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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Is it just me...

...or does this photo on the Drudge Report right now of Manhattan getting drenched by Hurricane Irene tonight seriously look like a scene from Blade Runner?

Hope y'all are safe and dry tonight.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Gray Man of Hatteras: Hurricane warning system from the Great Beyond

Hurricane Irene should be thrashing the coast pretty hard come this time tomorrow. As of this writing it's a Category 2 storm: weaker than it had been a day ago but still capable of tremendous devastation. Thoughts and prayers going out to those in the eastern part of North Carolina and the rest of Irene's projected path.

A hurricane is never something to take lightly. But given the current situation, I thought it might be neat to all the same share with this blog's readers something that I've always thought was an intriguing story from the already rich culture of North Carolina's Outer Banks. And it is perhaps the most unusual (some say the most accurate) hurricane warning system anywhere...

The Gray Man of Hatteras is a ghost reputed to haunt the beaches in the vicinity of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. If beaches are haunted then I suppose there are few pieces of coastal real estate with as much merit as Cape Hatteras: more than a thousand shipwrecks litter the waters of "the Graveyard of the Atlantic". Over the past few hundreds of years about as many people have lost their lives to hurricanes that Hatteras - jutting out into the Atlantic like a brawler's jaw daring to be hit - seems to draw unto itself.

One of those who are said to have perished was a sailor named Gray, who died in a hurricane off Cape Hatteras sometime in the early 1900s. And ever since, every time that a hurricane takes aim at the Outer Banks, Gray's ghost comes out of nowhere to warn residents and visitors to leave the island... and then abruptly vanishes right before their eyes.

I heard that the Gray Man of Hatteras was last seen before Floyd, one of the most destructive hurricanes in recent history, struck in 1999. He is said to have been witnessed before the arrival of every hurricane. Dunno if the Gray Man has been spotted ahead of Irene this week but somehow, I wouldn't doubt it.

CreepyNC.com has more about the Gray Man of Hatteras. And if you have met him lately, do the right thing and head for the hills: the dude does apparently have some experience with this sort of thing... even if he is dead :-P

Thursday, August 25, 2011

And now Hurricane Irene is bearing down on us...

In the past week or so I've had, in no particular order: food poisoning, a sick family member, me getting sick (again), earthquake, extended travel, technical problems which kept me away from this blog, and various metaphysical crises...

...so here comes Irene.

Getting a bad vibe about this one, folks. A lot like the one I had back in '96 when Fran came roaring ashore. Even as far inland as Elon it kicked the slats out of everyone bigtime.

Got to have a healthy respect for a hurricane. Admiration, even. A hurricane really is an amazing mechanism: a heat and thermal dispersal engine of ginormous magnitude. Without hurricanes, the oceans - and the Earth in general - would become much too warm. So in a sense, hurricanes are an asset.

But even so, to be in the path of one truly is like looking down the barrel of God's shotgun.

Longtime readers know how much of a hurricane nut I am, soooo I'll be blogging about it as best I can while also catching up on all this other stuff. In the meantime, especially to our friends at the coast: y'all stay safe!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

5.9 earthquake rocked this house!!!

Looks like I picked the wrong day to start blogging again...

The 5.9 magnitude earthquake epicentered near Richmond, Virginia shook my house west of Reidsville, North Carolina for... darn nearly 30 seconds! Okay, probably not that long but it sure as hell felt long enough. I was working on some stuff on my iPad while sitting up on my bed when I felt the bed shake and heard the windows creaking. First thing I thought was "wow, that wind sure is strong..." Then I looked outside and saw that there was no wind.

Getting reports from friends all over: my girlfriend's apartment shook a few hours north of here. Good friend Chad in Cary felt it there. Folks as far away as Cleveland, Ohio and southwest North Carolina are saying it shook them too.


Okay, I know there are lots of you who are like "Chris, this is no big deal." Maybe for good people in California or so but we are not used to this. I have never experienced an earthquake before and all my life I've heard about how unsettling it is. How treacherous an emotion it is, to have the ground beneath you start shaking without warning.

I had never known what it must be to have that feeling. This afternoon, I know.

Okay, gonna try to blog about more... stuff... now. Had some technical difficulties during most of the past week and then was trapped out of town last night. Back in the saddle now. And I didn't even have to resort to posting funny pictures of my girlfriend's cats either... :-P

Y'all stay safe out there!

Friday, August 19, 2011

"WILMAAAAA!" Driver tries to brake truck... with his feet

"This guy ain't no rocket scientist", said a deputy police chief about a dude in Michigan who tried to pull a Fred Flintstone... by attempting to stop his pickup truck with his feet! He caused two collisions before he was finally stopped (turns out the brakes on the truck weren't working).

Story and video here.

Paul Jr. Designs rolls out a GEARS OF WAR 3 chopper

It ain't hard envisioning Marcus Fenix riding this lil' baby around while blasting grubs (hey CliffyB, is it too late to put that into the game?)...

Paul Jr. from the hit show American Chopper created this custom trike inspired by Gears of War 3 (coming out next month). Looks gnarly! Dad loves to watch American Chopper whenever it's on so I'll be looking forward to watching it with him when we see how Paul Jr. and his crew assembled this one :-)

Look! It's a new blog post!

So this past week didn't go as planned. I blame that pesky thing called "real life" (as reliable an excuse as anything :-P)

And last night my girlfriend said that she's missed me posting anything this past week. I told her before I left that I'd be sure to put up something for her to read. Maybe even quite a few things today.

Awright then... Hey Kristen! Hope you're having a great morning honey! I'll do my best to keep you at least moderately entertained until you get off work this afternoon ;-)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Take the weekend off!

For y'all who have e-mailed wondering where I've been: just been busy with stuff on this end.

Come back Monday. There'll start to be plenty more bloggin' then, including (at last) pics and video of the Popcorn Sutton Acoustic Jam last week.

Until then, it's a nice weekend. Go out and play :-)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gary Ceres: Tellin' it like it is about thinking for ourselves!

Gary Ceres is one of the coolest most awesomest cats that I've ever known. He and I met during our very first week at Elon (when it was still Elon College) and... well I can put it no plainer than this: I've learned lots of good stuff from him about making mischief for the publick good! Like that poster of Hillary Clinton that we put up all over campus on the night before the 1996 election, but I digress...

Anyhoo, Gary has written an excellent op-ed piece that has been published in the Washington Times News (out of Washington, North Carolina). In it he takes an incident that happened while he was recently traveling across the state, and develops it into an essay about how it is that we no longer think for ourselves... but rather let politicians and dumb machines do the "thinking" for us. Here's an excerpt:

t’s not just the annoying shift of a light from a flashing red hand to a white pedestrian walking that we have willingly chosen to surrender our common sense to, but also the bureaucracy, particularly city-wide, that seeks not to govern us but to dictate to us on a daily basis the most inane decisions of everyday life. Why make such a statement? Well, firstly, of course, because it’s true. Secondly, maybe because we actually shouldn’t.

Now I am not advocating any type of civil disobedience or anarchy or any thing of the sort. As John Locke wrote of in his “Second Treatise on Government,” the social contract is necessary to preserve individual liberties. But when we allow ourselves to be ruled by the absurdity governing how many feet from a curb we have to place a sign, or whether we need someone’s permission to replace a door knob, or whether we have to beg for an extension on an absurdly high utility bill before a government worker, well, something is rotten in Denmark.

Click here for the rest of Gary's article.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Chris declares RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is THE best movie of Summer 2011!

So after a generally satisfying summer of comic book heroes and villains, transmorphing mechanical organisms, horrible bosses, aliens and then cowboys and aliens at the box office, was this blogger ready to go ape?

Let's put it this way: I left the theater thinking that Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the biggest and most pleasant surprise of a movie that I had seen this entire year! And in many ways this movie's grasp and execution of concept exorbitantly surpasses that of the 1968 original film.

Now, I love the original film with Charlton Heston like all get out. The '68-vintage Planet of the Apes will forever be a classic movie. But y'know, for audiences forty-some years on, the notion of an Earth taken over by simians could be... a bit more "boss", as they used to put it. As an example of filmmaking of its own time (a criteria that I judge all movies with) it will always stand tall. But you tell me if a new vision of an ape-dominated world could be focused on long oral diatribes of philosophical platitude and still be taken seriously by a 2011 audience.

That ain't what moviegoers want. And we didn't get it with Tim Burton's, ahem, "remake" in 2001 either: a film that was fun eye candy in the theater but has proven itself a frustrating movie in the decade since.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Rupert Wyatt, is the Apes movie that I didn't realize until yesterday that I had always wanted to see. At last we get absofrigginlutely real apes violently revolting against humanity in a bid to overturn the tables on the established order...

...and it is one hella fun ride that grabs you from the first moment and refuses to let go. But this movie is also the first time that the franchise has ever had a "hard science fiction" entry. By "hard science fiction" I'm thinking of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Moon. Movies that use science in all its brutally cold possibilities to explore the human condition.

Yeah, that's the ticket: if you want a day's double feature of hard sci-fi, watch Duncan Jones' brilliant movie Moon before going to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes. That oughtta give your gray matter plenty of rough sussin' afterwards to endure (in a good way).

Rise of the Planet of the Apes opens with a troop of chimpanzees on the move through the jungles of Africa. Several of them are captured by native hunters and shipped to the United States, to be sold to pharmaceutical research firm Gen Sys for animal experimentation of new drugs. Enter one Will Rodman (James Franco): Gen Sys's most hotshot researcher, hellbent on finding a cure for Alzheimer's so that his suffering father (wonderfully played by the all-too-rarely-seen-these-days John Lithgow) might overcome the neuro-degenerative disease and have a new lease on life. Will has been playing around with a compound called ALZ-112 and his main test subject - a female chimp nicknamed "Bright-Eyes" - begins to exhibit incredibly accelerated cognitive abilities. Unfortunately Bright-Eyes for no apparent reason (at first) goes nuts just as Will and his boss Jacobs (David Oyelowo) are presenting their research to the Gen Sys board of directors. Bright Eyes is put down, and the remaining chimps soon thereafter are killed... but not before Will and his staff discover that Bright-Eyes has given birth to a male baby that she was trying to protect.

Will takes the baby chimp home, and it's his father who, recollecting the works of Shakespeare, dubs the newborn "Caesar". During the next several minutes we are treated to a series of segments that follow Caesar's life from his arrival in the Rodman home until eight years later.

But it's not just Caesar's stature which has grown. Will realizes that the ALZ-112 given to Caesar's mother has horizontally transferred itself to Caesar, giving the chimp even greater mental capability than his mother possessed. Unfortunately Caesar's growing intellect is also coinciding with his increasing awareness that in a world controlled by humans, that he will never be anything more than a chimp on a leash (literally). Soon afterward there is an incident that gets Caesar court-ordered into a primatological compound run by John Landon (Brian Cox, who also shines in anything that he's in) and his sadistic son Dodge (Tom Felton, more cruel here than he ever was as Draco Malfoy). Meanwhile Will reveals to Jacobs what the ALZ-112 formula has done to his father and Caesar, and Gen Sys's research is on again... except that it soon becomes apparent that a different viral agent is needed to deliver the gene therapy to the brain.

So we wind up with Caesar: smarter than the average ape, and paddocked-in with dozens of maltreated simians. And a team of humans messin' around with things that in hindsight should not be meddled with. See the inevitable conflagration coming and you get a banana. But it's how the conflict erupts which is so beautifully orchestrated and totally unlike anything we've ever seen in an Apes movie before, that will leave you astounded and wanting more (and there'd better be more Apes movies after this one!).

Rupert Wyatt is a brand-new director to me, but after seeing this sophomore film (his first was The Escapist) I can only see good things to come from this guy. The script by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver flies at a brisk pace, and I was thrilled by all the references to the original movie: none of them pretentious but neither are they too subtle for Ape-ficianados (among others, look for a nod to the Statue of Liberty, and a very nice tribute to Maurice Evans, the actor who played Zaius in the first two films). In terms of special effects, this might be at once the most impressive work and also the most low-key that Weta Digital has pulled off yet. The rampaging apes fit so fluidly into the setting of modern-day San Francisco, you might think that you're watching a Discovery Channel special... until the apes begin their brutal exodus to freedom. And I thought that this was an excellent cast, which also includes Freida Pinto.

But if there is one element that makes Rise of the Planet of the Apes work more than anything else, it must be Andy Serkis. And it is positively fascinating to consider how his career has developed since his portrayal of Gollum in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings ten years ago. Serkis has four - count 'em, four - spoken words of dialogue in Rise of the Planet of the Apes... but he is easily the one pouring most of his strength and heart and soul into acting in this movie. Serkis's Caesar is the Gollum technique played to a whole 'nother level: the motion-capture stuff alone is beautiful to behold, but Serkis conveys entire paragraphs of exposition with only his eyes in this movie. And when the credits begin to roll and we see how humanity's days are soon numbered, it only leaves us hungering for more of Serkis as Caesar. A lot of people are saying that Serkis deserves a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in the next Academy Awards. Having seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you can notch me down as one of those folks.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the best movie that I have seen in this summer of the year of our Lord Two Thousand and Eleven. Had it come out a few months later it would have had no problem fitting itself among the slew of fall "Oscar contender" movies. But as it is, catch it at the theaters now for a midsummer night's healthy dose of serious science-fiction, highballin' fast action and morality tale about playing God with nature all rolled into one. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the best relaunch of a film series that I've seen since Batman Begins... and I for one hope these wacky apes keep raiding the box office for years to come. Absolutely highly recommended!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

I know how to fix the American economy

It's all really quite simple.

Eliminate the personal income tax.

Slash corporate taxes.

Implement the national retail sales tax.

Give corporate tax cuts for each time a company hires a certain number of employees domestically (to encourage the trend away from outsourcing).

Impose higher trade tariffs.

No more "most favored nation" trade status for anyone.

Eliminate a lot of burdensome regulation that stifles businesses.

Cut government spending!

Do those things, and just watch the United States heal itself financially. Get back our AAA rating from Standard & Poor's? Heck, we'd be the first country ever to get quadruple-A rating!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

One hundred years ago today...

...the First Lady of Television was born.

Six decades later, and we are still cracking up with laughter over Lucy's crazy shenanigans!

Happy One Hundredth Birthday to Lucille Ball. Gone from us, but never forgotten :-)

Thursday, August 04, 2011

My girlfriend dances a wicked Mambo!

Let's finish this day's blogging with a little culture, shall we?

Kristen, my girlfriend, is an absolute fiend for ballroom dancing. That is something that I've known since the very beginning of our relationship. She's already begun teaching me a few things like Rumba, Waltz etc. though it's gonna be awhile before I'm anywhere close to how good she is :-)

But this past weekend was the first time that I really got to see her practice her chosen art... and she completely astounded me with her ability! It's something that was just screaming to be shared on this blog.

So here's Kristen dancing Mambo. And I also recorded her doing a Waltz but my stupid finger was over the iPad's microphone during that performance (d'oh!)...

If y'all are good, maybe next time it'll be a clip of her and me doing a Waltz together ;-)

First pic of Henry Cavill as Superman!

Now this is what the Man of Steel should look like!

Click the above image to embiggenize our first look at Henry Cavill as Superman in the Zack Snyder-directed Man of Steel (now due out for 2013). Check out Supes' getup! Now that is a Superman that I would believe can not only fly but also kick the tails of Darkseid and Brainiac.

I am beginning to have a positive vibe about this film. Yesterday it was announced that Laurence Fishburne would be playing Perry White, and then there's Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, and Michael Shannon as General Zod (among others who have been cast for the film). And Zack Snyder had already pulled off the impossible when he adapted Watchmen (the Ultimate Cut, incorporating the animated pirate story into the main film, is by far the best of the three versions). Not to mention that overseeing this new Superman movie effort will be Christopher Nolan. Now all that's gotta be a recipe for pure awesome!

Dow Jones drops 513 points today

Read all about it here.

As for my comment about it, well...

Raoul Wallenberg and Dan Cooper: New clues in two massive mysteries

Sixty-six years after he disappeared into the prisons of the Soviet Union, new information has been discovered about the fate of Raoul Wallenberg.

Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who became one of the most revered heroes of World War II. At the height of the Holocaust, Wallenberg was able to rescue and shelter tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews who would have otherwise been dispatched to the concentration camps. When the Soviets liberated Budapest early in 1945, Wallenberg was taken into custody by the Russians on suspicion of being a spy for the United States. His fate remains unknown to this day. The Soviets reported two years later that Wallenberg had died in his cell... but there are reports that he was seen alive as late as 1987.

Now two researchers who have studied the case for decades have announced that they have discovered old Soviet files pertaining to Raoul Wallenberg: files which the Russian government has long claimed did not exist.

Meanwhile, there may (or may not) be new developments in the mystery of one of the most celebrated criminals in American history...

It was Thanksgiving eve
Back in 1971
He had on a pair of sunglasses
There wasn't any sun
He used the name Dan Cooper
When he paid for the flight
That was going to Seattle
On that cold and nasty night

-- from "The Ballad of D.B. Cooper"
by Chuck Brodsky

This coming November will mark the fortieth anniversary of Dan Cooper's daring skyjacking of that Boeing 727 between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. It was on the night before Thanksgiving in 1971 that a man calling himself "Dan Cooper" (often erroneously reported to be "D.B. Cooper") boarded the Northwest Orient Airlines flight, then claimed in mid-flight to have had a bomb. Upon landing Cooper demanded several parachutes and $200,000 in unmarked bills. The plane took off again and somewhere over the northwestern wilderness Cooper, laden with a parachute and the cash, jumped out of the plane into freezing rain and American legend. He was never seen again.

And now a woman has come forward with apparent evidence that Dan Cooper was her uncle. Federal investigators are looking into it.

The Dan Cooper mystery is something that I have been following since I was nine years old. Every few years it seems that there is a new development in the case. Personally, this is one mystery that I'd just as well prefer to see forever unsolved. Cooper never actually hurt anyone and his stunt... well, that took some serious brass ones to even conceive the plan for, never mind that he actually pulled it off, seemingly. Yeah he broke the law bigtime, but there aren't too many scoundrels that it can honestly be said were "heroic" in their misdeeds.

Dan Cooper... or whatever his real name might be... is one of them :-)

Swedish dude gets arrested for attempting nuclear reactions... in his apartment kitchen!

There's a chap named Richard Handl in southern Sweden who is right curious about things like physics and nuclear chemistry. So he, ummmm... attempted to build a nuclear breeder reactor in his flat's kitchen.

But it can't honestly be said that he had any nefarious motives, because Richard has a blog set up chronicling all the steps that he's taken on his lil' adventure into the world of fissionable atoms. He even documented a nuclear meltdown in his kitchen's oven.

Turns out though that splitting atoms at home is the sort of thing that the local constabulary (not to mention the Swedish Radiation Authority) tends to frown upon. Richard Handl was arrested several days ago. He's since been released from jail but his reactor equipment has been confiscated (and probably buried under several tons of concrete by now), but Handl is determined to continue his research at "the theoretical level".

Maybe Richard should hook up with David Hahn, AKA the infamous "Radioactive Boy Scout". I bet they'd have TONS of stuff to talk shop about! :-P

Monday, August 01, 2011

Bane and the bridesmaids

Photographer Jason Wickerham took some terrific photos over the weekend of filming of The Dark Knight Rises currently taking place in Pittsburgh. Near the Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute Building, there was a wedding going on at a church across the street and Jason caught this image of Tom Hardy, in full costume as mega-villain Bane, waving to the bridesmaids...

Click here to see more of Jason's photos, including some of the first shots anywhere of the Bane costume, more of the wedding party including the bride and groom being allowed to pose with the un-blackened Tumbler, Marion Cotillard in her costume, and some killer pics of Batman and Bane fighting it out... in broad daylight and falling snow?

The Dark Knight Rises next summer.