Saturday, December 31, 2011

Most anticipated splody movies of 2011: recap

At the beginning of 2011, I made a list of what I thought would be the best movies of the year. (My formula for success: equal parts good character development and explosions.) Now that 2011 is in the books, here is an analysis of how my predictions went:

1. Captain America: The First Avenger
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 79%). It wasn't perfect, but my top choice didn't disappoint. It was full of heart, especially in the opening act, and was two hours of pure fun.

2. Cowboys & Aliens
Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 44%). Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, plus John Favreau as director and a kick-ass concept - what could go wrong? Well, it could be boring for starters. What should have been on my list: Attack the Block (Tomatometer 90%). This British film didn't get much press in the U.S., but it was a well-done, smart take on the alien invasion story.

3. Thor
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 77%). I had serious doubts about this one when it was first announced, but the more I heard about it the more excited I got. And the movie topped my expectations.

4. Green Lantern
Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 27%). With a great concept supported by a big budget, this movie should have been a big hit, but the script and directing were just awful. What should have been on my list: Limitless (Rotten Tomatoes score 69%). If Green Lantern wanted to chart new ground, it needed to look no further than this sleeper, which put a fresh spin on the question of "what would happen if an ordinary guy gained a super power?"

5. X-Men: First Class
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 87%). This one made up for the past two weak X-Men movies and returned the franchise to relevance.

6. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 59%). On paper this one sounded even better than the first movie, which was an interesting and pretty good take on the classic detective. I haven't seen this one yet, but all reports point to it being only so-so. Still, it has Robert Downey, Jr., so even if it was downright horrible I would watch it just because of my man-crush.

7. Super 8
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 82%). It was a little formulaic at times, and the ending wasn't as good as the rest of the film, but J.J. Abram's homage to Steven Spielberg was well done and thoroughly entertaining.

8. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer: 35%). Director Micahel Bay said that he had learned from the disastrous second Transformers movie and that this one would be better. (When will I learn to stop believing Michael Bay?) Actually, it was, but only marginally. What makes it nearly OK are the incredible special effects, which probably top anything in the series so far. Unfortunately, the story is just as infuriatingly bogged down as the second installment - and in fact is nearly the same story. It would have been a much better movie had they stuck to a simpler plot and allowed more time for character growth. But, again, Michael Bay.

9. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 33%). I absolutely loved the first PotC movie, but thought the next two were muddled messes. I was encouraged, then, when I heard the franchise was changing direction (no more Orlando Bloom or Keira Knightly), and even more encouraged when I heard there would be zombies or vampires or something. But no, it was still a mess. What should have been on my listThe Adventures of Tintin (Tomatometer 74%). Virtually unknown in America, Tintin is the star of a popular series of children's adventure books in the rest of the world. And his first animated adventure, directed by Steven Spielberg, has been getting great word of mouth.

10. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 83%). I've always loved the original PotA movie, even though I always felt it wasn't very feasible by science fiction standards. When Tim Burton remade it a few years ago, I lost all hope. But this prequel, with mo-cap phenom Andy Serkis in the lead roll as Caesar the chimpanzee, turned out to be very well done - and even provides some rationale behind the story of the original classic.

11. Conan the Barbarian
Result: EPIC FAIL (Rotten Tomatoes score 23%). The 1982 version of Conan the Barbarian starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is a stone-cold classic. I really love Conan and was hoping this digital-age re-make would add something, but it just fell flat. What should have been on my list: 13 Assassins (Tomatometer 95%). This Japanese-British film about samurai assassins made many critics' top-ten lists and featured some dazzling fight sequences.

12. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 93%). After three mostly mediocre M:I movies,  I didn't think this one would be an improvement. But the live-action debut of acclaimed animation director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) gave me a glimmer of hope. And from what I have heard, Bird used his cartoon thrill-ride sensibilities to churn out a non-stop, balls-to-the-wall blockbuster.

So there you have it: six winners, four losers and two in-between. (58%)

Which just goes to show: you never can tell what's going to be good until you actually see it. Still, that won't stop me from speculating about the movies of 2012 in my next post...


Bonus:

I have to give a special shout-out to Martin Scorsese's Hugo (Tomatometer 89%). I had not heard of this film before it came out, but it got tremendous reviews and ended up on my must-see list. It isn't the splodiest movie; it doesn't have giant robots knocking down buildings, just one small clockwork man - oh, and a great story. This is a film about the magic of movie making, so if you're a film buff like me, you'll want to check it out.

Also, Battle: Los Angeles (Tomatometer 35%) was a lot better than the reviews would have you believe. The story may have been cliche in places, but it did a good job of showing what it would be like to be a soldier during an alien invasion. In fact, this was really a war movie: the aliens are barely seen, and I think it scored so low because it failed to meet some people's expectations of what an alien invasion movie should be.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Twisdom 2011

Every once in a while, I tweet something that stands on its own. Sometimes it's poetic, sometimes silly and sometimes just a little observation that has a kernel of wisdom in it. Here are some of those tweets.


I see icy seas, snow knows no end and winter winds win again


I am jut going tiptoe as fast ad I can and see what my iPhone fangs it to.


(: smiley parentheses :)


"sword" is the "s" word


butler, chef, chauffeur, secretary, personal shopper, personal trainer, life coach, counselor, nurse, financial advisor, handyman... aka dad


Quote of the day, so far: "Nope, it's just a crotch."


Yes, I would eat a bug. There is nothing on this Earth more disgusting than a chicken and I eat those all the time.


You learn something new every day. Every damn day.


Robots are always happy.


1/2 of the men I see in the restroom don't wash their hands. I want to run out after them, point and yell so everyone knows they're gross.


MAKING A MOVIE IN 3D IS LIKE WRITING A MESSAGE IN ALL CAPS. IT MAKES IT SEEM MORE IMPORTANT THAN IT DESERVES.


Whoever came up with the "tie two loops together" method of tying shoelaces, you're an idiot and you've caused a generation to do it wrong.


Horrible things. Unspeakable things. Things that haunt me, that God will never forgive me for. That's what I would do for a Klondike bar.


My Jedi powers: #1 - I can tell Parliament from Funkadelic.


Weather Channel says 0% chance of rain next Wed. & Thurs. Me: how can they be SO sure?! Wife: they just don't care about being wrong.


Star Wars figures are 1:18 scale (4"=6'). At that scale, a toy 1st Death Star would be 5-1/2 miles in diameter. The 2nd would be 31 miles.


We abandoned... Email: etiquette. Chat: decency. Blog: hope. Texting: grammar. My_: sense. FB: reality. Twitter: detail. G+: fun.


What's the emoticon to indicate that you're asking a rhetorical question?


I'm a "glass is half empty" kinda guy. Mostly because I drank it. I'm about to drink the rest and then fill it back up again.


Once you get tired of lemonade, what are you supposed to do with the rest of the lemons?


I'd rather go to work in the dark than come home in the dark. I'd much rather have the whole day ahead of me than behind me.


Sorry - I tried to change gears there and my chain fell off.


Please for the love of God stop saying ironic when you mean coincidental or serendipitous.


You can't look for beauty, you can only find it.


If you assume you just make an ass out of u. (Leave me out of it!)


How I described infinity to my boys tonight: How high is the ceiling in this room? About 10 ft. OK, now how high is the ceiling in our yard?


My kids won't eat chili, because "it's too spicy!" But they will eat "hamburger soup."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

When is Christmas on Mars?

As we enter the age of space exploration, Mars is mankind's next home. (Some of our robots already live there.) It is an alien world, but there are many ways in which it is similar to Earth. One of those is the length of the Martian day. The length of the solar day (sol) on Earth is 24 hours 0 minutes 0 seconds. On Mars, it is only 2.73% longer: 24 hours 39 minutes 22.663 seconds.

Most methods of timekeeping proposed for the Red Planet involve just using hours, minutes and seconds slightly 2.73% longer than their Earth equivalents. That makes a lot of sense and keeps the 24-hour clock we're used to. Using metric time is another option: each 1/10 of a Martian sol would be equal to about 2 hours 28 minutes on Earth; each 1/100 sol would be just under 15 Earth minutes; and each 1/1000 sol would be equal to about 1.5 Earth seconds.

Regardless of what time system people propose for Martian days, they seem to universally assume we'll use Mars' revolution around the Sun as the basis of the Martian calendar. The Martian solar year is equal to about 687 Earth days or 668.6 Martian sols. This makes sense on one hand, since Mars does experience seasons and this system will ensure that those seasons always fall at approximately the same time of year.

However, using the Martian solar year as a basis completely ignores the cultural importance of the 365-day calendar we use here on Earth. Assuming our Martian colonists want to maintain cultural ties with Earth, they will want to celebrate Christmas and other holidays at approximately the same time intervals that Earthlings do.

Here is how we get around that: we use the earth calendar, and chop off a day at the end of most months. This will make the date on Mars almost always the same (give or take a day) as on Earth. Holidays that would fall on the missing days are moved to the day prior. (For example, New Year's Eve would be celebrated on December 30 on Mars, since there would be no December 31.)

Under this system, all of the 31-day months (January, March, May, July, August, October and December) would lose one day and become 30-day months. June and November would remain at 30 days, but April and September would each lose one day, going from 30 to 29.

Earth Leap Years would not be celebrated, so February would be 28 days every year, never 29. However, April would gain back its 30th day as a "Leap Day" on even-numbered years not divisible by 30. (This would next happen on 2040, then 2070,  2100, 2130, and so on.) That should pretty much sync the calendars, although every few hundred years, the Martians may want to add an extra Leap Day (in one of the years divisible by 30) in order to stay aligned with Earth's calendar.

Here is how many days each month would have:

January: 30
February: 28
March: 30
April: 29 (30 in Leap Years)
May: 30
June: 30
July: 30
August: 30
September: 29
October: 30
November: 30
December: 30

This yields a year of 355 Martian sols (356 on Leap Years), which is equivalent to one year on Earth. The seasons will rotate through the year. For example, it's spring in the northern Martian hemisphere right now as Mars just had a Vernal Equinox on September 13, 2011. The next spring will start about a month and a half earlier on July 31, 2011. However, season migration already happens with many lunar-based Earth calendars and those cultures seem to handle it just fine. I think it's more important that the kids of Mars won't have to wait almost twice as long as Earthling kids for visits from Santa and the Easter Bunny.

So there you have it: Christmas on Mars is still on December 25, which overlaps with December 25 on Earth. Martians have a functional calendar for Mars that gives them the opportunity to carry forward their Earth heritage and celebrate whatever holidays they wish with their loved ones back home.

Yes, even Alien Robot Zombie Day!

Friday, December 16, 2011

If the mascots ruled the NHL

I stand by my previous suggestion for realigning the National Hockey League. But since I rearranged MLB, NBA and NFL teams thematically, I thought I shoudl do the same for hockey.

BACKCHECK CONFERENCE

Pond Division: Canucks, Ducks, Islanders, Penguins, Sharks
These team names all have a water theme, fitting for a game played on a frozen pond.

Shinny Division: Avalanche, Flames, Hurricanes, Lightning, Maple Leafs
Shinny is hockey in its pristine form, played out in the open on a frozen pond. These team names represent other things you'll find out in the natural elements.

Zone Division: Blackhawks, Canadiens, Capitals, Oilers, Senators
These team names are all provincial, representing different peoples and national symbols.

 FORECHECK CONFERENCE

Chase Division: Bruins, Coyotes, Devils, Panthers, Predators
These team names represnt things that will chase you, just like hockey players chase the puck.

Grind Division: Blue Jackets, Kings, Rangers, Sabres, Wild
Attack, attack, attack.

Wing Division: Blues, Flyers, Jets, Red Wings, Stars
Wingers are an important part of a hockey team's offense. Wings and flight also feature prominently in these teams' logos.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

If the mascots ruled the NFL

As we head into the final weeks of the season in the National Football League, I figured I would rearrange the league much as I did with the NBA and MLB.

This is completely unnecessary, since the NFL is the best organized pro sport in America. But then again, when has something being unnecessary ever stopped me before?

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

Gridiron Division: Browns, Jets, Packers, Steelers
The teams in this division represent American football's blue collar roots.

Roar Division: Bengals, Jaguars, Lions, Panthers
Great cats, anyone?

Rush Division: Bears, Chargers, Dolphins, Rams
These teams are named for things that charge forward with unstoppable force.

Stampede Division: Bills, Broncos, Colts, Texans
Yee-haw!

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

Air Division: Cardinals, Eagles, Falcons, Ravens
These teams really fly down the field.

Frontier Division: Chiefs, Cowboys, 49ers, Redskins
The wild, wild west.

Legends Division: Giants, Patriots, Saints, Titans
These teams are larger than life.

Sea Division: Buccaneers, Raiders, Seahawks, Vikings
These nautically themed teams are ready to sail to victory.

Friday, December 9, 2011

If the mascots ruled the NBA

Realigning Major League Baseball was so much fun, I thought I'd give the other professional sports leagues the same treatment. In honor of their recent labor peace, then, here is the National Basketball Association rearranged thematically.

FORWARD CONFERENCE

Cager Division: Bobcats, Grizzlies, Hawks, Raptors, Timberwolves
The team names in this division are all animals one might find in a cage at the zoo. "Cager" is an old term for basketball player.

Drive Division: Bulls, Clippers, Pacers, Pistons, Rockets
This division is all about moving forward.

Phenom Division: Bucks, Heat, Hornets, Suns, Thunder
These team names are all based on natural phenomena. A very talented player is also called a "phenom."

LEGACY CONFERENCE

Court Division: Cavaliers, Kings, Magic, Warriors, Wizards
These team names represent all of the things you might have found at the king's court in days of yore. Nowadawys, you'll find them on the basketball court.

Heritage Division: Celtics, Jazz, Knicks, Lakers, 76ers
This division contains teams that honor America's heritage and diversity.

Pioneer Division: Mavericks, Nets, Nuggets, Spurs, Trail Blazers
The teams in this division pay homage to America's pioneer days.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Throw away your old, outdated diagram of the Solar System

Graphic designer Emily Lakdawalla has created the best presentation slide / poster of the Solar System that I have ever seen. I tried this myself once, but mine was crude and amateurish by comparison. Emily's is the real deal. It captures in gorgeous detail diversity of planets that we now know exists in our neighborhood.

Slide-worthy images and a high-res poster version (complete with planet names) are available here for download. The poster can also be purchased in 16"x20"($18) and 23"x35" sizes.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

If the mascots ruled the Major Leagues

Major League Baseball recently decided to move the Houston Astros franchise from the National League Central division to the American League West. It's not the best move they could have made, but it does even things out a bit.

Still, Houston has always been a National League town, and in baseball, that kind of tradition is a sacred thing. The move is also unsettling, because it requires interleague play every day of the season.

Then I got to thinking: well, why not just throw all tradition out the window. And so I did just that, rearranging the leagues along thematic lines. (If this seems to fly in the face of geographic sense, just remember that Atlanta and San Francisco were in the same division for decades.)

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Diamond Division: Athletics, Dodgers, Reds, Red Sox, White Sox
The team names in this division all pay tribute to the game's roots.

Pride Division: Braves, Indians, Nationals, Phillies, Yankees
This division contains teams that pay tribute to various identities.

Wheelhouse Division: Brewers, Mariners, Padres, Pirates, Rangers
This division pays homage to the working people of America. (And also pirates.)

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Fly Division: Angels, Astros, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Orioles
These team names all denote things that fly, just like a well-hit baseball.

Grand Division: Giants, Mets, Rockies, Royals, Twins
These team names represent big things.

Wild Division: Cubs, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Rays, Tigers
These teams all use wild animals as their mascots.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Never miss Wookiee Life Day again!

I have previously written about all of the little-known holidays that deserve to be celebrated. Now I have added a new feature to the Alien Robot Zombie Skeptic website: a calendar that lets you keep track of all of them.

I have included all of the normal U.S. and Canadian holidays, plus a heaping helping of, shall we say, less normal ones. You'll also find astronomical information (such as the best time to view planets in the sky), predicted future alien robot zombie invasions and a host of other random but potentially interesting stuff.

Did I miss anything? Leave a comment. If your holiday or event is alien robot zombies enough, I'll add it.



P.S. - Happy birthday, Mom. And no, that's not on the calendar.  ;)

Friday, November 11, 2011

11:11:11 11-11-11

This is being posted at 11 seconds after 11:11 AM on November 11, 2011.

Happy Eleven Day to everyone. I hope your day goes to eleven.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Turdus migratorius incorrectus

Dear Red Robin:

Tonight, while I dined in your restaurant with my family, my sons received kids menus that included something called the "Scientific Name Game." I realize the kids menu at Red Robin is "light reading," but I was horrified to find the scientific name of our own species misspelled. I am a businessman, not a scientist, but I abhor sloppiness when it comes to educational materials - yes, even Red Robin menus!

The correct spelling is Homo sapiens, not Homo sapien. (The final "s" was missing.) Please take more care in the future. I am all for introducing complex subjects in a simple way, but it should be done factually. (Also, technically the second half of each scientific name should be lower case, not capitalized, but I concede that I may just be splitting hairs at this point.)

Rico Detroit

Monday, November 7, 2011

Hey diddle diddle: 2005 YU55

Tomorrow, November 8, 2011, asteroid 2005 YU55 will pass very close to the earth, reaching its nearest point, about 200,000 miles (325,000 km) from Earth, at 6:28 p.m. EST. This is closer than the Moon orbits our planet.


Fortunately, the orbit of this asteroid is very well known, and there is no chance of collision with either the Earth or the Moon. (Or at least that's what they want you to think. NASA has lied to us before...)


Unfortunately, nobody has bothered to give this 790 foot (325 m) diameter asteroid an official name yet. As I've repeatedly said in the past, I won't stand for that. Therefore, in honor of the fact that this cow is obviously jumping over the moon, I hereby bestow upon it the nickname "Diddle" in honor of the old nursery rhyme:


Hey diddle diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon,
The little dog laughed to see such a sight,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Dear Son

I think about you a lot during the day while I'm at work and on the days and evenings when we're apart. All too often when we're together, life goes so quickly and the hours and days slip by before I've gotten the chance to do and say everything I want to. Life is like that, I guess, and I'd rather it be overflowing than not full enough. But here, in this quiet moment, I wanted to take the time to tell you exactly what I want to tell you every moment of every day.

I'm proud of you. Not because of what you do, but because of who you are. I love watching you play and have fun and tell jokes and come up with interesting projects. And I love to watch you learn and see you accomplish things in school and in life. But much, much more than that , I am proud of what a good person you are - how thoughtful and generous and kind. You're not perfect! But life is not about being perfect. And I hope that you're never afraid to make a mistake - as we all do - and learn from it, laugh it off and get better and better.

You are an incredibly smart boy - probably the smartest I have ever known. It may not always show up in your school grades (although I hope you'll always try your best to get good ones!) - but you have the kind of curiosity and creativity and charisma that will take you far in life. I may be hard on you sometimes, because that's my job - to be strong and a good role model and try to teach you how to be the best person you can be. But when, like now, I have a moment to think about it, I just beam with pride. You're already pretty great. You're an inspiration to me, and I feel privileged to be your father.

I love you with all my heart, and I always will. And not just because it's my job.

Dad

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

We're in this together now

The first trailer has hit the Web for next year's Avengers movie and it looks pretty good. Lots of 'splosions and some quippy dialogue. Plus, you can't argue with the selection of Nine Inch Nails for the music. Enjoy.



Friday, September 2, 2011

Outlook tip of the week: turning off the 18-hour default alarm

Like many of you, I’ve found one of the most frustrating things about Microsoft Outlook to be the hard-coded 18-hour default reminder for all-day meetings. An 18-hour reminder for an all-day Monday appointment, for example, means getting woken up by your smart phone at 6:00 AM on Sunday morning – not how you want your week to start!

Unfortunately, while the default reminder for appointments at specific times can be set to whatever time interval you would like (10 minutes? 15 minutes? half an hour?), all-day reminders will default to 18 hours every time. Although users have complained about this for years, the feature has remained in version after version of Outlook, including the one just installed on my shiny new laptop.

Unless your co-workers are all diligent, courteous and intelligent enough to remember to manually change the setting every time they schedule an all-day appointment (hint: they’re not), you will face this dilemma again and again. Manually checking your calendar on a regular basis will help, but some appointments may still slip by. And if your smart phone isn’t fully compatible with Outlook (and it probably isn’t), turning off the reminder in Outlook may not turn it off on the devices synced to it.

Luckily, I have discovered a quick and easy fix that will disable the 18-hour alarm feature permanently, affording you a few extra minutes of sleep every morning, and preventing anyone you invite to a meeting from wanting to skin you alive. I discovered the fix quite by accident this past weekend, and I am happy to report that it is both easy to replicate and 100% guaranteed to work.

First, while this technique can be executed at any time, it is really far more satisfying if you have just been woken up at 6:00 AM after getting only three hours of sleep. Besides the fact that this will put you in the right frame of mind to finally stab a knife through the belly of the beast, you will benefit (as you will see in a moment) from the adrenaline rush of being extra, extra pissed off.

The first step is to grip the offending instrument – be it cell phone, laptop or whatever – firmly with your dominant hand. If you are right-handed, for example, hold it with your right hand. This is important, because you need both strength and finesse.

The second step is optional, but highly recommended: yell at the top of your lungs. In fact, you should seriously think about screaming words so obscene that you will later have to apologize to your kids, neighbors and the police. Trust me, it will be worth it for the added adrenaline strength.

If you are on high ground, all the better, but if not, do not stop to climb. That arrangement should be made in advance or not at all, as climbing will quickly sap your strength, especially when you are sleep-deprived.

Next, and this is an important step: open a window. If you’re already outside, don’t do this. That would be silly.

Then, chuck that f***er at the ground with every fiber of strength in your body. If you are in full possession of your mental faculties, make sure to hit something hard. But in any case, whip it! Whip it good!

Don’t stop there, though. The final step is the clincher. Go get in your car and drive over it again and again until it is no longer recognizable. (This is where some foresight comes in handy: throw it on your driveway and you’ll save yourself a lot of future gardening work and/or community service time.)

That should solve the problem. Enjoy your Sunday mornings.


iPhone photo courtesy of magerleagues

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Meet the planets: Luna

Luna is our Solar System’s innermost satellite planet, and the only natural satellite of Earth. It is often simply called “the Moon,” but I prefer “Luna,” its Latin name, to distinguish it from all other natural satellites, which are also called “moons.” There are many other names around the world for this planet, including “Selene” (Greek), “Al-Quamar” (Arabic) and “Chandra” (Sanskrit).

Luna is believed to have formed just over 4.5 billion years ago when Theia, a hypothetical Mars-sized planet, collided with the still-forming Earth. Theia is believed to have been co-orbital with Earth, creating a low-speed impact that allowed Earth to absorb Theia’s core. However, some of the planetary material was ejected, and re-solidified in Earth’s orbit as the Moon.

Description

Luna is the 5th largest satellite planet and 14th largest planet in the Solar System overall. Luna is about a quarter of the diameter of Earth and 1/81 its mass: the largest satellite of a major planet relative to the planet it orbits. Having such a large companion, a second planet sharing its orbit, has been good for the Earth, giving it great stability over the eons and anchoring it against shifts in its orientation that could have produced radical climate change.

Luna is a Size-I planet, a little smaller than the smallest terrestrial planet (Mercury), but a little larger than the largest known dwarf planets (Eris and Pluto). Its diameter of 3,473 km (2,158 miles) is less than the width of the United States, reaching only from New York City to about Elko, Nevada. Its surface area is 37,930,000 sq km, which is about 7.4% of the Earth’s (roughly equal to the area of Africa and Australia combined). Gravity on the moon is 1/6 of that on Earth (16.7%).

Although we are used to seeing it in the sky every night, our moon is unique among all of the moons in our Solar System for many reasons. While we usually think of Luna as revolving around the Earth, both planets actually revolve around the center of gravity of the two planet system, a point located closer to Earth’s surface than to its center. More than any other moon, Luna behaves almost as an independent planet, its motion determined more by its revolution around the Sun than by its dance with the Earth. It revolves around the Earth not at the Earth’s equator, as with most moons, but near the plane of the Sun’s equator. Indeed, if the Earth were to suddenly disappear from existence, Luna would still be capable of dominating its orbit around the Sun and would easily be seen as a major planet in its own right.

Luna is affected by its larger companion in some ways, though. The most significant are the tidal forces, which have caused Luna to became “locked,” so that the same side always faces the Earth. This means that a day on the moon is equal to its revolution around the Earth, which takes about 27.3 days. However, since the Earth is also in motion around the Sun, it takes slightly longer – 29.5 days – for the same phase of the moon (for example, full moon to full moon) to be seen from Earth. (Likewise, the Earth appears to go through the same cycle every 29.5 days for those viewing from the near-side of Luna, but the phases are reversed: when Earthlings see a new moon, Lunarians see a full Earth, and vice-versa.) Its year is the same length as its companion’s (365.24 days), but Luna has almost no axial tilt, so it does not experience great seasonal variations as the Earth does. Its temperature varies from -233°C (-387°F) at night to 123°C (-253°F) during the day.

Luna’s composition resembles that of the other planets in the inner solar system. It is fully differentiated, with an iron-rich core surrounded by silicate rock. It has only the faintest of magnetospheres, not enough to provide significant protection from solar radiation. There is some evidence of water on the moon, but exactly how much is unknown. There is no liquid water or ice on the surface, where the solar radiation would cause it to rapidly dissipate. Presently, it does not appear likely that there is more than a trace amount underground, although there may yet be deposits at the poles.

Although it looks very bright to us on Earth, that is only because of its proximity, as Luna’s surface is actually quite dark, similar to coal. The darkest areas are the basaltic lava plains, called maria, which fill about a third of the near side (but only 2% of the far side). These lava fields were all formed billions of years ago, as Luna is not geologically active today. The remainder of the lunar surface is covered in lighter highlands, or terrae, which solidified from the molten magma ocean as Luna was forming. The entire surface, and especially the older terrae, is covered in impact craters made over billions of years. Because Luna is not geologically active and has almost no atmosphere, those craters have been preserved for eons.

Luna and Earth are separated by an average of only 384,399 km (238,854 miles). That’s the equivalent of circling the Earth at the equator 9.6 times. Luna is near enough that its large surface features can be discerned with the naked eye, and individual craters can be easily spotted with a telescope. By a coincidence, Luna’s relative size from Earth is almost exactly the same as the Sun’s, allowing Luna to completely eclipse the Sun when it is lined up directly between it and Earth.


Humans

Humans have been familiar with Luna from the very beginning, although its true nature was not understood until the 17th Century. The great familiarity Earthlings have with their moon often subdues their reaction to it, which should constantly be: “Oh my God! There’s a whole freaking planet in the sky!”

As humans became a spacefaring species, traveling to Luna became seen more and more as a possibility. On the evening of July 20, 1969, that dream was finally realized when U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first Earthling to set foot on another planet. His fitting first words back to Earth were: “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Five additional manned missions were made, the last one in 1976. No human has set foot on Luna since that time.

But we will.

The moon will be our first permanent home outside of Earth. In 1969, it took astronauts three days to reach Luna, and this time will be greatly reduced in the future. And communications between Earth and Luna take only three seconds, meaning that residents of Luna could be full participants in Earth culture.

The cost of manned missions between earth and Luna will also become more reasonable, especially once space elevators and other technologies reduce the burden of escaping Earth’s gravity. This will open up the moon to science, industry and space tourism. While Luna does not have many natural resources of interest to us, it does have deposits of helium that may prove valuable. Mostly, however, Luna will be useful as a low-gravity base from which to launch further space missions.

The effects of Luna’s low-gravity environment on human beings is not yet fully understood, but will be carefully studied as the first lunar crews rotate in and out. Other obstacles will also have to be overcome, such as dealing with the extremely abrasive lunar dust, nutrient-poor soil, and the lack of atmospheric protection from solar radiation and meteors. Eventually, however, science will develop solutions to all of these problems, further opening up human exploration of the cosmos.

Although industry may make it possible to give Luna a temporary atmosphere, it will not be sustainable over the long term due to solar radiation, and making it hospitable to humans may be more trouble than it is worth. More likely, any atmosphere created will be in the interest of providing additional protection against solar radiation, while human settlement will remain restricted to air-tight artificial complexes. Traditional agriculture may be possible in domed greenhouses near the poles where sunlight is constant, but the two-week long nights will make it nearly impossible elsewhere without artificial light. For farms, factories and settlements on the near side of Luna, those lights will be visible from Earth, so that future generations will finally think of Earth and Luna as a true two-planet system.

Aliens (speculative)

Luna is populated by the Posterions, a flat, silicon-based life form about a quarter-inch deep and up to four miles in diameter. Posterions are very slow-moving, combing the lunar surface inch by inch as they feed on nutrients deposited by the solar wind. Like deer in headlights, they freeze completely when in direct sunlight. This, coupled with their rocky appearance, makes them invisible to even the strongest Earth-based telescopes.

Although they have no appendages, no tools and no industry, they are extremely intelligent. Their advanced culture is based entirely on theory: while they have no concrete music, art or science, for example, they have philosophical discussions of all of these, and very complex (and also very wrong) theories about the nature of the Universe.

Until recently, the Posterions believed their rather large moon to be lifeless, under the mistaken belief that life could not exist near anything blue. They were proven wrong in 1969, when aliens arrived on their world and promptly drive a striped and starred spike through the heart of their theoretical supreme leader. The Posterions immediately began planning war upon the invaders. They spent the next several decades conceptualizing the ultimate weapon, and then – for the first time ever – actually moved beyond theory and built the device. On October 9, 2009, they aimed it at the Earth and prepared to fire, only to be hit by a preemptive attack from the U.S. under the guise of a NASA science experiment.

The Posterions’ activities since then are unknown, but according to U.S. government officials who wish to remain anonymous, the earth’s leading scientists believe a full-scale war is inevitable...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Me singing poorly

Well, back when I posted the lyrics to my country song "Killin' Time," I promised I would record it. I have now sucked up my pride and humiliated myself to do just that. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cheque roulette

If you like a little risk, here is a fun way to add some excitement to a routine meal out. If you're at a bar or restaurant with friends or colleagues, suggest making it a little more interesting by playing "cheque roulette."

The rules are very simple: whoever gets served last pays the bill. If you're having drinks, the last one to be served his or her drink pays for that entire round. If you're having a meal, the last one served his or her entree pays the entire bill. (Oh, and no tampering with the waitress!)

Note that I didn't say it was smart; I just said it was fun if you can tolerate a little danger. (Or, of course, if you have an uncontrollable gambling problem!)

Since coming up with the idea, I've done it a few times - always with a group that could all afford to pay and at places where the bill would not be painfully high. I've gotten stuck with the bill a few times, but also gotten free lunch or drinks a few times, so it's been a wash.

Best of all, there's always been a lot of laughter involved - with the waiter/waitress both amused and bemused that his/her every action brings loud cheers and moans from the table. And really that's the whole point. There has to be something at stake to make it interesting, but even if you lower the stakes (loser gets the tip, loser has to sing a song, etc.), it's bound to add some mirth and merriment.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Entanglement chess

In the past, neighboring countries would line up their armies and engage each other in a nice, predictable conflict. Lately, though, the wars we have been fighting have been messy affairs with no clear boundaries. With that in mind, I rearranged the classic chess board to better reflect the occupation vs. insurgency nature of the warfare we have grown used to. I hereby present to you "entanglement chess":


Rule changes:
  • Castling: the king (K) may swap places with the adjacent rook (R), provided neither piece has yet been moved. This is the only castling option.
  • Pawns (P) cannot move two spaces on their first move.
  • Pawns can move horizontally or vertically, but can still only attack diagonally.
  • Pawns cannot be promoted.
Alternate game piece names:
  • B - bishops or "air support"
  • K - king or "commander"
  • N - knights or "guerrilla fighters"
  • P - pawns or "infantry"
  • Q - queen or "special forces"
  • R - rooks or "armored division"

Friday, July 29, 2011

What's the plural of "platypus"?

The word "platypus" is constructed from two Greek roots: "platys" means "flat," and "-pus" is related to "-pod" meaning "foot." The plural ending of Greek words ending in both "-pus" and "-pod" is "-podes."

However... "platypus" is NOT a Greek word, it is a modern word that was constructed in a "neo-Latin" fashion to be used n English and other languages. It is only constructed of Greek parts. So, this is where it gets messy.

For Latin words ending in "-us," we would end the plural in "-i." So a lot of people do that for "platypus" and "octopus," despite "platypi" and "octopi" not really making any sense from a historical perspective.

Those in the know about Greek like to end the plural in "-podes" ("platypodes," "octopodes") to make us feel smart - and yes, that includes me - even though it is so obscure that almost no one will understand what we are saying. We might as well be speaking Greek and we should be ashamed of ourselves. (But, whatever. That's probably not the only reason.)

Apparently, at least some people in Australia go the "sheep"/"sheep" route and don't change the word at all in the plural.

But the ACTUAL, proper way to pluralize the word - get this - is the same as for nearly all words in English: add "-es." That's right, the most accepted plural of the word is "platypuses." (Go ahead and check your dictionary and you'll see it's the first option listed.)

That being said, I propose we follow the "goose"/"geese" model and call them "platypeese" just to be different and confuse people - because language is by nature messy, and in this case I think it's still not yet quite messy enough.

Platypeese for everyone!

Photo courtesy of Thoughts to Avoid Homework To. Thanks to sephycloneno15 for the "playtpeese" recommendation.

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Bonus! A handy chart showing how to pluralize octopus! (From Darrwin Eats Cake.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

It's not about the shield

Other than Superman (which debuted in 1938) and Batman (1939), Captain America (1941) is the oldest comic book hero we've seen made into a blockbuster movie yet. And while, like the other two, he's undergone a lot of changes and been updated for modern times, the new Captain America movie is the first to make the decision to set its hero in the era of his creation. After watching the movie, it's not hard to see why.

At their core, the golden age superheroes were idealistic embodiments of simple values like truth and justice. If the formula was at times overly silly and simplistic, those underlying values were strong enough to make these heroes icons. Later superheroes would gain more depth and complexity, which led to a whole different kind of storytelling. But even as we grew more cynical and our heroes grew more flawed, those underlying ideals were the real engine behind not just superheroes but every kind of hero - cinematic or otherwise - that our culture created.

Back in the World War II era, there were less shades of gray: we were at war, and our enemy was truly evil. To combat that, we needed ideals and heroes that were truly good. And it is against that backdrop that Captain America is set. And because of that setting, we can put our modern cynicism aside and appreciate goodness and heroism for what they are.

And there is no one that better embodies goodness than Captain America. He may have a patriotic name, but early in the film it is made clear that it is his sense of right and wrong that makes him who he is, not blind patriotism. Chris Evans plays Captain America, whose real name is Steve Rogers, and turns in a wonderful and convincing performance. Rogers begins the movie so scrawny and weak that he is rejected by the army despite trying over and over to join so he can help the war effort, which he sees as his duty. As weak as he is, he is fearless and determined to do everything in his power to help. Eventually, he gets his chance thanks to an experimental procedure that transforms him into peak human physical condition.

Captain America is stronger and faster than normal people, but much weaker than most superheroes. Director Joe Johnston said that they tried to keep him grounded by capping his abilities at "the best Olympic athlete plus 20 percent." But it's not what he can do that makes Captain America a hero - he was already that before the transformation. The "super soldier serum" just gave him the ability to do what he was born to do. For me, the opening act of the film was the best, because the story was so strong. You really root for scrawny little Steve and cheer when he gets the chance he deserves.

But that victory doesn't last long, as the villains soon attack and Captain America has to prove his mettle. The second act is a bit choppy - they cover a lot of ground (three years by my reckoning), and at times it causes you lose some connection to the story. But that isn't to say it isn't interesting. Certain scenes are priceless, such as when Captain America uncomfortably agrees to join a USO stage show. (Trust me, it sounds dumb, but it's a charming segue.) And even though things are blazing by, we do get certain essential details. My one real complaint is that a scene that should have been poignant goes by so fast that it doesn't really register emotionally.

The third act is the final confrontation between Cap and his arch-nemesis, the Red Skull. Hugo Weaving is wonderful as the power-mad evil genius, who is even creepier and evil than he looks. The movie does a wonderful job of setting him up as the ultimate bad guy, even more powerful than the Nazi regime that he abandons, and shows that he has the power and just enough crazy to take over the entire world if not stopped. He's such an awesome bad guy that I wish this movie would have been at least half an hour longer and all of that would have been Red Skull screen time.

Without giving too much away, I'll just say that there was genuine emotion in the final act. It was exciting to be sure, but even more than that it was good storytelling. And while his enhanced strength and agility helped get him there, in the end it is what's inside Steve Rogers - that selfless goodness - that saves the day.

The bittersweet epilogue is far too brief, but brought a tear to my eye. And the post-credits scene made me excited for the next chapter to the marvel saga next May. By the way, those who complain about this movie being a commercial for The Avengers really missed the point. These Marvel movies are all chapters in a larger saga, but they also really stand on their own. And perhaps none more so than this one.

The special effects were good, but downplayed. The set designs were gorgeous. There were subtle nods to Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark (two franchises where Johnston cut his teeth as an art director in the '70s and '80s), as well as Easter eggs for loyal comic book readers. And the supporting performances were all really, really good. In the end, this was a feel-good summer movie, heavy on action and escapism, but with a compelling story underlying it all. And a character that represents the best in all of us, American or otherwise.

Captain America is the best superhero movie since the first Iron Man. My rating: ***** five stars (essential). Go see it! (In 2D, of course.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Alien robot zombie alphabet

Alien Bandit Cowboy Dragon Elf Fireball Ghost Hunter Insectoid Jetfighter Kung-fu Laserbeam Mutant Ninja Overlord Pirate Quake Robot Shark Tornado Underworld Vampire Wizard Xiphoid* Yeti Zombie

* xiphoid = sword-shaped

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Our first BIG asteroid: welcome to Vesta

This is Vesta - from a photo taken July 9 from a distance of about 41,000 kilometers (26,000 miles), closer than we have ever gotten to an asteroid of this size.

At approximately 1:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time this morning, the NASA Dawn space craft entered orbit around the size-M planetoid. For the next year, it will continue to orbit Vesta and reveal its secrets to us. Why did it never advance from protoplanet to a larger body? How has it been affected by the collision that removed a huge chunk at its southern pole?

Then Dawn will venture to another asteroid, the largest of them all, size-L Ceres - which has officially been named an official dwarf planet by the IAU.

Considering that the asteroids are likely future mining colonies for the human race, this is exciting. Although it is buried behind the story of the last Space Shuttle mission, this is the most important thing NASA is doing right now, and history will look back on this day as monumental.

Photo courtesy of NASA.

UPDATE: Here is the first photo from orbit of the 530 km (330 mile) diameter protoplanet:


UPDATE: Here are two more wonderful photos and a video from NASA. The first photo shows a close-up of the asteroid's southern polar region. The second is a great, full-frame detail shot. If you look to the left of the second photo, you'll see the three-crater formation that has been nicknamed the "snowman."



Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Icons of embiggenment


After adding a photo collection of the icons of douchebaggery, the worst of humankind, I felt it only appropriate to show our better side as well. Therefore I give you the icons of embiggenment, because, in the words of Jebediah Springfield, "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man." Among those included are:

  • Albert Einstein
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Marie Curie
  • Rosa Parks
  • Bob Marley
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Steve Jobs
  • Pablo Picasso
  • ...and many more!

Click through and check out the whole list.

So what do you think? Who is missing? Leave your nominations in the comments below.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Icons of douchebaggery

First, I started a photo collection of the icons of badassery, then I added a second collection of the icons of buffoonery. Now I have added a third gallery: the icons of douchebaggery. These are the pricks we love to hate, including...

  • Biff Tannen
  • Dr. Zaius
  • Boss Hogg
  • Eddie Haskell
  • Kanye West
  • Nazis
  • ...and more!

Click through and check out the whole list.

So what do you think? Who is missing? Leave your nominations in the comments below.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Steal this idea, Hollywood: Not your average nightly news...

Here is an idea I have for a weekly television program. Call it "The National News" and make it look exactly like a network nightly news show. In the beginning, actually have the anchors cover some ordinary news that happened that day. but also mix in a bunch of weird stuff, saying things like: "Authorities aren't sure what caused..." Some of it is really freaky and thought-provoking.

Over time, we get more "amateur footage," some investigative journalism and competing theories about these strange phenomena. Including some interviews with crazy scientists (one with theories about aliens, another about government conspiracies, etc.), nutty religious leaders calling it the apocalypse, etc. Also, we get some clips of the President talking - out of context, of course. Other famous people could cameo as themselves. Overall, production costs are kept kind low, because the special effects need to look grainy to be mysterious.

Then (during sweeps) we get lucky and some clear footage emerges, and we see that's it's... superheroes! Or aliens! Or, what the hell, both! And let's throw in some robots while we're at it. And a zombie plague. And somebody who brings dinosaurs back to life. And... well, you get the point. It's some very wild stuff, and it's actually happening and building in momentum, and the world is turning into a comic book right before our eyes.

Eventually, it becomes what the news would be every night if the world became that crazy. We get summaries of the amazing things happening in the world. And we get to see breaking footage as something heroic is happening. We get to know the characters that save the day as the news cameras capture them in action, and maybe even get them to sit down for an interview. But it's all told from the everyman point-of-view: how you and I would react if this shit was real.

Full disclosure: this idea borrows heavily from Kurt Busiek's Marvels (beautifully illustrated by Alex Ross), but that was a great comic book mini-series. And I think the concept would make a great TV series. Step up, Hollywood!

Images courtesy of Futurama, Alex Ross.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I'll probably never get a Red Tornado movie now...

I recently wrote about what the future might hold for Warner Brothers Studios and DC Comics if they could get their act together and start making quality movies with their secondary characters, instead of just relying on Superman and Batman.

As it turns out, they can't. The Green Lantern movie that was just released has been almost universally panned by critics and is underperforming at the box office. With a $200 million production budget and $100 million marketing campaign, Green Lantern represented a big investment and a big gamble for Warner/DC. By all accounts, the special effects were dazzling and the cast was pretty strong - especially Ryan Reynolds (as the human Green Lantern, Hal Jordan) and Mark Strong (as one of the alien Green Lanterns, Sinestro). So what went wrong?

There are a lot of factors that can be blamed. Certainly the script and directing were not up to par. And, let's face it, Green Lantern is one of the more ridiculous superheroes. But it comes down to one thing: the studio did not have faith in the character.

If they would have, they would have taken Marvel's approach. Rather than making "the Star Wars of superhero movies," as they said they were trying to do (little did we know they meant Episode I), they should have been trying to make the Green Lantern of superhero movies.

The fact is, the public isn't tired of superhero movies anymore than they're tired of action, science fiction or romantic comedies. They're just tired of bad superhero movies. Just as in every other genre, studios too often try to take the safe path and make a movie with broad appeal. This is a death warrant for any movie, because what ultimately brings people to theaters is originality and compelling storytelling.

That is amplified in a superhero movie. Let's face it: comic books are not nuanced. There is no deep subtext there, just a very simple, very familiar premise. Each character may have its own unique, over-the-top spin on the genre, but they all ultimately live and die on their storytelling.

Marvel Studios gets it: they keep the budget modest but take extra care to have a story that does justice to the character, and match it to a director that can bring that unique vision to life. Thor mat not have been the best movie ever (although my eight-year-old thinks so), but it was a solid, four-star movie that managed to dazzle and delight with a relatively modest budget. It's a movie I want to see again, and I eagerly await the next installment.

Warner Brothers still hasn't figured it out. They lucked out by having a writer-director with vision like Christopher Nolan helm the Batman franchise. But they don't seem to appreciate the chances that Nolan took to make that work. They still don't know what they've got.

And that's sad, because what they've got is an amazing collection of characters and stories stretching back to before World War II. Green Lantern deserved better. Yes, he's ridiculous, but so is Thor. So is Superman, for that matter. But if you were committed to telling a good story, you could take an even more ridiculous character and make an amazing movie.

Heck, I would pay to see a Red Tornado movie if it was done right!

So here's a new strategy for Warner Brothers: 1) Strike a deal with DreamWorks or a similar animation studio. 2) Make sure you leave talented people in charge who are passionate about the source material. 3) Task them to create a series of family-friendly CGI films (a la The Incredibles and the TV show Batman: The Brave and the Bold) staring with The Justice League. (This plays to DC's strengths - their classic stories are more cartoonish than Marvel's - and ensures a built-in, superhero-crazy audience of eight-year-olds and their dads.) 4) Get out of the way.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Making baseball more major league

Major League Baseball is considering moving either Arizona or Houston from the National League to the American League. That would give the two leagues 15 teams each and ensure interleague play every day of the season.

I agree the unbalanced divisions are unwieldy, but the proposed solution just trades today's problems for tomorrow's. I have a better idea.

Why not split into five "leagues" of six teams each. That way everything would be balanced. We could take the old (1969-1993) East-West division alignments as a starting point, with just a few tweaks, and slot in the expansion teams since then:

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Baltimore
Boston
Cleveland
Detroit
NY Yankees
Toronto

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Chicago Cubs
Milwaukee
NY Mets
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
St. Louis

PACIFIC LEAGUE
Arizona
Colorado
LA Dodgers
San Diego
San Francisco
Seattle

SOUTHERN LEAGUE
Atlanta
Cincinnati
Florida
Houston
Tampa Bay
Washington

WESTERN LEAGUE
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City
LA Angels
Minnesota
Oakland
Texas

In this scenario, the leagues could each choose whether or not to use the Designated Hitter. (I'm guessing "yes" for the AL and WL, and "no" for the rest.) Interleague play is increased (each league plays two of the other four leagues each year on a rotating basis), but down the stretch everyone plays their own so we can have exciting pennant races. And in the playoffs, we get the five league winners (one less than today's division winners) and three wildcards (one more than today), all seeded together to increase the likelihood that the two best teams reach the finals. Plus, the shake-up would generate buzz and interest in the game, while really not messing much with traditional rivalries.

And as far as the All-Star game goes, how about fan picks vs. manager picks? That would be a great way for us to see all the fan favorites, as well as be introduced to some unheralded heroes on the big stage.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Making hockey more provincial

After a thrilling Stanley Cup finals, the NHL must now turn its attention to the next task at hand: figuring out what to do with the new Winnipeg team now that it has relocated from Atlanta. Atlanta is currently in the Southeast Division, and for those of you who don't know (and if not, shame on you!), Winnipeg is definitely not in the southeast. Several ideas have been tossed around about how to realign, but they all suffer the same fatal flaw: under the current six-division structure, at least one Eastern time zone team like Detroit or Columbus will end up playing in the Western Conference.

Actually, it is not just the misplaced Eastern teams that have it rough. The NHL is the most geographically imbalanced major sports league - with the majority of its teams concentrated in the northeast - and because of that, the rest of the league has a pretty awful travel situation. There are only four NHL teams in the Pacific time zone, four in Mountain time, six in Central (it was only five before Atlanta moved to Winnipeg), and the rest in the East.

I have looked at the problem from multiple angles, and I think I've come up with the only sensible solution. The problem is that the NHL is trying to cram 30 teams into the same two-conference structure that other leagues use. But hockey has always been different, and that's part of its charm. So the best solution is to make it even more different, even more provincial, and make the bold move to not two but four conferences.

The new conferences would allow teams to clump together more easily along natural geographic lines that would reduce travel. It would also have the benefit of intensifying rivalries, which has a history of success in hockey. Here is how I would recommend dividing the league:

ATLANTIC CONFERENCE
Carolina
Florida
New Jersey
NY Islanders
NY Rangers
Philadelphia
Tampa Bay
Washington

CENTRAL CONFERENCE
Chicago
Dallas
Detroit
Minnesota
Nashville
St. Louis
Winnipeg

NORTHEAST CONFERENCE
Boston
Buffalo
Columbus
Montreal
Ottawa
Pittsburgh
Toronto

PACIFIC CONFERENCE
Anaheim
Calgary
Colorado
Edmonton
Los Angeles
Phoenix
San Jose
Vancouver

Each team would play all of their conference rivals five or six times per season, and each of the other teams twice each. (Under the current structure, some non-conference teams are only played once, which means West Coast fans may miss the opportunity to see Sidney Crosby in person, for example.) In the playoffs, the top four teams from each conference would battle in the opening rounds, similar to how the league operated from 1981-1993. The four conference champs would be re-seeded for the semi-finals, helping to ensure that the best teams meet in the finals. (As for the All-Star game, it would return to the North America vs. World format that it flirted with a few years ago.)

If this structure were in place this year, this is how the playoffs might have gone:

ATLANTIC
(1) Washington over (4) NY Rangers
(3) Tampa Bay over (2) Philadelphia
Conference finals: Tampa Bay over Washington.

CENTRAL
(1) Detroit over (4) Dallas
(2) Nashville over (3) Chicago
Conference finals: Detroit over Nashville

NORTHEAST
(4) Buffalo over (1) Pittsburgh
(2) Boston over (3) Montreal
Conference finals: Boston over Buffalo

PACIFIC
(1) Vancouver over (4) Phoenix
(2) San Jose over (3) Anaheim
Conference finals: Vancouver over San Jose

SEMI-FINALS
(1) Vancouver over (4) Detroit
(2) Boston over (3) Tampa Bay

STANLEY CUP FINALS
Boston over Vancouver

Most importantly, fans across the NHL would have seen highly relevant, geographic rivalries in the early rounds on a fairly consistent basis, helping fuel interest in both hockey-crazed and hockey-confused NHL cities alike.

It probably won't save struggling Phoenix or Nashville, but hockey-crazed Quebec City and Hamilton, Ontario beckon for them. In the meantime, this proposed realignment should make the remaining teams stronger and reduce the overall travel burden. Game on!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What will DC / Warner Brothers do next?

A while back, I wrote about the success Marvel Studios has seen with their character-driven, shared-universe superhero movies (of which I have become a big fan), and speculated about what we might see from them in the future. If they so desired, rival comics company DC (which is owned by Warner Brothers) has just as rich a catalog of super beings that it could use to create its own shared universe.

The DC / Warner Brothers track record isn’t as strong as Marvel’s lately, with only Christopher Nolan’s Batman series achieving critical and box office success, but the Green Lantern movie that opens this weekend could change that if it manages to launch this little-known character into its own franchise. And just as Marvel will bring together its various franchises into The Avengers next year, DC has hinted that they will develop their own team-up movie for 2013, featuring its greatest heroes, including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and more. Assuming this is true, and that the success of The Avengers convinces DC to follow a similar path, we could be seeing two DC movies per year starting in 2014.

Here are the movies that have either been released already or are in the works, which could become part of that shared universe:

2005
  • Batman Begins
2008
  • The Dark Knight
2011
  • Green Lantern
2012
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Superman: Man of Steel

DC / Warner has had a lot of flops, but if they can match Marvel’s formula for success, here are the additional films we could see from them for the rest of this decade:

2013
  • The Justice League – While Nolan’s Batman trilogy took place in a world without superpowers, I would keep it as part of the continuity, evolving the character and his world instead of completely rebooting the franchise. That would make Batman the elder statesman of this team-up movie, and explain why this ‘ordinary man” is able to stand toe-to-toe with these extraordinary beings. Even if they don’t use Christian Bale as Batman, I hope they will hint that Nolan’s trilogy is still valid. The movie should also exist in the same world as Green Lantern, although they could use an alternate Green Lantern like Jon Stewart instead of the Hal Jordan character played by Ryan Reynolds in this year’s movie.
2014
  • Wonder Woman – One of DC’s “big three” (along with Superman and Batman), Wonder Woman deserves her own movie franchise. But don’t expect it to be campy like the Linda Carter TV show. Today’s Wonder Woman is a fierce warrior who is not afraid to shed blood. We should have a taste of this in The Justice League, where her sense of morality will clash with Superman’s.
  • Green Lantern 2 – Hal Jordan is back, and Sinestro turns evil.
2015
  • The Flash – One of the coolest of all the superheroes, this should be a fun, action-packed origin story for the world’s fastest man, with ground-breaking special effects to show the high-speed action: I suggest every scene happens in real time from one camera angle, and then another angle shows it to us slowed down so that the Flash looks normal speed.
  • Superman 2 – Go cosmic in this installment, and eventually let us see Darkseid. But Superman can’t defeat him on his own, which sets up…
2016
  • The Justice League 2 – The heroes travel to Apokolips to battle Darkseid and his minions.
  • AquamanI’ve written about this before: Aquaman all too often seems like the lamest superhero, but there’s a ton of potential here if done right.
2017
  • Batman 4 – Christopher Nolan has said he won’t be back to direct, but this franchise is too good to die. Please keep the spirit of Nolan’s films, and keep the super-human elements to a minimum.
  • Green Lantern 3 – Star Sapphire is the villain in this one.
2018
  • Superman 3 – Lex Luthor can take more of the stage here, but he should be menacing and should put Superman in harm’s way, with lots of action. And Superman should get his ass handed to him – but no kryptonite!
  • Wonder Woman 2 – Again, make her badass. That is all.
2019
  • Green Arrow: Escape from Super Max – This long-rumored film features the Green Arrow, who has been wrongfully imprisoned in a high-security jail for super-villains. With no super powers of his own, he must find a way to battle the baddies, break out and save the world.
  • The Justice League 3 – Keep the franchise going with another Earth-saving, action-packed movie.
2020
  • Batman 5 – Introduce Robin in this one as a Batman emulator who’s good enough to actually be a hero on his own. He never becomes Batman’s sidekick, but does earn his respect.
  • Adam Strange – Some good, Flash Gordon-style space camp – plus superheroes.
2021
  • Teen Titans – Robin gets his own team in a film that will hopefully capture the magic of the Marv Wolfman / George Perez comics of the early 1980s.
  • Superman 4 – One word: Brainiac.