Tuesday, March 31, 2009

THE MATRIX was released 10 years ago today

"What is the Matrix?"

A lot of us were asking that question in the moments following a certain commercial which ran during Super Bowl XXXIII. Two months later we got our answer. And pop culture was never the same again.

Ten years ago today The Matrix debuted in theaters and busted cinematography wide open... to say nothing of our brains and eyeballs. "What is The Matrix?" What indeed? If there had been another movie of the day that was just as hard to categorize and try to describe to others, I can't think of it. It was part hardcore sci-fi and part Hong Kong "wire-fu" smothered in extra helpings of doctoral-level philosophy with a dash of religious smorgasbord.

And audiences ate it up and begged for more.

It was late April of '99 when I first saw it. A few days before during our weekly Bible study, my discipleship partner "Bruce" (real name changed to protect the innocent) arrived raving about seeing The Matrix the night before. He started trying to explain it to me: "Neo" and "Morpheus" and "Nebuchadnezzar" and "artificial intelligence" and "red pill" and... it went waaaaaay over my head. Whatever he had seen, it was painted in wide brushes and it had completely overwhelmed my friend. "Bruce"'s raw enthusiasm made his mad litany of strange terminology both wildly enigmatic and yet strangely beguiling. We met in Burlington a few days later on Sunday night and took it in at the now-closed West End Cinema.

What did I think about The Matrix upon my first viewing of it? Everyone reading this will probably say it right along with me: "Whoa."

The Matrix has been, no doubt, the most played DVD of my collection. There's probably not a month that goes by that I don't set it spinning in the player at least once, even if it's just for subtle background noise while I work on other projects. It was the first chapter of the defining mythology of this opening decade of the new millennium. And I know that its two sequels are widely considered to have been less than adequate to meeting the high bar set by the original. Personally, I loved both The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. I thought they progressed the story to the perfect conclusion, all the while escalating the intensity that we had come to know from the first movie. And I sincerely believe in years to come, that is going to be appreciated far more than it has been already.

But today, we celebrate the one that started it all. The movie that challenged us to think and question the world around us even as it challenged conventional wisdom at the box office. The Matrix was like catching lightning in a bottle, and I don't know if there will ever be a phenomenon quite like it again.

Prayers going out for a friend

Late last night, word arrived that a friend from college and an all-around really sweet person was in a very terrible automobile accident. Details haven't come in yet but apparently it was extremely severe.

So I'm gonna hold up Kate in prayer this morning, and sincerely request everyone reading this to also ask God to bring her through this ordeal. 'Twould really appreciate it y'all.

Teen "vampire" wannabe inspired by TWILIGHT to bite classmates

A 13-year old middle-school student in Des Moines, Iowa apparently got a bit too carried away with the Twilight books. He was remanded to juvenile corrections after trying to bite and suck the blood out of 11 fellow students.

Twilight is the first book in a series written by Stephenie Meyer about a clan of "vampires". No, I haven't read the books. But these alleged nosferatu aren't afraid of sunlight, aren't repelled by garlic, aren't stopped by running water and aren't turned away by crucifixes. Those aren't vampires: they are, at most, people with severe eating disorders. Anyhoo the books are wildly popular (but y'all know that already right?) and Twilight just became a hit movie.

And to think that some people say I go too far with Star Wars :-P

Monday, March 30, 2009

Awesome GUITAR HERO METALLICA commercial!

Good friend Doug Smith told me to yank my peepers toward this excellent ad for Guitar Hero Metallica featuring not only the band itself but also basketball coaching legends Bobby Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino and Roy Williams...

There's another one at coaches.guitarhero.com that shows the band tying the coaches up to a tree and then destroying the house.

Government now warning us about depression from economy

What the hell has become of America over the past few days?

From Drudge Report...

NANNY STATE: GOVERNMENT WEBSITE TO WARN OF SADNESS/CRYING OVER ECONOMY

Mon Mar 30 2009 18:43:56 ET

The U.S. government is set to offer an online emotional rescue kit!

"Getting Through Tough Economic Times" will launch Tuesday with a media push across all platforms. The site is meant to help people identify health concerns related to financial worries.

The feds will warn of depression, suicidal thinking and other serious mental illnesses. It will raise warning flags for: Persistent sadness/crying; Excessive anxiety; Lack of sleep/constant fatigue; Excessive irritability/anger.

The guide will be available starting at midnight at http://www.samhsa.gov/economy.

Developing...

Is anyone else finding this order of words to be a little less than encouraging?

"The feds will warn of depression..."

"The feds will warn of depression..."

"THE FEDS WILL WARN OF DEPRESSION..."

Barack Obama is fast building up his legacy as the Great Emasculator.

Obama says the U.S. government will back your car warranty

The words I never, ever thought I'd hear a President of the United States tell the country...
"Your warranty will be safe. In fact, it will be safer than it's ever been, because starting today, the United States government will stand behind your warranty."

-- President Barack Obama

And you thought "womb to the tomb" policies were bad. Now the federal government has got your car covered bumper to bumper.

And Obama's firing the head of General Motors apparently didn't take well with the markets today: they were down all over, including the Dow at -254 points.

Search is on for real-life Duke Nukem (Plus: DUKE NUKEM 3D at GOG.com!)

While we're waiting for Duke Nukem Forever to finally come out (it's been in development since early 1997), a trilogy of Duke Nukem games is coming to Nintendo DS and PSP this fall. And to promote 'em Apogee and Deep Silver are holding a nationwide contest to find someone to pose as a real-life Duke Nukem.

According to the story at USA Today: "The contest will travel to New York, Los Angeles and Dallas seeking out potential Duke Nukems. As the press release describes, 'aspiring Dukes will be judged on how well they personify the character's take-no-prisoners attitude.' The winner will be revealed during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in June."

Blast here for the official website of this gimmick.

And if you've never had the politically incorrect pleasure of playing a Duke Nukem game (or you have already and can't get enough of Duke's crude humor) GOG.com has Duke Nukem 3D: Atomic Edition for purchase and download - and guaranteed to run on Windows XP and Vista machines - at the great price of $5.99!

90-year old man earns pilot's license

Maury Marler just got his license to fly airplanes as a student pilot. Nothing unusual about that. But Marler is also 90 years old and living in a retirement community. He had a civilian license around 1941 but it's long since expired. Sixty-six years after he logged his last flight, he showed up at a flight school and took to the cockpit again. Flying has long been his passion, and now he's getting to satisfy it.

Maury Marler, you sound like a good man... and this blogger is gonna salute you for it :-)

Campus computer labs going the way of the dinosaur?

Only four incoming freshmen were without personal computers at the University of Virginia this academic year. So the school is shutting down all the computer labs on campus in an effort to save money. And there's some lively discussion over at Slashdot about whether computer labs are even necessary anymore.

If they ever go away completely... wow. I was a computer lab manager during all four of my years at Elon. So was my filmmaking partner "Weird" Ed and a lot of others. 'Twas some of the best work that you could ever do as a student. Most of the time you were sitting on shift for three or four hours with nothing to do but surf the 'net. That is, until another student... or an instructor... came to you about "there's no paper in the printer", or "the printer is jammed", or "THE MOUSE ISN'T WORKING!" That one happened to me more than once. And it was from a faculty member who had apparently never used a computer before, and they were waving the mouse above the top of the table trying to move the cursor!

Tellin' y'all here and now, that computer lab managers were - and still are - a breed apart. We all got our war stories to tell. We are a proud but dwindling race. And now we go quietly into that long night, brought on by ubiquitous laptops and personal wireless networks.

Study sez: Lobsters and crabs feel pain

Next time you go to Red Lobster and order a succulent, mouth-watering lobster or some crab legs, it may or may not interest you to know that according to a new study lobsters and crabs and other crustaceans are now said to register the sensation of pain throughout their neurobiology.

And incidentally, there is already talk about legislation that would protect crustaceans from "cruelty" like cultivating them so they can be thrown into cooking pots, etc.

That makes no sense. I mean, for the longest time we've been raising cattle on farms and ranches, for the explicit purpose of eventually slaughtering them so they can be turned into steaks and hamburgers. Same thing with pigs destined to become a plate of barbecue or a slab of ribs. What next: a study showing that bananas scream in agony when they're plucked from the stalk?

'Course, there's always this compelling evidence from a 1988 episode of Garfield and Friends demonstrating that lobsters not only have sensation, but they can feel lonely too. Here is "Maine Course"...

Final theatrical poster for STAR TREK

Ooohh-kaaaaay...

That's definitely one movie poster that doesn't give anything away.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Obama forces out General Motors CEO

I said Friday afternoon that I was leaving the blog until Monday. Anytime I take a respite, I'm serious about it. And it's gonna take something really damned bad to drag me back here.

If this ain't bad enough, then I sure as hell don't know what is...

President Barack Obama has effectively FIRED Rick Wagoner, the CEO of General Motors.

What this means is that the United States federal government has pretty much nationalized and taken over a private company. It's likely not going to be called that officially, but the policy is still the same.

Has a President of the United States ever done anything like this, in the history of this country? Certainly not in recent memory. The closest I can think of is what happened between Ronald Reagan and the air traffic controllers' union... but not Reagan or any other President in living recollection ever seized enough control of a company to call the shots about who it hires.

Scary stuff.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Off for the weekend

Will probably be Twitter-ing some, but otherwise I'll return to the blog Monday, following a few days' rest and working on mysterious new projects.

Go out and play now! :-)

What should we call the UN's global currency?

So not only are several countries wanting to ditch the U.S. dollar as the main instrument of international trade, but a United Nations panel is now calling for a new global currency. Officially it's being touted as a "Global Reserve System".

If this new money becomes a reality, it's gonna need a name, just like for the dollar and the euro and the yen, etc.

"Global Reserve System", eh? Well then, how about we call the base note of this proposed cross-borders currency...

- the greaser

- the grisly

- the gross

- the grue

- ?

My favorite pick is the grue. Like, you can have several grues in your wallet (where they like it dark). And just like the grues of the Zork games, they are always eager to devour the unwary.

Got any ideas? Let's hear 'em! :-)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Follow me on Twitter!

http://twitter.com/theknightshift

It's actually my second attempt at "Twittering". Yeah, like I've said before when it comes to new technology I'm much like the Amish: I have to come to trust it first, before I adopt it. Hence why I let the last go at it lapse. I'm gonna keep that one as a "personal" line for friends and family. But theknightshift one will stay public.

MYTHBUSTERS shakes town with explosion

The Discovery Channel's popular show Mythbusters gave a fright to the residents of a small California town when a detonation being performed for an upcoming show wound up making a bigger bang than expected. They set off 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate. A mile away, people in Esparto were literally thrown from their couches and the bang even shattered windows of houses (which the Mythbusters staff had replaced the same day).

The purpose of the explosion was to see if socks could literally be "blown off" of a mannequin. Can't wait to see that 'un :-)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Amateur astronomer's uber-kewl photo of the International Space Station

Manually tracking with a 10-inch Newtonian telescope armed with a video camera, amateur astronomer Ralf Vandebergh captured this amazing photo of the International Space Station, with the Space Shuttle Discovery docked alongside it...

Read more about it here.

Reaction to tonight's LOST: "He's Our You"

I've got one thing to say about that ending:

HOLY #&$@!!!

Well, Sayid's done and gone scrooooooowed things up now, hasn't he?

"A twelve-year old Ben Linus brought me a chicken salad sandwich. How do you think I am?"
After half a season of reconfiguring its style every which-away, Lost returned to familiar roots tonight with a Sayid-centric "flashback" episode. Didn't make it any less of the thrill that we've come to expect lately. "He's Our You" was the payoff for last week's show, which a lot thought was a step-down from the recent intensity.

Leave it to Lost to crank it up again and break the needle right at the end of an episode.

It's always good to see William Sanderson in anything. But his role as the torturer might have been the creepiest character that I've ever seen him as. I thought it was one of the more inspired bits of Lost casting that we've seen (and that's saying plenty good). Also loved seeing the circumstances of Sayid's presence on Ajira 316 being revealed.

And did anyone else catch the DHARMA logo on Hurley's jumpsuit? Heh-heh... wouldn't it be nifty if an official Lost: Hurley's DHARMA Initiative Cookbook wound up on bookshelves? :-P

Excellent episode, as usual. Can't wait for next week's, titled "Whatever Happened, Happened".

(And the Internets will be burning up for the next seven days about whether he "lives or dies", no doubt...)

WOLFENSTEIN 3D now available for iPhone

I'm thinking of getting an iPhone in the next few months (probably after the next version is released, now said to be in June or July). If/when that happens, id Software's classic Wolfenstein 3D might be the first thing that I buy from the iPhone App Store. You can now take B.J. Blazkowicz's one-man war against the Nazis with you anywhere. Kotaku reports that the iPhone version is "better" than the original. Some of the coding for this port was done by id's John Carmack, who is now also saying that Doom will be coming "fairly soon" for the iPhone as well.

LOST Season 4 soundtrack set for May 12th release

All of y'all who've been wondering when the soundtrack for Lost Season 4 would be coming out: be of good cheer! According to the Varèse Sarabande website, Lost: Season 4 Original Television Soundtrack is due for release on May 12th, just before the Season 5 finale.

Here's the pertinent info that's on the site...

It's here! Michael Giacchino's brilliant soundtrack, which follows every mysterious twist and turn of Lost's addictive Fourth Season. Exploding with excitement, Lost reached new heights in the fourteen episodes of its fourth season. More than three months after their fateful crash, the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 discover that the only thing more dangerous than the island might be the people who have come to rescue them. The mind-blowing story was told with original flashbacks and mind-bending flash-forwards. There was no shortage of drama in Losts thrilling Season 4 ... just what you would expect from one of the most groundbreaking shows in television history.

Michael Giacchino's music has played a huge role in the series from the very beginning and fans have been dying for our latest collection of Lost musical highlights — over 75 minutes of Season 4's emotional and thrilling score.

LOST: Season 4 is now available on DVD and BluRay from ABC Home Video.

Varèse Sarabande Catalog #: 302 066 964 2

Release Date: 05/12/09

More than anything else on this CD, I want it to include the music from when Ben is turning the frozen wheel in the season finale. I thought that was the single best track of the season and one of the all-time most wonderful from the entire run of the show.

The 4,900 calorie hamburger

The Class A West Michigan Whitecaps have added the following gastronomic monstrosity to their ballpark menu: the Fifth Third Burger.

A heart-stopping (perhaps literally) 4,889 calories of beef, lettuce, tomato, salsa, sour cream, chili and Fritos on an 8-inch sesame seed bun. Total weight: nearly 30 ounces.

The ballpark management suggests that one of these hamburgers can feed four people. But if one person manages to eat the whole thing, he/she will earn the right to wear this t-shirt:

The crisis thus far...

The head of the European Union has described President Obama's plans to spend the United States out of recession as "the road to hell".

Great Britain is running out of money.

China wants to dump the U.S. dollar as the de facto global currency.

And now the United States Postal Service is beginning to beg for a bailout.

What's that Chinese curse? "May you live in interesting times", or something.

Here it comes: nationalizing of newspapers

Remember how years ago we used to laugh at Pravda, the government-run newspaper of the Soviet Union? It would only print whatever news that the state deemed fit... and only with whatever spin that the Communist Party wanted it to have.

Here's one more reason why the United States will soon have to owe the old Soviets an apology: there's now a bill in Congress to "bail out" the struggling newspaper industry. If it becomes legislation, print news companies that accept government aid will be restructured as nonprofit, and will be banned from making political endorsements (very much like how churches are granted nonprofit status so long as their ministers don't endorse candidates).

What the hell is happening to this country? I mean... government-managed newspapers?!?

Hey, I've worked in the newspaper industry. As a reporter. Twice. And there are a lot of reasons why newspapers are dying. And almost all of 'em are the fault of the newspapers themselves. They've failed to keep up with modern technology, in a time when ever-increasing numbers of people are turning to the Internet for their information. And what was the biggest reason why that has happened?

Because I hate to say this, but too much of the newspaper industry has grown spoiled and complacent. The alleged "bias" that a lot of people ascribe to traditional journalism? I honestly don't know if it's political favoritism as much as it is that the age of the hard-nosed investigative reporter for "the big daily paper" has come and gone. Too many reporters don't want to work hard for the story. They want it given to them pre-digested, without the risk of asking the serious questions.

So lemme be succinct: if newspapers are dying, let 'em die.

They more than earned it. The newspapers no more deserve our money to stay afloat than do the auto companies or the investment firms.

Besides, does anyone really want the federal government managing the funny pages? I sure as hell don't.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

PITFALL II: LOST CAVERNS: Ruined industry's saving grace still innovative 25 years later

1983 was the start of a disastrous period for the once-seemingly indomitable video game industry. With the market overly-glutted from too many competing systems (and a similar brawl wrecking havoc among the nascent personal computer business) many individuals and families completely abandoned home video gaming out of sheer frustration. Neither were matters helped by corporate bungling that has since taken on legendary proportions: witness E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and the Pac-Man port for the Atari 2600. And yeah, the "Atari Landfill" story is completely true. Let's not even begin to talk about turkeys like Porky's and Custer's Revenge (I'm telling y'all kiddies who weren't around then, that you missed something else...).

All of which makes it the more astonishing that in the dying glow of video gaming's first burst of prominence, one title was produced which a quarter-century later is still hailed as one of the greatest and most groundbreaking games of all time.

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns was released by Activision in March of 1984. It was the sequel to 1982's Pitfall!, one of the biggest selling titles for the Atari 2600 system and still considered one of the most classic video games ever produced. Activision programmer David Crane designed and wrote both games. But for the follow-up Crane abandoned Pitfall!'s tried and true formula, and instead opted to change things up a bit.

And what changes they were! Pitfall II: Lost Caverns wound up being the largest game ever produced for the Atari 2600. And in the process it introduced new elements that are now considered to be standard fare for most modern video games. Gone from the original was the twenty minute time limit: you could now play as Pitfall Harry for however long you wanted.

And you were gonna need all that extra time too, because no other console game of the time boasted as big a geography as Pitfall II. Whereas the original game had Pitfall Harry trapped running horizontally, the sequel was but eight full screens across... each made of twenty-seven vertical levels. Most of those had Harry plunging into the pitch black of a long-lost subterranean network beneath the mountains of Peru. Just make sure that you've explored all eight screens of the ground above before you enter the underground, 'cuz there's no going back. But once you've gone deep, Pitfall II: Lost Caverns plays much like any modern "sandbox"-style game. You can run, jump, swim and dive (another addition from the original) through two rivers, all the while avoiding the underworld's treacherous wildlife (bats, poisonous toads, the classic Pitfall! scorpions, Andean condors, and electric eels). There is no one single way to win the game: you have all the freedom you could possibly want in order to reach the end.

Speaking of endings, Pitfall II featured a definite finale: something that was extraordinarily rare for video games of the time. The game manual has Pitfall Harry looking for his niece Rhonda and their cat Quickclaw, and being hired to recover the stolen Raj Diamond. You only need to find those three things in order to win the game (at which time Harry will jump jubilantly). But more dedicated gamers will be driven to gather all twenty-some gold bars hidden throughout Lost Caverns, and also nab a rare cave rat that will stymie your early efforts to catch it from the front. Finding everything you possibly can will escalate your high score toward a possible 199,000 points... but falling onto a hard surface will cost you points. So will getting hit by one of the beasties. But unlike Pitfall! you can not die in Pitfall II because there are no "lives" to speak of. Injury results in Harry being transported to the last ancient Incan "healing spot" (marked by red crosses) that he touched: probably video gaming's first-ever use of continue points. If you're very good, you will get all of the prizes and end the game without a single loss of points. And yeah, it's possible. I've done it a bunch of times before. Hard, but possible :-)

One of the things about Pitfall II that a lot of folks still remember fondly about the game is its soundtrack. When you start Harry off on his adventure you get a heroic theme that eventually tapers off to a more subdued tune. Collecting a prize restarts the theme again. Getting hit by something bad gets a more downbeat tune playing, for however long it takes Harry to get transported back to the last healing point. And if you catch a ride on a balloon (really specimen bags that Rhonda filled with steam from a geyser) you're treated to a rousing rendition of "Sobre las Olas".

All of this came at a curious price: the Atari 2600 system's hardware could not, by itself, handle all of Pitfall II's technical demands. Game creator David Crane engineered and patented a special component that was embedded in the cartridge along with the game's ROM. Called a Display Processor Chip (DPC), it enabled Pitfall II to be capable of much more than any other cartridge for the console. Crane had hoped that the DPC would extend the shelf life of the Atari 2600, but the deepening game "recession" along with the age of the system (nearly eight years old at the time) meant that the DPC never got a chance.

But Pitfall II: Lost Caverns did. And even today, the game holds up surprisingly well. If you want to play it, it was included in the Activision Anthology for the Gameboy Advance a few years ago, and I've seen it packed with some of those fancy "plug-in" joystick controllers that you can find in toy stores. I've seen a few other official releases of it as well in recent years.

However you find it, whether you're new to the game or you've been underground many time before, Pitfall II: Lost Caverns will keep you entertained old-school style.

Obama wants extreme power to seize businesses

Can we call it "national socialism" now?

In the name of preventing damage to "the broader economy", President Obama and his Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are now seeking power to seize a wider array of businesses, and not necessarily banking/finance-related firms either.

I was afraid this would happen.

The regulation pendulum has been swinging wildly between both far ends of the spectrum. During the administration of George W. Bush there was a lot less regulation of such businesses, and that's a big reason why we're in our current economic mess. Now the Obama gang, exploiting public outrage like that about the AIG bonuses, is going to drive us toward too much regulation.

When the American government begins seriously talking about nationalizing businesses, start worrying. One way or another, if Obama and his bunch gets this kind of "authority", it ain't gonna end well.

Podcasts I Like: DAILY BREAKFAST with Father Roderick

It took me awhile to discover podcasting, but ever since I bought my first iPod a little over a year ago I've found quite a few podcasts that I enjoy on a regular basis. They're especially good listenin' in my car while driving around on business and such. So I thought it might make a fun lil' feature, every now and then, to write about the podcasts that I'm especially fond of.

There was no question which one I wanted to spotlight first: Daily Breakfast with Father Roderick. It's considered by most to be the #1 Catholic podcast on the Internet. And though I'm not a Catholic this is bar none the most rollickin' fun and captivating regular podcast that I've ever come across. In addition to his theological perspective as a Catholic priest, Father Roderick Vonhögen also comments on pop culture and trends such as Star Wars (he and I used to be on TheForce.net staff together, where he did the amazing "Virtual Prequels" feature), music, video games, iPhone apps, and health and nutrition. Avid runners will especially find Father Roderick's reports on his personal training to be of great interest. No matter who ya are, Father Roderick offers up something for everyone!

If you've got iTunes on your computer, click here for the Daily Breakfast podcast.

Mississippi bans red light cameras (YAY!!)

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has signed into law a bill - which passed overwhelmingly in that state's legislature - that bans those treacherous "red light cameras" at intersections. The new law sets a deadline of October 1st to have the cameras taken down.

I hope and pray that this will be an ever-increasing trend. Especially since some cities using the cameras have been found to be illegally altering the traffic signals so that the yellow light is shorter in duration, in an attempt to make more money from the cameras.

Philip José Farmer passed away? NOOOOOOO!!!

I don't know how this very sad news has stayed off my radar screen for the past few weeks. Earlier tonight I had read that the Sci-Fi Channel (or Syfy, whatever it's supposed to be now) is making another attempt to adapt the Riverworld saga for television. Well, as these things happen, one thing led to another and...

Philip José Farmer was the very first "hard science fiction" writer that I ever read. It was a 1990 interview he did with Starlog that piqued my curiosity about him. Wasn't long afterward that I went out looking for a copy of To Your Scattered Bodies Go, the first Riverworld novel. It remains one of the most original books that I've ever read. Let's face it: you gotta respect a man who writes a novel starring every single person who ever lived. Then my already-demented young brain came across his Venus on the Half-Shell, which Farmer wrote under the pseudonym "Kilgore Trout" (to this day some people still think it's a book that Kurt Vonnegut wrote).

All told, Farmer wrote more than seventy books, including the World of Tiers series and the Dayworld trilogy (which would make for a kick-butt film adaptation if done properly). Farmer also wrote many short stories, of which his first, "The Lovers", is probably his best known.

Philip José Farmer, one of the most prolific writers of the science fiction genre, died on February 25th at the age of 91.

Think I might read To Your Scattered Bodies Go again, in his honor.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bunch of familiar faces to feature in Tennant's final DOCTOR WHO

It's been awhile since this blog had anything Doctor Who-ish to report. So it's due for some...

Billie Piper, Catherine Tate and Freema Agyeman will appear in the final Doctor Who episode starring David Tennant as the Doctor. They will reprise their roles as Rose, Donna and Martha, respectively (though how they are gonna bring back Rose and Donna is beyond me). The episode, scheduled for later this year, will also mark the end of Russell T Davis' tenure as head showrunner (what, you mean "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End" wasn't a big enough send-off?!). Tennant's Doctor will face off once again against arch-nemesis the Master before regenerating into the Eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith.

And this coming April 12th - Easter Sunday - will be the next Doctor Who special. "Planet of the Dead", incidentally, will be the 200th Doctor Who story since the show began in 1963. Mash down here for some pics of the upcoming show... which will doubtless be on the Intertubes for downloading a few hours after it premieres for our Brittish brethren!

Warner Bros. launches on-demand DVD service

Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze is coming to your living room... and he's bringing a few thousand of his friends with him. The 1975 action film based on the classic pulp hero is just one of many movies that Warner Brothers is making available via a first-of-its-kind "on-demand DVD" service that's launching today.

By visiting warnerarchive.com you can select from many films that have previously not been made available in the DVD format. You pay twenty bucks and a week later a custom-made DVD - complete with nice case - comes in the mail. I just scanned through the catalog (only a fraction thus far of the complete library that Warners aims to make eventually available) and there are some real gems in there, including Abe Lincoln in Illinois and Countdown, the 1968 pre-Apollo 11 flick starting James Caan as an astronaut caught up in a mad race between the United States and the Soviet Union about which country will be the first to land on the Moon. There's even 1982's Yes, Giorgio starring Luciano Pavarotti (wait a sec... Pavarotti made movies too?!?).

This is one site that I am going to be watching with great interest. I think this is a very cool business model that Warners is experimenting with, and hopefully it will succeed enough for other studios to consider doing likewise.

The return of cold fusion?

Twenty years after the infamous Pons/Fleishmann experiment (debate still rages on whether or not it actually worked) there is now substantial new evidence that "cold fusion" is a reality. At the 237th national meeting of the American Chemical Society which is going on now, researchers will be presenting date indicating that neutrons, excessive heat, X-rays, and tritium (a fusion by-product) were produced at room temperatures. Fusion has traditionally been thought only possible in environments of tremendous heat (like, say, the Sun, which is powered by fusion reactions involving hydrogen).

If this new research bears out and scientists can discover how cold fusion works, that might be a very large step toward potentially cheap and renewable energy.

(And I think now's a good opportunity for some smart entrepreneur to trademark the "Mr. Fusion" brand :-)

World's cheapest car has been unveiled

For 100,000 rupees (or about $2000 American) the Nano, built by Indian car company Tata, can be yours...

The Nano seats four, and the basic model has no power steering, air bags, radio, or air conditioner. Oh yeah, and instead of welding the plastic and sheet-metal parts of the exterior are joined with adhesives: a glued-together car.

The Nano has a maximum speed of 70 kilometers per hour... or 43 miles per hour.

This thing would get eaten alive by most of the roads around where I live.

BIOSHOCK 2 is SEA OF DREAMS (again)

I've seen confusion and misinformation relating to upcoming movies and TV shows, but never like this for an unreleased video game...

Eurogamer is reporting that 2K Games honchos have let it be known that the forthcoming sequel to 2007's mind-blowing BioShock is still being called BioShock 2: Sea of Dreams. Late last week the story got out (originating from another 2K source) that the "Sea of Dreams" was being dropped from the title.

Eurogamer also notes that it will have plenty more to report on the much-awaited sequel in the weeks to come.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The final episode of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA...

...should go down in history as doing something that had never, ever been done before:

It found common ground between Evolutionists and Creationists. And provided a reason to make peace between the two.

Just finished watching the episode. I'm now greatly enticed to buy up the season DVD sets, and check out what else I might have missed of this apparently very fine show.

Today is "International Talk Like William Shatner Day"

It... has been reported, to this blogger... that today, March 22nd, has been declared, International Talk Like William Shatner Day.

You are, urged... to modify your speech patterns, accordingly.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

JR Hafer recounts "The Legend of Popcorn Sutton"

Over the past several days there have been a lot of tributes to Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton, the incorrigible moonshiner whose rascally and entrenched ways endeared himself to a devoted following not just in Appalachia but across the Internet. As has been reported here and elsewhere in the media, Popcorn took his own life this past Monday, rather than report to federal prison later in the week to begin serving an 18-month sentence for "illegally" making likker.

(If you'd like to read more about Popcorn Sutton and his illustrious career, click on the "popcorn sutton" tag" and you can find lots of material that this blog has linked to over the course of the last year.)

Earlier today JR Hafer, a longtime friend of Popcorn's, forwarded along an essay that he had written. I personally think it's one of the finest that has been written about Popcorn Sutton: a man whose life story sounds like the kind of movie that Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam would probably make. You'll understand why I say that when you read JR Hafer's "The Legend of Popcorn Sutton".

Brace yourself y'all: this is one wild tale. Some stuff here, I didn't even know about until now :-)

Tonight, a triumph

This evening, at approximately 7:15 p.m. EST, the most long-term project that I have ever embarked upon - something that has taken up almost 17 years of my life - came to fruition.

And against the fears of how I had thought it would bear out, I am compelled to regard it as a far greater success than I had ever dared hope.

No rest for the wicked though. On to the next endeavor. But tonight, I will allow myself an all-too-rare sense of satisfaction, and share from experience that with patience and steadfastness, just about anything is possible.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Watching LOST and wondering about the Hydra Island runway?

We got a hint of it a few weeks ago in "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham". But this week's episode of Lost, titled "Namaste", gave us our first-ever confirming look at what Kate and Sawyer were put to work on early in Season 3: the runway on the smaller Hydra Island off the coast of the main Island. In this week's show, it was just "conveniently there" for Frank Lapidus to pull off his own "Chesley Sullenberger"-style miracle landing. And it let him bring Ajira Flight 316 down more or less pretty safely (considering that the only know fatality was his co-pilot).

So in late 2004, Ben had Kate and Sawyer helping the Others clearing the runway. It must have been fairly well known among the rest of the Others what the purpose of the activity was, because Juliet told them later that it was "a runway" (before joking that it was for the aliens). But the Others have never been seen with any aircraft.

It's only four years later, in 2008, that the runway finally gets used, when Ajira 316 makes its landing.

So are you wondering also: Why did the Others put a runway there? Almost as if someone knew that it would be needed at that exact spot, waiting for Ajira 316?

I found the answer on Lostpedia: probably the definitive Wiki devoted to Lost.

According to the Official Lost Podcast for March 19th, 2009, it was none other than Jacob who ordered the runway to be built.

That both makes perfect sense and begs even more questions about Jacob. Hope we'll get to find out more about him soon, 'cuz he's the most captivating mystery that this show has.

Two chances to watch Popcorn Sutton make THE LAST ONE this weekend

Neal Hutcheson's new and already extremely popular documentary The Last One, about legendary moonshiner Popcorn Sutton (who passed away earlier this week) making what at the time was said to be his final batch of "likker", will be shown tonight at 8 p.m. on The Documentary Channel.

Then tomorrow night at 9 p.m., UNC TV (the PBS network here in North Carolina) will also be broadcasting The Last One.

If you have not had the pleasure yet, I heartily recommend catching The Last One however you can. Neal sent over a DVD of it a few months ago and ever since then it has been making the rounds among friends and relatives. Everyone has said that it's an absolute hoot to watch! Now because of the sad events of this past week, it is also a fitting memorial to an American original character.

Anyone else find this movie poster rather disturbing?

The first poster for Spike Jonze's upcoming adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are...

Financial Post writer asks: Is America ending?

Terence Corcoran of Financial Post has written a sobering article on his blog about the decline of the United States across the spectra of finance and politics...
As an aghast world — from China to Chicago and Chihuahua — watches, the circus-like U.S. political system seems to be declining into near chaos. Through it all, stock and financial markets are paralyzed. The more the policy regime does, the worse the outlook gets. The multi-ringed spectacle raises a disturbing question in many minds: Is this the end of America?

Probably not, if only because there are good reasons for optimism. The U.S. economy has pulled out of self-destructive political spirals in the past, spurred on by its business class and corporate leaders, the profit-making and market-creating people who rose above the political turmoil to once again lift the world out of financial crisis. It’s happened many times before, except for once, when it took 20 years to rise out of the Great Depression.

Past success, however, is no guarantee of future recovery, especially now when there are daily disasters and new indicators of political breakdown. All developments are not disasters in themselves. The AIG bonus firestorm is a diversion from real issues , but it puts the ghastly political classes who make U.S. law on display for what they are: ageing self-serving demagogues who have spent decades warping the U.S. political system for their own ends. We see the system up close, law-making that is riddled with slapdash, incompetence and gamesmanship...

It's hard to disagree with the upshot of Corcoran's argument: that America has become a house of cards that's been living on borrowed time (and money that it doesn't really have).

Read plenty more at the link.

BIOSHOCK 2 is SEA OF DREAMS no longer, will get simultaneous multi-platform release

Ever since that teaser trailer was released this past fall, the upcoming sequel to 2007's BioShock has been called BioShock 2: Sea of Dreams. Now comes word from 2K Games that the "Sea of Dreams" has been dropped from the title. So from now on we can just refer to it as...

"What's in a name?" More like "What's in the game?" So long as it is at least as thrilling and terrifying and thought-provoking as the original BioShock, doesn't matter to me what they choose to call BioShock 2.

And speaking of BioShock 2, 2K has announced that the game - now widely whispered to be coming out this October - will be released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC at the same time. Which will make lots of people very very happy :-)

The $100 aerospace camera

Four teenage Spanish students have earned worldwide acclaim for the photographs they have taken of the edge of space, 20 miles above the Earth. The students pulled off the remarkable feat with a weather balloon, and a digital camera costing about $100. The instrument packaged that the kids whipped-up contained a means of tracking the balloon after its ascent via Google Earth.

Plum amazing. And very cool, what young people are capable of doing these days (or anybody for that matter). Wouldn't surprise me if in the not too distant future, we'll be reading news of some high school student flying into orbit in a home-built spaceship :-)

Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch leads to real-life bomb scare

An east London pub was evacuated after city water engineers spotted an object that looked like an undetonated hand grenade. Bomb experts were called in and spent nearly an hour examining the item.

And in the end, the experts concluded that it was nothing more than a replica of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

No word yet on whether a killer rabbit was also spotted in the immediate area.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Popcorn Sutton has been laid to rest

Yesterday morning, in the hills of eastern Tennessee, world-renowned moonshiner Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton was buried during a small private service. According to Costner-Maloy Funeral Home, Popcorn left detailed handwritten notes about how he wanted the service to be conducted and who he wanted to be in attendance. He was laid to rest next to his mother and father.

Popcorn Sutton's final rest came a little more than a day and a half after he took his own life at his Parrottsville, Tennessee home. He had been directed to report to federal prison this Friday to begin an 18-month sentence for manufacturing untaxable alcohol. Popcorn had told the judge during his sentencing that he would rather die at home instead of dying in prison.

(Eric at ClassicalValues.com has posted some pertinent thoughts about Popcorn's death, including some choice words from his widow Pam Sutton. And since yesterday morning a keg-load of mail has been coming in about that piece by Yours Truly condemning the federal government for murdering Popcorn by driving him to the breaking point.)

On the website for Sucker Punch Pictures, filmmaker Neal Hutcheson - who had documented Popcorn in Mountain Talk, Voices of North Carolina and the acclaimed recent film The Last One - had this to say...

POPCORN SUTTON
1948 - 2009
Popcorn Sutton passed away at home Monday, March 16. According to his wishes he was buried quietly, privately, without fanfare, at a place that held great meaning for him. He is dearly missed and well-remembered.

Those who were closest to him remember a kind and thoughtful man, independent in spirit to the very end.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Natasha Richardson has passed away

The first time I saw Natasha Richardson, it was in The Handmaid's Tale. Despite a lot of problems with that film (I mostly watched it 'cuz much of it was shot on the campus of Duke University) I thought she radiated considerable poise and dignity in her role. Being a World War II buff, I also caught her in Fat Man and Little Boy. And then later on in Nell... which she appeared alongside real-life husband Liam Neeson.

Natasha Richardson passed away tonight following injuries she received on a ski slope in Quebec. She was then flown to a hospital in New York City, where she was surrounded by her family when she died this evening.

She is survived by her husband, two sons, and her mother, actress Vanessa Redgrave, in addition to many others.

Thoughts and prayers going out to her family tonight.

$1 TRILLION, which may or may not really exist, getting pumped into economy

The Federal Reserve is sending $1 trillion more into the flagging economy via "purchasing Treasury bonds and mortgage securities".

At this point I have lost count of how much money - the evidence for the actual existence of which is about as substantial as that for the Loch Ness Monster - has been "pumped" into the markets over the past six months.

Hyper-inflation, here we come...

"Namaste" again! LOST back in fine form tonight

After an absence of half a month (to accommodate basketball tourneys in some markets last week) Lost roared into high gear again this evening. Tonight's episode, "Namaste", came from the pen of scribe Brian K. Vaughn, who has previously written many of the finest episodes of the series. Tonight it was as solid as ever.

I have officially run out of exclamations and phony expletives that I could possibly used to describe how walloped I am by this show. During the course of sixty minutes, "Namaste" crossed space and time and gave us possibly the biggest breadth of the Island's mythology and geography of any episode to date. Where to begin? Baby Ethan! Radzinsky! Jack meeting Pierre Chang! The Flame! YOUNG BEN! Christian Shepherd! A smidgeon of the Monster! Frank Lapidus (one of my favorite new characters from last season)! Sun kicking older Ben's ass! Hydra Island and the runway! What really happened during the Ajira 316 flight!

All that was missing was Locke. And he's lurking somewhere in 2007.

So Jack's DHARMA job is janitor and "LaFleur" is calling the shots. I'd said last time that I've thrilled at how Sawyer has developed as a character. Tonight, there was the hint that he's finally come into his own as the leader among the Oceanic 815 bunch. Gotta wonder if he's right: that his thinking has saved more than Jack's "rushing into things" ever did back in "the old days".

Not so much an action-packed episode, but still immensely satisfying. Cannot wait 'til next week!

Popcorn Sutton: Dead By Government Bastards!

If you have small children anywhere in the vicinity, please have them leave. Because there are going to be things that I say here, and images that will be shown, that in days of enforced polity would no doubt have resulted in me being hung until dead, and then the house burned down and the ground sown with salt.

But may God have mercy, I'm not gonna hold back on this. I'm probably going to blow all the "goodwill" that I've earned as a "Christian writer" with this wad... but this is gonna be said and I don't give a flying rat's ass...

It's official: Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton took his own life, rather than go to prison. Monday he got the letter ordering him to report to federal penitentiary on Friday of this week. Later that afternoon he sent his wife to town for some errands. Shortly after she left Popcorn went to the barn behind their Parrottsville, Tennessee home, started up the beloved Ford Fairlane that he once bought with three jugs of his famous moonshine, and let the buildup of carbon monoxide seduce his weary mind into an everlasting slumber bereft of BATF agents and fame-jockeying prosecutors.

Marvin Sutton – better known as Popcorn Sutton – was an American original. The embodiment of rugged individualism. A paragon of the "live and let live" that once upon a time this country believed in. He was a product of his heritage, a practitioner of his art, and perhaps the last living link to a culture whose decimation is so actively sought by our "progressive" society that only the absence of guns spares it from the appellation "ethnic cleansing".

Monday afternoon, Popcorn Sutton died on his own terms. He left this world a free man.

And it was the god-damned aberration of decency and sanity that is the American government which made him do it.

The same American government that takes billions of dollars from you and me, and gives it to companies that should have suffered the consequences of their own incompetence and gone broke.

The same American government that takes even more money from you and me and passes it along as obscene "bonuses" to the very executives who drove those companies into the ground.

The same American government that has destroyed the industrial infrastructure of this country.

The same American government that lets MILLIONS of undocumented illegal immigrants flood across the border.

The same American government that now has a tax evader as the Secretary of the Treasury.

And yet in spite of all of this and more, this same government would have us believe that a 61-year old rail-thin, scraggly-bearded mountain man was a threat to the national economy?!

There is something that I have never, ever said before, either aloud or in print, but I gladly will now: FUCK THE GOVERNMENT!

So far as I'm concerned, the federal government of the United States committed murder. It didn't have to take Popcorn Sutton's life on its own.

Hell no. It did its damndest to do worse than that.

It had to try to kill his spirit. It had to assassinate Popcorn Sutton as a character. So he had no choice but to deny it the satisfaction of killing him in body.

Popcorn Sutton never harmed anyone. He made moonshine. That is not a sin or something that is morally evil. Hell, Popcorn's moonshine was widely reputed to be the safest product around. Nobody ever got sick or went blind from drinking his stuff (unless they imbibed too much of it). Go watch Neal Hutcheson's wonderful documentary The Last One: moonshining was never something that folks in the backwoods did just for the heck of it. More often than not it was something that was needed. In one of the bonus materials on The Last One DVD, Popcorn demonstrates how moonshine can be used as the basis for a cough and cold syrup. In the days before Wal-Mart landed a Supercenter in every nook and hollow of Appalachia, that was the only way to produce effective medicine.

But the god-damned judges, prosecutors, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms agents, and their worse-than-worthless sycophants and "useful idiots" in a lot of the media, decreed that to make alcohol without a license is a dire sin. And the license itself costs an unconscionable amount of money. Popcorn Sutton didn't have enough coin to open up a full-blown brewery, and he didn't particularly care to either. He just wanted to make enough for his own needs, and a few others.

But the government wanted its cut. How much would that have been? A few hundred dollars? Likely a couple thousand at the most. How much would it have cost to give Popcorn three hots and a cot in federal prison for eighteen months? A helluva lot more than that.

Was that worth wasting the money to pursue, prosecute and attempt to imprison the man? Was it worth driving him to take his own life?

Most people reading these words, know the answer to that question.

But the soulless, heartless, unholy juggernaut of the federal government, doesn't give a damn. Think any of the agents or prosecuting officials in Popcorn's case are going to shed any tears?

Fucking automatons, all of 'em.

And meanwhile, the real criminals of this land are still in Washington, still on Wall Street, still sitting high on the hog and sucking the fruit of our labors. Bernard Madoff? He's just a token gesture. His only "serious" mistake is that he got too greedy. So he'll go to prison for the rest of his life (if even that long) and the bastards of Absolute Power will keep feigning indignity and have to suffer the inconvenience of the occasional "congressional hearing"... and it will just be Business As Usual™.

Because there are different rules for Them and for Us. They can get away with it. People like Popcorn Sutton are too small to "matter". The little people have to be quashed at every turn, lest they get too uppity.

I defy anyone to tell me that there is something right in a country where a well-connected businessman or politician can abscond with millions or billions of taxpayer dollars and escape with a slap on the wrist, while someone like Popcorn Sutton gets hounded to the bitter end.

No one can tell me that there is anything right with that.

Like I said: FUCK THE GOVERNMENT!

Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton: killed by a performance of Prosecutorial Theatre, produced by his country, the United States of America.

He was a Free Man. One of the few who can honestly say they deserve that title. The chains never came to rest upon him.

Can any of us say the same?

You can live on your knees, or die on your feet. You can be safe, or you can be free.

A man chooses. A slave obeys.

Popcorn Sutton was disobedient. He chose his life, all the way to the end.

And if nothing else that I say makes an impression, I will let Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton himself deliver the parting words to those who would enslave others, carved in the footstone that he already had prepared for his eventual gravesite:


Note: the photos used in this article are from Johnny Knoxville's post about Popcorn Sutton's passing. I very much recommend reading what Knoxville has to say, and especially check out the video interview that he made with Popcorn in February 2009.

Physicist rewarded for work on "veiled reality"

In 1939, a young French student named Bernard d'Espagnat began considering that behind the empirical world of mass and energy, there might be something even more fundamental to our universe than we can measure. Reality, d'Espagnat came to argue, is only the sum of what we have observed... and may be a thin veneer over what is truly at work in the cosmos.

Seventy years, twenty books and many journal articles later on what he refers to as "veiled reality", Bernard d'Espagnat has been awarded the Templeton Prize: a yearly reward of $1.4 million to that "honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works."

If you've an interest in things like physics, quantum mechanics and relativity, the above-linked article is extremely intriguing. I am certainly feeling compelled to go hunt for some of d'Espagnat's work, after reading it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bat may have ridden shuttle into space

When the Space Shuttle Discovery blasted into orbit two days ago, it might have taken this bat along for the ride. NASA technicians spotted the flying rodent clawed up against the vehicle's external tank during inspections. And it was thought that it would eventually take fly off on its own.

But as Discovery roared from the launch pad, a tiny black speck was spotted clinging to the side of the tank. Sure enough, it was the bat.

Nobody has seen the bat since Discovery cleared the tower, but it was last seen still holding on to the vehicle.

Remember kiddies: hitchhiking can be dangerous....

Paraplegic man walking again after spider bite

David Blancarte of Manteca, California was 27 when a motorcycle accident cost him the use of his legs. That was in 1988.

Then a few months ago Blancarte was bitten by a poisonous Recluse spider. He was hospitalized for five days (Blancarte, not the spider) and during an evaluation, doctors discovered that Blancarte had regained nerve function in his legs. Somehow, the spider bite jump-started his neuro-muscular physiology.

He has been in physical rehab since, and is now walking over 250 feet a day with the help a walker. Blancarte's ultimate goal? "I can't wait to start dancing."

Mash down here for more about the real-life "Spider-Man".

Something I whipped up for the occasion...

SESAME STREET explains the Bernie Madoff scandal

Jimmy Kimmel Live! shared this educational clip from Sesame Street in which Ernie and Cookie Monster convey to little kids the intricate workings of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton is dead

The extremely sad word has just got out in the past few hours that Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton, the world-renowned Appalachian moonshiner, has died in his home.

He was due to begin serving a sentence in federal prison this coming Friday, the result of a raid by government agents on his moonshine operation in eastern Tennessee last spring. Following the raid many rallied in support of Popcorn, especially across the Internet. He had also appeared in numerous documentaries about North Carolina mountain culture, and Popcorn was the subject of Neal Hutcheson's recent film The Last One, in which Popcorn brewed (what he claimed at the time anyway) would be his final batch of moonshine. Easily in the eyes of millions, Popcorn Sutton was the living embodiment of a proud but vanishing way of unique American life.

And now he is gone.

Don't quite know what else to say. I am overwhelmingly shocked and grieved by this news, even though I never got the chance I had long desired to meet him in person.

This year's NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament pairings...

...are the most screwed-up brackets that I've seen in a way long time.

I'm beginning to see some merit to Dad's suggestion: take the top 64 teams, and apart from the teams that deserve to be #1 seeds, pick numbers out of a hat and pair 'em up randomly.

I still haven't given up hope that someday, I'll live long enough to see Elon University go to the Big Dance. Along with witnessing firsthand a real tornado, it's one of my aspirations in life :-)

Sci-Fi Channel is now Syfy

Sci-Fi Channel's days are numbered: on July 7th it metamorphosizes into Syfy. Which is actually pronounced just like "sci-fi", so nothing really is changing at all. If that makes any sense...

Network execs are making the move because the popular cable channel has become about much more than spaceships and monsters. The station now carries reruns of Lost, which handily defies the traditional science-fiction genre. Heck, even Sci-Fi's own Battlestar Galactica is considered by many to be more hard-edged drama than anything fantastical. And the new name is also much more marketable: "Syfy" is now a trademark, whereas a generic term like "Sci-Fi", not as much.

I like it. It looks and sounds pretty snazzy :-)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Take a look at this shot from NORMALSVILLE!

Good friend, fellow filmmaker and renaissance man Marco van Bergen sent along this still from Normalsville, his latest project...

That looks stunning! Can you believe this is a film being made by mostly teenagers? Well, Marco and his crew are a very talented lot and I'm not ashamed to say this either: I've learned a lot from him that I'm eager to apply to my own productions. This is definitely a rising young name that we'll be hearing plenty more good from in the future.

And if you wanna know more about Normalsville, click on over to the official website! :-)

Friday, March 13, 2009

EXTREMELY crazy insane BIOSHOCK 2 news (it's about Big Daddy...)

So the Internets have been burning like mad all day with rumors regarding BioShock 2: Sea of Dreams. The prevailing word since late last night, and what very much upset many people, was word that the iconic Big Daddies - the diving-suit clad monstrosities that protect the Little Sisters in Rapture - would not be in the upcoming sequel to the 2007 first-person shooter.

2K Games came out this afternoon and said that the rumors were false.

A few hours later, we now know that 2K isn't kidding.

Kotaku has broken the news that, in BioShock 2...

You play as a Big Daddy.

In fact, you're the first of the lot, a so-called "renegade" Big Daddy who's on the hunt for a Little Sister of his own, according to a tipster who has the new Game Informer magazine in hand. You'll take out rival Daddies with your huge hand-drill and plasmid powers, claiming their wee sidekicks as your own. Similar to the first BioShock, you can choose to either harvest your Little Sister prize for ADAM or you can adopt her as your own.

That Little Sister comes in handy. She'll harvest ADAM from corpses strewn about Rapture, acting as a warning sign for when the Big Sister—the lithe, lightning fast enemy who will hunt your character throughout the game—has you in her sights. Based on her description, it sounds like she'll one hell of a fight.

From what we've heard, players will have access to all the things that made the Big Daddy such a menace in BioShock, with the character upgrades and options available in the first game expanded to keep things interesting. More details can be found in the new issue of Game Informer, which will be appearing in subscriber hands any second now.

And Gameyko has snagged a few more details along with pics of the GameInformer magazine exclusive about BioShock 2. The one on the right indeed shows the player with the drill arm of the "Bouncer"-type Big Daddy.

Hurm... don't know what to think about this. I love BioShock, have become a huge fan of its thought-provoking lore. But the notion of playing as a Big Daddy... aren't those things intended to be big dumb brutes that are no longer fully human?

But as good as BioShock was, I'll trust Ken Levine and the crew at 2K to deliver the goods. Even if, at the moment, this looks to be a most bewildering role that they are set to land the players into :-)

If Stan Lee had written WATCHMEN...

Alan Moore's Watchmen is rightly considered to be the most praised graphic novel of all time. And the long-awaited motion picture adaptation has introduced it to many who had never read it before (it's currently the #1 selling book on Amazon.com). But have you ever wondered what Watchmen would have been like if it were written by someone else?

Like, say... Stan "The Man" Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man and Hulk and the Fantastic Four, among many other characters?

Comic book writer and commentator Kevin Church recently revisited his 2006 article "Just Imagine... Stan Lee Creating Watchmen". It is a howling scream of a hilarious read!

Now all we need is for someone to show us what Watchmen would have looked like if Jack "The King" Kirby had drawn it :-P

Meet Jerry Jalava: The man with the 2 GB USB finger

Jerry Jalava of Finland is a motorcycle enthusiast and computer hacker. He lost a finger in a riding accident last spring and when the doctor working on rebuilding his hand heard about Jerry's love of technology, he suggested a USB "finger" drive to replace the lost digit. So now Jerry Jalava's right near-pinky finger is also a 2 gigabyte USB drive that carries a Linux distribution and the movie Freddy Got Fingered.

You can check out plenty more pics of his bionic finger on his Flickr photostream.

Bev Perdue's lottery looting costs county 4 schools

That "North Carolina Education Lottery" that we've had for going on three years now? The one that was supposed to do nothing but supplement, you know, education in North Carolina?

Well, our newly-minted governor Bev Perdue has raided the lottery's reserve fund of $50 million. And then she took another $38 million that was marked for new schools construction, and applied it to the state's budget shortfall.

And now because of her fiscal shenanigans, Rockingham County won't be getting those four new schools that it direly needs.

I have spoken to quite a few people in this county over the past few days who are, to put it mildly, extremely honked-off that this has happened.

The members of the Board of Education aren't taking this quietly either. According to the above-linked article Tim Scales has remarked "You don't want to know what I've got to say about it." Reida Drum and Steve Smith have likewise expressed frustration...

Upset about Perdue keeping lottery funds, board member Reida Drum said she could not believe the governor actually ran on the platform of supporting education.

"If I saw her surrounded by teachers one time in her campaign ads, I saw it 600 times," Drum said. "I think we should send word to her that we thought she was supposed to be an education governor."

Board member Steve Smith agreed.

"If we don't do something, we're just saying it's OK," Smith said.

The board voted 7-4 to send a letter to Perdue, state legislators and the North Carolina School Board Association expressing their disagreement with the decision to keep funds intended for the benefit of the state's school systems.

I sincerely regret having to say this, but I fear the months and years to come will bear it out to be accurate: there stands to be no foreseeable significant improvement of North Carolina's educational infrastructure. Partly it's because of the economic mess this state is in right now along with the rest of the country. And partly it's because North Carolina has followed the same track as most other states that began their lotteries on the good faith that the money would be applied to education. I can think of only one state off the top of my head - that being Georgia - which has for the most part wisely administered its lottery proceeds. All of the rest have ultimately used money from the lottery for other purposes than improving education.

We might as well have never had the lottery to begin with. And I say that as one who has gone on the record numerous times over the years as being in support of the lottery.

Man wants DNA testing to prove he's Al Capone's grandson

A guy in Boston named Christopher Knight (so far as I can tell there's no relation :-) believes that he is the grandson of infamous mob boss Al Capone and he has so much confidence about it that that he has legally changed his name to "Christopher Capone".

And now Chris Capone is seeking DNA samples from known male descendants of the gang so that a scientific determination can be made. If none are willing to provide him with genetic material, Chris Capone wants to exhume the remains of "Scarface Al" and get the DNA from that.

Maybe the exhumation can be turned into a live televised special. It could be like a chance for redemption for Geraldo Rivera :-P

Thanks to Tony Hummel for passing along the story!

New battery recharges in 10 seconds

Those wonderful engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have conjured up a new type of battery for mobile devices that recharges in just ten seconds. The battery is composed of currently existing materials and is said to be cheap to manufacture on a mass scale. Along with the extremely fast recharge rate, the new design doesn't degrade with repeated recharges as do currently existing batteries.

In addition to the uses this thing will have for gadgets like cellphones and iPods, it's thought that larger versions of these batteries can be used in electric cars: perhaps recharging for five minutes at a "fillin' station" before heading off again for long distance driving.

Sounds like an amazing breakthrough. Along with some really cool stuff I'm hearing from the data storage side of things, there looks to be a lot of neat gizmos heading our way soon :-)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Star Wars fan does 110 MPH trying to race toward eBay bid

From the Seattle, Washington side of the galaxy: a 46-year old man was stopped for speeding on I-90 by State Patrol troopers. He was doing an astonishing 110 miles per hour and once he had finally been pulled over, officers found his car loaded with Star Wars memorabilia.

The man's reason for going so fast? He was trying to rush home to bid for another Star Wars item on eBay.

Click on the link above for some hilarious reader comments!

United States poised for Zimbabwe-style economic collapse, sez governor

If the United States keeps "spending a bunch of money we don't have", it faces a collapse of its economy much like what has happened in Zimbabwe, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford predicts.

In case you haven't heard, the financial hyper-inflation which has rocked Zimbabwe has led that country to issue a one trillion dollar bill as part of its currency. For one of those legal tender notes, you can currently buy a hamburger or two.

Sanford gets what's really going on. Too bad there doesn't seem to be many other elected officials who are likewise calling for fiscal sobriety right now.

Artificial life possible "within five years"

Many scientists are predicting that synthetic life is going to be a reality within the next five to ten years. Geneticists have already created an artificial ribosome (a cell structure responsible for protein manufacturing) and the consensus is that a full-blown cell is just around the corner.

Color me "meh". I'd love to read the journals on what's going into this effort. It's one thing to replicate structure and function. But real life is much more than that. I wanna see how much "genuine" life is being used as the raw material in this thing, before judging that a real breakthrough is happening.

And while we're on the subject: I know the scientists involved are proud of their work, and their belief that they could create life. But does anyone else wonder if they should be doing it? All kinds of crazy scenarios come to mind. Maybe even something like I Am Legend (the book not the "movie").

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Today's proof that fashion is dead

I have been thinking for awhile now that the traditional sense of fashion is dying before our very eyes. Mostly it's the fault of the Internet, that Great Leveler of Culture and Identity. Control of journalism and the entertainment industry is now becoming a thing in the hands of the average person... and it was only a matter of time before clothing style also became dictated by You and Me, instead of designers in New York and Paris.

But that doesn't mean that those who have been trying to tell us what is "in" are going down without a fight. Witness these... outfits... from a show in Paris yesterday:

The lady on the left is hopeless on a dinner date because of the chainmail covering her mouth. While the one on the right looks too much like a botanical reproductive organ.

I have to ask aloud: Who the hell actually WEARS stuff like this?!

See more wacky Parisian "fashion" here.