Tuesday, August 28, 2007

New Buffy Comic Keeps the Faith

Faith is back! The former rogue Slayer makes her return in the sixth issue of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 comic book, on sale Sept. 5. And she'll be in the capable hands of fan-favorite writer Brian K. Vaughan.A few years ago, series creator Joss Whedon tapped Vaughan — best known for Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man — to write a direct-to-DVD movie featuring Buffy's onetime nemesis, played by Eliza Dushku. After that fell through, Whedon asked Vaughan, now a coproducer on Lost, to revive his idea for a four-issue arc of the Dark Horse Comics series.

"I've always felt that Buffy would translate really well to the comic-book medium," says Vaughan, whose story imagines "that some of the girls around the world who now have Slayer powers aren't necessarily good. So when it comes to who will slay a Slayer, Giles turns to Faith. She's the person to go for, as she says, ‘dirty deeds, done cheap.'"

Click here for a close-up look at a page from Faith's story.

Vaughan's arc also advances the storyline of Twilight, the evil force amassing against Buffy. And here's more news for fanboys and girls: Another Lost producer, Drew Goddard, who wrote for the Buffy and Angel TV series, will pen Issues 12–15 of the comic. "When we're not talking Lost, we get to talk Buffy," says Vaughan. "It's a dream job."

— Reporting by Ileane Rudolph

To find a comic shop in your area, call 1-888-COMIC BOOK.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Site of the Week: MyPublisher.com

By Corinne Iozzio
Click here to visit MyPublisher.com

Getting snap-happy on vacation is nothing new. For as long as every Tom, Dick, and Harry have been able to afford cameras, odds are they've had one—if not several—knocking around the house. The resulting prints always end up in one of two places. The hyper-organized people among us (and how many of those are there?) immediately slap the shots into scrapbooks and albums. The rest of us shove them into overflowing shoeboxes or milk crates. You'd think things would be different now that we've gone digital. Not so. We still have piles—well, megs—of images filling up our hard drives and memory cards. (Guilty.) Photo-organizing and book-making sites such as MyPublisher.com can help the less-organized among us actually let those photos see the light of day.

Fan Trek Episode Debuts

A fan-produced "lost" episode of Star Trek, subtitled New Voyages, "World Enough and Time," has debuted online and is available for free download at the Magic Time Web site.

The episode, starring original Trek star George Takei, also premiered at a theater in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Aug. 23.

The movie was made by New York uber-Trekkie James Cawley, who also plays Capt. James T. Kirk, and his group of friends, who have been creating episodes of the original Star Trek, picking up the mythology after the events of the third and last season of the original series.

"World Enough and Time" was co-written and directed by Marc Scott Zicree, who wrote episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. It centers on a mishap that strands Sulu (Takei) in a temporal anomaly for decades.

Total lunar eclipse putting on a show Tuesday

DENVER — The Earth's shadow will creep across the moon's surface early Tuesday, slowly eclipsing it and turning it to shades of orange and red.

The total lunar eclipse, the second this year, will be visible in North and South America, especially in the West. People in the Pacific islands, eastern Asia, Australia and New Zealand also will be able to view it if skies are clear.

People in Europe, Africa or the Middle East, who had the best view of the last total lunar eclipse, in March, won't see this one because the moon will have set when the eclipse begins at 4:51 a.m. EDT. It will take an hour to reach full eclipse stage.

An eclipse occurs when Earth passes between the sun and the moon, blocking the sun's light. It's rare because the moon is usually either above or below the plane of Earth's orbit.

Since the Earth is bigger than the moon, the process of the Earth's shadow taking a bigger and bigger "bite" out of the moon, totally eclipsing it before the shadow recedes, lasts about 3½ hours, said Doug Duncan, director of the University of Colorado's Fiske Planetarium.

The total eclipse phase, in which the moon has an orange or reddish glow, lasts about 1½ hours.

The full eclipse will be visible across the United States, but East Coast viewers will only have about a half-hour to see it before the sun begins to rise and the moon sets. Skywatchers in the West will get the full show.

In eastern Asia, the moon will rise in various stages of eclipse.

During the full eclipse, the moon won't be completely dark because some light still reaches it around the edges of the Earth. The light is refracted as it passes through our atmosphere, scattering blue light — which is why the sky is blue — but sending reddish light onto the moon.

"When someone asks why is (the moon) red, you can say because the sky is blue," Duncan said.
The next total lunar eclipse occurs Feb. 21, 2008, and will be visible from the Americas, Europe and Asia.

A brief guide to the heavens on your PC: Google Earth and more

Google just launched a new version of Google Earth (news, download) from which you gaze up from the surface of the planet, not just down on it. It's a good way to see which stars and planets are over your home, right now. You can also check out a rich database of Hubble Space Telescope images that is overlaid on the celestial map.

The new Google Earth has a lot of additional education and reference material linked to it, pulled in from the Net as needed. The program is a great way to learn about the night sky. It has two big limitations, though: your point of view is limited to Earth (you can't see the stars from other locations) and you have an extremely limited control of time. If you want to see where the planets were on your birthday, for example, you can't.

If your curiosity about the universe bumps into Google Earth's edges, I'd recommend also checking out these two applications:

Celestia (download) is a 3D simulation of the galaxy. Its special power is not its imagery (Google's is better, although Celestia does a good job with planets and asteroids in our solar system), but rather that you can zoom in on any object in the program's database and see the galaxy from that perspective. You can also see the position of stars at any point in time and can control the rate of time's passage to see how objects move over the millennia.

Stellarium (download) is a gorgeous planetarium for your computer. Its sky and star visuals are a lot more compelling then either Google's or Celestia's, although Stellarium does not have detailed Hubble overlays. Like Google, it's Earth-bound (you can't move your point of reference), but like Celestia, it gives you good control over time so you can see the heavens wheel about. My favorite feature is that it will also overlay constellation lines from other cultures (Chinese, Inuit, and so on); Google only shows the Western constellations.

There are also Web-based online planetaria. They have good data, but they don't give you the smooth visual controls that the downloadable applications do. See Sky-map.org, WikiSky (review), and YourSky. You can control a powerful stargazing telescope yourself via the Web at the pay site Slooh (review). There are also astronomy gadgets covered over on our gadget blog, Crave.

Finally, if the real galaxy doesn't appeal to you, check out the collaborative work of fiction called Galaxiki. Be advised that it was named one of the "Five stupidest start-ups of the summer" by Valleywag.

Power Downloader rounds up back-to-school software

With the school year quickly approaching for Kitty Kilobyte, Power Downloader wanted to make sure she had everything she needed. Along with Kitty's personalized laptop and other back-to-school necessities, Power knew that sending her off with the right software could make all the difference when faced with the stress of classes, homework, papers, and exams.

To make sure Kitty would get to class on time and know exactly which assignment to be working on at any given time, she would need a good scheduling program. After some quick research at Download.com, Power Downloader found Student Life. With this student organizer installed on Kitty's laptop, she would be able to block out time for study activities, enter in her class schedule, set times for meeting up with study buddies, and even track her progress in her chosen degree. Student Life would also let Kitty calculate her GPA and carefully map out her credits so she knew exactly what classes she would need to graduate. As Power looked at the various useful features and the easy-to-use interface, he could only wish there was a program like Student Life available when he was working his way through school.

To add to Kitty Kilobyte's student software arsenal, Power Downloader includes the newly released Firefox Campus Edition Web browser. In addition to the already great features and flexibility of Firefox, the folks at Mozilla included three great extensions with both fun and practical student needs in mind. FoxyTunes lets students control their music from the Firefox browser window so they don't have to break their concentration by switching apps during crucial studying time. Zotero helps students easily collect, manage, and cite research sources--always an issue when research involves browsing several sites on the Web. For study breaks, Firefox Campus Edition also comes with StumbleUpon, a great browser toolbar that lets students discover and explore cool stuff on the Web.

Though good software like Student Life and Firefox Campus Edition won't assure success in college, Power Downloader knows that the right tools can help reduce the stress level. Hopefully, with an easier way to organize her time, along with the power of Firefox and useful extensions, Kitty Kilobyte will have more time to enjoy her college years and be able to manage her school workload.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Quinto Offers Trek Details

Zachary Quinto, who will play a young Mr. Spock in J.J. Abrams' upcoming Star Trek movie, told USA Today that he will begin shooting the top-secret movie in November, during a break from his role as the villainous Sylar on NBC's Heroes.

Quinto added that 11 sets have been built on the Paramount lot and that two weeks will be spent shooting in Iceland.

Quinto also offered a few hints about the movie's storyline. "I really identify with Spock's struggle," Quinto told the newspaper. "We're going back to a time before anything [original Spock Leonard Nimoy did in the original series] was established. These characters are in a completely different stage of their lives."

Sunday, August 19, 2007


The GFDL model had Dean hitting Galveston on Friday. Now, as of late Sunday, it has Dean going deep into southern Mexico. Looks like we'll be in the clear.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tropical Depression Five forms in the Gulf

LATE-NIGHT UPDATE: In the short term we need to divert our attention from Tropical Storm Dean to the Gulf of Mexico, where Tropical Depression Five has formed tonight. The storm is moving toward the south Texas coast at about 10 mph, as this loop shows.

Although there are hints the system may be slowing a little, it is unlikely to linger long enough over the warm Gulf waters to significantly intensify. The hurricane center expects the depression to become Tropical Storm Erin tomorrow, with winds of 45 mph, before reaching the coast Thursday.

Houston will likely feel the effects beginning Wednesday night, from the system's rain bands.

Meanwhile T.S. Dean continues to cross the open Atlantic. Its winds have strengthened to 50 mph tonight, and I'm guessing it could be the season's first hurricane by tomorrow or Friday. I'll have a better analysis of the models, which continue to push the storm west and delay a northward turn, in the morning.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Grindhouse gets a kind cut on DVD

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

In Grindhouse's lurid double feature, pole dancer Cherry Darling loses a limb yet keeps on kicking with a machine gun for a leg. Now the Texas-based sleaze epic is being cut apart, but that could be a kick, too.

Its three-hour running time and disparate styles hurt Grindhouse in theaters last spring, when the double dose of exploitation earned just $25 million. But on DVD the films within the film are going solo, with Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof due Sept. 18 and Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror coming Oct. 16.

Each will get a two-disc, unrated, expanded edition with substantial footage not shown in theaters. Each also should play better separately, rather than in a three-hour grind. In fact, the Weinstein Co. split the films for theaters internationally.

Some fans resent getting Grindhouse as separate movies on DVD. One amazon.com customer says he wants "the whole movie, not half of it," while another insists the split won't serve "the creators' vision." Yet the reverse could be true.

Although Rodriguez delivered gory sci-fi horror inspired by the '70s in Planet Terror, Tarantino diverged with a contemporary girl-power road flick driven by dialogue in Death Proof. He also ignored the plan to make the films look like they'd been scratched and marred by bad projectors.

Each director also intended that his film would be longer, and on DVD they will be. So chopping them apart may be the best thing to happen to this project since Cherry Darling lost a leg and gained a weapon.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Taming Diabetes

Q: Is diabetes reversible? If so, at what stage? I believe I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes about three years ago. I have been maintaining my weight, staying on the right diet and exercise at least three to four times a week.

A: The quick answer is: Diabetes can be managed. However, once a person has a form of this disease they always need to be vigilant in controlling their blood glucose levels. But if you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, your switch to a healthier lifestyle is providing you the opportunity to control this disease either with, or potentially without, diabetic medication.

Diabetes affects the way our bodies utilize the form of sugar in our blood known as glucose. In non-affected people, the pancreas usually makes the right amount of insulin to move the glucose obtained from food into the cells of our body for their growth and energy supply. In people with diabetes, the production of insulin by the pancreas may be affected, or the body’s ability to use the insulin that is produced is impaired.

There are three main types of diabetes:

Type 1 occurs in 5 percent to 10 percent of all those affected with diabetes. It is considered an autoimmune disease in which the bodies’ infection fighting system turns against the insulin producing cells in the pancreas, resulting in little or no insulin production. The reason this occurs is unknown. It most often begins during childhood and the young adult years, but can happen at any time in affected individuals. It is not reversible and requires medical treatment with insulin. Some individuals have received pancreas transplants or investigational procedures that have the potential to decrease or eliminate the need for insulin, however they are not widely used alternatives.

Gestational diabetes affects approximately 5 percent of pregnant women. It is more common during the later stages of pregnancy and tends to correct after childbirth. However, within five to 10 years those affected have a higher likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes. The good news is that many of these cases can be prevented or delayed through regular exercise and weight control.

Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes. It is more likely to affect adults 45 and older, but can affect individuals of any age or ethnicity. Risk factors include:

  • Overweight
  • Inactivity
  • Family history of diabetes or gestational diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome (high triglycerides, low HDL, obese with a large waist, high blood pressure, insulin resistance)
  • Prediabetes

Certain ethnicities have a higher rate of Type 2. These include African American, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic American/Latino, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.

Type 2 can be controlled as well as treated with lifestyle modifications (exercise, weight reduction, healthier nutrition, others), or in combination with medication. It may even be prevented if identified during the early warning phase known as prediabetes.

The diagnosis of prediabetes is based upon a measurement of blood glucose after an eight-hour fast (impaired fasting glucose or IFG), or two hours after drinking a special beverage with added glucose (impaired glucose tolerance or IGT). A positive result to any one of these tests means there is an elevated level of glucose in the blood, but not yet high enough to be considered diabetes. This information is very important because if left unchecked the affected person has a higher likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes within 10 years of the prediabetes diagnosis. The good news is through weight reduction and regular exercise, Type 2 may be prevented, or at least delayed.

So even though glucose levels can get back to a “normal” range, it doesn’t mean the person is cured and their condition is reversed. What it does mean is that their diabetes is being managed and they are taking good care of themselves.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Sean Penn applauds as Chavez rails against Bush

CARACAS, Venezuela — Hollywood star Sean Penn applauded President Hugo Chavez as the Venezuelan leader lambasted the Bush administration and demanded an end to war in Iraq.

Chavez met privately with Penn for two hours Thursday, praising the actor as "brave" for urging Americans to impeach President Bush.

"In the name of the peoples of the world, President Bush, withdraw the troops from Iraq. Enough already with so much genocide," Chavez said before an auditorium packed with his red-clad supporters.

Penn sat near the front, at times applauding and nodding in agreement. He is the latest in a series of celebrities who have visited Caracas, including actor Danny Glover and singer Harry Belafonte.

Chavez said he and Penn discussed the question of "why the (U.S.) empire attacks Chavez so much," saying Venezuela's oil wealth is a key reason.

He also said Washington is "afraid that the people of the United States will learn the real truth" about the situation in Venezuela, citing his social programs for the poor.

"If the people of the United States, those millions and millions of poor people ... if that nation realizes what is truly happening here, there would be a revolution in the United States," Chavez said, eliciting applause from Penn.

Some Chavez opponents were angered by Penn's visit.

Cuban-born actress Maria Conchita Alonso, who grew up in Venezuela, said Penn is lending support to a "totalitarian" leader who wants increasing control of society — a charge Chavez denies.

In a phone interview from her home in Beverly Hills, Calif., Alonso said although she respects Penn as an actor, she hopes he "comes to his senses and he realizes that he's being used."
Penn did not speak publicly. Chavez said the actor came wanting to learn about Venezuela.

"That man has opposed the war in Iraq with all his strength, and not only that, he went to Baghdad ... and now he comes here. He's going around touring the 'axis of evil,'" Chavez said with a chuckle.

You know I don't have a problem with Penn speaking out against the war but I do have a problem with him cavorting with Chavez. - Marc

FU Penn, effing traitor, Chavez is evil scum, take Alec Baldwin with you and don't come back

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has praised Sean Penn for his critical stance against the war in Iraq, saying the two chatted by phone and soon plan to meet in person.

Chavez said Penn traveled to Venezuela this week wanting to learn more about the situation in the country and walked around some of Caracas' poor barrios on his own.

"Welcome to Venezuela, Mr. Penn. What drives him is consciousness, the search for new paths," Chavez said Wednesday in a televised speech. "He's one of the greatest opponents of the Iraq invasion."

Chavez read aloud from a recent open letter by Penn to President Bush in which the actor condemned the Iraq war and called for Bush to be impeached, saying the president along with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are "villainously and criminally obscene people."

The socialist president, who shares those views, said he and Penn talked by phone — "with my bad English but we understood each other more or less."

Chavez said the two plan to meet Thursday. He called the actor "well-informed about what is happening in the United States and the world, in spite of being in Hollywood."

What's more, Chavez said, "he's made great films." The Venezuelan leader said he recently watched Penn's Oscar-winning performance in the film "Mystic River."

For his part, Penn on Wednesday toured Venezuela's new film studios on the outskirts of Caracas. Penn, whose visit was unannounced, did not speak publicly.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Space Slide Show

Space Slide Show

Zebrafish study may point way to blindness cure

LONDON (Reuters) - The ability of zebrafish to regenerate damaged retinas has given scientists a clue about restoring human vision and could lead to an experimental treatment for blindness within five years.

British researchers said on Wednesday they had successfully grown in the laboratory a type of adult stem cell found in the eyes of both fish and mammals that develops into neurons in the retina.

In future, these cells could be injected into the eye as a treatment for diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetes-related blindness, according to Astrid Limb of University College London's (UCL) Institute of Ophthalmology.

Damage to the retina -- the part of the eye that sends messages to the brain -- is responsible for most cases of sight loss.

"Our findings have enormous potential," Limb said. "It could help in all diseases where the neurons are damaged, which is basically nearly every disease of the eye."

Limb and her colleagues studied so-called Mueller glial cells in the eyes of people aged from 18 months to 91 years and found they were able to develop them into all types of neurons found in the retina.

They were also able to grow them easily in the lab, they reported in the journal Stem Cells.

The cells have already been tested in rats with diseased retinas, where they successfully migrated into the retina and took on the characteristics of the surrounding neurons. Now the team is working on the same approach in humans.

"We very much hope that we could do autologous transplants within five years," Limb told Reuters.

Autologous transplants, initially on a trial basis, will involve manipulating cells and injecting them back into an individual's own eye. Eventually, Limb hopes it will also be possible to transfer the cells between different people.

"Because they are so easy to grow, we could make stem cell banks and have cell lines available to the general population, subject to typing as with blood transfusions," she said.

Just why zebrafish have an abundant supply of adult stem cells to regenerate their retinas, while they are rare in mammals, remains a mystery but Limb suspects it is because mammals have a limiting system to stop proliferation.

The new work on Mueller glial cells is the latest example of researchers exploring the potential of different kinds of stem cells in treating eye disease. Another team from UCL and Moorfield's Eye Hospital said in June they aimed to repair damaged retinas with cells derived from embryonic stem cells.

Revealing sex on the big screen

Documentary looks at how films deal with subject

Except for the rare breast-baring incident on a Super Bowl Sunday, nudity on television is a subject we seldom write about. This is not because we are prudes but because we are a newspaper meant for the entire family to read and enjoy. Besides, the topic is largely irrelevant, usually limited to no-plot movies airing on late-night premium cable.

However, nudity is about to get more coverage (excuse the pun) because of three high-profile projects on the near horizon.

First up is Indie Sex, a four-part documentary series airing at 11 p.m. tonight-Saturday on the Independent Film Channel. The history of sex on film receives full-out discussion — and sometimes full-frontal display — in this often dry but expansive study, which primarily focuses on independent films.

Film historians and critics (Jami Bernard, formerly of the New York Daily News), actors (Peter Sarsgaard, John Cameron Mitchell, Tatum O'Neal and Ally Sheedy, for example) and directors (John Waters and Don Roos, most notably) provide commentary for the series. They are quite good in explaining why sex is a subject that deserves to be explored in film.

It is noteworthy, however, that filmmakers Lisa Ades and Lesli Klainberg do not entertain comments from those who might not be as open to such films.

The series begins with a look at the history of censorship in films, then revisits the subject of "taboo" topics, such as homosexuality. (We say "revisits" because the popularity of Taboos, first aired in 2001, led to the making of this series' other three parts, none of which has been seen before.) Part 3, the weakest in the series, is a discussion of teen sex in films. Part 4 delves into "extremes," including fetishism.

This sober if illustrated discussion of sex in cinema acts as a guidepost to two upcoming premium-channel series with much sexual content.

On Aug. 13, David Duchovny will bare his soul, not to mention his bottom, in a Showtime series called Californication. It's about a blocked writer named Hank who can't help being the drink-, drug- and sex-driven man that he is.

On Sept. 9, HBO's Tell Me You Love Me will raise eyebrows (and libidos) with its unusually explicit look at four couples with intimacy problems. That the series is a drama and not a documentary makes the sexual frankness on display all the more shocking.

Study finds the 237 reasons to have sex

UT researchers say it's not so obvious after all

Some said they thought it would be good exercise. Others cited the relief they thought it would provide from boredom. A few admitted they wanted to be more popular, get a promotion or impress friends.

And some confessed they did it for revenge.

Six decades after Alfred Kinsey's findings on sexuality shocked America, two University of Texas at Austin psychologists have found some surprising answers to a question most people don't bother to ask: why people have sex.

"I was driven to do this study because of all the different reasons I hear women give for having sex, but I never expected this richness of answers," said Cindy Meston, an associate professor of psychology and study co-author. "Motivation for sex is not as straightforward as people think."

For instance, headaches and "not tonight, honey" may go together in most people's minds, but respondents of both sexes said they'd had sex "to get rid of a headache." They didn't say whether it worked.

In all, Meston and colleague David Buss catalogued 237 reasons, the most popular of which predictably involved lust and pleasure. But others ranged from "I wanted to feel closer to God" to "I wanted the attention" to "I wanted to keep my partner from straying."

A few respondents even said they wanted to give someone a sexually transmitted disease.

Meston said the study, published in the August issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, is the first of its kind. She speculated that researchers, like everyone else, probably assumed the motivations for sex were pretty obvious.

Forces of attraction

To come up with the list, Meston and Buss asked 444 men and women, age 17 to 52, to list reasons why they, or people they've known, have had sex. They then had 1,500 undergraduate students at UT-Austin rank the reasons on a one-to-five scale of how often they applied to their experiences.

Twenty of the top 25 reasons given were the same for men and women, and the No. 1 for both was "I was attracted to the person."

"I was surprised there wasn't a great gender difference," said Meston. "Women were more likely to say they wanted to express their love for the person, but they were very quick to also cite physical reasons and out-of-control hormones most people associate with men."

Meston, who is continuing to collect data for follow-up studies, acknowledged that college students' out-of-control hormones tilt the results. Future studies will focus on other age groups, ethnic groups and religious people. Metson said she also wants to find out about the outcome of sex for which people gave particular reasons.

Despite youthful answers like "the person was too hot to resist," Meston said she was struck that the college students gave some reasons that might offer lessons for people of all ages, such as that sex helped them get to sleep.

"For older couples in which the sex drive is mismatched, it might be instructive to learn that not everybody is having sex for pleasure," she said. "Nothing's wrong with you — you just might need to find your own reason for having sex."

Meston stressed the study was not finished, having heard many other reasons since the list came out Tuesday. She urged people to add their own reasons for having — or not having — sex at her Web site at www.mestonlab.com.


Psychology researchers at the University of Texas say they found four major factors for why their subjects had sex:

Physical: "It seemed like good exercise" "I was curious about sex" "The person was a good dancer"

Goal-based: "I wanted to have a baby" "I wanted to be popular" "I wanted to give someone a sexually transmitted disease"

Emotional: "I wanted to feel connected" "I wanted to say 'thank you.'"

Insecurity-based: "I wanted the attention" "My partner kept insisting" "I wanted to keep my partner from straying"