Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Timeline The Book vs Timeline The Movie

I've had an interest in time travel for as long as I can remember and I love reading books and watching movies related to this subject. I even toyed with the idea of buying the time travel machine from an episode of 'Outer Limits' that was being auctioned off on Ebay. I never bought it though because it went for around $6,000. However, if anyone knows a good source for a flux capacitor or a hyper dimensional resonator for my time portal let me know 'cause I could sure use one. :>) In the meantime, I'd like this Time Machine for Christmas please:

The end of May last year Annie and I read the book 'Timeline' by Michael Crichton which was published in 1999. Crichton wanted to make a movie based on the book but the major movie studios would not back him because they felt that moviegoers just don't seem to warm up to sci-fi time travel period pieces where most of the story takes place at a certain time in the past. Crichton kept pushing until the movie was eventually made and released in 2003.

The plot summary of the book consists of a professor and his students on an archaeology dig to uncover the ruins of a 14th century castle. The professor leaves the site for a few days and does not return. The students soon discover that he has been wisked away to the 14th century (the year 1357 to be exact). The remainder of the book involves the students going back in time to attempt a rescue of the professor during a period in time when France and England are waging the Hundred Year War. Of course the devil is in the details of how the professor was sent back in time, how the students discovered he was there and what things were really like in the 14th century.

There is enough hard sci-fi, action, history, survivalism and romanticism in this book to satisfy almost everyone. Both Annie and I gave the book a rating of A++ (our highest rating being A+++ which has only been awarded to two books so far - 'Ender's Game' by Orsen Scott Card and 'Doomsday Book' by Connie Willis).

Now on to the movie. The critics really panned this movie and in fact didn't like one single thing about it. But then critics also panned 'Blade Runner' and 'The Sound of Music'. They said 'Blade Runner' was too dark and depressing and 'The Sound of Music' was too sentimental and fluffy. So much for critics. The movie follows the outline of the book surprisingly well although it has a tendency to spin though the book elements too fast. For example at the beginning of the movie we inadvertantly find that the ITC Corporation has just invented time travel through use of a worm hole which is accessed by quantum computers. Say What? Thats why I would highly recommend you read the book before watching the movie so you can easily fill in the gaps which makes the movie much more enjoyable. What I like most about the movie is the fact that the director made an obvious attempt to interpret what it would be like for a bunch of 'moderns' to be suddenly dumped in with the 'locals' of the 14th century. Upon arrival the 'moderns' find themselves in the middle of a battle and react in a hectic and confused manner just like you would expect them too. When the French soldiers speak in French there are no subtitles as you would expect if you were there. There were also some surprisingly good action sequences and even some decent acting for most of the cast with only one glaring exception (you'll know her when you hear her).

'Timeline' is by no means a 'Blade Runner' and the book is definitely superior to the movie. But if you're a time travel buff like me, you'll find this movie makes for some good popcorn chomping and is actually fun to watch.

Timeline the book Timeline the movie

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Two Jupiters

I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate this past new years than to do some imaging in the wee hours of the morning. Besides, in southwestern Michigan you take whatever clear nights you can get!

I have included two images. The one on the left is my second image of Jupiter using a Toucam Pro webcam taken at 4:40am est 1/1/04. The right image was taken on 11/10/03 at 6:24am est. Both images pictured were taken with the same equipment -

8" SCT telescope, Toucam Pro webcam
Televue 3x barlow lens, Baader Infared Filter

and both were taken and processed using K3CCDTools, Registax2 and Photoshop.

The major difference between the two is their altitude (and of course to some degree seeing conditions) at the time the image was taken. The one on the left was taken at an altitude of 52 deg and on the right at 36 deg. At northern latitudes it seems that a few degrees can make quite a difference in image

Note: Notice the Great Red Spot located at the lower left of the second image.

Quote: "At the time of his death, if he were on Jupiter, Elvis would've weighed six-hundred and forty-eight pounds." 'Mystery Train' (1989)

*See the Archives on the left for more astrophotos*

Freeform Robotics

My first attempt at robot creation was to build what is called a Photovore or Photopopper. This is an insect like creature who eats only one thing - light. Wherever light is this little guy heads towards it and will position himself until he is receiving the maximum amount of it. A Photovore consists of a small solar panel, two pager motors, a capacitor, two green or red leds and some transistors and resistors. Here's a picture of my first breadboarded Photovore which allows you to test all of the parts and see if your wiring and component placements are correct. This took me about a week and a half to get right and for a first timer was real frustrating but very rewarding once it was accomplished. This is actually half of the Photovore and the other half was breadboarded later which consists of all the components on the left side minus the capacitor and solar panel.

Next I tried to "freeform" a photovore which involves soldering the components in as tight a fit as possible to achieve something compact and that looks good. That is if a "bug" can look good. It was a bust and didn't work at all. So next I tried soldering each half of the photovore on two different tiny breadboards. This is the photovore in working condition but not fully assembled. I will call him "minivore". Actually it looks more like Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) after he was teleported in 'The Fly' but I do digress:

And after about 3 days work I soldered the last wire in place, put the little guy under a 60 watt lamp and the motors started turning! I was finally able to shout "It's aliiiiiivvvvveeeee"! I always wanted to say that. I must have a little Frankenstien in me. Here he is in all his glory. He's kind of a cross between a bug and a parked Harley. He actually works though:

Here's a good tutorial on how to breadboard and build a freeform Photovore: Photovores

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