Thursday, February 26, 2009

Best quote of the day

"It is important to maintain the vegetation of the human constructed roads in the territories of the wolves," [zoologist Isabel Barja of the Autonomous University of Madrid] advised.
Why?

So wolves know where to poop.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Remembering the Phantom

You know what was a really cool airplane?

The F-4 Phantom.



I don't know what to think about the choice of Pink Floyd for the music, but the video has some great shots of a great-looking jet.

Defrauding NASA

It's never good to rip off U.S. taxpayers by bilking a federal agency, but this especially sticks in my craw because they are stealing from humanity's future.

Iranian-born Samim Anghaie, 59, is the Director of the Innovative Nuclear Space Power and Propulsion Institute at the University of Florida. His wife, 55-year-old Sousan Anghaie, is president of New Era Technology Inc. (NETECH) in Gainesville, Fla.

Authorities say Sousan Anghaie persuaded NASA to award her company "several fully funded contracts," including nearly $600,000 to develop and study a uranium-related technology.

But, according to an affidavit unsealed today in federal court, the couple allegedly used most of that money to buy personal luxuries — including their $480,000 home in Gainesville, a 2007 BMW and a 2005 Toyota Sienna sports van.

They also used that money to buy a property for their son in Tampa, Fla., a property for their other son in Manchester, Conn., a 2008 Toyota Corolla for Sousan Anghaie's sister, and a 2007 Toyota Corolla for another family member.

...

No charges have been filed yet in the case.

I have a feeling there will be before long.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Collaring a jaguar

In the U.S.!

The Arizona Game and Fish Department caught and collared a wild jaguar in Arizona for the first time, officials said Thursday. While a handful of the big cats have been photographed by automatic cameras in recent years, the satellite tracking collar will now help biologists learn more about this animal's range.

Meanwhile, a jaguar was spotted in central Mexico for the first time in a century. Scientists photographed the cat with an automatic camera set alongside a trail thought to be frequented by the spotted felines.

Jaguars (Panthera onca) once ranged from southern South America to the southern United States. By the late 1900s, none were thought to exist north of Mexico, but two independent sightings in 1996 confirmed jaguars still reached as far north as Arizona and New Mexico. Remote cameras have also photographed jaguars in the Amazon.

There's already been at least one cougar sighting in my neck of the woods. I wonder how long it will take before some of my neighbors report seeing a jaguar.

The big cats are back!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Iron Maiden, Live

I've seen Iron Maiden only once in concert. That was the tour supporting their Somewhere in Time album. Now I don't know exactly how opening acts are selected for major bands, but sometimes I think crappy bands are picked just to make sure the main act isn't upstaged. I had heard ZZ Top did this often. And I became convinced Iron Maiden did it at least once for the show I had seen.

This was the opening band.



Don't get me wrong. I like KISS, and I guess Vinnie Vincent was decent when he was with Gene Simmons and crew, but he absolutely sucked as an opening act for Maiden.

Made me all the more appreciative when Steve Harris and his band took the stage.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Iron Maiden: A Matter of Life and Death



This is the most recent album from Iron Maiden, and it's also one of the band's best. At a time in their careers when other bands are struggling to remain relevant or striving to make a comeback, the members of Maiden keep cranking out good songs and adding to the repertoire of heavy metal. They have held up well over the years, and their sound is still solid.

The cover: Eddie is in the army, and he is leading a band of soldiers with skulls for heads (contrast this with the body on the ground in front of the tank, which has a human head atop a skeleton). This is an apt illustration for the album, which has five songs dedicated to the subject of war. Religion is also a major theme on the album, and it is tied in with war on a couple of the songs.

Note: I found one thing interesting about the logo the artist created for Eddie's army. Take a look at it and see if you can find what looks funny (besides Eddie's face, of course).



Look at the placement of the magazines. I don't think those firearms could be functional. And if they could, I doubt they would be practical. Granted, this is a work of art, and the artist (Tim Bradstreet) was playing off the Jolly Roger theme by using Eddie's head as the skull and the crossed guns instead of bones or swords. He probably moved the magazines further up the barrels because he thought it looked better, but that's not a good place to put your cartridges. That's pretty far away from the firing pin, don't you think?

Anyway, on to the songs.

Opening the album is "Different World," a catchy tune that seems to advocate carpe diem, taking life as it comes. This is followed by "These Colours Don't Run," the first war song on the album. The song basically honors the sacrifices made by military service members, no matter what country they serve. After that is my favorite song off the album, "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns." This is another war song, specifically about the development of the atomic bomb. I like the way the whole thing is put together, and it features some great guitar and drum work. And you've just gotta love a song that manages to work in "E=mc2" as a verse in the lyrics.

Next up is "The Pilgrim," one of the religion-themed songs. Great tune. Sounds like it came off of Powerslave. Then comes "The Longest Day," another war song about Operation Overlord. Very good. "Out of the Shadows" is next, which is another favorite of mine on the album. Following that is "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg," which is another religion song about -- you guessed it -- reincarnation.

Then comes a song specifically about religious war, "For the Greater Good of God." Excellent song. After that is another great tune about religion called "Lord of Light." And then the album closes out with the nine-minute-twenty-second long anthemic "The Legacy," which is, surprisingly enough, a war song with elements of religion running through it.

In all, a great album, and a testament to Iron Maiden's staying power over the past quarter century or so. I'm glad I own it.

Well, that's it. That's all the Maiden albums I own. I never bought any of the live albums, and I missed a few studio recordings along the way, but I may try to remedy that. A commenter on a previous post recommended Brave New World highly, and I just may pick that up sometime soon. If I do, I will post about it. Until then, Up the Irons!

UPDATE: Here's a bit from "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns."


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Monday, February 16, 2009

Iron Maiden: Dance of Death



One night I decided to look through iTunes to see if I could find some Maiden b-sides, and I came across this album, the most recent one at the time. Out of a curiosity I hadn't felt in a while, I looked up Dance of Death on Wikipedia and discovered that Bruce Dickinson was back. Adrian Smith, too. And I decided to take a chance and purchase a few songs. What the hell, I thought, it might be worth a few bucks just to see what the band is up to these days. This is the first Iron Maiden album I actually gave a chance to since No Prayer for the Dying, and I'm glad I did.

But first, the cover art: What a piece of crap. The all-knowing Wikipedia indicates that this was actually a computer generated draft that got green-lighted against the artist's intent, and I hope that's what it was -- a mistake. I shudder to think that this was actually what was meant to be on the cover.

Besides this sad art, the music on the album is strong, and the band turns in a fine performance. The first song I downloaded was "Montségur," a decent tune about a stronghold of the Cathars, and then I checked out "Paschendale," a great song about a major battle in World War I. "Paschendale" is eight-and-a-half minutes long, but it's well worth the time to take a listen to if you are a fan of Iron Maiden, heavy metal, or WWI history.

Next is the very good "No More Lies," and then the excellent "Rainmaker." I love the guitar work that opens and closes this song, and the chorus is catchy and easy to sing along with.

After that is "Journeyman," one of Maiden's few ballad-type songs. Full of acoustic guitars and sweetened by luxuriant strings, "Journeyman" seems almost out of character for Maiden, but it works. It's a great song, and I'm glad I ran across it.

Next is "Face in the Sand," another good song that features Nicko McBrain's apparent efforts to get in the Guiness Book of World Records for the longest continuous stretch of double-bass pumping by a heavy metal drummer. And then I finished my downloads with the title track, which is a decent song but not as good as others on this album.

Dance of Death turned out to be a good reintroduction to Iron Maiden for me, and I thank the band for fully embracing iTunes. Now, if they could just make some b-sides available for download ...

UPDATE: Here is a sampling of "Rainmaker."


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Meteors over Texas

I'm sorry I was too far south to have seen this. That must have looked pretty cool.
The fireball that blazed across the Texas sky and sparked numerous weekend calls to law enforcement agencies now can be considered an identified flying object.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday the fireball was a natural phenomenon -- not flying space junk -- and a North Texas astronomer said more specifically that it was probably a pickup truck-sized meteor with the consistency of concrete.

The object was visible Sunday morning from Austin to Dallas and into East Texas.
I have seen meteor streaks before, but nothing so big as this.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wireless power

What could be more awesome than the ability to power or recharge all of your electrical devices without relying on cords?

OK, a lot (like faster-than-light space travel), but nothing else is so close to making the leap from science fiction to reality.

TECH 2: Radio-frequency Harvesting
Availability: April

>> THE INDUCTION SYSTEMS are only the beginning. Some of the most visually arresting examples of wireless electricity are based on what's known as radio frequency, or RF. While less efficient, they work across distances of up to 85 feet. In these systems, electricity is transformed into radio waves, which are transmitted across a room, then received by so-called power harvesters and translated back into low-voltage direct current. Imagine smoke detectors or clocks that never need their batteries replaced. Sound trivial? Consider: Last November, to save on labor costs, General Motors canceled the regularly scheduled battery replacement in the 562 wall clocks at its Milford Proving Ground headquarters. This technology is already being used by the Department of Defense. This year, it will be available to consumers in the form of a few small appliances and wireless sensors; down the road, it will appear in wireless boxes into which you can toss any and all of your electronics for recharging.

(Hat tip to Blogonomicon.)

Iron Maiden: The missing albums



And then something odd happened: I lost interest. I don't know why, but I did.

I didn't lose interest in Iron Maiden itself (I still listened to all the albums I had bought previously), I just wasn't motivated to buy any new Maiden albums. When Fear of the Dark was first released, I always thought I would buy it, but it was always "later." And I ended up never buying it.

And then The X Factor came out. I had heard that Bruce Dickinson was no longer in the band at this point, and I saw no reason to get this album. Some bands can change their lead vocalists and still have a decent career, and Dickinson himself was a replacement singer, but he had become such an integral part of the Maiden sound that I couldn't imagine the album would be any good without him. So I didn't buy it.

Then Virtual XI was released, and it completely flew under my radar. Ditto for Brave New World. In fact, by this time, I was totally unaware of Iron Maiden except for all of my older albums. It wasn't until one day when I went poking around online for some Maiden b-sides (there aren't any on iTunes, by the way) that I rediscovered the band. I saw that their most recent release was Dance of Death, and I looked the album up and saw that Dickinson was back. And some of the songs looked interesting.

So I bought a few songs. I will tell you about them in a future post.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Worst drummer

After praising the professionalism of Iron Maiden's drummer, Nicko McBrain, I now temper the mood with this, the worst drummer to sit behind a drum kit.



Egad.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Iron Maiden: No Prayer for the Dying



No Prayer for the Dying has a character that is distinct from its predecessor, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Where that work was a concept album that focused on the occult, this album touches on an assortment of topics with no real underlying theme. Dying is a rougher work; it's not as flashy, and even Bruce Dickinson's vocals sound raspier than usual in some parts. Something else different is the absence of guitarist Adrian Smith, who has been replaced by Janick Gers, another excellent guitarist. Though his solos seem more rugged than Smith's, Gers still turns in a fine performance.

Now, on to the cover art. Eddie has risen from the grave. After having been shattered to pieces on the cover of the previous album, Eddie is back to his original scariness, and he is ready to take out a few more victims along the way. An interesting note: The artwork you see on this post is how it was on the first release. On re-released versions of Dying, the cover was altered to remove the poor frightened gravedigger. I don't know why this was done. It's not like Eddie hasn't taken out victims before, as on the covers of Killers and Somewhere in Time, so it can't be that the image of the gravedigger being grabbed was too disturbing. There must be some other reason why the band felt compelled to remove the person, but I don't know what it is. And Wikipedia, that font of all knowledge knowable and noteworthy, doesn't offer a clue.

On to the songs.

"Tailgunner" opens the album. Dealing with the World War II Allied bombing campaign over Germany, this song takes the point of view of a bomber's tailgunner, obviously. A good song.

Next is "Holy Smoke," an indictment of televangelism. Upbeat and catchy, this song is very enjoyable. The title song is next, a decent effort that reminds me of "Revelations" from Piece of Mind. After that is "Public Enema Number One," a good song that sounds like classic Maiden.

Up next is "Fates Warning," a very good song about how fate might fit in with the events in our lives, followed by a mediocre song about an assassin called, appropriately enough, "The Assassin." (Iron Maiden's nothing if not practical in its song titling.)

"Run Silent Run Deep" comes next, a tune about submariners, and then comes one of my favorites on the album, "Hooks in You." This song is about sexual bondage, but I swear that's not why I like it so much. It's just a catchy tune. Really!

And the next song is another one of my favorites on this album, "Bring Your Daughter To the Slaughter." This song also seems quite sexual in nature, but, again, I swear that's not why I like it! Really!

Closing out the album is "Mother Russia," a song about the impending collapse of the Soviet Union. I like this song especially for the fine drum work turned in by Nicko McBrain. During the verses, he performs a syncopated rhythm with the hihat that is, in effect, a perscussion arpeggio (bass-hihat-snare-hihat-bass-hihat-snare-and so on). This results in a marching tempo that goes well with a depiction of a superpower known for its military might, and it is just one example of Iron Maiden's musical prowess. And I don't know if I've said it before, but I think McBrain is a superior drummer, and he seems to have so much fun at what he's doing.

A very good album full of great guitar and drum work and exhibiting raw power. It is a sound I can listen to many times over.

UPDATE: Here's the "Mother Russia" drum arpeggio I talked about.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Crashing satellites

Do you have any idea how crowded space is, at least that envelope surrounding Earth?

It's crowded enough for this to happen.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Two big communications satellites collided in the first-ever crash of two intact spacecraft in orbit, shooting out a pair of massive debris clouds and posing a slight risk to the international space station.

NASA said it will take weeks to determine the full magnitude of the crash, which occurred nearly 500 miles over Siberia on Tuesday.

"We knew this was going to happen eventually," said Mark Matney, an orbital debris scientist at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA believes any risk to the space station and its three astronauts should be low. It orbits about 270 miles below the collision course. There also should be no danger to the space shuttle set to launch with seven astronauts on Feb. 22, officials said, but that will be re-evaluated in the coming days.

And that's why we have these guys looking out for things. Keep a good eye out, fellas. There's more junk out there now.

Iron Maiden: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son



Iron Maiden's seventh studio offering is a concept album focused on the magical belief that the seventh son of a seventh son could be endowed with special powers. There are no songs on here about British battles, cinematic efforts, or literary works, but there are plenty of references to the occult. The album deals with prophecies ("The Prophecy"), clairvoyance ("The Clairvoyant"), madness ("Can I Play with Madness"), and the struggle between good and evil ("Only the Good Die Young" and "The Evil That Men Do"). Are you sensing a pattern here?

The cover art is a surreal landscape of ice, light, and magic, and Eddie has been reduced to a cybernetic torso clutching a screaming fetus still in the amniotic sack. His head is cracked, and it is on fire. He looks pissed.

This is not one of my favorite Maiden albums, but there are a few songs on here that I like very much. One is the opening track, "Moonchild," which features a lot of guitar synthesizer action right at the front. The others are "Can I Play with Madness," "The Evil That Men Do," and "Only the Good Die Young."

One other song worth pointing out is "The Prophecy," which seems to be a nod (intentional or otherwise) to Black Sabbath's "Heaven and Hell." Both songs end very similarly with the hard, electrified guitars fading and giving way to an acoustic melody that is repeated over and over until it too fades away. I'm not sure if Dave Murray and Steve Harris had this in mind when they put together the song, but "Heaven and Hell" is exactly what I thought of the first time I heard it.

In sum, this is a decent album. Not the band's best, but worth listening to.

UPDATE: The guitar synths of "Moonchild."


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Monday, February 09, 2009

Iron Maiden: Somewhere in Time



When this album first came out, I didn't take to it right away. It had a different sound because this was the first time Iron Maiden made significant use of sythesizers. Of course, in the mid-1980s, it seemed just about every heavy metal and hard rock band experimented with synths, to varying degrees of success, and this new sound caught me off guard. I never expected Maiden to venture into such territory. As such, the album seemed a little weird at first, but it grew on me. The synth sound is subtle, acting more as accompaniment rather than stealing the show. The guitar licks of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith still stand supreme, excellent as ever, and Nicko McBrain really shines with his drumwork.

As for the cover, Eddie is now a cyborg, and he is back to his killing ways. The art is dense with references to previous Maiden works as well as the movie Blade Runner and the book it was based on, Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Someone put a list of the references and what they mean on Wikipedia, if you care to check it out.

The album opens with "Caught Somewhere in Time," a decent song about time travel, I think. This is followed by the popular "Wasted Years" (one of my favorites) and "Sea of Madness," one of those Maiden tunes that sounds strangely upbeat given its theme, which in this case is madness, if you couldn't guess. Next is "Heaven Can Wait" (complete with a sing-along section!), and then it's "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner," a song that's based on a short story that I am not familiar with at all.

After that come two songs that are among my favorites, "Stranger in Strange Land" and "Deja-vu." The former has a sound that is a little different from the usual Maiden fare, but it's very enjoyable. It is about a man who explores an icy wasteland. He dies, and his frozen, preserved body is discovered a century later by other explorers. This has nothing to do with the Robert Heinlein book of the same name. "Deja-vu," on the other hand, has everything to do with déjà vu.

Rounding out Somewhere in Time is the metal biography "Alexander the Great." The Maiden boys pretty much nailed it on this one. The song has a martial feel, totally befitting the subject matter, and the guitar solos are vintage Maiden.

This is a good album, despite my initial trepidation over the synthesizers. It is full of solid songs, and it is well worth a listen if you like Iron Maiden but haven't checked out this whole album.

UPDATE: "Stranger in a Strange Land."


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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Iron Maiden: Powerslave



Another excellent album, and one of my favorites. This is the fifth studio offering from Iron Maiden, and on this cover Eddie has become an Egyptian deity rendered in stone as part of some pharaoh's tomb.

The album opens with "Aces High," one of many Maiden songs about historic British battles. The subject here is the Battle of Britain, a World War II aerial battle for supremacy in the skies over the United Kingdom. After that is "2 Minutes to Midnight," one of the best songs in Iron Maiden's catalog and in the history of heavy metal. Everything about this song just seems right, and it deserves to be on any "best of" list of metal songs. Subject: the Doomsday Clock.

Next comes the instrumental work "Losfer Words (Big 'Orra)," and then it's "Flash of the Blade," another swordplay song that I like very much. Following this is yet another song about swords, "The Duellists." I'm particularly fond of the guitar solo in this work, which to me is the perfect embodiment of the Iron Maiden sound.

Then comes the manic "Back in the Village," another favorite of mine. I read somewhere once that this song is supposed to be a sequel the "The Prisoner" on The Number of the Beast album, but I would have no idea that were the case just from listening to the lyrics. Admittedly, I didn't watch the television show of the same name very much, so maybe the lyrics make sense to someone who is more familiar with"The Prisoner."

Here's a sample of the lyrics:
Turn the spotlights on the people,
Switch the dial and eat the worm,
Take your chances, kill the engine,
Drop your bombs and let it burn.
...
No breaks on the inside,
Paper cats and burning barns,
There's a fox among the chickens,
And a killer in the hounds.
Make sense to you? Ultimately it doesn't matter much, I like the song anyway.

After that is the title track, "Powerslave," a very good song about Egypt, pharaohs, the process of dying, and deification.

And the last song on the album is the thirteen-and-a-half minute metal epic "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Very generously based on the fantastical poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, this song is way up on my list of favorite Maiden tunes. Part of the reason why is because I was already a fan of Coleridge's poem before this album came out, and you can imagine how happy I was to see that a band I already liked and respected was daring enough to do a rendition of one of my favorite literary works. And it works. It's a great song and it tells a great story.

By the way, my fondness for The Rime can be seen in the structure of this very blog. I took "Painted Ocean" from a line in the poem (which is quoted verbatim in the Maiden song). The "strange power of speech" refers to the mystic power the titular Ancient Mariner possesses. And my pseudonym, Albatross, is one of the key metaphors in the poem, at various times signifying salvation, victimization, penance, and salvation again. It's a strange poem, but it's well worth the read if you've got the time.

I'm glad Iron Maiden did a version of The Rime. It's one of the reasons I like them so much.

UPDATE: "The Duellists": Never very popular, yet oh so good.


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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Worst guitar player

I've been talking a lot lately about Iron Maiden and how good they are. Now, just to shake things up, here's the world's worst guitar player.



Gadzooks.

Iron Maiden: Piece of Mind



Excellent album.

This is Iron Maiden's fourth studio offering, and it is the first one to feature Nicko McBrain behind the drum kit. I liked Clive Burr, but McBrain -- like Bruce Dickinson -- brought a character to the band that made it somehow more Maidenesque. The drummers' styles are definitely dissimilar, and, because the first track opens with a rapid fire drum intro that hits you like a slap in the face, you can tell right from the start that something's different.

On the cover, we can see that Eddie has been caught. He's been lobotomized, and now he is locked away in a padded room. The brain operation apparently doesn't take hold because, as you may have already guessed, Eddie comes back to grace each new album cover with more maniacal mayhem as the years go by.

Piece of Mind demonstrates the wide range of influences that guide the band members' songwriting skills. On this album, we have two songs that are based on movies, one that's based on a classic science fiction novel, one that's based on a poem, and another that's based on Greek mythology.

The first song on the album is "Where Eagles Dare," a good song that's based on the movie of the same name that starred Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton. A very good movie, too, if I can remember from so long ago.

The next song is "Revelations," a Bruce Dickinson offering with a great guitar solo, and then comes "Flight of Icarus," a Maiden hit that is based on the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, his son who flew too close to the sun. After that is "Die With Your Boots On," which is one of my favorite Maiden songs, and then it's "The Trooper," a very popular song at the time that tells the story of British fighters during the Crimean War, taking its cue from the poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Next up is "Still Life." This song is notable for its intro, which is a backwards masked message. Apparently the band had come under some criticism for supposedly including secret hidden Satanic messages on its albums, so the band threw it back at the critics by including an obvious backwards message at the beginning of "Still Life." It's a joke, and it's pretty funny.

After that is "Quest for Fire," a catchy song based on the caveman movie, and then comes "Sun and Steel," one of those odd Iron Maiden tunes that actually has an upbeat feel to it despite its dark subjet (swordplay and death). Maybe it's the harmony they use in the chorus when they sing of "Sunlight falling on your steel," maybe it's something else, but the song gets my toe a-tappin' and actually puts me in a pretty good mood.

The last song on the album is "To Tame a Land." It's based on Frank Herbert's Dune, a fabulously sprawling novel about power struggles on a desert planet. So, why didn't Steve Harris just use the title of the novel and call the song "Dune," like the band usually does with works based on books or movies? Apparently they respected Frank Herbert enough to ask his permission. And he responded like an ass. So they gave it an odd, stupid sounding name instead. Too bad. It's a good song anyway.

Overall, Piece of Mind is a great album, and it solidifies the sound of Iron Maiden for years to come.

UPDATE: Be prepared for the onslaught of Nicko McBrain!


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Monday, February 02, 2009

Iron Maiden: The Number of the Beast



This is Iron Maiden's third studio album, and it's the first one from the band that I bought. This album marked a turning point in the band's history for a couple of reasons. First, it marks the introduction of Bruce Dickinson as the lead vocalist, whose style is distinctly different from that of his predecessor, Paul DiAnno. Second, it's the album that brought widespread popularity to the band, especially with such hits at "Run to the Hills" and the title track.

On the cover, Eddie is now huge. He's manipulating the devil, who is in turn manipulating a man over a burning hellscape. This is Eddie in all his big scariness, and I kind of like the fact that, despite his gargantuan size, he still wears jeans and a T-shirt. Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, the cover art as you see it above is a mistake. The sky is blue not by intent but by printer's error. It was supposed to be black. Newer prints of this compact disk apparently render the sky in its proper blackness.

The album opens with "Invaders," a good (but not great) song about Vikings. Then comes "Children of the Damned," which is based on the science fiction film of the same name. This song is classic Iron Maiden in its slow beginning that builds up to its rapid fire conclusion.

The next song is "The Prisoner," which is based on the UK television show of the 1960s (it even uses dialog from the opening of the show to introduce the song). Very good. Then comes my favorite song on the album, "22 Acacia Avenue." This song continues the story started on the first album with "Charlotte the Harlot" and on the second album with "Drifter."

Next is the title track, "The Number of the Beast." Opening with a quote from the Bible (The Book of Revelations, of course!), the song jumps right into a macabre representation of a man's bad dream. This is one of Iron Maiden's enduring hits, as is the song that follows it, "Run to the Hills." This song tells about the suffering of American Indians at the hands of the white man, and, though it is a very popular piece, it's not one of the better offerings on the album.

"Gangland" is next, a mediocre song about the Mafia, and then comes "Hallowed Be Thy Name," one of the best Iron Maiden songs ever produced. This song relates the last minutes of a man condemned to hang, and it features one of the long-winded wails Dickinson is known for.

All in all, The Number of the Beast is a solid album. It's not really a favorite of mine, but it's good, and it served its purpose of introducing me to Iron Maiden.

UPDATE: For your entertainment, a great ending to a great song, "22 Acacia Avenue."


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Sunday, February 01, 2009

"Earth-hunter telescope prepared for launch"

Good. Get it up there.
TITUSVILLE, Florida - NASA unveiled a modest telescope on Friday with a sweeping mission — to discover if there are any Earth-type planets orbiting distant stars.

...

Named after the 17th century astronomer who figured out the motions of planets, Kepler is scheduled for liftoff on March 5 aboard an unmanned Delta 2 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Once in position trailing Earth in orbit, Kepler will spend at least 3 1/2 years focused on a star-rich patch of sky between the constellations Cygnus and Lyra.

Equipped with a 95 megapixel camera -- the largest ever flown in space -- Kepler will attempt to find Earth-sized planets flying across the face of their parent stars.

...

"This is a very small signal and it's very difficult to predict," said James Fanson, Kepler project manager at the U.S. space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "The plan is to stare at this place for three years and wait for the stars to wink."

When talking about when and if we can ever find an Earth-like planet, Fanson had this to say: "We're privileged to live in a time and in a country that has the technology to answer these questions scientifically."

Amen. That's one of the reasons the United States is a great place to live and a great place for the planet. We just may end up saving the human race someday.