The Queen Is Dead

May 30, 2007

According to Starpulse, actress Natalie Portman is disappointed she was not invited to attend the 30th anniversary screening of Star Wars in Los Angeles earlier this month. Awww, poor baby.

I always find it amusing and a bit remarkable when stars are snubbed by the franchises that they have publicly derided and loathed. Just as a reminder, Natalie once said this of everybody’s favorite sci-fi franchise:

“It really wasn’t my thing. It still isn’t my thing, the whole science-fiction action thing,” Portman told the press. “I prefer simpler, character-based movies.”

Now, I’m all for bashing Star Wars every now and then, but when you are one of the saga’s major stars (the mother of Luke and Leia!) and you tell geek boys and girls everywhere that Star Wars really “isn’t my thing”, I think its pretty safe to say you’re gonna get a reception as cold as a dead tauntaun on Hoth.

Other notable actors that hate the franchises that made them stars include Jerri Ryan, Robert Beltran and Patrick Stewart. On the flip side, some stars know a good thing when they see it and hang on for dear life, as Johnathan Frakes has done with his multiple Trek successes. Gratitude is all in the eye of the beholder I guess.

Here are some scientific facts that I bet you were never taught in school:

• The Earth is only 6000 years old

• The Grand Canyon was carved by Noah’s flood

• Dinosaurs and man roamed the Earth together

These are just some of the amazing “scientific facts” that are presented to children and adults alike at the new Creation Museum opening today in Petersburg Kentucky. The center is the brainchild of Ken Ham who founded the nonprofit ministry Answers in Genesis, originally in Australia. Ham wanted to give believers a rallying point to help support “Creation Theory” as an alternative to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and raised a staggering $27 million dollars in donations from like-minded Christians to help him do it.

After learning more about the center (I refuse to call it a museum), I can fully understand why many nations around the globe have come to think on the United States as one big joke. No other place in the world allows such assaults on scientific consensus and reason as we do. Long established facts, like the 4.5 billion year old age of the Earth, are allowed to be tossed aside in favor of religious doctrine. Children are encouraged to roam the exhibits of this place and learn that fossils are not the remains of animals dead for many millennia, but were all created by the massive flood detailed in the book of Genesis.

What year is this again, 1492 or 2007? I forget.

The so-called “Creation Museum” is just one symptom of something dangerous that has taken hold in this country. It’s called the assault on science. There are a wave of fundamentalists that see it as their duty to fight the growing tide of secularism in the United States. People in local, state and federal government have begun pushing their agendas and they will use any platform to do it. It takes many forms including the school board battles for Intelligent Design in Kansas, the so-called “attack on Christmas” and the fight against scientific consensus regarding global warming. The slow maturing of the nation and our growing intellectual understanding of the world is evidently too much for these fundamentalists to take. So we get this:

• The Bible must be taken literally.

• Christmas must never become just another “holiday”.

• Humans can’t possibly effect Earth’s climate.

I was born and raised a Catholic. I was baptized a Christian, attended Catholic school, had my first Communion and became an alter boy at a young age. I love God, Jesus and Mary, and when I pray it isn’t to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. However, I don’t believe in the story of Adam and Eve, and I don’t take the story of Noah and the Flood as a historical account. Does this make me a bad Christian? To me, being a Christian is more about how you treat your fellow man than about how old the Earth is. It means you have a special place in your heart for Christ’s teachings, and as such I try to make “Do unto others…” the guiding principal in my life.

“I believe in a God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.” – Albert Einstein

Does the scientific belief in the “Big Bang” mean that God could not have caused it? Of course not, all things are possible in God. Couldn’t Evolution be just another one of God’s intricate and wondrous plans for how the natural universe works? And why must the Bible be taught as a literal account rather than a guiding collection of parables? Science and religion can co-exist, as long as they play on their own, separate turfs. I think I speak for a great many people who have had their faith hijacked, when I say I don’t want Noah in my museum any more than Ken Ham would want Darwin in his church.

UPDATE: This has all been said before, and brilliantly I might add, by none other than that uniquely American creation – The Simpsons. Perhaps there is hope for us yet.

UPDATE II: Seems like something of a minor sex scandal has hit the center. Could be a tempest in a tea cup, but I always find it interesting how those who claim the moral high ground are often found wallowing in the mud.

UPDATE III: A blog called BlueGrassRoots posted a walk-through of the center and the images and experiences shown are nothing less than startling. This place is full on, 100% religious propaganda pure and simple. After checking out this post, I actually felt sick to my stomach for all the parents who think substituting religion for science is acceptable behavior. Disturbing to say the least.

I don’t usually preview what I’m working on for my releases over at the Iconfactory, but lately I’ve had dozens of people emailing me asking if I’m going to do more Transformer icons. With the July 4th release of Michael Bay’s big-budget special effects extravaganza, our favorite robots from childhood are back in style. I’m excited for the movie, but like all Transformer fan boys, I have my doubts. I’m sure the story will be less than gripping and the character development will be secondary (or tertiary), but what more can you expect from the director of Armageddon and Pearl Harbor? Bay is sure to make a fun, summer popcorn movie and that’s about all I’m expecting from it. Bay’s Transformers look cool, but a bit over done. Megatron seems to be the worst offender, but I think I’ll reserve judgment until I actually see the flick.

For myself and thousands of others, the Transformers will always be represented by the classic 80’s cartoon. The animated battle for planet Earth between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons played out each week on the tube between characters like Optimus Prime, Starscream and Ironhide. Volumes 1 and 2 in the series were some of the funnest icons I’ve created and I’m re-discovering that joy once again with Volume 3. Watch for long requested regulars such as Wheeljack, Prowl, Rodimus Prime, Galvatron and more when Vol. 3 hits the factory in June. At least if the movie stinks, you can re-live the heady days of youth right on your desktop!

UPDATE: Transformers X Vol. 3 is out! The set includes Galvatron, Kickback, Unicron (thanks Jim!) and many others. Transform, roll out and grab it now!

Bracing for the Storm

May 21, 2007

Al Gore at Work

There are many progressives that the right simply cannot help but abhor. Al Gore is chief amongst them. I think deep down, many Republican’s resent the fact that he won the popular vote in 2000 and has gone from being a boring nerd with a slide rule to a modern day voice of authority on climate change. Critics never miss a chance to pile on whenever they can as February’s specious reports of his personal energy use have demonstrated.

So when I saw the above image by TIME photographer Steve Pyke of Gore at work at home, I can’t help getting the sinking feeling that critics will attack again. The man is, after all, looking at three 30″ Apple Cinema Displays. Not only that, but he’s also got a flat panel TV going on the wall opposite him. Three computer monitors AND a TV… IMAGINE THAT? How much energy does this consume? How much CO2 does this wasteful use of our fossil fuels pump into our atmosphere? How can Gore be such a hypocrite?

Of course the answer for anyone not blinded by partisan politics is that Gore isn’t a hypocrite. He and his family purchase power from Green Power Switch that sells “clean” electricity to portions of the Tennessee valley from renewable sources such as solar, wind and methane. The Gore home also makes use of solar panels that help generate approximately 30% of the home’s energy needs. So you see, Al can sit there in front of his 3 30″ cinema displays and his flat panel TV and do his work knowing that he’s not contributing, at least not significantly, to the world’s greenhouse gasses.

None of this matters however. If the past is any indication, I fully expect to see an “exclusive” post on Drudge about Gore’s energy use as early as tomorrow. The right will do its usual hit pieces to try and discredit him. Every time they do so is just one more clue to the American people that they are in the pocket of big oil. They try to proclaim the “nutroots left” are out to ruin the U.S. economy and that there is no concensus for global warming. They are wrong on both counts and running scared. I can feel it.

Polls show the American people are tiring of people in power’s obvious disregard for the facts. They are ready for their President to take the environment just as seriously as they do. Exploding sales of hybrid cars and the ever increasing successes of “green” companies demonstrates this trend all too clearly. Even if Al’s Mac setup sucked down fossil fuels like a Hummer H3, I’d still take Gore over Bush any day of the week. Who would you trust to run the country? A man who can multitask, surrounds himself with books and serves on the Apple Board of Directors, or someone who boasted he doesn’t even read newspapers?

The Cult of Ramsay

May 19, 2007

I’m a proud member of several ‘cults’. I’ve been a member of the ‘Cult of Mac‘ for over a decade and a die-hard Trekker and Red Sox fan since I was ten. Recently I’ve enrolled in a new cult that is sweeping the nation; The Cult of Ramsay. Emeril Lagasse? Yesterday’s table scraps. Rachael Ray? Couldn’t cook her way out of a wet paper sack. These days it’s all about the silver tongued chef from Scotland that took the UK by storm and gives Jamie Oliver nightmares.

When I first caught the commercials for Fox’s reality TV show Hell’s Kitchen (new season starts June 4th) starring Gordon Ramsay, I couldn’t stomach the man (no pun intended). I watched in horror as he screamed at contestants and wondered why anyone would put themselves through such, well, such hell. Then I tuned in to watch a few episodes of season 2 with Mindy and I instantly understood why Gordon was always berating the chefs. They sucked! The people the producers pick to compete on Hell’s Kitchen are classic examples of reality TV contestants. Chosen for their colorful personalities, as well as their primary ability to create drama, five-star chef Ramsay is surrounded by talentless hacks who are there for the sole purpose of cooking up their fifteen minutes of fame. Surprisingly I found myself rooting for Gordon and not the contestants each week. I’d scream at the TV right along with him, “Don’t you know the difference between sugar and SALT?!”

Gordon Ramsay has learned through success as well as failure what makes a great chef. To his credit, and despite his sometimes harsh words, he is a skillful teacher. When Gordon yells at a chef, it’s for a damn good reason. It’s obvious watching him cook and run his kitchen that he is a perfectionist in every sense of the word. From recipes and technique to presentation and showmanship, Gordon insists that everything be perfect for the customer. The students under his wing usually realize this and take the verbal abuse with grains of salt just so they can improve and receive a seldom heard compliment from him. When given, it’s like a small nibble of the finest truffle because they know it was hard fought and well earned.

As intense and addicting as Hell’s Kitchen is, I have to say that I enjoy his other UK series even more. The F-Word is another reality cooking series now in it’s third season in the UK with previous seasons airing on BBC America. The show invites a team of guest chefs on each week to cook for 50 patrons in Gordon’s restaurant. The team that has the most successful services (starters, entrees and desserts) earn accolades from Ramsay and bragging rights for all of Britain. The show is fast paced, snarky and features some amazing recipes that you can find on the F-Word’s website. The beef fillet with a gratin of mushrooms seen here is our favorite.

Another Ramsay TV dinner includes ‘Kitchen Nightmares‘ where Gordon attempts to rescue restaurants on the brink of failure. He does this by spending an intense no-holds-bar week at these establishments and critiques them on everything from their food and decor to service and menu choices. Viewers have watched him turn struggling eateries thousands of pounds in debt, into successful, standing room only restaurants. He doesn’t always succeed, but when he does, it makes for incredible television.

Despite his enormous success, Gordon Ramsay does have his critics. Many think of him as a showman chef that’s all sizzle and no steak. Ramsay does have a flair for the theatrical that can get him into trouble. On a recent UK episode of The F-Word, he trotted a freshly killed deer through his dining room so guests could get a better appreciation for venison. Needless to say PETA wasn’t pleased. He’s also is keenly aware of his sex-symbol status to the women (and men) of England and flaunts it every chance he gets. Every episode of Kitchen Nightmares features a sequence where Gordon talks to the camera while he changes, bare-chested, from his civilian clothes to his chef’s jacket. Every time we watch Nightmares we take bets on when he’ll change. It’s kind of like how Mr. Rogers changed from his business suit to his sweater and sneakers, but with a lot more chest hair.

In the end, I can overlook the swear words and the showmanship because I have a deep appreciation for what Gordon does. In his own flashy way, he brings his love of cooking and the world of fine food to us at home. To Ramsay, the customer is king and everything he says and does serves this guiding philosophy. I used to think he was an arrogant son-of-a-bitch who got his jollies from humiliating inexperienced chefs. After watching and listening to him, I know that he’s really a tough drill sergeant that molds recruits into fine culinary weapons. As they say, “war is hell”, but it also makes for some damn fine TV.

I’ve always admired political cartoonists. They take utterly serious situations and depict them with humor and insight. My friend Anthony Piraino draws political cartoons for the News & Record and I always enjoy seeing what he’s up to from week to week. I wish Anthony would be able to turn his attention towards national events, but his gig with the paper restricts him to local politics only. Here are some political cartoons I’ve come across that speak volumes about recent national events.

Etta Hulme
Hulme Political Cartoon

Steve Sack
Sack Political Cartoon

Jack Ohman
Ohman Political Cartoon

More here from Bob Geiger…

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Iconfactory must be smelling of roses! It seems like every week there is a new application or mash-up announced to support that micro-blogging social network of choice, Twitter. This in itself isn’t a big deal, in fact its wonderful since more third party apps means increased longevity for Twitter and its users. But lately I’ve begun to notice a strange trend with these applications. More than a few have made the design choice to base their identities around that of a blue birdie. Makes sense right? Twitter’s logo is a blue bird, so it’s just a skillful play on metaphors, right? The problem is that Twitter’s identity is not a blue bird, it’s a logotype.

Over the past several months I’ve witnessed a strange kind of identity transference occurring within the Twitter community. Many people have come to associate the Blue Bird mascot of Twitterrific as representing Twitter itself. I’ve watched this unfold over time and I have to say it’s fascinating. Since the launch of Twitterrific preceded the explosive growth of Twitter at the SXSW conference in early March of 2007, Twitterrific’s icon (designed by David Lanham) was an easy symbol for people to identify directly with Twitter. David designed the bird as fun, visual play on the name “Twitter” and the birdie has helped the app become quite memorable. Several Twitter applications have taken the notion of the blue bird and flown with it including TwitBin, Twitterroo and perhaps the most direct usage courtesy of TwitterTown. We’re actually honored that so many people have found inspiration from Twitterrific, both in its icon as well as its user interface.

The syndrome does have its downsides. Many people think that Twitterrific is the official Mac desktop client of Twitter, which it isn’t. When people have problems posting via the API, they naturally think it’s a problem with Twitterrific, not Twitter because they didn’t post their tweet via the web, they posted it via the desktop. It is true that the relationship between any desktop application and Twitter itself is tight. It has to be for applications to function properly and give users the Twitter experience they are looking for. But when problems arise, fingers get pointed and they don’t always aim in the right direction.

It can’t all be peaches and cream for the gang at Twitter either. From their point of view, third party apps like Twitterrific and Twittervision support their efforts, but they also dilute their brand. There is a real danger of the proper noun Twitter becoming just a generic term that people will start to use as an adjective or even worse, a verb! Google is deeply entrenched in an effort to get users not to use its name as a verb for fear of its trademark slipping into the public domain. It has happened before with the trademarks Kleenex and Xerox and I can see it happening with Twitter all too easily. To their credit, the gang at Twitter has been very easy going about how their service’s name has been used, and sometimes abused, all in the name of third party development.

There are always two sides to any coin. It’s strangely satisfying that we have been able to inadvertently influence the look and feel of several Twitter based projects. We’re delighted that Twitterrific has been so well received that others look to it as a kind of “Twitter template”. The flip side is that in the minds of many people, our creation is one and the same with Twitter itself. As the lines blur between the Twitter service and all of its spin-off apps, at what point do all these cute blue birds pull a Hitchcock and end up scratching, pecking and biting the hand that fed them? Only time will tell.

Signs O’ the Times

May 7, 2007

In case you missed them, here are three political nuggets to chew on from recent news reports. The thread that ties these three disparate stories together? Why, Iraq of course.

Memorial Honoring Fallen Soldiers Runs Out of Room – It seems as though the brilliant hawks who thought up the Iraq war didn’t plan on it being as long and bloody as it has been. The “Wall of the Fallen” memorial, set up by Republicans in June is almost full. The current configuration of the wall can hold only 130 more names, but since the last soldier was added back on November 2nd, at least 506 more have been killed in combat. The sad part is that many of us agree that the memorial will need A LOT more space before it’s all over. More…

South Dakota Demands Pull of MPEACHW License Plate – Heather Moriah of Rapid City South Dakota let her feelings about President Bush be known via her personalized vanity plate that read MPEACHW and is now facing a legal battle for free speech. All it took was a single person to complain about the license plate for the state to try and revoke it, but since the plate is not inherently offensive or obscene, I think South Dakota might have a hard time proving its case. More…

Iraq War Leaves Kansas Unprepared – Kathleen Sebelius, the Governor of Kansas, has been forced to put out a call for aid and equipment to help in her state’s rescue and rebuilding efforts following devastating tornados this past weekend. Normally these efforts would be handled by the state’s National Guard, but many of those units AND their equipment are currently serving in the middle east. This disaster is going to serve as a wake-up call for the rest of the nation as we head into what could become one of the worst hurricane seasons on record. Do we really want to be unprepared to deal with tragedies at home? More…

Seems like the Internets is all about lists these days. Every blogger and writer worth their salt is doing it, so I thought it was about time I gave it a shot. Mine is not a ‘Top Ten Things We Hate About Apple’ or a ’11 Celebrities that Shouldn’t Have Any More Children’ list. It’s simply a list of five very cool things I’ve come into contact with recently that I think you might get a kick out of. If you think these things are lame or gay, then don’t tell me, I don’t wanna know! So without further ado…

System 47 Screensaver

Being the huge Star Trek geek that I am, I’m always on the lookout for anything Trek. A couple weeks ago I came across what has to be one of the best screen savers yet. System 47 turns your computer into an Enterprise bridge station complete with authentic LCARS displays and information. The company that makes it, has done a wonderful job and the screen saver even recognizes and displays itself correctly if you have multiple monitors running. This thing puts a smile on my face every single time I see it. Available for both Mac and PC, System 47 makes Picard and Data feel right at home.

Numa Numa YouTube Video

I’m a little late to the party on this one, but man, what a party! This infectious music video posted on YouTube in February of 2006 has become an Internet favorite and its easy to see why. Three Malaysian students lip synch, dance and generally ham it up for the camera, all to O-Zone’s ear worm ‘Dragostea Din Tei’. This catchy tune, in combination with the sincere and hilarious performance of these kids has earned the Numa Numa video, as it’s called, a place in my permanent bookmarks.

Sim Daltonism Color Blindness App

Sometimes we take for granted that everyone sees things the way we see them, when unfortunately, that is not the case. Over 2 million people in the United States suffer from Daltonism or color blindness, as it is more commonly referred to. Daltonism is a color vision deficiency that prohibits certain people from distinguish differences between some or all colors. Being in the design field, we often have to be mindful of such people when designing user interfaces or icons that contain specific colors. I recently came in contact with a extremely useful and fascinating application called Sim Daltonism created by Michel Fortin, that allows us to see things on the computer the way color blind people do and adjust accordingly. The program is available for Mac OS X and should be a part of any artist’s arsenal of tools when designing for the screen.

Moosebutter: A Tribute to John Williams

Anyone who says that Twitter is a vast wasteland and utterly pointless, this one is for you! Last week I was listening to my collection of John Williams soundtracks and posted a tweet about it online. Later that day I received an email from someone who had seen my tweet and pointed me at Moosebutter: A Cappella Comedy. This group of singers specialize in humor via their melodic tones and acute awareness for all things geek. Their track “Star Wars” has to be one of the single funniest things I’ve ever heard. Listen to a portion of the track here, and then go buy the entire song from their website. I especially love Luke crying out in the background of the Jurassic Park section things like, “My hand!” and “I’ll never join you!”. Perfectly side-splitting!

Magnetosphere iTunes Visualizer

Barbarian Software plugs their incredible iTunes visualizer, Magnetosphere, as “The last iTunes visualizer you will ever want for.” and that isn’t too far from the truth. Unlike most visualizers for iTunes or WinAmp that simply pump out visuals while music is playing, Magnetosphere actually changes based on the audio. The results are stunning and expressive to say the least. After I found out about this cool piece of software (hat tip to one digital life) and installed it, I couldn’t stop looking at it. I wanted to see what it would do with each new piece of music. From the epic sounds of Vangelis’ ‘Heaven & Hell’, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s ‘Under My Spell’, Magnetosphere entrances and delights. You owe it to yourself to download this wonderful plug-in and check it out today.