Monday, September 26, 2011

The Call to Dream Bigger

“Why would you read that?” a girl I went to school said to me when I was little more than youngling.  Even after all these years later I can still see the sneer on her face.  I had been reading a Star Trek book and for whatever reason she felt the compunction to belittle me for it. “It’s not real.  There is no benefit in the REAL world.”  I didn’t get the chance to ask her the circumstances for her lack of enthusiasm.  She simply saw no value in the story whatsoever.  This Fun Police foot soldier gave me the message and walked away.  About a month after she dispensed this sage-like advice to me she dropped out of school never to be seen or heard from again. 

However, in a startling change of pace, Gentle Reader, this blog isn’t about me – it’s about a genre that was once called “Science Fiction”.  Revelries have morphed into realities in recent days.  Long held scientific views are being questioned about the very fabric of the universe.  Basic tenants of the Science Fiction genre are falling into place in “the real world”.  This sort of surge has happened before.  Consider if you will, Mr. Jules Verne.  He was popular in his day (and to this day) for writing some pretty astonishing fiction.  I can almost here some of his readers – fans and otherwise, confronting him…  

“Pure fantasy!  Think about what you’re producing here; space travel, men on the moon, atomic energy an underwater ship that terrorizes shipping fleets, giant animals on some Mysterious Island?  Jules, you’ve got a great imagination but there is no benefit in the REAL world.” 

Verne was a visionary and he championed the cause of science fiction until it all became science fact.  Space travel, humans on the moon, atomic energy, submarine warfare, and genetics augmentations were all in the pages of Verne’s books before they were realities.  One could also point to H.G. Wells, or George Orwell, or a host of other writers for similar effect.  For whatever reason, we find ourselves in a similar state RIGHT NOW.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed but this past week or so there have been some pretty monumental stories that underline the fact that we are going to have to start dreaming bigger.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Spaceport is a GO.  That means the VSS Enterprise (Virgin Space Ship) will be in orbit in the near future -

Now I just need an extra $200,000 for a ticket!

The good people from CERN (who run the Large Hadron Collider) from Geneva announced that they believe that they have found neutrinos that exceed the speed of light.  Yeah, there is the possibility that the laws of physics are about to change.  That’s the news in layman’s terms now to read what the authors of the paper (who are definitely NOT laymen) have to say here is a copy of their paper -

USS Enterprise at Warp Speed. 

Scientists at The Gallant Lab at UC Berkley are using brain scans to reconstitute video images by using an fMRI machine.  Possible translation: You will no longer have to tell us what is on your mind, we’ll just look for ourselves.  Creepy mind-video reconstruction movie here -

And then there’s the man who wants to reconstruct a dinosaur by “de-evolving” a modern chicken.  It’s the cover story on this month’s WIRED Magazine but Michael Crichton was doing the same thing in his books since 1990.  Click on this link for the full story… as WIRED says, “What could possibly go wrong?” - 

I wonder what a Chickensaurus tastes like?

Now that there is no such thing as Science Fiction perhaps the moniker “Speculative Fiction” will make a comeback?  Who’s to say?  What I really want to know; however, is with all of these potential advances in science and technology WHERE is my FLYING CAR!?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Etiquette and Protocol in the Realm of Social Media

“Words mean things.” A wise person once said.  As the world shrinks (please see blog directly below this) it is important to realize this fact.  Words mean things.  When a verb rubs against a noun something happens.  This is why Bambi’s friend Thumper was told by his mother, “If you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say anything at all.”  Thumper’s mom subscribed to the concepts of etiquette and protocol.  Besides being programmed in over 6 million forms of communication, C-3PO was hard-wired for it, etiquette and protocol. 

Yet again we are tasked with taking something from the stories that we hold dear; stories which are told and retold time and time again.  Some of the seeds are planted in good soil and some are not.  This lesson is not an easy one.  Words, once spilled, are very hard to put back into the bottle, so to speak.  It does not matter if it is spoken, written in long hand or posted on Facebook or Twitter.  If you don’t believe me the next time you are on South Street in Philadelphia and have a hankering for a cheese-steak casually mention how much better a football team the Dallas Cowboys are when compared to the Eagles while you are placing your order.  You will quickly discover that words mean things.  You will also see that while you have the right to freedom of speech here that you will also be held accountable for what you say.  There is a certain responsibility that inherently comes from opening ones mouth – it’s basic cause and effect.  

We are blessed to live in a country where freedom of speech is a right.  There are places where people disappear for their words.  Places not all that far from here.  Last week there were a couple of Twitter users found suspended from a bridge, disemboweled in Mexico because a certain group of people did not like what they were saying.  This is only a recent example.  Tyranny, governmental or otherwise, will always try to silence a populous because revolutions begin with words such as; “justice”, “liberty”, and “freedom”.  Those in power, or those who wish to be, want to keep that power by maintaining a silent population.  It is easier to control a group of people who have no voice.  This is the importance of a free press and the importance of the freedom of speech.  I may not agree with you but you have the right to say what you feel.  This is one of the major reasons why people still want to come here; the freedoms that we so easily take for granted. 

But I digress.  Concerning social media.  I can’t speak for the whole of the internet but I can tell you how I operate or at least what I aspire to, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it works most of the time.  Now, with the anonymous nature of social media and the internet slipping into extinction, more than ever it is important to realize that we need to take ownership of the words we say or type or post.  Social media is a tool for communication.  That’s it.  It is not your diary nor should it be.  Don’t post something that you don’t want the world to see or know.  Just what part of “world wide web” do you not understand?  When you send something; pictures, texts, emails… that data is routed on servers across the globe.  It’s more akin to sending a postcard that can be read by whoever wants to pick it up than it is a wax-sealed document.  Those pictures that you sent?  Yeah, THOSE pictures, they are out there… somewhere.  The main point that I’m underlining here is words mean things but that should immediately be followed with don’t be stupid.  Remember what you put out there is out there; the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Just like being at the supermarket or on an elevator, or in a library etiquette and protocol go a long way. 

The internet is akin to a living organism.  Here is a “map of the internet”:

It looks like neural pathways, doesn’t it; information electrically traveling via the axons of neurons firing within their own myelin-coated superhighways?  Yes, it resembles a working brain.  Or, perhaps it resembles a universe full of galaxies and solar systems?  You are right with whichever poetic description suits your appetite.  Either way, the graphic representation of internet appears to be… alive.  That’s a mite creepy when thought of in that context but accurate.  What we choose to put “out there” whether it is the electronic or the physical world, defines and identifies us for who we are – not so much the people we package ourselves to be.  Form follows function.

“Don’t be evil” – Google’s motto

“Don’t feed the trolls” – Evil Chicken

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Incredible Shrinking World

Gentle reader, I am a hack.  I am a guy with a keyboard, word processor and a blog and I’m not afraid to use them.  That being said, here is a revelation that has been on my mind for a while now; not to alarm you but the world is shrinking.  That’s right, you heard me; the world is shrinking

Case in point, a couple of years ago I published a blog about some atrocities that were being committed in certain country in Africa.  I mentioned some of the torture and genocide that is endured by the people there on a daily basis as one regime painfully transitions into another.  Well, it turns out I actually had some readers from Africa (yes, from that certain country) check out my blog. 

Pause for a moment and consider that.  I am no one special.  I’m just a blogger from South Jersey who wrote a blog about an injustice all the way on the other side of the earth.

“So yeah, but did it change anything?”

No, probably not; but the meat of the matter is that THEY now know that I know and, further, if I know than other people must as well. 

That is the power of a shrinking world.

We see it everywhere, really.  There have always been technological leaps forward that changed society and culture that make us more global in mind, body and spirit.  The telephone, the car, the television, the computer, the internet, our 3G & 4G connections, and now our social media.  I literally have “friends” all over the world.  I have connected with family and school mates from days of yore and I have only used my mouse, keyboard and trusty internet connection to do so.  In a few pressed keys and clicks of my mouse I can notify the world of just about anything I put my mind to – good, bad or ugly.  I try to keep things light here at Chicken Scratch but I can’t vouch for the next blog over.  Just like in the physical world.

Blogging, Facebook, and Twitter are on the front lines of where things happen these days and, by the looks of things, will be on those front lines (in one incarnation or another) far into the future.  The basic premise, however, remains the same – someone expresses an idea and shares it.  It is therefore not truly a revolutionary problem but an evolutionary one.  People have been getting into trouble for ideas since Eve took that bite from the fruit from that tree.  They are dangerous things.  People begin to think with ideas.  Then people make plans on how to make things better or how to make things worse.  They begin to question.  They begin to seek answers.  People in power and authority often do not like what ideas can inspire – things such as hope, independence, freedom – when you get right down to it an educated and actively thinking populous can be a very dangerous thing.  People will go to war for ideas.  They will be tortured, subjugated, oppressed, endure hardships, and persevere for an idea.  During the most recent revolutions in Egypt and Libya social media and internet access were the first things to go.  Google continues to have problems in places where facts or information or ideas are subject to official state sanction.  Even here, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we have those who want to purge ideas and crush them so they never have a chance to blossom and grow.  I am pleased to say that currently, to the best of my limited knowledge, the United States is still a place where one can reap the benefits of having a free press and the freedom of speech.    

“May the wings of liberty never lose a feather.” – Kurt Russell’s, ‘Jack Burton’ said from Big Trouble in Little China.  

These days a free press also means a free internet.  People will say, “Print is dead”.  I just don’t buy that.  Yes, the vehicle of delivery of the written word may change but there has never been a better time for a self-publishing blogger to take up their keyboard and put one word in front of the next.  The big boys – the newspapers and magazine companies are still in the process of adapting to the new world order.  They will; it’s only a matter of time. 

“What is that supposed to mean, Evil Chicken?”

It means that when I want up to the moment scoops on news, weather, or anything that may catch my fancy, I’ll do a quick Twitter search to see what the people on the ground have to say during an event – as it happens instead of waiting until the next morning to read all about it in the newspaper.  Social media is instantaneous electronic journalism from primary sources right there – on the ground. 

The instantaneous nature of the new media, blogging and/or electronic journalism scares a lot of people but at the end of the day it’s just another tool in your toolbox for filtering and disseminating information.  As with any tool there are those who know how to use them, those who don’t and those who have some sort of vague nebulous idea of what it could do but instead of reading the instruction manual immediately brand the tool as dangerous.  These are the same people who attend book burnings and complain about how everything that does not unfold as they know it should.  Xenophobes that pine for an idealistic past that they themselves never really lived in but want to make the rest of the known world adhere too. 

“You know… morons.” Gene Wilder’s, ‘Jim’ said in Blazing Saddles.  

And this is the breakdown; those who use the tools, those who don’t and those who are too scared to use them.  Whether you like it or not social media is here to stay.  You can try to take a communication tool away but putting that genie back in the bottle is proving to be more tricky than many governments would like it to be (i.e. the former regimes of Egypt & Libya).  Social media helps give people a voice.  What people do with that voice has always proven to be user driven.  Here’s to vocal harmony.  The world has changed; it has shrunk, incredibly so.  There really is no going back and, as for this hack with a keyboard, a word processor and a blog, I wouldn’t want to.

I don’t believe I’m alone.   

ADDITIONAL NOTE: This morning (the morning after the above monstrosity) I woke up and read a great blog from "Alt Text" at WIRED.  This is a brilliant little blog about Facebook, Google and Twitter called, "Facebook, Google Battle for Hearts and Minds of Jerks" by Lore Sjöberg. Check it out for yourself here:

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Media Delivery Wars

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  I hope this communiqué finds you well.  If you have poked around here at Chicken Scratch for a few clicks of your mouse then you know that I am a bit of a movie fan – in fact, you could say cinema is one of my favorite varieties of a story delivery vehicle.  I am a BIG fan of Blu-ray but the future of media delivery is going to be streaming in HD.  Different companies have experimented with this to varying degrees of success including Comcast, Verizon, Blockbuster, and Netflix. 

Here is an excellent blog from cnet’s, Media Maverick, Mr. Greg Sandoval that addresses the multiple reasons that Neflix is feeling the sting of an ostracized public who would prefer to use Redbox than pay more for a “skimpy selection” of films.

I found it interesting that STARZ holds the rights to Sony’s and Disney’s content for internet streaming.  I also thought this was worth noting, “Starz is reportedly asking for a $300 million deal, or 10 times the $30 million agreement it penned in 2008 and Netflix doesn't want to pay.”  Is that a crazy amount of money?  Well, I suppose, by my standards but to have Netflix walk away means that content will suffer.  Now that Netflix, in a move of sage-like wisdom, has doubled their price (DVD delivery is $8.00 and streaming is $8.00 as well – 16 Bucks a month) for even less product customers have been revolting and canceling their subscriptions.  I was going to make the jump but have decided against it; choosing instead to wait until all the corporate greed gives way to a decent product in glorious 1080p.  I may have a long wait since most companies stream movies in 720p. 

What’s a boy to do?

See you at the Redbox.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Marking a Moment

Ten years ago the world changed. Almost three thousand people lost their lives in a war that we didn’t even know we were fighting. They were people just going about their business who became casualties in a conflict that sprung from the mind of a mad man. That mad man is gone (thanks to Seal Team Six) but this will never bring back those close to three thousand souls who were lost that horrible day, September 11, 2001. The people at Pop Photo have an excellent four-page article of that day ten years ago. Parts of it are hard to see and to read; however, this is important to keep in mind – September 11th, 2001 can never really be marginalized to a footnote, at least in our time; too much has happened and continues to happen. The world has changed. That being said here is their article:

Ten years have passed since the world changed. Is the world safer now? There is no way I can answer that; however, I would say that we are much more wary these days. There have been the attempts of terror that we are aware of and, no doubt, there are those that we are not aware of. I am thankful that those who are on the wall, both seen and unseen, who are protecting us are good at what they do. We owe them a lot of respect and a debt of gratitude that I really do not know how to repay. As a nation we have given up some of our rights for increased security and, I have no doubt, this concept will continue to be debated by people far more informed than yours truly here in the electronic pages of this blog.

“Is that good – giving up personal rights and freedoms for safety?” I can’t answer that either but I can say that the world has changed and I do not believe things will ever be as they were again. Perhaps they shouldn’t be. One could argue that we should return to simpler times but the fact of the matter is the world is not what it used to be. I heard someone say recently that, “On September 12th, we were Americans, not black, not white, not Latinos but Americans.” There is something important to be taken from these words. 9/11 polarized us as a people and as a nation. Back in 2007, I wrote this about our shared experience: and asked the question, "Where were you when the Towers fell?"

My sincere wish is that we could return to simpler times but we know that this will never be the case. The world remains changed. Please join me in remembrance of those lost and of all those who came to their aid on that unforgettable and terrible day 10 years hence.

Photo by Stephen Nessen

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Virginia is for Tourists

We have just recently returned from a great little trip to Virginia. We were going to go to Newport, Rhoad Island to check out the mansions but hurricane Irene had other plans. Virginia was our Plan-B and it was simply wonderful. It was the whole family including our dog, Kenji. We stayed for two nights in Winchester, VA.

Before we checked in we hit Luray Caverns; which are, by the way, some of the largest known caverns in the world. It was simply spectacular. This was my third time there but it ranked right up at number one for the simple fact that my family had the chance to discover it together. The formations are breathtaking and the “Dream Lake” section I could stare at for hours.

After Luray we took the ride to Natural Bridge, which turned out to be a tourist trap. There are 5 members in my family and $28.00 for the caverns and to walk down to see the bridge was just too steep. Fortunately, a local artist has a creation that must be seen to truly appreciate – Foamhenge! Foamhenge is an exact replica of Stonehenge except it’s made out of foam and there’s a cool statue of Merlin the wizard amongst the stones that is a load of fun to pose with. Foamhenge is free but with the family it’s priceless.

The next day we toured the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley; which consists of “the house, the gardens, [and] the museum”. The grounds were beautiful. The Chinese and water sections of the gardens were my personal favorite. The house was nice enough and the museum was ok. Perhaps I am jaded after being to the Princeton Art Museum, which has an marvelous collection of works from around the globe. In comparison, the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley was nice but it didn’t have all that many pieces. Still it is worth the visit for the gardens alone.

After the trip to the museum we paid a visit to the theater – not just any theater, mind you; we went to the Alamo Drafthouse. The good folks at the Alamo get it. They understand what it means to be a movie fan. We saw, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (which was GREAT, by the way), and instead of the commercials that are shown at movie theaters these days before the preview trailers start they have a series of shorts that have some pertinence to the film that you are going to be seeing. We walked in and placed our order for dinner to a Kinks video from the early 70’s “Apeman”, after that they showed some other footage of monkeys, chimps and apes in various scientific shorts edited together interspersed with snippets from the old “Planet of the Apes” cartoon from the 70s. For dinner I had a “Royale with Cheese”. This made me smile. If you get the reference then you’ll be happy to order one for yourself one of these days. When you do I highly recommend an order of ‘Fried Pickles’ too.

The next day we hit “Dinosaur Land”. If you have an affinity for anythin that pertains to ‘roadside America’ then Dinosaur Land NEEDS to be on your radar. As their sign says, “An Educational Prehistoric Forrest Featuring Over 40 Replicas from the Past”! Our family had a blast here. We took all sorts of crazy pictures and had two tons of crazy fun. Some of my favorite poses had to be my youngest child lamenting the death of a huge dinosaur at the teeth of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, my middle daughter hugging a vicious creature around the middle, my oldest sticking her head into a Velociraptor’s jaws and the three of them attacking a giant-mutant praying mantis. Oh yeah, we had a good time. If you start to feel guilty thinking that you may be enjoying the experience too much remember it’s “educational”. The whole experience got me looking for other people’s crazy vacation pictures and that is when I found Tacky Tourist Photos I loved what I saw and knew that I had to share it with you, Gentle Reader. I think you’ll like their site too.

All told we traveled about 714 miles from the flatlands of New Jersey to the mountains of Virginia. I picked up a ticket in Maryland for not wearing a seatbelt. It’s true, I wasn’t. I am thankful to the Good Lord that we made it there and back again. Although, I must admit the more of these trips we take exploring what’s out there and just around the bend, the harder it is for me to come back.