Mushroom Cloud over Dallas

On the way in to work this morning, we saw a big mushroom cloud south of downtown Dallas. The radio said there were a series of explosions going on at an industrial gas supply company. Propane and acetylene cylinders were said to be flying through the air like fireworks. The major highways nearby were shut down, including 35, which we were on at the time. We managed to get across the grass onto the access road so we weren’t trapped in the traffic for too long. We didn’t see any of the flaming shrapnel described on the radio but grey ash was drifting down all over the road and our car. In a few places the ash was blowing around like snow in gusts of wind. I got a few photos of the scene with my cell phone as we detoured around the disaster area.

Free Software and Free Music

It seems hardly a day goes by lately without reading about some new attack on the performance or sharing of music by the music industry itself. The RIAA is doing a pretty good job of destroying the legacy music industry all by itself. Their latest attempts to shut down Internet radio stations through punative licensing fees got me wondering about the state of free music. I know it’s out there and a little searching even turned up some directories and lists of public domain and freely licensed music. But surprisingly I didn’t immediately spot any Internet radio stations or even regular podcasts where I could listen to new free music. Are there any? I also didn’t see much in the way blogs or news sites devoted to the topic.

Maybe this is a case where the free software community could educate our musician friends about the benefits of using licenses that protect their listener’s freedom to share and perform the music. I know quite a few musicians in local bands but, as far as I know, most of them rely on the traditional music industry and their legacy music distribution techniques.

Maybe some musicians or listeners in the free music community can point me to some good starting places to learn more about state of things and find the latest news?

Time for some movie reviews

Spider Man 3. Very bad. Worst of the series. The first Spider Man was mildly entertaining, though it suffered from an embarrassingly stupid villain. Spider Man 2 was entertaining primarily by way of being so bad it was unintentionally funny. The third one was just bad. You’ll find yourself checking your watch every half hour, wondering how much longer it can go on. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Pretty bad but better than Spider Man 3. The best actor by far was the Silver Surfer, generated by computer and voiced by Laurence Fishburne. In a bizarre casting anomaly, Jessica Alba was cast as Sue Storm. She was both unconvincing in the role and unattractive as a blonde. Might be worthwhile to see if you’re a comic book fan but wait for it to turn up on TV (shouldn’t take long).

Live Free or Die Hard. Best Die Hard movie since the first one. Much better than the third one. Also, the co-star is Justin Long aka the Hi, I’m a Mac guy. I was surprised the Hi, I’m Windows guy didn’t get a cameo somewhere in the movie. Speaking of cameos, Kevin Smith turned up as a “hacker” (in the Hollywood sense). Like most movies, the computer-related aspects of the movie were pretty silly but not as bad as many movies. Oh yeah, Tim Russ (Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager) has a brief cameo too. There was a lot of violence but it was much less graphic than previous Die Hard movies. Probably worth seeing at the theater. At least you won’t be looking at your watch during this one.

Transformers. About like you’d expect. On the upside it’s slightly better than most of the comic book movies like Spider Man and Fantastic Four. It was reasonably entertaining. On the downside, parts of it were like watching a string of toy commercials interspersed with car commercials. It’s riddled with plot holes, bad directing, confusing editing, inconsistent pacing, and hokey writing.

The action sequences in Transformers are mostly incomprehensible because all you can see are close-ups of flashing metal flying by at high speed while the camera shakes uncontrollably. Presumably they thought this style added realism or minimized the need for high quality CG. Imagine the fight sequences from The Matrix if all you could see were close-up blurred shots of arms and legs with no indication of what was happening, who was winning, or even who was fighting who. Pretty soon, you just lose interest because you have no idea what’s going on.

The special effects guys also seemed to misunderstand the whole point of shape-shifting robots. Rather than robots that were able to disguise themselves externally as Earth vehicles, they rendered the transformers as alien robots constructed from old car parts. So, Optimus Prime in robot form looks like a welded together kinetic art piece made from hubcaps, drive shafts, and chrome wheel rims. Many of the fight scenes between the robots look pretty much like a tornado in a junk yard with random car parts flying all over the place.

Despite all the above complaints, Transformers is intended to sell toys to a 10 year old audience and probably does a pretty good job of it. Besides, it’s a movie full of giant space robots, so have some fun and go see it already!

The Quiet Earth. Okay, this actually came out in 1985. I saw it at the theater back then. It’s a very low budget movie from New Zealand. I was thinking about it a while back and after much searching I managed to rediscover the title and track down a DVD. I’ve been meaning to mention it and what better time than now. The story concerns a man who wakes up one morning to find he’s apparently the last living human on Earth. Nearly everyone else has vanished completely and those who haven’t are dead. He eventually meets two other people and together they discover what happened to the rest of the world, why they survived, and that they have to stop it from happening again or they’ll vanish too. There are no super heroes, computer generated special effects, giant robots, or evil alien entities. It doesn’t move nearly as fast as any of the new movies, so it’s not suitable for the modern movie viewer with a 5 second attention span. But I enjoyed it and recommend to anyone who might happen across the DVD.