Sunday, December 28, 2014

First step on Mun (Kerbal Space program)

So, after testing and breaking in my first space ship in KSP, I decided to put the KSS Explorer to work and make the run to the closest Moon of Kerbin.

I docked the explorer, reloaded all of her full tanks and double-checked all systems to make sure they were what I needed them to be. Then... I launched for Mun.

Second time out, and the sight was still dramatic as hell!
The exit burn from Kerbin orbit. 

The first realization that this wasn't going to go according to "the plan" was when the exit burn to get out of Kerbin orbit took longer than expected. I didn't skimp on fuel, but I did but a full quarter of my supply just getting on my way. I could have aborted, but I decided that it was worth it to keep going, and that my ultimate goal was still within reach.

Burning Retrograde (slowing down) as I enter Mun orbit. 
The The trip to Mun was shorter than I expected, I think it was less than a day (game time), and I took up orbit 20 kilometers over the surface. to its credit, the ship handled like a dream, and managed to take up stable orbit without any problem. My fuel usage was actually less than projected for that part, so I was feeling optimistic about the rest of the voyage. Again, the visuals made the game for me, and I think I got a slightly better appreciation for what the crew of Apollo 11 must have felt when they first took up orbit. (Yes, I know they weren't the first to orbit the moon!)

The Landing

While the Explorer did come with two lander, the mission was always to land one, and then the second if needed or if it looked promising. I detached the first lander, and put it into a 20K orbit with a landing zone in the middle of a clear field. Watching the decent was nerve wracking.

Right when the engines started burning was when I realized that my math was horribly off. I had expected to land with 2/3rds of my take still full, but rather, I landed with less than half, there was no way the lander would be able to launch and meet up with the Explorer.

Still, with the lander on the ground, I did do the moon walk and plant a flag to mark the event.

Then... I had to get back home!

I knew I could get the lander into orbit (barely), and use the RCS thrusters to do fine tuning. After that, it would be up to the explorer to close the distance so the lander could dock.

KSS explorer in its ad hoc configuration. 
This had its own complications. With one landing ship gone, the Explorder was now asymmetrical, and not able to  maneuver. I remidied this by docking the remaining ship to the Explorer's note, moving all of the weight along the ship's center-line. Then, I ran the explorer through no less than five intercept burns so that I could get it within RCS distance of the lander. The whole process was tedius and time consuming, and... drank fuel at a prodigious rate.

It was over 4 hours (game time, 2 hours real time) of maneuvering before I saw the landed from the Explorer. Even still, it was another hour of waiting before it was close enough for me to chance docking without eating all of the RCS propellant on the lander's two tanks. It took another (very real world) half an hour before the lander closed in for the final docking maneuver.

Heading home... finally!

Once I had the Lander finally docked, I moved the second lander back into its position, and then dumped its hyperbolic propellants into the Explorer's tanks for added capacity. At this point, I would need all the help I could get.

The final burn home was like watching a hangman's noose tighten as the ship ent through its fuel supply. For a minute I thought I wouldn't make it, but when it finally completed the last burn into Kerbin orbit, I knew I could at least be able to get the crew home.

But... fortune was with me, I had enough left to actually dock with the Station.

Final orbital burn.... "Mir" in the distance. 

Final lessons:

The explorer was a proof of concept, and the concept worked. I could make a ship in segments, fly it into orbit, and assemble it there. Using the station as a staging point was a good idea. The use of two landing craft was also proven as solid, and doable, even in a pinch.



The first major shortcoming was the fuel capacity. The bottom  line is that I estimated the fuel usage too tightly, and almost stranded a crew and ship for it. The first thing I will need to do with the next design is to triple the fuel capacity outright. 


The atomic engine worked as planned, but the ship was drastically under-powered. In the future, I am going to need to build with two or three engines, possible even a quad assembly, with a massive fuel load if I am expecting to make true interplanetary trips. 


The Landers worked... but only barely. Any followup trips will have to use larder fuel tanks, possibly with detachable cans in order to save weight on the exit launch. These were never going to be "the" landers, the gravity involved on true planetary landings after this will mean I need to start using larger and power powerful landers. Needless to say, I'll have to incorporate those into the design of the next ship. 

The fate of the KSS Explorer:
KSS Explorer right after
the Mun mission
I never intended the Explorer to be "the" ship for interplanetary travel, and even now with its weakness clearly demonstrated, I have no intent of simply discarding the ship. Rather, I launched a new section, and added a space lab to the main hull. The Ship is now an orbital research station, and maybe I can use it for orbital research of Mun, Luna and perhaps other planets. 

KSS explorer right before the final re-docking after having a Lab added to the hull. 

Trust me on two things. 

1. You will see more of the Explorer, she's a good ship, and she's more than able to do a lot for my space exploration program. 

2. There will be another ship, and she will build on the lessons learned here.

Until Next time.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Do-it-yourself Space exploration.

So, my birthday gift this year was a copy of Kerbal Space Program, a wonderful little space simulator that has just fascinated me for the past four months now. After a lot of trial and error (and a lot of finding out how to use MechJeb, the add-on autopilot) my nine year old son and I set out to build a space station based on the Russian Mir project, and then to use that as a launch platform for a manned exploration ship. 

Here is the Russian station in some detail so you can see what we were emulating. 

I started with the core module (Green), much like the Soviet space program and built out from there. 

The primary platform I used to get the component parts into orbit was my "Echo 1" heavy lift platform. This is a scaled down version of the Delta IV Heavy Lift Vehicle used by the US today.

The Core Module was relatively simple to orbit and I set it for an altitude of 450 km.

While the solar panels un the game are more than enough to power the station with just two, I opted to go for accuracy and placed a third one, just like the real unit. 

My Kavant-1 sits atop of the core unit, while I remotely guide Kavant-2
under the station for docking. 
I built the "Kavant-1" Module a little longer than it strictly should have been, but I'm not complaining about the final outcome. I also opted for smaller solar panels, mostly because I didn't think they were necessary. The "Kvant-2" unit was more or less as true to the source material as I could make it. I launched each of these separately in a Echo-1 rocket and docked them remotely/un-crewed.

I had a little fun with the "Spektr" capsule. Of course my model doesn't "do" anything more than the real one did, but I took some ascetic/artistic liberties with the module. 

Rather than a cylinder, I build this with some "exposed" components but I made sure to include the 4 large solar panels, two on the tapered end of the pod. 

At this point I decided to send a crew up to manage the station. While not strictly necessary for game play, I thought it would be more realistic to have one pilot up there to "keep house" while we build rest of the station. I used a one man Mk.1 pod with a small RCA system and engine. Just enough to get up there and dock.

I'm not normally one to talk up gaming graphics, but I was taken by how absolutely beautiful this in-game screen shot is of the station against the sun with the next module maneuvering in for docking.

The "Priroda" unit (with the large radio array, was another one where I got creative in order to capture the shape of the until without making another bland set of cylinders. And the "Kristall" module, which in real life held furnaces for zero-gravity mineral production was re-purposed by me as additional crew space and a docking port. 

Priroda (on the left) and Kristall (On the right) docked and running in the station. 
Now, this is where I took the next step and left history entirely. My whole goal for creating the station had always been to make a staging point for exploration. Rather than build a ship in orbit, I wanted to assemble a vessel while it was docked with a larger platform so that we had room for crew and supplies to build up.

The basic goal was to build a ship capable of transporting 4 crew and two lander to either of the Kerbal moons. I specifically didn't want an "Apollo" style vessel as I felt that it was both wasteful, and inefficient. This needed to be something that could move out like a sailing ship, take up orbit, drop and retrieve lander and then return. This would be a proof of concept that I would later expand into a larger and more capable vessel true interplanetary travel.

I built two "Apollo" style pods to get crew up to the station. Between the two pods and the one crew already there, I was supporting 7 men in orbit. 4 of which would be deployed to the ship once it was assembled. 

The ship would be built in four parts and launched in 3 segments, each aboard an Echo-1 Rocket. 

  1. Command module - Cabin, crew quarters, and lateral docking couplings. 
  2. Engineering module - Fuel and power storage for the ship system and engines. This unit would also use the atomic engine (based on the NERVA research engine
  3. Lunar Exploration Landers. These are two identical units that will be docked radially on the ships. midsection during the transit to and from the target planet.

The front half of the ship was built and launched into orbit on another Echo-1 launch vehicle. Below you can see it making the final steps to docking with the station. One of my "Apollo" type crew vehicles is right next to it for scale, and you can see the similarities and differences there. 

Center (and illumination) you can see the forward half of the ship. Next to it is a crew delivery unit for size comparison, and in the background you can see the last stage of the Echo -1 rocket holding position after getting this far. I am very studious in de-orbiting all units after I am done with them. 

The latter half of the ship is just as I described above, fuel, batteries and superstructure. I launched, orbited and docked it the same way I docked the first part.

The landers were a little more of a pain to build and dock, but not impossible if I took my time. 

Once the ship was assembled, I took time making sure I had topped off all of the RCS and hypergolic fuel tanks, as well as making sure all batteries were fully charged. the last thing I did was pick a team of one pilot, one engineer and two scientists. 

I have to give it to the programmers on this, they really put enough energy into the graphics on this to make the the launch a beautiful and dramatic moment for me. All that was missing was a John Williams composition in the background. 

First steps under her own power. 

The Ship certainly isn't a sports car, in fact on the burn to move out to 500 Km orbit, it took almost five minutes at full throttle to get out there. Any future designs will need more power to them if they are to be at all timely. That being said, as a research ship, the Kerbal Space Ship - "Explorer" is still a dream to behind for me. 

Middle of my orbital burn to move out to 500 KM altitude. You can also see the solar array fully deployed here 

Next stop... Mun... and beyond!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Relationships... "Korra"... and beyond

So, last night my wife, my son, and I sat down to watch "The Legend of Korra", specifically the last three episodes. These would mark the end of a Television masterpiece that started with "Avatar, the Last Air Bender" (2005), and between the two series, has been one of the most groundbreaking and powerful animated story arcs in the 21st century. There aren't too many critical topics that haven't been touched on, and the show deftly speaks to audiences ranging from six, to thirty six. To say that they they have character development even more of an understatement than to say Star Wars has blasters. The show is built on changing people, and the amazing ability of the human spirit to adapt to situations, no mater how challenging.

The show was amazing, as I expected it would be. LOK very aptly takes the medieval far-east settings of LAB and takes the show into the Steam Punk genera without sacrificing any of its core strengths. The final fight of the first series, a prepubescent Avatar Aang squaring off against a war hardened, lifelong combatant Firelord, not only set a high bar for "boss-fight" scenes, but kept the human element in the fight better than most other shows.

Korra very deliberately took a very different tone with each battle in her show, being as much about the character's internal struggles as about the final fight in each season. I think part of what made the show work was how well it keeps character relationships central to the story, even in the midst of the hardest fights.

And here we come to the actual reason I am sitting down to write this. In LAB, each of the characters bonds differently with those around them, and most of the fan favorites finding "someone special". I don't think anyone was overly surprised to find out that Aang and Katara's young romance lasted through the rest of his life, and produced three children. At the same time, decades later, I don't think anyone was even bothered to watch Korra's on-again/off-again relationship/flirting with Mako as the two young adults (the former a world leader, the later a tough street cop) found their way in a very different world from that of the generation before them.

Early in the show we meet Asami Sato, an educated, thrill seeking engineer/business woman who makes up for her lack of magical powers with technical savvy and daring on a par with most comic book central characters. She's the perfect addition to the "team avatar" quartet, and a good balance of perspective against the team's two dominate (and drastically different) male personalities.

And that is why the final moment of the series is so important.

Asami (left) & Korra (right) Final scene before end-credits
This is even more powerful when you consider the final scene of the first series.

Aang and Katara share a kiss before
the final credits of T.L.A.B

This (left) is the kiss that sealed a relationship that would help shape the whole path of its successor series. It doens't take too long to think about it and connect the dots.

Yes, I think its safe to say that the writers, animators, and voice actors of this series  just put a shot over the bow of the bow of the last vestiges of the old-school social conservatives. Maybe it wasn't intended that way, there has been a strong Korra/Asami fan club going since season 2 of the show, maybe the writers wanted to give them something. Though they have always been regarded as the minority opinion.  Now, it would seem, the underdogs have come out on top. Or, who knows... maybe this was in paper before the first frame of the show was ever painted. I honestly have no idea

As a bit of social commentary and statement, I have to admit, the moment was played with chess-master precision, and I think I can relate to middle age'd audiences of the 50s when kisses between "adulterous" couples started showing up on theater screens, or white audiences when the first interracial kisses showed up on TV in the 60s. There was a strong sense of "how dare they show me that", and I won't deny I was a little put off myself. Not for my own sensibilities, mind you, I have a number of friends in same-sex relationships. But, the show did stop just short of hitting me upside the head and saying "now explain that!" with regards to the fact my nine year old son was sitting next to me at the time. My wife and I just haven't talked about that part of society with him, but as smart and insightful as he is, he's probably not as naive as I think he is at the moment.

So yes, we have come to the point where a cartoon isn't talking about a major, current social issue with metaphor or analogy. While there is "some" room to wiggle out of this, within the world of the Avatars, the dramatic overtures of the show are a fair indication that these two women will explore the relationship beyond friendship.

And to that I say, best of luck to them.

Outside of that world, I think the show does two things for us in those final seconds.

First, it makes it very hard to call the character "gay" or "bi". Korra is the avatar, part of "team avatar", friend to Mako and Bolin, student of Tenzin, defender of the Republic City.., and so much more.  For once, I think we might actually have a point in american history where the story and society aren't going to put a relationship preferences at the top of the resume.  Korra is no more defined by the look she and Asami shared than I am by my relationship with my wife. I am not "that strait guy" and more than she is "that bisexual avatar".

Second, and I think more importantly, the show was a wake-up call for many of us that this conversation is being had too late in life. Unfortunately, romantic relationships are no longer under the american decency laws of the 20s, 30s, and 40s, Even in small town Oklahoma (arguably the most conservative, and in many ways socially repressive state in the US), Romantic couples will hold hands in public, share personal jokes and gestures that only couples do, and be glad to be seen as being "together". And yes, some of those couples will be same-sex.

If we don't explain at least the groundwork of that scene to our children fist, others will. Sure, you may, or may not agree with same sex relationships, but what is your reaction going to be when you do go to talk to your ten-year-old about it, and they say "Oh, you mean those fags"?

Yeah, doesn't matter that the kid sitting next to them at school doesn't know jack squat about the word he just taught your kid. He got his foot in the door ahead of you, and now you're playing catch-up to a fifth grader.

As a society, we have so criminalized, regulated, restricted and legislated sex and sexuality that many of us are actually scared to talk about honest relationships with our children because "relationships can lead to sex, and that is taboo until they are 'old enough'."

I don't know how I am going to address the overall topic of relationships (same sex or otherwise) with my son. He's 9, but well ahead of that in comprehension. I know it will be a process, one that will probably start sooner rather than later, and once that he will shape as much as I and my wife will.

But if he asks me, some day, "Are Korra and Asami in love?", I don't know what I specifically will say, but one thing is for sure; I'm not going to take the coward's way out, and say "no".

...and then again, he might very well just just spend the next five years raving about the 25-story mecha that mostly destroyed the city in the final battle. :-)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Perspective on 9/11

On 23 February 1945, five Marines and a US Navy Corpsman stopped what they were doing, and helped raise a steel pipe for a makeshift flagpole over Mount Suribachi. The moment was seen by the men of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine divisions committed to battle on the volcanic island of Iwo Jima. The gesture helped rally the Marines on the island, and was noted thousands of times over as part of the motivation that helped usher the Marines to what is historically regarded as their costliest victory.

6,821 US servicemen lost their lives taking the island. and 19,217 were evacuated from island with critical injuries.

On September 11th, 2001, firefighters George Johnson and  Dan McWilliams of Ladder 157 (FDNY), and Billy Eisengrein of Rescue 2 (FDNY), improvised a haphazard flag pole at the heart of "ground zero", erecting an American Flag as a sign of hope in the face of unspeakable loss, and defiance in the face of unfathomable hate. The Flag was seen as a rallying point for rescuers at ground zero, and helped motivate the thousands of rescuers and volunteers tasked with the securing and stabilizing Manhattan Island after the worst terrorist attack in US history.

Over 2,600 people were killed in New York on 9/11,  with the overall total for the day exceeding 3,000 fatalities and estimated 6.000 injured.

Included in that total, however, are 343 members of the New York Fire Department who were in or near the towers when they came down. The single largest loss of life for the emergency services in modern history. It is widely believed that over half of those men who died that day advanced into the buildings after it had become clear that the structural integrity of the towers had been compromised. Yet knowing that, those men went in anyway.

Today, the men and women of the US Marine Corp (and their Navy Corpsmen allies) and the Fire services of the US continue on, doing what they have always done.  They put their lives on the line effecting policies that they seldom have any control over, in the face is situations they did not necessarily make. They pay in blood, sweat, and tears for the decisions of others, and still answer the call whenever it is put out. 

I am proud beyond words for the service that my father gave this country during his two decades as a US Marine Corps Officer. And I am humbled to have served my community as a volunteer municipal firefighter for the time I did.

These facts combined form the lens through which I choose to remember, and reflect upon September 11th, 2001. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Railings (Day 1)

Well, I had the house to myself this weekend while my wife headed up to pick up our son from camp. One of the projects I agreed to tackle while she was gone was the front porch railings. We've been talking about them for a while, but time and logistics kept getting in the way. With the 4th of July giving us a 3 day weekend this year, things sort of came together.

I pulled out my tools, and tracked down the power drill

I didn't have my power saw, so I it was a lot of hand cuts with my crosscut saw. Fortunately the wood was pine, so wasn't like trying to saw through  hardwood.

 It was a lot of cutting, let me tell you.

I didn't want to risk splitting the wood, so I took the time to pre-drill all my screw-holes.

Part of the problem we were having was that the pre-fab railing at Lowes were not long enough to reach between the columns we were building this around. In order to remedy this, I built boxes to fill in the gaps. The top here is just over a foot across.

 This gives you a good idea of the layout. I wasn't ready to mount it to the column just yet today. Still need to bracket it all together and such. But it was good to get the major components built and fitted.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Yes, all women

Say what you will about me, but friends for me were few and far between in my life for the longest time. As a result of that, the ones I have now I treasure deeply, and value their time and investment in my life. Each of them brings something to the proverbial table in life's conversation, and learning to value that perspective is something that has enriched my life greatly.

Today, one friend of mine, over the course of a conversation, took a very alien topic to me and made it very personal over the course of a few sentences. 

On an academic level, I've always known that women's right is an incomplete battle, one with a lot of work still to do. By some measures I am a feminist myself, though as others use the word, I am not. Regardless of semantics, I have always held that respect is born of character, not race, or gender, or creed. I judge all people as individuals, and try to respect all equally. 

I also know I live in an imperfect world. A world where handguns and self-defense training are prudent investments for some. I live in a world where the ink on the american constitution is truly powerless unless backed up by the threat of force, or force itself. The police offices of the 21st century possesses as much firepower on his person as twenty infantrymen during the American revolution, and in some cases marshal arts training on a par with 1940s era elite military units. Police and private security forces have at their disposal technology and equipment today for surveillance and intelligence that would have been deemed speculative science fiction by major world powers only fifty years ago. 

As news comes out about the shooting in Isla Vista, California, the sick extent of my world's "imperfection" was shone in a hard, glaring light to me. As the shooter's mindset and motivation have come to light, I am struck by the fact that had someone penned a story a year ago about a man who went on a hate-filled, misogynistic shooting spree of this type, the story would have most likely been written off  as over-the-top. Yet now, we have a shooter who is almost a caricature  of a villain; too over-the-top to be believable, too self-absorbed to be real. And now we have 7 dead bodies as silent witnesses to how very real he was.

The thought of someone like this living within three zip codes of me would cause me to loose sleep, and I'm not even in his target demographic. 

And now to come full circle and tie back into my earlier statement...

My friend, a women of exceptional intelligence, formidable determination, and breathtaking ferocity, told me that her life was lived under the almost constant fear of falling victim to sexual and gender based violence.

"We have no idea if the stranger slowing down their car beside us is some harmless guy who just needs to make a turn, or someone who's about to jump out and assault us."

"We don't know if that guy asking us to hold the elevator is going to try to grope us once the doors close." 

"We don't know if the guy offering to buy us a drink is going to try and slip something into it."

There was more, of course, but these words hit home for me.

Having worked close personal security before, I do know what it is to look at every corner like it is masking an ambush, and ever car like it has an armed squad, or a crazed knife wielding psycho hidden in it. That being said, I also know that feeling with a chambered 9mm pistol, and a lot of training to my name. I face that threat with backup close at hand, and the knowledge that people were checking on me regularly. Not to mention the fact that I naturally stand over six foot and can strike hard enough to collapse a rib cage with my knees or elbows if needed.

To know that fear every waking hour of my life, without the benefits of training, armament, or ally would be a nightmare. And yet my friend just told me that that very nightmare is her "normal" right now.

The epiphany here is not that such things are possible, or that people like this exist, or still exist. Sadly, that facet of reality is not new to me. The moment of hard realization for me was understanding on an emotional level that people close to me, people in my neighborhood, people I know and interact with daily, are afraid in ways they should not need to be.

And that... more than anything else, changes how I approatch this very ugly fact of our american existence.

I wanted to do a more detailed breakdown of this issue, but the more I tried, the more it became a rambling dialogue that went nowhere. This is not a topic that is going to be solved, answered, or even adequately addressed in a blog post, let alone mine. so, suffice it to say, my responses here are... limited in their scope.

#yesallwomen - Okay... I hear you. No, I'll never know your fear or apprehension about just being who you are, but that doesn't preclude me from  helping, or offering my skills to the conversation. God blessed me with a 6' 4" frame, a sharp mind, and a level head. I'm the person that other parents trust to watch their adolescent daughters. I'm the guy who will going down swinging (or shooting, if it comes to that) before watching another person fall victim. There are people who will listen to me when I speak. I may not be able to change the world, but I'd sure as hell like to help. 

As a counter point, I ask this: please don't lecture me. I've already gotten that from a few, and I don't need any more of it. I'm not mad, I'm not offended and I totaly understand where it is coming from. But going forward, we're on the same side, I agree things need to change, and I'm willing to help where I can. I'm willing to listen to facts, and take in new information. But please, lecturing me is not going to help anyone, so save the energy for something more productive.

#notallmen- Men, I hate to say it... but get over yourselves. Yes, not all men are rapists, I think the vast and wide majority of women do get that, and had that fact in mind long before the twitter campaign got going. it was a valid post the first... oh... ten times. But now, it's been hijacked by trolls, thugs and a few others in th social media universe. Just like the Crucifix was used by the KKK and the swastika was hijacked by the Third Reich, I honestly believe #notallmen  had noble origins, but not any more. The ship is sinking, guys, time to jump and swim while you can.  This is  not a hashtag you want to hang you hat on.

#allmencan - This one is on the ropes, it could be a good focus for men to unit behind change, or it could get hijacked by trolls. I don't know. The important thing here is that men can, and need to be part of the solution. Presently, for better or for worse men control the legislatures of all 50 states and the federal government, are the majority of law enforcement and emergency services, and control the majority of the economy. What we each do with that information is... well, up to each of us. But so long as #allmencan remains a flag for men to rally behind in order to promote women's rights, I'll consider it a positive thing. 

This is not a fight I can ever lead, by its very nature, the point of this spear needs to be the women who most need to see these changes. 

But that doesn't preclude me from helping where I can.

Its going to mean reminding friends of mine that there is a difference between admiring a girl and ogling her to the point of being obtrusive.

Its going to mean telling men that "bitch" jokes aren't funny.
Its going to mean that we need to advance the idea that sex is something that is done with, not to someone else.

Its going to mean merit over gender.

Trust rather than protection. 

Human worth over machismo. 
Its going to mean fighting the good fight, and probably loosing a few battles along the way. 

Its about making sure we build a culture that encourages the strongest of us (in any sense of the word) to protect the rest, rather than dominat them. 

Be without fear in the face of your enemies.Be brave and upright that God may love thee.Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death.Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong – that is your oath.-The Knight’s Oath,  William Monahan, "Kingdom of heaven (2005)". 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Movie Review: Godzilla

There are times when Hollywood gets something right, and this was one of those times.

Last week, my wife and I went out with a friend and watched a late showing of the latest installment of the Godzilla franchise. This one, america's second try at the fifty year old story, was a worthy reboot of concept first brought to screens in 1954. The metaphors of the original, namely the idea of the iconic character being the living personification of a nuclear explosion, are somewhat dated today, with only the last few survivors of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki still alive. In the current release, Godzilla is described as an "apex predator" who predates the earliest dinosaurs and lived in a time of much higher natural radiation. The old staples of radioactivity, invulnerability, and titanic size are alive and well, but brought up to speed with newer takes on the concepts and a little more science.

I need to say here that one of the things that makes the this film so good is that is remains true to its source material. Gojira: King of the Monsters (original Japanese release title) ultimately portrayed the main character as a force of nature that man and his best weapons were helpless to even slow down. The movie  wrestles with the consequences of scientific innovation and breakthroughs, as well as the idea that man was now truly beginning to wrestle with forces larger than himself.

The current production takes the best parts of the original, including some central elements of eastern philosophy, and  updates them with some more current themes, such as nuclear power safety, environmentalism, and human arrogance. Also, in accordance with more modern sensibilities, the monsters are given purpose, rather than random destruction, a concept carried through even to the early 2000s with Japanese productions in the Godzilla family.  The story is distinctly not an action movie, with pacing that is almost pitch perfect, a slow build to keep your attention and also tell the important parts of the story. But also, a very close mirror to the pace of the original, where the title character shows up relatively late in the film.

Also of note, the US military sort of breaks with tradition, and rather than line up as red-shirts en-mass to die before the beast's power, we see a very human story told in a very down to earth way. There are no supermen and mad scientists here, just people doing what they have to do to try and outlast a force that is beyond basic comprehension.

The creature design for Godzilla in this film is perhaps the one thing I want to talk about the most. Having grown up on ever improving rubber-suited actors playing the titanic lizard, the sight of the classic Godzilla with truly lifelike motions, a breathing chest, shaking muscles, moving eyes, dilating pupils, and even titching nostrils was like watching a crayon sketch turn into a living dragon. No more will we be asked to suspend disbelief as actors thrash and  smash their way across hundred thousandth dollar scale models, or oddly barren sets of remote tropical islands. The monsters in this film are as lifelike and animated as we would ever dare want them to be.

I'll be the first to say, this is not a film for everyone. Even at it's best, the concepts alone don't appeal to a universal audience. But, I will say that for the young, there is a strong visual appeal. For the historical, the tributes and comments on society, man and history are there, some overt, others not so much so. And for the true intellectuals out there, the ones who over-think things too often for too long, there is something there for you too, if you want to look for it.

This long time Gojira/Godzilla fan is calling the current version an unquestioned 7/10

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Movie Review "Marker"

Film Review:

Okay, so, while I was bored, I ran into this at the discount bin at Hasting. $3.99, and it has an... intriguing premise.

In an isolated small town in the Pacific Northwest, Sylvia's teenaged life of juggling two boyfriends and an overprotective father is turned upside down when she discovers she has a bizarre virus which has randomly plagued the women in her community for decades and shamefully forced those afflicted into hiding. Sylvia undergoes a horrifying physical transformation, and she finds herself drawn into a persecuted underworld where she begins an astonishing journey of freakish self-discovery. Marker is a classic coming-of-age tale with a horror twist, which pits its heroine against her oppressors - the town's non-afflicted - in a battle for self-determination--and survival.
Alright, let me lay all my cards on the table first, this is definitively not any sort of award-winning film, and it is definitively not a horror movie, no mater what the box cover and dust-jacket summary say. No major special effects, no major sound track and nothing special in the acting department. In fact, the cast is 20 names long (including the stuntman), and of that, I would say 12 of them could probably be outperformed by my high school drama club.

Alright, so, now that we have established that we are definitively in B-movie territory, lets talk about what does work about the film.

First of all, there is an ambiguous (and very light) mix of science fiction and fantasy as the premise to this film. Little is explained, and even less is fleshed out in any real detail. the execution is very 2010s, with the supporting undertones of sexuality, youth, and pending maturity handled in such a way that would have probably gotten this a PG-13 rating back in the mid 80s.

The whole story revolves around Sylvia as she is on the verge of pulling her hair out because of how badly she want's the leave the isolated town she was born in. Ironically, despite some sadly stilted dialogue, I thought the actress (Iris Graham) did a respectable job portraying a teen who is so fed up with her current, cloistered existence that she has two boyfriends and wants nothing more than to go to college just so she can get out of the town where everyone knows everyone else a little too well.

The real thing that I latched on to here in this film was the premise. In its own truly quirky, strange, we-don't-have-the-budget-to-do-this-justice way, the film does take some nice aimed (if less than subtle) stabs at the social concepts of "normal", and "the status quo".

thought I do have to say, the final showdown was a well executed attempt at an idea that obviously looked really good on paper, but just didn't translate well to screen. You'll have to watch to understand what I mean, sorry, but I was torn between laughing from the logic gaps, or nodding appreciatively at the creativity they were going for.

So, closing thoughts.

The overall premise on this was actually very good, and had a lot of potential. It clearly suffered from limited resources and a writer that didn't want to take it where it probably needed to go, and frankly doesn't seem to have the talent to make some of the harder parts work. I think the actors did the best they could with what they had, but none of them were good enough to salvage some weak parts. Still, the concepts of "coming of age", "status", "society" and "normal" were intriguingly approached, and from a relatively modern standpoint. (Seriously, back in the 80s, the big scandal would have been that the girl was even sleeping with someone, and here it's just more or less accepted as part of her being a kid).

I'm calling this one 6/10. By no means something you should run out and pay top dollar for, but all told, I think it's just out there enough and just strange enough that it's worth enjoying if you have a spare two hours to kick back.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

This is not my faith

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...."
~The 1st amendment to the constitution of the United States of America.

Say what you will, but the important thing here is that his line, more than just about any other in the history of my country, had largely kept the body politic out of my religious life. Sure, it's hardly a perfect line, and yes, there are times where faith and religion collide like a pair of welterweight boxers on a trophy tare. But all in all, I'm not compelled to even embrace the trappings of a different faith like is still sometimes pushed on the people of other free nations like Briton and France or example.

Faith, no mater how you look at it, is a highly personal thing. Be you Pagan, Christian, Buddhist, Muslum or even agnostics or atheist, the choice to believe in a higher power, or no power at all, is not something that should be reached on a whim. Its one of the cornerstones of our humanity. Even in apathy, the decision not to care can shape how we interact with the world around us. I quite frankly hold the magnitude of this decision equal to that of choosing my spouse, and even now, I do not think that comparison is far off.

And to carry that metaphor a little further, like my spouse, my faith is, in many respects, highly unique. I generally call myself a Christian, and if asked, I identify myself as Methodist. but even within that relatively narrow and well defined field, I choose to apply the tenants of my religion in very specific ways, ways that may not line up with others in my church. My faith, like my wife, is a unique partner in my life, and one that compliments me fully.

It is with this in mind that I look with extreme sadness at the latest round of domestic and foreign legislation in various stages of process around the world. Uganda has effectively criminalized all same sex activity, with stiff and dangerous prison sentences awaiting those convicted. A american federal lobbyist has, under a banner of "save the children" and "force morals on the NFL", drafted a bill to illegalize homosexuals' admission into professional football (admittedly the document has next to no chance of making it to a point of consideration, but the fact it exists is point enough for here). And lastly, the state legislature and governor of Arizona are considering the final stages of legislation that would effectively province a "faith based exception" to standing anti-discrimination laws that would allow shop owners to turn away gay customers.

Lets be clear, there is no denying that the generic banner of "Christianity" has been a rallying point for ultraconservative bigotry since the colonial period, and in many instances, long before. That being said, the religions of today are mostly not the government endorsed, social institutions of generations gone bye. Faith now is about you and God, at least here in the US. Anything else beyond that is your choice.

While I do vehemently and ardently oppose all three of the examples cited above, what I need people to understand is that I am NOT opposing Christianity, I am not turning my back on my faith, and I am not embracing an anti-theistic agenda. I do not blame a religion, a faith, or even the concept of faith for what has happened here. I also do not consider this a fight along moral lines, and am hesitant to apply "morals" to this conversation. Also, when I call myself a Christian, I do not consider myself in the same group as any of the aforementioned politicos.

I am a Christian, but hate is not part of my faith. 

I don't want to take away anyone's right to call themselves Christian, and I don't have the moral, ethical, or spiritual authority to stand in judgement of another's claim of faith.

But I also am not beholden to the philosophies of another just because we both call ourselves "Christian". 

My faith is mine.

but please remember as we go forward in these conversations of religion and human rights, whatever I do call myself, hate is not my faith.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Something someone else said, and said well.

I have a friend who wrote something rather important today. And I would like you to read it. And to set the stage for this introduction, before I shove you out the door, I would offer a preface.

Mark Twain one chastised his readers by telling them not to seek meaning that wasn't actually intended in some of his works.

At the same time, "Through the looking glass" has often been rumored to be allegorical to a morally forbidden love felt by the author towards his teen-aged niece.

I once got into an argument with someone about the themes of Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai", I held that the core theme of the story was the development of honor, and the plight of soldiers without a war to fight, or then their plight even when they had one. My opposite seemed rather fixated on the idea that whole point of the movie was the rise of the peasants and their ultimate victory over the bandits (with help of their hired guns).

I disarmed the whole conversation by saying "look, it's art, you cant take away from it whatever you want."

In the end, anyone effectively has the right to see whatever they want in art. I think it's safe to say we all take something unique away from most trips to the theater or the movie store.

But... what you take away from it also reflects on you.

I was not really surprised to find out that there is a demographic that saw more than just inspiration in the recent Pixar film "Frozen". In summary, a number of people (I am saddened to say) have accused the production team and writers of the film of forwarding a "pro-homosexual" agenda with the film. If you've seen the film, I hope you find that as painfully ludicrous as I do. One really has to wonder how paranoid and warped you are to watch a film like that and come to that conclusion above all others.

Yes, it is about accepting differences, and it is about the torment of being an outcast. I could go on for several pages about how you don't need to be gay to relate to those categories.

But I don't need to.

I would like you to read a friend's page for me. Not because I couldn't say the same thing, but because I honestly feel that in these few angrily composed paragraphs, Lisa comes to the point of the thing with all the painful, honest, heartfelt power needed to do this subject justice.

So, without further delay, I invite you to my friend's deviant art site, and ask you to read:

by Lisa Garrison

Friday, January 10, 2014

Sites! Sites! Sites!

Okay, I admit it, I'm a sucker for a packaged deal, and when you're talking about internet presence, Google just has the whole deal going. It doesn't matter if you're doing websites, online writing, blogs, feedback or whatever... Google just makes things work for you. I've been on Blogger since 2009, and and started with Sites about 2010, thought dropped it because the clunky early interface. The newer stuff is actually really cool, and highly usable.

So, anyway, I figured I would show off some of my projects, old and new.

The Hawk's nest: a herald's workshop: This is my SCA site where I talk about ongoing projects of mine. I also have a small online library of my SCA related works. My largest writing project in the society is a history of our local fighting unit. I'm looking at redoing it, I ran into some style issues with my first edition. I try and keep it updated, but there are times where there just isn't anything to talk about too.

The companion site to this is my SCA Blog, Lord Ivo Blackhawk, Herald at large, which I try and keep mostly up to date with my medieval SCA goings on.

As most of you know I also write, so lately I've been working on another site that would provide a forum for me to showcase my work for others to review and help me improve. I launched "Crowd-Sourced Editing" just recently, with a newly penned novella (literally, I am only now typing it up after hand writing the whole thing).

One of the nicer things about the site is that I can marry it with Google forms, which lets me custom make a feedback form for people to fill out, and then send me privately. No glowing comments, or condemnation coloring later opinions. Each person and walk up to this with there own opinion and perspective. I'm hoping to get my latest work put up for first-reader review, and then move on to a few others I have on back burners, while also polishing up this as well.

I also have one more project in the wings, this one is still in the development stage, but I am doing a whole site that is a part by part breakdown of my EDC bag. I know that sounds over the top, but I see a lot of discussion on the issue, so I figured I would do something a little over the top and see what type of feedback I got from it. That one won't go up for a while yet, I want to have something fully put together before I publish it.

Okay... off to write some more.