Monday, July 30, 2012

Glad the Robot Hall of Fame is back in business

I love robots and halls of fame. So I was pleased to find out earlier this month that the Robot Hall of Fame has resumed operations after a two-year hiatus.
Created by Carnegie Mellon University in 2003, the Robot Hall of Fame honors real-world robots from science and industry and fictional robots from pop culture. The hall has a physical presence at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.
The hall will induct two sets of robots at a ceremony in October.
The first group was selected in 2009, but was never inducted. That group includes NASA’s Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, iRobot’s Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, and Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Surgical System. It also includes the T-800 Terminator from the sci-fi movie “The Terminator” (1984) and the charming maintenance robots Huey, Dewey and Louie from the sci-fi film “Silent Running” (1971).
The second set of robots to be inducted will be chosen in an online vote later this summer from nominees selected by an expert panel of jurors. They will be announced at the Oct. 23 ceremony at the Carnegie Science Center.
While I’m a fan of all robots, I’m particularly interested in space exploration robots and robots from movies and TV shows.
When I was a kid I closely followed the Mars Viking lander missions and loved the character “Robot” on the TV show “Lost in Space.” Neither of those robots has been selected yet. But now that the Robot Hall of Fame is back in business, it’s possible.

Related story:
Roomba, Terminator Finally To Enter Robot Shrine (; July 13, 2012)

Photo: Robot B-9 from “Lost in Space” (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Litterbugs spoiling beautiful park land

Sometimes when I go for a hike in a nature preserve or regional park, I bring a few plastic bags to pick up trash littering the area. Because there are a lot of litterbugs out there.
Yesterday I filled up three bags of garbage at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve in McLean, Va., mostly along the Potomac River near a beautiful waterfall. I would have picked up more but I only had three bags.
From experience I know that you find a lot of trash near gorgeous vistas and hiking destinations. Inconsiderate jerks bring their beverages and snacks to such locations and refuse to carry out the empties. They probably think the parks have employees to clean up after them. Or they just don’t feel like hauling out their garbage.
A friend once told me that these folks must think magical maid fairies clean up their messes.
Scott’s Run has some spectacular sights like herons swooping over the Potomac and little toads hopping everywhere along the paths. There are big boulders to climb over or sit on and clear water you can wade in.
But I couldn’t enjoy that yesterday. I was too busy picking up beer cans, plastic Gatorade and water bottles, snack food bags, even a dirty diaper. It was disgusting.
Maybe next time I can better enjoy the nature and landscapes of this wonderful park.

Photo: The waterfall at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve in McLean, Va.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Katy Perry documentary tells only part of her story

The new 3-D concert movie and documentary “Katy Perry: Part of Me” is good, but could have been great, given the material the filmmakers had to work with.
Perry is one of the most popular musical performers today and she’s been breaking records.
She recently became the first woman to score five No. 1 singles off one album, a feat accomplished before only by Michael Jackson. She also is the first artist in the Billboard Hot 100’s more than five-decade history to spend 52 consecutive weeks – an entire year – in the top 10.
“Part of Me” offers some interesting behind the scenes glimpses at Perry’s life and her drive to stardom. For instance, before she made it big, high-profile producers The Matrix tried to turn her into “the next Avil Lavigne,” which she wisely rejected.
I enjoyed the stagecraft involved in putting on her year-long world tour and the scenes of Perry interacting with her inner circle and VIP fans.
The most iconic shot in the movie is Perry making her concert entrance from a lift beneath the stage and holding her microphone up like a torch. It’s repeated several times to great effect, showing the grind of the tour and her performing through personal troubles.
The 3-D concert scenes also are very well done and feature Perry performing some of her biggest hits, including “Hot n Cold” and “California Gurls.”
I do wish the film had been produced independently so as to provide a more journalistic perspective on Perry. But with Perry as a producer, you know the movie is only going to show what she wants to show. Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips calls it a “chipper, no-warts-and-all tour chronicle.”
Her brief marriage to actor-comedian Russell Brand is part of the movie, but the audience only gets one side of that story. So the breakup rightly or not is portrayed as his fault.
If you like Perry and her music, chances are you will like “Katy Perry: Part of Me”. If not, probably not. I do and I did.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Poor AT&T service was biggest outrage from June power outage

One of the hazards of living in leafy suburbs in the Midwest and East Coast is that you have to put up with occasional power outages when storms knock down trees and power lines.
I’ve endured days-long power outages living in Illinois, Connecticut and Virginia in recent years. One thing I could always count on in the past was cell phone service continuing to work even though I had no power at home. 
But the June 29 derecho storm that hammered the D.C. metropolitan area also took out the AT&T wireless service where we live in Vienna, Va. It was three or four days before my wife and I could make mobile calls from our home after we lost power.
Thank God we didn’t have a medical emergency. We would have had no way to call for help, except to find a neighbor with Verizon service, which was not affected by the storm.

Photo: The top of the big tree in our front yard was torn off in the June 29 storm.

News stories from the storm:

Timeline of derecho that hit Friday (WTOP; July 4, 2012)

Dominion Restores Power to Approximately 600,000 Customers, Sets Targets for Completing Restoration Efforts (Dominion Virginia Power press release; July 1, 2012)

My Twitter posts during the power outage:

Big thunderstorm in Fairfax County, Va. Power has gone out. (10:40 p.m. Friday June 29)

AT&T wireless down for most of day after storm Friday. Getting 0-2 bars out of 5 now in Vienna, Va. (June 30)

84 degrees at 10 p.m. now, 24 hours after power went out. High of 95 today. Movie theater in Sterling, Va., open. Took kids to see Brave. (June 30)

Expected to be multi-day power outage. Shades of New Canaan, Conn. We lost the top of our big tree in front yard from storm. (June 30)

Can’t access Twitter or Facebook on PC Web browser at Wi-Fi hotspot in Tysons Corner, Va. Am I alone here? Storm related? (July 1)

Day 2 of no power in D.C. area. Feels like apocalypse light. Radio said Reston, Va., library open. Wasn’t. Like Ft. Benning on Walking Dead. (July 1)

Two radio stations working yesterday are static today. Rock station 101.1 and pop station 99.5 off line. (July 1)

First, reports of flesh-eating crazies on East Coast. Now, power out and some broadcast stations going offline. Some websites failing. (July 1)

Maybe this East Coast blackout is a clever promotion for J.J. Abrams’ new post-apocalyptic TV drama Revolution. (July 1)

In a state of emergency, like Virginia now, you can’t count on AT&T. Little or no coverage in Vienna-Great Falls-Reston area last 2 days. (July 1)

Dominion expects to restore power to 90-95% of customers by Thurs. night. I’ll bet I’m in the 5-10% who miss the cut. (July 2)

Thank God garbage pickup is tomorrow. We emptied out two fridges of spoiled food and it’s starting to reek. (July 2)

Day four without power. So tired of this. (July 2)

Power finally back on after 4 days. Will take a while for the house to cool down. Also, another storm front moving in. Fingers crossed. (8:41 p.m. Tuesday July 3)