20 Years Later. Time for a new brand of film.

I got an email yesterday informing me that my 21 year high school reunion was being planned. My first thought was, Hey, what happened to the 20 year reunion? My second thought was, Yikes! 21 years since high school? I’m an old guy now! Oh well, I don’t really feel any older than I did 20 years ago.

In a completely unrelated development, I tried shooting some Fuji 35mm film instead of my usual Kodak for the first time in about 15 years. I’ve been increasingly disappointed with the quality of Kodak film over the last few years and professional photographers keep telling me I should dump it for Fuji. Years ago, Fuji film used to have a reputation for turning out photos with a weird greenish tint. I tried some back then, thought the color was bad and haven’t used it since. But they’ve made a lot of improvements since then. The Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400 that I just tried produced much better looking photos than the Kodak Royal Gold 400 I’ve been using. I’ll have to shoot a few more rolls before I’m convinced but it looks hopeful.

Larry Niven: Rainbow Mars

I just finished reading Larry Niven’s Rainbow Mars. It’s no Ringworld but it was the most entertaining Niven book I’ve read in a while. Bascially, Niven felt a little left out since just about every other SF writer has been writing Mars stories in the last few year. Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, This Mars, That Mars, and on and on. He wanted a different take on the whole thing so he dug up Hanville Svetz and the Temporal Institute from the series of short stories he wrote back in the late 60’s. (The original stories are actually included at the back of the book, so if you aren’t familiar with the characters you should really read those first.) A quick review follows. (don’t worry, no spoilers)

Svetz and company live on a polluted, future Earth where only Man has evolved the ability to breathe the polluted atmosphere. Svetz works at the Temporal Institute traveling back in time to retrieve extinct animals. The time machine at the Temporal Institute doesn’t quite work as might be expected; rather, it tends to go back into the past of our collective unconscious rather than actual history. For example when Svetz is sent to retrieve a horse, he ends up finding a Unicorn. Since most historical literature has been destroyed in wars and other disasters no one has a clear enough idea of history to notice the problem. Most of the short stories were about Svetz’s adventures looking for some extinct creature like a Gila Monster. The punch line is always in seeing him bring back a 50′ fire-breathing dragon and everyone just accepting that it’s the right animal.

The plot of the book begins with Temporal Institute being absorbed into the very NASA-like Space Bureau. The Space Bureau desperately needs to come up with something spectacular enough to justify their budget, like finding some real, live aliens. The best they can do with their available hardware is get to Mars, however, which is dead. A historian recalls seeing old books that talked about Mars having canals and life. One thing leads to another and they decide to send a probe back to 1395AD in the time machine and lauch it to Mars. Sure enough, it verifies life on Mars. A larger ship carrying Svetz and companions follows through time and then space to the Mars of 1395AD. The Mars they find seems alien enough to them but the reader will recognize it instantly. It’s Mars imagined by the science fiction writers of the ’30 and ’40s – the Martian races, weapons, and technology of Burroughs, the Martians of C.S. Lewis, the Martian houses of Bradbury, and elements of Heinlein, Weinbaum, Wells, and other writers of Martian lore (not to mention Lowell’s canals).

There are some humorous scenes of Svetz trying to reconcile the less than scientifically sound science of Burrough’s Martian technology with his own reality. Niven has quite a bit of fun causing collisions between science and outdated science fiction. Eventually the protagonists discover the truth about why life died out on Mars and, in the process, discover that Earth may now face the same fate. But can they save Earth before time runs out?

Overall, it’s a fun book provided you don’t take it more seriously than it was intended.

Going Green in Texas

One cool thing that came to Texas along with the new year is deregulation of the electricity market. This means instead of being forced to buy my electricity from TXU’s pollution generating plants, I can choose to buy it from non-polluting energy companies. Today I signed up to change our provider from TXU to Green Mountain Energy Company. Green Mountain’s electricity is currently being generated by the more than 4.8GW of wind generation farms in West Texas. Two solar arrays are under construction to add another 100KW of capacity. According to the stats, each household that switches to renewable generation should result in annual reductions of 20,597 lbs of CO2, 54 lbs of SO2, and 37 lbs of Nox. If you’re in Texas, visit their web site and sign up – how often can you do something this easy that might actually make a difference?

Lead Poisoning and Terrorism

Apparent madness, dramatically lower than usual IQ, behavioral and learning disorders, violent anti-social behavior, kidney problems – am I describing the average Islamic terrorist (Bin Laden comes to mind) or a victim of lead poisoning? Turns out the two could have more in common than expected. I ran across an interesting news item that talks about a weird practice among some Arab cultures in which mothers intentionally apply lead-based makeup called “Kohl” to their children’s eyes. It seems the kohl may be having the effect of giving them lead poisoning and frequently the unfortunate developmental problems listed above. What’s even more interesting is that some Arab soldiers (including the Taliban fighters) traditionally use Kohl (I guess to cut down the Sun’s glare?). The article says bin Laden appears to be wearing Kohl in some photos that have been taken of him (and he’s also known to have kidney problems).

It’s probably not the whole explanation for all the crazy behavior over there but sure goes a long way towards explaining how some people in the middle east can get sucked into goofy cult-like religions and try to blow themselves up while others seem perfectly normal.

What Happened to the Future?

wow! When I was a kid I used to think about the future a lot. How old will I be in this or that year? What will the world be like? But the future I was thinking of then was 1984, 1999, 2000, and 2001. I never really thought much about what the years after that would be like and here we are. We should have had flying cars, video phones, interplanetary travel, and be wearing quilted silver jumpsuits by now. What we did get were a barely functional International Space Station and a wide variety of colorful cell phones. Maybe our expectations were a bit too high.

But before I get too far into 2002, I should finish up the details of 2001. We had a fine Christmas get-together with relatives, one of the best in while. Susan and I took some time off from work, saw a couple of movies (LOTR and Harry Potter), and got to see a couple of old friends that we don’t see too often. We didn’t do anything spectacular New Years Eve. My brother came over and we watched a DVD or two, listened to CDs, and played a few games to pass the time until midnight. At 11CST, we watched the ball drop in NY. At 11:59, we popped the cork on a bottle of Champagne and toasted the new year using some high-quality, plastic Champagne glasses.

I haven’t quite decided on any New Years resolutions yet but I suppose one should be to keep my home page updated a little more often.