Monday, December 28, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Which one is it?
To me, historic refers to an event or location or other item that has made a name for itself in history while historical is a term that refers to a general quality that recalls an earlier era. The battle of the Alamo was historic, but the re-enactments of said battle are historical. Likewise, the Alamo chapel is a historic structure, but tourists come to San Antonio in part to enjoy the city's historical heritage.
I bring this up because this morning a Today show anchor referred to the blizzard that's been sweeping across the northern United States as a "historical Christmas storm". That usage mildly bothered me. If the storm goes down in the record books as particularly severe or long-lived, then it seems to me that that the storm is historic. You might refer to "historical" Christmas weather, but particular storms are "historic".
But perhaps I'm making too much of it. In fact, in my job, we sometimes have to deal with old structures or locations, and in my company's own paperwork I have noticed that "historic" and "historical" are used interchangeably. I seem to be the only one that even notices there are problems with the usage sometimes, so maybe I'm also the only one with this little linguistic hang-up.
What about you? Have you ever considered the differences between "historic" and "historical"?
Friday, December 18, 2009
If you like science fiction -- especially the kind that involves space battles -- then you will most likely enjoy this Gizmodo article by Joseph Shoer.
So, I think the small fighter craft would be nearly spherical, with a single main engine and a few guns or missiles facing generally forward. They would have gyroscopes and fuel tanks in their shielded centers. It would make sense to build their outer hulls in a faceted manner, to reduce their radar cross-section. Basically, picture a bigger, armored version of the lunar module. The larger warships would also probably be nearly spherical, with a small cluster of main engines facing generally backward and a few smaller engines facing forward or sideways for maneuvering. Cannons, lasers, and missile ports would face outward in many directions. On a large enough space cruiser, it would even be a good idea to put docking ports for the small fighters, so that the fighters don't have to carry as many consumables on board.
I think it's time to sketch some pictures and write some stories!
(Hat tip: The Volokh Conspiracy)
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Inspired by this blog post on Silver Creek 78250.
My wife reminded me that we are only 13 days away from Christmas. How does this sort of thing catch up on me? I mean, it seems like only a few weeks ago that we were celebrating Thanksgiving. Time flies. Next thing you know, it will be 2010. Then, we can join everybody in pronouncing the year, “Twenty-Ten” instead of “Two-thousand and nine”. I know this is not something worth arguing, but I think the only person I hear saying “Twenty-oh-nine” is the bow-tied Charles Osgood on CBS Sunday Morning. And he is correct, by the way. Everyone else I know says “Two-thousand and nine.” All I know is, this year; I am going to party like it is “One Thousand, nine-hundred, and ninety-nine.”.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Who wouldn't want this to be true?
HEIDELBERG, Germany -- It is a story guys everywhere have been waiting to hear. Beer may actually help prevent prostate cancer.
Preliminary evidence shows an ingredient in beer that's derived from hops is able to block the effect of testosterone on the prostate.
However, one doctor told USA Today that if beer could prevent prostate cancer, we would already see lower rates of it.
Well, maybe the current rates are the lower rates. Perhaps, if everyone stopped drinking beer, prostate cancer rates would skyrocket.
Did ya ever think of that?
Monday, December 07, 2009
And the event produces a very strange -- and somehow quite cool -- confluence of people, terms, and ideas.
SpaceShipTwo made its debut here today – a super-slick looking rocket plane showcased as the world's first passenger-carrying commercial spacecraft. The enterprise is under the financial wing of well-heeled U.K. billionaire and adventurer Sir Richard Branson and his space tourism firm Virgin Galactic.
Some 800 onlookers were treated to the rollout ceremonies – an event that took place in a very cold, windy, and near-snow desert environment here at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Still, attendees were treated to a glittery and spectacular site – the public unveiling of SpaceShipTwo, slung underneath its carrier aircraft.
At the rollout, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was joined by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for the honor of christening SpaceShipTwo as Virgin Space Ship (VSS) Enterprise.
"I have to tell you that there's a lot of cool things you get to do when you're Governor, said Schwarzenegger. "But today is one of the coolest things that I've ever done."
Virgin. Spaceship. Billionaire. Rocket. Enterprise. Adventure. Space tourism. Snowy desert. Space port. Arnie!
What's not to like.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
That's from Amorphis's latest album, Skyforger.
Amorphis is a Finnish metal band that I've listened to off and on over a few years, but this is the first full album of theirs that I have bought.
In two words: good stuff. I like the vocals and the harmonies, and some of their offerings on their other albums depart from traditional metal in a way that really slaps my ears in a good way. Skyforger is a solid addition to Amorphis's discography, and my only complaint is that which I've had all along with the band: their penchant for punctuating their music with death vocals. I know Amorphis started out as a death metal band, but their talent for harmonies and clean vocals is clear, and I think they can eventually let go of the growl without losing any power.
That having been said, the death vocals really don't detract from the beauty of this album. If you only want to download a few songs from Skyforger to see if you really like the stuff, I recommend "Sampo," "Sky is Mine," "Highest Star," and "Course of Fate."
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Monday, November 30, 2009
Inspired by this news story about Hamed Haddadi.
Smith: “He’s the first Iranian to play in the NBA.” (Smith pronounced Iranian as “Eye-ranian,” a pronunciation that offended a viewer who complained.)
Lawler: “There aren’t any Iranian players in the NBA,” repeating Smith’s mispronunciation.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
A blog I check out from time to time is Sorry I Missed Your Party, the proprietor of which (Party Pooper) skims through Flickr photo threads and posts some very interesting images of people having fun at parties. On Thanksgiving 2009, Party Pooper posted this picture:
According to the information on the Flickr thread, that's a picture from an Oscar-night party in New York in 2005. OK, it's a party, so here's this woman in an sheer top holding a mostly-empty bottle of vodka and not looking like she really cares who won the Oscar for Best Scoring for a Video Game Turned Into a Movie. What's so odd about that?
Nothing. Until you look behind the woman.
And then you will see ----- what the hell is that little cubby-hole cut into the wall right at floor level? And what's inside? Potatoes!?!
My God, who does that to their house and thinks it's actually a smart way to store your root vegetables? Or who moves into a house with that feature and decides to continue using it rather than immediately covering it over with a patch and some new paint? I mean, jeez, at least put a little door on that thing so your guests (and everyone else checking out this Flickr thread) don't have to watch your forgotten vegetables start taking root.
Believe me, people at parties notice these kinds of things.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Smart armor being developed by scientists and engineers at U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center in Michigan can not only predict its own failure, but also identify the size of bullets shot at it and even generate electrical power upon impact..
Intelligent armor is based on piezoelectrics, or materials that generate a small voltage when bent. The reverse is also true: Apply a small voltage, and a piezoelectric material will bend.
Each plate of armor, whether its [sic] wrapped around a soldier's body or vehicle's chassis, has two piezeoelectric sensors attached to it.
An electric current flows into one sensor and turns it into mechanical energy in the form of a tiny vibration that ripples through the armor plate. The other piezoelectric device takes that mechanical vibration and turns it back into electrical energy.
Anywhere from five to 15 volts of electricity is pumped into, and out of, an intact plate of armor. If the armor has been damaged by bullets, shrapnel or anything else, some of the current released into the armor won't be picked up on the other end.
By measuring just how much energy is lost, the TARDEC scientists can determine how damaged the armor is.
Space weather. Cool stuff.
As on Earth, electrical fields above Saturn interact with atmospheric chemicals to produce shimmering lights above the polar regions.
Now NASA's Cassini spacecraft has captured video of Saturn's aurora.
Saturn's flicking polar lights dance higher above the planet – 750 miles (1,200 km) – than any known aurora in the solar system. They ripple like tall curtains, changing every few minutes, according to a statement today from the space agency.
"The auroras have put on a dazzling show, shape-shifting rapidly and exposing curtains that we suspected were there, but hadn't seen on Saturn before," said Andrew Ingersoll of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "Seeing these things on another planet helps us understand them a little better when we see them on Earth."
Monday, November 23, 2009
Ooh, this sounds exciting!
BOULDER, Colo. - Call it Operation: Plymouth Rock. A plan to send a crew of astronauts to an asteroid is gaining momentum, both within NASA and industry circles.
Not only would the deep space sojourn shake out hardware, it would also build confidence in long-duration stints at the moon and Mars. At the same time, the trek would sharpen skills to deal with a future space rock found on a collision course with Earth.
In Lockheed Martin briefing charts, the mission has been dubbed "Plymouth Rock — An Early Human Asteroid Mission Using Orion." Lockheed is the builder of NASA's Orion spacecraft, the capsule-based replacement for the space shuttle.
Send astronauts, by all means. But leave the miners at home. They're more trouble than they're worth.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
A lot of it, apparently.
It's official: There's water ice on the moon, and lots of it. When melted, the water could potentially be used to drink or to extract hydrogen for rocket fuel.
NASA's LCROSS probe discovered beds of water ice at the lunar south pole when it impacted the moon last month, mission scientists announced today. The findings confirm suspicions announced previously, and in a big way.
"Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn't find just a little bit, we found a significant amount," Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator from NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.
Lot's for us to drink when we get there, let's hope!
Friday, November 13, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
And here's what I used to make those holes.
The circle in the upper right of the target were shots fired right-handed, using both the Beretta and the Smith & Wesson. The circle in the upper left were shots fired left-handed. In both cases, I used careful aim with the target first at about 10-12 yards and then at about 7 yards.
All the holes in the middle were center mass firing with both weapons. Sometimes one shot, sometimes two, sometimes with a holster draw.
I had a great time. It's been a while since I've had the chance to squeeze off some rounds and not have to worry about being anywhere afterward, so it was quite relaxing.
And the most amazing part about this morning's exercise? I seem to be better at shooting left-handed, even though it feels absolutely strange to shoot that way.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Specifically the possibility of extraterrestrial life in that space.
The Catholic Church seems to think so.
[J]ust as the Church eventually made accommodations after Copernicus and Galileo showed that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, and when it belatedly accepted the truth of Darwin's theory of evolution, Catholic leaders say that alien life can be aligned with the Bible’s teachings.
Father Jose Funes, a Jesuit astronomer at the Vatican Observatory ..., said: "As a multiplicity of creatures exists on Earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God.
"This does not conflict with our faith, because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God."
The occasion for the comments is a conference on astrobiology being held by the Vatican. Interesting stuff, plus some pretty funny photo art at the link.
Monday, November 09, 2009
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Will wonders never cease? Now it seems that our solar system's most sun-drenched planet may actually have seasons! Just like on Earth.
OK, maybe not exactly like Earth.
Mercury's atmosphere is what scientists call an "exosphere," and is made up of atoms kicked up from the surface. It is very tenuous and has a very low density, meaning atoms in the atmosphere rarely run into each other. It also has a tail that streams away from the planet in the opposite direction of the sun.
MESSENGER looked at differences in three atoms in the exosphere — sodium, calcium and magnesium — between the probe's three flybys. They detected much less sodium during the third flyby than they had during the second.
"While this is dramatic, it isn't totally unexpected," [mission scientist Ronald Vervack, Jr., of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory] said. This is because radiation pressures from the sun change as Mercury moves through its orbit, which changes the amount of sodium liberated from the surface.
In essence, Mercury's atmosphere experiences seasonal effects during the planet's orbit.
Not quite like the changing leaves and cold fronts we are used to, but pretty interesting nonetheless.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Do you think it could be possible? Guess what?
Apparently it's already happened! And NASA videotaped the whole thing!
If Kohler is to be believed, then astronauts have been sexing it up in space for some time now and have been taping it for research purposes. And, given the tight confines of spacecraft and the need for at least one other person to be present to tape the encounter, it seems that any such mission would turn out to be nothing more than a porno movie shoot under very difficult circumstances.
"The issue of sex in space is a serious one," [French writer Pierre Kohler] says. "The experiments carried out so far relate to missions planned for married couples on the future International Space Station, the successor to Mir. Scientists need to know how far sexual relations are possible without gravity."
He cites a confidential Nasa report on a space shuttle mission in 1996. A project codenamed STS-XX was to explore sexual positions possible in a weightless atmosphere.
Twenty positions were tested by computer simulation to obtain the best 10, he says. "Two guinea pigs then tested them in real zero-gravity conditions. The results were videotaped but are considered so sensitive that even Nasa was only given a censored version."
I just hope they picked the lead actors very well.
(Story from The Guardian; hat tip: Blogonomicon)
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
This sounds promising.
Rocket propellant has barely changed in the more than 50 years since the launch of the first artificial satellite Sputnik. But a new mixture of nano-aluminum powder and frozen water could make rocket launches more environmentally friendly, and even allow spacecraft to refuel at distant locations such as the moon or Mars.
The aluminum-ice propellant known as ALICE gets its kick from a chemical reaction between water and aluminum. Researchers hope that the hydrogen products of that reaction might go beyond launching rockets, and also feed hydrogen fuel cells for long duration space missions.
"In the bigger picture, we're looking at technology that can store hydrogen long term," said Steven Son, a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University. "Water is a nice, stable way to store hydrogen."
Both NASA and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research have shown enough interest in the concept to fund initial rocket firing tests. The research teams at Purdue and Penn State University used ALICE to successfully launch a rocket to 1,300 feet during an August flight test.
Such technology may not see action for some years to come, or at least until NASA sorts out its space exploration plans. But the recent confirmation of water sources on the moon and Mars may hint at a future where ALICE and similar rocket propellants become highly practical.
Water and metal, reacting together to power rockets. If this technology pans out, then human interplanetary -- and perhaps even interstellar -- space travel will be within reality's grasp. The trip may not be quick, but there could be plenty of refueling stations along the way.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
This is the third book of C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy: That Hideous Strength
Overall impression: Not a bad read at all. Not great, but enjoyable.
The tone of the book is vastly different from that of its predecessors, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Where the events of the first two books take place on Mars and Venus, respectively, everything that happens here happens on Earth. It's a classic battle between good and evil, but the evil is disguised as a vast new government entity (called the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments, or N.I.C.E. -- get it?) that threatens to take over post-WWII England with political manipulations and engineered revolutions. (On second thought, maybe a vast government entity is not such a good disguise at all.) The diabolical plots fail, of course, when Ransom and his cohorts get a little help from a revived Merlin who takes away the language from the evil ones, and England survives their machinations while the main character, Mark, discovers the love for his wife he had never before realized.
In any case, I think the writing here is much better than in the previous two books, and if you were to decide to choose just one title from the Space Trilogy to read, forsaking the others, I would suggest this one. It's a bit outlandish in parts, and overall it's fairly predictable (I don't know how much that would be true in the mid-1940s, though), but not bad if you are a Lewis fan.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
This is not an encouraging development in the field of manned space exploration.
Almost six years ago, the nation embarked on a new space policy of retiring the Space Shuttle in 2010 (next year, after the International Space Station is complete) and replacing it with a new (and presumably safer) means of getting crew to and from orbit. This vehicle’s primary mission was to carry astronauts to the moon and beyond, but most people assumed that it would also be capable of replacing the Shuttle for that purpose. It wasn’t planned to be ready until 2014 and in the half decade since, the schedule has slipped years beyond that, while its budget has ballooned. So now the original “gap” during which the U.S. would be incapable of launching its own crews into orbit to change out astronauts at the space station has grown from three years to five or more.
What does this have to do with the Iranian nukes problem and the Russians?
It has always been assumed that “the gap” would be filled by Russian Soyuz flights, as it was during the previous “gap” created when the Shuttle was shut down for almost three years after the loss of Columbia. But there was always a bug in that ointment, called the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA). It is a U.S. law that prohibits purchases from countries that aid those countries for which it is named in their efforts to develop missiles and nuclear weapons. By the letter of the law, Russia has always been in violation of it, realistically, but it has always maintained sufficient plausible deniability to allow Congress to grant it waivers so that NASA could continue to get Russian support for ISS, which has been difficult to maintain without it, even with the Shuttle operating. Once the Shuttle retires, it will be almost unthinkable: Russia will have the only system capable of delivering humans to orbit.
Yikes. Perhaps we shouldn't retire the shuttle right now. Or perhaps we, as a nation, need to be encouraging private investment in space travel more than we are currently doing. I think a little more competition might lead to some faster developments, and it might let us get more ships up into space sooner.
(from Rand Simberg; hat tip, Instapundit)
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Here is the second part of the list of my favorite Iron Maiden guitar solos. (Part 1 is here.)
"Phantom of the Opera" from Iron Maiden:
"The Prisoner" from The Number of the Beast:
"Prodigal Son" from Killers:
"Public Enema Number One" from No Prayer for the Dying:
"Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son:
"Wasted Years" from Somewhere in Time:
Here is a list of my 11 favorite guitar solos from Iron Maiden songs. There are 11 because that is how many albums I own, and I thought it would be most convenient to just pick one song from each album to highlight rather than try to rank them. And I have chosen these solos for the same reason I picked out the solos for my top 10 list of favorite heavy metal solos: they have a certain "replay" quality that renders higher levels of listening pleasure in proportion to the numbers of times they are played.
The solos are in alphabetical order by song titles. Guitarists featured: Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gers.
"2 Minutes to Midnight" from Powerslave:
"Die With Your Boots On" from Piece of Mind:
"The Nomad" from Brave New World:
"No More Lies" from Dance of Death:
"Out of the Shadows" from A Matter of Life and Death:
Part 2 to come later.
UPDATE: Part 2 is posted.
Friday, October 09, 2009
Well, it wasn't very showy, but at least the scientists got something to work with.
Scientists said NASA's moon-smashing mission produced enough data on Friday to address questions about lunar water ice — but the crash didn't come close to meeting public expectations as a cosmic fireworks show.
"Today we kicked up some moondust, and all indications are we are going to have some really interesting results," said Pete Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center in California. Ames served as the mission control center for the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission, or LCROSS.
The LCROSS blast promised to show how much water ice might lie within a cold, dark crater known as Cabeus. And judging by that scientific standard, members of the LCROSS team said Friday's closely observed crash was shaping up as a smashing success. The spacecraft hit the crater in a shadowed area, just as hoped. All of LCROSS' instruments appeared to be working as expected, and observations were streaming in from a network of ground-based telescopes monitoring the impact.
But there was no big flash, as was expected and hoped for. Disappointing to the watchers, no doubt, but I guess they can't all be Tempel 1. Now that was a blast.
Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
In the previous post, I quoted a news story from Space.com about the crashing of a spent rocket stage onto the surface of the moon -- all for science (and a little show!), of course. Now let's take a moment to look more closely at the first sentence of that story.
Scientists are hoping for a literal slam dunk with NASA's upcoming Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS mission — an event to be observed by a coordinated network of Earth and space-based equipment. [emphasis added]We'll look at it for just a moment. That's all. I don't want to get a reputation for being a grammar grouch.
Then again, maybe Dwayne Day was the ghostwriter for this story.
Scientists are hoping for a literal slam dunk with NASA's upcoming Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS mission — an event to be observed by a coordinated network of Earth and space-based equipment.Let the crashing begin! I just wish I could see it happen in real-time.
LCROSS will search for water ice on the moon on Friday morning by crashing its spent upper-stage Centaur rocket into Cabeus, a permanently sunlight-shy crater within the lunar south pole region. The impact is set for 7:30 a.m. EDT (1130 GMT).
That Centaur will serve as a heavy impactor on the moon, with scientists hoping a resulting debris plume will ascend above the moon's landscape. The intent is to toss tons of debris and potentially water ice and vapor high above the lunar surface.
As part of the LCROSS mission, along with the upper stage's "bang-up" job, a Shepherding Spacecraft will follow a similar trajectory of the Centaur, flying through and studying the Centaur impact plume before it too speeds into the lunar terrain.
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
I realize that most people who write stories, novels, television shows, screenplays, and the like are probably not from Texas. As such, they won't be familiar with life in the Lone Star State, and they can be forgiven if they make some minor cultural errors when using Texas as a setting. But grossly misrepresenting Texas (or any other state) in a way that can be easily fact-checked by just looking at a map is a bigger transgression.
For an example, I turn to that purveyor of refined culture, Marvel Comics.
Recently I introduced my son to my old comic book collection. Since he is still young (and since many of the titles I used to read were written for mature audiences), I have been going through the collection bit by bit and reviewing some of the titles to make sure they are appropriate. When he gets older and can handle some of the adult themes he will get the rest of the collection, but there's still plenty for him to read now, and I'm getting just as much a kick out of watching him enjoy the comics as I got out of reading them myself.
Recently I got to the section of my collection that focuses on Marvel's Punisher character (largely inappropriate for my son's age, by the way), and I came across this issue, The Punisher War Journal #16. As you can see from the cover, this episode takes place in Texas.
Yes, the "Texas Checking Account Massacre." Sure to be an enduring classic.
The story takes place in the days when savings and loan institutions were tanking, and the Punisher must go after some unscrupulous characters who have been bilking regular people out of their hard-earned cash. The main offender is a high-dollar scammer named Kelleher, and the Punisher goes to Texas to punish him.
The story opens in the fictional town of Elsinor, and here is where the first geographical mistake takes place.
The story names Elsinor as a suburb of Houston. In case you are not from Texas (and in case you may be a writer who is thinking about setting a story in Texas), Houston is here:
The troubled financial institution in the Punisher story is called "South Texas Savings and Loan", as you can see in the opening panel. This is a minor quibble, but Houston is not in South Texas, which is highlighted below:
Houston is generally considered to be in East Texas, or Southeast Texas. I know it is entirely possible that a small firm can start in one area of the state and expand to other markets, but I'm not sure that's the intent of the writer here. I think the writer just assumed Houston was in South Texas and named the S&L such for the convenience of the readers (who are probably not from Texas, either).
The second geographical error takes place on the sixth page of the story, where we see the Punisher discussing his next task with his sidekick, Microchip.
They talk about going to Houston to take care of Kelleher, and the following dialogue takes place:
The Punisher: Fix me up a file -- I'll pick him up in Houston at the trial. I'll need some bugs [listening devices] ...Sorry, Microman. That may be a joke, but it falls flatter than the Llano Estacado because the Panhandle of Texas is a looooong way away from Houston.
Microchip: You're gonna need some bug spray. The Panhandle gets mighty itchy this time of year.
How far is it? Let me give an example that big-time writers might find useful. The Panhandle is farther away from Houston than Canada is from New York City, about twice as far, in fact.
Perhaps Microchip can be forgiven. Maybe he, as a character, is really ignorant about Texas, or maybe he just likes horrible jokes. And if that was the intent of the writer, then I should cut him a little slack. But I don't think that was his intent. I think the writer is the one who doesn't know squat about Texas, and to him the Panhandle and Houston and South Texas and any other part of the state is all the same. If that's the case, then that's just sloppy writing, and it's kind of an insult to Texas itself. Really, it's not that difficult to find a map and to take a quick look at it.
But, oh well. It's not like it's the first time Texas has ever been misrepresented in popular culture. And, in all likelihood, it won't be the last.
Friday, October 02, 2009
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Here is the second part of my top ten heavy metal guitar solos. (Part 1 is here.)
Mötley Crüe, "Starry Eyes" from Too Fast For Love
Guitarist - Mick Mars
Ozzy Osbourne, "Mr. Crowley" from Blizzard of Ozz
Guitarist - Randy Rhoads
Queensrÿche, "Walk in the Shadows" from Rage for Order
Guitarists - Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton
Scorpions, "China White" from Blackout
Guitarist - Mathias Jabs
Steve Vai - "The Animal" from Passion and Warfare
Guitarist - Steve Vai
You may have noticed that I did not include any songs from Iron Maiden, my favorite metal band. That's not an oversight. I was going to include some solos from the Maiden guitarists, but then I realized I could probably put together a-whole-nother top ten list featuring just them. I may do that some day.
How about you? Do you have any favorite guitar solos that you find yourself listening to over and over again?
Here is a list of guitar solos from heavy metal songs that I find particularly enjoyable to listen to. I did not compile this list with technical proficiency or musicality in mind (though many of these solos certainly possess such qualities). I simply picked ten that have a certain "replay" quality, which means I find myself replaying the solos immediately after hearing them just so I can hear them again. Over and over again.
Here are the first five of my top ten.
Black Sabbath, "Lonely is the Word" from Heaven and Hell
Guitarist - Tony Iommi
Dream Theater, "Under a Glass Moon" from Images and Words
Guitarist - John Petrucci
Judas Priest, "Freewheel Burning" from Defenders of the Faith
Guitarist - Glenn Tipton
Megadeth, "Hangar 18" from Rust in Peace
Guitarists - Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman
Metallica, Blackened from ...And Justice For All
Guitarist - Kirk Hammett
Part 2 of this list to come later. (UPDATE: Here it is.)
Saturday, September 26, 2009
... and hopefully plenty for us to drink, once we get there.
There's water all over the moon, after all.
"Widespread water has been detected on the surface of the moon," said planetary geologist Carle Pieters of Brown University in Rhode Island, who led one of the studies detailing the findings.
While the findings, detailed in the Sept. 25 issue of the journal Science, don't mean there are pools of liquid water sitting on the moon, it does mean that there is — entirely unexpectedly — water potentially tied up or mixed in the minerals that make up the lunar dirt.
"What we're detecting is completely unexpected," Pieters said. "The moon continues to surprise us."
And Mars hides water ice just beneath -- really, just beneath -- the surface of the planet.
Craters gouged into the ruddy Martian terrain have revealed subsurface water ice closer to the red planet's equator than would be expected, new orbiter images show.
The ice also seems to be 99 percent pure, instead of the dirty dust and ice mixture some scientists expected to see, scientists said today [September 24, 2009].
I'm optimistic about space travel. I am confident that we will eventually colonize other planets, and not soon enough for me. So it's encouraging to know that we can possibly get something to drink, once we get where we're going.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
I had no idea the Air Force had a place that looks as magnificent as this.
Image created by Wikimedia Commons user Hustvedt
That's the interior of the cadet chapel at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado. It's a stunning, breathtaking version of the traditional university chapel, and I was struck by its futuristic look when I happened to stumble on the image while searching for other information online. I don't know if I will ever get the chance to see this place in person, but I hope someday I might.
And, in case you thought it was just the inside that looked cool and ultramodern, take a look at the imposing, angular exterior of the chapel.
Image created by Swedish Wikipedia user Greverod.
This is an all-around beautiful building. Though I tend to prefer more traditional styles for religious structures -- Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque, and the like -- some modern styles can be appealing, if done right. The USAF Academy Cadet Chapel does it right.
Read more about it at Wikipedia.
Monday, September 14, 2009
One word: blech.
Yes, that's Shiner Smokehaus Mesquite Smoked Beer, a brew that some brilliant marketing dude at the Spoetzl Brewery thought would be a good sell around here. I don't know if my fellow Texans liked it much, but I don't.
The back label describes this beer thus:
Brewed with pale malt that's been smoked with native mesquite in the backyard of our little brewery in Shiner, Texas (pop. 2,070), this refreshing Helles-style beer has a smoky flavor that goes great with all the flavors of summer.No, it doesn't. It goes great with nothing. I will probably finish the six-pack I bought (simply because I hate to waste money, and, hell, the beer's already paid for), but I don't see myself ever wasting another dime on this crappy variety. I like my smoke flavor on my barbecue brisket, not in my beer. Shiner does so well with its Bock, Hefeweizen, and other seasonal flavors that there's no reason to keep this line on.
Dump it, marketing dude.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
So, I signed up for Time Warner's digital cable option because they offered me a good deal. And now, just recently, I got this tempting "Cash Back Redemption" offer from the cable company:
That doesn't sound half bad, eh? Twenty-five dollars cash, going right back into my pocket. All I've got to do is fill out this rebate form and I will get it. Why not, right?
Oh, but then it says "See terms and conditions for cash rebate on back of this coupon." So I look, and I see this:
And I look closer at the fine print:
And it says:
Valid for residential customers in Time Warner Cable Texas region only.
No problem. I'm residential, and I live in Texas. So far, so good.
Limit one coupon per account.
Again, no problem. They only sent me the one coupon, so that's all I intend on filling out.
Coupon may not be assigned, transferred or reproduced.
I don't intend to, even if I knew how to "assign" it anyway.
Other restrictions may apply.
Hm. OK. I wonder what those are.
Must return form within 90 days of PLG activation to receive credit.
OK, fine. That gives me some time to fill it out.
$ 25 Cash Back will appear as a bill credit approximately 4-6 weeks after form submission.
What the hell? A "bill credit?" Cash, to me, means cash, legal tender that can be spent. Dollar bills, or at least a check. How in the hell can "cash back" mean a "bill credit?"
Bill credit has no cash value.
Oh, come on, Time Warner. Now you're just rubbing it in. First, you have the stones to say that cash really means credit, and then you hammer this point home with a sentence that pretty much says, "In case you are so dense as to think 'cash' actually means cash, we're telling you flat out that it doesn't. Especially in Time Warner Land."
Well, at least you're pretty clear on that, I guess.
Must have an active Price Lock Guarantee account in service longer than 60 days to receive credit.
Wait a minute. A few lines above, you told me I only had 90 days to submit this form or I wouldn't get the "cash back," and now you're telling me that I have to wait at least 60 days after my activation to even think about sending it in. That's just a 30-day window. Wow, Time Warner, you sure are restricting my options for redemption.
Time Warner Cable is not responsible for lost, late, or misdirected mail. Offer may not be combined with any other offers or discounts.
Of course not.
"The Power of You."
Sure. Just not too much power, I suppose.
Sunday, September 06, 2009
Here's an interesting article from Tariq Malik of Space.com on rookies in space and the unexpected things they experience.
"It's a very, very different environment than I expected," Discovery shuttle pilot Kevin Ford, a first-time spaceflyer, said from orbit late Friday.And one of the coolest things about the moon is that it apparently smells like gunpowder, at least it did to the Apollo explorers when the astronauts got back into the landers and took off their helmets.
One of things Ford wasn't ready for is the weird smell.
"From the [spacewalks] there really is a distinct smell of space when they come back in," Ford said from the station in a Friday night news conference. "It's like...something I haven't ever smelled before, but I'll never forget it. You know how those things stick with you."
"It is really a strong smell," radioed Apollo 16 pilot Charlie Duke. "It has that taste -- to me, [of] gunpowder -- and the smell of gunpowder, too." On the next mission, Apollo 17, Gene Cernan remarked, "smells like someone just fired a carbine in here."Which gets me to thinking: Could firearms work in space? The cartridges are sealed, and they operate on simple chemical reactions, so I guess you could theoretically shoot a gun in space, or on the moon. Now, whether you'd actually want to is another thing. There's that whole law of physics that says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, which means recoil would be a bitch.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
So, I'm watching "The Greatest Ever" on the Military Channel, and the show is about the ten greatest tanks ever built.
And guess who I see on the show.
That's right, the lead singer of Iron Maiden happens to own one of the greatest tanks ever built, a Russian T-34, and they had him on this awesome show driving his very own tank through a mud field! The show even listed him on the title bar as "Rock Star/Tank Owner."
Then again, Bruce Dickinson himself is just pretty cool all around, including having a decent second career as a pilot.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
My previous post mentioned Sergei Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky as a means to explain how I had come across a musical piece that had been in my CD collection for many years but that I hadn't actually listened to until just a week ago. Now I'd like to look more closely at Nevsky itself.
The work is a cantata that was taken from the musical score Prokofiev wrote for a 1938 film of the same name directed by Sergei Eisenstein. Rather than rehash all the great descriptions of the work that are already floating around out there, I thought I would just reproduce an excerpt from the liner notes of the Chicago Symphony recording that was done under the direction of Fritz Reiner:
Alexander Nevsky deals with the Russian defense of Novgorod in 1242 against the invading Knights of the Teutonic Order. Prince Alexander Nevsky, through the power of his personality alone, gathered an enormous army and met the enemy on the frozen waters of Lake Chud. There he dealt them a humiliating defeat, thus saving his country from the brutality threatened by the German horde. (The film was made one year before the signing of the Soviet-Nazi pact, and sentiment in Russia was at that time violently anti-German.) With this epic and heroic tale as a pivot, Prokofiev created a score that equaled in every degree the dynamism and vitality of Eisenstein's movie.That's a pretty good description of the work. And now, here are some bits from each movement that should give you a good sample of what Nevsky is all about. (These excerpts are from the recording of Charles Dutoit leading the Montreal Symphony.)
I. Russia Under the Mongolian Yoke
This movement is intended to depict a battered landscape, a Russia that has been devastated by the Mongols. The music is desolate and sear, suggesting hopelessness and despair. Interesting that the piece opens with this mood.
II. Song About Alexander Nevsky
The Russians sing of past military glory, and they call on the people to prepare for the next threat. A very martial sound, stirring and inspiring. Appropriate for a call to arms.
III. The Crusaders in Pskov
The Teutonic Knights enter Pskov to the sound of ominous, doom-filled music. Imagine Darth Vader in medieval armor riding a dark horse, make it darker, and then you will have pretty decent picture to go along with such threatening music. The lyrics here are in Latin to reflect the Roman Church's influence over the knights, and their English translation is (roughly) "As a foreigner, I expected my feet to be shod with cymbals."
IV. Arise, Ye Russian People
Now with the invaders in Pskov, the Russian folk are urged to run to battle. Patriotic and grand, the music underscores the urgent call to defend the motherland.
V. The Battle on the Ice
The battle begins, and the forces clash on a frozen lake. Chaos and mayhem rule, and the Teutonic (German) theme comes back to duel with the Alexander Nevsky (Russian) theme first presented in second movement. The Russians are victorious, and the Teutons sink beneath the frigid waters of the lake.
VI. Field of the Dead
After the battle, a lonely woman walks the field of the dead. She mourns the passing of the brave soldiers, but she also praises their fighting spirit, and the music is appropriately somber. Strange that this is called the Field of the Dead given that the battle took place on a frozen lake.
VII. Alexander's Entry into Pskov
Victorious, Alexander Nevsky returns to Pskov to receive the praise and adulations of the people. The music is celebratory as the Russians sing songs of rejoicing.
A grand piece, and one of my favorites. If you like this kind of robust, boisterous classical music, I suggest you get your own copy of Alexander Nevsky and listen to it over and over again. I don't think you will be disappointed.
P.S.: Just remember to get a recording where the lyrics are sung in Russian! Much better than that weird version by Fritz Reiner where they sing in English!
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I recently came across a gem in my music collection, a little treasure that I didn't even know I had. Here is a sample:
That is the overture to Russlan & Ludmila, an opera by Mikhail Glinka. It's not the most inspired piece in the repertoire, but it is fun to listen to, as many overtures are.
So, why didn't I know that I had this piece? Because it is an extra on a CD that I bought a long time ago, a disk that was made to showcase another, grander work that I decided I didn't care for enough to even finish listening to the rest of the CD.
Allow me to explain:
Many years back I discovered a piece by Sergei Prokofiev called Alexander Nevsky. This work is a cantata put together by Prokofiev and based on music he composed for a 1938 Russian film of the same name. I’ve never seen the movie, but the cantata is breathtaking. After hearing some of the music on a sampler, I went out and bought this CD featuring the Montreal Symphony performing under the direction of Charles Dutoit.
I thoroughly enjoyed it at the time, and I still do.
But I needed another recording. You see, I have a habit of buying at least one other recording of a piece I enjoy very much just to get a different interpretation of it. Different conductors, performers, and orchestrations imbue new character to familiar pieces, and I feel I get to know a work better by hearing it in a new version. So I bought this CD, which is Fritz Reiner’s take on Alexander Nevsky using the Chicago Symphony.
And I was sorely disappointed.
For one main reason: the lyrics were in English!
My concern may be nit-picky, but the work is about a Russian figure, and it was written by a Russian composer, and my first exposures to it featured Russian lyrics. To me, Alexander Nevsky should be sung in Russian, and I found it oddly unsettling to hear the lyrics in a language I understood! It’s weird, but I was totally turned off to Reiner’s version, and I put aside the CD in a fit of pique and forgot about it.
But, in doing so, I missed out on the Glinka overture!
See, in the world of classical music recordings, albums that feature longer, broader works are often rounded out with a “bonus” work, a short piece that is somewhat in the same character and really just functions as filler for the end of the recording. These are often overtures for ballets or operas, and that’s what RCA Victor chose to put at the end of the Reiner recording. But, since I had never listened to the whole CD all the way through, I never actually heard the piece.
Until this past weekend.
I came across this CD again while going through my collection, and for some reason I decided to listen to the whole thing. To my surprise, the English lyrics didn’t bother me as much as they used to, and I found myself liking this version just as much as the original CD I bought. But even more pleasing than that is I got all the way through to the last track and listened to the Russlan and Ludmila overture for the first time. And I was happy to hear it.
I didn’t write this long post to say how great the Glinka piece is. It’s fun, but it’s not spectacular. No, I wrote this to remind myself that I need to pay a little more attention to things and to not write off the whole for one bad bit. You never know what gems you will find that way.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
Sunday, August 09, 2009
John Donne was a very religious man. And he was a spectacular writer who put together poetry that was groundbreaking in his day and still ripe for analysis in this age. Here, today, is one of his Holy Sonnets, one of many complex pieces that illustrate his relationship with God.
This poem was written in 1633. The placements of the commas and apostrophes are accurate, and they demonstrate how poets used to struggle to maintain meter in their works. In this case, as in many poems of the age, the meter is iambic pentameter.
Batter my heart, three-personed God; for You
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me,'and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to'another due,
Labor to'admit You, but O, to no end;
Reason, Your viceroy'in me, me should defend,
But is captíved, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly'I love You,'and would be lovéd fain,
But am betrothed unto Your enemy.
Divorce me,'untie or break that knot again;
Take me to You, imprison me, for I,
Except You'enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me.
Rhyme scheme: abba abba cd cd ee
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Do you remember digital compact cassettes?
I don't. But if this old advertisement from the early 1990s is any indication, apparently someone thought this would be a good format to compete with the compact disc.
Obviously, the DCC never did take hold. It was just one of those experimental formats that got crowded out by another format or that never really appealed to the masses. Seeing this ad reminded me of a time (probably about the same time) when I went to an electronics store to buy a replacement home CD player for one that had died. I knew what I wanted -- a carousel with at least five trays so I could get a decent randomization that would play for a few hours -- and I said as much to the store employee that asked if he could help me find something. So, I was a little surprised when he said (I'm paraphrasing as best as I can remember), "Oh, no. What you want to get is a MiniDisc player."
I said, "What?"
He said, "The MiniDisc. It's the new format, and it's the direction that the industry is going. You'd be wise to go ahead and get it because compact discs are on their way out."
Now I had already undergone a format conversion some years prior. When my old turntable died, vinyl had pretty much been disappearing from local record stores, and I decided to make the wholesale switch to digital music by buying a CD player. Shortly after, I sold off my LPs and singles and used the money to buy a bunch of compact discs. So, when my first CD player gave up the ghost, I was more than willing to get another one. In fact, I was upgrading from a single-drawer model to a carousel with a random-play feature.
And here was this guy telling me that's not what I wanted. He was telling me I wanted something else, something that played a format I was unfamiliar with, something that would require me to get rid of -- and rebuild -- my music collection all over again.
So I told him, "No, I think I'm going to stay with a CD player." I was being polite.
I was rewarded with a snort. "You can do that, but no one's going to be producing CDs anymore."
I was a little miffed. I said, "So, what, they're going to be making nothing but these mini-disks from now on?"
"I don't think so. I think this is just a flash in the pan."
Now he was miffed. "What? This is something that's being embraced by musicians and afficionados because of its superior quality. It provides a much better audio experience, and it does blah-blah-blah, and yackity-smackity, and technobabble ... and all that ... ..."
"But," I interrupted, "that's not what's out there. Stores sell nothing but compact discs right now. Perhaps if the mini-disk catches on, I might consider switching. But I have a whole bunch of CDs, and the record stores sell CDs, and if the mini-disk goes the way of the 8-track, I will still have my CDs. So, I need a CD player. With a carousel that holds at least five disks. And no mini-disk player."
Very few times have I seen someone hired to help paying customers actually show open, glaring contempt toward a person who is willing to spend money in that particular store. But that's what I got that day. He looked at me for a couple of seconds, and I could read all of his thoughts. "Fine," he finally said. "The CD players are over there." And he walked off without another word.
Now, I don't know why I didn't say something that day. I should have asked for the store manager and expressed my disapproval of the condescending attitude I got. I should have just left the store and spent my money elsewhere. But I didn't. I found the CD player I wanted, I paid for it (and the checkout lady was very nice to me), and I got many years of enjoyment out of it.
And, guess what? I still have all of my CDs. Sure, they're all ripped to my computer, and I listen to most of my music on an MP3 player now, but I still have them. And I don't have a single MiniDisc in my collection.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Despite our best efforts to love cute animals, nature can be so cruel, dashing our feelings at every turn.
Animals eat other animals. It's not very pretty.
Dunham, a juvenile male dolphin, was released Tuesday morning after eight months in rehab recovering from pneumonia.
Jeni Hatter, spokeswoman for the Clearwater [Florida] Marine Aquarium, said the dolphin was attacked twice by at least two different sharks. Hatter said experts nearby were monitoring the dolphin with a VHF radio transmitter at the time of the attack.
Hatter said experts rushed to the dolphin and euthanized him because of the life-threatening injuries.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
This is the second book of C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy: Perelandra.
Since I had already read the first book in the series, Out of the Silent Planet, and since I had bought the third one (That Hideous Strength) because it was on sale for four dollars, and since I held a Barnes and Noble gift card with twenty dollars on it, I thought I would go ahead and get Perelandra to round things out. And, since I had already read the first one, I naturally gave the second one a chance.
In short, this story is not bad. But if you're thinking of reading it, be warned: it is entirely about religion, more so than the first book. As Alan from Blogonomicon said here, the only thing science fictiony about Perelandra is that it takes place on Venus rather than Earth. This seems to be Lewis's attempt to write an explanation of how he sees the Christian religion, to "justify the ways of God to men," as John Milton described his reason for writing the classic poem, Paradise Lost.
In Lewis's work, Ransom, the protagonist from Out of the Silent Planet, travels by angel power to Venus, called Perelandra. There he meets that planet's Adam and Eve figures, and he literally battles Satan to keep him out of the still-young paradise. The story starts off kind of slow, but it picks up when Ransom and the Devil start beating the crap out of each other and engage in a pursuit across the ocean and underground where magma flows and strange beasts lurk. Unfortunately, this isn't until page 128 of a 190-page book.
But it's not a bad read. If you like this kind of stuff, give it a try. It's not a long book. But if you're turned off by religious tales or if you're not Christian and therefore might be unfamiliar with some of the religion's finer points, you might want to give it a pass because some of the references might seem obscure.
Hopefully soon I will start on the next book, That Hideous Strength. I'm curious to see where Ransom will go from here.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
One of two toilets on the International Space Station is apparently broken, NASA announced Sunday.(from Space.com)
It's too early to tell if the toilet has a serious problem, or can be fixed quickly, space station flight director Brian Smith said.
The station is currently host to 13 people - a record number of crewmembers onboard at once. While that toilet, which is in the U.S. Destiny laboratory, is down, astronauts can use the other almost identical facility in the Russian Zvezda service module, as well as the toilet onboard the space shuttle Endeavour, which has been docked since Friday.
"We don't yet know the extent of the problem," Smith said. "It could turn out to be of no consequence at all. It could turn out to be significant."