Forumites: Excited Andrew is excited.

May 31, 2008

Phoenix, the Mars probe, has Andrew bouncing off some walls. I briefly considered pulling back the camera another few orders of magnitude to show him devouring the earth like Galactus.


Whoever thought I would be excited about ice?

May 31, 2008

TRANSMITTING AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT, 422 MILLION MILES AWAY — I’m a huge space geek. While I’ve never owned a telescope (never been far away enough from the city for it to be used in a meaningful way), I’ve always been in awe of what scientists have been able to uncover about the mysteries of our universe.

Well, if you haven’t been in the know recently, NASA has sent yet another lander to Mars. Phoenix is assigned the mission to excavate one of the polar caps of the planet to analyze the surface for habitable zones and look for evidence of past life. It’s not a rover like Spirit or Opportunity so it can’t move around, but it’s got tons of awesome equipment.

After it landed last week it’s spent the past week getting it’s equipment up and running and making sure everything is in working order. To our surprise, once it extended it’s arm (a several day process), it captured several pictures with it’s built in camera. Well guess what they found when the took a peak underneath the lander.

What does it look like? Ice! While they aren’t 100% positive, there is a very good change that this could be evidence that we are very close to an ice sheet just a few inches underneath the surface of the planet! We also don’t know if it’s CO2 or water based ice. Scientists believe that the ice was revealed when the retrorockets were fired during landing, removing a couple of inches of dust from the surface. Hopefully this will mean that there is a lot more ice around the area!

Keep updated by checking out the official NASA website and the Phoenix lander twitter. The most recent episode of Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe Podcast also has a great interview with one of the Phoenix team members at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

JASON’S EDIT: Andrew and I had a brief but excited discussion the other day about Phoenix and ongoing exploration in our solar system. Neither of us can wait to get some real data on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, which was made famous in 2010 and 2069, the sequels to Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Clarke imagined that because of excessive geothermal activity on Europa and theory that it, too, might have vast quantities of hydrogen-based ice, Europa could be suitable for life. Of course it was science fiction, but Clarke (RIP) never did anything half-assed; the science was all plausible.

I’d also like to point out something that Andrew taught me: The photo above is in black and white but many photos being beamed back from Mars are colorized using filters. The shots are amazing, and nothing at all like the red-sky Mars we see in films (QUAID! GET YOUR ASS TO MARS!). Nope, the photos seem almost sunny, which is mind-blowingly refreshing.


I have no idea how long this will last.

May 31, 2008

Our forum friends over at Geeknights know I’ve been obsessing over Bitstrips.com and posting some in-joke comics.

I have never considered making a web comic before, because — let’s face it — I’m not much of an artist and I’ve never thought I was that funny. But Andrew keeps asking me if I’m going to do a regular comic after the ones I’ve drafted up this week. Honestly, I think he wants more Andrew-centric comics. Ego!

I’ve been having tremendous fun playing with different layouts and exaggerating certain personalities. One of our forumite buddies, an old fogey who goes by the handle Hungry Joe (or Grandpa Joe, affectionately) is easy to pick on.


Rym and Scott vow to close religion threads

May 29, 2008

The guys over at Geeknights have decided to stop the merry-go-’round religious debates until the kiddies can get a grip on the old Flying Spaghetti Monster argument. I think it’s hilarious.

In other news, I’m still fiddling around with Bitstrips.com.


Music Thursday: Jack Johnson and Echo & the Bunnymen

May 29, 2008

Jack Johnson — Rodeo Clowns

It’s an overused device, sure, but imagine for a second that Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and Tony Hawk had a lovechild. It would probably look a lot like Jack Johnson.

I first got turned on to Johnson through G Love, who featured Rodeo Clowns and Jack on his 1999 album Philadelphonic. The syncopated acoustics are just low-key enough to trigger visions of morning-after-prom sunrises or 11 p.m. tiki lounge acts. That’s fitting, since Johnson is Hawaiian. I think it’s that island mentality that appears to me. It’s hard to imagine him playing anywhere far away from a body of water.

Another thing that I like about his music is that it’s always so understated. He has a habit of singing close to the mic, which lends a bit of intimacy — perfect for a love song or soulful disclosures about loss and healing.

I also recommend Flake and Better Together.

Space


Echo & the Bunnymen — The Killing Moon

For years I confused Echo & the Bunnymen for The Cure. That’s not a bad thing in my book.

Both bands are products of the post-punk move into the early 80s movement that would eventually become alternative. And both Robert Smith and Ian McCulloch sport periods of very pointy hair. But moreover — in case you haven’t noticed — I have a crushing weakness for very dark new wave ballads, and the Bunnymen deliver with The Killing Moon.

The single from the Liverpool boys’ 1984 album Ocean Rain didn’t exactly catch fire in the States until much later than The Bunnymen were hits in the UK. But as America gradually grew more aware of The Smiths and Joy Division, the band gained a foothold on top 40 radio. It even provided a niche for psychedelic hold-overs not quite ready to embrace the goth aesthetic.

Check out The Cutter and Bring on the Dancing Horses.


Indiana Jones: The Glimpse of Hope that Disappoints. Now with 100% more spoilers!

May 28, 2008

ADVENTURING FROM ANDREWS DISBELIEF — I had high hopes for Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but I made a mistake: I forgot to take some sort of prescription medication before I went to the movie theatre.

The new movie, the fourth in the adventures of Dr. Jones, completely junks the historical grounding of the original films and takes a step toward paranoid conspiracy. There are aliens. Seriously.

Not only that, but the aliens were crystal skeletons who had a space ship under the Mayan ruins — a fully functional space ship at that. To make matters worse, George Lucas had to involve Area 51 in the damned story.

All in all, I just find the way they approached the subject matter lacked the taste or tact that made the first three films great. It was a shotgun blast to the face and I despised every minute of it.

Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is nominally about Indy on another archaeological adventure. But as we find out in the first ten or so minutes of the film, the movie is deeply flawed and nowhere near the classic greatness of Raiders or Last Crusade. The film begins the very first shot with a close up of a horrendously animated CG gopher. The very first thought the popped into my head was “Oh, fuck.” Unfortunately, it all goes down hill from there.

What appealed to me about the original Indiana Jones films was deep historical backgrounds that the plots were grounded in. Sure, some of the plot elements were a little supernatural (Ark of the Covenant, Holy Grail, removal of a beating heart out of a man’s chest), but they were done tastefully, in my opinion. However, even deeper was the historical context of the plot. These stories have persisted for centuries and have captured the imaginations of the human race. They are, in the most literal sense, the myths which are the foundation of our culture.

It wasn’t all horrible though, there were definitely some relative high points to the film. The action sequences were well-choreographed and the CG effects were certainly top-notch. The CG was still noticeable, probably to the dismay of Spielberg. There was also that witty Jones dialog as well. One scene in the library stood our particularly well in that regard. I feel like the acting could probably have been better but I’m going to chalk that one up to sub-par writing that was too dependent upon the already mentioned Jones-isms and a loss of focus on plot and character development.

Overall, I would probably say that this is a decent action flick but not worthy of the reputable name it carries. Most of the time I felt that I was watching yet another sequel to The Mummy with only a few of the traits that made the original Indy flicks great shimmering through. I would probably recommend that you rent/Netflix this film. If you decide to see it in theatres, make sure you don’t go in with your hopes up.


Playing around with Bitstrips…

May 28, 2008

I made this today to parody the way things typically go over on the Geeknights forum. Bitstrips.com lets you build comics using a pretty flexible engine. The interface is pretty clunky at times, but a little elbow grease will help you game it to get the look you want. I loved to draw when I was younger, but I’m much better at framing a scene than sketching a straight line, so I’m really digging this WYSIWYG.