Friday, February 19, 2010


Going to the excellent Boston Childrens Museum to visit with our nieces? Loads of fun.

Doing it on the Friday of February school vacation? An act of insanity that leaves one wondering how quickly unconsciousness will come while trampled beneath a stampede of 5-year olds heading for the Curious George exhibit.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A new direction...north to Boston?

Hmmm...tonight Patrick Kennedy announced that he isn't running for reelection here in RI because his life "is taking a new direction."

Am I the only one who immediately thought "yep, right up Rt. 95 to Massachusetts to run against Scott Brown in 2012"?

Late Late

OK, I'm hooked. Craig Ferguson is the funniest guy on late night TV. I mean he's seriously funny, not just funny relative to that bland stiff Leno. Who else can have you laughing silly as he talks about moral philosophy and Kierkegaard with Claire Danes? Or try a Greek Chorus gig that has him laughing so hard he almost can't continue. The fact that his show has the best opening song doesn't hurt. Plus, he gets bonus points for writing and starring in the hilarious Saving Grace, one of our favorite "we need a good hard laugh" movies. Ferguson has joined Twitter almost makes me want to sign up just to see what he says.

It makes the extra expense of the DVR worth it because he's on too late to watch on work nights.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl Musings

For the first time in a while, I really enjoyed the Super Bowl, rather than watching it as an excuse to see some overhyped and only occasionally memorable commercials.

Well done, Saints! Perfect end to a storybook season.

Seeing the look on Peyton Manning's face after that backbreaking interception return for a touchdown? Priceless!

On the other hand, it says something about just how scary-good Peyton Manning can be that with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter, everyone was still terrified that he'd manage to score two touchdowns.

Someone will have to explain why the Saints tried three running plays from the three yard line at the end of the first half, all to the same side and all with the same result. Not one pass play? Really? Oh well, they won so it's forgotten but if they'd lost the game, that sequence would loom very very large.

So what was the big deal about the Tim Tebow ad? While I may not agree with their position, I do think the anti-abortion groups played the the pro-choice movement for a bunch of suckers in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. You saw a huge amount of publicity, a huge amount of hype, and a huge amount of attention drawn to the ad (free advertising, anyone?) and the anti-abortion Tebow family story. The message was flogged over and over, mostly by the pro-choice crowd (free advertising, anyone?) and then the ad rolled and what? Nothing. It was the most innocuous ad of the evening. If you hadn't had two weeks of anguish about the ad's "anti-abortion" message, no one would have known what the hell the ad was about. Sure, someone who goes to the website posted at the end of the ad will get the whole anti-abortion pitch but seriously, does anyone remember that URL four hours after the ad played?

Speaking of commercials, not a lot of winners in this year's crop. Among those that at least got a chuckle out of me were:
  • Bridgestone's bacherlor party/orca
  • Brett Farve, MVP at 50
  • The Denny's Grand Slam screaming chickens (ok, it was stupid but the chicken screaming silently in space was damn funny)
  • Audi's Green Police
  • and of course, in one of the several "be afraid of your women/be a real man" commercial, the moment in which Jim Nance says in a complete deadpan, "As you can see, his girlfriend has removed his spine, rendering him incapable of watching the game."
With the Colt's loss, can we please drop all the talk that they're the Team of the Decade? I'll admit that Manning might have the edge on Brady but the Patriots win in a landslide on the team side of things.

Just a fantastic defensive stop by the Saints at the end of the fourth quarter. I thought a Colts TD was virtually a gimme after that stupid unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

You had to wonder if the trophy would ever make it to the presentation as all the Saints players did their best to touch and/or kiss it.

After several weeks of football games highlighted by absolutely awful tackling on the part of the defenses, it was a rarity for a Colt player to get away from the first or second Saints defender to lay a hand on him (the three-yard TD run in the third quarter being the exception).

Very classy by the Colts to not bother with the pointless touchdowns to drag out the end of the game in the desperate hope of a fumble on the kneel-downs. They were done, they knew it, and they didn't drag it out.

And finally, did our tax dollars actually get spent on that horrible U.S. Census ad?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Vote the Demon Sheep Ticket in 2010!

I hate giving this woman free airtime but Carly Fiorina's "Demon Sheep" commercial has to be one of the worst political ads ever. How bad is it? Believe me, it's so bad that it's worth watching to the end just to see the guy in the freaky demon sheep outfit crawling through the grass. Then there's the pitch for Carly F as an alternative choice during which you see nothing but the backs of people's heads while ominous music that sounds like a reject from the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack plays in the background. Actually, the phallic Terry Gilliam-esque "sheep on a pillar" animation stands out, too, and that's saying a lot in a commercial this awful.

Warning: don't watch if you've taken any drugs with hallucinogenic properties or while anything by Pink Floyd is playing in the background. Actually, Pink Floyd would make it so surreal it would be an instant classic so bring on Dark Side of the Moon, baby!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Earthbound? Maybe not.

When I was a 10 or 11, lo those many decades ago, one of my favorite books was an obscure Arthur C. Clarke novel from 1954 called Islands in the Sky (don't bother looking on's out of print and has been for ages though you can still find it for a dollar or two on the most excellent used book site, In it, a young man wins a trip to the "Inner Space Station" whereupon he experiences life in space, a bit of adventure, some danger, and of course comes home safely.

What made Islands so compelling for me though was not that it was space ships zooming around with cool creatures (it wasn't) but that it seemed so real, so plausible, in that classic Arthur C. Clarke way with the exception, of course, of the conversations about "Mercurians" and friendly Martians.

I absolutely loved the idea that a teenage boy could head off to space for a week or two, that people were living and working and exploring out there, and that there was adventure to be had. Who wouldn't want that experience? Is there anyone out there who, as a little kid in the Space Age, didn't play astronaut or space man (or woman) at least once?

I was too young to remember the moon landing -- it happened three months after I was born -- so my exposure to the idea of space travel came from the TV (Star Trek and Space: 1999) and books like "Islands in the Sky" and fluff like Han Solo and the Lost Legacy. In the 33 years since Star Wars was released, I've lost count of the number of times I've watched's got to be more than 50.

Then, in real life, there was the shuttle program. I devoured the National Geographic issues that covered the test flights of the Enterprise and then the first flights of Columbia and Challenger. I remember where I was when the Challenger tragically exploded (driving through downtown Providence on my way home after finishing my one mid-term exam of the day).

I loved the idea of space travel. I was fascinated by it. I still am. I can't imagine what it must have been like to experience the frenzy and global excitement of the space race, the Mercury astronauts, the moon landings. If Apollo 13, The Dish, or The Right Stuff are on TV, my afternoon or evening are shot as I compulsively sit down to finish watching them.

While space travel in recent decades has been limited to shuttle flights a few hundred miles above the earth, it is still space travel. A friend witnessed a shuttle launch in person and said it was the most impressive thing he'd ever seen. Sure, they aren't covered the way they used to be and most people might not know that a shuttle flight is underway at any given time. But still, the idea of manned space flight, exploration to the Moon, Mars, and beyond carries with it a profound sense of adventure, of purpose, of hope, the idea that we're part of a grander universe and that we have the opportunity to discover what's out there. We were still sending people into space and there were plans for something more.

Except that now there aren't, at least not the way we used to think of them. I understand the financial issues but I admit to feeling initially a deep sense of disappointment when I heard the news that President Obama's proposed budget would essentially bring to a close the era of NASA as an agency developing the means to send men and women into space. Instead, the agency would still train astronauts but instead find opportunities to send them to space aboard commercial rockets.

But then I read the details -- the President's budget actually increases NASA funding -- and looked at the technology and concepts being planned and I realized that the dream, the sense of adventure and purpose, are still there. How the mission is being carried out is just taking a different form:

The Obama budget proposes spending $18 billion over five years for development of technologies like fuel stations in orbit, new types of engines to accelerate spacecraft through space and robotic factories that could churn soil on the moon — and eventually Mars — into rocket fuel.

Plans for a new mission to leave Earth’s orbit will probably not be spelled out for a few years, and the budget proposal makes it clear that any future exploration program will be a multinational collaboration, more like the International Space Station than the six moon landings of the Apollo program.

As I thought about it, I came to realize that this is perhaps a more mature approach to space exploration. After all, the spaceflight in Islands in the Sky is carried out by the equivalent of commercial airlines. Private agencies are putting up satellites already so what's to stop them from working with manned launches as well.

The exploration of space would become a global effort that could unify rather competition conducted by individual countries. Hell, that's a key tenet of Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future as viewed through the lens of Star Trek. Detractors have made fun of President Obama's cool demeanor by calling him Spock. Maybe they were more correct than they realized. The man can give the Vulcan Salute, after all.