Sparklers are fun

Happy new year everyone. Here’s some pics of us fooling around with sparklers. It’s a balmy 22 degrees Celcius outside, beats the cold temperatures I know most of you guys are enduring right now!

My thoughts on the movie Avatar

Avatar eyeSuzanne and I went to see Avatar on the Boxing Day public holiday. I hadn’t heard anything about this movie until about 3-4 months ago when the sci-fi forums I frequent were abuzz with chatter about James Cameron’s newest offering. Some were talking about it as if it was going to be the greatest movie in the history of celluloid, others were ‘meh’, another over hyped movie from a director who hasn’t worked in 15 years. Some friends of mine were in one camp, some friends in the other. So I decided I’d keep an open mind about this movie and do a bit of research before I went to see it.

After it opened, various articles appeared in blogs and newspapers. This one said the movie was “vomit inducing”, but in a nice way. This article from Wired is one of the better ones, and makes it sound like Avatar is the culmination of a 30 year quest for James Cameron to prove he has a bigger wang than George Lucas. He was pretty much trying to out-Lucas what George did with Star Wars in 1977.

In 1977, a 22-year-old truck driver named James Cameron went to see Star Wars with a pal. [snip] Now he was facing a deflating reality: He had been daydreaming about the kind of world that Lucas had just brought to life. Star Wars was the film he should have made.

Young George LucasBut it’s apples and oranges. Here’s the thing; George Lucas was a young director, was working with 70′s technology and worked to a budget of about $8M and managed to produce the magic we call Star Wars. Cameron, as of 2009, has had 25 years of experience working with the latest digital and robotic technology, and with movies budgeted in the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars. Don’t get me wrong; Terminator, Abyss, T2, True Lies and Titanic (at least the second half) are among my favourite movies but they don’t hold a candle to what George created. Star Wars changed science fiction and movie history and 30+ years later the franchise and fanbase is still going strong. Sure, a lot of fans complain that George stole their childhood from them and destroyed Star Wars with The Phantom Menace, but compare James Cameron’s Aliens to the original Ridley Scott masterpiece, Alien. One is a dark, moody science fiction horror, the other is a hoo-rah shoot-em up exercise in Marine flagwaving, which is one of the lowest common denominators in cinema.

Which leads me to the theme and storyline of Avatar. I had heard it described as “Dances with Wolves” in space, and this description is pretty much on the money. I guess it’s true that in 2009 there are no more original stories, so most movies nowadays sell the way the story is told and not the story itself. Selling the sizzle rather than the steak. In this case, the story is told in a fantasy world with state of the art 3-D digital technology.

I knew I'd seen all this beforeAll in all, the movie was great. It was a familiar story, well told. The 3-D effects were a good novelty. The only other 3-D I’ve seen was a docco on the International Space Station when I was in San Francisco in 2002. But the digital world Cameron created was fantastic; the level of detail was breathtaking, and because it was all digitally filmed the physics and movement seemed to be very realistic. Often with CGI and live action mixed you can see where one starts and one ends, and sometimes the interaction of the characters and the sets don’t seem to work well together, with visual mis-cues confusing the viewer and detracting from the overall effect. But Avatar was pretty seamless. From dust and smoke in the atmosphere, to the physics of a foot (or hoof) impacting on the ground… it was hard to fault. You can certainly see where $300M went. The only thing nobody has been able to do well so far in CGI is full sunlight. Even with Avatar, you knew that it wasn’t real because it still looked a little dark like it was an overcast day. If the jungle scenes can look like a natural environment like Apocalypto or something, then I think anything will be possible.

Some older Digital Art

So I was reading a friends blog post where a little program called Celestia was mentioned in passing and it reminded me of some art I’d created many moons ago and shared with the guys at mousedroid.com and potf2.com which are two favourite Star Wars collecting web sites of mine where I’ve met many interesting people and made some great friends. Anyhow, I actually saved a couple of those images from the Great Disk Loss of 2006 and here they are in all their glory. I do remember spending a bit of time getting the angles of the cameras and lighting just right on a lot of shots. It’s not like the movies where the ships are always well lit;  when a starship is in the shadow of a planet, it’s hard to see. And it was especially hard on my underpowered little POS computer I had. I did a few others involving fictional planets,  ”Beanstalks” and other space stations but these three images are all that’s left. I should check out the latest version and get back into it, make some more images. They might have a “Perfectly light this object” switch now.

Celestia Star Destroyer in orbit Celestia Star Destroyer Mexico Celestia Star Destroyer Moon

To All My Left-wing Friends and Relations

Please accept with no obligation, implied or explicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the summer solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2010, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make Australia great.

Not to imply that Australia is necessarily greater than any other country.

Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

Christmas Nativity Nativity Franz Rhoden nativity

To all the rest of you: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Suzanne’s Fingers

FingersHere are what Suzanne’s fingers look like a few days after getting crushed in the door. Some nice blackness has developed there, but new pictures next week should show purple. Even later in the week you’ll probably see naked fingers, with no nails. Avert your eyes, children!

Cookin’ with gas

BigpondSo I’ve finally got the Internet on at home. It’s only been a month, but not all the delays are Telstra’s fault. We made a number of phone calls to the rent managers over about a week asking the owner would pop the $299 and get the phone connected. It’s an improvement I’m making to his property, and I really think he should bear this cost. Nothing doing. So it took me a week to get the phone on. Then, once we had the phone connected, we could get the Internet connected. Suzanne made the call to do this and after half an hour of being bounced around from place to place (this “Velocity” product they have must be new so nobody really knows who to send inquiries to) she was told that I’d need to make the request since the phone was in my name only. When I connected the phone I specifically asked for Suzanne to be added as an authorised person, but they said that the Internet is an add-on product and she was authorised only for the phone product. The rest of the time was spent waiting for the router to be delivered.

The software installation was easy enough, but for some reason I couldn’t get outside the Bigpond network. It only took 8 minutes from the time  I dialled to the time I was speaking with the tech support dude. I remember working at iiNet… we would get busted bad if we had anyone in the queue for more than 30 seconds, and if we let the phone ring more than twice. Anyhow, this guy was pretty abrupt and unhelpful, so I hung up and did what he probably should have advised from the beginning: I rebooted, and that seemed to do the trick.

Whew, now to get my RAID disks up and running in my NAS. Formatting 3000 GB of disk will likely take the best part of an hour. I’ve opted for RAID 1, just because I want to and just because I can. It’ll mean my docs and files are kept safe if a disk ever dies, and because it’s a Network Attached Storage it will be accessible from everywhere.

A series of unfortunate events

Glowing Cylon spineOK, so we had a bit of a bad day at the Hoover household yesterday. First off, when I woke up I found that I had done my back in. I don’t know if it was from lifting something the day before, or perhaps when fighting off those Ninjas, or if I just plain slept on it wrong. It was a bit painful so I decided to take it easy for a day and I called in sick.

It so happens that yesterday was the day the plumber was scheduled to come and fix our drain pipes. Almost a month after we have moved in we still have to bail out the laundry trough over the back fence into the laneway after washing our clothes like we’re livin’ in the 1800s or something. The good part is that he turned up on time, fixed a few other leaking pipes but couldn’t get this main job fixed as he didn’t have the tools to find let alone clear the blockage. Suzanne was with Jett who was staring in wonderment at this hole in the ground which happened to be the one the plumber decided was blocked. The second in this series of unfortunate incidents happened to Suzanne as she stood in the doorway talking to the plumber. She had one hand on either side of the door frame, for some reason with her left fingers in between the door and the frame, where the door hinges. A breeze which was running through the house quickly forced the door closed… You don’t need to be a physics major to know that this particular lever-fulcrum configuration produces quite a lot of force.

Hand in DoorTo her credit, Suzanne kept a civil tongue and did not once finish any of the expletives she started. As soon as she extricated herself from the door, Suzanne ran to the freezer from some soothing ice. Jett thought it was very funny to see mum with her head, shoulders and upper torso in the freezer and with her feet alternately running on the spot and jumping from side to side with howls of pain emanating from deep within. Even the plumber had a wry smile on his face.

So after the plumber had scheduled to come back the next day to finish the job, Suzanne decided that she couldn’t drive to take the kids to Tee-ball practice. Her fingers were showing evidence of hematoma, and her finger nails were starting to lift. Poor excuse, I reckon as she still had at least 6 working fingers, including two thumbs! So, she ordered me I offered to drive with my bad back and all. We were running a little late so I went to start the car while she gathered her handbag and a couple “road cokes” to drink on the way. At the car she handed me the stuff as I was busy moving some of the junk in the way from where the plumber had been working. Without really thinking about it I put the cokes and the handbag on the roof of the car, finished moving a large, but light, shelf, grabbed the cokes and got into the car.

The third in this series of unfortunate incidents happened somewhere on the road in between home and Tee-ball when Suzanne asked “can you grab my phone from my handbag, I gotta call someone”.

I looked back at her and said “Didn’t I give you your handbag?” She had her coke which was dutifully cooling and soothing her damaged hand, so she must have the handbag close by. You might have worked it out quicker than I did at the time, but at this point it’s quite obvious that I had failed to grab the handbag from on top of the roof after I moved the shelf out of the way. I got the all important cokes, but not the bag with the credit cards, house and car keys, and the requested phone.

The thing is, even if the bag is found by some kind-hearted good Samaritan, there’s no real way he can contact us; all the docs in her purse have our old address, he can’t call the mobile because it’s with the bag, and he can’t find us on whitepages.com.au yet because we just got the phone connected a couple days ago and aren’t listed yet.

2010 Sports!

Where all the white women at?So first off, let’s get Tiger Woods out of the way. I, for one, am going to cut Tiger some slack. Publicly admitting to an affair only after it would be impossible to deny it can’t be an easy thing to do. As for the little accident he had when his crazed wife came at him with a 9-iron, the police fined him $164. That’s one hundred and sixty four United States dollars, people! Where’s it going to end?! Leave the man alone! Two of the more recent (alleged) Tiger Woods mistresses to emerge work in the porn industry. Not what the family counsellors had in mind when they advised him to seek professional help in dealing with his problem. At the end of the day, he’s a complete amateur compared to former NBA star Wilt Chamberlain. When told that Tiger had cheated on his wife with at least 10 different women, Wilt wanted to know “What night did that happen?”

Soccer BabesAnd, onto the soccer. I actually watched the World Cup Finals draw last weekend on SBS and it made for quite riveting TV. That’s something I never thought I’d hear myself say but after Australia’s involvement in the last world cup I am quite excited. Australia is in Group D along with Germany, Ghana and Serbia. Germany is probably the favourite in this group but I don’t think they’ll have it all their own way and may end up dropping a game to Ghana or even Australia. I think the best Australia can do is finish second in this Group but they’ll need hard work and a bit of luck. If they can advance to the Round of 16 again, I’ll be happy. At least the Americans have no hope of going through, same as 2006 where they pretty much made up the numbers, though they did tie with eventual winners, Italy. And it’s nice that North Korea is there but too bad they won’t score a point. Group G is just brutal. Aside from North Korea, all those teams could advance. Brazil is going to have to man up. I would not be surprised if the Ivory Coast makes the second round, and Brazil or Portugal does not.

canada-bikiniBut first up next year is the Olympics, and it’s in my home country. There is no place I’d rather be next February than in Vancouver. I’m most interested in the hockey, but I also get a kick out of most other events including Biathlon, Ski Jumping and Freestyling. I remember driving through Calgary towards the end of 1987, when they were preparing for the 1988 games. On top of this smallish mountain were two strange looking structures. I could not fathom what they’d be at all. The people I was riding with told me they were ski jumps, the ones they’ll be using for the Olympics. I thought it was just awesome how anyone could be brave enough to climb that thing, ski down the ramp and jump off it and fly 100m through the air! You’d never catch me anywhere near it. I can’t be there and watch it all live, so I’m doing the next best thing; taking two weeks off and watching it all on TV. Well, at least the Hockey playoffs.

Yeah, I’m in a sexy thumbnail mood.

Settling into our new place

Five stages of no internetSo I think we have mostly settled into our new place. The novelty has worn off, the excitement has dimmed somewhat and it’s back to life as usual which involves working like a mongrel dog. I think it’s wearing a bit thin for the kids as well as they aren’t all that enthusiastic about getting up earlier and travelling for 40 mins each way to school and back. It’s a lot different to Atwell where we crossed the road to get to school.

The only thing left on our to-do list now is subscribe to Internet. The phone wasn’t connected when we moved in, so we needed to pay $299 to Telstra to get the phone up and running. I contend that the owner should bear this cost, not us because it’s an improvement I’m making to his home which I’m not going to enjoy later on. But, he’s not budging so we had to do it ourselves. It’s unfortunate for us that we are the first ones to move into the brand spanking new house.

The phone was connected today and I got an excited call at work from Suzanne when I reminded her she can now get some Internet action happening. But this is another area where I think I’m getting screwed over a bit; this is a closed shop, a “Digital Village” type of setup from Telstra which means that we cannot get phone or Internet service from anyone else. What is attractive is that Internet is delivered by optical fibre, not ADSL. Therefore I don’t think that I need nor should I have to pay for a phone line. But Telstra assure me that I’ll need to pay a monthly fee for a phone line I’ll really never use so that I can have an optical fibre Internet service. It’s been about 8 years since I worked for an ISP, but I’m pretty sure that we provisioned this kind of setup at Ellenbrook or some other new development independently from PSTN. I might be wrong, but I still think I should be able to get one without the other.

And besides that, Bigpond charges and caps aren’t all that attractive. $50 a month for 12GB? C’mon, a mate of mine in Canada complains that 300GB isn’t enough for his $40 a month. How am I supposed to get by with just 12GB?

Oh, and almost a month without Internet is a pain in the ass.