Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday Link: May 29

One link. This game that ate my time.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book review: The Martian

I finished reading "The Martian" Friday night. It's put the forthcoming movie (Thanksgiving 2015) at the top of my list of anticipated movies. Yeah, more than Star Wars episode 7.

I had no choice but to read this book. None. While walking through the bookstore my attention would be drawn to this book over and over, visit after visit. I wanted to read it right off, but it was only in hard cover and I didn't want to read it $25 worth. I finally got it when I built up a pile of gift cards. Then it sat while I read all these other books that I really wanted to read. I should have just coughed up the cash. It's totally worth it.

The story is near-future, hard-science fiction. NASA is running a series of manned Mars missions. During the third mission a particularly bad sand storm comes up and the crew has to leave before their rocket blows over. One person gets left behind, assumed dead, when the storm stabs him with a broken off antenna and blows him out of sight of everyone else. When he finally comes to he has to figure out how to expand his 400 days of food into enough to last until the fourth mission arrives in four years on a different part of the planet.

The story gets into the chemistry of breaking down the toxic rocket fuel into components that can be combined back into water and breathable air, the reclaiming of Martian soil for farming, and how much food can actually be grown with the resources at hand. He has to adapt the rover for long trips to scavenge parts from old Mars missions, real ones. And it gets into what's going on back on Earth and on the craft that left without him and their efforts to help him once they see activity on Mars.

A desperate survival and rescue story is always good, but a large part of what makes this book so enjoyable is the writing style. When on Mars the story is told via the mission logs. More of a diary or blog, really. He has no pretense of formal, technical writing for NASA. He's writing as much to amuse himself as to document things for history or for technicians. On Earth the story is told more like a normal book, but you get people bantering more.

The movie will have to cut some of the more interesting parts of the story because they just won't work on screen. So be sure to read the book as well.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Links: May 22

Titanium spheres of life from space. [link]

Opening titles to a non-existent Black Widow movie.

A song in memory of Jim Henson.

Trailer for The Overnight, a movie written and directed by someone my lackey went to film school with.

I need to make some of these. [link]

Camels came from Canada. [link]

A quick history of Industrial Light and Magic from the people who were there. [link]

You haven't been sufficiently horrified today.

Australia's plague of spiders. [link]

3D printed zoetrope. [link]

In disaster relief, the media is another problem. [link]

3D painting. [link]

Cars as ammunition. [link]

Rats help each other out of danger. [link]

An extremely well trained dog. [link]

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday Links: May 15

NASA says their EM Drive will work in space. [link]
I don't know how big this drive is, but, in theory, we get not only interstellar relativistic propulsion, but atmospheric shuttlecraft as well. 

HEY! HITLER! We're in your bathtub using your soaps! [link]

The five and a half year old who gave birth. [link]

Captain America had different to-do lists when Winter Soldier was show in different countries. [link]
Click the photo to see alternate lists. 

An article ripping into Texas idiocy. [link]

The largest single cell organism. [link]

The war on rats. [link]

The sound of fear. [link]

The Muppets are coming back!

I'm not sure who's more excited, me or Gandolf. She's been Bork Bork Borking all day.

The books all white men own. [link]
Ok, the list starts out pretty weak, but gets better. I have several of these that I haven't read, a few that I have, some where I've seen the movie, a couple where I may have downloaded the e-book from, one or two that I started and couldn't finish, because bleh.

Anodizing a Titanium Over-Denture Bar

Turning the horrible, burning death of ants into art.

It's still a bad time to be in Baltimore. [link]

A 3D map of the nearest 100,000 stars. [link]
A couple of familiar names you'll see... Barnard's Star was mentioned in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Vega is where Jodi Foster ended up in Contact.

What went wrong in Age of Ultron. [link]
More importantly, a paragraph explaining everything that made the "Puny god." moment of The Avengers so awesome. 

Music video done with pins and string. Watch the backdrop degrade.

Seriously, though, Gandolf will be upset if the new show doesn't have the Swedish Chef.

Friday, May 08, 2015

No linky

Either my allergies or my allergy meds have pretty much eliminated my ability to read more than a few words at a time. So you get no links. But here's a conversation I recently had.

I was sitting on my front porch reading when the neighborhood drunk came over.

Drunk: Hey, Pr'fess'r. Whadda ya teech, again? 
Me: Huh? I'm not a teacher.
Drunk: Sure. Yur a pr'fess'r. Whatt'r you a pr'fess'r 'f, any-way?
Me: I'm not a professor. You just call me that because you see me out here reading or working on my laptop all the time. 

This was followed by an hour and a half of him talking about venomous animals, how he's 10 times smarter than me, and how he could kill me any time if he wanted to. 

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Movie Review: Avengers - Age of Ultron

Have you read the James Bond novel "The Spy Who Loved Me"? You may have seen the James Bond movie that shared the title. The title and the presence of 007 are the only things that the two stories have in common. In fact, in the book Bond doesn't show up until 2/3 of the way through.

Avengers - Age of Ultron does much the same thing.

It was originally a massive Marvel Universe crossover event. You should be able to get the bound graphic novel version from your local comic book store. Then you'll be able to see how little it has to do with the movie. Some departure was inevitable. The main driving characters in the comic aren't even currently properties controlled by Marvel Studios. But the core theme was sound. Nope, the whole thing got thrown out.

And that's not a bad thing.

When I saw the trailers for the movie I saw very little connection between the two stories. And I was becoming concerned. A sequel to one of the biggest movies of all time is already on shaky ground. Then to significantly rejigger an existing story? Nah, fuck it. We'll just keep the title and pitch the rest.

The important thing isn't the title. The important thing is the phrase "Written and Directed by Joss Whedon". Have faith and Whedon will deliver.

Cartoonist Howard Tayler convinced me to set aside my worries when he wrote "I'm not going to convince you to see, or not see, Age of Ultron. I'm not going to spoil anything for you either. I'm just giving you three bullets: • I have a new favorite movie for 2015" I trust Howard. Howard and I have similar tastes. So I took his word for it.

The Ultron story is tweeked a bit (read: a lot). He was originally created by Hank Pym whose first movie doesn't come out until next month. I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that this is the 4th movie where Tony Stark is primarily responsible for the thing he has to fight.

Having already seen the first Avengers movie is recommended. As is Guardians of Galaxy, to a lesser degree. As far as I can tell, nobody knows Coulson is alive... except the people we know do know. In fact, from what we see here Coulson and team are missing out on a whole hell of a lot. Who knew Hydra was that well set up?!

There's lots of battles, so I do want to talk about them a bit. In my review of The Avengers I talked about how the Battle of New York moved smoothly and you could pretty well tell what was going on in the battle. They kept that up pretty well in this movie. The opening battle has a few fast pans, but mostly you can follow things. I think this was done in part to contrast with the first battle with Ultron. A fast eye can still follow, but everything is sped up relative to the earlier battle to show how much bigger the threat he poses really is.

This movie was great. Really. Lots of quality banter, some new heroes and developments, more of what we loved from before, call backs, foreshadowing, lots of action, and a good story. OK, there's a slow spot in the middle, but we need time to decompress before going back into the thick of it.

I will be buying this on DVD.

Also, I'm totally going to see Star Wars with my parents in December.

Monday, May 04, 2015

TV show review: The Almighty Johnsons

I don't know why I hadn't heard about this show earlier. The first I knew about it was when I was in Kansas late last year and heard season 3 was starting. And it sounded brilliant!

Long ago the Norse gods, best known these days for their connection to The Avengers, came down from Asgard and inhabited the bodies of a bunch of worshipers in Midgard (Earth). Whenever someone in those families turns 21 BOOM they're inhabited by a god. It's not a possession. More symbiotic. That person gets that god's considerably lessened powers and becomes trapped in that god's recurring story. Some gods will always be irresistibly drawn to each other no matter what. They will excel in careers related to their god's specialty.

Our story begins when the youngest of the Johnson brothers turns 21. His brothers take him out in the woods, strip him naked, hand him a sword, and let him get struck by lightning. The family oracle and their remarkably young looking grandpa declares Axl Johnson to be the new embodiment of Odin.

The thing about Odin is that if he dies then all of his relatives on Earth will die no matter how remote. On the other hand, if he can find Frigg, his destined wife, then all the gods will get their full powers back.

The show ran for three seasons before getting cancelled. And why it got cancelled is something of a mystery. It's the first show from New Zealand that got picked up in the United States without being completely remade. Luckily, the series had a satisfactory ending.

I marathoned the series on Netflix streaming, doing 3-6 episodes almost every night. Often because they'd end the episode in such a way that would leave me yelling "DAMMIT! Now I have to watch the NEXT episode!" When I knew I should have gone to bed two hours before.

One of the brothers you may recognize from his time spent as one of the good looking dwarves in the Hobbit movies. This explains his on-again/off-again beard, many dwarf and short jokes, and even a reference to the shire.

You don't see me talk about shows in my blog a lot. I'm mentioning this only because I thought it was brilliant and I really think you should get the DVDs or stream it on Netflix. 

Friday, May 01, 2015

Friday Links: May 1

Health benefits of whiskey are better than red wine. [link]

New temple to Thor dedicated. [link]

The incident that led to the interring of Japanese-Americans during WWII. [link]

Novelists talk about their symbolism or lack thereof. [link]

The first woman who ran for President. [link]

Pavlov's second round of dogs were eaten by the researchers during the Siege of Leningrad. [link]

A parroty of the song Wrecking Ball.

Weird Al guest edits Mad Magazine. [link]

The melting ice in Lake Michigan has left the water clear enough to see shipwrecks on the bottom. [link]

Audi creates artificial hydrocarbons (diesel fuel). [link]

The impossible bicycle.

The value of using soldiers when doing an archaeological dig on a battlefield. [link]

How white skin evolved. [link]

Arcology cutaways. [link]