends in Portugal who were Skyped in, gathered in a friend's home and we committed our lives to one another."

And here is the video of Keith and Kristel Reid Faris getting married!

Kristel continues with more good news...

"I am also pleased to report that I am completely and fully healed...and all of my doctors (and there are nine of them) are in total shock at how fast I was healed. I should have been in the hospital for 2 - 6 weeks...but it was 7 days. And my liver should have taken 4 - 6 months to return to normal....but it was 4 weeks. :)

"Our gratitude to our loving, patient Father is something we offer to Him every day. We know that our meeting, instant love, survival through crisis, and marriage are all because of His strength, His mercy, His grace, and His love."

Keith and Kristel, that is an amazing story, and I am deeply honored to have been given permission to share it here so that others might find it, and be likewise encouraged by your faith and your love.

And congratulations! May God shine His blessings upon you now, and in all the years to come :-)

No Verbinski, no! Make BIOSHOCK instead! PLEASE!

The last time I heard any news about Gore Verbinski (who helmed the Pirates of the Caribbean movies for Disney), he was gearing up to direct the big-screen adaptation of the video game BioShock. And Universal was said to be wanting it to come out in the summer of 2010.

Apparently, plans have changed.

The Hollywood Reporter is breaking the word that Verbinski will be working for Universal all right... but on a feature film version of the board game Clue.

I wish to heck that I were making this up.

Look, here's the thing: Clue has already been done! It was a movie that came out in December 1985 starring Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Madeline Kahn and Martin Mull (among others). And it was a good movie, as its now-cult status has proven. If you've never had the pleasure, I would definitely recommend getting it via NetFlix or whatever. The gimmick of Clue the movie is that they filmed three different endings, so depending on which theater (or which screen at that theater, as some carried more than one version) you went to see it at, there was possibly a whole different outcome of the story. It was a brilliant take on the rules of the classic game.

Trust me: this is one movie that doesn't need to be remade. It is well enough on its own, still today. But Hollywood now seems hellbent on exploiting board games as its next "money-making" genre, what with Ridley Scott directing Monopoly, Michael Bay producting Ouija Board and Ethan Cohen writing the script for Candyland (?!?!?).

Gore Verbinski, if you ever read this: I'm begging you good sir, please... don't do this. There's nothing wrong with BioShock. That's a movie you were born to direct. Trust me: there's nothing but grief that can possibly come from another Clue. In the name of all that's good and holy, I urge you to reconsider.

"The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham" to be told on tonight's LOST

"'We have to go back'? 'We have to go back'?! Who do you think you are?! You call me over and over again for two days straight, stoned on your pills! And then you show up here with an obituary for Jeremy Bentham?! Well he came to me, and I heard what he had to say. I knew he was crazy. But you... you believed him. Him! Of all people!"

"You know, when you came back, I was waiting for one of you to come see me, but nobody did. Do you know who did come see me? Jeremy Bentham. I don’t understand why you’re all lying."

"Bentham's dead."

"Why do you call him Bentham? His name..." "Don't say it!"

"About a month ago. Yeah, yeah he came to see her too. He told me, that after I left the Island, some very bad things happened. And he told me that it was my fault for leaving. And he said that I had to come back."

"Jack, I said 'all of you'. We're going to have to bring him too."

And so it was that this blog got slammed with hits last spring during the Season 4 finale "There's No Place Like Home, Part 2", 'cuz a year before I'd posted some research about the real Jeremy Bentham. Aye, 'tis something I wound up quite proud of as a Lost fan :-)

I've been looking forward to tonight's episode, "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham", for a waaaay long time. This is the mystery that became the most intriguing new enigma that Lost had introduced of late. Guess the reason being is that for whatever reason Locke chose to be called "Jeremy Bentham" after he left the Island, it seems to be much more than a simple alias. What happened after he "fixed" the frozen wheel and left the Island (and where did he wind up at for that matter)? Why did he start going around as Bentham? And what were the circumstances regarding his death?

Tonight on Lost, we will find out at last. And I've a gut feeling that my usual post-episode reaction is gonna be one of abject bewilderment :-P

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Change we can ALL believe in

Found tonight by my friend Phillip Arthur...

My very first WARHAMMER 40,000 army!

It's taken about a month of on-and-off work, but tonight I put the finishing touches on eight pieces of my first playable army for Warhammer 40,000...

So yeah, now I've gotten into Warhammer 40,000: a game that some have told me "is worse than crystal meth, don't even think about it Chris!" But I couldn't help myself. Recently I got back into playing BattleTech for the first time since college, and some people commenting on this blog said I should give Warhammer 40,000 a try. I ended up playing a game over the Christmas break, liked the experience, and that propelled me to HyperMind in Burlington where I bought the Warhammer 40,000: Assault on Black Reach intro set. It comes with 17 Space Marine miniatures, 29 Ork miniatures (including three riding "Deffkoptas"), basic rulebook, dice, rulers, templates, plus a book that introduces the Warhammer 40,000 universe and a sheet of waterslide decals for your minis. If you're looking for an inexpensive route into the Warhammer 40,000 miniatures wargame, the Assault on Black Reach set is the way to go right now.

As you can see if you know anything about Warhammer 40,000, I chose to build a Space Marines army with my initial foray into the hobby, and opted to make them the Ultramarines chapter. Maybe someday I'll create my own chapter (I've a really strange idea for one that worships the forty-thousand year old ancient visage of Alfred E. Neuman, making his face a harbinger of death). But for now these little Ultramarine guys - along with the commander, sergeant, Terminators and the Dreadnought that are also now being prepared - get to be the first that I'll be sending into battle against Orks, Tyranids, and the Traitor Legions of Chaos. And later on I might build some Eldar and Tau armies, 'cuz I kinda like those too.

Okay so what I really want to know is: how did I do decorating my first Warhammer 40,000 minis?! :-)

(And if you want to know more about Warhammer 40,000, I'll heartily recommend Bell of Lost Souls.)

Christmas in January: "Watching" $tate of the Union Address 2009

As I do every year, at the moment I am watching the Presidential State of the Union Address. And by "watching" I mean that, per my usual custom, I have my back turned to the television so that I'm not tuned in to the imagery at all. Stripped of the visual component, my brain is more keenly listening to what Barack Obama is really saying.

So what do I think? He is definitely far more articulate and presidential-sounding than George W. Bush. Unfortunately he's talking about wasting money just as bad as Bush ever did.

(And as an aside, I miss tuning in to this without the live and uncommonly wise commentary of young master Kyle Williams. Hey Kyle, I know you're reading this: it's way past time for you to start a blog or something 'cuz I still get lots of e-mail from people asking how you're doing and wanna read more of your thoughts! :-)

Anyway, Obama is more than keeping up the tradition of what I call "Christmas in January". And nothing of this speech so far has anything to do with the real state of the union. In fact, I can't recollect any President since Ronald Reagan who ever took this yearly ritual seriously. It doesn't even have to be an annual event: the Constitution only calls for the President to relay his observations on the condition of the country from time to time. And it need not be a live speech, either: for a very long time the President simply sent a letter to Congress containing his State of the Union thoughts. But nowadays, it's not much more than guaranteed airtime for whoever is President, to shill for himself. And doesn't it say how shallow our country is when it's expected that "the other party" give us a "response"? I mean, the State of the Union...whatever, is not defined in the Constitution as a political event at all.

Color me apathetic if you wish, but I'm gonna say it: American mainstream politics has become an activity for either the weak and timid, or the strong and corrupt. It is not a thing that endears itself to those who choose to think and act on their own.

Okay, that's my rant for this year's State of the Union. Hope y'all who thought that I wouldn't be as hard on Obama as I was on Bush, are happy now...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Got to see Comet Lulin tonight

Comet C/2007 N3, better known as Comet Lulin, is having its apogee (closest approach to the Earth) this evening. Earlier tonight I went out with a good pair of binoculars and found it in the west-southwestern sky, to the right of Saturn (Fox News has more on where to find it). Out in the darkened countryside, with a clear sky and a cold night (meaning less air turbulence), Lulin could easily be picked out with the naked eye and with binoculars, the greenish tint of this very strange comet - it's also traveling backwards from where the tail should be, by the way, and retrograde (opposite) of the direction of the planets - was readily discernible.

So far as comets go, Lulin is certainly the best naked-eye viewing since Hale-Bopp back in 1997. Lulin will still be visible for a few days: catch it if you can, 'cuz it's going way out there and probably won't be back for a million years or so.

Marshmallow from Hell

Here are some photos that I took in Dad's knife shop from this past weekend.

This first one is of a roller bearing welded to a piece of rebar, heating up in Dad's propane-powered forge. At around 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, you can understand why I dubbed this the "Marshmallow from Hell"...

Another shot of the forge. Dad is on the left and Eric Smith is on the right...

The next couple of pics are of a wood splitter that Dad built years ago, which was later converted into a machine used to press and bend the red-hot steel. It's particularly useful when working with Damascus (multi-layered) steel...

In this photo Dad is using a pneumatic-powered hammer (which he also designed and constructed) to "draw out" the steel into the more general shape of a blade...

Eric Smith holds the "finished" blade blank, after it had cooled-off enough to touch. In his left hand he holds two of the bearings, such as the one that was just forged into shape...

And even though it still has a lot of work ahead of it, here is Dad's current project: a Bowie knife with sheep-horn handle...

I'm looking at posting some video on YouTube in the near future of Dad practicing his art. 'Twould be neat to document how he takes a piece of steel from start to finish.

Funniest DILBERT cartoon ever

Yesterday's Dilbert cartoon by Scott Adams brought whole new meaning to the term "comic strip" (while also skewering the entire "green" movement). Click to enlarge...

American newspapers struggling to survive

I've long contended that the most accurate perception of what is going on with the United States comes from looking at it from afar. So it is that I find it hard to disagree with what Rupert Cornwell of The New Zealand Herald has written about the newspaper industry and institution in this country. The age of printed media's supremacy has come to an end, Cornwell declares.

It is very difficult to argue with him. In my own neck of the woods, Media General is furloughing employees for ten days of unpaid leave in an effort to cut costs. It's now being whispered that my hometown's The Reidsville Review may not survive past the year. Meanwhile, there is evidence that The New York Times may finally crash and burn come later this spring. Fully a third of American newspapers might be bankrupt come summer, according to the article in The New Zealand Herald.

Well, can't say we didn't see this coming. Between the general state of the economy and how a considerable portion of the population gets its news from online, it was only a matter of time before traditional newspapers started feeling the blows.

But I'm of the mind that this is really just a period of "realignment" for the newspaper industry. Newspapers won't completely go away, but if they are going to survive they must figure out ways to adapt to the new order of things that is fast arising. I think that also means that the bigger outfits - like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and perhaps even regional papers like our own The News & Record - are going to have to scale back, while the smaller community-oriented outfits are going to continue to thrive.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

For those having tech issues playing FALLOUT 3 on a Windows machine...

Two days ago I wrote how I was currently hooked on Fallout 3, Bethesday Softworks' amazing continuation of the classic Fallout video games from the late Nineties.

Well since I wrote that, I had to take my copy of the game back to the Target store that I bought it from. Why? 'Cuz my copy of the Windows version didn't have the white sticker inside the box that had the Windows LIVE Access Key printed on it for that particular DVD. So I uninstalled Fallout 3, exchanged the original copy for one that did have the sticker with the key numeral, and installed the game fresh.

So everything was cool... except that the game "hung" shortly after the birth/character creation scene started, and would go no further.

Some reading on the Intertubes showed that a lot of people have been having this problem also.

Well, this morning I worked at it a bit, and I found a solution. So I thought it'd be a good thing to share it with others who are also going through this...

If you are playing Fallout 3 on Windows Vista or XP, uninstall the game. Make sure that the Bethesda Softworks folder that's within your Program Files folder is deleted also.

Now here's the messy part that requires a bit of daring: use Regedit (you can run it from the Start button) and do a search in your Windows registry for all entries containing "Bethesda" or "Fallout3". This is what I figured had snagged me: my computer was having an "identity crisis" as to which copy of Fallout 3 it was supposed to be running. So scour your registry and carefully delete anything that refers to Bethesda Softworks or Fallout 3.

When that is done, close out Regedit. Then reboot Windows.

You should now have a fresh, pristine machine on which to re-install Fallout 3, that so far as it's concerned there'll be no evidence that the previous install ever happened. Since going through this procedure I haven't had any further problems with Fallout 3: it's running perfectly, and I also ran the update to version 1.1.0.35, again without any trouble.

Hope this helps some folks out. Now go gird up and get ready to take the Capital Wasteland by storm :-)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Boy bleeds to death after office chair explosion sends metal shrapnel into rectum

According to a story up on Gizmodo, a 14-year old boy in China is dead following the explosion of a gas cylinder in the base of the office chair that he was sitting in. The cylinder, which is used to adjust the height of the chair, blew up and propelled "chunks of metal into his rectum". The teen subsequently bled to death.

Here's a photo of the culprit chair...

That has to be the most freak accident I've ever heard of involving something as mundane as a chair.

Anyone else thinking of sitting on Kevlar-reinforced seat cushions from now on?

In Wesley We Trust: Wil Wheaton says WATCHMEN is "(expletive) AWESOME"

Wil Wheaton is one of us: a proud geek who "gets it". And if Wheaton (perhaps best known from his work in the movie Stand By Me and his portrayal of Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation) says that "I can't think of a better, more faithful, graphic novel adaptation, ever" about the film version of Watchmen, then his word is bond.

And if the movie is as good as the early whispers about it already are, then... dare I say it? Yeah I will: it wouldn't surprise me if Watchmen rivaled The Dark Knight for box office gross. And maybe... maybe... even Titanic.

Mash down here for Wil Wheaton's gloriously complete and epically profanity-laden review of Watchmen.

Santelli is right: Time to show the American government who's boss

It's become "The Rant Heard 'Round the World": CNBC's Rick Santelli on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange two days ago, blasting President Obama's mortgage bailout plans and calling for a new "tea party"...

Santelli's impromptu screed alarmed the Obama Administration enough that Press Secretary Robert Gibbs attacked Santelli during the daily White House press briefing yesterday.

Most of y'all who read this blog on a regular basis know what I'm gonna say already: that Rick Santelli is absolutely correct. That the American government is rewarding "bad behavior" and consequently is punishing those who are striving to play fairly by the rules.

At every level, government in the United States is out of control. It has "gone rogue". Our government is no longer of the people, by the people and for the people. It is now an entity unto itself, existing for its own sake, and proven willing to do whatever it deems necessary to maintain its tenuous grasp on the status quo.

This can not go on forever. Sooner or later, it will come crashing down. History is replete with examples of ruined empires that buckled and gave in under their own weight. And at this point, I don't know if it can be avoided, that the United States is on the same track.

But that's why I also find Rick Santelli's rage to be so heartening. Santelli demonstrated sincere vigor and rage at what is happening to this country. His sentiments have resonated so strongly across the blogosphere, that it's not hard at all to see a real movement coalescing around this fury at our government.

Heck, if you ask me, Rick Santelli is showing more real leadership than anyone in the Obama Administration right now. That by itself is reason to be of good cheer! :-)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Listening to Three Dog on Galaxy News Radio while stalking the Capital Wasteland...

The first time I played Fallout 3, my character escaped the bowels of Vault 101 by killing the Overseer before he could do me in. For my heinous act of self-defense his lovely daughter jilted me forever. Tonight I started fresh, and for sparing his life the girl came to my aid and wished me well as I prepared to stride into the nuclear-blasted ruins of Washington D.C.

Fallout 3 is my current drug of choice so far as video and computer gaming goes. Bethesda Softworks' follow-up to the classic series of the late Nineties (and if you still want to play Fallout and Fallout 2 check out my review of GOG.com) maintains all of the elements that made its predecessors such a gripping experience, while also rebuilding the mechanics with the innovations of modern video gaming. The result? Not a "reboot" at all, but a fully-fledged brilliant continuation of the series. And yet Fallout 3 also looks and feels much like modern titles such as Grand Theft Auto IV and BioShock: the "sandbox"-style that lets you roam and explore as freely as you wish. In that regard Fallout 3 may be the standout of the potential that modern video gaming has: the narrative is extremely non-linear, to the point that there is no "right or wrong" way to play the game. You come to discover that much just from the introductory tutorial scenes (perhaps the most clever that I have seen in a game like this).

And did I say how incredibly beautiful Fallout 3 is? I hope and pray that Washington D.C. is never really nuked... but if it ever were, I can't imagine it looking much different than how it is portrayed in Fallout 3.

The game is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Windows machines. I bought the Windows flavor, since I'm of the school which teaches that role-playing games need to be enjoyed on something with a mouse and keyboard. But however it is that you play, give Fallout 3 a looksee.

Just mind the radroaches. And try not to drink the water.

Witchcraft now fastest growing religion in America

According to a book by two Christian researchers, Wicca - often known as "witchcraft" - is the fastest growing religion in the United States. Marla Alupoaicei and Dillon Burroughs' book Generation Hex estimates that the number of Wicca practitioners is doubling every thirty months. And it's not just in places like the West Coast and Salem, Massachusetts either: Wicca is enjoying just as much tremendous popularity in the American South. It has been calculated that by 2012 Wicca will be second only to Christianity as the most practiced faith in America.

I can believe it. Several years ago when I was a reporter in Asheville, I covered something called the "We Still Pray" rally at a local high school's football stadium. A few days later the pagans of the community said that it wasn't fair for a publicly-funded facility to cater solely to the Christians, and they threatened to sue unless they got equal access. So less than a month later I also got to cover the "We Still Work Magic" rally at the same location, and I was extremely surprised at the large turnout that came. It paled next to the tens of thousands who clogged I-40 and the Blue Ridge Parkway trying to get into the "We Still Pray" rally, but the stands of the place still wound up rather full.

And it pains me to say this, but I think the number of Wiccans who came to their own rally, were more sincere about their beliefs than the multitude of Christians who came for the "We Still Pray" event.

There is a lesson, I believe, that those who profess to follow Christ should consider: that to proclaim ourselves as "Christians" can not be about religion. But that it exactly what we have turned Christianity into: a label, a "brand name" competing with several others. To follow Christ is about real relationship with God: something that should only cause us to change and grow like unto Him. The evidence of Him in our lives should be our love for others and our love for truth. But in the absence of those things - and I will dare say that there is such an absence - then it's only natural that those around us who are without Christ will look elsewhere for spiritual satisfaction. And not all the Bible-thumping and screaming about it that we could do, will change that.

Atlantis still missing, says Google techs

Late last night this blog joined many other outlets in passing along the word that the Google Earth application had discovered something weird on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean west of Africa. And a lot of people were quick to suggest that perhaps this might be the sunken remains of mythic Atlantis.

Already we have an answer: no, it's not.

According to the eggheads at Google, the odd grid array is a visual artifact from the sonar process that spawned the undersea maps. In this case, the lines are caused by the paths of the boats on the surface as they went back and forth taking sonar measurements of the ocean floor.

So no Atlantis this time. But I'll bet Lemuria and Mu are still out there somewhere :-)

Finally have a Rorschach action figure!

Ever since the first time I read Watchmen, I've thought it would be neat to have an action figure of Rorschach to decorate my shelf or computer desk with.

It's taken twenty years, but today I finally get my wish...

Found it at Books A Million in Greensboro while out on some business this morning.

Now all we need is for someone to make a big plush Rorschach doll that goes "Hurm" when you pull the string :-P

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Has Google Earth found Atlantis?

The latest version of Google Earth, which has a new oceanographic feature, has found a very odd feature on the Atlantic floor hundreds of miles northwest of the Canary Islands. Here's the screengrab that I took of it, including the coordinates...

It's said to be as large as Wales, and sits beneath three and a half miles of water. Some are saying that Google Earth might have stumbled upon the location of fabled Atlantis. Interestingly, the site does rest in the spot beyond the Strait of Gibraltar where Plato said Atlantis rose and fell.

My hunch is that this is going to turn out to be some natural feature on the eastern flanks of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. But it is plenty intriguing that it looks so regular and organized, almost like the layout of a city.

CHILDREN OF EDEN at The Sanctuary in Greensboro starting this weekend!

Longtime readers of this blog know that my favorite musical is Children of Eden. This past summer I was extremely blessed to have taken part in a production of it by the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County. Well, if you've never had the pleasure of beholding this amazing show and you live near Greensboro, North Carolina you're in luck this weekend and the next. Jay Smith, who played Cain in our production, is directing Children of Eden at The Sanctuary, located at 900 Sixteenth Street in Greensboro. The show begins Friday, February 20th at 7:30 p.m., and runs through February 28th. Many of the same faces from Theatre Guild of Rockingham County's production will be in this new show, including Neil Shepherd returning as Father. Click here for more information, and hope you can come check it out! :-)

Descendants of Geronimo sue to get his remains from Skull and Bones

Family members of Geronimo, the great Apache warrior, are suing the Skull and Bones secret society at Yale University. The purpose of the lawsuit: to compel Skull and Bones to hand over the skull and other remains of Geronimo that were allegedly stolen from his grave in Oklahoma in 1918. Supposedly, Skull and Bones (the membership of which includes many business leaders and politicians, including both presidents Bush) has been using Geronimo's noggin for weird sexual rituals deep within its headquarters known as "The Tomb". It has long been alleged that Geronimo's remains were in Skull and Bones' possession, but a letter unearthed a few years ago that detailed the grave robbery has lent new credence to the claim.

All I gotta say is: any "fraternity" that makes its initiates masturbate inside a coffin, cannot possibly be of much good.

WATCHMEN coming in 3 crazy flavors of DVD and Blu-ray!

Collider.com is reporting that director Zack Snyder has confirmed that there are three cuts of Watchmen. The first will be the theatrical release that will come out two weeks from tomorrow, and will run for 2 hours 36 minutes.

The theatrical cut will be coming out on DVD probably "around Comic-Con of this year" (mid-July or thereabouts) and at the same time there will also be Snyder's "director's cut" clocking in at 3 hours and 10 minutes!

But that's still not all. Later this fall will be the "ultimate" cut of Watchmen coming to DVD and Blu-ray. That version will incorporate the animated Tales of the Black Freighter footage that is coming out as a separate home release next month. This version will be 3 hours 25 minutes long.

I must say: that is gonna be one strange day two weeks from now when Watchmen comes out. I've been writing about the attempts to make this movie for as long as this blog has been running. The thought had crossed my mind that maybe after writing the Watchmen review that I should just retire The Knight Shift blog. I mean, in its own way... how will I ever top this?

But I'm sure something else will come along :-)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Post #3000 is reaction to tonight's LOST episode "316"!

Wow... three thousand articles (and other stuff) for this blog to date! Thatsa lotta writing over the past five years :-)

And "316", tonight's episode of Lost, had a lot of everything that makes this show, so unprecedented for the television medium.

That was probably more new mythology that got introduced - or revealed, however you wanna say it - in just the first few minutes of this week's installment than there has been in many entire stretches of episodes. There's a real sense of evolving story here. And "316" makes one appreciate that there is just more than a season and a half left of Lost: this is one show that knows where it's going, and is giving us one heckuva thrill ride along the way.

(So does anyone wanna build a big Focault pendulum so that we can really find where the Island is? :-P)

Loved the scene in the church where Ben talked about the apostle Thomas. Anyone else think that showed a new, spiritual side to Ben that we haven't seen before? It served to highlight one of the best running themes of the show: Jack, the "man of science", and his struggle with faith.

Great to see Frank Lapidus again. I loved his line: "We're not going to Guam, are we?" I just hope he and the rest of the plane are okay. Frank was one of my favorite new people from last season. 'Twould be great if he winds up on the Island again somehow.

All in all, this was more of a character-driven episode than one really rife with action (except for that startling final scene)... but that's what makes Lost so powerful anyway: the characters, and how they cope and change and grow over time. I'll chalk "316" up, along with everything else we've seen of Season 5 thus far, as one of the best of the show to date.

And next week's episode has a title that outta have every Lost-aholic tuning in: "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham". What happened to Locke between the time he left the Island and his winding up in a coffin in a butcher shop's 'fridge? We'll find out in seven days! Until then... "Namaste".

Ratio Depopulata

Such is what has become of our world.

"Reason laid waste".

Feel free to comment.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

President Obama signs "stimulus" into law

The $787 BILLION package is now enacted legislation, as President Barack Obama signed the bill at a ceremony in Denver.

There might be another "stimulus" coming soon, believe it or not.

And on the day of this esteemed occasion, the Dow dropped 297.81 points, -3.79%, to close at 7,552.60.

And on a somewhat related note, I've been hearing some curious rumblings about stuff going down in the Eastern Europe markets, that might bear watching for the time being.

Travis the Chimp, on Xanax, goes bananas and mauls woman before being shot dead by Connecticut cops

So help me, my eyes are tearing up with laughter after reading that headline, even though this really is a horrible story...

Travis, a 200 pound, 15-year old chimpanzee who had appeared in TV commercials and "was toilet trained, dressed himself, took his own bath, ate at the table and drank wine from a glass", went berzerk last night in a Stamford, Connecticut neighborhood after breaking loose from his owners' custody, and then severely mauled Charla Nash with "life-changing, if not life-threatening injuries" to her face and hands. Travis' owner Sandra Herold had to beat the ape off her friend with a butcher knife and a shovel.

Travis had earlier been given tea laced with the anti-depressant Xanax. He proceeded to terrorize the streets before being shot dead by Stamford cops, after Travis opened the door of a police cruiser and attempted to enter the vehicle. According to one report, Travis may have intended to drive away from the scene.

Feel free to post the obligatory Planet of the Apes comments as you see fit...

Ramos and Compean finally free (they never should have been in prison to begin with!)

This morning, former Border Patrol agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos were freed from the federal prisons they had been in, and rejoined their families.

About time. But then, their imprisonment was a travesty of justice from the beginning. Regardless of their sentences being commuted, a whole lot of people in this country will never forgive George W. Bush and his lackey Johnny Sutton for taking sides with a known drug smuggler against two men who were trying to protect their country's safety and sovereignty.

No, I won't be one to forgive Bush for that, either.

That said: it's good that Ramos and Compean are back home.

Trailer for TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN

Giant transforming sentient robotic organisms and lots of Michael Bay-hem signature carnage and 'splosions (with a soundtrack by Steve Jablonsky). What more could you ask for?!

Trailer for INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

I must regretfully confess that I have never seen a Quentin Tarantino movie during a first run in the theaters...

...but I am already sold on Inglorious Basterds, due for release this summer.

"Each man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps. And I want my scalps."

See Brad Pitt pour out unbridled Jewish rage on Fortress Europe below...

PRIDE AND PREDATOR?! Are you kidding me?!?

Elton John's Rocket Pictures has begun production on Pride and Predator: a cinematic adaptation of a Jane Austen novel that deviates wildly "from the traditional period costume drama when an alien crash lands and begins to butcher the mannered protags, who suddenly have more than marriage and inheritance to worry about."

This is, apparently, not a joke.

One of the producers has also said that "It felt like a fresh and funny way to blow apart the done-to-death Jane Austen genre by literally dropping this alien into the middle of a costume drama, where he stalks and slashes to horrific effect."

Jane Austen books must be a hot sci-fi genre these days. Cinema Blend is also reporting that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is in the works, with involvement from Natalie Portman.

Words fail...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Kansas and California have run out of money

The state government of Kansas is no longer issuing tax refunds and may be unable to pay its employees.

Meanwhile, California is $40 billion in the red and may have to lay off thousands of workers soon.

Dare I mention that "Hell Époque" thing that I first wrote about last year?

BIOSHOCK bringing moral chaos to mobile phones

BioShock, 2K Games' smash hit first-person shooter that tries your personal ethics as much as it tests your aim, is now coming to mobile phones courtesy of Indiagames. The reveal came at the 2009 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Indiagames is working on two versions of BioShock for mobile devices: a straightforward 3-D port of the original game, and... a 2-D rendition, believe it or not.

(Can't help but wonder if the 2-D version will resemble this NES-style "demake" or perhaps this Game Boy mock-up.)

I'm of the opinion that BioShock is a game that needs to be played at night, or at least a way darkened room with all the lights out, on a fairly large screen and the sound turned way up. The ruined underwater city of Rapture with all its 1950s trappings is easily the most sinister setting of a video game that I've ever encountered. Putting it on a tiny device to play anywhere... sounds like it's gonna take away from that kind of atmosphere. But hey, the more BioShock the better, right? :-)

Here's some footage of the 3-D version, including the deranged Splicers and of course a Big Daddy in action...

Banker gives $60 million of own money to his employees

Lately it seems like the "feel good" stories have become even more few and far between. So when one is found, I feel more than a little compelled to give it a shout-out.

Take, f'rinstance, what Leonard Abess Jr. did. Back in November he sold a majority share of his holdings in Miami-based City National Bancshares.

And then, Abess gave away $60 million of the profits to EVERYONE that was on his bank's payroll. He even went so far as to find 72 former employees so that he could give them a share of the money, too. More than 400 people got the "bonuses", and depending on how long they had been employed some got more than $100,000

This is an awesome story of capitalism and corporate responsibility, folks. And when I say "responsibility", what I mean by that is a company or business owner going above and beyond in rewarding its employees - who have already shown loyalty to the company - without it being mandated by some decree of government. Nobody made Abess give up his own money. In my opinion, Leonard Abess Jr. made a smart investment in his own company. And I'd be willing to wager an RC Cola and a Moon Pie that City National Bancshares might be among the better managed banks in this day and age.

Abess didn't publicize his good deed, but it was inevitable that news of it would get out. When asked about his motivation...

Abess said he had long dreamed of a way to reward employees. He had been thinking of creating an employee stock option plan before he decided to sell the bank.

"Those people who joined me and stayed with me at the bank with no promise of equity -- I always thought some day I'm going to surprise them," he said. "I sure as heck don't need [the money]."

Leonard Abess Jr., you're a good man. And you deserve a tip o' the hat for your good deed :-)

Creepy and kooky: 5 months in jail for man who whistled THE ADDAMS FAMILY theme

Leopold Wrobel of Wingerforth, England has been remanded to gaol by the constabulary for a period of twenty weeks after being found guilty of harassment and violating an "antisocial behavior order" that was sought against him by his neighbors.

Apparently, what Michael and Kathleen Sharpe found so offensive is that Wrobel would constantly whistle the theme music from The Addams Family whenever he saw them.

In his defense, Wrobel claimed that he was only whistling at his dog. But "closed-circuit TV footage shown to the court depicted him repeatedly whistling when the couple left their house or arrived home."

I don't know what's more disturbing: this guy's whistling fetish, or the fact that England now has so many surveillance cameras that one was looking out for Wrobel's performance.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Apollo astronaut Schmitt sez: Humans not causing global warming

Harrison Schmitt - geologist, former senator from New Mexico and one of the last men to walk on Moon during the Apollo 17 mission - has voiced his strong belief that global warming is not happening... or at least that it is not being caused by human activity.

And what's more, Schmitt also states that "global warming" is being used as a political tool to increase the presence of government in people's lives...

Schmitt contends that scientists "are being intimidated" if they disagree with the idea that burning fossil fuels has increased carbon dioxide levels, temperatures and sea levels.

"They've seen too many of their colleagues lose grant funding when they haven’t gone along with the so-called political consensus that we’re in a human-caused global warming," Schmitt said.

Dan Williams, publisher with the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, which is hosting the climate change conference, said he invited Schmitt after reading about his resignation from The Planetary Society, a nonprofit dedicated to space exploration.

Schmitt resigned after the group blamed global warming on human activity. In his resignation letter, the 74-year-old geologist argued that the "global warming scare is being used as a political tool to increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision making."

Schmitt is a real scientist, and a former elected official. I'm far more inclined to trust his take on the "global warming" situation than many of the more current crop of either researchers or politicians. Sad to say: over the past few decades the trend has been that the science has increasingly become driven more by policy than it has been by empirical evidence. And in that regard, we simply do not have enough long-range climate data to satisfactorily proclaim that global warming is or isn't happening.

Chris sings the praises of HandBrake 0.9.3!

A little over a year ago I posted the how-to tutorial on putting video content from a DVD onto an iPod. The workhorse program that I found perfect for my needs was HandBrake. When it came time to convert Lost Season 4 for my iPod classic ('cuz I like having all the Lost episodes hanging on my belt... along with my own movies, the Star Wars saga, etc.) I found that HandBrake had upgraded to version 0.9.3.

So if you haven't checked it out yet, I heartily recommend giving HandBrake a looksee, because it has become significantly more powerful since the last time I used it en masse. HandBrake 0.9.3 introduces universal video input: it can now convert practically any format of video into MPEG-4, including DivX AVI files (very nice for putting those bootlegged Doctor Who episodes on an iPod or iPhone or any other portable video device). The video quality has been greatly improved, with many more presets and options available. Syncing of video and audio is said to be fixed, but I never saw any problems with that to begin with. I have however found that HandBrake 0.9.3 is far more stable in Windows Vista: previously, I had to re-install the program every time I wanted to convert a new DVD. Version 0.9.3 has fixed that bug: I've "fired it at the walls" (my own terminology for probing software for its limits) quite a bit over the past several days, and it keeps coming back and asking for more.

If you are using a Windows machine, you will likely have to purchase and install SlySoft AnyDVD, which does the actual work of decryption of a DVD. But HandBrake itself is free and open-source, and is available for MacOS X, Linux and Windows.

Federal government's fiscal obligations calculated to be more than WORLD's gross product

Jerome Corsi has published a wallopin' eye-opener of an essay. According to his figures, the United States federal government's runaway spending (like the "stimulus") combined with its already existing financial obligations, is more than the gross domestic product of the entire world.

There is no way we are going to be able to pay for all of this in our lifetime, the lifetime of our children, and quite possibly the lifetime of their grandchildren. Not if our politicians keep adhering to this insanity.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"We're fine. We're all here, fine. How are you?"

Something screwy is amiss with this blog on the technical backside of things. It looked fine yesterday (so far as I can tell) but in both Firefox and Internet Explorer, stuff is missing.

If this place looks more whacked than usual, it's prolly just me monkeying around behind the scenes trying to get it all fixed :-)

Immigrants can now fast-track to citizenship through U.S. military (and what this REALLY means about America...)

According to a story at The New York Times, the United States military is about to offer American citizenship to legal immigrants if they enlist in the armed forces. Some might be eligible for citizenship in as little as six months.

The reason for this, is that the American military is admittedly "stretched thin" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So let's go review what happened a little over a millenia and a half ago, when the cost of maintaining its vast empire utterly taxed Rome's martial capability. With not nearly enough proper imperial denizens to draw upon, the Roman government eventually acquiesced to enlisting barbarians from Germania and Gaul to bolster its forces. In many cases, the foreign soldiers were offered Roman citizenship as part of a package of incentives (which could also include some lucrative latifundia).

Fifteen hundred years later, and another great world-spanning power... is now doing much the same.

Don't anybody give me any harsh looks now. I'm just the historian here.

It's the trailer for WATCHMEN's TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER with the voice of Gerard Butler!

If you've never read Watchmen (what's the matter with you? Go read it now!) then this requires some 'splainin'. In the graphic novel there's this kid who's reading a pirate comic book at a newsstand. The comic book, Tales of the Black Freighter, is shown to us the readers as a "story within a story" and it parallels a lot of what's going on in the greater scheme of Watchmen. Zack Snyder didn't have enough time to include it in the feature film adaptation of Watchmen, but it's important enough that it's coming to us next month as an animated feature on DVD and Blu-ray! And the word is that months afterward when Watchmen itself is released for home consumption, that an "ultimate edition" will be coming out that splices together the live-action movie and the animated Tales of the Black Freighter.

So with that said, here's the trailer for Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter, featuring the voice of Gerard Butler (Leonidas in 300) as the marooned mariner...

Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter will also include Hollis Mason's autobiography Under the Hood.

Thanks to Phillip Arthur for the heads-up!

The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre was eighty years ago today

It was on this day in 1929 that the mob war between Al Capone and Bugs Moran came to a violent head inside the garage of the SMC Cartage Company in Chicago. Seven members of Moran's gang were ambushed in a well-executed plan by Capone's enforcers (some dressed as Chicago policemen) and butchered mercilessly by machine gun fire. Moran himself by some twist of luck managed to avoid being at the scene.

Read more about the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

...But where the heck are Spider-Man and J. Arthur Crank?!

This afternoon I finally got to watch the new version of The Electric Company on PBS. It's a revival of the very fondly remembered original series from the 1970s.

So what did I think of it? I watched many of the episodes of the original The Electric Company a few years ago when they ran on Noggin, and was surprised at how well the show had held up over the years. The Electric Company circa 2009 remains faithful to the purpose of its parent... but is a fresh and rapid-fire delightful update aimed at a new generation. And I was surprised at how many homages to the Seventies series there are: right down to paying tribute to Rita Moreno's immortal warcry "HEY YOU GUYSSSSSS!!!" Didn't spot an appearance by Letterman (no, not the late night TV host) but there was an animated spoof of 24, among other clever sketches. The one with the farmer and his mixed-up signs: can't help but wonder if the original show would have ever tried to be, dare I say it, "risque"? :-)

All in all, I thought that the new The Electric Company holds a lot of promise, and maybe even quite a bit of entertainment value for (ahem...) those of us among the "older" set. There's a lot of potential here for PBS to have another classic show on its hands.

Now all it needs is something on par with Morgan Freeman taking a bath in a casket...

"Stimulus" file size: Is Congress TRYING to keep us from examining it?

ReadTheStimulus.org is reporting that the final language of the "stimulus" bill has been posted on the U.S. House website. But if you think you're going to get to exercise your right to easily pore over the legislation, think again. From ReadTheStimulus.org...
Final Language Posted
Posted at 11:00 pm on Thursday, February 12, 2009

The final language has been posted; you can find links to the various docs at the Speaker's website. Update: The speaker's website is apparently down. Imagine that. Docs are also available here.

The total size of the four major files is over 100MB, and consists of 1419 pages. Three of the four files are huge "scanned" PDFs, meaning they were created by printing the original document and then scanning it in again --- and therefore contain no real "text" that can be easily searched. This will make our parsing process difficult and more time consuming, so we most likely won't have our versions ready until midday tomorrow. But we'll see...

There is no reason at all why this bill, as bloated as it is, should not be in standard rich-text Acrobat format. 1,419 pages? In a document containing all text and no images, that would be extremely quick and easy to download, not to mention convenient to search and scan.

But instead, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has published the "stimulus" as unwieldy scanned images.

In my mind, either the House website staff is inept and incapable of fully grasping available technology, or this is a deliberate attempt to prevent the legislation from easily being scrutinized by the public.

I'm inclined to believe the latter.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS trailer is online! Guess whose film you'll see a tiny part of???

Awright, I've been sitting on this for the past week or so, eagerly looking forward to when that e-mail would arrive with the official announcement and now... it's here!

Alexandre Philippe is a filmmaker who is currently working on an ambitious project called The People vs. George Lucas (here's the official website: PeopleVsGeorge.com). Tonight, Alexandre and his crew released the first trailer for their film.

Behold!

Want to see it drastically embiggened and high-deffed? Mash down here!

And at 1:29 into the trailer, there's a black and white clip showing "George Lucas" furiously typing. No, your eyes ain't deceiving you: that is Chad Austin from my first film Forcery (click here to watch THAT movie)! Alexandre contacted me about using Forcery awhile back, and all of us at KWerky Productions are thrilled to have been invited to take part in this project.

The People vs. George Lucas is scheduled for a 2010 wide release. As you can expect, it will be a pleasure to keep y'all posted about it in the meantime :-)

Something I just caught from last night's LOST...

If you have "This Place Is Death" recorded, or from iTunes or whatever, then do yourself a favor...

...and listen very, very carefully to the scene early in the episode where Jin, Danielle and the rest of her team are on the beach. In particular, listen to the voice that's reading out "the numbers" on the radio.

It sounds like Hurley's.

As if this story isn't loopy enough already!

Man apparently rid of HIV following radical stem cell transplant

Extremely exciting medical news coming out today: a 42-year old man who had previously been infected with HIV is now, apparently, completely free of the virus and is displaying no symptoms of further infection. This following a stem cell transplant from a person carrying a unique mutation that confers natural resistance to the virus that causes AIDS.

The patient has now been without detectable HIV for two years now, and is not currently on any antiretroviral medication. However, researchers warn that the therapy is "too extreme and too dangerous to be used as a routine treatment", and that a third of those who undergo it die from complications.

I'd still chalk it up as a victory for this kind of medical research, though. Who knows what kind of refinement might eventually come from such a development. And gene therapy is still a very new field: during the next ten or twenty years, we're likely to see even more powerful advances.

Nite Owl and Silk Spectre in MINUTEMEN scrolling arcade game (coolest WATCHMEN viral site yet)

The marketing for Watchmen never ceases to amaze me. This time it's an Eighties-style scrolling street fighting arcade game based on the Minutemen. Plunk in your virtual quarters and play as either Nite Owl or Silk Spectre as you clean up New York City of the 1940s.


Maybe if you rack up a high enough score, it'll unlock Hooded Justice and Mothman as playable characters :-P

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Well played, Tarheels

Duke fan that I am, I'm man enough to admit that UNC had an excellent game tonight. 101 to 87... that might be the biggest margin between the two teams in a long time.

So to the Tarheels: congratulations!

(I just don't want to have to make a habit of saying that :-P)

Customary reaction to LOST episode: "This Place Is Death"

Lost is better television than we darned well deserve.

And "This Place Is Death", tonight's episode, was one of the richest of the series to date.

I thought it was also one of the strongest of the Sun and Jin-centric episodes, and doesn't it say something about Lost that Sun could be in 2008 and Jin could be back on the Island in 1988, and this show still make sense? After how powerful the reunion between Desmond and Penny was, I'm of the mind that the setup is happening before our eyes for something much, much more intense when Jin and Sun find their way back to each other. They'd better get back: I know hordes of people who will be honked-off enraged if that doesn't happen.

The scenes in 1988 with Danielle and her team explored a lot of ground in a surprisingly short amount of time. I've wondered what "the sickness" was that 2004 Danielle was talking about... might it have something to do with "Smokey"?

Daniel and Charlotte: seemed handled a bit clunky, but I'm willing to see how this plays out. Jeremy Davies proves once more why he was the perfect choice to play Daniel: nobody does off-kilter lovable nerds better than he :-)

Ben's emotional blow-up in the van was an excellent scene. Michael Emerson shows again that he is one of the best actors working in the medium right now. More and more it's becoming easier to take Ben at his word, and I don't think he was being deceitful at all when he talked about what he and others had done to protect the Oceanic 6.

So... Locke has done it. He has turned the wheel and is on his way. Can't wait to see the story of "Jeremy Bentham" unfold once he gets to the outside world.

The final scene, where the gang meets Eloise inside the church: can't help but think that portends some amazing stuff next week. Eloise speaking in the teaser about how "this is how the Island was found" while showing the weird pendulum is painfully tantalizing. Can't wait 'til next Wednesday to get here to find out more.

Okay so... thought? :-)

Two satellites collide in space over Siberia

At least 600 pieces of spaceborne shrapnel are now plaguing the sky, no thanks to an unprecedented collision between two satellites in low-Earth orbit.

Early yesterday, 790 kilometers (490 miles) above Siberia, an inoperative Russian satellite called Cosmos 2251 smashed into Iridium33, a communications satellite. Ground radar is now tracking the hundreds of resulting bits of debris, hoping that none of it will smash into any other satellites or the International Space Station.

When asked which satellite was at fault, NASA scientist Nicholas Johnson said, "they ran into each other. Nothing has the right of way up there. We don't have an air traffic controller in space. There is no universal way of knowing what's coming in your direction."

The good news, if there is any, is that Iridium Satellite LLC still has 64 satellites in unusually low orbit, relaying calls between special satellite phones (the U.S. Department of Defense is one of its biggest customers).

I wonder if one of them was trying to speed through an intersection...

Fred Reed, Internet's greatest curmudgeon, is retiring (for now)

This is a sad day for the very many of us who have faithfully followed the "scurrilous commentary" of Fred Reed. The renaissance man behind Fred On Everything announced yesterday that he is ending his regular columns, owing to upcoming surgery for a corneal transplant (as Reed puts it "this being the belated result of a largely forgotten foray by the US into military adventurism").

Reed shared his reasons for beginning his web-based column, and he speaks for many of us in conveying the biggest reason why a lot of us do this, in whatever way we can. He also admits some inevitable frustration with it all...

"My reasons for inditing the sucker were, first, to see whether a web column could work and, second, to get away from the strangling grasp of political correctness. A third reason, common I suppose to most columnists, was the hope that, however minor my voice might be, in combination with thousands of others it might engender pressure for slowing the rush into the high-tech medieval twilight that the culture has undertaken.

"This by now is clearly quixotic. The civilizational changes we now see are both irremediable and beyond control. The peasantrification and empty glitter of society, pervasive hostility to careful thought, onrushing authoritarianism, and distaste for cultivation are now endemic. I do not know where these lead, but we are assuredly going to get there. Fuming buys nothing."

As with everything else he has written that I've read over the years, it's a great essay. Our thoughts and prayers go out to him, and here's hoping that the Internet's best curmudgeon and best-known expatriate will be back in the saddle sooner than later :-)