This Day in History

October 26th is the 299th day of the year, or the 300th during leap years by the Gregorian calendar. There are 66 days remaining until the end of the year.  I’m also somewhat partial to it.

The following events are sourced from Wikipedia:

1609 – William Sprague, English co-founder of Charlestown, Massachusetts was born. Coincidentally, he died on the same day in 1675.

1774 – The first Continental Congress adjourns in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

1775 – King George III goes before Parliament to declare the American colonies in rebellion, and authorized a military response to quell the American Revolution.

1776 – Benjamin Franklin departs from America for France on a mission to seek French support for the American Revolution.

1825 – The Erie Canal opens, establishing passage from Albany, New York to Lake Erie.

1854 – C. W. Post, American entrepreneur is born. You know, the cereal guy?

1861 – The Pony Express officially ceases operations two days after the transcontinental telegraph reached Salt Lake City and connected Omaha, Nebraska and Sacramento, California.

1865 – Benjamin Guggenheim, American businessman and one of the most prominent American victims of the Titanic disaster, is born.

1874 – Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, prominent socialite, philanthropist, and the second-generation matriarch of the renowned Rockefeller family was born. She was especially noteworthy for driving the establishment of the Museum of Modern Art, on 53rd Street in New York.

1881 – The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral takes place at Tombstone, Arizona.

1914 – Jackie Coogan, Uncle Fester on 1960s sitcom The Addams Family, is born.

1916 – Boyd Wagner, First United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) fighter ace of WWII is born.

1936 – The first electric generator at Hoover Dam goes into full operation.

1940 – The P-51 Mustang makes its maiden flight.

1942 – Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Hook) is born.

1942 – During World War II: In the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands during the Guadalcanal Campaign, one U.S. aircraft carrier, USS Hornet, is sunk and another aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise, is heavily damaged.

1944 – During World War II: The Battle of Leyte Gulf ends with an overwhelming American victory.

1946 – Pat Sajak, host of Wheel of Fortune is born.

1947 – Hillary Rodham Clinton, 67th United States Secretary of State, is born.

1947 – Jaclyn Smith, American actress and Charlie’s Angel, is born.

1953 – Keith Strickland, American musician from The B-52’s is born.

1955 – After the last Allied troops have left the country and following the provisions of the Austrian Independence Treaty, Austria declares permanent neutrality.

1956 – Rita Wilson, wife to Tom Hanks and American actress, is born.

1958 – Pan American Airways makes the first commercial flight of the Boeing 707 from New York City to Paris, France.

1959 – The world sees the far side of the Moon for the first time.

1961 – American actor Dylan McDermott is born.

1962 – Cary Elwes (Westley, from The Princess Bride) is born.

1963 – Singer Natalie Merchant is born.

1967 – Singer Keith Urban is born.

1972 – Igor Sikorsky, Russian-American pioneer of aviation in both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, dies.

1973 – Animator Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy) is born.

1977 – Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) is born.

1977 – The last natural case of smallpox is discovered in Merca district, Somalia. The WHO and the CDC consider this date the anniversary of the eradication of smallpox, the most spectacular success of vaccination.

1984 – “Baby Fae” receives a heart transplant from a baboon.

1984 – Figure skater and Olympic Silver medalist Sasha Cohen is born.

1985 – Fictional history:  At approximately 1:15 am, Doctor Emmett Brown successfully tests the world’s first time machine, built from the frame of a fully operational DeLorean.

2001 – The United States passes the USA PATRIOT Act into law.

Cheers!

Advertisements

Rumors Do Not Truth Make

Hide your kids and hide your wife! Here comes this year’s series of Lucasfilm rumors.

Star Wars: Episodes VIIIX (and beyond?)

Last Saturday brought us news from usually reliable IESB.net – though that link might still be broken – that Lucasfilm was working on a new Star Wars trilogy.

From IESB.net via Bryan at Big Shiny Robot:

What do we know? First of all, these new film will have nothing to do with the live action television series currently in development. That show already has over 50 scripts ready to go and plenty of pre-production time and money has been spent on artwork and storyboards. Once that show goes into production, Lucasfilm hopes to be able to produce at least 100 episodes since that is the threshold for syndication in the United States.

Too early for story details but one thing that our source is certain about, they will not be prequels but instead sequels. It’s not for certain if they will be the long awaited Episodes 7, 8 and 9 but could instead be Episodes 10, 11 and 12 or possibly even further out in the Star Wars timeline. And by giving space in the timeline, possibly even as far as 100 years or 1,000 years in the Star Wars universe future, Lucas avoids having to make these stories “fit in” with what the previous stories have told.

Okay, look, IESB usually has a certain degree of reliability in these circles, but I doubt it. This pops up every year and each time is immediately debunked by Lucasfilm. In fact, Bryan contacted LFL, and predictably they said:

“This is, of course, completely false. George Lucas has lots of projects keeping him busy right now – including plenty of Star Wars projects – but there are no new Star Wars feature films planned.”

George Lucas has gone on record himself that there would be no more feature films. That would be the end of it, except IESB is playing the conspiracy card by claiming that LFL will debunk it, but they “will stand 100% behind our source.” You do that, guys.

Indiana Jones in 3-D

Here comes the next series, this time with the Indiana Jones quadrilogy going 3-D just like Star Wars. Once again, from Lucasfilm via Bryan at Big Shiny Robot:

This is completely false. Right now, we are totally focused on bringing Star Wars to 3D, and we have no plans to do an Indiana Jones conversion.

Just as I thought. I would have put more faith in this story since LFL is already in the 3-D process with Star Wars, but Bryan has a good point on that.

[…] I don’t think Indiana Jones lends itself as well to 3D. Star Wars is an effects extravaganza, Indiana Jones, for all its adventure, is pretty straight drama. It would be a lot easier to convert, I suppose, because there isn’t as much to convert.

But with as many hands in the Indy pie (Paramount, Spielberg, Ford, Lucas, etc.) I wouldn’t expect that LFL would be able to unilaterally decide to do this. In addition to the official Lucasfilm comment, it’s common sense that this wouldn’t be happening.

That should be the end of that. Until next year, anyway…

The Changing Look of Ahsoka Tano

For those of you watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a point of contention has been the character models and, in particular, how one of them is dressed.  Enter Exhibit A:  Ahsoka Tano.

Ahsoka Tano, Padawan to Anakin Skywalker, has spent the last two seasons adventuring around the galaxy in a tube top, tights, and knee-high boots. According to various sources, including the official site and Star Wars Insider magazine, Ahsoka is among the characters getting a revamp.

I feel this is a great direction for the series. It makes Ahsoka look older and more believable as a Jedi fighting in a war. I mean, granted, there have been a few costuming gaffes in Star Wars history, most notably the infamous Snow Bunny Padmé from the Tartakovsky Clone Wars short cartoons.

Skintight clothing in a blizzard?  Somehow, I can’t quite believe that.  But the current Ahsoka model stretches my suspension of disbelief to its limits as that poor little teenager tries to save the galaxy in tights and a tube top, which is apparently the only thing in her wardrobe.  Either that, or The Gap had a sale and she stocked up.

Okay, okay, I’ll stop picking.  I can only hope that this change in The Clone Wars is permanent.

Religion in Science-Fiction

Tiffany Vogt at Airlock Alpha recently asked, “Is Religion Killing Good Sci-Fi Shows?”  In her article, she uses three recent series – Lost, Caprica, and the Battlestar Galactica reboot – to prove her point. Now, before I go too much further, I have to admit that I haven’t watched Lost beyond the first season, although I do have the complete series set waiting on me to dive in. I also haven’t had the chance to watch Caprica beyond the pilot, although I do hear mixed reviews from friends.

But, from my experiences with Battlestar Galactica, from the 1979 and recent versions, along with entertainment like Quantum Leap, the Stargate franchise, Star Wars, and Star Trek, I have to argue no. The first thing we have to do is eliminate the “us vs. them” concept of religion and science-fiction. The important part isn’t the gadgets or technology, it’s the story. That’s what religion is based on, isn’t it? Read any holy text and you’ll find it chock full of parables with a lesson attached, much like Aesop’s Fables. Even the trope of preachers delivering the typical fire and brimstone sermon focuses on telling a tale and learning a lesson from it.

So what is science-fiction? It’s the same thing: A story with an embedded lesson or speculation on a topic with a setting different than ours. Star Wars has a mythic story arc based around the Hero’s Journey with a focus on the mystical Force, which may or may not be religious in nature. Did the element of the Force ruin Star Wars? No, it didn’t, and most detractors argue that the series wasn’t harmed until 1999 when George Lucas tried to put a scientific spin on it.

Here comes the counter-argument: Star Wars didn’t tell a story without the Force and then tack it on at the end as a convenient way out of the plot. Fine. What about Quantum Leap?

Quantum Leap tackled this overall concept by changing the setting every episode for five years, while skirting the core issue of whether it was God, Fate, Time, or a botched science experiment that was responsible for bouncing Sam back and forth within his lifetime. The only real matter was that Sam was putting right what once went wrong, and the concept of potential religious ties came second. It only really came to a head in the finale when Sam came face-to-face with what may or may not have been God, who told him the truth about his Leaping. What that a cop-out? I don’t think so at all. First, it was supposed to be a turning point for the series, leading to a sixth season with harder trials for Sam without a guide. Second, as a finale, it works because Sam finally confronts what’s been happening over the last five years and grows from the experience. He gained the confidence to take on the extra challenge that lay ahead of him, whether we saw it on screen or not.

Battlestar Galactica in its original form made no claims to be anything but a show based on religion. Every episode made reference to gods and faith; entire episodes were based around the Colonials battling an incarnation of the Devil and interacting with Beings of Light with god-like powers. The quest for Earth was based on divine prophecies and guided by the Lords of Kobol. The reboot may have been rooted deeper in scientific storytelling, but it did not refute the genesis of the story. Characters on both sides of the conflict prayed to deities and talked about faith. Roslin had drug-induced hallucinations that showed the Colonials and Cylons the path to Earth, and even if the quest was undertaken as a hollow pursuit, it became a voyage of exploration for the psyches of each character. Some characters gave up along the way, some tried to use failures and setbacks as tools for personal gain, and some, like Admiral Adama, discovered potentials that they did not know existed. Even the concept of “what has happened before will happen again” is based in mythological roots of destiny and fate that reach back beyond the religions of Ancient Greece.

Star Trek, which has always shunned religion, even took a stab at religion in a seven-year arc with Deep Space Nine, which I argue is the best of the franchise. I can’t forget the religious threads of Babylon 5, either, but having only seen the series once, I can’t comfortably explore that territory.

I think that most modern views on science fiction are built around the staples of Trek and Stargate, which have inflicted considerable and irrefutable damage with numerous stories of persons with godlike powers who are evil or corrupted, and I believe that to be one of the longest tentpoles in the “us vs them” philosophy.

Religion is, at its base, a mythology. Faith is man-made creation, built around believing in that mythology and adapting it to everyday life. Science-fiction, part of the larger genre of speculative fiction, is a mythology, whether it tells of trips through a portal that takes you to a different planet or a quest based on faith. I can’t speak for Lost, but Galactica has always been an exploration of the human condition through the strength of faith, and I don’t believe that following that exploration to Ronald Moore’s conclusion ruined the journey.

We’re not talking about proving the existence of God here, but rather the basis of sci-fi which was exploring new fantastic frontiers with the power of human ingenuity. I, for one, want to see more science-fiction that goes back to the human condition, which includes faith and religion. Removing faith and religion only serves to strip an aspect from humanity that feeds into everyday decisions, and an exploration of that result ignores crucial motivations. Faith and religion need to be a core element in explorations of human nature because they are a core element in each man, woman, and child, even if they don’t believe in a higher power.

We can’t ignore the science in science-fiction, that’s true, but not every human being is motivated purely by science, and I refuse to believe that the answers to the speculation will all immediately come from science. The religious belief that Earth was the center of the universe motivated scientists to prove it otherwise. The same stands true in part for scientists seeking life on other planets or exploring the mysteries of evolution. Religion and faith are powerful motivators and cannot be ignored or cast aside.

Books like Contact, a well-regarded science-fiction story written by a scientist, have made me realize that neither brute force method of science or religion have all the answers to the questions about humanity. I believe that an exploration based in logical reasoning with an open mind and a faith that not all the mysteries have readily observable answers will reveal more than either approach would by itself. After all, theological exploration by the main character in Carl Sagan’s only fictional work didn’t destroy the story. It made the story complete.

Awesome Atmosphere and Ocean Infographics

Phil Plait posted on his Bad Astronomy blog about an infographic, which led me to look a little deeper.  The site has to scale infographics detailing the atmosphere and the oceans.  Teachers, please find a way to print and display these.  You would have had to pry me off these with a spatula when I was a kid.

Earth’s Atmosphere Top to Bottom
Tallest Mountain to Deepest Ocean Trench

Such great work.

Just a Bit of Harmless Plagiarism?

Ah, the internet. As pointed out on Star Wars news site Club Jade, the vast ethereal series of pipes and tubes is “a wild and crazy place, populated by people who are perhaps a little unknowledgeable about the basics of a civil society.” Of course, one of those basics in civil society is that you shouldn’t exactingly copy someone else’s work without crediting them. From a copyright perspective, it is illegal. From any other perspective, it’s definitely vaults over the party foul line, straight over the “not cool” zone, and lands right smack in the middle of the actions I think should reserve you a place in Shepherd Book’s “special hell.”

I didn’t know about it, but apparently there are folks out there who can’t think originally and leech off other people’s RSS feeds, throw a fancy HTML/CSS skin on them, and call the content their own. But there are others who run sites that physically snag various people’s postings word for word and pass them off as their own. To his/her misfortune, one of these types ran afoul of Dunc, the owner of Club Jade. You see, the owner/operator of SWTORstrategies.com copied at least 17 posts written by Dunc – and numerous posts from other Star Wars blogs – without attributing the work. The posts linked back to Club Jade, but made no mention of the author.

Dunc makes a great point in her post about the function of a “via” or “source” credit, which you see a lot in blog posts. “Via” or “source” is equivalent to a thank you these days, and is not a “written by” credit. It’s where you found the information and wrote your own copy based on that raw data. It’s a very clear distinction.

The “author” at the site, “sQren”, has been somewhat hospitable about removing posts after the source author complains, but this really shouldn’t have been an issue to begin with. Somewhere along the line, people made the leap that everything not directly associated with a big name corporation is fair game for use. Plagiarism is not just limited to copying information from encyclopedias for a term paper. Any time you copy without attribution, it’s wrong.

Some folks in the comment thread on Dunc’s post commented that this violation of intellectual property was akin to the rash of file sharing that has the MPAA and RIAA up in arms. I say yes and no. With file sharing, the participants are gaining content without paying for it. In this case, they are gaining content without paying for it, and passing it off as their own. When you illegally download a Metallica song, you’re typically not claiming that you wrote or performed the song. Here, sQren was indirectly claiming that he/she wrote the original content in each article.

Similarly, another reader pointed out that this strategy does provide more visibility for the people who work on the content.  I contend that such visibility is meaningless if the content is not properly attributed. After all, if I visit SWTORstrategies and read a well-constructed post without attributions, how do I know that Bryan Young or Dunc wrote it originally?  Without attributions, I have no choice but to believe that sQren wrote it.  I would have no reason to visit Big Shiny Robot or Club Jade because everything points to sQren being the final source for everything I need on that topic, which robs those violated by this thief of my patronage. These talents in the blogosphere do this for free and for the passion of their fandom. The only reward they get is the good feeling for helping fellow fans. Because of this, some people claim that this doesn’t really matter. If that’s true, then feel free to write my doctoral thesis for me when I eventually go back to school. It’s the same difference.

It’s not the motivations that I’m concerned about when it comes to plagiarism in the blogosphere. I’m concerned about the hard work writers put forth that is disregarded for someone else’s convenience. Our end goal is to have worked on something for someone else’s enjoyment, whether it’s a blog post, an article for a podcast, or a 50,000+ word novel. Plagiarizers disregard that hard work – let’s not kid ourselves, it’s hard work to write anything coherent; the longer the word count, the harder it gets – and take it as their good fortune that someone else pushed the boulder up the mountain for them.

Now, it looks like SWTORstrategies has started doing their own work instead of copying off their neighbors. Nevertheless, I firmly support Dunc’s efforts to bring these thieves into the light of day via social media. Consider it a little guerrilla-style effort to let the SWTORstragtegies folks know that what they do is not welcome. By Dunc’s suggestion, if you have a Twitter account, you can participate by tweeting the following: “Hey @swtorstrategies, how about you write your own posts? http://bit.ly/bSZSaC / http://bit.ly/brVG40 #plagiarism”.   Just like this.  Is it overkill?  Maybe, but plagiarism is something I’m incredibly sensitive to, so I’m not likely to show them much mercy.  The point is to get it all over their replies feed so that they can see how unwelcome their strategy is.  Hopefully the point will get driven so far into their brains that they never, ever consider it again.

Is it really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things? Probably not, but as Dunc so eloquently puts it, “[I]t’s not just about copying and pasting – it’s about having the decency to not take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. And I’m not going to let that fly just ‘because it’s the internet.’ It doesn’t matter what the subject is: There’s no suitable excuse for plagiarism, particularly when it’s this pathetic.”