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I love Questacon! August 19, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Canberra, Technology, Travel.
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I’ve always loved science museums.  In fact, a visit to a science museum as a child may have prompted me to tell everyone that I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up.  Having the worst science teachers (one threw a metal dust pan that narrowly missed a student’s head) and performing poorly in science during my formative school years (I was told to stand in a corner after tracing light rays on the table instead of my workbook during an optics experiment) quickly put those dreams into a permanent coma.  But my passion for science museums remains alive.

And so during our recent trip to Canberra, my number one must-visit was Questacon, Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre.  Questacon is located at King Edward Terrace, home to a bunch of other galleries and museums such as the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Australian Democracy, and is adjacent to Parkes Place, which is where the High Court of Australia current sits.  By the way, Australia’s highest court of law is a dump.

Questacon is undoubtedly designed for curious children, but that didn’t stop me and many other adults from trying out the 200+ interactive exhibits across the 8 galleries in the museum.  The layout is uniquely designed.  You start off on the first exhibition hall on the top floor, then slowly make your way down the circular walkway through the various halls until you reach the eighth and final one on the ground floor.  Reminded me a little of the astoundingly good aquarium at Osaka (Kaiyukan), which has a similar design.

Burn your shadow onto the wall!

For us, we started off with a dry ice show in one of the theatres on the ground floor (there are a few throughout the day, and this one was supposed to be the best), which was very cool.  I learned a few things and was surprised by how many children were willing to volunteer to answer questions they clearly did not know the answer to.

The famous free fall slide!

I’m not going to bother going through all the exhibits they had — you can check them out for yourself at the Questacon website.  For me, the coolest were the ‘Perception Deception’ gallery (especially the ‘phantom limb’ — that was freaky!), the ‘Awesome Earth’ gallery (where you could experience earthquakes and massive lightning strikes) and the ‘Sideshow’ gallery (like a free theme park with those rotating clowns, roller coaster simulators and a six-metre free fall slide!).

The only clowns that don't scare me...ok, maybe just a little bit

Questacon was a lot of fun.  It was hygienic too, with free hand sanitizer pumps in every gallery.  We went during school holidays, so there were a lot of kids (though I imagine not as many as there would be on the weekend), but the good thing is that as an adult you can just shove them out of the way.

Questacon is open 9am-5pm every day except Christmas Day
Adults $20, Concession $15, Children (4-16) $15, Family (2 adults+3 children) $60 + $7 for each additional child. 

The Magic of Fantasy Book Covers August 17, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Fantasy, Misc, On Writing.
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By Alan Rabinowitz

8 Seconds

I recently read an article which said that the average person spends 8 seconds looking at the front cover of a book and 15 seconds on the back.  If the book doesn’t grab their attention then they move on to the next book.

For me, 8 seconds is a long time.  When I browse a book store I literally just glance across the shelves to see if anything grabs my eye.  And to be honest, not a whole lot of books grab me enough for me to pick it up and read the back, and even fewer make me open up the book to read a few pages.  There are just too many to look at, and let’s face it, the majority are either too similar or generic.

These days, I tend to go on personal recommendations, best-seller charts and online reviews more than anything else, but occasionally there are books that I’ve never heard of before that have covers that jump out at me.  Occasionally it may be because of the book title or the author’s name, but sometimes it’s because of the uniqueness of the design art.

Fantasy Book Covers

The genre with book covers that interest me the most is fantasy (and sci-fi to a lesser extent).  To me, fantasy covers are the most fascinating because they have the potential to be the best — and the worst.

(to read on, click on ‘more…’)

(more…)

Movie Review: Source Code (2011) May 9, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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There’s nothing like a clever, action-packed sci-fi film to get the mind spinning and the blood pumping, and that’s exactly what Source Code is.

Jake Gyllenhaal wakes up on a Chicago-bound train sitting across from Michelle Monaghan, not knowing how he got there and uncertain of who he is.

Without giving away too much, there’s a terrorist threat and he’s the only one that can stop it, thanks to some top secret military experiment that allows him to relive the same eight minutes over and over again.  I’ll stop there, but there’s a lot more to the story than just that.

To be fair, it’s not exactly an original idea, because we’ve seen this type of concept before, perhaps most recently in Tony Scott’s 2006 film Deja Vu, starring Denzel Washington.  But Source Code, directed by David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones, and based on a screenplay written by Ben Ridley, is a much better film that intrigues from start to finish with its compelling mysteries, many twists and turns, and some top notch performances from its stars (in particular Gyllenhaal and Vera Farmiga, though I thought Jeffrey Wright’s performance was a little over the top).

Initially I was concerned because the idea of reliving the same eight minutes over and over for even a 93-minute film seemed kind of tiring to me.  But thankfully, the film was much more than that, creating such different scenarios each time and mixing it up with interesting breaks in between, never making the film repetitive and always making you wonder what will happen next.

What set it apart from others similar films in the genre, however, was the crafty human edge they managed to splice with the techno-thriller plot.  Without being corny or overly melodramatic (always such a fine, difficult line), Source Code featured some unexpected moments of tenderness and packed more heart than films of this type could have hoped for.

Of course, as with most sci-fi movies, logic issues and plot holes are always there if you go looking for them.  But on an overall level, I was satisfied with all the explanations once we got to the end.  In any case, with all the tension and trying to figure out the mystery of the ‘Source Code’, it wasn’t hard to overlook the flaws.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Never Let Me Go (2010) May 8, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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Award-winning, English-Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro is one of those writers that I keep hearing about but haven’t had the chance to read.  So I guess the next best option was to check out an adaptation of one of his better known books, Never Let Me Go.

I went into this film having no idea what it was about except it starred Carey Mulligan, Kiera Knightley and new Spiderman Andrew Garfield (from The Social Network).  The poster and the title suggested a moving romantic drama, a tear-jerker, if you will.  After all, Ishiguro’s best known work is probably Remains of the Day, so I thought I knew what kind of movie to expect.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised and a little shocked to find that Never Let Me Go is actually a science-fiction film, and a weird one at that because it didn’t look or feel like your typical film of that genre.  It’s still a moving romantic drama and a tear-jerker, but the entire premise of the story is firmly grounded in sci-fi.

I don’t want to give away too much, because part of the joy of the film is figuring out just what heck is going on, but basically it’s set in an alternate reality, where in 1952 there was a medical breakthrough that allows humans to extend their expected lifespans beyond 100 years.

The film has gotten some rave reviews, but I found it more fascinating (because of the premise) than anything else.  Anchored by strong performances from all of the leads, this was a slow-moving, often confusing, sometimes frustrating, occasionally touching and ultimately haunting film (gave me the chills, in a good way).  I liked how it ended but it was a bit of a struggle at times.  I think it’s the type of film that has the power to really move people and make them think about love, life and death, but it didn’t quite get there for me.  It just felt like something was missing.  Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood.

3 stars out of 5

PS: I also found it interesting that Keira Knightley was purposely made to look ‘plain’ by the film’s director.  Great job, because this was the ugliest I have ever seen her!  I was wondering why she looked so horrible.

Shock horror: I didn’t finish reading a book February 7, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Reviews.
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As my friend Xander told me yesterday during our brief catch-up, there is a first time for everything.

I’ve always had this frustrating habit of finishing every novel that I start reading, but for the first time, I have decided to abandon this current novel I am reading and put me out of my misery.

According to this blog, the last book I finished was Homeland by RA Salvatore, and I had completed it by the 20th of December 2010.  Fast forward a month and a half and I’m still stuck on the next book, a Star Wars novel called Heir to the Empire, written by award-winning author Timothy Zahn.  I’m not even halfway through.

A friend was kind enough to lend it to me and I am ashamed to admit that I’ve had it in my possession for 6+ months, or some other ridiculously long period of time.  I wanted to finish it and finish it quickly so I could finally return it and get started on that stack of books still waiting for me in the corner.

It’s not that the book is bad — in fact, it is a bestseller and widely regarded as one of the best Star Wars novels ever written.  I don’t know why, but I’ve simply struggled with it, and struggled badly.  Every time I stop reading it, I don’t get the urge to read it again, and when I do start to read it again, I have trouble remembering what the heck is going on (probably because I take such long breaks in between).

I believe the problem lies with me being only a fringe Star Wars fan.  I was born a little too late to be caught up in the frenzy, and while I have watched all the films, I don’t care for Luke, Leia and Han Solo the way the ‘true’ fanatics do.  I just like the lightsabers.

So all that Empire/Rebel Alliance stuff, the politics, the names I can’t pronounce, the history of everything — the stuff that true fans appreciate — never got me going.  And there was too much of that in the first hundred or so pages.  I have no doubt that the book will get more interesting and action packed, but I just can’t bring myself to get to that point.  I quit.

My wife says I should have done it ages ago.  She compares it to my refusal to stop watching or going to watch potentially bad movies.  She still complains that I wasted 2 hours of her life in taking her to see Buried with Ryan Reynolds.  I actually thought it was okay, but maybe that’s my problem.

Next up, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.  I’m loving it already.

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