Tuesday, December 31, 2013

MoAM? Lives!

And their new album DEFCON 5...4...3...2...1 is pretty damn good.  The sound is there, most of the sci-fi sound clips have been omitted, and some vocals are even present.  It's kind of serious that way.  It's a good CD to drop in before switching on the soldering iron.

Even though they're taking their music more seriously on this new album, it's good to see that they're still having fun at the shows. (music starts 8 minutes in, it's just a bunch of crowd woo-woos until then)

Monday, December 30, 2013

It's mid-winter, the year's over, and it's gray outside. Here, have some depressing stuff.

The Last AM [Radio] Station
How will it end?  Here's a near-future quasi-scifi guess.  Amusing story, but I really don't think it'll work out this way.

The 38 Most Haunting Abandoned Places on Earth
Especially haunting since I used to take the kids to one of them.

Man, I need more coffee and a bike ride.  Lung crud is lifting however, thing are looking up for the new year.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Relevance Evident, Legacy Assured

On the BBC's World News front page today, not only was the death of Mikhail Kalashnikov noted, in another lead story's picture we see his namesake in use:
Whatever you may think of the man and his inventions, he did leave his mark on history.

Movie Review: The Hobbit, the Desolation of Smaug

Short and sweet review: this movie wasn't that great.  While the overall plot line stuck to Tolkien's story, mostly, there were large and largely needless re-writes that sucked the charm and wit right out of Jackson's movie.  Furthermore, the occasional insertions of bits of the back-story were alright, but after a while they began to overshadow the main plot.  As its own story The Hobbit – at least Tolkien's version – stands on its own.  There was no need to shape it into a Lord of the Rings prequel for this movie version.

Apart from these re-write problems, the acting was very good, the set design was perfect, and the special effects were top-knotch.  They manage to drag it up to 2.5 stars out of 4.  It was enjoyable to watch, but it could have been so much more.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

More on Movies: Upstream Color Redux

As seen over at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  Hey, it's Saturday morning, right?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Been Busy. Here, have an amusing youtube segment.

Dueling Theremins performing Principles Unknown, from Man or Astro-Man? and special guest.  There are flames toward the end, be ready for it.  Enjoy!

New Year's resolution: more practice time on my theremin.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Movie Review: Upstream Color, the Thinking Person's Zombie Flick

I don't know what to say about this one.  Upstream Color, from the guy who brought us Primer, is  engrossing, in a put-the-pieces-back-together way, kind of an unfun version of The Hangover.  But it's much, much worse.  It's not a lost night of wild fun, it's a grand tour from the inside of the life cycle of a mind controlling parasite, focusing on the relationship of two of its hosts and their stories, and the criminals who use the parasite – or does the parasite use the criminals?

Here, watch the trailer.

Bottom line: 3.5 stars out of 4.  I won't drag on this review any longer when this reviewer says everything else that I'd say.

Added thrills: While this movie is fictional (I hope), it just sticks together a bunch of horrifying real-world things, like scopolamine and the criminals who dose people with it, mind-controlling parasitic fungi, and the whole Haitian zombie thing.  Want to have fun dabbling in this on yourself without all the chemicals?  Here you go!  It's been said before regarding modern physics, but it's worth repeating in the current context: not only is the real world stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Back on the Bike

Damn pneumonia.  It's dragged on so long that it's turned into oldmonia.  The latest round of antibiotics seems to have knocked it down, but this isn't the first time I've thought this.  Managed to squeak out 18 slooooow miles today.  I stayed upright and kept the pedals generally turning in the correct direction, about all I can say.  No significant coughing or other problems though, that is a good sign.

Goal for the rest of 2013: Beat this infection down.
Goal for 2014: Rebuild cardio abilities by mid-spring.  Then go enjoy some real mountain biking before the woods get hot.

Time to go take my vitamins & supplements.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Today's Science Lessons

How to ID brown recluse spiders.  Fire Fire Fire!!!

It's like the Blair Witch Spider.  No kiddin'.

Here, have some bubble pulses in an amazing demo.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Hurricanes are a small price.

The People vs Winter over at YouTube.

Compared to (attempted) life in the the frozen wastelands north of I-10, tolerating the occasional hurricane down on the coast is truly a small price to pay.

Movie Review: The Europa Report

This is some of the best hard science fiction I've seen in years.  The setup is simple: NASA flyby probes find interesting signs of possible life on Europa, and a public/private manned venture is sent to find out just what is going on.  Why manned?  More flexible, more on-the-spot data taking ability, more adaptability, you name it.  And brother, do they find something – and to the story's everlasting credit, it's something actually scientifically plausible (hint: it's not Yet Another ET Wonderland).  But there are certain problems, like a solar storm that knocks out their Earth comms link half-way to the destination, followed by a disastrously unsuccessful repair spacewalk.  Just enough goes wrong to make the mission a real pain in the ass, while leaving the goals still seemingly achievable.

For all that, this movie's got a couple of serious problems.  The main one is the choppy editing gets in the way of the story.  Yeah, I understand the found footage concept, and it's used effectively here, but come on, have a little mercy on the audience.  It's just a brutal mess of a film to watch.  The second problem is that some of the astronaut characters are just a little over-acted, and the parts are just a little over-emotionally written.  I'm not expecting a shipfull of stoic Vulcans here, but the one engineer constantly pining for his family got old.

Those are two big problems, but the rest of the movie gets carried off with aplomb.  As I said at the start, this is some of the best hard science fiction I've seen since Contact, and the ending holds a surprise twist – totally in character for the surviving astronauts – that had me guessing right up to the last seconds.  But man, that choppy editing really got in the way of the story, so much so that I had to watch it twice (yes, in a row) because it was both that good (the story) and bad (the editing).

Here's the trailer.  The movie is actually quite a bit smarter than that trailer makes it look.  Despite the massive editing problem and overwrought emotions here and there, it's still a really good movie, somewhere in the 3+ star range.  Had those two problems been reigned in, it could've been a solid 4.  Yes, the rest of it really is that good.

ps, two days later: I was telling someone over the weekend about this movie.  He'd heard about it, and even went so far as to look up the trailer... then decided it was just another "monsters in space" flick.  Now on my recommendation he's going to go back and see the movie.  This illustrates the self-inflicted damage that studio marketing can do when they go for the cheap thrills.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

And Here It Is!

The 2015 Mustang:

Not bad at all!  Style-wise, it's not the radical departure I was expecting a year ago, but the leaked spy photos and renderings kind of took the edge off that surprise.  The real questions are all about the new suspension.  How's it handle?  How's it perform?  The V6 and V8 engine options seem awfully similar to the current offerings, but now what about that turbocharged four cylinder option?  On the face of it, that's just too damn small for a car like this (and a reflection of the pathetic Mustang II), but does the turbo and modern engine control make it into a worthy player?  Only time – track time – will tell.

Anyway, here's a basic comprehensive article and a picture flip-page at the L.A. Times.  Extra articles at Fox, MarketWatch, and Businessweek, in case somebody decides to get stupid and start paywalling articles.   Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ten Things Every Mountain Biker Should Have Done

Small caption and 3 minute video over at Dirt Rag.

After you've watched, here's the list:
1: build a bike
2: ride at night (best footage in the video)
3: ride in the snow
4: ride in another country
5: sleep next to your bike
6: explore a new trail
7: cross a mountain range
8: ride a race
9: visit a bike park
10: ride to the sea

My report card:  (And this is going down on my Permanent Record.)
1: 80%
2: check
3: major geographic limitations here; does racing through ice-covered puddles count?
4: 0%, unless you count Moab, but that’s more like another planet
5: check
6: check
7: close but no cigar; again, major geographic limitations here
8: check
9: not so much
10: check; making up for some of the geographic limitations in #3 & #7, I could do this on a kid’s tricycle
Total: 5 solid, with GED credit for a couple more.

Things I’d add to the list:
a: maintain & build trails (in order of importance)
b: use an mtb for non-recreational, non-commute purpose: disaster relief, hunting, medical rescue, smuggling, etc.
c: teach somebody else to mountain bike
d: ride hard enough to require a hospital visit afterward
e: effect MacGyver-class trailside bike repairs, preferably in the middle of a race
f: do an adventure race
g: get something published in a major mtb publication – even if it’s a music or beer review
h: road bike, & do it well
i: counter-attack an attacking dog
j: work on professional friendships on a mtb trail (as opposed to the more typical golf course venue)

Well that’s ten more items, and considering that the list ends with the letters i and j, we’re off on the imaginary axis.  Time to call it a night.

With Friends Like These, AM Radio is So Screwed

Nostalgia.  Sports.  Local programming.  Minority broadcasters.  Intimate connections with listeners.  Imbedded in our national culture.  All presented over at NPR in about five minutes.

But no discussion whatsoever about the one thing that sets broadcast AM radio apart, where it excels over other common U.S. broadcast bands:

Listening to that news story is a lot like watching an inept salesman try to move a sports car without ever mentioning performance.

Previous facepalmery on the same topic seen here.

Monday, December 2, 2013