Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category


The 3-D Post

February 7, 2009

I’m a little behind on this, but I’ve been wanting to write about 3-D, and an NBC ad during the Superbowl got me to thinking about it.  Watch:

1-D?  1-D!?

Guh. Where to start.

Lots of kids, when they come into the planetarium, will ask me if it’s 3-D.  I say, “Yes, but not like you’re thinking.”  (An equal number ask where they pick up their glasses—their 3-D glasses.)

Because most planetaria’s screens are projection domes, the images that are shown on them are always 3-D.  Instead of a flat image being projected on a flat screen, you have a flat image being projected on a rounded screen, so indeed, some parts of the image are physically closer to you and some parts are physically farther from you.

That is real, actual, three-dimensions—height, width, and depth.  But as I said, not how people usually think of it.

When you’re watching TV, the images are 2-D—height and width.  Always.  It may look like someone is walking away from you (getting smaller on the screen) or walking behind something (disappearing), but it’s all an optical illusion.  TV and film images are 2-D.

But ignoring that, the Chuck promo is still wrong, because when they’re flat, they’re ostensibly two-dimensional (height and width), NOT one-dimensional.  In actuality, they’re still being presented as three-dimensional, because when they turn to the side, you can still see them.  If they were truly two-dimensional, they’d have no depth, and disappear from the side—but I digress.

When people say 3-D, typically they’re thinking of “stuff protruding out at you.”  Horror movies tried to capitalize on this, naturally, with a modicum of success depending on how high your cheese-squelch is set.

(By the way, the Chuck show that was 3-D was not protrusion, it was layering—the illusion of depth within the TV—so you had what looked like people standing in front of things.  Neat, but gimmicky.  I did read that the ratings were up, so maybe it worked.)

Now here’s where I get nitpicky.  What we call 3-D entertainment, and really any kind of entertainment that is “3-D” (and I’m including things like stage theatre here) is not actually done in three dimensions!

It’s four dimensions!  Time is a dimension!  Height, width, depth, and length, if you will.

Is time standing still when you watch it?  Probably not—I guess it could be said that still images are lengthless, but that’s a different argument.

So I maintain that we’re missing a dimension.  What people commonly refer to as 2-D should actually 3-D, and 3-D should actually be 4-D.

Regardless, the promotions people that had a hand in that Chuck spot should have known better—the show’s target audience is nerds (IG-88 anyone?), yours truly included, so they should have thought twice.


Infurating God?

January 15, 2009

I just have to comment on this.  Some guy complained about a “Buddha statue” (i.e. a decoration at the tiger exhibit) at the Kansas City Zoo:

Engle, who said he and his family are Christians, said it was idolatry and “infuriating to God.”


“We can’t have a cross or a nativity scene on public property,” said Engle of Overland Park, who complained to a zoo employee. “It is phenomenal to me that the zoo would put up Buddha statues.”

Mr. Engle missed a couple of points here…  Firstly, the Zoo is a private company, and can display whatever the heck they want, and secondly, IT’S NOT EVEN BUDDHA:

“I have seen them,” said Lama Chuck Stanford, executive and spiritual director of the Rime Buddhist Center & Monastery. “They are statues of Ho Tai, the patron saint of children in China and Japan. He is closer to Santa Claus.”

Durned foreigners and their beautiful heritage-rich flags!

Durned foreigners and their beautiful heritage-rich flags!

I worked at the KC Zoo’s education deparment a few years ago (one season with Lama Chuck’s daughter, cooincidentally enough).  In the African section of the zoo, we had the Kenyan flag on display, flying above the African-styled gift shop.

I came in after a weekend and noticed that it had been replaced with an American flag, which, uh, didn’t make any damn sense whatsoever.  I asked what the deal was, and it turns out that someone from the American Legion had complained about a foreign flag flying, so it was removed and replaced.

File that instance and this one under the heading of, “People Who Just Don’t Get It, and Probably Never Will.”


My Definition

January 11, 2009

Spurred by a discussion happening on the Dome-L planetarium mailing list, I feel compelled to discuss my philosophies and observations behind the definition of the word “planetarium.”

Defining this industry seems like it should be pretty straightforward. I mean, even if a person has never been to a planetarium before, they still at least know what one is, right?

Well, not necessarily. As I’ve said before, I’m always amazed at the number of adults that have absolutely no clue what the planetarium is.

Partially the product of growing up in rural Missouri, I had long been an adult before I had actually ever visited a planetarium. It was the Einstein Planetarium at the National Air and Space Museum in DC. I’m pretty sure the show I saw was Oceans in Space.

Even though I had never been to one, I still knew what a planetarium was: a specialty theater that showed astronomy programming.

Like a lot of kids in the ‘80s, I was very interested in space and science, and had aspirations of being an astronaut. I had been to see OMNIMAX shows, at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and loved the experience—strangely, I don‘t remember much about the actual shows that we saw, but I do remember the ambiance of the theater: the tiered seating, the big reclining chairs, the domed screen, the gigantic elevating film projector… It’s telling, perhaps, that I was more fascinated with the theater than I was with the content.

Thinking back to the what I was like as a kid, I’m sure that I would have absolutely flipped out over seeing a show in a planetarium. It would have been one of those experiences that I would have never forgotten.

I try to keep that in mind when kids tell me that this is their first visit to the planetarium—that this could be something they remember their entire lives. It’s not soley the show they watch, or the uniqueness of the theater, or the music or the fantastic imagery. It’s the whole package; I want them to take the happy memory of the experience of the planetarium with them when they leave.

Anyway, there’s been an argument raging off and on for months on Dome-L about digital projection technology and its impact on the quality and subject matter of planetarium programming.

Traditionally, planetarium show imagery has been done with a series of projectors working in concert: typically a star projector, slide projectors for images, and various speciality effects projectors for things like planets, the Moon, the Sun, comets, shooting stars, auroras, etc.

Most newer planetaria forego these mechanical projectors and instead use digital systems that project a video image across the entire dome. As you can imagine, this can be very versatile—you can project almost anything a traditional mechanical system could (including starfields and images), plus much, much more.

On the mailing list, there have been a few proponents of traditional planetarium projection– Actually, let me rephrase that: There have been a few opponents of full dome projection systems that are voicing their displeasure with the new technology.

This phrase, a direct quote from one of them, sums their viewpoint up nicely:

“If it doesn’t have a star projector in its center, it’s not a planetarium, it’s a movie theater.”

Suffice it to say, I disagree vehemently. In fact, I would go so far as to say (and did so in a response on the list) that fantastically ridiculous to say such a thing.

I won’t go longwinded and try to outline the reasons why I think it’s ridiculous (at least not in this post—most assuredly later I will), but after some serious pondering on the subject, I’ve revised my personal definition of planetarium, which was:

A planetarium is a theater that specializes in aerospace programming.

This is my stock response to people that come up to me in the lobby and ask what the planetarium is. It gets the point across nicely. But to get down into the nitty-gritty philosophy of exactly what a planetarium is, I present a couple of revisions to my definition:

  • “…specializes in…” does not mean “…solely presents…” In addition to star shows and aerospace documentaries, a planetarium can (and in my opinion, should) also branch out into other areas of science (history, geography, biology, physics, whatever—it‘s all related!) and also can do programming that is pure entertainment, like music or laser shows.
  • Also, “theater,” under my revised definition, means any kind of theater. Obviously this is somewhat of a gray area, as the definition of theater, beyond “a place with seats and a schedule of shows” can itself be difficult to pin down.

The real question then is, can a theater without a projection dome be a planetarium?

My answer is a resounding YES. A theater does not need a projection dome to be a planetarium! It helps, obviously, but give me a laptop with Stellarium and Celestia installed, a nice bright video projector and something to shoot it at, a laser pointer, a microphone, and darkness, and I could do a planetarium show anywhere.

Likewise, a theater with a projection dome isn’t always going to be a planetarium (and won’t always even attempt to be).

The point then, is this: A planetarium is defined by its content, not by its theater.

Every Planetarium is Different™, and whether a theater has older-style brute-force projectors, or newer-style digital projectors, the content is what defines the concept, not the shape of the theater or the age of the machines (or the people!) running it.

A boring show is a boring show, whether it’s done with a 30 year old star instrument or a 30 thousand dollar fisheye video projector, and boring shows will not leave first-timers with happy, excited memories of their inaugural visit to a planetarium. Content is what’s important, and good content will almost always make for good experiences.

Planetarium: a theater (any kind of theater) that specializes in (but doesn’t not necessarily solely present) aerospace programming.

That’s my definition, and I’m sticking to it.


Pathological Urges

January 10, 2009

As a follow-up to my previous post about planetarium seating, I want to talk about some interesting occurrences that I’ve observed over my days in the biz.

They say, “It never rains, but it pours,” whoever they are. But strangely, they’re right, about some things at least.

For example: as I’m ushering people into the theater, I try to tell them that the best seats are in the back, but often I get caught up in taking tickets or keeping count of visitors or looking for people trying to sneak in food, etc., and people don’t always get the message.

Call it mob mentality (actually, there’s probably some other psychological phenomenon that explains it better, but I don’t know what it would be called), but every once in a while, every single person will be sitting in the first few rows, and will leave the back half of the theater totally empty.

In a movie theater, from what I’ve seen, most people filing in will turn toward the back of the house (typically the stadium seats nowadays). I personally think those people are crazy- -I much prefer to sit in the front, maybe the 4th or 5th row, because I like the movie screen to fill my entire field of vision, from one corner of one eye to the other of the other. But it seems to me that most people, if given the choice, will sit toward the back.

So I have no idea why, but every once in a while, people will migrate to the front of the planetarium.

Typically, kids are the ones that try to talk their parents into sitting in the front. If I can catch them before the show starts, I’ll tell them that the show is best seen from the back of the house, and if there’s open seats, they should think about moving back.  Most of the time the parent looks at the kids and says, “See, I told you,” as the kids look disappointed.

Speaking of kids, there are a handful of other pathological urges that seem to be exclusive to kids. Like stanchions.

For some reason, kids are fascinated by stanchions. Especially boys. They stand on them, they lean them back and forth, they pull and snap the tape (canvas tape- -no more of the ol skool velvet ropes for my theater). If I have a young school group that has to stand out in the queue for longer than a few minutes, I always, invariably have to go out after the show and reset the stanchions, because they’ll be twisted and nudged and totally out of place.

I’m pretty picky about my stanchions.

(ESPECIALLY WHEN PEOPLE TRY TO STEAL THEM, but that’s another post for another day.)

One more thing kids almost always do: they’re obsessed with trying to find me.

Before the show, when I do my intro spiel (which I do from the control room, which in my theater is in the back of the house) , kids will stand up and look around the theater, trying to figure out where I am. It’s as if they expect me to walk out in front of the theater to do my introduction (which I admit, is a pretty common-sense thing to expect, but it’s still funny).

Once the kids in the back of the theater figure out that I’m behind them, they’ll stand and point out to their friends and whisper, “There he is!”

What happens next is a whisper-fueled ripple of kids’ heads, prairie-dogging out of their seats to look back at the control room, which travels across the entire theater from the back to the front.

Now I don’t want to sound like an old fuddy-duddy about this and whine about those darn kids not staying in their seats, but the problem is, when these kids are all looking around and whispering and pointing at me, they’re not listening to my instructions.

It was so much of a problem for school groups, that I’ve taken to doing my intro spiel in front of them, then telling them to follow me with their eyes as I go to the back of the theater, through my secret door, and into the control room.

Then I say, “Now, that’s all you need to look at me! You don’t need to look back here any more! The rest of the show is going to be above you on the dome, so sit back down on your bottoms and don’t look back here any more!”

Okay, maybe I am an old fuddy-duddy.


The War on Day Names

November 13, 2008
From PZ Myers comes the first blood of this year’s continuing imaginary war on Christmas.

For everyone up in arms about Christmas becoming a secular holiday and whining about putting “Christ” back in “Christmas,” I have seven things to say:

Why, for the love of the Norns, has everyone taken Tyr out of Tuesday?!?  At least can we change it to Marsday?  In all the Romance languages (except for Portuguese–why do the Portuguese hate the god of war?) the name of Tuesday comes from the Latin Martis dies, which means, of course, Mars’ Day.  Frankly, I don’t care who wins out, whether it be the Nordic pantheon with Tyr or the Greek with Ares or the Roman with Mars, but for Odin’s sake, won’t someone PLEASE put an ancient war god back in Tuesday?  Please???

The secularization of Wednesday makes the All Father sad.

The secularization of Wednesday makes the All Father sad.

And speaking of Odin, don’t get me started on Wednesday…  I’m sick of the secularization of the honored middle day of the week.  “Hump day.”  How disgustingly sacrilegious.  Please, oh please, praise his holy ravens and put Odin back into Wednesday, before it’s too late!

And those that would dishonor Odin by forgetting his day would callously do the same to his red-bearded son, the almighty god of thunder himself, by taking Thor out of Thursday.  Why tempt Thor to rain down lightning upon us by not honoring his special weekly day?  Pray!  Appeal to Thor for forgiveness, lest he burn your homestead with his fiery bolts of retribution.

The same goes for Friday: please stop taking Frigg, Freya, Frige (take your pick) out of Friday!  People love Fridays, but only in a secular sense, since it’s the last work day before a weekend of godsless debauchery.  It’s high time we begin showing our appreciation for these Germanic pagan deities for having our favorite day named after them.  Thank god it’s Freya indeed.
I didn’t forget Monday.  Why, oh why, won’t people put the Moon back in Monday!?!  The moon is a real thing!  You can see it in the sky!  It makes the tides!  Humans have visited it! It’s the root of the word month, and was so important to the Hebrew calendar that the new crescent moon signified the new month, no matter what the actual date was.  For the sake of Luna, Artemis and Selene, please put the Moon back in Monday.

And io!  Saturn!  STOP TAKING SATURN OUT OF SATURDAY.  I mean, come on.  I demand that we stop slighting the Roman god of agriculture by ignoring his influence on the first day of the weekend.  Without Saturn, who would bless the the hops that make our beer and the government subsidized corn that gets turned into our ethanol?  Really, people.  Io, Saturn!


And I say it's alright.

Finally, Sunday…  Sadly, there is no more sun in Sunday, and if any object deserves its own weekly day of reverence, it’s the sun.

The sun is the source of darn near everything on Earth.  It’s where we get all of our energy (that useful stuff called “heat” and “light”), it’s where we get all of the chemicals that form your body, the air you’re breathing, the monitor you’re reading this on–and most everything else that has ever been or ever will be on this planet.

The only reason humans exist, the only reason the Earth exists, the only reason our solar system exists is because of the sun.

If you ask me, that makes it pretty damn important.

The ancient Egyptians had it right (as did myriad other cultures).  They worshiped it as the source of life on Earth, and though their execution was a little wacky, they were more right than they ever could have realized.  If there is one thing that deserves our devotion, it’s that nearby average yellow star that’s gracing us with its heat, light, and gravity.

But of course, the sun doesn’t have the capacity to care if we’re devoted to it.  Love it or hate it (why would you hate it–it’s the sun), it will continue to do what any similarly charted star does for many more millions of years, and that’s even if it doesn’t have a day named after it.

Which is does…

(And that’s 51 more than Jesus has.  Just sayin’.)