Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

25 February, 2009

R.I.P. - Philip José Farmer

Sci-fi/fantasy author Philip José Farmer died today.

I loved his Riverworld series when I first read it as a teenager and the Dayworld series wasn't bad either. (Avoid the Sci-Fi Channel Riverworld movie at all costs.)

Damn. All my favorite sci-fi authors from my teenage years are dead. I'm beginning to feel old now.
|| Palmer, 1:37 PM || link || (0) comments |

24 February, 2009

Perry Como + H.P. Lovecraft = ???

|| Palmer, 7:51 AM || link || (0) comments |

23 February, 2009

R.I.P. - New Yorker Films

New Yorker Films has gone out of business. Just look at some of the directors whose films were distributed by NYF:



Exactly how this will affect the overall distribution of art films in this country remains to be seen. I shot an e-mail over to UW prof J.J. Murphy asking him this very question. We shall see if I get a reply.

Having mentioned him, I want to thank Prof. Murphy for confirming that Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light will be at this year's Wisconsin Film Festival. If I don’t get the chance to see it in Chicago, I'll definitely be jockeying for a ticket.

UPDATE: I got a reply from Prof. Murphy.

This is indeed very sad news on so many levels, and frankly I've not had much time to process it. Dan Talbot is a legendary figure. He was a member of the original New American Cinema Group back in 1960 that laid the foundations for what became the modern American indie film movement. Independent filmmakers were unable to get their films screened in commercial cinemas, so one strategy was to buy theaters. That's what Daniel Talbot did with the New Yorker Theatre. Distribution became a logical outgrowth, hence the creation of New Yorker Films, which over the years amassed a terrific library, making independent and international cinema available to audiences in the theatrical and non-theatrical markets. If you look at some of the recent New Yorker titles, they handled the non-theatrical rights to such films as 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, Baghead, Cache, Distant, Junebug, The Life of Reilly, Still Life, Gus Van Sant's Elephant and Paranoid Park, as well as many of the classics of international art cinema. Unfortunately, the non-theatrical market has fallen apart in recent years, so that was probably not a big money maker for them. They had important DVD titles as well.

The biggest effect of losing New Yorker Films will be what happens to the library. There are rumors that it will be put up for auction, but no one knows for sure what will happen to these titles, or about the condition of the prints. This could have a huge effect, for instance, if someone were planning to do a retrospective of a particular director. I'm not a lawyer and know nothing about who owns the rights to these films. This could affect the availability of many important films for quite some time -- until this gets sorted out. There is now one less player in the marketplace. I consider that a huge loss, even if other companies attempt to pick up the slack. We're talking about a company that has been in business for 43 years, a company that has shaped and had a profound influence on the reception of independent film and international art cinema in this country. I guess when major banks and investment firms are going under, it's not surprising that a company such as the New Yorker would have to close up shop in this troubled economy. But it's painful to anyone who loves this type of cinema. I think most cinephiles are depressed to hear this news.
|| Palmer, 3:25 PM || link || (0) comments |

And the Winners Are...

Congratulations to Anthony Dod Mantle who won the Academy Award in cinematography for his work on Slumdog Millionaire.

Here's hoping that Roger Deakins will win before he dies and gets a posthumous award to make Academy members feel good about themselves.

Aside from the award for cinematography, the ceremony last night did not interest me. All the cool cats know that the real action was held back on the 9th of this month when the Scientific and Technical Awards were handed out. The lovely Jessica Biel had the honors this year of presenting the statues to the geeks.

And the winners are:

Christien Tinsley for the creation of the transfer techniques for creating and applying 2D and 3D makeup known as “Tinsley Transfers.” These techniques allow quick and precisely repeatable application of 2D makeup such as tattoos, bruises and birthmarks, as well as 3D prosthetic appliances ranging in size from small wounds to entire torsos. They utilize self-adhesive material that features an unprecedented combination of tissue-thin edges, resilience, flexibility and water resistance, while requiring no dangerous solvents.

Jörg Pöhler and Rüdiger Kleinke of OTTEC Technology GmbH for the design and development of the battery-operated series of fog machines known as “Tiny Foggers.” The operating characteristics of this compact, well-engineered and remote-controllable package make possible a range of safe special effects that would be totally impractical with larger, more conventional fog units.

Sebastian Cramer for the invention and general design, and Andreas Dasser, head of development at P&S Technik GmbH, for the mechanical design of the Skater Dolly and its family of products. This small, portable, camera-only dolly allows low lens positions, movement in restricted places and tight offset circular maneuvers with rapid set-up.

Victor Gonzalez, Ignacio Vargas and Angel Tena for the creation of the RealFlow software application. RealFlow was the first widely adopted, commercially available, easy-to-use system for the simulation of realistic liquids in motion picture visual effects.

Jonathan Cohen, Dr. Jerry Tessendorf, Dr. Jeroen Molemaker and Michael Kowalski for the development of the system of fluid dynamics tools at Rhythm & Hues. This system allows artists to create realistic animation of liquids and gases, using novel simulation techniques for accuracy and speed, as well as a unique scripting language for working with volumetric data.

Duncan Brinsmead, Jos Stam, Julia Pakalns and Martin Werner for the design and implementation of the Maya Fluid Effects system. This system is used to create simulations of gaseous phenomena integrated into the widely available Maya tool suite, using an unconditionally stable semi-Lagrangian solver.

Stephan Trojansky, Thomas Ganshorn and Oliver Pilarski for the development of the Flowline fluid effects system. Flowline is a flexible system that incorporates highly parallel computation, allowing rapid iteration and resulting in detailed, realistic fluid effects.

These are the dorks who help make all those Disney and Pixar films look the way they do. And I'm sure somebody in that list above made that scene in Beowulf where the naked Angelina Joile rises out of the water hyper-realistic. Her breasts parted the water and created those little eddies onscreen just as they do in real life. (Accounting for nipples, mind you.) I'd like to see Brad Pitt try and use an unconditionally stable semi-Lagrangian solver.

Now, exactly what films used these processes? The Academy's site isn't very specific.
|| Palmer, 1:21 PM || link || (0) comments |

International Fest '09: A Kosher Finale

The finale of the day came in the form of Yid Vicious who got people dancing with their take on klezmer.

|| Palmer, 12:54 PM || link || (0) comments |

International Fest '09: Music From Mali

Back down in the Rotunda, Tani Diakite Mali Music was playing. When I tried to enter I was told that there were no available seats. And so I was left to watch and listen from above like many other folks.

|| Palmer, 12:42 PM || link || (0) comments |

International Fest '09: Let Them Eat Spring Rolls

I took a break from music by wandering upstairs to a cooking demonstration where I learned to make spring rolls.

I'm not sure of the name of the woman who hosted the event but, since Taste of Asia had a table downstairs where they were selling food, I presume that she was one of the owners.

"Get to know your brand (of spring roll skins)", she admonished onlookers. The rough side goes inside and the smooth side out. Remove the rib of the lettuce and slap that down first. Then add noodles, meat, egg, bean sprouts – whatever tickles your fancy. Then roll.

Grab the filling and pull it back as you begin to roll it up. Then about halfway through, fold in the sides. Voila!

It was a nice demo with audience members invited to get their hands dirty.

There were only three food demos so I hope that more can be added in the future.
|| Palmer, 12:30 PM || link || (0) comments |

International Fest '09: Squeeze Box

Rose Onama went over her allotted time but I don't think anyone minded. I zipped over to the Playhouse to catch Mesoghios, a group that performs traditional Greek dances, and found the venue packed. The costumes were colorful as were the dances. When they were finished with routine they were doing when I stepped in, I returned to the Rotunda to catch Russian émigré Sergei Belkin who was entertaining the crowd with his accordion.

Doug Moe profiled Belkin back in October and he truly is a virtuoso. It was odd to have the man who once performed for Russian President Boris Yeltsin playing "Ave Maria" here in Madison. This was followed up with Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble Bee" while his set closed with a version of Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance" that, well, rocked. His fingers swept over the keys and buttons like a whirlwind.

I chatted with him very briefly backstage and he was all smiles. Belkin has a CD in the works so I'll be sure to keep an eye out for it.

|| Palmer, 12:11 PM || link || (0) comments |

International Fest '09: Be the Rhythm to the Plan

After the UW Russian Folk Orchestra performance, I went and grabbed a bite to eat, namely, some Native American fry bread and some meatballs. The Dulcinea headed home while I returned to the Rotunda stage where I caught the Taiwan Puppet Troupe taking their bows. The TPT was followed by Rose Onama who entertained children and adults alike with her African storytelling and singing.

Onama recently suffered a stroke but it didn't hamper her much. While it did limit her ability to dance, she was still able to shake her bottom (and get the audience to do the same). She told a story with an environmental that began, much to the delight of the kids, with people eating the sky which was made out of pizza.

As the story went on, the people became gluttons with no regard for Mother Earth which displeased the gods. I wish I'd brought my voice recorder but, alas, I did not. But there was a happy ending with everyone regaining respect for Mother Earth. I was left wondering what replaced pizza when the story is told in Onama's native Uganda.

After a bit of dancing, Onama was out of time. She promised that the next time she saw us, she would tell the story which illustrates how husbands ignore the words of their wives at their own peril. (This tale is, no doubt, particularly apocryphal. Ahem.)
|| Palmer, 11:44 AM || link || (0) comments |

International Fest '09: The Bear in Madison

After listening to the Madison Männerchor, The Dulcinea and I headed to the Capitol Theatre to hear another group who is at the International Festival every year – the UW Russian Folk Orchestra. I am a quarter Russian (well, Ruthenian, actually) so I thought it would be good to check out the musical side of that part of my ethnicity.

Victor Gorodinsky led an army of balalaikas & domras through several tunes including what Gorodinsky called the most popular Russian folk song, "The Moon is Shining".

Lennart Bäckström was the guest baritone for a couple songs.

If the Madison Männerchor left me thirsty for some beer, then the UWRFO left me wanting vodka. And I presume The Dulcinea wanted to watch Eastern Promises again as she loves Viggo Mortensen with his Slavic accent. I was also reminded of my great aunt Olga who, after a couple cocktails at family gatherings, would start speaking to me in Russian assuming, for some reason unbeknownst to me, that I was fluent in the language as well.

I'm not sure how many Madisonians claim Russian heritage, but it seems that those who do are becoming more visible in the community. There's The Rolling Pin Bake Shop which is co-owned by Tanya Laiter, a Russian immigrant and features Russian bread & sweets as well as Arbat, a Russian restaurant. We also have the Madison Russian School as well as the Russian Educational Association.

And then we have a certain accordion player from Russia who landed here in Madison back in 2001…
|| Palmer, 10:02 AM || link || (0) comments |

International Fest '09: The Fellowship of the Beer

With the Swiss Alphorns having finished their welcome, I went to check out the Madison Männerchor. (That's Madison Men's Choir for you non-German speakers.) They are regular performers at the International Fest yet I'd never seen them perform. And so I went downstairs to the Rotunda stage.

The Madison Männerchor was founded back in 1852 and is the second oldest German men's choir in the country.

Now, I know a little German and it wasn't hard to pick out all the times they sang some variation on "trinken" (to drink). Every other song was about drinking and fellowship. By the time they'd finished, I was craving beer. (Hint to the Overture Center's director of food and beverage operations: when it's cold outside and a storm is dumping six inches of snow, we need a good hearty beer like a bock, not Capital's Island Wheat, a brew more fit for summer.)

I was in the lobby when the singers were preparing to leave. Unsurprisingly, they were heading to Nick's Restaurant to knock back a few brews.
|| Palmer, 7:58 AM || link || (0) comments |

International Fest '09: Fanfare for the Common Madisonian

As they do every year, the Swiss Alphorns of New Glarus began the International Fest with a couple tunes in the Overture Lobby.

After the first song, the ringleader, Heinz Mattman, got onstage and gave a brief introduction to the alphorn. They're made out of pine and were used back in Switzerland to communicate from mountain top to mountain top. He didn't specify exactly what was communicated, however.

"Have you seen Heidi?"

|| Palmer, 7:17 AM || link || (0) comments |

22 February, 2009

The International Festival Goes Local

The weather outside yesterday was frightful and even the gargoyles guarding my front door looked highly unamused.

As was the case last year, the day of the International Festival was beset by snow. Last year the festival was cancelled due to weather. However, the six inches of snow we got this year was deemed traversable with organizers pleading on the website, "Yes! The Festival is happening! We won't let a little snow stop the fun, so come on down and join us." Indeed, many – probably thousands – didn't let the weather prevent them from heading down to the Overture Center to enjoy the fun.

The Polish Heritage Club craft tables.

While the Overture Center may be too large for a town our size, the extra space comes in handy at the International Festival.

The Dulcinea was in New York City recently visiting a friend who was originally from Madison. Her friend said that she could never move back to Madison because it wasn't cosmopolitan enough. To be sure, Madison is not even close to NYC when it comes to racial and cultural diversity, but the International Festival highlights that the city has changed quite a bit since I moved here 19 years ago.

The theme this year was "Local Goes Global" and all the performers at the festival were Madisonians. In addition to the standard German, Northern European, and UK cultures that represent the majority of Madison's population, India, Greece, China, West Africa, Brazil, and on and on were also present at the festival. The overall skin tone of Madison is much more brown than it was in 1990.

Tomorrow I'll post more from the festival.
|| Palmer, 8:08 PM || link || (0) comments |

18 February, 2009

Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Id10t

Media Matters has caught Rush Limbaugh in a moment of sheer stupidity. (Again.) During his radio program last Friday, Limbaugh accused the Democrats of trying to obfuscate the contents of the stimulus bill. He said:

In addition, they have reformatted the bill -- they've made it a PDF file when they posted it. Now, for those of you that don't use computers, basically what that means is that it cannot be keyword searched. A PDF file is essentially a picture of a page. And, so, you can read every page, but you cannot keyword search it. It's not a text file as legislation normally is as posted on these public websites. They don't want anybody knowing what's in this; they want it happening as fast as possible so nobody can know what's in it.

MM has some nice screencaps at their site of searches they executed on the evil PDF document. And do you think that those who don't use computers have any idea what a "keyword search" is?
|| Palmer, 9:16 AM || link || (0) comments |

Hallelujah, It's a Miracle!

I was eating breakfast this morning when I looked down at my plate and witnessed a miracle. Charles Darwin gave me a sign!

I think this means I ought to invite my ancestors round for dinner.

You too can make a miraculous pancake by going to this site.
|| Palmer, 8:36 AM || link || (0) comments |

13 February, 2009

Go Southeast Old Bear

The Cap Times reports that the Henry Vilas Zoo will be losing one of its polar bears, Nanuq, to the zoo in Buffalo. Reporter Bill Novak begins his piece by saying, "Nanuq is heading North."

According to Wikipedia, Buffalo is located at 42° 54' 17" North while Madison is 43° 4' North.

Ergo Nanuq will be taking a southeasterly vector.

Nitpicking? Yes. But why can't a newspaper get something so simple correct?
|| Palmer, 1:34 PM || link || (0) comments |

Happy (Belated) Darwin Day

I hope everyone had a nice Darwin Day yesterday. Unfortunately I missed the celebration on campus last weekend and did nothing special on the day itself. However, I am planning on playing catch-up at some point with the many radio and television programs from the BBC's Darwin season.

Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time radio show had a four-part look at the man while elsewhere on the dial there was "Dear Darwin" in which "five eminent contemporary thinkers write personal letters to the great man." I've downloaded these programs but haven't listened yet. On the boob tube, I've gotten a hold of What Darwin Didn't Know, Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life, and some others but more are on the way.

Also notable is a new book about Darwin called Darwin's Sacred Cause which argues that his "theory of evolution may have been shaped by his abhorrence of slavery as much as by his keen observations of Galapagos finches".

Lastly I want to note a blog post by a fellow Madison blogger about the Freedom From Religion Foundation's billboard on Regent Street. It reads "Praise Darwin" and beneath that "Evolve Beyond Belief". Here's what the proprietor of the blog, whose name escapes me at the moment, says about it:

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has done some good work in support of the constitutional separation of church and state, but this hardly seems to be designed to promote healthy dialog with the faithful.

The emphasis is mine. I agree that a "healthy dialog with the faithful" was not the ultimate goal of the billboard. But so what? Why should such a dialog be the ultimate goal? And with which faithful should the FFRF be having a dialog?

What kind of dialog is there to be had with Bishop Morlino? Julianne Appling? The producers of the pro-Intelligent Design movie Expelled garnered interviews under false pretenses and had it hosted by Ben Stein who said, "science leads you to killing people" - what kind of dialog can be had with such people? When a teacher loses his job because community members harbor the suspicion that he is a "liberal" and an "atheist", tell me what kind of dialog there is to be had. How about people who open and go to a museum that tells folks that the earth in 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs and human being co-existed? Scientists will present evidence while the faithful will put forth the Bible. I don't see where a healthy dialog fits in. When Christians want to put their religion into public schools, it's not a dialog that's required – it's efforts to uphold secularism that are needed.

None of this is to say that dialog is useless a priori; but you have to recognize that it isn't applicable to all situations.

Personally, I think the dialog that the FFRF is hoping to have with the billboard and the ads on buses is with the non-religious. The organization is trying to boost membership by letting godless heathens know that they are not alone. In addition I suspect the FFRF is also trying to get current members more active, i.e. – convince them to write letters and make their voices heard.
|| Palmer, 9:43 AM || link || (0) comments |

12 February, 2009

We Keep Laying That Blacktop

James Rowen had a blog post yesterday in which he noted that the first $300 million of stimulus money that comes Wisconsin's way will be highway projects.

Those of us in Dane County can expect some bridges to be painted and $40,170,000 devoted to expanding I94 from 4 to 6 lanes. (I've written about widening I94 previously.) Rowen is very much in favor of public transportation, especially for southeastern Wisconsin and he questions whether the next $300 million will go to public transportation.

While Wisconsin's urban centers seem unlikely to get money from Doyle for public transportation, rural areas were given nearly $2.5 million in grants last month.

Governor Jim Doyle has approved 11 grants totaling $2,409,061 for projects that will help non-urbanized areas develop or expand public transportation. The grants will provide incentives to expand existing rural public transit systems, and to plan or start up new ones.

Regular bus service from Hayward to Couderay, anyone?

Also on the bright side is news that Amtrak's Hiawatha line, which runs between Milwaukee and Chicago, set a new ridership record last year:

A total of 766,167 passengers boarded Amtrak Hiawatha Service trains between Milwaukee and Chicago during 2008 - a new calendar year record - and a 24% increase over the old record of 617,799 set in 2007. The Hiawatha finished the year strong - ridership for December of 2008 totaled 62,935 - a nearly 6% increase over the same month in 2007.

So when is Madison going to get an Amtrak stop? Maybe, if it happens, the Packers could be convinced to play a home game in Milwaukee again. That might give incentive to people to try out the train who might otherwise never give it a thought. That and I know many geeks who'd love to hit the rails and head to the Twin Cities for some midwinter gaming.

On a related note, I'm confused. Badger Bus announced last month that it was going to ditch its terminal downtown and develop the land with retail and luxury apartments. Badger Bus service would be re-rigged and would include service from a transit hub at the new Union South, when it is completed.
But, as Jay Rath, discovered, the new union won't have a transit hub.

So what happened?

I also found Alderman Mike Verveer's comments a bit disconcerting: "It would be a nice addition to the Downtown on a prime piece of real estate that's currently underutilized. But one of my concerns is, will inter-city service be maintained?"

In preliminary discussions, Badger Bus suggested the prospect of a depot in the Park Street area, but it's unclear if that options is still under consideration, Verveer said.

Is any bus depot or public transportation facility in a downtown area an example of land being underutilized? Or just this particular one? Verveer's comment sounds like NUMBYism to me. "We can maintain inter-city bus service but have the depot down on Park Street and out of my district? Perfect."

If an inter-city passenger rail station were planned for prime downtown real estate, would Verveer come down against it because it underutilized the land?
|| Palmer, 9:49 AM || link || (0) comments |

06 February, 2009

Madison Ponies Up to the Trough

At the blog of Prof. Lester Hunt I discovered Stimulus Watch, a site dedicated to keeping an eye on "'shovel-ready' projects in cities around the country that the mayors would like to see funded". And Mayor Dave is looking for $243,239,800 in handouts from the Feds.

While I'm certainly in favor of repaving streets in need of it, we are in a recession and I must question whether building a public market is a truly critical and pressing need for Madison and its economy. $18 million for a public market when there are oodles of farmer's markets around the city? Cieslewicz is asking for $2 million to build train stations (plural!) to service a high speed rail line when Madison is not even served by passenger rail. I'm all in favor of our fair city having intercity passenger rail service, but can't we wait until the ink is dry on some Amtrak paperwork before we start accepting the money? What happens if Madison gets that $2 million but Amtrak never comes our way? Perhaps there should be some strings attached to guarantee the money is used for its intended purpose. If we get the money but not the trains, then we should give the green back to the Feds.

If Madison gets a boatload of cash and starts building things, are we also going to expect the Federal government to pay for their upkeep? And it doesn't seem like any of the jobs that these projects will supposedly create are long-term. You get some folks to create more storage space at the Streets East maintenance shop and lay down some astroturf at Breese Stevens Field – then what do those people do? Sit on hold with the DWD for a couple weeks again while seeking unemployment compensation?
|| Palmer, 7:25 AM || link || (0) comments |

03 February, 2009

"Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is."

Last night as I sat at the Union Theatre listening to astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson decrying the general scientific ignorance of Americans, I couldn't help but think of CNN's recent decision to "cut its entire science, technology, and environment news staff". Tyson is director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York and host of PBS' Nova scienceNOW program and is probably this country's most prominent populizer of science so he knows just how lacking people are in this area.

(Photo by Kate Brenner of The Badger Herald.)

Tyson's presentation was largely about scientific illiteracy and he waited until the end of his time on stage to bring the proceedings to his chosen field. For about two hours he held the attention of the packed house as he alternately lamented our collective ignorance about science and tried to lure us into the gravitational pull of the field. He began by deconstructing several myths that people have about the world: what goes up must come down, the sun is yellow, the North Star is the brightest in the sky, days are longer in the summer and shorter in the winter, et al. People tend to believe these things, he said, because they "seem right". This was an issue he returned to later when talking about astronomy. Many things are out of our normal experience and/or beyond our senses so, instead of objectively assessing things, we turn to myths or pieties like those above. If you look at the sun at noon, you will see that it is white (before you damage your vision); however, if you look at the sun when it is close to the horizon and considerably less bright, the blues and violets are filtered out by the atmosphere (and the pollution in the air, as Tyson noted) and we get yellow (and orange and red).

He followed this with some newspaper headlines. One that sticks in my mind was: "Half of students score below average" or something along those lines. Of course half will be below average, he explained. The average is the mid-point so that about half will be below and about half above. At this point in the evening I was reminded of John Allen Paulos' Innumeracy. Tyson proceeded to show that investing in discovery creates legacies. He did this by pointing out that European countries which invested in sailors and discoverers have a legacy of their language being an official language in other countries. For instance, Spain bankrolled Columbus and many others, hence much of South and Central America speaks Spanish. This notion would come into play repeatedly during his presentation.

Tyson then brought up the Periodic Table of the Elements. While there were many in attendance with what he called a high "geek index", I wondered if there was anyone there who was unfamiliar with it. He sorted the table by year of discovery and by the country that discovered it. The Noble Gases, which don't interact with the other elements, were all discovered by the English, he observed. And English noblemen don't interact with non-nobles, hence the name. Along the bottom of the table were all the elements that did not occur in nature and were instead created in laboratories – laboratories in the United States. In the middle of the 20th century, Tyson explained, the U.S. invested heavily in this area primarily to create better bombs. Regardless of the outcomes expected by those who funded the research, a lot of knowledge came out of it and this was because money was invested.

After all of this introductory material, Tyson's presentation entered its polemical stage in which he addressed the consequences of our ignorance. His conclusion was that the United States was losing or has lost its status as a leader in science. The Large Hadron Collider was built in Switzerland which moved the epicenter of particle research from here to Europe. The breached levies in New Orleans, the bridge that collapsed in Minnesota, and ruptured steam pipes in New York were all shown and labeled as the results of how we no longer dare to dream, to look to the frontiers. Instead, we are very short-sighted and are doing a bad job of applying technology to boot when 18th century technology like moving steam through a pipe fails. This was reiterated in the Q&A session when he said “We are boldly going where hundreds have gone before" in relation to NASA. We've got the low earth orbit thing down so why is NASA so preoccupied with it? That kind of stuff should be given over to private industry while NASA tries to enter the next frontier. We don't invest nearly enough money in science, its teaching, and promotion. Hence we are losing our position as the most scientifically advanced nation.

Lest the reader think that Tyson spent his entire time on the stage ranting and raving, let me tell you it was anything but. He told stories and filled his presentation with humor. E.g. - he chided biologists for giving things long, cryptic names. The foundation of life? Deoxyribonucleic acid. Astrophysicists, on the other hand, are direct and to the point. A large explosion that created everything in the universe? The Big Bang. A depression in space that sucks everything in and even light can't escape from falling into it? A black hole.

For his finale, Tyson made an excursion into his own field of expertise in a lesson called "Cosmic Perspective" in which he looked at numbers. Starting with one, he moved on exponentially through millions up to sextillions. Along the way he gave examples of just how big these numbers are. For instance, a quadrillion - 1,000,000,000,000,000. That's the number of grains of sand on an average beach. He showed a slide of a star field that represented just a portion of one galaxy before bringing up another which showed dozens of galaxies. And this photo was just a teensy tiny point in the sky as we view it. The universe could be much larger, he conceded. There could be dips and curves in the space time continuum which means that light from these areas don't make it to us here on Earth so we have no way of knowing. To quote Douglas Adams, "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space."

But this didn't make him feel insignificant. With that panorama of galaxies on the big screen behind him, Tyson explained how stars explode and churn out the matter from which we humans are made. "The universe is in us," he intoned.

Aside from his extensive knowledge and a great sense of humor, Tyson displayed passion. Passion for science, passion for learning, and passion for teaching. It was infectious and made me want to run out and buy Starry Night Complete Space & Astronomy Pack for my computer and to bust out my slumbering telescope from its closet. I attended the lecture with my buddy Dogger and we hatched a plan to take the kids out to a park one night when the weather warms up and show them the night sky with it. The UW's Washburn Obsevatory is closed until later this year due to remodeling. However, you can go to the Space Place on south Park Street and do some rooftop star gazing.

And don't forget, 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy.

Tyson's home page can be found here.

Also check out reports of Tyson's lecture at The Badger Herald and The Capital Times. Thanks to those folks for the photo and quotes.
|| Palmer, 11:16 AM || link || (2) comments |

02 February, 2009

What Happened to Ashes of Time Redux? and Other Celluloid Ruminations

Back in December, UW film professor David Bordwell noted that Wai Kar Wong's director's cut of his Ashes of Time, called Ashes of Time Redux, was supposed to open here in Madison at Sundance Cinemas last Friday. Bordwell noted:

Thanks to Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics and Sarah Simonds and Jacob Rust of Sundance 608, Madison, Wisconsin, where Ashes of Time Redux is scheduled to open on 30 January.

When I read this a couple months back, I was excited at the prospect of seeing the film. Now, when I look at Sundance's showtimes, the film is not to be seen. Nor is it to be found in the Coming Soon listing. What happened?

I called Sundance here in Madison and got voice mail so I sent an e-mail. I shall update this post with the reply, if one is forthcoming.

****EDIT: The film opens this Friday. From Sundance:
"It opens this coming Friday with limited shows as part of our Screening Room Calendar.
Ashes of Time Redux (Dung che sai duk redux) (R) Screening Room; SUBTITLED
Fri - Sun: (11:10 AM)
Mon - Thu: (1:30 PM)"

Doug Moe had a column in the Wisconsin State Journal within the past few days in which he revealed that a new print of Werner Herzog's 1977 film Stroszek would be playing at the Wisconsin Film Festival this year. Being a Herzog fan, I am definitely going to try to catch the screening.

Not that I'm any good at prognostication, but I wouldn't be surprised if this film made it to the festival as well.

One film I am really hoping makes it to the festival this year is this one:

This is Mexican director Carlos Reygadas' latest film. I reviewed his previous work, Battle in Heaven back in 2007. Reygadas reminds me of Andrei Tarkovsky (there's an art film cliché for ya) in that his style is very slow and methodical.

Lastly, a couple tidbits:

God help us all – someone is trying to write a sequel to Blade Runner.

The British Film Institute has an exhibition which looks at the pre-production work Stanley Kubrick did for his never-made film, The Aryan Papers.
|| Palmer, 1:15 PM || link || (0) comments |

We Partied Like It Was 4706

In contrast to New York's subway system, most of Chicago's El is above ground. Standing on an El platform on a bone-chilling winter day is no fun, to be sure, but you can also step off a train and take in a view of the neighborhood instead of an underground tunnel. In addition to seeing your surroundings from above, one's nose can also take in the smells and I hereby declare the Cermak/Chinatown El stop to be the best-smelling in the city.

Yesterday The Dulcinea and I went to Chicago to take in the Chinese New Year parade and celebrate the new year – 4707: The Year of the Ox. We met up with my mother and then the three of us grabbed the El and headed south. The Jackson stop, where we hoped onto a red line train, is underground and commuters were being entertained by a guitarist playing Lynard Skynard on one side of the platform and a mime doing his thing to a contemporary gospel accompaniment on the other. The train itself was packed with people who, like us, were headed to Chinatown.

Stepping off the train at the Cermak/Chinatown stop, we could smell the countless restaurants and bakeries as they billowed out clouds of mouth-watering aromas – dim sum, BBQ pork buns, and other delectables. Following the throngs of revelers, we made our way to Wentworth Avenue and found a spot near Confucius Place across the street from the Pui Tak Center.

Wentworth was lined with people. Most of the kids had those snap hoolies – those teardrop shaped things that go pop when you throw them on the ground. We had arrived a bit early so we chatted as we waited for one o'clock to roll around. It was hard not to drool. I told my mom of the documentaries about Maxwell Street that I'd bought and she recalled how my grandmother would take her and my aunt down there when they were young. While my grandmother shopped, my mom and aunt ate.

The parade began roughly on time with some of Chicago's finest going by on horse and by car. There were many dragons and floats by various Chinese community organizations and local schools contributed marching bands. Just about everyone got in the act. Here are some of my snaps.

The parade lasted about an hour. I had hoped to meet up with my friend Gene, who is a first generation Chinese-American but, alas, he has found a second life as an actor and had a late night shoot. Presumably he was still sleeping. Gene would have been able to explain what some of the costumes were about, who represented what, and translated the placards so he was missed. I'll pick his brain later.

Afterwards we wandered around trying to find a restaurant that didn't have a 1+ hour wait. Unsurprisingly, we failed. But I did wait in line at Chiu Quon Bakery for a short spell and came away with this stuff:

This first photo is of mini sesame BBQ pork cookies. In the box are a variety of things – milk custard tarts, coconut tarts, BBQ pork buns, Chinese sausage buns, mini black bean cakes, and a couple other treats I cannot recall. Mmm…

So, happy Year of the Ox!

|| Palmer, 10:30 AM || link || (2) comments |