After 20 years at the University of Oregon, I have retired. So, I will begin posting about my new experiences here and hope you find them interesting.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Marvel Online Comic Creator Needs to Integrate Virtual Assets!

Yesterday, I learned about Marvel's Online Comic Creator from fellow blogger Candlelight Stories. I developed a prototype with a similar concept using Filemaker Pro and its instant web publishing capabilities about five years ago using pictures I downloaded from HBO's "Rome" website in combination with backgrounds I captured from various ancient world-themed adventure games. So, naturally I had to try Marvel's out. I loved it and the Flash or Java? interface would let you layer objects and arrange them (including front to back) which I couldn't do with Filemaker through the instant web interface. The overall concept was very similar though.

In my version I let user's pick the dialog template that varied by numbers of speech balloons and positions, the character(s) and the background. They could then input the desired words they wished their characters to say. Then I used a Filemaker script to "playback" their comic by changing from one layout to the next. My prototype let users create up to a five window comic (or "graphic novel" if you prefer). Marvel has a short three window version and, for really talented writers, a 22-pane full comic book version.

I think this tool would be even better if users could upload additional backgrounds, objects (Marvel's version has objects you can add to a scene like a telephone, etc.) and characters, although I understand why Marvel would prefer to limit the tool to Marvel superheroes. I would have also liked more dialog balloon options, especially those with the arrow beneath the balloon. There were only a couple like that.

Today I also read an article about the surging market in virtual goods. Marvel's application would be a prime candidate for the integration of virtual goods. Marvel could offer theme-based backgrounds, character and object packages for a small fee. People would be more willing to purchase virtual goods, though, if they could share their creativity with others. Marvel's download function does not seem to save a file in a common format like .jpg. Some of the other flash-based products out there have also integrated social networking tools so user-generated toons can be posted to Facebook or linked to a tweet.

As for usability, though, I think the limited but intuitive tools the Marvel software provides makes it a snap to quickly create a toon to convey a thought or an emotion. Other more feature-rich products enable those who want to truly spend hours creating an artistic panel a lot of options but many of us just want to punch out a quick toon with a message using characters we like from favorite movies, comics, or legends. The Marvel tool, although targeted at children, fills the bill quite nicely.

Monday, October 26, 2009

ShieldSafe offers free identity protection service

Last night when I was watching "Money Talks" during the local news, Stacy Johnson mentioned a website http://www.shieldsafe.com/ that offers free fraud alerts to anyone. Stacy pointed out that this website is the one used by all of those services like Lifelock that offer to protect you from identify theft. But he said don't waste $10 per month with those services, just sign yourself up for free.

So I went online and checked it out and he was absolutely right! It's sort of like signing up for the do-not-call list. Apparently, as part of some government regulations that were passed to control credit reporting, everyone is entitled to request a fraud alert on their account at no cost. The fraud alert expires in 90 days and must be rerequested but the ShieldSafe service sends you a convenient reminder email every 90 days with a quick link to the fraud alert renewal form. They also send a quick link to request a free credit report every year that you are also entitled to by law. I enrolled then, as an extra precaution, set up a reminder in my email to watch for the email coming from ShieldSafe every 90 days just in case my spam filter snags the reminder email from Shieldsafe.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

CSI: The Experience Looks like Fun!!

Wow, it looks like the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas has booked a great interactive guest activity, CSI: The Experience. I thought my trip to Las Vegas last September to attend Photoshop World would be may last for quite a while since I was bummed out about the closure of Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton and the de-Egyptification of the Luxor Hotel. But I may need to reconsider.

Test your inner crime-solver at the blockbuster new attraction at MGM Grand Las Vegas, CSI: The Experience!

Survey the crime scene, gather the evidence, solve the case! This dynamic interactive experience offers visitors a hands-on challenge to solve a hypothetical crime: 3 murders, 15 lab stations, 15 suspects, 3 killers.

Guided by videos featuring cast members from the hit TV show, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, alongside real-life forensic scientists, you’ll be the latest recruit to the world of forensic science. Examine bullet casings, match DNA to potential suspects, identify the source of a single strand of hair as you complete the investigation process. Includes state-of-the-art forensic equipment and displays. Recommended for ages 12 through adult.

CSI: The Experience was the fruit of a truly unusual partnership,” says Charlie Walter, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and Industry’s chief operating officer. “Our partners included the Science Museum Exhibit Collaborative, media giant CBS and the National Science Foundation, which provided $2.4 million in funding for both the exhibit and a ‘CSI’ ‘Web Adventure’ targeted to underserved youth.

I see it will be in Philadelphia in October 2011. If I don't get a chance to get to Vegas to see it maybe I can go to the presentation in Philadelphia with my grandson! (If a fifteen-year-old doesn't mind being seen in public with his grandma!)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Beatlemania Show creates treasured memory

As a child of the 60s I was raised during the years when the Beatles soared to stardom and I collected all of their albums until they drifted into the drug culture in the late 60s and embarked on their "mystical" journey with the Maharishi Yogi.

However, as much as I loved their music, I never had the opportunity to see them live, in concert. I was raised in a little logging and fishing community on the southern Oregon coast (Bandon) and there were no casinos outside the state of Nevada then and no real concert venues anywhere close by. I didn't even get a chance to watch the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show because we could only get one channel on the television set in our little town and the Ed Sullivan Show was not on it.

Of course I went to the movies and saw "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help" but never had a chance to taste the sheer exhilaration and magic that only a live performance can bring. So, when I saw an ad in the paper all these years later for a "Beatlemania" concert starring the original Broadway performers I mentioned it hopefully to my husband. He sort of grunted but didn't say anything more about it until the day before the concert was to take place. Then, when I had reconciled myself to missing my last chance to see "sort of" the Beatles in concert, he pipes up and says, "Well aren't we going to Florence to see that concert?"

I could hardly believe it - I thought he wasn't listening and really wasn't interested since he was slogging through the rice paddies in Vietnam during that time of his life and the only Beatles song he and his hooch mates had was an old 45 of Yellow Submarine that he says got played over and over again.

So, I threw some necessities into a suitcase and away we went. I wasn't going to give him a chance to change his mind!

As it turns out, Joe was more than just a little anxious to go to the concert himself although a Vietnam Vet with PTSD does not usually let on when he is more than casually interested in something. He insisted that we get there early so we ended up in Florence just before lunch. We decided to go down to the waterfront and have chowder and seafood at our usual place, Mo's. When we got there we found there was a custom car show set up along the street so we got an early taste of nostalgia as we walked among the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s hotrods with peach paint jobs, chromed engines, and lavish tuck-and-roll interiors.

The lady at the cashier's desk of the Three Rivers Casino cautioned me that if I wanted a good seat at the Beatlemania show, we'd better show up about an hour and a half before hand. I thought my husband might object since he doesn't like standing in line for anything but he seemed willing to do whatever was necessary to ensure the best experience. Fortunately, they let us in after only thirty minutes so we sat and listened to a mix of 60s music from such artists as The Monkees, Hermans Hermits and The Dave Clark Five".

When the moment finally came and the stars of Beatlemania (Alan LaBoeuf as Paul McCartney, David Leon as John Lennon, Carrol Parker as Ringo Starr, and David Brighton as George Harrison - I think!) dashed on stage and struck the first few cords of "I Want To Hold Your Hand", I was instantly mesmerized and couldn't get enough as the group tripped through song after song of my old favorites. I noticed that they even used the same mannerisms as I had seen the Beatles exhibit in video clips of their performances. "Paul" stood with his knees and feet together rocking his head from side to side and "John" stood with his legs apart with one leg slightly forward and his knees bent just as I had seen the real John stand in videos I had watched.

The group divides their act into three parts that they call "Coming to America", "Psychedelia" , and "End of an Era". Of course I loved the first act the best since I knew all the songs by heart and found myself clapping and singing along. I did get a bang out of the "over the top" costumes of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" in the second act and loved how the group belted out that classic song too. They didn't even stop singing when they changed costumes. One of the group would stay on stage singing a famous solo like "Yesterday" or "Imagine" while the others hurried off stage to change into outfits appropriate for the next segment.

I looked over and even Joe was grinning although I couldn't quite get him to join in when they sang "Hey Jude!" It was like being 16 again (without all the angst!!) for a brief hour and a half. I looked around at the rest of the audience and although most of us had silver in our hair and couldn't see or hear as well as we used to we were all swaying, clapping and in some cases, wiggling and squealing (I didn't go quite THAT far!!) like those teens all those years ago on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Maybe Bread and Circuses would win over poorly informed townhall mobs

A friend recently wrote to me about her philosophy that each person creates their own "truth". I have observed this phenomenon often, especially lately listening to all the uproar over health care reform. The sad "truth" (my truth I guess) is that many of these agitated people don't bother to examine the policies they criticize and just spout rumor fed by self-serving interest groups like the pharmaceutical companies and for-profit health care services providers (and the Congressmen who collect from their lobbyists!). I have friends in the UK that have government-provided health care and they seem quite satisfied with the level of care they receive. Likewise I have talked with residents of Canada and Australia that also have government-managed health care systems and they are not dissatisfied either. My husband is a 100% service-connected disabled Vietnam veteran and receives quality care from the health care providers at the Eugene VA Clinic and the Roseburg VA Hospital. As his spouse, I am covered under ChampVA, another government-managed heath care program, and choose my own doctors and, to my knowledge, have never been refused any treatments or medication my primary care physician thought were needed. In fact, ChampVA functions very much like private health insurers like Blue Cross/Blue Shield except for prescription pharmaceuticals that I get totally free from ChampVA by using their Meds by Mail program.

The dynamics we see surfacing in this debate are the same tired "fear factor" politics of the extreme right wing conservatives that brow beat the poorly informed during the Bush administration. I noticed that in one of the news reports about a health care town hall meeting the other day, one of the ranting rabble rowsers had most attendees agreeing that they didn't want the government interfering with their health care decisions. The congressmen conducting the meeting then asked how many of those in the room were on Medicare and OVER HALF raised their hands! What??? They obviously were not even thinking about their own health care - just caught up in the emotional mob mentality of the situation. The ancient Roman emperors knew the secret to political power was to control the Roman mob so they bought the mob with free bread and handouts at entertainments that included gory spectacles to satisfy the mob's blood lust. Perhaps the Congressmen holding these meetings should break out the bread and shower the attendees with lottery tickets or something. I'm sure he/she would have them on the side of health care reform in no time, especially if they hired a couple of WWW wrestlers for the featured entertainment.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

United Breaks Guitars

A friend sent me a link to this video and I cracked up. I, too, have been a victim of United's outrageous so-called customer service. When I was fell in Naples, Italy in 2007 and tore both left and right rotator cuffs in my shoulders, I had to book a flight home to have the damage surgically repaired. I requested medical assistance when I booked the flight. The leg of the flight from Naples to Munich was AirItalia and I was treated with the utmost kindness. Then in Munich I transferred to a United plane for the flight across the Atlantic. When I asked for assistance with my carryon bag - and I was trussed up in a sling applied by the emergency room doctors in Naples - a snotty United stewardess told me I'd just have to try to find some other passenger to help me because she had a bad back and stalked off.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Eagle Has Landed --Again!

When Apollo 11 launched its lunar module to make the first landing on the moon back in 1969, I had just had a newlywed tiff with my husband and had stalked outside to cool off. We were visiting his grandparents and his grandmother called to me and urged me to come back inside to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Being young and hot-headed I stubbornly refused. I have regretted it ever since.

Now, today, 40 years after that historic touchdown, I got to relive the moment thanks to a wonderful website called "We Choose the Moon" that virtually recreated the experience. A new friend I met on the web just a couple of weeks ago happened to send me the link and I checked it out earlier but was several days away from the actual landing. Today, I'd been in town all day running errands and had just sat down and picked up the paper and saw a short blurb on the front page about how 40 years ago today at 1:17 p.m. PDT, the lunar module had landed on the moon. I asked my husband (yes, the same one!) what time it was and it was 1:15 p.m. so I raced back into my office, navigated to the website and downloaded the graphics just in time to see the lunar module kick up the dust of the moon's surface and descend to Tranquility Base. How thrilling!! At last - I feel I really witnessed it live!

The website designers had live streaming audio of the simulated broadcast from mission control and it made it feel so real! I loved how the virtual landing was timed to coincide with the actual event at the same real time pace. Looking forward to the virtual event just as I had the real event truly heightened my anticipation. What a wonderful way to relive history!

This website is chuck full of videos, photos, and audio clips from the actual experience as well as offering widgets to track the mission on your computer, etc. As I have only marginal DSL service at 1.5 mbps, I had problems with the volume of data transfer that has to occur between the website and my workstation and kept losing my connection. But at least I saw the actual landing and listened to about 15 minutes of post-landing transmissions before I started experiencing data overload. I would love to have the opportunity to relive other historical events in this way. Can you imagine how exciting it would be to witness one of Julius Caesar's triumphs or the crowning of Thutmosis III recreated at a date corresponding to the same date in history and paced in real time?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An elevator that takes you from hell to heaven

I subscribe to "Candelight Stories" and today I received an email including a post about a short film created by artist Marco Brambilla for installation in the elevators of the Standard Hotel in New York City. If you choose to go up in the elevator the film takes you from the depths of hell to the artist's vision of heaven. Likewise, if you descend, you travel from the euphoria of heaven to the artist's interpretation of hell. Quite an interesting application of multimedia. This film is in HD, however, so if your bandwidth is marginal like mine (1.5 Mbps DSL) the film will start and stop as it buffers the data download.

Civilization by Marco Brambilla from CRUSH on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Star Trek's Circular Reference Still Computes!

As one of the original trekkers from the 1960s, I couldn't help but look forward to the new incarnation and I was quite pleased with the newest addition to the Star Trek film franchise when I went to see it on opening day. It did not take much adjustment on my part at all to accept Zachary Quinto as a young Spock and I thought Karl Urban really nailed "Bones" McCoy. Chris Pine was suitably brash and swaggering as James T. Kirk but he did not capture my heart like Quinto and Urban.

Much like his character Scotty, Simon Pegg sort of settled into the role when the Enterprise was in dire straights and he needed to be the "miracle worker"! I hope they dispense with the fossilized Ewok though. When I saw him I thought to myself, "Did George Lucas poke his nose into this production?" Star Trek may be a space opera but it has built its fandom on morality plays and stories with adult themes (mostly). We don't need to spoil the franchise with "cute" (and I really didn't find it all that cute anyway). The last thing Star Trek needs is a "Jar Jar Binks" distraction.

Somehow, the bar scene with all the aliens sitting around felt more Star Wars than Star Trek as well.

Eric Bana did an excellent job as a villain but I think it would have added more complexity to the plot if the Romulans of the past had learned of Nero's plans to destroy Vulcan and tried to intervene as well since they were kindred species. I also must admit I prefer my Romulans with hair and more warrior than pirate.

Somewhat of a spoiler ahead...

With the old past supposedly wiped away now, future movies should be less constrained by what has gone before. With Vulcan now gone, I don't know what Spock is supposed to do when his Pon Far rolls around but I'm sure the filmmakers will think of something! Of course the Romulans are still prowling the galaxy so maybe a Romulan princess can ease the pain. Also, like most space/time alterations, this plotline raises the issue of a paradox. Now that the Federation is aware of the time the Romulan sun will go supernova, they can plan to deliver their solution sooner or evacuate the planet sooner which means the reason for Nero to come back in time to destroy Vulcan, etc. will no longer exist so he won't. So then the Federation won't know about the supernova, Romulus will again be destroyed, Nero will come back and destroy Vulcan...in the technology profession we call this a circular reference!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Jessica Davis makes firefighting look fun!

My great niece, Jessica Davis, is studying to be a municipal firefighter in Fairbanks, Alaska. She just finished a Rapid Intervention Technician course through the University there which teaches students how to rescue downed firefighters in a burning building. She said she had so much fun and learned more than she had ever learned in a class.

"We did emergency evacuations which meant we jumped out onto a ladder headfirst and turned ourselves around and slid down the ladder, we hung from a window, repelled from a window, rescued teammates through the floor (Nance Drill) and then one of the hardest, The Denver Drill, which is supposed to simulate a firefighter stuck in a very tight space and trying to get them out of a window with limited manpower."

Go Jesse! We are so proud of you!

Jessica is the daughter of my sister's daughter Traci Davis and Scott Davis of Ketchikan, Alaska. We all trooped up to Alaska a couple of years ago to see Jessica graduate from high school. It was the most fun I have ever had at a graduation ceremony. The Native American students wore their traditional ceremonial robes and many students demonstrated their unique personalities by their apparel and unusual ways they accepted their diplomas. One boy did flips down the full length of the runway to the Superintendent to get his sheepskin. Jessica accepts hers dressed in her Dad's firefighting regalia! We had a wonderful time fishing on a charter boat (we didn't catch much - a small halibut and some rockfish - but I got some great shots of feeding the bald eagles), panning for gold, visiting the Saxman Native Village where I danced with the Native American dancers of the Tlingit tribe, exploring the Discovery Center, shopping in all the tourist shops with people from all the big cruise ships, and barbequeing in the rain! My sister and I and Traci's twin sister Trina also enjoyed The Lettermen in concert. They sang songs from my high school days (like "Cherish" - it sounded as good as the original by The Association!) as well as many recent hits like "My Heart Will Go On" from the blockbuster film "Titanic".

For a complete blow by blow of my trip (and to watch a video of my Native American dancing!) read my post in my Incredible Journeys blog.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Yes We Can! salute Caesar on the Ides

When I was in Rome on the Ides of March this year and went to pay my respects to Caesar's statue that stands along the Via Foro Imperiali, my friend and I saw a huge wreath at the foot of the bronze sculpture of him. This must have been the one referred to in this article. It's too bad we had not been there just a little sooner! As it was, we got to witness a group of American college students dressed in make-shift togas and adorned with wreaths made from plants probably pilfered from a nearby hotel or park. They sang bawdy songs that I'm sure Caesar's tenth legion would have been proud of then gave their somewhat altered rendition of the death scene from Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar" complete with shouts of "Yes We Can!"

"Recently, residents and tourists around the Coliseum watched in awe as a legion of Roman soldiers marched in unison down Rome’s Imperial Avenue.
“Caesar!” called out the commander in Latin as the legion came to a stop. “I, Centurion Lucius Valerius Seianus, have brought your favorite legion here to return the scepter of command to your hands!”
A horn blared as the Centurion placed a large laurel crown on the pedestal of the statue of Julius Caesar, the great Roman general who was stabbed to death in the Forum 2,053 years that day — March 15, or the "Ides of March." - More: Global Post.com
My friend, Patricia Hunter, author of "Our Master, Caesar", always brings roses to lay on Caesar's funeral pyre and on his statue whenever she visits Rome. Here, she places this year's offering.

While we were at the statue of Caesar a Roman family approached the statue and the father of the family took out some sheets of paper, held his hand up in salute and began reading a memorial to Caesar while his son respectfully placed his hand on his father's shoulder and raised a salute as well. It was very touching even though I couldn't understand what he was saying. After fifteen minutes or so, though, I told Pat that the man must have decided to recite the entire Commentarii de Bello Gallico so we moved on!
[Photo credits: Top left: Image courtesy of Fulvio Paolocci]; Other photos by Mary Harrsch]

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