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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cuil: The ISHTAR of search engines!

You might have heard about Cuil: a new search engine, the founders of which have stated is going to be a "Google killer". It went online a couple days ago and I've tried it a number of times since then, growing more frustrated with each attempt to determine how exactly Cuil is supposed to be useful. It claims to have indexed more pages than Google. And maybe it has, and all those pages really are sitting in a database somewhere in Cuil's corporate headquarters. But if so, the algorithms needed to access 'em are shot to Hell. Doing a search for myself in regard to the Viacom mess last year turned up photographs of a robot and an NBA basketball player. And the results don't even seem consistent from one search to the next, either...

This thing cost upwards of $33 million to start up. Kinda makes Cuil the Ishtar of search engines, when you think about it.

Cade Metz at The Register has written an enlightening - and hilarious - essay about what seems to have gone wrong with Cuil. It reads frighteningly close to what happened at ION Storm (John Romero's now-defunct game company that promised to "make you his bitch"), given the ratio of wild promises to burn rate of venture capital.

Whatever is going on over there, Cuil's owners need to fix things fast, or else their little project will be a vague memory by Christmas.

Bush spitting in faces of Chinese Christians... again

When he goes to Beijing for the opening of the Olympics over a week from now, George W. Bush will "worship" at a church there, it's being reported.

Now for the part of the story that the Bush Administration doesn't like to talk about...

The "church" that Bush will attend is no doubt going to be one of the state-approved churches that the communist government of mainland China keeps under its control. It will not be a congregation of believers who are free to worship as they best understand the leading of the Holy Spirit. They cannot even appoint their own leaders for their churches: the Chinese government determines who are the pastors and other officials, even installing its own priests for the supposedly "Catholic" churches there.

(By the way, Bush did the same thing almost three years ago and I wrote about it then, too.)

The church that Bush will be going to will be one that puts loyalty to the Chinese government far ahead of loyalty to God.

Meanwhile, some estimate that 40 million Christians in China are worshiping at underground "house churches", beyond the sanction of the government there. They do so at the risk of being arrested, imprisoned, and perhaps far worse.

Those are the believers that our supposedly "Christian" President should be standing in solidarity with. And it would be ridiculous to suggest that Bush attend a service at an "unofficial" church and risk the lives of its congregants. But by announcing that he will attend one of the state-sponsored churches, Bush is gesturing his approval of goverment-controlled religious worship. It would have been better if he had the guts to say "Nope, I'm not going to go in for this farce. You officials in Beijing need to let these people worship God according to their conscience, not your policy."

But then, since when did Bush ever have the guts to do something like that, anyway?

For those asking for my thoughts on THE DARK KNIGHT...

A review is coming. Probably later this evening. I had to go see it again yesterday afternoon (at that swanky new theater in Burlington) before proceeding any further with writing a review... which I've been working on for over a week now.

Suffice it to say, I'm going to have a lot to say about this movie.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

First trailer for HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE just apparated online!

Harry: "Did you know, sir ... then?"

Dumbledore: "Did I know I'd just met the most dangerous dark wizard of all time? No."

Our first look at the child Tom Riddle. And Dumbledore fights the Inferi.

This one is gonna hurt when it comes to theaters this fall. Can't wait!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Which KWerky Productions star is now appearing with Richard Gere in a Nicholas Sparks movie?!

Why, it's none other than Dawn Swartz (playing the nurse on the right), who starred in our short film Schrodinger's Bedroom last year!

Dawn has a role in - and even appears in the trailer for - the new Warner Brothers movie Nights in Rodanthe, starring Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Christopher Meloni, James Franco and Viola Davis. It's based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. I was going to go see this anyway 'cuz of the setting (Rodanthe is a small community on North Carolina's Outer Banks) and the cinematography looks beautiful, and Lisa is a big fan of Sparks's books and movies too. Now we've another great reason to check it out!

Here's a page with some links to various formats of the Nights in Rodanthe trailer. And if you're just plain lazy, here it is on YouTube, too (Dawn appears about 12 seconds in)...

Congrats to Dawn! Who is not only a wonderful actress and KWerky Productions family member, but also a very sweet person and a dear friend :-)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Iraq War veteran's wounds lead to discovery of cooking

Lenny Watson was a Marine who was among the first to enter Iraq when the war started over five years ago. In 2004 he lost most of his lower jaw during a grenade attack. His drive to have something palatable to eat during his recovery ended up propelling him into the culinary arts...

The Dallas Morning News has the story of Lenny Watson's new career.

No, not gonna add any commentary here about the war, and that's not why I'm posting this here either. I do think this guy has the right attitude though: that being happy is ultimately your own choice to make, regardless of whatever nonsense life throws into your path. It's a great story, and one worth sharing with others.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

TR2N (AKA the TRON 2) teaser is everywhere illegally!

Rather than post a link or embed the video (which would make no sense since Disney is sending out DMCA claims all over the place tonight) I'll just say that if you really have to see the teaser for TR2N - the sequel to 1982's Tron - that ran at Comic Con a few days ago, just search for "tr2n" on whatever video hosting service that you happen to like, and you should come up lucky.

The screenshot above is the official logo of the movie, taken from one of the better versions that I've seen floating around.

From what I've heard, Jeff Bridges shot his stuff for the teaser in a single afternoon, under the tightest secrecy so that it could be a complete surprise at Comic Con this weekend.

I'd love to see this thing in full, beautiful Quicktime. How about it Disney? I mean, people are watching it already anyway. This thing is too gosh-darned beautiful to have it secretly traded around among the dark corners of the Intertubes. If y'all wait 'til next week after Comic Con, we'll understand. But please, get an official release of this teaser out there soon! :-)

If GRAND THEFT AUTO 4 was real life...

...it would probably be something like this:

Darth Vader tries to join Lutheran priests in Reykjavík

Is that the most weird title in the history of blogging, or what?

But it's true: Darth Vader tried to take part in a procession of Icelandic Lutherans in that island country's capital of Reykjavík. Here's the video...

And here are some pictures on Flickr of the incident.

WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN looks like a terrific arc

It's been awhile since I picked up an issue of an ongoing comic book, apart from the odd Star Wars-related one-shot every now and then. But yesterday Lisa and I were in the Borders in Greensboro and the cover of Wolverine #66 intrigued me enough to purchase a copy. Written by Mark Millar (recently known for the Civil War arc that raged across most of the Marvel line), it's the first chapter of the "Old Man Logan" saga.

And based on what I enjoyed reading last night, "Old Man Logan" might become the best story involving Marvel's most popular mutant since the groundbreaking Origin over six years ago.

The "Old Man Logan" arc takes place fifty years after "the night the heroes fell" and the bad guys finally conquered America. The land is now carved-up into a series of territories and whatever it was that happened, it completely broke Wolverine's spirit. He wandered off into the wasteland, completely renounced violence, dropped his heroic moniker and became simply Logan. When the series begins we find that he's got a wife and two children, eking out an existence as a tenant farmer in California and trying to pay off his landlords.

In Logan's case, this turns out to be the inbred progeny of Bruce Banner. Imagine the degenerate hillbillies of Deliverance as a gang of Hulks. If that alone will not hook you into "Old Man Logan", I don't know what will.

The Hulk Gang beats Logan to a pulp and threatens to kill his family if he can't pony up the rent. Hawkeye - now a blind man - tells Logan that he's got a delivery to make on the East Coast and if Logan can help him get there, his family will get all the rent money they need to pay off the Hulks. By the end of the issue, Hawkeye is in the driver's seat of the rebuilt Spider-mobile with Logan navigating, as the satellite system shows them the three thousand miles they must maneuver through the dominions of Kingpin, Doom, and the threat of much worse in order to reach a place called New Babylon.

Mark Millar is saying that "Old Man Logan" is shooting for the same kind of vibe as The Dark Knight Returns. I can see that here. And in addition to Deliverance there's also a sense of The Grapes of Wrath and maybe even Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas at work in the story, with Part 1's final shot of Wolverine and Hawkeye driving off into the East toward whatever adventure awaits.

I'll definitely be picking up Part 2, and probably the rest of this eight-issue series as well. Well worth looking into, whether you're a die-hard Marvel geek or a more casual fan.

Ex-Iraqi rebels threaten a return to Al-Qaeda if not paid more

And now the dirty secret of whatever success "the Surge" had rears its ugly head...

Military.com is reporting that ex-rebels in Iraq are demanding more money, or else they will go back to the ranks of Al-Qaeda and begin attacking American forces again. The money that's been paying the former rebels to begin with has originated with the United States government.

So all this time we've either been funding an army of mercenaries that used to be shooting at American personnel, or we've been outright bribing them, depending on what your take on the situation is. I don't know if all of the diminished violence in Iraq can be attributed to this chicanery, but it's a safe bet that a big chunk of it will be.

I'm reminded again of the last phase of the Roman Empire, when that government was reduced to hiring barbarians to fill the ranks of its army and even paying off foreign tribes not to overrun the empire. Look at where that got 'em...

Friday, July 25, 2008

DR. HORRIBLE'S SING-ALONG BLOG: Pure genius from the mind of Joss Whedon!

Last week, around the time that we were in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I started hearing about something called Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly creator Joss Whedon wrote, directed and even composed the music for this three-act comic opera about Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), a down-on-his-luck mad scientist trying to gain both respect as a supervillain and the girl of his dreams (played by Felicia Day). I couldn't get to its website in time to catch the streaming video of the three chapters as they were being released, but based on the good buzz and the positive word of several friends (including Phillip Arthur) I went to iTunes two nights ago and checked it out.

People, if you haven't already, you owe it to yourself to watch Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: it's one of the funniest, most clever and even thought-provoking things that I've watched all year. And the songs are catchy! I've had "My Freeze Ray" playing in my head almost constantly since Wednesday night, and I even found myself singing it this afternoon while driving around with my wife.

Click here to purchase Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog from iTunes. You can either get each act individually for $1.99, or all three for $3.99 (which is what I did). And let us hope that this is not the last that we have heard from the nefarious Dr. Horrible!

Randy Pausch, the "Last Lecture" professor, has passed away

Randy Pausch, the computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University and pioneer in the field of virtual reality, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and then turned his fight for life into an inspirational video and book, has passed away at age 47.

If you've never had the opportunity to watch the lecture, here it is courtesy of Google Video. It's easily one of the most uplifting things that I've ever seen.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and three children.

Andrew Klavan: Batman and Bush have much in common (What the...?!)

Still working on my review of The Dark Knight, but it should be up later today. Part of the reason for the delay was that I've been so gosh-darned busy since it came out, what with crossing the country (and I didn't even see The Dark Knight in my own, mind ya). And also 'cuz I needed some time to really "suss" things out about this movie.

In the meantime though, I cast your attention to Andrew Klavan, writing for The Wall Street Journal, and he asserts that The Dark Knight proves that Batman and George W. Bush are practically one and the same. In short...

"The Dark Knight," then, is a conservative movie about the war on terror. And like another such film, last year's "300," "The Dark Knight" is making a fortune depicting the values and necessities that the Bush administration cannot seem to articulate for beans.
Bush is like Batman?! 'Tis writing so mad, Klavan should be locked up in Arkham. If anything, Bush is The Joker: everything this man has done has sown and reaped chaos and destruction... but on a global scale.

But let's look at the comparison to Batman again and why Klavan is so wrong. First, Batman is putting himself on the front line in the war against crime in Gotham City. When Bruce Wayne takes the armor off and we see those cuts and scars, he acquired... nay, he earned... those on his own. President Bush has never been in a real fight. He's a spoiled brat king who sends henchmen (not talking about U.S. military personnel at all, folks) to do his dirty work. Just like The Joker.

Second, from the very beginning of his term of office, and throughout most of his life, Bush has been obsessed with creating a "legacy" that he'll be remembered for. It's a kind of narcissism that fuels the greatest of supervillains. This is not what motivates Bruce Wayne. Wayne is not out for fame or glory, and he can live with the fact that history must never know that he is Batman because that simply does not matter at all to him. What does matter is that he will do whatever is in his power to make sure that no one will ever die... not even those who might most deserve it.

This brings me to another point: Batman's compassion even toward his enemies. We see this in The Dark Knight: Batman doesn't kill The Joker. Heck, if you read the comics at all, you already know that for all his understanding of how twisted and dangerous The Joker is, Batman has never given up hope that the man might be reformed and redeemed. Incarcerated forever for his crimes, yes... but at least with a conscience. Batman does not kill his enemies. He will stop them, and at times punish them when the law fails... but he does not take it upon himself to judge them as unworthy of life. Go read Alan Moore's The Killing Joke if you've never done so, if you want to see what I mean. Does anyone believe that George W. Bush has just as much strength of soul that would keep him from killing his worst enemies and getting away with it, if he could?

Batman wants the people of Gotham to stand up and fight the darkness on their own. Bush wants the people of America to be a superstitious, cowardly lot. 'Nuff said.

I'm going to write more about it in my review, but The Dark Knight is a movie about morality under duress and sometimes having to compromise that. Klavan argues that Batman in The Dark Knight vindicates the neo-conservative belief that Bush must do away with personal rights in order to win the "war on terror" (by the way, nobody who seriously believes in the "war on terror" is worth respecting, in my opinion). He totally missed the point of The Dark Knight here: that though good people are not infallible and do fail at times, good people do at least harbor remorse and regret for not possessing complete wisdom to deal with the world around them. I think this is one of the greatest attributes of conscience... and it's one that Bush and the vast majority of his supporters have never demonstrated.

Which leads to my final point: the possession and abuse of power. In The Dark Knight we see Batman use a technological ability to locate The Joker, though Lucius Fox believes that it is too much power to be given to one man. Batman agrees, and after the need for the power has gone, he gives Lucius the ability to destroy the technology. That could never be George W. Bush. He would keep that power to himself... hell, he darn nearly has that same power already... and tell everyone that he needs it because "the Jokerists are still out there".

Therein lies the greatest reason why Batman and George W. Bush have nothing in common with each other: Batman can say no to power, while Bush cannot get enough of it.

Klavan's essay is the most damned silly thing about The Dark Knight that I've read to date, and is proof of the desperation that Bush's die-hard supporters have been driven to in the final months of their idol's bid to achieve lasting fame. Which made it all the more fun to shoot holes in :-)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Disney announces TRON 2 at Comic Con

Geez Louise... has the movie news during the past 24 hours been crazy, or what?

In a move that surprised everyone 'cuz nobody really saw it coming, Disney premiered the trailer for Tron 2 at Comic Con today in San Diego.

You heard that right: a sequel to the 1982 film Tron, which was about a programmer who gets zapped into a world that exists within the realm of the computer.

Click on the above link for more details.

Obama wants to "remake the world"

Until now, I haven't felt anything particularly bad about Barack Obama, the candidate who's pretty much locked-up the Democrat nomination for President of the United States. I disagree with him on pretty much everything, and I sure as heck won't be voting for him. But I'm a guy who knows how to draw a line between not seeing eye to eye with someone, and being able to like him or her as a person. I'm blessed to have friends from many different ideologies and philosophies and even what some would consider "other lifestyles". Doesn't mean that I approve of those things, but I'm not gonna stop that from considering someone to be a person that needs to be loved by me just as God loves them. Just one of the ways I've realized over the years is how I'm supposed to be a witness for Christ to others, I guess you could say.

So yeah, it takes a lot for me to frown on someone enough to more than merely distrust them. And I hadn't had a reason to do that with Obama. Until today.

Speaking at a rally of more than 200,000 people in Berlin, Germany, Obama promised that he would "remake the world", and made what can only be considered blatant appeals for "global citizenship".

So much here that's popping big red flags. For starters, why is Obama apparently campaigning in Germany, when it's United States citizens who are the only ones who are supposed to be voting for him?

And then, "global citizenship"? When I was a Boy Scout I earned the Citizenship in the World merit badge. It was about recognizing your role at the local and national level and how it extends to the rest of humankind. It was not about yielding sovereignty to some nebulous greater good.

But what really is starting to scare me about this guy is that he's openly boasting that he wants to "remake the world".

Mr. Obama, the world is being remade every day, by ordinary men and women. Like the final song from a musical that I was recently in goes: "It's in our hands." God has given each of us the free will of how we choose to make not just our lives, but the world around us.

Mr. Obama, if you ever read this: Who the hell are you to proclaim that you should be given absolute power to "remake the world"?

And that almost a quarter-million people would rally to his cause, chanting his name like a mantra... I thought the whole thing about a "messiah complex" with this guy was a joke before. Now, it's starting to remind me too much about another man in Germany, about seventy years ago. He promised to remake the world too.

Until today I thought that Obama was at most a curiosity. Now, I'm finding myself genuinely worried about what this man's intentions are.

No, I'm not voting for John McCain, either. The wiser, more righteous choice in this farce of an election is not to choose at all, considering that we're being expected to pick between a man hellbent on igniting World War III and a man now seemingly worshiped as divine.

We, the American people, could have remade our world already. We could have chosen to be vigilant and wise. We should have thought for ourselves! Now look at us: a once-proud people reduced to a slave race. If the past sixteen years of executive administrations did not prove that enough, then the next four years at least certainly will.

We had our chance. And we blew it.

And no, I'm not laughing, because there's not a damned thing funny about any of this.

LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT... found at last?!

So I'm up late, working on the video that will chronicle what happened during those eight days that Lisa and I spent on our epic journey north, and I was about to call it a night when I happened to check Ain't It Cool News and found this story.

Apparently, a horror film expert has located a pristine copy of London After Midnight, the 1927 silent movie starring Lon Chaney and widely considered to be the most lost film of all time...

The print is said to currently be residing in the vaults of Time-Warner under the alias The Hypnotist. Until now, it's been thought that London After Midnight had been lost for all time, because the only known copy was destroyed in an electrical fire at MGM in 1967.

This month has already witnessed the discovery of the full print of Metropolis (and I joked then that maybe London After Midnight could be next). Dare we hope that, after so very long, we might finally behold what is thought to be the last great thriller of the silent era... and what many have said was the finest performance of Chaney's career?

Heck, this actually makes me feel like I can go to bed happy after hearing about The Rocky Horror Picture Show remake :-P

Seriously though: if this is true - and I pray that it is - let us hope and pray that London After Midnight is given a full-bore restoration effort. 'Twould be great on my DVD shelf along with Metropolis (whenever it comes out).

And now they're remaking THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW

Things don't get much worse than this...

Variety is reporting that MTV is going to remake The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

What I find particularly funny about this is that The Rocky Horror Picture Show was released in the summer of 1975... and it's still playing in theaters! It's the longest running theatrical release in movie history. I know of a few cinemas within driving distance of here that are still showing it. So this would be the first remake of a movie that is still selling tickets at the box office.

This does not need to happen. Ever. The Rocky Horror Picture Show was one of those things that happens so rarely, it's the acme of vanity to try to recreate or recapture that kind of lightning. There was a showing at Elon my first year there. Everyone who came to watch it got into the whole "audience participation" thing, including toilet paper and water pistols. I heard there were butter stains on the walls from where people were throwing toast all over the place. And although I never saw it there, I've heard it plenty said that when the theater at the old Carolina Circle Mall ran The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Saturday at midnight, the place was packed and with lots of regulars coming in costume. How does something like that get "remade"? It would be like trying to remake The Beatles.

The only way this could possibly work is to get Joss Whedon to do it (based on what I've heard of his Dr. Horrible, which I still haven't seen 'cuz I was out of the country for the most part, he could probably pull it off). Maybe I would feel a smidgeon of curiosity about it. But otherwise, leave it alone. 'Cuz it's gonna be impossible to improve on something like this...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

iTunes now has first three seasons of new DOCTOR WHO

A lot of us have been wanting it, and the BBC has delivered: the revived Doctor Who series is now available on iTunes! The first three seasons can now be purchased and downloaded, and hopefully the incredible fourth will be coming soon as well. Strangely, none of the Christmas specials are included, an oversight which I hope will be remedied soon, since "The Runaway Bride" introduced Donna Noble. The BBC has also put all the episodes of Torchwood up on iTunes as well, if you're aiming to be a completist on the modern Doctor Who saga.

I wonder if this means the Beeb would be up to putting the original Doctor Who series on iTunes also. They stand to make a fortune from "The Deadly Assassin" and "Genesis of the Daleks" alone.

And thanks to Geoff Gentry for passing along the news!

Report: TSA Agents out of control

The last time that I flew anywhere was this past December, when I went to the Butt-Numb-A-Thon film festival in Texas. I took Southwest Airlines - a carrier with superb service, I might add - out of Raleigh-Durham International Airport. And one of the few unpleasant memories that I have from the trip was watching the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) goons at RDU doing things like throwing bottles of baby formula and shampoo out, telling travelers that it was "regulation". And not one traveler protested, because everyone knew that the TSA goons could have them arrested or worse for "talking back" or some other bullcrap. I also saw things like how the TSA scans for "shoe bombs": they actually made one girl take her flip-flips off to have them x-rayed, and made another remove her ballet flats.

It's stuff like this that makes me chalk up TSA as one of George W. Bush's more spectacular failures. It's an agency that epitomizes government out of control and drunk on its own power. TSA's real mission is not to deter "the terrorists" so much as it is to bully and cower innocent Americans into accepting the authority of the state without question. I won't ever fly again if I can help it. And hey, as the trip I just came back from proves, you see much more interesting country and meet all kinds of neat people when you come across it all up close instead of flying above it.

Anyway, CBS 2 in Chicago has published a report about how TSA agents are using their power in some pretty horrific ways. Among the incidents that are described as "abusive and even x-rated" are: humiliating a 71-year old man in a wheelchair, forcing one girl to remove her nipple rings with pliers, and throwing a woman onto the floor for arguing with a TSA agent.

If we can ever get over the collective idea that we are a supposed to be a nation of wimps, and finally recover the backbone that our forefathers had, I hope and pray that the whole sorry lot of the Transportation Security Administration - from its highest officers down to its lowliest thugs who would otherwise not be employable anywhere else - are the first to be thrown against the wall. And no blanks, either.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Estelle Getty has passed away

Have just heard from some friends that The Golden Girls star Estelle Getty has passed away at age 84.

The Golden Girls was one of the best shows of the Eighties, and Getty's Sophia Petrillo was the best reason to watch it. I was a kid when that show ran and she always cracked me up.

Don't know of anything else to add, but I'll close this post out with a classic Sophia bit...

"Picture it: Sicily, Nineteen Forty-Two."

Steve Jablonsky is scoring TRANSFORMERS sequel and GEARS OF WAR 2!

While I was gone for over a week (and I'm working on getting a report, some photos and video of the trip up soon) a number of people wrote in asking if I knew anything about whether or not Steve Jablonsky (left) would be returning to score the sequel to last summer's smash-hit movie Transformers (right now the next chapter is being called Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen but I'm still wondering if Michael Bay might have another title up his sleeve). Anyone who's read this blog over the past year will recall how it became a focal point for the drive to have Jablonsky's amazing music for Transformers released on CD. Happily it was, but it's now no longer being published and unless you pay literally hundreds of dollars for it on eBay the only way you can get it is via iTunes or Amazon's digital download. Hopefully we'll see it released again in time for the sequel.

Anyhoo, I did some checking and it turns out that this past week at E3 it was announced that Steve Jablonsky WILL come back to score the next Transformers movie!

But... that's not all! According to the same report at Music 4 Games, Jablonsky is also composing the soundtrack for Gears of War 2, due out this fall.

This is awesome news! Y'all wouldn't believe how much I listened to the Transformers score on my iPod during the drive out there and back. And I'm a huge fan of Gears of War. The sequel is supposed to be a much deeper and more emotional story. Throw in the heavy-metal mayhem that the first game was known for, and Steve Jablonsky becomes the perfect choice to tap for the soundtrack. Can't wait to play - and listen - to it!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Exactly two thousand, nine hundred and forty-five miles later...

Man oh man, I really need a laptop now, don't I?

Lisa and I arrived back home almost forty minutes ago. Already stuff is piled up on the plate that I'll have to address in the next few days. No rest for the wicked, eh? Next time, I'll try to blog some from the road too.

But right now, after a journey of epic proportions, I'm thankful for the adventure, for having a wonderful wife and best friend to share it with, and that God brought us back home. Fittingly, we crossed the border with Virginia right as James Taylor's "Carolina In My Mind" was playing on my iPod.

In the next few days, expect a number of write-ups and YouTube-hosted video about what happened, which entailed chasing down Amish farmers, animatronic cows, the longest road trip to a barbecue joint ever, snogging Ukrainians and Bollywood hopefuls, absolute horror at eighteen-hundred feet, watching The Dark Knight on opening day in another country, at least seven weddings in one afternoon, how we celebrated our anniversary, what can only be described as Providence near Providence, the Big Apple at night, breaking a bunch of laws on the Turnpike... and everything in between.

More soon.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Opening intro for STAR BLAZERS first season

One of the greatest title sequences for a children's cartoon ever.

The theme song alone will make you want to go flying off into outer space on a World War II battleship with a bunch of other men...

Okay, so it wasn't originally called Star Blazers, the original Japanese title is Space Battleship Yamato, but it's still an awesome show no matter what language it's translated in :-)

Maybe someday the suits at Disney will finally give us that live-action version that's been promised since 1995. Would be cool to see what the wave motion gun would look like...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tonight we saw THE DARK KNIGHT

We barely got into a showing (and yeah we paid... in whatever was the appropriate currency) but we were able to catch The Dark Knight on its opening day! I'll be able to file a full report after a few days, when time affords both opportunity to devote to a full write-up, and for it all to really "sink in".

Suffice it say, it's very very good. Better than Batman Begins was even. But man, the makeup/CGI work that went into post-burn Harvey Dent is going to stick with me for the next few days, no doubt. Then again after the crazy time we had last night, maybe I needed something like that :-)

Okay, must go and investigate the raucous Bulgarian wedding party that is currently boogying to "I Want To Rock and Roll All Night"...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The first trailer for WATCHMEN

Zack Snyder did it. He really, really, did it.

He has made the movie that everyone said would be impossible to make.

I'm ready to say that, just going by this trailer...

Click here to watch it in Quicktime at 720P.

I've watched it three times now. I'm going to go to sleep tonight, after a very unusual day, with that image of Dr. Manhattan burned into my subconscious.

Most unusual post to this blog to date

This post, yup the one you are reading right now, is in many ways the most unusual one that has been made to The Knight Shift since this blog began in earnest almost five years ago.

Can you guess why?

I may or may not be able to see The Dark Knight tomorrow. If so then I'll take my best stab at posting a review and if not well... there are more interesting things going on, which I shall be able to share with y'all soon.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ten worst uses for Microsoft Windows

Would you trust Microsoft Windows to run a building's elevator system (via a web browser)? Or to operate an Amtrak train? How about the computers regulating radiation therapy at a major hospital? No, I'm not totally dissing Windows but ya know: stuff like that really should have their own dedicated operating systems. Richard Stiennon at NetworkWorld.com has what he considers to be the top ten very worst uses of Windows. Chilling stuff... in a funny kind of way.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Lobbyist admits getting access to Bush and officials for donations

Y'know, it's funny: I remember when Bill Clinton was President, and access to him and his staff was being "sold" in exchange for donations. It was some of the worst corruption of the highest office in the land, and a lot of us were right to have been angered by it.

So then here comes George W. Bush, and we were told that he would "clean house" and that this sort of thing would never happen in his "ethical" administration...

...only to find out that the Bush Administration is involved with the same thing. Long story short: if you donate enough to the George W. Bush Presidential Library, you get access to Dick Cheney and other Bush officials, and possibly even Bush himself.

This is the kind of thing that makes me believe that the only thing that makes the current White House administration more upstanding than the previous one, is that so far as we know George W. Bush has kept the Oval Office sink clean. But everything else is dirtier than it ever was under the Clintons!

That this is money for Bush's library affirms what I realized a long time ago: the politics of high office has nothing to do with serving the people and everything to do with "securing one's legacy". It seems that only the most narcissistic are drawn to positions like Senator and President, and the game is rigged too much in their favor: witness our current crop of "front runners".

This country isn't gonna get cleaned up until regular Americans (a) finally get wise to the con game the major parties and the mainstream press is pulling on 'em, and (b) become so honked-off that they toss these bastitches out of office hard on their asses and begin to take charge on their own. Hey, I've run for office before. It's not so hard to do :-)

Saturday, July 12, 2008


As my good friend Phillip Arthur is fond of saying: WOWZERS!!!

You know, I can't wait to see what Guillermo del Toro does with the film version of The Hobbit. No doubt it's going to be a magnificent prequel to Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But del Toro really, seriously can't get to work on Hellboy III soon enough. I've thought of that all night after seeing Hellboy II: The Golden Army: one of those very rare sequels that in many ways is better than the original.

2004's Hellboy (based on the Dark Horse comic created by Mike Mignola) was something that came in under my radar when it was first released, that I barely knew anything about... and it ended up knocking my socks off. I thought it was one of the best comic book movies ever made, and it made me something of a fan of Hellboy and his world. It was dark, funny, full of crazy occult stuff that could destroy reality as we know it, packed with strange and offbeat characters fighting evil incarnate... you know, it was kinda like my own life now that I think about it. It was also my introduction to the Lovecraftian imagination of Guillermo del Toro, which compelled me to see Pan's Labyrinth last year (one of the most haunting and beautiful movies that I've ever seen, and I really don't know if I could bear to watch it again). That Hellboy also featured Ron Perlman - one of the finest actors of our generation, and one deserving more appreciation if you ask me - certainly helped, too.

Well, del Toro has been tapped to direct The Hobbit, but first he wanted to go back to the Hellboy universe. The result is not only a worthy sequel, but an example of what is possible when a filmmaker is trusted for his vision and is rewarded with freedom and a handsome bankroll. And for what it's worth, I think that del Toro and his crew have produced one of the best movies of what has by and large been an excellent summer movie season.

Del Toro worked with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola on the story, which begins with a quick synopsis of how Hellboy came to our world in the final days of World War II. We are then treated to a scene at a military base on Christmas Eve, circa 1955. A very young Hellboy is being scolded by adoptive father Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt, reprising his role from Hellboy) for not brushing his teeth and watching Howdy Doody when he should be in bed for when Santa comes. Hellboy demands a bedtime story, and the Professor reads to him a tale of an ancient war between humans and the "mythical" creatures like the Elves. One day a Goblin offers to make an invincible mechanical army for the King of the Elves, complete with a golden crown to control 'em all. The army works too well, and the King makes peace with the Humans, has the army locked away and the crown split into three pieces and humans entrusted with one of them. Hellboy thinks it's a good story. And if that's all it was, then there's nothing to be afraid of. Except it turns out that the story is very real...

Fast-forward to more than sixty years later, and Hellboy (still considered something of a "young punk" 'cuz of his strange metabolism) is having it out with both on-again/off-again pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz and Agent Manning (again played by Selma Blair and Jeffrey Tambor, respectively). Liz can't stand how Hellboy keeps his room such a mess, and generally wants him to grow up. And Hellboy's antics in public - including letting footage of himself wind up on YouTube - are driving Manning up the walls as he tries to keep Hellboy and everything else about the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense a classified secret. Hellboy, Liz and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, who also plays two other roles in the film) are dispatched to an auction house in Manhattan: the scene of an unholy situation. During a fight with something that will probably give many viewers lots of nightmares, Hellboy's existence "accidentally" becomes revealed before live television news crews and dozens of onlookers armed with camera phones. In the wake of the publicity fiasco, the honchos in Washington send Johann Krauss: a new agent who's a stickler for protocol and boasting an attitude to match... in spite of not having a real physical body.

Okay, that's as far as I'll go so far as the plot goes. Like everything else that's good, it's best if you go in as unaware as possible.

I thought that one of the best things about Hellboy was the characters, the actors who played them and how the story served to explore and develop these people, instead of reducing them to mere plot devices to show off some pretty eye candy. Del Toro and Mignola have not only continued that successful formula with Hellboy II, they have drastically improved upon it... to the point that there are scenes in this movie that brought tears to the eyes of many that I saw it with tonight (heck, I'll admit shedding a few too during one scene). Ron Perlman brought Hellboy to life in the first installment but here he really gets his chance to shine as the deep and intense... and when needed, hilarious... actor that he is. I hope that it will be appreciated when I also say that Selma Blair's Liz is one of the better realized female characters from a comic book movie of the past several years. And after becoming such a fan of Abe Sapien in the first movie, I thought that Doug Jones's return to the role was nothing short of sheer delight! Luke Goss is terrific as the Elvish prince Nuada, and Anna Walton as his twin sister Nuala comes across as enchanting (a word that I don't use nearly enough). Jeffrey Tambor's Agent Manning was someone that I came to like quite a bit in Hellboy, and I thought that del Toro and Mignola gave him just as much a stronger role in this sequel as they did with the other characters. Also look for Roy Dotrice as the Elvish King Balor. Those of you who were fans of CBS's hour-long drama Beauty and the Beast years ago will no doubt smile at the irony, since Dotrice appeared in that show as Father alongside Perlman's Vincent.

The real breakout character of Hellboy II: The Golden Army though is Johann Krauss, voiced by Seth MacFarlane. Please, please let there be a Hellboy III just to have Krauss return again! I thought Krauss was an absolute hoot. There's one scene in particular where he dares to kick Hellboy's butt... and he does it, too! Later on in the movie Krauss hints at how he arrived at his predicament, and the sad story behind it. Hopefully we will see this explored more in a further chapter.

Effects-wise, Hellboy II looks like a movie made for two or three times its $85 million budget. The scene where Hellboy fights the Elemental alone is something that will boggle the mind when one wonders "How the heck did they do that?". Danny Elfman's music supplements the action and personal struggles of the BRPD agents admirably: I'm gonna try to find it on CD for my collection. And something that surprised me quite a lot about Hellboy II: although you would think that the events of the first film would be fairly self-contained, there is quite a lot from it that winds up coming up again in Hellboy II. I don't think you necessarily have to watch the first one in order to enjoy the sequel, but let's put it this way: Hellboy II features, in my opinion anyway, a very cool reference to the Ogdru Jahad. Not to mention what we see of Hellboy through those funky glasses...

Hellboy II: The Golden Army has healthy portions of horror, humor and inter-family hijinks. It's a visual feast for the eyes, and there is even more wholesome morality at work in this movie than an unsuspecting person might probably expect from a movie with the word "Hellboy" in its title. In short: I loved it immensely. And I would not mind at all going to see it again this summer. Heartily recommended!

Michael Bay's rejected THE DARK KNIGHT script

Just days before The Dark Knight opens in theaters, now comes word that none other than Michael Bay wrote a script for the sequel to 2005's hit movie Batman Begins. However as everyone no doubt knows, it was rejected by Warner Brothers. How would The Joker have been treated in Bay's hands? Check out the leaked pages on The Spill.com!

And special thanks to Nathan for passing it along :-)

Friday, July 11, 2008

iPhone 3G arrives today

Endgadget has a thorough and oftentimes witty review of the latest appliance that we are told everyone wants but it's not clear if everyone really needs.

(I won't be getting one, 'cuz AT&T wireless service where we live is, well, crap.)

I do have one question though. The iPhone has been out for a year now, and this latest iteration adds 3G services and a GPS chip and now Apple has opened up the App Store that lets users add whatever nifty programs they want to deck their iPhones out with.

Okay well... does anybody actually talk to other people with their iPhone?

Like I said, it's been out for a year. I've seen plenty of 'em since their rollout last summer. When I was going through the airports on the way to Texas last year, there was no telling how many people were walking around with iPhones. But I haven't once seen anyone dialing a number and talking to another person the old-fashioned way like is usually done with a telephone.

So do you have an iPhone that you use for stuff other than e-mail and web browsing... like, say, talking into it? :-)

More trouble than I know how to begin to describe

The United States federal government may soon be taking over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Anyone else out there know how much raw badness this portends?

Nobody I've spoken to about this in the past couple of days - and y'all might be surprised at who this includes - believes that either of these two mortgage houses is solvent. And nobody in the government seems to be talking about anything but a bailout at the expense of the taxpayers.

More shades of that "Hell Époque" thing that I wrote about back in January.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Secret vault contains every LEGO set in history

Jesus Diaz of Gizmodo recently traveled to Denmark, home of LEGO. He visited the company headquarters and got to see something that is rarely shown to outsiders: a vault containing EVERY single LEGO set EVER produced! All of them are here: from the very first sets made of wooden bricks, to the new Indiana Jones and Batman lines. It's an absolutely amazing report, chock full of beautiful pictures. Including this one...

It's the now-legendary Galaxy Explorer from the 1979 LEGO Space collection!

I sooooooo lusted for one of those babies when I was a way wee lad!

Even if you can't easily get to Denmark and the inner sanctum of LEGO, you can visit this site which contains building instructions for every LEGO set that's hit the market. Like the X-1 Patrol Craft (right), which was the very first LEGO model that I ever received! That was back when I was 5 years old... and I'm still gettin' and buildin' 'em!

By the way, Gizmodo's Diaz had quite an extended tour of the LEGO company complex. You can read all about it here. Between the model of Kennedy Space Center made out of LEGO bricks and the "business cards" that LEGO employees carry with them, it seems like a terrific place to work at :-)

Iraqi uranium: It was never a threat

Three times today I've been sent or otherwise directed to the following from Investor's Business Daily...
"Hear about the 550 metric tons of yellowcake uranium found in Iraq? No? Why should you? It doesn’t fit the media's neat story line that Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed no nuclear threat when we invaded in 2003. It's a little known fact that, after invading Iraq in 2003, the U.S. found massive amounts of uranium yellowcake, the stuff that can be refined into nuclear weapons or nuclear fuel, at a facility in Tuwaitha outside of Baghdad. In recent weeks, the U.S. secretly has helped the Iraqi government ship it all to Canada, where it was bought by a Canadian company for further processing into nuclear fuel --- thus keeping it from potential use by terrorists or unsavory regimes in the region. This has been virtually ignored by the mainstream media. Yet, as the AP reported, this marks a 'significant step toward closing the books on Saddam's nuclear legacy.' Seems to us this should be big news. After all, much of the early opposition to the war in Iraq involved claims that President Bush 'lied' about weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam posed little if any nuclear threat to the U.S. This more or less proves Saddam in 2003 had a program on hold for building WMD and that he planned to boot it up again soon... Saddam acquired most of his uranium before 1991, but still had it in 2003, when invading U.S. troops found the stuff... That means Saddam held onto it for more than a decade. Why? He hoped to wait out U.N. sanctions on Iraq and start his WMD program anew. This would seem to vindicate Bush's decision to invade."
No, it does not.

This type of uranium was never weapons grade, and was under constant seal and supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. For the most part it was leftover from Iraq's foray into nuclear power (which didn't get far) but some of it was also medical waste.

Had Saddam tried to touch the stuff to make a nuclear weapons program out of it, it would have raised red flags bigtime and everyone would have been parked on his front lawn to demand that he stop.

If Saddam seriously wanted a nuclear weapons program, he should have never invaded Kuwait. But that's another story...

Uranium by itself is not fuel for a nuclear warhead. It takes a lot of processing to make it useful as a weapon. And I don't know if Iraq had either the technical means or the expertise to have even begun to attempt such a thing.

I've spoken with a lot of people in the field of nuclear engineering in the past few days and each of them has shared similar sentiments.

I've already shared this with one friend today. As I told her then, I'm not trying to "pick an argument" with anyone. But those are pretty much the facts of the matter. And it's better to educate people about what uranium can and can't do on its own, rather than give in to fear and worse: political convenience.

TRANSFORMERS concept art includes unused aircraft carrier

A year ago the big movie in theaters was Transformers, which Yours Truly may have become overwhelmed with enthusiasm about especially in regards to its awesome orchestral score :-) If you couldn't get enough the first time, right now production is under way on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (I'm still saying Michael Bay is trying to fake us out with that title) and it'll hit screens next June. Meanwhile...

Tim Flattery and James Clyne have just published on their respective websites some of the concept art that they came up with for the first Transformers movie. Clyne's work includes some terrific depictions of Megatron being held captive by Sector 7 and Scorponok's attack on the SOCCENT survivors. Flattery's art features a lot of paintings of the often-mentioned aircraft carrier Transformer (said to have been a Decepticon) that Bay wanted to use in the first movie...

Maybe it's a good idea the aircraft carrier wasn't used: the poor guy in that picture probably needed some clean underwear after seeing that thing rising out of the water :-P

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Tons of details emerge about Rock Band 2

In the past few days lots of confirmed (and some not quite confirmed but it's looking good) info has come out about Rock Band 2, Harmonix and MTV Games' follow-up to last year's smash hit music game Rock Band.

According to a press release by Harmonix, Rock Band 2 is going to be completely backward compatible with the peripherals and downloaded songs from Rock Band. Which is good news for people like those of us in the Knight household who have been purchasing dozens of new tracks through Xbox Live Marketplace (speaking of which, Lisa and I have gotten pretty good at Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville").

And speaking of instruments, Ars Technica has word that Rock Band 2 is going to boast much improved hardware, like a wireless drum set (with metal-reinforced pedal) and a far better guitar - also wireless - than the one that came packaged with Rock Band. I've been using the controller from Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock since my birthday: hopefully the strum bar on the Rock Band 2 guitar has been made sturdier than the original. I'm hearing mixed word about whether the microphone will be wireless but most likely it'll still connect via USB cable (so don't go too wild, unless you want to tear apart your entertainment center :-) There's also going to be a Drum Trainer mode that is being touted as something that can teach a person how to play the real thing.

The most-requested feature since Rock Band came out has been a World Tour mode that lets you play with friends in remote locations. Folks, Harmonix listened and Harmonix responded: Rock Band 2 will feature Online World Tour that lets you form a band with friends no matter how far away (so long as they're on Earth 'course) and challenge other groups to a virtual battle of the bands.

Here's a cool feature: player-created characters will now be able to play on more than just one kind of instrument. And... word is that you will be able to both play an instrument and sing at the same time! Time to get a mike stand (provided Harmonix doesn't pack one in the Rock Band 2 box, which it wouldn't surprise me if they did). There will also be pre-packaged characters, for those who want to jump in the game right out of the box... although as much fun as we have with our on-screen avatars in The Knight Shift (yeah that's the name of our band) I'm betting the desire to stay with the pre-configs will be fleeting. There will also be a lot more clothing, accessories, hairstyles and tattoos that you can deck your 'toon out with. Stuff.tv is also reporting that you'll be able to print up posters and other goodies of your band characters through the Rock Band website.

And then there are the songs. In addition to all the downloadable tracks from Rock Band (and I'm hearing that future tracks will be compatible with both Rock Band and Rock Band 2, not to mention the rumor going around that Harmonix is going to offer the entire tracklist from the original Rock Band disc as a free download) there will be more than 80 tracks - all master recordings - on the Rock Band 2 disc. The ones confirmed so far include "Give It Away" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Pump It Up" by Elvis Costello (a performer that a lot of Rock Band players have wanted to be represented), "Anyway You Want It" by Journey, and a bunch others. And Harmonix is saying that plenty more tracks will be on the way via download.

Can't wait to get this! Rock Band is the most-played game at our place, and every time we have guests visiting the guitars and drums inevitably get brought out for a jam session, sometimes lasting for hours! I think that Harmonix is definitely evolving the Rock Band brand in the right direction: not so much as a "franchise" but more of a platform on which to keep building and getting better. Hopefully by the time we have kids old enough, Rock Band 7 will be out :-)

Robot beating humans at air hockey

EETimes.com has an article about a robot that plays air hockey against humans... and is playing it very well.

Here's video of the robot in action...

Chuck Baldwin: Today's Christians have no real faith

In his latest essay, Chuck Baldwin - pastor and the Constitution Party's candidate for President - presents a very strong case that in spite of their words, most of today's Christians... do not truly place their faith in God at all, but rather put their faith in their own understanding and the schemes of this world.

Writes Baldwin...

Most everyone, including Christian people, realize that our country is in a mess. They readily agree that a divine healing is needed. They even use the great stories and examples of the Bible to teach our boys and girls how to obey and trust God. They extol the examples of Daniel, the three Hebrew children, Simon Peter and the Apostles, etc. They use these stories to illustrate the importance of putting obedience to God and God's principles above the machinations and demands of men.

When it comes to voting for and supporting candidates who have proven themselves to be unfaithful to the fundamental principles of liberty and good government, however, these same Christians suddenly become enamored with "the lesser of two evils," and pragmatism. Doing right gives way to being "practical," and standing for principle gives way to "not throwing my vote away."

Had Daniel been "practical," he would have stopped praying for a few weeks and stayed out of the lions' den. Had the three Hebrew children been "pragmatic," they would have given a symbolic bow to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar. And I can just hear Christians living in the First Century talking about how they would vote for Nero over Caligula, as he would be "the lesser of two evils."

There's more at the above link. It's a damning article. It should be a damning article! It's something that should be read by every professing follower of Christ throughout America especially, since too many of us do opt to "vote for the lesser of two evils" instead of embracing and using the freedom that God has given us.

As a friend of mine said awhile back, "No real Christian given completely to God could vote for Obama, or McCain, or Clinton, and no real Christian could ever have voted for George W. Bush."

I agree.

Coming soon...

The investigative report that will scare the hell out of darn near everybody.

Why are some people in this area now packing heat?

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

NASA unveils final Space Shuttle flight schedule

There are ten more missions for the Space Shuttle fleet, as NASA has revealed the final slate of missions before the system is retired, after what will be 29 years of service. Endeavour is set to be the last one that will launch, with a mission scheduled for May 31, 2010 to bring spare parts to the International Space Station.

After Endeavour lands, NASA plans to begin using the new Ares launch vehicle (currently in preparation for testing), which will be carrying the Orion crew module. In the meantime, the station will be serviced by Japanese, ESA and Russian craft for supplies. Including the Soyuz, which it's safe to say has gained far more respect in recent years than it ever had before in its long and admirable history... which predates the American-made Space Shuttle by fifteen years!

I've got mixed feelings about seeing the Space Shuttle program retired. On one hand, it fulfilled the role that it was meant to play. But then, I wonder if maybe we came to rely on the Space Shuttle too much, and got lulled into complacency with it. It's like this: sending men and women into low-Earth orbit is always going to be a thrilling albeit risky venture. But it's not real manned space exploration. The last time we could say that we did that was Apollo 17 in 1972: the last time man walked on the Moon.

Maybe going back to the basics with Ares and Orion will be a better thing than we yet realize.

My wife, the political activist and teachers advocate

A few months ago my wife Lisa shared on her own blog her thoughts and experiences about the problems with the federal government's teacher loan forgiveness. She's received quite a bit of correspondence since then from teachers all over the country who have experienced similar frustrations.

Well, now Lisa is taking it an extra mile further by directly petitioning not only her own senators and governor, but some of those who created the legislation that led to this. You can read the full text of the letter she has sent out here.

Wouldn't it be neat if we wound up seeing Lisa testifying on live television before a congressional committee in Washington D.C.? :-)

Video tribute to Uga VI

Uga VI was laid to rest at Sanford Stadium on the campus of University of Georgia last week. Uga VII has been picked already and will be revealed later this summer. Don't worry though: word is that the next to the throne is a pup sired by Uga VI, so the line that stretches all the way back to Uga I will continue.

In the meantime, there have been many tribute videos to Uga VI that I've found on YouTube. Here's one of them, accompanied by some classic Ray Charles music...

Happy 10th anniversary to TheForce.net!

It was ten years ago today - on July 8th, 1998 - that TheForce.net, considered by many to be the best and most-visited Star Wars fan-operated website on the Internet, was born.

(Okay, if we're going to get technical it was actually spawned in 1996 as the "Star Wars Site At Texas A & M" by roomies Scott Chitwood and Darin Smith. But TheForce.net became its very own "fully armed and operational battle station" ten years ago today.)

I spent more than two years as an active staff member of TheForce.net, from winter of 2000 on through a little after getting married in 2002. That was the time when Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was in production. And if I tried sharing all the crazy "war stories" that I saw happen in that time, it would become the biggest post in the entire 5-some year history of this blog. To have been part of TheForce.net staff during production of a Star Wars movie was almost like being involved in a very wacky world of political intrigue, deep-cover espionage and the occasional threat of litigation... all regarding a science-fiction film franchise! And most of that stuff I'm still keeping to a vow of secrecy on.

Three things that I'll share here that I remember from my time there. The first was when the reports got out that boy band 'N Sync had filmed a cameo appearance (reputedly as Jedi Knights fighting in the arena battle) for Star Wars Episode II. I was the editor of the TheForce.net's Humor section at the time. In one day, Humor's e-mail address got slammed with more than five hundred 'N Sync-related jokes... to say nothing of all the artwork that came flooding in! I still have it and everything else pertaining to my time on TheForce.net backed up on spare hard drives. Someday I'll show it to the kiddies :-)

The second was, of course, when I used TheForce.net to propose to my wife Lisa (the original picture went missing from the site during an upgrade, but I've still got it).

And the third was what I have come to regard as TheForce.net's finest hour. The day when the staff and readers of the site became more than fans or friends: we became family. It began one Tuesday morning in September, 2001. In the hours and days following the 9/11 attacks, TheForce.net's message board became a rallying point for those with loved ones in New York City and Washington. People used the forum to make sure that others that they knew were okay. I wish I could say that everyone was accounted for... but that wasn't to be. Among TheForce.net's readers were people trapped in the World Trade Center and some of the firefighters and other rescue workers who died trying to save lives that day. Still others relayed eyewitness accounts of what happened: one friend from the site was walking on the street right below the first tower that was hit, and she had to run for cover in a nearby subway entrance to escape the falling debris.

It was one of those moments that either sadly or fortunately are all too few, when you realize that what you do on the Internet really does go out to a larger world. That there are people out there who are trying to be as happy with their lives as you are. That those others that you work with and read your words, they are just as precious in God's eyes as you or anyone else.

Sobering stuff. Who'da thought that a Star Wars website could evoke so much thought? But that's always been a hallmark of TheForce.net.

Looking back, I think that TheForce.net became a very unique and wonderful part of my growth experience. Admittedly not all of it was fun: there were some times that it was a lot of hard work and frustration. There were even times when words were said among some, the kind of which that in retrospect you wish that you could take back. But through it all, there was a love and devotion to a very special mythology that, I like to think anyway, we were all trying to share an appreciation for toward others. And in our own way, this was how we tried to make the world a little better place than we found it. The time I spent with TheForce.net produced some of the best work that I ever did. I'll always be proud of that... and even more proud of the people that I got to work with.

So to Scott, Darin, Josh, Anthony, Dustin, Roderick, Helen, Carter, Jeff, Nicole, Philip, and everyone else who's worked on TheForce.net over the years, and to all the faithful readers... happy anniversary! :-)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Quote of the day

"How can you call yourself a real camper if you don't know what a latrine is?"

-- Me, to someone who shall remain anonymous (on penalty of severe injury)

Disney has new business: munitions!

Walt Disney World has declared that its employees will be exempt from a new Florida law allowing citizens of that state to keep personal firearms locked in their cars while at work.

And how exactly does a company like Disney - which is Florida's largest single-site employer - get around law like that?

By taking advantage of a loophole that was added to the bill just as it was approved as legislation that "creates an exception for companies whose primary business is to manufacture, use, store or transport explosives regulated under federal law."

Since Walt Disney World has a permit for the vast arsenal of fireworks it keeps on its grounds for its famous pyrotechnics shows, the company is construing that this exception can apply to them and is thus legally declaring their company to be a munitions dealer!

Maybe Disney can transfer John Locke from its Buena Vista division to oversee its new operations. After all, "You never know when a little C4 might come in handy." :-P

Party Über Alles: Republican leadership will shaft conservative activists again

MSNBC has an article about conservative-leaning members of the Republican Party who are trying to de-rail what they see as John McCain's extreme policies regarding immigration, the environment and several other issues. Lots of the Republican "grassroots" don't want McCain's views to be implemented in the party's official platform when they have their upcoming national convention.

But this quote by a McCain spokesperson says it all...

"We are confident that this process will produce a platform that all Republicans will enthusiastically support," said Joe Pounder, a McCain spokesman. "Our party is united, and will continue to work together to elect John McCain in November."
This is by and large the line by the Republican National Committee as well.

Once again, as has happened too many times from "the party of principle", the Republicans are going to throw out all principle just for sake of getting "an electable candidate".

And you wouldn't believe the stuff that I'm seeing on the Free Republic site these days so far as getting McCain to win goes. It's... well, downright Clintonian how they're thinking. Rush Limbaugh used to quip that the motto of the Clinton Administration was "How can we fool them today?" For too many of the "Party Über Alles" Republican die-hards, that's now become their own mindset as well.

Back to the topic at hand: there are still plenty of true-believers in the Republican rank and file who sincerely care about issues like stopping illegal immigration and abortion. But it's now well past time for them to leave the Republican Party. Because the Republican leadership does not give a damn about such things. The fact that it has fought tooth and nail against its own candidates who are sincerely interested in such matters, and that it has now produced someone like John McCain to be its standard-bearer, screams more about what's wrong with it than I could possibly devote the time to writing about here.

Hell, this is the same party leadership that forced George W. Bush on us... 'nuff said.

Although I do not call myself a conservative (or any other label), I do profess that my own leanings are very much toward what would be defined as "conservative" in the traditional sense. And I'm saying once again: real conservatives have no place, and are not welcome, in the Republican Party by its leadership. And it is foolish to continue putting any measure of faith in that party at all.

No, I'm not voting for Obama either. I'm not voting for either one of the two clowns from "the major parties" for President. As things stand now it'll be either a vote for Ron Paul (as I've already indicated I'll probably do) or Chuck Baldwin.

But McCain or Obama? If I was forced to choose either from among those two or be on the receiving end of a Coca-Cola enema, I'll pick the enema.

Sex in space "inevitable" says experts

A Japanese firm is offering weddings in space beginning next year, and now officials with both state-sponsored space agencies and private corporations are beginning to openly concede that sexual intercourse beyond the confines of the Earth is going to happen... if it hasn't already (NASA is tight-lipped about whether it's taken place on the International Space Station or a shuttle flight).

Of especially great concern is what will happen on a long-term mission, like the ones now in the planning stages for a manned flight to Mars, or even an extended stay on something as relatively close by as the Moon. Space experts agree that humans are, by nature, beings who require sexual activity and expression in order to remain both emotionally and physically healthy. In more than forty years of forays into space, we've learned how to deal with just about every other human physiological need... and now we're going to have to confront the final frontier if we are to consider going any further.

It all sounds funny. But it's not.

Think about it: if we are bent on being an extra-planetary species, then what's going to happen to children who are conceived, and then grow up, in either a micro-gravity environment, or on a world with two-thirds or less of Earth's gravity? The movie WALL-E had some fun with that idea. But in reality, someone who matured in such an environment might very well die if he or she came to Earth, from failure of the body to acclimate to the higher gravity.

(And on a geeky note, the failed ABC pilot movie Plymouth back in 1991 took a very serious and engaging approach to this notion. It was yet another idea for a television series that was way ahead of its time...)

Of course, it would be remiss if one did not note that at least this would bring a whole new meaning to the term "panspermia"...

Okay, I'm stopping now.

New sport: Chess Boxing!

19-year old Russian math student Nikolai Sazhin has won the title of world chess boxing champion. Chess boxing is a new "sport" that was inspired by a French cartoon back in the Nineties. Competitors like Italy's Gianluca Sirc (shown in the photo) meet in the center of a boxing ring and play chess for 4 minutes. Then the board is cleared away and the contestants duke it out for 3 minutes in a regulation boxing match. A chess boxing match consists of 6 rounds of chess and 5 rounds of boxing. The winner is decided by checkmate, knockout, or points.

Maybe this can be an Olympic sport someday! :-)

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Full review of "Journey's End" season finale of DOCTOR WHO

This episode seems to have honked off some people. Probably the ones who lost lots of money wagering on the outcome of the cliffhanger from "The Stolen Earth".

Yeah, it helps to unhinge your mind from common sense and real-world physics while watching "Journey's End", the finale for Season 4 (or is that 28?) of Doctor Who. But you know what? I don't care... 'cuz this was about the most perfect season finale of a television show that I've ever seen, and if this had been the very last episode of Doctor Who ever, it would be enough to let me die a satisfied man.

Okay, if you read this blog you know the drill: "thanks to our Brittish brethren across the pond" for putting it on the Internet after it premiered on the BBC last night, yaddah yaddah, cue the standard screencap and select quotes...

"Now then... where were we?"

"You can hug me if you want. No really, you can hug me."


"What have I ever done? I'm a temp from Chiswick."

"Right now that wooden door... is just wood."

"You were brilliant. And you were brilliant. And you were brilliant."

"You are connected to the TARDIS. Now feel it die!"

"You're naked!"

"That's disgusting!"

"We were always heading for this."

"So cold and dark... fire is coming... the endless flames..."

"Oh that's it! The anger, the fire, the rage of at Time Lord who butchered millions. There he is. Why so shy? Show your companion. Show her your true self. Dalek Caan has promised me that, too."

"Behold the apotheosis of my genius."

"No, Davros! DAVROS YOU CAN'T! YOU CAN'T! NO!!!"

"It's not over yet sweetheart!"

"Just my luck. I climb through two miles of ventilation shaft chasing life signs on this thing, and who do I find? Mickey Mouse!"

"I don't want my name on this, given what we are about to do."

"Oh my God. He found you."

"Captain Jack Harkness calling all Dalek boys and girls! Are you receiving me?"

"Impossible. That face. After all these years... you were there on Skaro at the very beginning of my creation."

"The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun. But this is the truth, Doctor: you take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons. Behold your children of time transformed into murderers. I made the Daleks, Doctor. You made this. How many more? Just think. How many have died in your name? The Doctor: the man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not, out of shame. This is my final victory, Doctor. I have shown you yourself."

"Donna you can't even change a plug!"

"Because you two were both Time Lords!"

"I can't tell you what I'm thinking right now!"

"I am The Doctor!"

"Never forget Doctor: YOU DID THIS! I name you, forever, you are the DESTROYER OF WORLDS!!!"

"Affirmative, mistress!"

"You've got the biggest family on Earth."

"Anything! Brand new life! Just you watch."

"That's me, when we first met. And you made me better."

"When I last stood on this beach on the worst day of my life, what was the last thing you said to me? Go on, say it."

"I was going to be with you forever. The rest of my life. Traveling in the TARDIS."

"Oh, Donna Noble, I am so sorry. But we had the best of times. The best. Goodbye."

"They will never forget her..."

"But every night, Doctor, when it gets dark, and the stars come out, I'll look up, on her behalf, I'll look up at the sky and think of you."

The final scene of last week's Doctor Who left millions of fans on tenterhooks: The Doctor was regenerating after being shot by a Dalek... so what was he going to look like this time? Which actor would now play The Doctor? Without spoiling anything more, I'll just say that particular plot point gets taken care of within the first minute. Personally, I loved it!

"Journey's End" ran 65 minutes long and it was packed with not just some of the best action sequences of the story to date... but also what might be among the best dialogue in Doctor Who history. This was Russell T. Davies's final regular episode as showrunner (although he'll be producing this year's Christmas special and next season's three Doctor Who television movies also) and let's face it: the guy has drawn some flack for episodes such as "Love & Monsters" and the like. But you know what? Between "The Stolen Earth" last week, and how he did "Journey's End", I'm going to completely overlook those few low moments of his tenure. Because I would be lying through my teeth if I did not say that I screamed with horror, then screamed with joy, and had tears of both laughter and sadness and then ultimately triumph from watching "Journey's End".

This was a love letter episode not only to Davies's own work, but to all the faithful fans of Doctor Who across the years, including those who watched the original run. The scene where Davros recognizes Sarah Jane from the very first time that they met, and you gotta bear in mind that this was from "Genesis of the Daleks" all the way back in 1975, and watching Elisabeth Sladen portray genuine horror and then radiant defiance at this twisted freak just as she did over thirty years ago... I loved that! And then later on in the episode, the scene that will forever come to mind whenever I think of Doctor Who: the TARDIS, that brave little blue police box, pulling the entire planet Earth all the way across the universe back to its proper home while The Doctor and his friends operate the controls. If there was a single moment from the almost half-century of Doctor Who that symbolizes the spirit and hope of this show, then that is it.

But it's not the effects or the little "geek" nods that made "Journey's End" one of the most astounding episodes of television in recent memory. It was the characters and how Davies used them, perhaps more poignantly than has ever been done in Doctor Who history, to show us what it means to be The Doctor. And of all the moments in "Journey's End", none more illustrates this than when Davros confronts The Doctor and forces him to realize the horrible truth: that The Doctor, for all his desire to save every life, inevitably uses those closest to him in his pursuit of good... and that they are all too often hurt and even die because of him.

It's one of the most powerful moments of Doctor Who ever, and it helps to make Julian Bleach's portrayal of Davros possibly the finest of the show's entire run. A lot of fans have argued over the years that it's Davros, and not The Master, who is The Doctor's true supreme nemesis. After Bleach's turn in the role, I think there's no doubt about that now. Davros now stands alone as the one villain who is the complete and full counter to everything The Doctor stands for... and in his own way, he's done it by showing that he and The Doctor are not very unlike at all.

Dear Lord, I've got to watch myself or I'm going to totally spill the beans about this episode to anyone who hasn't watched it yet!

The conclusion of "Journey's End" was the best ending possible, and I don't think there was anything wrong with it (though plenty enough people are saying that Davies wasted an opportunity... personally, I can't see it). This was the final chapter of one volume of The Doctor's adventures, and true to The Doctor's nature it ended as happily as could have been hoped for, albeit not without loss. And like I said earlier, had this been the final Doctor Who episode ever, this would have been a very fitting and towering conclusion...

...but also in keeping with the spirit of Doctor Who, there is always a new adventure waiting to happen.

David Tennant was terrific, as always. Catherine Tate was stupendous and for her work this season, she is always going to have a special place on my list of favorite companions. Billie Piper and John Barrowman and Noel Clarke and Camille Coduri and Freema Agyeman, and especially the ever-lovely Elisabeth Sladen: in their own way they made this such an unforgettably beautiful episode. Julian Bleach channeled Emperor Palpatine and Hannibal Lecter into his turn as Davros... and I hope we get to see him many more times in the future. Bernard Cribbins again showed why he has been one of the best things to ever happen to Doctor Who since the show returned. The whole cast was terrific... but I especially have to say that I was delighted that John Leeson got to provide his voice for a certain classic Doctor Who character ;-)

Murray Gold deserves a ton of awards for the music he has composed for this season of Doctor Who but especially for the past several episodes beginning with "Silence in the Library". The themes that he came up with for "Journey's End" are nothing short of magnificent. The CD of this season's soundtrack cannot arrive fast enough: just for the theme where the TARDIS is pulling the Earth through space, I will buy this as soon as it comes out.

All in all, "Journey's End" was not only the best way to end not just an over-the-top wonderful season of Doctor Who, but a fitting tribute to the man who brought the show back from its long hiatus. My hat's off to ya, Mr. Davies!

On my rating of Doctor Who episodes, "Journey's End" gets the full Five Sonic Screwdrivers!

Coming to the BBC on December 25th, 2008: The Doctor faces the return of the Cybermen. So if you've been following these review of new Doctor Who episodes all season long, I'll see ya again probably the day after Christmas!