Hugh Pickens writes writes: "The LA Times reports that as the East Coast licks its wounds from superstorm Sandy, beginning on Sunday on PBS, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in US history in "The Dust Bowl," a story that has modern-day relevance. The conditions for catastrophe, centered in the Oklahoma panhandle and neighboring parts of Texas, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado, were laid down in the conversion of a flat, windy, dry land, "almost wholly unfit for cultivation" in one early estimate, into a sea of wheat. A number of wet years, plus the encouragement of the federal government, land speculators and bogus science, made all seem well for a while. But then the rain stopped, and the soil, already weakened by mechanical farming techniques — often for absentee "suitcase farmers" with no emotional attachment to the land — turned to dirt. "We lived in a brown world." says Dorothy Kleffman, of Guymon, Oklahoma, one of two dozen Dust Bowl survivors Burns has interviewed. The film has special relevance to present-day arguments about our effect on the natural world and the place of government in regulating these interactions. "People who are ignorant and people who think only in terms of the moment scoff at our efforts and say: 'Oh, let the next generation take care of itself—if people out in the dry parts of the country cannot live there let them move out and hand the land back to the Indians.'" said President Roosevelt in a 1938 speech in Amarillo, Texas. That the scoffing goes on, led by Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, makes this bit of history feel urgent."
Hugh Pickens writes writes: "Mike Wall writes on Space.com that Dutch company Mars One aims to land humans on Mars by 2023 as the first step toward establishing a permanent colony on the Red Planet and to finance the venture says it will stage a media spectacle the likes of which the world has never seen — a sort of interplanetary reality show a la "Big Brother." "This project seems to be the only way to fulfill humanity's dream to explore outer space," says Nobel laureate Gerard 't Hooft, an ambassador for Mars One, in an introductory video posted on the company's website. "It is going to be an exciting experiment. Let's get started." The project plans to drop four astronauts on Mars in April 2023 and new members of the nascent colony will arrive every two years after that. None of the Red Planet pioneers will ever return to Earth. Mars One officials say they've talked to a variety of private spaceflight companies around the world and have secured at least one potential supplier for each colony component. Mars One estimates that it will cost about $6 billion to put the first four astronauts on Mars and while this may seem like a daunting sum for a non-governmental entity, the company is confident it can raise the needed funds by selling corporate sponsorships. "We will finance this mission by creating the biggest media event ever around it," says Mars One co-founder Bas Landorp. "Everybody in the world can see everything that will happen in the preparations and on Mars.""
Hugh Pickens writes writes: "Forbes reports that Dish Network has announced a new feature called called Auto Hop for its satellite TV subscribers that will let you automatically skip all commercials for prime time television from the four major broadcast networks when you watch the day after the programs are first aired. “Viewers love to skip commercials,” says Vivek Khemka, vice president of DISH Product Management. “With the Auto Hop capability of the Hopper, watching your favorite shows commercial-free is easier than ever before." Craig Moffett says that its going to be hard for Dish to maintain good relationships with its programming affiliates when they start offering a feature intended to cut out the bulk of the affiliates’ revenues and adds that whether the auto-skip feature can withstand legal challenge remains to be seen. “Given the already long list of industry-unfriendly features promoted by Dish, one wonders if Auto Hop will be the final straw that provokes legal action from the broadcast networks,” says Moffett. "We suspect Auto Hop probably uses some sort of bookmarking insertion based on automated recognition of commercial inserts (called ‘fingerprinting’), which if true could certainly be argued to be a manipulation of the content stream by the distributor.”"
Hugh Pickens writes writes: "Joshua Phillips writes that something was lost when videos went from magnetic tape and plastic, to plastic discs, and now to digital streams as browsing isles is no more and the once-great video shops slowly board up their windows across the country. Future generations may know little of the days when buying a movie meant you owned it even if the Internet went down and when getting a movie meant you had to scour aisles of boxes in search of one whose cover art called back a story that echoed your interests. Josh Johnson, one of the filmmakers behind the upcoming documentary “Rewind This!” hopes to tell the story of how and why home video came about, and how it changed our culture giving B movies and films that didn’t make the silver screen their own chance to shine. “Essentially, the rental market expanded, because of voracious consumer demand, into non-blockbuster, off-Hollywood video content which would never have had a theatrical life otherwise,” says Palmer. While researching the documentary Palmer found something interesting: there is a resurgence taking place of people going back to VHS because a massive number of films are “trapped on VHS” with 30 and 40 percent of films released on VHS never to be seen again on any other format. "“Most of the true VHS fanatics are children of the 1980s," says Palmer. "Whether they are motivated by a sense of nostalgia or prefer the format for the grainy aesthetic qualities of magnetic tape or some other reason entirely unknown, each tapehead is unique like a snowflake.""
Hugh Pickens writes writes: "CNN reports that television networks in several European countries are reportedly reviewing episodes of "The Simpsons" for any "unsuitable" references to nuclear disaster with an Austrian network apparently pulling two episodes, 1992's "Marge Gets a Job" and 2005's "On a Clear Day I Can't See My Sister," which include jokes about radiation poisoning and nuclear meltdowns. Al Jean, the executive producer of the animated Fox comedy featuring inept family man/nuclear power plant worker Homer Simpson says that he can appreciate the concern. "We have 480 episodes, and if there are a few that they don't want to air for awhile in light of the terrible thing going on, I completely understand that," says Jean, citing the previous example of the 1997 episode "Homer Versus the City of New York" that was pulled after 9/11 because it included key scenes at the World Trade Center. "We would never make light of what's happening in Japan.""