Blog Archives

Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)


“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

Statement released by the Armstrong family

I feel quite remiss in not mentioning some of the biggest–and saddest–news to come from the science and aviation worlds this past week.  Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on another world, has passed away due to complications from cardiac surgery.  The man was a hero to many people around the world and across generations; his historic journey happened nearly fifteen years before I was born, but he instantly found himself among my pantheon when I learned who he was and what he did.  To this day, I credit his story for my desire to fly, to discover, and to understand the universe around us.

I think my tardiness in this number has been due to a want to make a “proper” eulogy for someone who was monumentally important not only to me, but to human history.  However, from what I know of Mr. Armstrong, he was not a man of fanfare. Armstrong was a uniquely humble man, and wanted only to lead by example; a larger-than-life hero who was more down-to-earth than his achievements would insinuate.  Besides, I think Luna herself provided the most fitting tribute to the first human to visit her:

Neil Alden Armstrong passed away August 25 and was laid to rest on August 31, the night of the second full moon of the month.

Farewell, Mr. Armstrong, and godspeed. #WinkAtTheMoon

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)


“Everything that happens before Death is what counts.”

–Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes

Earlier this week, one of the greatest writers of our time (or any time) was taken from us.  I freely admit that I might have lifted a copy of Fahrenheit 451 from my school library, and it became one of those books that just changes your perspective forever.  Like The Power of Myth, 1984, and Anthem, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit spoke to me in a way that few books ever can.  In addition, as an avid fan of The Twilight Zone, Bradbury holds a special place for having written several episodes of the series.  So, to memorialize Mr. Bradbury, I just wanted to mark the end of the week with a post about him and top it off with a fitting tribute piece from a fellow DA Deviant, Gabriel Rodriguez.

“Bye, Ray, have a safe trip back home to the stars…” –Gabriel Rodriguez

2012 Transit of Venus


Sequence of images of 171 angstrom ultraviolet transit composited together to show path of Venus. [NASA]

In case you missed it Tuesday, the 2012 transit of Venus across the sun was one of the very rare astronomical events we “regular folk” can watch and appreciate with little scientific instrumentation.  Like eclipses, transits are one of the few “sciency things” that garner public attention and appreciation any more.  Tuesday’s transit, lasting about 6 hours, was the last time Earthlings will get to see our “sister planet” until December 2117.  Fortunately, our technology has improved a little bit since the last pair of transits, and we have been afforded multiple opportunities to watch the actual event.  I was watching the live webcast from the NOAA Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

Events like this always strike me with a real sense of scale and I am imbued with renewed reverence for the Universe itself and for modern science’s efforts to understand it.  Venus is nearly the same size as our own planet, yet it looks so small against the burning disc of the sun.  There are sunspots that look like tiny flecks on Sol’s surface which are, in reality, large enough to swallow our world whole.  Even solar prominences–massive plumes of plasma arcing across the solar surface–that could swallow Jupiter (a planet with a diameter 11 times that of our Earth’s) with little effort.

I think the Warners said it best when they stated that it’s “a great big Universe, and we’re not.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center released a stunning time-lapse video of the transit that’s available on YouTube and free download from their website.  The footage was shot from the Solar Dynamics Observatory and shows the transit in various wavelengths with varying levels of detail.  From Goddard Multimedia:

The videos and images displayed here are constructed from several wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light and a portion of the visible spectrum. The red colored sun is the 304 angstrom ultraviolet, the golden colored sun is 171 angstrom, the magenta sun is 1700 angstrom, and the orange sun is filtered visible light. 304 and 171 show the atmosphere of the sun, which does not appear in the visible part of the spectrum.

The Tandem Story


The professor told his class one day:  “Today we will experiment with a new form called the tandem story.  The process is simple:  Each person will pair off with the person sitting to his or her immediate right.  As homework tonight, one of you will write the first paragraph of a short story.  You will e-mail your partner that paragraph and send another copy to me.  The partner will read the first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story and send it back, also sending another copy to me.  The first person will then add a third paragraph, and so on back-and-forth.  Remember to re-read what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent.  There is to be absolutely NO talking outside of the e-mails and anything you wish to say must be written in the e-mail.  The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached.”

The following was turned in by two of his English students:  Rebecca and Gary.

THE STORY:

(first paragraph by Rebecca)

At first, Laurie couldn’t decide which kind of tea she wanted.  The chamomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked chamomile.  But she felt she must now, at all costs, keep her mind off Carl.  His possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him too much her asthma started acting up again.  So chamomile was out of the question.

(second paragraph by Gary)

Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about than the neuroses of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with whom he had spent one sweaty night over a year ago.

“A.S. Harris to Geostation 17,” he said into his transgalactic communicator.  “Polar orbit established. No sign of resistance so far…” But before he could sign off a bluish particle beam flashed out of nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship’s cargo bay.  The jolt from the direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.

(Rebecca)

He bumped his head and died almost immediately, but not before he felt one last pang of regret for psychically brutalizing the one woman who had ever had feelings for him.  Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4.  “Congress Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel,” Laurie read in her newspaper one morning.  The news simultaneously excited her and bored her.  She stared out the window, dreaming of her youth, when the days had passed unhurriedly and carefree, with no newspaper to read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent wonder at all the beautiful things around her.  “Why must one lose one’s innocence to become a woman?” she pondered wistfully.

(Gary)

Little did she know, but she had less than 10 seconds to live.  Thousands of miles above the city, the Anu’udrian mothership launched the first of its lithium fusion missiles.  The dim-witted wimpy peaceniks who pushed the Unilateral Aerospace disarmament Treaty through the congress had left Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires who were determined to destroy the human race.  Within two hours after the passage of the treaty the Anu’udrian ships were on course for Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet.  With no one to stop them, they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan.  The lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded.  The President, in his top-secret mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of Guam, felt the inconceivably massive explosion, which vaporized poor, stupid, Laurie and 85 million other Americans.  The President slammed his fist on the conference table.

“We can’t allow this!  I’m going to veto that treaty!  Let’s blow ’em out of the sky!”

(Rebecca)

This is absurd.  I refuse to continue this mockery of literature.  My writing partner is a violent, chauvinistic, semi-literate adolescent.

(Gary)

Yeah?  Well, my writing partner is a self-centered tedious neurotic whose attempts at writing are the literary equivalent of Valium.  “Oh, shall I have chamomile tea? Or shall I have some other sort of F–KING TEA???  Oh no, what am I to do?  I’m such an air-headed bimbo who reads too many Danielle Steele novels!”

(Rebecca)

Asshole.

(Gary)

Bitch

(Rebecca)

FUCK YOU, YOU NEANDERTHAL!

(Gary)

Go drink some tea, whore.

The pair received an A+ for their realistic portrayal of gender dynamics.

TSA: Grope & Pillage (An Infographic)


TSA Waste

This pretty much says all.

Happy Pi Day!


It’s Pi day!  Celebrate!  Also, happy birthday, Albert Einstein!

Hollywood and History


History: Hollywood Style!

The trouble with a history course centered around film is that one has to rely on Hollywood’s warped sense of historical accuracy. Generally speaking, reality doesn’t sell as well as something written by a halfway-creative studio ferret. In addition, directors, writers, and producers often have their own agendas to push through their work, so much of the accuracy gets distorted in the intricate process of filmmaking. However, one does the best that one can do with the arguably massive cinematic library that has been produced in the past hundred years or so. Even so, there are still some good picks and some not-as-good.

Besides being one of the most brilliant pieces of cinema ever created, Unforgiven made a place for itself as a revisionist western. Instead of romanticizing the pragmatic struggle against the elements—taming the land, and carving out a space for oneself on the frontier, the film shows the truth of life in the American wilderness: the lawlessness, the corruption, and the sheer danger encountered in the Old West. Until this point, the Western genre had mainly focused on the shimmering, wide-eyed optimism that almost reverberated tones of original “Go West” advertising campaigns that proliferated throughout the Eastern Seaboard of the 19th century. Gone, now, is the swaggering, lonesome hero in favour of the more historically-accurate pragmatist just trying to survive. In addition to being an excellent film, this—to me—makes Unforgiven particularly effective at exemplifying life on the American frontier and illustrating the historical context of the push westward.

Pictured: Hardened street thugs.

In The Heat of The Night is another particularly brilliant piece of cinema that also quite effectively highlights historical issues prevalent in the time period that it was made and set. Sydney Poitier’s Virgil Tibbs is thrust into the middle of a murder case in a small Southern town, which, adding insult to injury, happens to be quite contrary to the idea of a black man being so competent in the ways of homicide investigation. Initially, Tibbs is arrested on suspicion of murder solely by virtue of his being alone in a train station in the middle of the night with a pocket full of cash—something no innocent “negro” would be able to possess. The folly of the Sparta police department is further exemplified by their constant jumping to conclusions and arresting the wrong suspects while Tibbs digs further into places “he doesn’t belong” such as the local town Boss’s personal life. Tibbs’s struggle to obtain (and subsequently maintain) legitimacy in the eyes of the local police reflects the struggles of black people at large to obtain equal status in the eyes of the white majority not just in the South, but all across the country. At the same time, Tibbs also earns the respect and even the friendship of the chief of police. Eventually, the corrupt, old-world establishment is overturned, and things in Sparta begin to show signs of hope and change for the better just as the sixties and seventies did for the majority of blacks in America.

Although it is probably one of my new favourite films, and certainly worth watching for its cinematic merits, There Will Be Blood showed less about the pragmatism and pioneer spirit of the Westward Movement and more about the corruption and deceit of “Big Oil” and the megalomaniacs that allegedly run such “Big” industries: oil, steel, the railroad, and even modern entities like broadcast media. To me, the movie was more an allegory about the dangers of rampant, unchecked capitalism which came about after the West was “won.” Prime example is the fact that the plot is mostly set in the early years of the 20th century and centers around a man who doesn’t simply wish to survive, but who wants to build his own little revenue empire and—quite literally—wipe out all his competition. Daniel Day-Lewis’s Daniel Plainview did, at first, embody the pragmatic and individualist mindset of the Old West (note his surely-excruciating crawl back to town after breaking his leg in a mining accident), but as time moved on, his wealth and power began to corrupt him until he became a twisted wreck of a man with no family beating a clergyman to death with a bowling pin. “I’m finished!” Finished growing (as a country), and finished exploring (as a people).

"How, Chief! Heap-big White Man bring-um your lines. Your motivation be-um non-threatening, still-face, and help-um White Man win-um White Girl. Ug."

The Last of The Mohicans probably sits at the top of my short list of films that did not effectively communicate the historical era they were intended to highlight. The Last of The Mohicans felt more like it belonged on The Wonderful World of Disney alongside Davy Crockett and other purely adventure serials. In addition to being a particularly sub-par film overall, the plot focuses mostly on how insipid the British are. In fact, the only real example of the pragmatism and willingness of the American spirit is in Daniel Day-Lewis’s Hawkeye providing a foil to the British army commanders. Hawkeye emphasises retreat and regrouping that will allow American settlers to tend their homes and farms in opposition to the British mandate that all able-bodied men be conscripted to fight the French (who ultimately win, anyway). Overshadowing the clash between the two ideologies and adding fuel to the already hot fire, is the apparent cockfight over the attraction of the female lead—both sides trying to wrench power in order to demonstrate their prowess and win the hand of the trope maiden. The only thing that makes this melodrama even remotely about early America and the Westward movement is the fact that it incorporates Native Americans into the plot and setting. Unfortunately, they are—as Mark Twain eloquently put it—“Cooper Indians,” one-dimensional characters that really only serve as an enhanced setting element. If this were a science-fiction film instead of a “Western” (when it really isn’t, it’s a melodrama), then the Mohawk would be Star Trek’s “red shirts” and the Huron are Star Wars’s Stormtroopers. Both are essentially faceless and serve only to advance the plot and provide some level of authenticity to the weak battle scenes.

Milkshake Thief

As noted before, There Will Be Blood, is not only my favourite film sampled in this course, it is also on my list of all-time favourites. The cinematography is unparalleled at capturing the desolation of early California and the music resonates just enough to send a chill down your spine. Outside the dialogue, the viewer already knows that there is something not to like about Daniel Plainview, and, as the plot develops, he understands why the film imparts such a creepy vibe. Within the script, the film has already spawned such quotable lines as “I drink your milkshake!” and “I’m finished!” while the overall tone of the film warns us of the dangers associated with “big” industries and unchecked capitalism.

Throughout the course, the film I liked the very least was Far From Heaven. As a retrospective period piece, the film took a harsh look at “WASPy” New England society in the 1950’s, and deconstructed it to study the human element behind the masks of propriety. The characters where highly stereotyped, and it just felt like watching some kind of dance by grotesque caricatures. In the end, there was no feeling of sympathy for any of the characters, no sense of development, and certainly no sense of loss from the deconstruction of their lives. Everyone just lives on, moderately content ever after. Such lukewarm films serve no real purpose except as an exercise in cinematography, which is what the film felt like—an internship piece for a budding director of photography.

Children Banned From Shooting Events in 2012 Ticket Giveaway


There is no link between Olympic-level shooting and crime. It’s like saying that a thief would use a Formula One car as a getaway car.

David Penn, British Shooting Sports Council

Olympic pistol hopeful and Commonwealth Games medallist Georgina Geikie.

For some strange reason, British authorities see trained marksmen firing weapons at targets as somehow enticing children to commit violent crime.  While this strange bout of logic (something about shooting events “glorifying guns”) may seem odd to those of us familiar with the U.S. Bill of Rights, I somewhat understand Britain’s apprehensiveness about guns.  I mean, the last time Britannia let her people have guns, America happened.  Still, I tend to agree with Olympic shooting hopeful Georgina Geikie in that “this is a chance for children to look at guns in a different way.”

Fear, in any form, tends to spring from ignorance and misinformation, and teaching children that guns are tools to be respected is a step in the right direction.  We could probably use some of that education in this country as well.

Read the full story here (via the London Evening Standard)

Carl Sagan: The 4th Dimension


The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous.

Carl Sagan

This is one of my foremost favourite lectures by cosmologist Carl Sagan who might also happen to be within the higher levels of my own pantheon of personal heroes.  In this video, Sagan explains physical dimensions beyond our familiar three-dimensional perception, and does it in such a way that even a child could grasp the concept.  The only problem is that the more curious of us might be led to delve much deeper.  Get ready for a serious mind job.

He Had A Dream


All right, I’m going to catch hell for this, but I think it best to remember the man’s TRUE dream on the day we observe his birth. I’m sorry, Dr. King, that people have been ignorant of your words, resegregating themselves in the name of “preserving their culture.” Racism still runs rampant, especially here in the rural South, where ignorance runs rampant. We have decided that education should take a back seat to other “projects.” We teach the ridicule, not the embrace, of learning. Our priorities as a nation, as one people, are so skewed that mathematics and language take a back seat to football and soccer. There are those that would tell us that “ebonics,” “street speak,” and “redneck” are proper languages, and that we should accept them as culturally significant. I respond with a resounding NO! Ignorance should not be embraced or excused! If we are to survive, and to move ahead, and to truly realise the Dream he outlined for us on that day so many years ago, we MUST change the way we view the world! We MUST change our priorities! We MUST raise the “lowest common denominator” of our society. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and those links are becoming more and more numerous as time progresses.

On a final note, I leave you with this clip from the show Boondocks that I think, in its comedic effect, is quite profound: