Saturday, January 30, 2010

No Return to the Moon (at least by the United States)

I was only an infant when man first set foot on the moon. I have no memories of that moment in history when everything became possible and science fiction became science. I have taught about that moment in history and how it inspired the world to reach for bigger and better things. How many different advances were made and how many jobs and careers had been launched right along with those Apollo missions. I remember telling my class that there were plans afoot to return to the moon and that they could expect to see this happen within the next 8 – 10 years baring any drastic cuts to NASA.

Well, here are the drastic cuts: That nixes the moon and the Space Shuttle. As for Mars – who knows?

I did pass along my excitement at the notion that private companies would now become major players in space travel. I discussed the X-Prize and Space Ship One and Virgin Galactic and Sir Richard Branson and the VSS Enterprise and how a real and true revolution was going to be taking place in their lifetime. I just didn’t know that the revolution would be happening as quickly as it will be. When the Space Shuttle is done and over and mothballed our government expects private enterprise to take up the slack. This is, at once, a good thing (mostly) and a bad thing. Private industry will open up the market much wider than NASA ever could hope to. Need a satellite placed in orbit? Virgin Galactic could do that in between passenger trips. How about repairs to the Hubble telescope? Sir Richard could probably put those repairmen just where they need to be. I wonder, however, what corporate entity is going to represent the United States on the International Space Station? The hatch opens and the contingent from the United States are all wearing Red Bull or Monster Energy Drinks or Viagra tee shirts and hats. As they say in some circles, “That’s the weak sauce.” And, Gentle Reader, THAT is the weak sauce.

If I could go back in time I would have told my class that Wall Street investment bankers, American car manufacturers and credit card company bailouts would prove to be more important than their futures. I would have told them that they should really consider learning Japanese or Chinese if they wanted to be in on the lion’s share of technological advancement in air and space technologies. Oh sure, I would have encouraged them in math and science and foster an interest in the possibilities; I would have just recalculated their aspirations. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams.” I would have set those dreams a little lower. Really, where do I think I am, Tokyo – Hong Kong?

Oh, if I could but turn back the clock.

Look, I understand. It is just not that important to us here in the States. Why would it be? We have it all. We have been there and done that. Exploration, advancement, and goals for the future - our overtaxed attention spans just can’t handle that amount of pressure. Our standards in education have sealed the deal. We are a service society. We do not produce. Those days are gone. Production is now in the hands of those who have put it at a premium, those who invested in their futures by training the next generation to actually want to be engineers. Humanity will return to the moon. It is as sure as the tides. Here in the United States of America - well, we’ll be able to watch it happen on our flat screens. I just hope that they don’t have to preempt “American Idol” to do so. Our sensibilities just couldn’t take it.

Note from the author… While writing this blog I encountered another little article from BBC. It is about how some states (currently California) are attempting to protect the Apollo 11 landing site from other countries that have active plans to go to the moon… unlike us:

Friday, January 29, 2010

The iPad Tablet

I am a Star Trek fan. In Star Trek The Next Generation, on board Captain Picard’s Enterprise (NCC-1701-D, mind you) the crew had access to all shipboard computer systems via a device called a PADD or “Personal Access Display Device”. Well, that little piece of tech just became real. This week Steve Jobs presented the world with the iPad Tablet. This is the direction that computer and technology market will be heading; it is another step forward and (please excuse the next Star Trek reference) only logical.

“So, what does it do?”

Well, it should be a blend everything that your laptop does with everything that an iPod Touch or even an iPhone does. Throw in all that an Amazon Kindle and your Netflix account can bring you and you would have quite the device. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

“It can do all that?”

I don’t know. This is the first generation of the next phase in computer and technology so it is hard to pin such hopes and aspirations on the brand new, not even out of the box device such as this. I have as many questions as you do; fortunately Wired’s Gadgetlab has some excellent coverage on this little gem that may be able to answer some of the questions that we may have:

“Next phase computer device?”

Seriously. My, you are asking quite a few questions this morning, Gentle Reader but that is fine with me – we’ll learn together. The iPad Tablet is another step towards the future – sure there are no flying cars or jet packs but now you no longer need a paperboy since your copy of the paper is downloaded to your phone every morning. Of course your schedule and planner is now electronic as well. Do you have a question? Bring up Wikipedia or Google or Clusty. Need directions? Plug ‘em in and go. Need to study or read a technical journal for work? Do so. Could you use some tunes or perhaps you want to take in a movie or kick back with a good book to read? Make it so. The interface and portability of such a device is what makes it the step forward that it will prove to be. And these are just the applications off the top of my head. If you think about it doctors in hospitals could electronically maintain a file on each of their patients. “Mr. Smith,” the doctor said pressing a button on his iPad / PADD, “Here is the x-ray of your spleen. It looks like it’s healing nicely since the elephant stampede.”

Silly? Yes. The future? Undoubtedly. Before I make the jump to such a device a few generations are going to have to happen; also, the company’s logo, at least on my device, will not be Apple. Nothing against them, it’s just that I’m a dyed in the wool PC guy and I am very interested in what the Windows version of a very similar and slightly more advanced PADD would roll. Still you can’t take anything away from Apple or Jobs for that matter. They consistently produce technology that the masses want and push the entire industry and, dare I say, the world on towards the future.

That’s progress, Gentle Reader. That’s progress.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

National Geographic turns 122

I’ve been sick. Nasty, snotty, congested, sore throated, sick. I have only recently taken up the cause of my friend and ally the internet and even then it is through the haze of antibiotics and a variety of homemade soups that I have been consuming for nourishment and to abate dehydration. In my most recent travels Wired had a great article on how today (1/27/10) is the birthday of one of the absolute best magazines in the whole world; National Geographic. Here is their article:

Dun, dun, da, Dah da. Dun, da, dun, dah, dun, da, dun, da, da, – bum, bum.

Great theme song. Even reading it you want to go out and explore the world around you. The National Geographic Society has always put me in the mind of those English Huntsman clubs where there are people sitting around tables playing cards, trading stories, sipping brandy and smoking pipes full of Turkish tobacco. There are the heads of many different “taken” man-eating animals on the walls. There are globes and maps and books and there is an heir of adventure just under the surface. Phileas Fogg could step around the corner and say something preposterous like he could circumnavigate the globe in exactly 80 days or, perhaps, Allan Quatermain would regale the room with stories of that lost city of gold that he discovered.

Romantic stuff. The truth of the matter is The National Geographic Society actually delivers. Fogg and Quartermain, if they were not fictional characters, would be members of the National Geographic Society. According to my favorite second brain, Wikipedia the National Geographic Society is “headquartered in Washington, D.C. in the United States, is one of the largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions in the world. Its interests include geography, archaeology and natural science, the promotion of environmental and historical conservation, and the study of world culture and history.” For the last 122 years they have done a pretty good job exploring the distant corners of our home. The articles and the photojournalism are stunning and have captured the imagination of generations and, after all these years, generations are exactly what we are talking about here; there are currently about 8.5 million members.

So Happy Birthday National Geographic! Fogg and Quartermain would be proud.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Blue Ray Dossier 4.0

There are some great films out there on Blu-ray. I wish I had more time to see them. Instead I look for quality instead of quantity. I rate Blu-ray films on a two-tier basis; first and foremost is the story and secondly is the shear jaw dropping, stop the viewer in their tracks Blu-ray visuals. Each tier is rated on a sliding 5 star rating; the more stars the better. There we go. That’s it. Here’s what I’ve been watching.

District 9: 4.5 Stars / 4.5 Stars. This is a gem of a film. It is not pretty in its depiction of the human race – just accurate. If this fantastic situation were to present itself as a reality, this is how it would play out. Here is what I had to say about it in the theaters: and I still stand behind it now.

Pride and Prejudice (A&E): 5 Stars / 3.5 Stars. This was under the Christmas tree this year. It was addressed to my wife, “Mother Hen” but in all actuality it really is for both of us. Adaptations of Jane Austin’s story of Victorian romance have been done scores of times on film in various incarnations. This 6 hour, A&E version is where it was done correctly. Every year we watch it together. We have had it on VHS, DVD, and now Blu-ray. It is simply a timeless story.

9: 3.5 Stars / 4 Stars. I love Tim Burton and he loved the short film, “9” directed by Shane Acker, which is also included on the Blu-ray disc. Mark Twain (or at least I’m giving him the credit) once said, “A novel is a short story… padded.” The same can be said for this film. The short is direct and lets the viewer fill in the blanks while the movie takes away this opportunity, which in a strange way detracts from the whole. This is not to say that it is a bad film; it is watch-able and the details of the computer animations are striking on Blu-ray. Rent it. Let me know what you think.

Inglorious Basterds: 5 Stars / 4.5 Stars. For my money this is one of the BEST Quentin Tarantino films I have ever seen. That is saying something. From the pages of Tarantino’s script to the way that the cast delivers in each and every performance this sizzles; the dialogue, the acting are just superb. Brad Pitt’s performance as Lt. Aldo Raine is worth the purchase of this Blu-ray alone. Christoph Waltz who plays Hans Landa the “Jew Hunter” should be up for an Oscar on for this one. Seriously. Tarantino has an eye for the camera and he knows how to tell a story. There is an eye for detail in that storytelling. He is a cinema fan and a brilliant filmmaker. If this does not get some Oscar nods then something is wrong with the Academy. This is not in my collection yet but it will be. I keep reading rumors that Q.T. is thinking about a prequel film. I truly hope that this is the case. I’d love to see another go round with the Basterds.

That’s what’s been buttering my popcorn as of late. I am still diggin’ the Blu-ray experience. Even after this, the fourth installment of the Blu-Ray Dossier it has not lost it’s glorious 1080p sparkle.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Coming Soon to the Summer of 2010

Oh the joys of summer. Some crave time in their gardens pulling weeds, some like to spend their time mowing and manicuring their lawns, some like to lay on a beach somewhere and soak in the rays of the sun. Me? What do I love about the summer? It’s movie time, baby; it’s the summer movie season and I like to experience the movies. What can I say? I am a movie geek. It’s what I do. Here are the films that I am looking forward to this coming blockbuster season and a few that are going to be showing up this winter. Whatever the case the multiplex just may be in better place to spend some time in air-conditioned comfort than I thought it would be. I’ll list the movie, it’s release date and why YOU may be interested.

1. Daybreakers – 1/8: There has been a large number of vampire movies hit the market these past few years. From what I’ve read, “Daybreakers” gets it right. You will not see anything that resembles a sparkling vampire here. If you do you are in the wrong theater. The vampires outnumber the humans who are now housed like cattle on blood farms and the supply is running out.
2. The Book of Eli – 1/15: Denzel Washington in a post-apocalyptic tale with Gary Oldman along as the villain? That may be worth a look-see at the multiplex. Denzel has a book that can save humanity Oldman wants it. Mayhem ensues. We shall see…
3. The Wolfman – 2/12: There has always been a soft spot in my heart for this story. Lon Chaney Jr. really delivered in the role in the 1941 version and now Benicio del Toro is the bitten and cursed man. This is one of Stan Winston’s ( last films and the effects truly show how much innovation he created from winning his first Oscar for Makeup and Effects for “An American Werewolf in London”. I hope this one nails the dismount.
4. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Lightning Thief – 2/12: I don’t know too much about this one save that Christopher Columbus is directing. Columbus has the power to tell a good story and this looks interesting. The jury is still out if I’ll see this in the theater.
5. Cop Out – 2/26: A buddy cop movie with Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis that’s directed by Kevin Smith. This will be entertaining. I’d like to see it play out on the big screen but I don’t know if the kids can come yet. I may have to wait to rent it, which is a shame since I’d like to support the project as it comes out so that there is a sequel. The trailer made me giggle like a schoolgirl with the “Knock Knock” scene. We shall see.
6. Alice in Wonderland – 3/5: Of all the movies on this list this is one of the ones that I am looking forward to the most. Tim Burton + Johnny Depp = when can I buy a ticket? Burton creates worlds that I love to visit and Depp can bring them to life. Depp is the Mad Hatter and a 19 year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska – aka – Ms. Very Hard to Spell) is returning to the place of her childhood adventure; Wonderland. Opening night for me, if not sooner.
7. Clash of the Titans – 3/26: Usually I am not one to be too excited about remakes and “re-imaginations”. In this case I am. Sam Worthington is on a roll with “Terminator Salvation” and “Avatar” under his belt and now he has a chance to deliver as Perseus, slayer of Gorgons, rider of winged horses and Kraken spanker. I remember seeing Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion work on the big screen in the 1981 version and loving every moment. I wonder what his reaction would be to seeing the seamless CGI of the giant scorpions attack would be. Yeah, I’m taking the kids and seeing this one on the big screen.
8. Kick Ass – 4/16: This is based on a comic series that I have never read. Still the trailers that I have seen make it look interesting. It’s about a group of kids who become self-made superheroes. Nicholas Cage is in this too. This summer expect to see a lot from Mr. Cage that is a good thing since when he is in the right role he can make it really happen. He’ll be in “Kick Ass”, “The Season of the Witch” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”; IMDB says that he is working on two other films this year alone. Busy man. I still don’t know if I’ll be seeing this on the big screen yet; we shall see…
9. A Nightmare on Elm Street – 4/30: Well, they’ve gone and done it; they’ve remade one of the movies that gave me a fright as a teen. I never got into Jason and the whole “Friday the 13th” series but Freddy Kruger? Yeah, I was there. Freddy became, in some strange and humorous twist, the guy I started to root for. Yeah, that’s pretty weird but Robert Englund made the character his own by injecting humor into the horror. Perhaps this is the reason that Mr. Robert Englund is not Freddy in this incarnation. That sentence right there should have me miles away from the theater on its own merits alone. But Jackie Earle Haley is in as the new serial killing man of our dreams and this promises to be a return to a scary trip down Elm Street. Haley hit it out of the park as Rorschach in “The Watchmen” and I am very curious to see what he will do with Frederick Kruger.
10. Iron Man 2 – 5/7: For my money “Iron Man” was one of the best comic book adaptations to ever hit the silver screen. There is a lot riding on number II but Marvel seems to be strumming all the right chords these days. Jon Favreau is back in the director’s chair and Robert Downey Jr. is back as Tony Stark. The supporting cast is superb including Samuel L. Jackson as Sgt. Nick Fury, Mickey Rourke as Whiplash, and Don Cheadle as War Machine. This is another of the films that I am really and truly looking forward to. Opening night, no doubt.
11. Robin Hood – 5/14: Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe of “Gladiator” fame are re-teaming to tell one of my favorite tales. I hope that they hit the mark with this particular archer. We shall see.
12. Prince of Persia the Sands of Time – 5/28: This one has a curse to overcome. To date there has never been a decent adaptation of a video game (“Silent Hill” was about the best) to the big screen. Who knows, perhaps this one will stand on it’s own merits with story and spectacle?
13. The A-Team – 6/11: Den Da Da Da, Den Da Da! Oh yes, you know the theme don’t pretend you don’t. This is The A-Team revamp that looks like it will be a lot of fun. Liam Neeson is Hannibal, Bradley Cooper is Face, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is B.A. Baracus and Sharlto Copley is Howlin’ Mad Murdock. They are now a group of Iraq war veterans who are framed for a crime that they did not commit. I loved the TV show and I have high hopes that I’ll do the same with the movie.
14. Toy Story 3 – 6/18: I love Pixar. They are on a list of companies that I would love to work for as one of their writers. They put magic and heart into everything that I have seen them do. With “Toy Story 3” they are returning to some of the first characters that made the company a household name. It will be in 3D too. My family and I are so there opening day I can already taste the popcorn.
15. Jonah Hex – 6/18: Cowboys and Zombies? Based off of the comic series? Sounds like fun but the release date is going to really sack the box office out of this one. They should hold it for October and Halloween instead of going up against Pixar. You already know which theater I’ll be sitting in on the 18th.
16. The Last Airbender – 7/2: For those of you who understand that this movie should have been called “Avatar – The Last Airbender”, take heart Aang and company are hitting the big screen too. M. Night Shymalan is looking to make his way out of a slump. I have a sneaky suspicion this is the movie that will do it for him. The teaser trailer is wonderful. If you have seen any of the Nickelodeon series then you know how good the storytelling and action can be. If you have not and if Mr. Shymalan has done what I think he has then you are in for a treat.
17. Predators – 7/7: This has the chance of being more than expected. The cast is interesting for a re-visitation to the world of all things Predator. I enjoyed the first Predator movie for what it was. This one brings along a pretty impressive cast including Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Topher Grace and Danny Trejo. Who knows, it might be worth a look-see.

And then there’s August. For all intents and purposes the major studios have already fired their big guns. Still one never knows. Then there are the possible dark horses in the race. ...Ah the quest for decent storytelling.

See you at the multiplex!

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Monster Factory

This past Saturday my family and I watched a Champion defend his title in the Squared Circle at The Monster Factory in Bellmawr, NJ. I was hoarse after the show from cheering for the good guys and booing the bad guys and egging on the crowd and just plain laughing. I have not had such a cathartic and liberating experience in a long time. Seriously. At the Monster Factory one is encouraged to yell, to laugh, to shamelessly have a good time; well, Gentle Reader, I have no shame.

Now not to give those who hold the opinion that I am about to disclose to you any ammunition but there are those who say that Professional Wrestling is fake. I cannot comment on such baseless accusations but I can say that I know the Champ who successfully defended his title on a personal level and he is a very real and genuine, stand up young man. Come to think of it I know one of the referees too and the same can be said for him. Although I have not been to a wrestling match in a LOT of years the experience was like greeting an old friend once more and picking up exactly where the two of you left off.

When I was a kid my family and I loved to watch professional wrestling. Growing up in South Jersey, this was a given. Hey, what can I say, back in the seventies the drive-in and the custard stand were the high watermarks for culture. I’m from an incredibly small town that you will miss on your way to Wildwood if you happen to blink as you drive through it called, Green Creek. I love it and, to no small degree, miss it to this very day.

But enough of that; we are talking wrestling. I remember when my family made our very first foray into the higher tiers of cable television to get a channel named “Prism” just so we could watch live WWF (now WWE I think) wrestling matches from the Spectrum in Philly. This was pretty amazing since Gorilla Monsoon himself would call the matches. It was great stuff. We would invite people over just for the matches. Bob Backland, Andre the Giant, Superfly Snooka, Mr. Fuji, the Iron Sheik, and some new guy named The Incredible Hulk Hogan all played across that small television. I was still the remote control (“Hey change the channel!”) but the TV set was now in color. Wonders truly never cease.

I remember my father taking us to see The Polish Power – Ivan Putski Vs. George “The Animal” Steel wrestle at the Wildwood Convention Center. Bliss. I still remember my mother yelling at the referee, Dick Whirly that she was “Going to get him fired!” She really got into it. In Mom’s defense, just how could Mr. Whirly be so completely and utterly oblivious to the evils of George “The Animal” Steel’s green tongue and term buckle gnawing? Couldn’t he see the horrible miscarriages of justice this monster known as “The Animal” was dealing out to our hero? My Dad and I would watch my Mom and we got as much entertainment from observing her than some of the matches.

And then the world changed. We moved to Vineland, I did a little growing and professional wrestling was not as important as it once was in my family. And so it goes. It was not until this past weekend when I took MY family to see the Professional Wrestling matches at The Monster Factory in Bellmawr, NJ that the dry spell came to an end. It is a warehouse (literally and figuratively) where future pro wrestlers are made. There are matches held every month for $10.00 a head and, believe me, it is worth every penny. There are a lot of athletics; ability and training that go into an event such as this; plus the crowd is fun to watch and be a part of. If you have never been or if you have not been in a long while do yourself a favor and check out what’s going on at The Monster Factory. Here’s their website: It does not have a schedule for when the next bouts are but there is a phone number (856-933-0500).

I’ll be there to root for the Middle Weight Regional Champion as he defends his title and for a certain talented referee at the next extravaganza. Gentle Reader, you should consider it too. I promise we will have a blast and that’s one you can take to the mattress.

UPDATE: here is a much better website for the Old Time Wrestling league: There are matches every Saturday at 2:00 at The Monster Factory. The OTW was a blast but don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Memorandum 2009

Not to sound too morose at the beginning of 2010, but 2009 was a tough year for people who made their living somewhere in the spotlight. I remember the big ones such as Farah Faucet, James Witmore, Karl Malden & Patrick Swayze but was saddened to hear of Roy Disney’s passing and then there were the surprises that just floored me. When did Michael Jackson die? I didn’t see anything about it in the news.


Click here: for Channel 6 WPVI’s segment on those who are no longer with us here at the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century. I apologize for the advertisement that they force you to watch and for the content on this, the first blog of the New Year.

Here’s hopin’ that 2010 proves to be a better time to be a celebrity and a better time for real everyday folks like us, too.

Happy New Year, Gentle Reader!