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Tuesday, December 22nd 2009

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully in Avatar form with Zoë Saldaña as Neytiri.

I saw Avatar Sunday - just three days after its release. I'm reminded once again why I don't go to movies on the weekend. The problem this time wasn't talking but it was overcrowding exacerbated by the fact that we were late. We were forced to sit in the third row, left-most seats. I was prepared to leave but bowed to peer pressure. It's ironic paying extra for the 3D IMAX experience only to have one of the worse visual experiences in recent memory. It looked like all of the action was being viewed through a slow moving fan since we were far off of the optimal viewing angle for the 3D.

The experience was distracting enough that I'm not confident that I can render an accurate review of the movie. However, even with visual impairment I was able to enjoy myself and still be impressed by the visuals and the world-moon Pandora. But I might have been really blown away by a better viewing.

The following comments are largely spoiler free but purists may wish to steer clear until after seeing the movie.

After viewing the trailers and commercials for the movie, I went into Avatar with the feeling that it looked like a video game trailer. Smurf blue humanoid space cats are hard to pull off but in short order I was absorbed into the enticing world and its inhabitants. The animation / motion capture of the Na'vi was nearly flawless. (At least under my circumstances and upon first viewing.)

Alas, for as well rendered as the Na'vi are, I couldn't lose my yearning for more alien aliens. Knowing that with the movie's budget and fact that the Na'vi were generated from CG whole cloth, they could have done something very non-human looking. Even their culture was not particularly foreign. I suppose however, that it's a conceit of storytelling: the producers needed easily relatable aliens instead of say, floating sentient plasma fields. Perhaps I'm just not that trilled with the creature design which really does boil down to blue cat people.

(At this point, I must note that referring to the Na'vi as aliens is a misnomer since, a point central to the movie's theme us that the humans are the real invading aliens.)

The plot was fairly predictable: It's essentially Dances with Wolves in outer space. As with most science fiction, the story featured veiled social commentary on modern times. The science fiction prism did little to obfuscate the rather heavy handed anti-imperialism, anti-corporate, pro-environmental message. There were some subtler, very effective touches however. The most effective was an alien, sky scraper sized tree that is downed with echoes of the World Trade Center towers fiery collapse. The image juxtaposes the terrorist acts of religious zealots to those of runaway corporate greed and the destruction of our environmental heritage.

The cast of characters are engaging. Zoë Saldaña shined in particular as the Na'vi princess Neytiri and even manages to be subtly sexy. (I'm sure that the 'Furry' sub-culture will get a membership boost out of this movie.) She is well partnered by Sam Worthington but his human / Avatar character is at a disadvantage in the uniqueness category.

SecFor's Colonel Miles Quaritch is a predictable, rather two dimensional villain that is made engaging by the performance of Stephen Lang who seems to embody the archetypical war hawk.

The movie's action sequences are fun and involving but they didn't have the intensity of sequences found in the Cameron director Terminator movies or Aliens.

There were a few frustrating displays of movie based physics including plummets from several hundred feet that don't result in a scratch. (Even taking into account alien, carbon tube reinforced bone structures and bouncing off of vines and large leaves.) - Less forgivable to the giant alien cat people surviving great falls is the lesser but still deadly fall that is survived by a human in a mechanized robot suit. (This is like believing you'll be alright falling off a bridge just because you're in a car that lands on its tires.) Hollywood producers: it doesn't matter how sturdy the vehicle is - if it stops quickly enough from a fast enough speed: it will kill the occupant.

The movie is successful in involving the viewer in the plight of the aliens and in involving the viewer with the individual characters and the (straightforward) story. The world itself is enchanting and left me with a desire to visit Pandora again and what's more, the movie fills me with wistfulness for what alien worlds may be sharing our galaxy.

Monday, November 30th 2009

Utah's Nutty Putty Cave to be closed for good after trapped caver's death.

By Michael B. Farrell | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
from the November 28, 2009 edition

"By all accounts, John Jones, who died around midnight Wednesday after being stuck in the Nutty Putty Cave south of Salt Lake City for 28 hours, was an experienced caver and avid outdoorsman. To access the cave, which is owned by Utah's State Institutional Trust Land Administration, explorers are required to have reservations and either travel with a guide or have experience...

... On Friday afternoon officials said it's too dangerous to retrieve Jones's body and that the cave will be permanently closed. A memorial for Jones may be placed at the entrance of the cave.

I'd guess that more than half of the people I've ever asked to go caving have shivered and said, 'No thanks' - that they're claustrophobic. (Another large percentage of people are irrationally worried about bats attacking them.)
I think that for the majority of people, caves and caving don't rate very high on their interest level. I think that for many people, caves - particularly the non decorated sort - are just dark, damp holes with creepy crawlies live and for these people, caves do not capture their imagination.

Mountains, beaches and oceans, forest and canyon lands are all more easily appreciated, if for no other reason than because they are in the light of day.

So I expect that many people who hear of the tragic loss of this caver will not think twice in hearing that this cave has been permanently closed. Perhaps they'll even nod their heads in agreement.

But it's a sad thing. There really aren't that many caves in the world to explore and it's a shame whenever one is closed. I'm sympathetic to the fact that the man's body couldn't be retrieved but there are other solutions including, temporarily closing it and waiting a few months for the body to decay and then remove it, or worse case: seal off the dead end passage where he died. After all, we don't close down every stretch of beach where a swimmer has drowned.

For my part, if I die caving (or in some other wilderness activity), the last thing I want anybody to do is to close off that piece of nature.

As for the cave being dangerous: that's life. - Don't go caving unless you're prepared to take the risks. And if you're a family member who loses somebody to the wild, respect your loved one's passion and at least leave the world open for other lovers of nature and adventure.

Friday, October 30th 2009

The last few days have felt very 'Halloweenie': overcast days with just the right mix of crisp air and crisp fall leaves. Around the time of Halloween, gray skies feel 'right'.

I've taken the day off work and have listened to the pleasant drone of leaf blowers: the fall cousin to the hum of summer's lawnmowers.

Leaf blowers weren't at all common when I was growing up and when fall came I had to go rake leaves. Raking leaves was a pain and a pleasure. There was the tedium of raking and the minor blisters from the wooden rake handle but there was always a pile of leaves to jump in at the end. And in those days, we burned our leaves in great long rows in the street's drainage ditch that ran the length of our yard. It was an excuse to play with fire and inevitably I'd get near enough to get mildly sick from the great plums of smoke that billowed from the smoldering, damp leaves. - I think that there is a special flavor of burned leaf smoke that you can almost taste with your watering eyes.

As a kid we had a lot of trees in our yard. (Sadly, many have been cut down since.) The leaves would get shin deep which gave the pleasure of rustling through a shallow see of crackling color.

Today it's not one of those sunny fall days where the world seems ablaze but the haunted quality is a great pleasure just the same.

One day early: Happy Halloween everybody.

Burning fall leaves 2006 Photo by Glen Green

Photo by Glen Green - (Fall 2006)

Wednesday, September 30th 2009

I've read and heard a lot of animosity directed towards the G20 protestors recently. I've protested before (a free speach issue) and I'm pro peaceful protestors. Hell, I even like those who use peaceful civil disobedience (see also: Martin Luther King Jr.). (The only kind of non-violent protest that bothers me is when people stick a sign in the hands of a child who do not have the faculties to understand complex issues in an exercise of political theater.)

The recognition of our rights to protest and have free speech is a pillar of what makes our constitution great. I also admire those (who I might not always agree with) for the power of their conviction, their commitment of time and effort and their willingness to put themselves out there as part of a participatory republic. I say: disrupt - shake the foundations and bring under heard voices to the public forum.

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were, for the moment, unpopular."

-Edward R. Murrow

"The greatest right in the world is the right to be wrong. If the Government or majorities think an individual is right, no one will interfere with him; but when agitators talk against the things considered holy, or when radicals criticise, or satirize the political gods, or question the justice of our laws and institutions, or pacifists talk against war, how the old inquisition awakens, and ostracism, the excommunication of the church, the prison, the wheel, the torture-chamber, the mob, are called to suppress the free expression of thought."

-Harry Weinberger

"Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilization."

-Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, August 25th 2009

I believe that reasonable people can disagree about the health care debate but what I cannot stomach is the willful fear mongering of those who spread misinformation about such ludicrous notions as 'death panels'.

"Carousel is a lie!" Logan's Run

I'm also saddened by the news organizations that spend so much time on the political theater of these town square meetings when some tin foil hatted, loons scream their objections that grandma is going the be blown up in the Carousel. The news organizations need to leave the sensationalist screaming matches to Jerry Springer and get down to some real reporting and fact checking.

Monday, July 20th 2009

For millions of years our ancestors looked at the glowing face of the moon with wonder - (seemingly) hopelessly separated by from our closest companion in space.
40 years ago today humankind, (embodied through one man) took our first step onto our neighboring celestial body. We are past due for our next step: Mars and beyond.

Apollo 11 as seen by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Photo by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The photo shows the lower half of the Lunar Module, the part that stayed behind on the Moon when Armstrong and Aldrin blasted off towards Terra and home.

For my money, not only was (is) the science amazing but I think that the moon landings were the greatest acts of art ever undertaken.

Monday, July 13th 2009

The firey trail of the Space Shuttle Discovery as seen from Jensen Beach Florida

Photo by Jenny MacBeth

At the end of that streak of fire and light was the Space Shuttle Discovery as it blasted into space and accelerated to escape velocity of 17,500 miles per hour. (That's 291 miles a minute, or 4.86 miles a second - aka Mach 23 - for those of you at home who aren't playing along with calculators.)

Onlookers watch the Space Shuttle Discovery as seen from Jensen Beach Florida

Photo by Jenny MacBeth

I'd wanted to see a spaceship take off for as long as I can remember and on March 15th, 2009 I stood on a beach with a crowd of others who marveled and gawked as Discovery thundered into the twilight .

The mission was a success.

Even as I write this, the shuttle Endeavour is on the pad waiting for its next mission. I'm rooting for a true flight and the illumination that its science will bring to our collective humanity.

With only a handful of Shuttle missions left before they are decommissioned, I hope that we keep reaching for the stars.

Wednesday, June 17th 2009

I can hear a gentle spring thunderstorm outdoors as I sit in front of my Mac creating rain and thunderstorm iTunes mixes for sleeping. Welcome to the Matrix Neo.

Monday, June 8th 2009

Never in my life have I thought, 'I have enough fireworks.' The closest I get to that is, 'I've already spent way more than I can afford on fireworks.'

Not enough fireworks

Thursday, June 4th 2009


Facebook seems to be growing in popularity among many of my friends. I've had an account for awhile but I never used it much. (I've also had an account on the user experience nightmare that is MySpace but that's another story.)

What is interesting to observe is that I was able to clearly witness a viral effect take place at work. It seems as if some critical mass of users was reached and the dam broke, flooding Facebook with my colleagues. As more friends join, my opinion on Facebook has softened.

I'm still not a fan of all the Facebook widgets that allow you to, 'karate chop' a friend or whatever. Facebook surveys are mildly more tempting but I really don't participate in them either. What I do like, however, is the mini-blogging that takes place.

Some people seem to be very knee-jerk contrary about the idea of blogging (or its smaller cousin, tweeting) but I'm a fan. (Hence this site of course.)

For me, a lot of social sharing's merit is summed up in the Twitter 'About Us' statement which reads:

"Isn't Twitter just too much information?

No, in fact, Twitter solves information overload by changing expectations traditionally associated with online communication. At Twitter, we ask one question, "What are you doing?" The answers to this question are for the most part rhetorical. In other words, users do not expect a response when they send a message to Twitter. On the receiving end, Twitter is ambient--updates from your friends and relatives float to your phone, IM, or web site and you are only expected to pay as much or as little attention to them as you see fit.

The result of using Twitter to stay connected with friends, relatives, and coworkers is that you have a sense of what folks are up to but you are not expected to respond to any updates unless you want to. This means you can step in and out of the flow of information as it suits you and it never queues up with increasing demand of your attention. Additionally, users are very much in control of whose updates they receive, when they receive them, and on what device.

I like the fact that blogging, twittering, etc. allows us to capture and share fleeting thoughts. A colleague at work (who swore he'd never use Facebook - and I presume never tried it), compared Facebook to 'annoying' holiday updates sent my some people.

But I argue that writing for social media is different because it's not a 'push' mechanism. - You only read or receive what you've signed up for.

Secondly, it is more in the moment.

Sending a once a year summary is rather a challenge and misses the sundry, often interesting details of our lives. For example, one of my friends tweeted, "A spider is apparently "bungee jumping" from my lamp. Every couple of minutes he plunges 8 body lengths (5 in) to the end of the strand. Odd."

- What a wonderful, funny little observation that would otherwise get lost in the tide of the day and certainly be lost in the summation of a year.

Tweet Bird
Now, I'm not all rosy about Facebook and its kin. There is almost certainly a line where all of this technological communication becomes a detriment. For example, there are the several observed occasions when a group of friends are gathered and are too busy texting into a phone to fully immerse themselves in the corporal moment.

There is also the tendency of some to race to have as many online 'friends' as possible, even if they hardly know the person. From my perspective, this just adds noise to the more meaningful communications I'm seeking.

For me, this site is still the heart of my internet presence but I'm happy for the extra thread of communications from my friends who prefer quicker venues of communication. Tweet on!

Thursday, May 28th 2009

Better late than never, here's a salute to me and my website. May 22nd marked this site's 8th anniversary (it started in 2001 for those math disabled - like myself.)

And a special thanks to Mr. Edwards for the call out on his site: Deadville.com. I was very impressed and flattered by his kind recollection.

Saturday, April 25th 2009

87 degrees and sunny today - beautiful - and I was working outside in my old neighborhood where I grew up. It's a bittersweet place to visit now - both dear to the heart and at the same time, haunted.

What's more, when you're a kid, time goes slower so even though I've been gone from the neighborhood for as long as I lived there, it feels like I spent the great majority of my life there.

It was a great place to grow up. - There were woods to hide in; trees for 'forts' and cabins; creeks for building damns and catching crayfish; hills for sled riding; untrafficed streets to ride bikes in; great open lawns to play 'army men' or matchboxes and endless blue skies for bottles rockets to whistle into.

But as an adult, I look at the old houses now - houses where my friends lived and time japes at us. So many people in that idyllic neighborhood found rough roads or bad ends. One sweet lady who use to make our family homemade pierogies, cut her throat with a razorblade. Her daughter found her in a pool of blood in their bathroom. A neighborhood bully went on to serve a lot of time in jail and missed his sweet father's funeral. His well liked brother is a recovering alcoholic after a DUI. A friend of my sister's married a man who beat her. She became addicted to drugs and died recently. In the same family, a childhood friend grew to hate his adoptive parents to the point that he won't have anything to do with them. On and on it goes... One house after another tells the story of personal tragedies.

Now the seeds of this must have been laid even when I was a child but it was hidden from me. There must have been some very sad things that went on behind closed doors as the kids went home from a day of playing in the neighborhood.

I'm not going to over romanticize things - my family has its share of dysfunction. But today, looking down my old road in the flush of a new spring, I'm reminded of how lucky I was to be raised by my wise parents, to have siblings who were kind to me.

The grey winter skys can be rough around here but when you see the sun, you can appreciate it more.

Thursday, March 26th 2009

News flash! If you have a kid and work, that does not mean that it is more important that you get done with work and go home than it is for non-breeders.

When asked to stay at work with the those who are sans-children, the proper response is not, 'But I want to go home to my kid'. Non-breeders have lives that they want to get to just as much as you do. You've opted to reproduce while others have not, ergo it is not the responsibility of others to cover your work so that you can go home and play with little Timmy the Rug-rat.

Friday, February 13th 2009

For dinner last night I had leftover chicken fried rice followed by three chocolate chip pop tarts. - All washed down with water. I could have had root beer but you know: a guy's got to be healthy.

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

The first clue I had that the corporate controlled local game entity, (a.k.a. 'the steelers') won over the Palooka Partridges, or Omaha Ostriches or Wyoming Waterfowl (...some bird branded organization...) was when the neighbors started screaming and pounding on the walls.

So, I guess we're 'number 1' now. I'm not sure who all is included in 'we'. Am I number 1 by virtue of living in Pittsburgh? (Because they often say, 'Pittsburgh's number 1'.) Or do I need to count myself as a fan? And I wonder how long the number 1 status lasts. Is it an instantaneous moment or does it last until the next super bowl? I'd think it wouldn't last any longer than the first time the steelers lose. - In my book, it's hard to be number 1 after you lose. And if the steelers trade people - are they really the same steelers any more? (I never thought so - which is at least one of the reasons I could never get into following team sports.)

I argue that this whole steeler fandom thing is a cult. Consider the similarities:

- Chants and prayers. 'Here we go steelers, here we go!' (Not sure where they are going, but I wish they'd get there and stay.)
- Uniforms. (I beheld entire families from babies, to mothers to fathers garbed in steeler corporate logos.)
- Holy days. (Super bowl Sunday.)
- 'Transcendent' moments. (The enthusiasm is comparable to snake handling tent revivals.)
- Holy relics and paraphernalia (Super bowl rings, 'terrible towels'. )
- Reverence for holy men. (Hero worship of local sports figures.)
- And most importantly: persecution of non-believers. And just like religion, the greatest scorn isn't held for those with a different belief, but for the non-believers.

On the plus side, Springsteen gave a mediocre mini-concert half time performance. I tuned in for it a little late and thought that the sound mixing was bad. Plus, Bruce doesn't really get his best voice until he's been performing a while longer. I was also underwhelmed by his choice of playing 'Glory Days' - an OK song, but really overplayed.

Today, I tried to get tickets to his concert which went on sale but they disappeared in no time and I didn't like the seat quality to price ratio that I was left with. All the good seats were no doubt bought by fans who would never have gone to a 'Ghost of Tom Joad' acoustic concert, but who were reminded of Springsteen's existence by the half time show and Hoovered up all the good seats. Bastards.

Happy Groundhogs' Day!
(One of the great under appreciated holidays.)

Groundhog handler Ben Hughes pets Punxsutawney Phil, while co-handler John Griffiths holds him

If rodents are to be believed (and why wouldn't you believe one?), - we have six more weeks of winter ahead.

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

—George Bush. Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

George W. Bush: Blood Sucker

In about five days we get to flush the regime of George W. Bush from office. Too bad the smell will linger for years to come.

I’m sorry to say that I think I was fairly accurate in my entry on November 3rd, 2004 in which I made predictions about the Bush reign except I underestimated the horrible impact on the national and global economy.

But on the positive side, I also think I underestimated the number of Americans who would come around and realize what a terrible president he has been. Then again, if it hadn’t been for 9/11, I don't think he would have ever had a second term. (Fear has a way of short circuiting critical thinking. )

Now we have a new administration: one that I've championed. I have disagreements with Obama and I believe that he will do things that I don’t like but I also believe that he is both very smart and well intentioned. And call me elitist if you want: but I like my presidents intelligent, thoughtful and honorable (traits that were lacking in W.). And with the terrible legacy that Bush is leaving in his wake, we'll need these traits so that we can get ourselves out of this calamity.


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