Archive for November 5th, 2008


It Wasn’t A Hologram, People.

November 5, 2008

CNN is getting a lot of attention for Wolf Blitzer’s Star Trekky holographic newscast. In what’s being called a TV first, correspondent Jessica Yellin appeared on Blitzer’s set on election night, “beamed in” from Chicago as a 3D hologram.

It looked great on TV. It’s really cool. But, unfortunately, it isn’t a hologram. Yes. Jessica’s image was beamed from Chicago to the studio. But it didn’t appear on stage. It went right into the signal for home viewers.

In other words, Blitzer couldn’s see her. He was talking to empty space. What viewers saw on their screens was a blended image, a composite of Blitzer in the studio and a cutout Jessica, filmed against a blank screen and spliced in. It’s no different than the way TV weather works; you see the weather reporter gesturing to a digital map behind him or her, but all that person sees is a green screen. It’s TV trickery.

A hologram is visible. I’ve seen them. You can walk around them, check them out in 3D. They don’t look that realistic, that’s for sure. The one I saw last year at a science museum was shaky and green, but still kind of neat.

So CNN pulled off some cool special effects. And I like it. But please stop talking about it like they’ve done something revolutionary. It wasn’t a hologram.

Or maybe Wolf Blitzer was the illusion … maybe he isn’t even real …

That would explain so much.


Thank You, Michael Crichton

November 5, 2008

Michael Crichton is dead, lost to cancer. And the world just got stupider.

I’ve read most, if not all, of his novels, and liked them all. I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan; in fact, if you’d asked me yesterday I would have said “sure, he’s okay.” But as I was putting this together in my head just now I found myself smiling as I thought about his work, and realized how much of an effect his books have had on me over the past 25 years or so since I first read The Terminal Man. And I just recently read Next, which rocked my DNA.

One thing I always liked about Crichton’s books was the science. Crichton wrote fast-paced action-packed thrillers, but his science was hard and he backed it up as best he could. Take, for instance, the opening to Timeline: It’s a layman’s explanation of quantum mechanics that opened my eyes to a whole new galaxy of physics theory. I’m the guy who can’t explain how a radio signal works, but I can now talk you through quantum teleportation.

I know, I know, you hated the Timeline movie. So did most people. I liked it enough, but it wasn’t great; the book, though, is one of the best time-travel novels ever written, and I suggest you read it if you haven’t.

What else did Michael Crichton bring us? Well, cloning, for one. He single-handedly re-ignited the dinosaur craze with Jurassic Park. Nanotech? Check out Prey. Viral outbreaks? The Andromeda Strain. Forgotten barbarian history? Eaters of the Dead. Even his more mainstream novels, like Airframe, Disclosure and Rising Sun, were smarter than their contemporaries.

A lot of them were made into movies. In fact, pretty close to all of them. That’s a remarkable achievement, as it means Crichton’s work reached people who don’t read (and there’s a lot of them out there). Not all of the films were great, but they’re all watchable. And Crichton’s scientific ideas, whether realistic or far-fetched, spread out into the mainstream, became part of us.

Michael Crichton leaves an amazing body of work. If you were to go read through his bibliography, you’d see more than just some good books. You’d see one man mapping the science, the changes and the fears of this amazing time we live in. We thought we were just being entertained, but we were learning, too. He has left a significant legacy.

If you’ve never read his books, now’s the time to start.

Thank you, Michael Crichton.


Hope, Not Hate

November 5, 2008

I’m having some kind of profound reaction to Barack Obama’s win tonight. It’s not what I expected. I’m at work, handling our coverage of the U.S. race, and my thoughts should really be on that.

But as story after story rolls across the newswires, and as I look over photos of jubilant Americans cheering on Obama’s success, I feel like I’m going to cry. And make no mistake: these are tears of joy.

I am not a very political person, and as a media professional, I maintain an impression of neutrality. I don’t ever discuss how I vote, or what I think about things. It’s different when it comes to American politics, of course, as it doesn’t affect me directly. Regular visitors to Weather Station 1 are well familiar with my attitudes toward American politicians.

I’m not laughing tonight, though, although I am very, very happy, despite the tears I’m trying to hide from my colleagues. What I’m reacting to, I think, is the issue of race, something Obama ignored even as his detractors didn’t — something I have visited many times here as well.

And I’m reacting this way because Barack Obama and I are a lot alike. I relate to him in a big way. We’re from more or less the same generation, the first to come of age in a world where civil rights were more entrenched. We’re both outsiders, men who were moved around often as children, men whose upbringing was as much the responsibility of strong grandparents as it was strong single mothers. We are both sons of absent fathers. And we are of mixed races, carrying Africa, Europe and lord knows what else within us (in my case, a good chunk of different kinds of First Nations).

It isn’t easy being a mixed-race person. You end up never quite fitting in anywhere. I sure don’t think of myself as a white man, but I’m not often treated as a black one, either. I look like an Arab, after all, but I’m not, so I don’t fit in there, either. I have had to spend the last four decades just being me.

But as I get older, I realize that fitting in is more important than I ever realized. I spent a lot of years trying not to, but let me say, that never pays off. We have to fit in. And I know now that fitting in doesn’t mean being with people of your own colour, or creed, or religion. It means fitting in with people who feel the way you do about the world.

I really don’t know how Barack Obama feels about the world. In that respect, he’s no different than any other politician, or any other president; he’s a product, a man groomed and styled to represent a political party and do the toughest job in the world. He says a lot of great things, but we’ve yet to see him in action. There’s no way to know how the next four years will unfold, or what kind of a job Obama will do.

What I can say, though, is that Barack Obama has broken one of the last barriers his people, and my people, have had to face in America. A few generations ago, black Americans, my ancestors among them, lived as slaves. And now a black man is president, chosen by America. And that gives me hope.

These are tears of joy, and tears of pride. God bless you, America.