July 31, 2006

The Opera

Friday night we saw The Merry Widow, as performed by the Ash Lawn Opera Company. We had an excellent time. For those who don't know, our daughter Rachael is working as an Assistant Costumer for the summer season at Ash Lawn.

From the Albemarle County* website, here is a brief synopsis of the story:

In this delightful comic operetta, Anna, the Pontevedrian widow, finds herself in France surrounded by suitors interested in her impressive estate. Her native country, facing bankruptcy, is concerned that she will choose to marry a foreigner, and her money will be lost to the little country. Join us to find out who Anna marries.

The performance was excellent. One of the female leads had a beautiful voice, but not the projection needed for an outdoor venue, especially since no microphones are used. Other than that, the comedy was funny and the singing was wonderful.

As for the costumes, what Rachael (and the other assistant) did for the first act was mostly "dressing up" old prom dresses to turn them into ball gowns. They also made petticoats for the ladies and did alterations for the guy's tuxedos. Their most impressive work for the first act was the lead's ball gown, which they made from scratch. It was elegant and intricate and beautiful.

The second act was where that had all the fun. They created can-can dresses for all the ladies, and Rachael made frilly garters and, as she put it, "added lace to a bunch of granny underwear"

From the information page at the county website:

The Ash Lawn Opera Festival is recognized by Money Magazine as one of the top-20 international warm weather summer opera companies, boasting "first rank talent, full summer programs and lots of nearby culture". Established in 1978, the Festival, a member of Opera America Inc., presents opera and musical theater sung in English and performed in the beautiful Boxwood Gardens of Ash Lawn-Highland, home of President James Monroe.

This area of Virginia is beautiful and full of history. Besides many vinyards and wineries, Monroe's Ash Lawn, Madison's Montpelier, and Jefferson's Montecello are all in the immediate vicinity. These three founders of the United States were neighbors and good friends.

Turning into Ash Lawn, you find yourself travelling a mile long drive underneath the overarching canopies of magnificent oak trees lining the road (I think they were oak). There are tours given of the grounds, and several of the original buildings have been restored. I must mention the gift shop, in that it's the most reasonably priced shop of its kind that I've ever encountered.

The theater grounds open early, and many folks show up early with picnic baskets. The stage is set in a natural amphitheater and is surrounded with tall hedges. I was surprised to learn that the area seats 300 or so, and since there are only eight rows, nobody is far from the stage. The seats themselves are comfortable, cushioned chairs. There is a smaller, emergency "rain stage" and covered pavilion where the show moves to if the weather doesn't cooperate.

Like I said, it was a very enjoyable evening.

*According to Rachael, Albemarle County was for a brief time the largest county in the United States. The original charter for Albemarle lay the western edge of the county at the "island of California". Presumably, someone who could read a map later amended the charter.

Posted by: Ted at 05:29 AM | category: Square Pegs
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July 28, 2006

Crap. Why didn't anyone tell me?

If you click on the sidebar link for the PDA compatible version of Rocket Jones, you now actually get the updated PDA compatible version of Rocket Jones instead of the old and non-updated pages.

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I can see clearly now...

Seen over at Random Nuclear Strikes:

Since 2001, they’ve been screaming ["they" means enviromentalists - RJ] that President Bush is “rolling back the Clean Air Act,” and that the resulting increase in air pollution will kill people by the thousands. Instead, every category of air pollution has fallen during the Bush years, with 2003, 2004, and 2005 showing the lowest levels of harmful ozone and particulates in the air since the monitoring of air pollution began in the 1960s.

I'm not prepared to give President Bush all the credit for this, just like I'm not willing to bash President Clinton on the subject. There's inertia in something like changing the quality of our air, and I think that we all deserve credit for being more aware of pollution and taking better care of the environment in general. Little things add up, and Americans have made a lot of little eco-friendly things a normal part of our lives. Things like changing the type of freon used in air conditioners, using non-aerosol sprays, and developing cleaner cars and fuels. Yay us!

Follow that link above for more links and details.

Posted by: Ted at 05:22 AM | category: SciTech
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July 27, 2006

Silent Universe - A Review

Before television gained dominance, radio shows entertained with all types of audio theater. I still enjoy recorded shows from "the golden age of radio" like The Shadow and Inner Sanctum (hint: available on CD and cassette, or ask Victor for copies he made when they originally aired).

Nowadays, I'm loving the proliferation of podcasts. Much like blogging gave "journalism" to the masses, podcasting is doing the same for talk radio. And now podcasts are appearing which provide a return to that classic era of radio programming.

Recently I was contacted about doing a Rocket Jones review for a podcast called Silent Universe. Like the classic radio serial format, this science fiction offering features suspense and cliffhangers at the end of each episode. Even better, unlike the old days, you don't have to be glued to the radio to enjoy the shows because you can download Silent Universe to your iPod or other .mp3 player and listen at your leisure.

From the email:

The Silent Universe is a sci-fi adventure drama, with writing that has been compared to the intrigue of TV shows like "24" and "Battlestar Galactica."

"[Space opera] is now commonly used to mean a tale of space adventure whose emphasis is on boldly delineated characters, drama, and especially action."
Wikipedia



It's understandable that they're going for the "24" comparison since that is television's premier cliffhanger show. In my mind though, Silent Universe more closely captures the spirit of an old fashioned, rip-roaring space opera. You movie going whippersnappers can think "Star Wars", but Flash Gordon is a classic example (from before *my* time, he added pointedly). That said, there’s an edginess and tension to the Silent Universe episodes that didn’t exist in those early programs.

Silent Universe is set in the not-too-distant future, when humans have spread to the planets of our solar system. Society as a whole hasn't moved much beyond what it is today, in that there are still governments jostling for advantage and using diplomacy, war, and intrigue to gain the upper hand.

"There were those who thought that the dawn of the second space age would unite humanity in a common cause. Dreams of grand utopias fevered the minds of visionaries and futurists, who proclaimed that the stars would save us from ourselves. They couldn't have been more wrong." - from the intro

The story follows Emmeline Kaley, a professional mercenary who finds herself involved with a covert organization after a paying job goes horribly wrong. Things aren’t always what they seem, and allies can’t always be trusted. Through the blur of events, you occasionally get a glimpse of the truth: that someone far more powerful than you has been pulling strings and making events bend to their will.

There's a disclaimer at the start of the podcast for the mature language and themes in the episodes. Despite the humorous slant on free speech, don't let it fool you into believing that everything is one-sided. At one point in the episode, one of the characters makes an impassioned argument for letting the UN handle the situation. The show tries to stay balanced, and the characters are not marching along in idealogical lockstep.

There are a couple of interesting facets to this podcast. First of all, you can download the mono version for free, or you can pay a couple of bucks for the CD-quality stereo version. You can also subscribe to either version and get each episode as it comes out.

Full Disclosure: I was given a reviewer's access code for the stereo version. Was this a blatant bribe to positively influence me, or merely their way of applying pressure to for-God's-sake use a spell checker? I report. You decide.

Actually, I asked the producer to comp me the access so I could contrast the two audio versions. Spoiled the suspense for you there, didn’t I?

These episodes are performed by professional voice actors, complete with nice sound effects and an original soundtrack to go along with the action.

The initial schedule called for episodes to be released about once a month, and eleven episodes were to make up the first "season". As often happens, schedules go straight into the trash when they meet reality. The first two episodes are available now (and the first, Mission 256, is a double episode). The next is due out next month.

Online, Silent Universe has been generating some buzz:

We've been featured in online publications such as Slice of Sci Fi, Sci Fi Crows Nest, PRweb, Spaceship Radio, PodcastingNews and others.

And now of course, the coveted mention in Rocket Jones.

Here’s another unique and exciting aspect to this project:

We also invite our audience to do more than just listen; we encourage them to discuss the podcast with the production staff on our online forums (honesty is preferred to flattery, though a little flattery never hurt anyone, hehe). We welcome feedback and critiques on episodes, suggestions for future plot ideas, and even spec script submissions for hopeful science fiction writers.

I’ve been to the forums, and they’ve started to build a fan community discussing various aspects of the show. I expect it to grow quite a bit as they work the kinks out of the production process and begin to release new episodes on a more regular basis.

Ok, so that’s all well and good, but I can hear you saying, “Ted, that’s all well and good, but what did *you* think of it?â€�

More importantly, what did Bub think of it?

da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron

Enthralled, I’d say.

The episodes are fast paced and seem logical within the framework of the story. I absolutely love Emmeline’s accent (she claims Scot, but there’s some debate on that in the forums, which bothers me not).

I also like the bad guys so far. They don’t seem evil just for evil’s sake as there is an underlying rationale for their actions. When they act in a way that you personally wouldn’t, there’s a tendency, in my mind at least, to attribute that to cultural differences rather than plot inconsistencies (those crafty Asians).

A few of the characters are already on my “please die soonâ€� list. The two sisters, Ritsu and May, are annoying as hell, which isn’t strictly a bad thing as characters go, but their dialogue doesn’t advance the action and they seem to be there only because the group needed to be bigger.

Unlike others on the forums, I’m not put off by the resident computer geek of the crew. A little over the top, yes, but he’s ok in small doses. Giving him more than a sentence or two at a time though might make me reach for the airlock handle.

My favorite line so far was in the second episode, when Emmeline muttered “bloody bastardsâ€� under her breath.

Why those simple words worked so well has to do with my major criticism. In the first episode, many characters used the word “frackâ€� as a futuristic version of the f-bomb. “Frack thisâ€� and “you frackin’…â€� and so on. I’ve since learned that the word might have originated with Battlestar Galactica, but since I was never a fan of that show I don’t remember it myself. In any event, its use here just doesn’t work. Every time someone uses it, the flow of the dialogue stumbles a little bit.

The good news is that episode 2 was almost completely devoid of “frackâ€�, which is why the “bloody bastardsâ€� line was such a pleasant surprise. I found myself mentally cringing in scenes where the word "frack" might be used, and it was a welcome improvement to hear more natural-sounding dialogue.

(mental note: new Rocket Jones tagline – “frackâ€� free since 2003)

Hey, since this is audio theater, I should probably mention the sound quality, eh? I first tried the non-stereo version and I’ve got to tell you that the sound quality is very good. As good as it is, it doesn't come close to the exceptional experience of the stereo version. If you get into the story, I think it's worth it to subscribe. The stereo version eliminates the commercials too, although they're not terribly intrusive.

Bottom line: If you like science fiction or suspense stories, especially the old space opera genre (paging E.E. “Docâ€� Smith!), then you’ll probably enjoy Silent Universe. Even if you don’t, I recommend downloading the free version of the first episode and giving it a listen.

I know I’m hooked. What about you, bub?

give a big ol' Hee-Haw saaaalute!

Thought so.

* The animated Bub graphics were lovingly lifted from I-mockery.com. Hopefully that acknowledgement and link will keep their lawyers off my ass.

Posted by: Ted at 08:13 PM | category: Links
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Hella Snooty

Tomorrow evening, my wife and I shall attend the opera.

Posted by: Ted at 03:27 PM | category: Square Pegs
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Are we still allowed to do Polish jokes?

You heard about the Polish suicide car bombers?

Ten of 'em crowded into a minivan and blew themselves up when someone walked by.

Posted by: Ted at 11:36 AM | category: Square Pegs
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Two Disturbing Sculptures

And you just know that I want one of them.

Garden Sculpture (via Two Nervous Dogs, who you should be reading every day (the link is in the sidebar because you've gotten lazy and I want to watch you dance like a puppet on my string. Now hop to and go clicky clicky!!!))

Museum Sculpture.

Maybe frightening is a better word.

Posted by: Ted at 05:12 AM | category: Links
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July 25, 2006

No Surprise Here

This morning on the radio news, the reporter starts the story off with this:

Even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq...

The story went on to report that about half of Americans polled believe that Saddam had WMD's.

I dunno, maybe it's because we've found 'em. Not the massive stockpiles we thought were there, but enough have been found that could have caused thousands of deaths.

Now the news source is CBS, which makes bias a real possibility (gee, ya think?), but it could also be sloppy writing. Especially since the report ended with:

Five hundred chemical weapon artillery shells were discovered earlier this year.

Maybe it depends on your definition of "mass".

As a followup, I went to their website to look for contact information. I thought that a little feedback was needed, about how such obviously biased half-assed imprecise news reporting didn't reflect well on their credibility.

Wanna advertise with them? Email *here*. Reporting a traffic incident? Use *this* email. And so on, a whole page of contact information.

Oddly, the only contact without an email address is their news director.

Posted by: Ted at 05:24 AM | category: Square Pegs
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July 24, 2006

This post contains no links to video

.

Posted by: Ted at 03:01 PM | category: Square Pegs
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July 23, 2006

Shuttle Video

This is a chance to see a space shuttle launch up close and from a perspective few get to experience. From the last shuttle mission, here's a video taken from one of the external cameras mounted on the shuttle SRBs. Continuous from launch to splashdown, the whole thing is about twelve minutes long, although after about the eight minute mark you just see parachute shroud lines floating on the water.

Posted by: Ted at 10:49 AM | category: Space Program
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LDRS Video

This year was the silver anniversary of LDRS, which is the annual national launch for high power rocketry. The location changes every year, and this year's event in Amarillo, Texas looks to have been big fun.

I'd already talked about some flights made by local rocketeers that I fly with. Now you can check out the video.

Posted by: Ted at 10:30 AM | category: Links
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The Japanese are just plain weird

From Mad William Flint, here's a YouTube video of some sort of Japanese prank show with a sadistic, hilarious twist. Make sure you watch long enough to see the "beach" version.

Posted by: Ted at 09:07 AM | category: Links
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July 22, 2006

She was a sniper ?!?!?!

Talk about pressure to perform!

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the diminuitive (4 ft 7 in) sex educator, has led an interesting and sometimes tragic life. After World War II she immigrated to Isreal and joined the Haganah (precursor to the Isreali Defense Force:

...she was trained as a sniper and was seriously wounded in action by an exploding shell during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Read the rest, it's not that long.

This isn't totally unrelated, it's a video about the Isreali Air Force and Army. Thanks to Victor, who is guest posting for Annika while she's on vacation.

Posted by: Ted at 09:49 PM | category: Links
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Rocketing Around the Blogosphere

A collection of cool links that might be of interest to you.

Pop cultchah. We got yer pop cultchah right here.

Do you miss MST3K? If yes, then check out RiffTrax, Mike Nelson's new endevour. You download the soundtrack (it costs $1.99), buy or rent the movie, then watch the movie while listening to the audio on your iPod or other mp3 player. The inaugural flick is Roadhouse:

This is it – the best movie ever made about a world-famous bouncer and his epic struggle with the evil owner of the local J.C. Penney. Patrick Swayze is at his most shirtless as Dalton, a bouncer who is as comfortable quoting Zen aphorisms as he is kicking drunken men in the head.

Be sure to vote for future RiffTrax too! The poll includes such classics as Cocktail, Showgirls, XXX, Sixth Sense, The Matrix and Minority Report.

I might have to start collecting these. Thanks to Captain Ed for the pointer (and good luck with the new implant).

I've written before about the weird synchronicity between the beginning of the movie The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album. Via YouTube, you can get a taste of what I'm talking about. Thanks to JohnL for the pointer.

The computer game Myst took the world by storm, being the best-selling computer game for ten straight years. I've recently been playing a version specifically created for my PDA, and started looking around for some hints online. What I found was, like much of the Myst universe, a hidden treasure trove of information and news about this still-thriving gamer community. There are many sequels to the original, and even rewrites of the originals to take full advantage of new technology, letting you play the game like it was originally conceived, without the limitations of the day. Doing a simple google search will return well over eight and a half million hits! Rather than wade through that, here's a very nice set of useful links to Myst related sites.

Model Railroads. Everyone remembers them, some of us still play with them (N-scale here). The Atlas Model Railroad Company has completely revamped their website and has implemented the coolest online catalog that I've ever seen. If you've done any model railroading beyond a boxed set you got at Christmas, chances are good that you've used Atlas track. Check it out.

For the armchair modelers, Atlas offers this nifty freeware tool called Right Track Software 7.0. This lets you design that railroad empire of your dreams right on your desktop, and it's got an amazing numbers of features available, including the ability to print out parts lists once you've got things set to your satisfaction. Even if you never lay a single piece of actual track, you can spend hours playing with this.

The Connecticut Senate race has gotten interesting. Democratic incumbent Lieberman (former VP nomination) has incurred the wrath of the anti-war crowd by supporting the US war in Iraq. Their response has been to back a challenger, Lamont, who seems to be a one-note candidate: "Iraq is wrong". That candidate is running neck-and-neck with Lieberman, so Lieberman has filed to run as an independent if he loses the democratic primary. All polls show that he'd win handily in that situation, which poses something of a dilemma for state democrats. That's all background to this next bit, though.

MuNu's own Steve, from Hold the Mayo, lives in Connecticut, and he sent a series of questions to the republican candidate, Schlesinger, who will have to face off against whoever wins the democratic primary (and Lieberman, if he runs as an independent). Steve asks good questions, and then poses followups. Great job, and thanks to candidate Alan Schlesinger for taking the time to give solid answers to questions about specific issues. Agree or disagree, you know where this guy stands.

Hey, I went to Las Vegas! Guess what? Derek from Son of Cheese was also there, and in fact our visits overlapped. We didn't know it though (secretive bastard that I am), so we didn't meet face to face. Anyway, go read about *his* Las Vegas times, which also included a Penn & Teller experience, and a whole lot more food than mine did.

Also, over at Dick's Rocket Dungeon, we're treated to a great series from Dick himself about his trip to Vegas. His is even better than mine because he's got pictures of showgirls and exploding buildings! Woohoo!!!

During my last visit, I was lucky enough to witness one of those casino-implosions. If you ever get a chance to see a building demolition, go for it.

And finally, a note about Munu trackbacks. We've turned 'em off system-wide because so far this month, along with the one thousand or so valid trackbacks we've been bombarded with over four million spam trackbacks. Yikes!!! Thanks to our host Pixy Misa, who's been working overtime at this hobby of his to keep us up and running.

Posted by: Ted at 11:49 AM | category: Links
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Maybe not the most original joke...

AmBsk8itKoI7.jpg

"...und mit superior German engineering we can place a small vibrating unit inside which we believe will become very popular. I hope that answers your question, Doctor Johnson."

Posted by: Ted at 08:58 AM | category: Square Pegs
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July 21, 2006

Blasphemous Fun

My wife and I were at the supermarket this evening, and as we were loading the groceries into our car, a mini-van passed us.

It was hard to miss the giant lettering across the side and rear windows:

"Glory of God Cleaning Services", along with a phone number.

I looked at Liz and said, "We clean like the devil!"

She said, "We'll scrub the hell out of your house!!!"

I said, "Christ Almighty, that sparkles!!!!!"

We chuckled all the way home.

Posted by: Ted at 08:03 PM | category: Square Pegs
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They say snacking is bad for you

They don't tell you that it's true whether you're the snacker or the snackee.

trust me kid, you want to stick with the soft drinks

Mmmmmm, now I'm hungry.

Posted by: Ted at 11:45 AM | category: Square Pegs
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The Dungeon on Pooh Corner

Found while innocently bopping around Google.

No, really.

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I'm frikkin' Emily Post!

Heh.

Posted by: Ted at 04:52 AM | category: Square Pegs
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July 20, 2006

Bondsmas?

It doesn't have quite the same ring as "Fitzmas", but it amounts to the same thing.

After recent widespread speculation that Barry Bonds would be indicted today for everything except robbing churches in his spare time, he wasn't.

But don't worry, because the prosecution will just call another Grand Jury, and another after that if needed, until they find one that will indict this stain upon humanity and make America safer for... uh... newspaper reporters who write books based on leaked (confidential) Grand Jury testimony.

I think.

Posted by: Ted at 05:47 PM | category: Square Pegs
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