Google Satellite

Google Maps has added Satellite pictures! Or maybe they’re aerial photographs, I can never tell.

I used to love playing with Microsoft’s Terraserver, which has similar content. Google’s version is much more user friendly for browsing.

The pictures are a bit out of date, however. Looking at my hometown, it shows a bridge that was replaced at least a few years ago.

Homeward Bound, by Harry Turtledove

Product Image: Homeward Bound, by Harry Turtledove
My rating: 4 out of 5

Wow, I actually managed to finish a book not class-related!

Harry Turtledove has been a favorite author of mine for a number of years now. Back in High School I discovered his Worldwar series. Basic premise: In the early days of World War II, aliens invade. That was an epic four novel series, resulting in humans fighting their lizardish enemies (called “The Race”) to a draw. The Race ended up with about half of Earth under their control.

Turtledove followed up Worldwar with a three novel Colonization series. It followed the arrival of the lizard’s main colonization fleet in the 1960s, who expected Earth to be completely subdued by the preceeding conquest fleet.

Homeward Bound is a single novel to put a cap on it the series. It’s nice to really get some closure. The Race’s society changes at a pace fundamentally slower than ours. Very little has changed for them in the last 100,000 years. They surveyed Earth hundreds of years ago and saw knights in shining armor; that was what they expected to still find when the invasion fleet arrived. Thus they were unprepared and forced to end in a draw. Humanity stole and improved on the alien technology, and by the 1980s was starting to pull ahead in important technological areas.

The United States sends its first starship to Home, The Race’s planet, to open negotiations for formal recognition as equals. Those negotiations, and one final giant leap in technology for humans, form the crux of Homeward Bound.

If there was one problem with Turtledove’s earlier books in the series, it was an overabundance of main characters. He wisely cuts down on the cast here, keeping only the most interesting ones. Thanks to the technology of cold sleep hibernation, some of the characters even make it into the mid twenty-first century.

There’s some great philosophical exposition as The Race slowly realizes that humanity is quickly eclipsing them and tries to figure out why. It’s hard to discuss in a review like this without spoiling much.

I do feel like the novel could have been 50 pages shorter and not lost much. Some of the points were made over and over again, to the point of head-smashing obviousness. As a standalone novel, it wouldn’t really work – too much background knowledge is necessary. But as a capstone on an 8 novel opus, Homeward Bound is fun and satisfying.

Digital Photo Preservation

Because I’m a native son of Rochester, NY, I still read the local paper online now and then.

As the home of Kodak, the city has always had an interest in photography. Today there’s an article on the pitfalls and perils of digital image preservation in the home/consumer environment.

The issue of image loss is a big one. My brother ran into some Windows issues a couple years back and ended up losing almost every digital picture he’d taken. They weren’t backed up anywhere.

I’ve been paranoid ever since. I back up photos regularly on an external hard drive, distribute CDs of photo sets to friends, and now have uploaded the majority of my snapshots to Flickr. I think I’m safe, but you never know.

Think of it like a digital shoebox. I’ve got piles of ‘traditional’ pictures as well, and really should see about getting them scanned in.

One of the more cogent points in the D&C article is that digital photos have no inherent backup. Film at least provided negatives to derive reprints from should the worst happen.

The article also mentions the advantages of keeping your digital photos organized. Maybe I’m weird, but I actually quite enjoy organizing my pictures. But even so, I wish I’d started sooner. I did a major overhaul of my organizational scheme, which was haphazard at best, about a year go. In the process I discovered that my old camera had very often not recorded the correct date. So I wasn’t able to classify some of the pictures accurately. The best I can do is narrow it down to the year. But now that my scheme is in place, dropping new files into it is a breeze.

Digital preservation and standards creep like this always interests me. Will the JPEG format still be readable 50 years from now? If so, will the storage device they’re located on be readable?

City of Sin

Product Image: Sin City (2005)
My rating: 5 out of 5

Sin City… wow. I’m not even sure where to start.

I’ve cut down on my reviews recently, they’re not really my focus anymore. But this movie needs to be written about.

It’s got action, character, plot twists, humor, violence, pretty much anything you can think of. But most of all, a jaw-dropping visual style. The movie looks like a comic book on the screen. Some shots I could point you to the exact panel of Frank Miller’s graphic novels that its based on (and that’s a good thing). This has to be the most faithful adaptation yet.

And the cast! Everybody is cast perfectly, even when going ‘against type’. Elijah Wood as a psychotic serial killer, for example. He never says a single word, but still manages to sell the role.

Out of the three main stories, I think I enjoyed the scenes from That Yellow Bastard. Bruce Willis’ Hartigan is the most noble, do-the-right-thing guy you’ll ever meet. One of the few truly likeable people in Sin City actually. He has the worst possible bad luck, but still comes out standing up. I don’t want to spoil it any more than that for you.

Jessica Alba surprised me. I’ve never seen much she’s been in, but she’s got some decent acting chops here. Confident stripper one scene, scared little girl the next.

I can’t let the review end without commenting on the violence. There’s a lot of it, to put it lightly. But its done so artfully in the black and white world – glowing white pools of blood slowly seep out of the shadows – that you can’t help but be mesmerized. It’s art, pure and simple.

I’ll be interested to see how Sin City does at the box office. It was sold out where we went, but of course it would be on opening weekend. I don’t think its a movie for the general public. It’s wonderful, but I don’t see Joe From The Street appreciating it.

If I have any real complaint, its that at some times I felt lost. Viewers are thrown into the middle of a story right off the bat. Having read the comics I could jump in feet first, but without that foreknowledge it might have taken me a bit to catch up. I meant to ask the people I saw it with afterwards, but forgot. There’s a lot going on, Sin City is a very complex movie. But definitely worth your time.

Movies are so expensive around here that I just can’t justify going to the theater very often. But Sin City is an exception I’m glad I made.

April Fools? Amazingly not.

I’d like congratulate New York state for passing the state budget on time. Why is this a cause for celebration? The last time it happened was 20 years ago.

1984. As this article says:

“That year, the Apple Macintosh computer was introduced, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated, and Soviet athletes boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics.”

And I was two years old. Puts it in perspective. Many years of those twenty the budget was late by at least half a year, if I remember correctly.

I just hope Albany doesn’t pat itself on the back for doing what is, after all, simply their job.

As a nice bonus, $4.5 million of library funding cut in years past has been restored!