Saturday, January 31, 2009

Iron Maiden: Killers

Killers is the second studio album released by Iron Maiden, and it is also the second album from the band that I bought (The Number of the Beast was the first). On the cover, Eddie is now in action, having presumably just dispatched a victim with an ax to earn the title of "killer." This artwork first brought Iron Maiden to my attention, and I think it is one of the best renditions of Eddie that has been produced.

The album opens with "The Ides of March," an instrumental anthem heavy on the snare drum and solo guitar. This song leads right into "Wrathchild," which starts with a pumping bass line followed by furious rhythm guitar work and gritty solos. This is my favorite song on the album.

Following "Wratchchild" is "Murders in the Rue Morgue," a song loosely based on the Edgar Allen Poe short story of the same name. Then there's the frenetic "Another Life" and "Genghis Khan," another great instrumental that allows the band mates to show off their technical prowess. Then the galloping "Innocent Exile" is featured before the album's namesake "Killers" shows up.

"Killers" is another favorite of mine, as is the next song, "Twilight Zone." And then comes the closest thing Iron Maiden has for a power ballad, "Prodigal Son." Don't get me wrong, this song still rocks, but it's about as close to love and sentimentality as the band can do.

The album then closes with two more hard rockers, "Purgatory" and "Drifter," and there you have one of the iconic albums from the metal scene of the 1980s.

UPDATE: A little bit of "Wrathchild" for ya:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Iron Maiden: Iron Maiden

On Blogonomicon, Alan was describing an album that he said he bought "deaf", which means he bought it because the cover art caught his eye and he had no idea what the band actually sounded like. That spurred me to comment on the post about my all-time favorite band, Iron Maiden:
As a young lad, I had seen Iron Maiden's previous album Killers on record store shelves. I knew nothing about the band at the time, and I knew just a little about heavy metal, but I remember the cover art was shocking and intriguing, and it was like nothing I had seen before. Every time I went to a record store I would look up Killers just to gawk at the strangeness of the cover for awhile.

And then I heard on the radio that Iron Maiden's next album, The Number of the Beast, had just been released, and I remember telling myself that if the cover art for that album was just as twisted as the other one, I just might buy the album to see what this band sounded like.

So, I checked out the album cover. And it looked just as wild. So I bought it. And I have loved Iron Maiden ever since.
It's true: Iron Maiden is the one musical ensemble that I have consistently listened to since the early 1980s, and I've never tired of listening to them. After buying that first album, The Number of the Beast, I went back and bought the band's previous two albums, Killers and Iron Maiden, and my favorable opinion of them was solidified. Over the years, I've bought most of the band's studio albums, and I don't think I've been disappointed yet.

One thing Iron Maiden was known for was eye-catching cover art, and the album I'm featuring on this post is the band's first offering from 1980, Iron Maiden. That thing on the cover is Eddie, the band's mascot. Supposedly the name comes from the British pronunciation of head, which is sometimes said with a silent initial letter, as 'ead. The band had a giant head that they used as a stage prop, and they got Derek Riggs to paint a rendering of that head for their first album. The look was strange, wild, and disturbing, and it evidently struck the band's fancy because they have used Eddie on all of their album covers.

As for the music on this album, it's great. Punkish in parts, it's still fresh metal, and Steve Harris's bass skills are evident throughout. The choice of subject matter sets the stage for Iron Maiden's career, and they take on such topics as novels (The Phantom of the Opera), life on the streets (Charlotte the Harlot, Running Free), the macabre (Iron Maiden), and instrumentals that speak for themselves (Transylvania). The band returned to these and related topics throughout their career.

This album is a great start to a band's long career.

UPDATE: Here's a sample of one of my favorite songs on this album, "Charlotte the Harlot."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hell in space

Well, I guess this is one world we can strike off the list of potential sites for colonies.

WASHINGTON — Astronomers have found a planet with a galactic case of hot flashes.

In just six hours, this planet four times the size of Jupiter heats up by more than 1,200 degrees, according to a study published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.


Normally, the planet [HD80606b] is a toasty 980 degrees or so. But in the few hours it whips around its sun the planet gets zapped with mega-heat, pushing the thermometer closer to 2,240 degrees.

During its brief close pass to its sun, the planet is 10 times nearer its star than Mercury is to our sun.

When it comes closest to its star, it becomes one giant "brewing storm" complete with shock waves, [UC Santra Cruz astronomy professor Gregory] Laughlin said. The radiation bombarding the planet is 800 times stronger than when it is farthest away.

Then just as quickly, the planet slingshots away and radiates the heat to the cool vacuum of space. It glows cherry red and the temperature plummets, Laughlin said.

"Utterly bizarre," he said. "It is thoroughly completely uninhabitable. In a galaxy of uninhabitable planets, this one stands out as being completely inhospitable to life."

A Class Y planet in the Star Trek universe, I'm sure.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Remembering Outland

Does anyone else out there remember the movie Outland?

It was a space western starring Sean Connery, and I saw it when it came out in 1981. I was fourteen-years-old at the time, and I remember that I liked it, but I can't recall any specific details from the movie except that the guy that ran the mine had an indoor golf video game that involved the hitting of real balls into a movie screen.

I just might have to rent that movie again to see if it holds up after all these years.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Group: Spears song has secret obscene meaning"

I think they may be on to something. Too bad it's so unoriginal.
NEW YORK - The Parents Television Council is warning parents about the Britney Spears song "If U Seek Amy" and urging radio stations not to broadcast it because the nonprofit organization believes it "would violate the broadcast indecency law" if aired between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Saying the title phrase quickly out loud produces a sound akin to spelling out the F-word, said PTC president Tim Winter. "There is no misinterpreting the lyrics to this song, and it's certainly not about a girl named Amy," he said of the track, the third single from Spears' new Jive album, "Circus."

In case you don't get it, If-U-Seek-Amy roughly sounds like F-U-C-K-me. Or something like that. I think the Parents Television Council is right in that Spears is engaging in a bit of double entendre flirtation, but I also think they are making too much of it. Too bad the bit's been done already. April Wine did a much better job of it in 1982 with "If You See Kay."

Monday, January 19, 2009

"Shadow of vigilantes appears in Mexico drug war"

There is a war going on south of here, and now it looks like the citizens may be involved.

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) – Shadowy vigilante groups are threatening Mexico's drug gangs near the U.S. border in retaliation for a wave of murders and kidnappings that killed 1,600 people in this city alone last year.

One group in the border city of Ciudad Juarez pledged last week to "clean our city of these criminals" and said their mission was to "end the life of a criminal every 24 hours."


In an e-mail to news organizations, the "Juarez Citizen Command" said it was funded by local businessmen sick of abductions and extortion in the city, home to factories that export goods to the United States.

While none of the city's 1,600 [murders] in the last year were undoubtedly the work of vigilantes, a body was found on January 7 with a message next to it that read: "This is for those who continue extorting."

And six men in their 20s and 30s were shot dead and dumped together in Ciudad Juarez in October with a cardboard sign reading: "Message for all the rats: This will continue."

And the Mexican government's response?
"We cannot tolerate the presence of these type of faceless, anonymous groups," said Manuel del Castillo, a spokesman for the state government.

The disturbing state of Mexico continues to worsen. Let's hope (beyond hope!) that the situation improves.


I don't do politics much on this blog, but I wanted to take a quick moment on the last official day of his tenure to thank George W. Bush for his service. He had the guts to depose Saddam Hussein, which his father and Bill Clinton should have done, and that made an impression on me. I also met Bush once when he was the governor of Texas, and I remember him as polite, amiable, and well-spoken. I hope history is kinder to him than his contemporary critics were.

Bush made mistakes, but most presidents do, and he was too often vilified just because that was the cool thing to do for the media and the lefties out there. I know the new president, Barack Obama, will also get criticism -- much of it unfair -- but I doubt we will see the kind of slobbering hatred that was directed toward our 43rd president. Let's all be nice for at least the next four years. That doesn't mean you can't be critical of the president. Let's just not get out of control.

Thanks, George Bush. You've done well.

Welcome Barack Obama. Good luck.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Calling B.S. on the flat earth myth

This is a letter to the editor from the January 13, 2009 edition of the Express-News:

Sailing off the edge

Gov. Rick Perry says the idea of regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant is a ridiculous notion for someone like him with “common sense” (“Session may be tinted green,” Metro, Jan. 2).

A thousand years ago, people with common sense thought the world was flat.

Barry Bradley


Two-thousand years ago people with any education and those that made their living off the sea knew the world was a sphere. Educated people because they would have studied Aristotle, who knew the earth was round. Sailors, fishermen, and coastal dwellers because they would have seen the visual effects of a curved earth on distant ships.

Mr. Bradley, if you're going to engage in political hyperbole and submit it to the newspaper for publication, you might do a quick fact check first so you're grounded in fact.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Kayaking along the Texas coast

If you're not from Texas, you may not have an idea how big the state actually is. It's huge. And the Texas coastline is extensive. It reaches from Louisiana all the way down to Mexico, and there are long stretches that are wild, uninhabited, and uncharted.

So, a reporter from the Express-News decided to charter it.

In a kayak.

Colin McDonald is from the Pacific Northwest, and he's fairly new to Texas. His assignment is to paddle from the Louisiana border down to where the Rio Grande empties into the Gulf of Mexico, and he's going to blog about it along the way. The Uncharted Coast is just up and running, and McDonald is already off to a great start documenting the sections of the coastline ravaged by Hurricane Ike. He's already visited Pleasure Island, Sabine Pass, and the McFadden Wildlife Refuge, and he's had to contend with a blustery cold front.

I like what McDonald and the Express-News are doing, and I plan on following his journey every blog post of the way. I wish him well, I hope he stays safe, and I look forward to his reports.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Fighting panda extinction

OK, folks. It's time to realize that pandas just aren't as cuddly as we would like them to be.
BEIJING - Officials at the Beijing Zoo are considering changes to keep visitors away from Gu Gu the panda.

For the third time, the panda has attacked a visitor who climbed into its space.

Officials say a man climbed a nearly 5-foot-high barrier to retrieve a toy dropped by his 5-year-old son.

A spokeswoman says Gu Gu, which weighs 240 pounds, clamped down on the intruder's leg and refused to let go.

Zookeepers had to use tools to pry open the animal's jaws. The victim suffered damage to major ligaments and is recovering from surgery.

In October, Gu Gu bit a teen intruder. And in 2007, he bit a drunken tourist who jumped into his pen and tried to hug him. The tourist retaliated by biting the bear in the back.

Really, we should probably leave them alone. They obviously don't like us.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

"Researchers make car parts out of coconuts"

Cool idea. And the research is being done in Texas!
A team at Baylor University has made trunk liners, floorboards and car-door interior covers using fibers from the outer husks of coconuts, replacing the synthetic polyester fibers typically used in composite materials.

The approach has potential because coconuts are an abundant, renewable resource in all countries near the equator, including the Philippines, Indonesia and India. The husks are burned or thrown away, generating garbage. This is the first time that coconut fibers have been used to make these automotive products, said Walter Bradley, an engineering professor who is leading the project.


Preliminary testing shows that the coconut composites can meet the specifications for industrial tests, Bradley said. In fact, the mechanical properties of coconut fibers are just as good, if not better, than synthetic and polyester fibers when used in automotive parts, he said. Also, coconuts also do not burn very well or give off toxic fumes, which is key in passing tests required for their use in commercial automotive parts.

Sounds good to me. It's a renewable resource, and it will reduce the need for petroleum to make synthetic materials. If the idea pans out, I'll gladly buy a car with coconut composites in it.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Shortening the lives of mosquitoes

Well, this is encouraging.
WASHINGTON - Old mosquitoes usually spread disease, so Australian researchers figured out a way to make the pests die younger — naturally, not poisoned.


Once a mosquito encounters dengue or malaria, it takes roughly two weeks of incubation before the insect can spread that pathogen by biting someone, meaning older mosquitoes are the more dangerous ones.

The Australian scientists knew that one type of fruit fly often is infected with a strain of bacterial parasite that cuts its lifespan in half.

So they infected the mosquito species that spreads dengue fever — called Aedes aegypti — with that fruit-fly parasite, breeding several generations in a tightly controlled laboratory.

Voila: Mosquitoes born with the parasite lived only 21 days — even in cozy lab conditions — compared to 50 days for regular mosquitoes, University of Queensland biologist Scott O'Neill reported in the journal Science.

Let's hope this pans out. Mosquitoes are a species with nothing going for them as far as the human condition is concerned. They spread diseases, and their eradication can save a lot of lives. If we can't do it with pesticides, this way sounds promising.

Happy New Year

It's time to start 2009, and, looking at the archives, it's hard to believe that I've had this blog for almost four years!

If you've been here before, you'll know that Painted Ocean is a bit eclectic. It lacks the specific focus that my other blog Strange in San Antonio has, but I started it that way just to see what it would eventually develop into. I started posting things that just happened to strike my fancy or that would urge me to say something, and I've even dabbled a bit in photoblogging here. But I think things have started to settle.

Here are the main themes that I seem to keep coming back to on Painted Ocean:

1. Space exploration - I am a product of Star Trek, The Martian Chronicles, Battlestar Galacitca (the old and the new, which starts again January 16!), The Foundation Trilogy, Dune, Star Wars, and much more. I am fascinated by the expanses of our galaxy and universe and all the wonderful, amazing things in it, and I truly think the future of the human race is in the stars. We are explorers, and we should not resist the urge to expand our reach to the rest of our solar system and beyond. As such, I watch what NASA and the other space agencies are doing, and I root for them in all their ventures.

2. English - I love to read. I don't always have the time to read for pleasure, but I enjoy reading stories and poems, and I admire good writing. I think the English language - given its mongrel pedigree - is an especially rich language for expression, and I love wordplay and clever constructions. So occasionally I will post something that strikes me as impressive, funny, or quirky.

3. Pandas - I have never understood why the human race invests so much emotional capital in the panda. Sure, they're cute, and they are in danger of losing numbers, but this species above all others has the power to affect people beyond the regular conservationists and animal lovers. Pandas turn men, women, and children (and especially news reporters!) into sentimental goofs, even to the point of enticing people to give hugs to these wild animals! That's crazy, and the phenomenon fascinates me.

I will continue to post on such topics and on anything else that strike my fancy. Posts to this blog tend to be a bit sporadic, but I will try to do better in the future. Thanks for reading, and have a Happy New Year.