Alison Balsom Wins Grammophone “Artist of the Year” for 2013

I know, I know…I’ve been neglecting this blog too much.  That tends to happen when the school year starts up again.  Free time is always at a premium this time of year, but I ran across a bit of news I had to share.  It’s a rare treat that a trumpeter wins any “Artist of the Year” awards, so this one is great.  Alison Balsam has won other awards already in her young career, including the Classical Brits.  But this one is extra special.  Congratulations to Alison Balsom for her achievement!

Mars Food Study

I know it’s been awhile since I posted…I’ll blame it on my busy summer schedule of teaching and gigging if you’ll buy that.  Anyway, this bit of news is almost a week old now, but it piqued my interested, especially after watching the new summer series Under the Dome.

Researchers recently emerged from a geodesic dome out on the hard-packed lava fields of Hawaii during a 4-month long Mars simulation.  Their main research task was to figure out new recipes and ways to mix and prepare food using only non-perishables and freeze-dried foods.  Apparently it was quite the challenge.  There has been some great coverage of the event, so check out this excellent write-up from NPR, as well as some local coverage from Hawaii with video of the researchers experiencing food and sunlight for the first time.  This is exactly the kind of research that needs to be done if we are ever to put humans on Mars.  And it’s inevitable for us to venture out even further in space to Mars and push our space exploration to the limits.  It starts with the rovers and research here on Earth such as this.  And eventually, we’ll put a man on Mars…hopefully within my lifetime!

Jedi Ninja Warriors?

I’m a huge fan of the show American Ninja Warrior.  I’ve been watching it for the past 3 years (started on G4).  Unfortunately, I’m only able to watch the regional qualifiers and finals on NBC right now, since I cut the cable cord late last year.  So, I don’t get to see all of the qualifying runs.  But, NBC’s coverage is still pretty good.  There’s just something about watching people compete on what is generally known as the “world’s most difficult obstacle course” that makes for great entertainment.  Participants typically train all year long for it, and they only get one shot to complete the course, with no warm-up runs before hand.  If you fall, and fail to complete it on your first try, you’re out and have to wait until next year.  The rules are just brutal, and no one has yet to complete all the stages of the final course on the famed “Mount Midoryama”.

Most of the contestants are free runners, parkour enthusiasts, rock climbers and gymnasts.  And as a big fan of all things Star Wars, when I stumbled onto to this video (hat tip to CNET), I just had to share.  It would be incredible if these guys showed up to compete on American Ninja Warrior in full costume!  It would be like two of my great fan-doms colliding into one mega-ultra-experience of awesomeness.  The tricks do get better and better as the video goes along, so give it a watch.

Oh, and here’s a little behind the scenes video too.  Check it out here.

John Williams to Score Star Wars VII

A hat tip to Aint It Cool News, but the word coming out of Star Wars Celebration this weekend in Essen Germany, is that John Williams is indeed returning to compose music for the new Star Wars film.  In fact, check out the video below of him talking about it!

Vikings Training Camp: 2013

Jared Allen checking it at Vikings Training Camp.

Jared Allen checking it at Vikings Training Camp.

Today was a big day for the Minnesota Vikings.  Not only did all of the players report to Training Camp today, but they also finally signed all three of their 1st round draft picks: Shariff Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson.  Training Camp practices get underway tomorrow.  It’s almost impossible to believe, but Pre-Season games kick off a week from this Sunday on August 4th.  The Hall of Fame game as it is known, is between the Dolphins and Cowboys this year.  The Vikings first preseason game is two weeks from tomorrow on Friday, August 9th.

Shortly after the draft, I made a very early prediction about who I thought would make the final 53-man roster, but since then the team has made a couple of free agent moves, and after doing much more research, I’ve decided to take another stab at an opening day roster prediction.  And with Training Camp literally right around the corner, it seemed like a good time to re-look at things.

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Movie Review: Pacific Rim

246441id2b_PacificRim_INTL_3Pilots_30sheet_1200.inddIt felt like it had been a year since I’ve seen a movie in the theater with my wife, and when I sat back and thought about it…it actually had.  The last movie we saw together was Avengers, last summer.  I’ve managed to catch a few movies during downtime on a few gigs here and there, but we really need to get out to the movies more often!  This time we spent the big bucks for 3D IMAX.  And for this movie, I can’t image it having the same impact without it.  Here is a spoiler-free “TLDR” review: I thought it was as excellent large-scale monster movie with incredible special effects.  It reminded me of all the moments as a kid playing with toys and imaging them battling and destroying the world in the process.  For a more in-depth review, complete with a few spoilers read on:

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This Week in Science: Artificial Intelligence and Pitch Tar Viscosity

A pair of very interesting news items came across my feed today and I just had to share.  First, scientists at Trinity College in Dublin have been testing the viscosity of pitch tar with an experiment that has been on-going since 1944.  This experiment has been going for 69 years straight!  They have been attempting to capture a drip on camera, but because it only drips about once every decade, it has been very difficult to capture.  Well, last week, scientists captured a drip.  Watch the drip in all of it’s slow, oozing glory:

I just love the dedication to a project like this.  It proves the tenacity of the human spirit, and continues to fuel my love for curiosity and discovery.

The second news item comes from the scientists at the University of Illinois, whose ConceptNet4 artificial intelligence system recently took a human IQ test.  The results were a bit mixed, but it basically resulted in a 4-year old IQ level.  The most interesting quote to me was this:

If a child had scores that varied this much, it might be a symptom that something was wrong…But ConceptNet 4 did dramatically worse than average on comprehension—the ‘why’ questions.  We’re still very far from programs with commonsense-AI that can answer comprehension questions with the skill of a child of 8.

Well, that’s re-assuring I guess.  But how many years is “still very far off”?  Do I need to start worrying about SkyNet taking over the world anytime soon?  There is just something about artificial intelligence that really spooks me out…and I think all that science fiction I digest may have something to do with it.  Once again, a hat tip to CNET for bringing these to my attention.