Friday, February 29, 2008

Coming in from the cold

I got another company to squeeze me in this morning. I zipped home, let the guy in, and gave him the run down. His conclusions pretty much matched up with mine. He hit all the reset switches I did and they all seemed to be in place.

See, all the limit switches are in series so if one blows you only know that one went down, not which one. One end plugs into the controller for the gas flow while the other plugs into another board along with several other wires. I considered this but gave it a pass for some reason. See all those wires go into one big plug. He detached that plug and plugged it back in place. It caused some related limit switch on the board to reset and everything came back on.

He charged me $70 which was their basic "yep, it's broke" fee. Or as the joke goes "the $70 ain't for flipping the switch. The $70 is for knowing which switch to flip."

Anyway, we're pretty sure the problem was initially caused by a clogged air filter. All the dust I've kicked up clogged it faster than normal. Plus I got a good filter. The filter that was there when I moved in could be smacked against a wall and replaced every few months. Even clogged it didn't really stop the air. So, it's a Home Depot trip tomorrow.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


A few hours ago I was walking through the kitchen and felt a cold draft. The furnace was blowing cold air. Upon investigation I found that the blower was going like mad but the gas wasn't on and the electric ignition wasn't even trying. I removed the filter, played with the thermostat, checked the gas in the house, toggled some switches, noticed a red status LED blinking in patterns of four, and threw the breakers a few times. Once I ripped the furnace open far enough I finally found a brand name to feed Google.

Google gave me one other reference to a similar problem. Four blinks means the limit circuit is open. This means that one of four switches must have been thrown. Of course none of them were. After talking to a guy in California, since all the furnace repairmen in the more local time zones had closed, I got my multimeter and checked to see that the switches were still good. They were. So just for giggles I shorted past all the switches with an LED. It lit up. I threw the breaker just for fun. The status light continued it's blinking. Blowing, no heat.

9:00 pm and the indoor temperature was down to 58°F and 30°F outside. It's supposed to get down to 23°F out there. I fobbed off the parrot on a neighbor since she can't cope with the cold as well as I can.

But that's the question. How do I plan to cope? I was gonna pop a pizza in the oven but I'm out. I tried to order a pizza but yet another pizza place has stopped delivering to this area. I'll try boiling something up later. Eventually I'll have to retreat back to the attic since it's the highest and will stay the warmest the longest. Do I stay awake and try to keep warm or hunker down and cocoon myself?

Tomorrow I'll call a repairman and probably have to take a half day. So long as the pipes don't burst first.

The next morning...

Luckily the temperature didn't drop below 50°F indoors last night. Only 10° below where I kept the house at the beginning of the winter. I coped by wrapping myself up in five layers of the warmest blankets I could find. Dad suggested electric blankets. The controls for them showed up a few days ago but the blankets themselves are still in the steamer trunk which I probably won't get to unearth for another couple of weeks.

I just got off the phone with some furnace techs. They were impressed with how much I was able to tell them about the problem. As well they should be I think. They're gonna call me back to tell me when, and if, someone can come by today.

Further progress

With the hole cut and the ladder installed (see yesterday) I started moving stuff into the attic. I started with my computer museum.

Pictured here are 15 bits of the museum. I have all together 23 computers.

The Epson in the upper right is my first computer. It's a 1983 model with an 8086 processor. I think my Dad's watch has a more powerful processor. It dates back to before hard drives. And yes, it still works.

Below it is a database server from my last job. Below that is a Mac that I found on the sidewalk here in DC. I fixed it up for a neighbor kid to use. To the left is a kit I got from Tiger Direct. Nothing special about it. To the left and at the bottom is a Gateway 2000. It's only significance is that it was such a major product in it's time. Above that is a Mac LC that I got at a university auction. It mostly fills a slot in the timeline. Above that is another DB server from my last job. Then there's the remains of my second Epson. I know it looks empty but all those parts are still around. I just don't have the same attachment to it. To the left is some tower that I used to use. I think it replaced the Tiger and was what I used when I moved to DC. Next to that is a 486 that I use mostly for playing old games. To the left of that is one of those rare machines from the brief period when Apple allowed other companies to make compatible machines. To the left of that is another timeline placeholder. In the upper left corner are three Mac SEs from the early days of Macs.

I've also got an Apple ][, a Mac Performa I used in college, another tower for playing old games that my cousin recently left me, a couple of ill laptops, a first generation iMac, my main computer, ... that's 21 ... there's the G3 that Avery is using... that's 22... I'm missing one... There was one that I gutted and turned into a kitty litter box as a wedding gift but that's not the one I'm thinking of. Man, that's gonna bother me all day.

Also, in the far right of the picture you can see a bit of blanket poking into the scene. That's because once I had that floor down I started sleeping up there since it was warmer than the couch on the first floor. Last night I finally got enough computers and electronic components (and comic books) moved into the attic that I had room to take the bed away from it's place against the bedroom wall. I used the wet-dry vac to clean the whole room 2" at a time and put down the bed. This is the first time I've slept in it since June 30... 2006.

The attic is sufficiently climate controlled that I'm not worried about the heat and humidity damaging the stuff I'm cramming up there. But just in case I will be monitoring the temperature up there this summer.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Attic hatch pics

You've seen the great shot of me working in my attic from a few weeks back. Now there's more pictures.

This is the hole I was cutting in that picture.

This is why I was cutting the hole. Yes, the joists have all been properly reinforced.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Museum Review: National Geographic Frogs

The National Geographic building has a pretty slick setup.

There's several TVs setup along the glass windows and external speakers so you can sit outside and watch the National Geographic Channel.

Between the TVs are displays of various artifacts from National Geographic expeditions.

There are several stands around the outside for the first display you see as you approach. Currently they talk about the albatross. (Note: the word "albatross" must be said in your best John Cleese voice)

On either side of the courtyard there's a museum. The smaller one, to the left, has a life size replica of a Nigersaurus skeleton and information about it and it's recovery.

It's the larger of the two museums I want to talk about today. They've converted almost the whole area to an exhibit on frogs. I went there expecting a collection of dead frogs pinned to something and a lot of pictures. Or maybe some displays full of hiding frogs. This isn't what I got at all.

First, there was a crowd like I've never seen at the National Geographic before. People of all ages, too. Senior citizens, twenty-somethings on a date, lots of people there with their kids, and a bunch of people practicing their "nature" photography.

In the main display area there are twenty or so display cases decorated to recreate the frogs' natural habitats. But what you get here that you don't get in the zoo or PetSmart is the ability to see the frogs. Normally the frogs blend into their artificial habitat well enough that you have trouble knowing which displays are empty and which ones are just hiding well. Not here. While the habitats are good they have also been made so that the frogs are generally easy to find. Or if some have found a hiding spot there's enough frogs in that container so that you can find at least one with some ease.

Besides the frogs there's an exhibit where you perform an autopsy... er, dissection. Whatever. There's videos on how they eat, recordings of how they sound, and a long jump area to see how far you jump relative to a frog. There's a display showing the blow darts and guns used by tribes that use frog venoms in their darts.

Then you move into the photo gallery. That guy has one doozy of a camera.

Totally worth it. One of National Geographic's better exhibits. They need to do more living creature exhibits.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Book Review: Quantico

I got this book for Dad when Greg Bear was in town last summer. Alas, in the confusion I didn't get the signature made out to Dad.

Before I get into the book let me remind you why Greg was in town. Greg Bear is one of the bigger names in hard science fiction today. He's got the PhDs and all that good stuff. His technology is credible. So when the Department of Homeland Security's technology division wanted some science fiction authors to come in and tell them what they might be missing and what they should be developing Greg Bear made the list. And since he was in town Reiters bookstore had him sign some books.

"Quantico" takes place in the near future. Not long from now 9-11 has a sequel on 10-4. Security and terrorism becomes the focus of just about everyone everywhere. Anti-terrorist tech makes some great leaps. But since they're having trouble fighting the terrorists and cut a few corners legal-wise the FBI is fighting for it's life.

A truckload of empty cartridges for obsolete inkjet printers is found overturned along a highway next to a dead cop.
A fanatical uber-christian terrorist and his family are discovered in their back woods cabin and monitored by the FBI.
The guy responsible for the anthrax mailings turns out to be a mad social recluse living at a deserted vineyard. He's now working on a version of anthrax that kills only Jews and glows green and red in the late stages. He's doing this at the motivation of a man with eyes two different colors.
Some people from Quantico are investigating the first two which may lead them to the third.

The book starts kinda slow. Lots of descriptions intermixed with more interesting conversation. But after page 50 things start to pick up. There's raids, powerful and creative explosives, interesting and feasible anti-terrorist tech, black-ops organizations, and all mixed in with an agency quickly going under.

There's a lot that I'm not telling you. That's only because much of the fun in the book is the story unfolding bit by bit.

This book is for the person who watches CSI, The Unit, and similar investigative shows. Not really my thing but I really did get the book for Dad.

I'm still gonna recommend the author Greg Bear if not this specific book. He's a good writer who can present most subjects in an interesting manner.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Movie Review: Vantage Point

There's good things and bad things about being a professional movie reviewer. Sure, you get to see all the movies for free before anyone else sees them. On the down side you are forced to watch every awful piece of crap that comes along. Luckily for me I'm not at all professional and get to skip the stuff that you can tell is crap before you ever step into the theater. So after a long spell where only really gawdawful movies were available to me for free I finally get to see decent stuff again.

"Vantage Point" feels like part "Lost" and part "24".

Some years ago I thought it would be cool to make a TV show that covered a story one hour at a time. One season would be one day. I wasn't the only person with that idea. Somebody else came up with an idea for what kind of story would work in that format. That person made the show "24".

Another idea I had, one that's been used in several TV shows for decades, is to tell a story from several viewpoints. "Vantage Point" is that movie. It tells the story of terrorists attacking the President at an international peace conference. So the movie has a storyline much like a season of "24".

The movie opens in the press trailer of GNN. Sigourney Weaver is directing the feed from six different cameramen, telling them how and where to point, and directing the reporter in the field. This first view point sets up the foundation that the rest of the movie builds on. Peace conference, not everyone thrilled, President gets shot, one set of explosions, more explosions, and then rewind to noon.

The second POV is from Dennis Quaid. He's a Secret Service agent who took a bullet for the President and is just now going back into service. Everyone is a bit worried about him.

The third POV is from suspicious character #1.

The fourth POV is from observant tourist Forest Whitaker.

The fifth POV is from the President's perspective

The sixth POV is more muddled since it's from suspicious characters #2, #3, and #4.

The seventh round really pulls things together.

Each perspective ends with a cliffhanger that gets dealt with later in the movie. The erratic time line, the plethora of cliffhangers, and the way that it keeps you trying to figure out how the next part will unfold is what makes it feel like "Lost". That much more than the inclusion of Matthew Fox who plays Jack in "Lost".

It's an entertaining movie. There's a few holes in the behavior of some characters but you overlook them because this isn't a movie for taking seriously. This is a movie for watching explosions and car chases and action ... stuff.

I won't get it on DVD. I'm glad I saw it. I'm glad I didn't pay for it.
Go with a group. Pay matinee.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Museum Review: The Cinema Effect - part 1

Just opened at the Hirshhorn Museum: The Cinema Effect. It's supposed to explore our relationship with video and how if shapes our perception of reality and dreams and other words that make you think art.

The exhibit is a series of videos. Not short films such as you could get off YouTube. This is "art" which means "really kinda messed up". You go through curtains, which are backlit orange, and enter a dark room. Once your eyes adjust you go through a series of dark rooms showing different videos.

It starts with simple stuff such as Andy Warhol's "Sleep". "Sleep" was originally 5 hours and change of Andy sleeping. It's been cut to only 2 hours for this exhibit.

Other exhibits include:
what appears to be several minutes of random stock footage stuck together,
a train going through a series of tunnels with some narration while not in a tunnel,
what looks like every Sega Genesis landscape stuck together and scrolling down so it looks like you keep rising up and up,
bits of star falling into a lake,
a projection of geometric shapes going through a misty room (apparently one of the favorites),
a ride through an amusement park haunted house shown at half speed,
a doll with an egg shaped head and the face of a film director projected on it while he gives direction,
a line of video screens that are mostly dark except for the video that keeps running back and forth along them scattering human body parts,
a line of video screens showing footage of factory workers going home over 9 decades,
and many others

I was in a hurry so I blew through in about 40 minutes. I'd suggest you give yourself more time. Two hours should do. Three tops. I'll probably go back some other weekend.

The exhibit will last until May 11. Then they tear it down and start setting up part two which opens on June 19.

Also, the Newseum is nearing finished. The building looks awesome. You can start booking space in the Newseum Residences. The museum itself opens April 11.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Movie Review: Diary of the Dead

George Romero is back and making movies again. He vanished for about 15 years. (This number includes a couple of movies you've never heard of so they don't count.) Romero is the guy who came up with what most people think of when they think zombie. As a film student he made "Night of the Living Dead" and neglected to copyright the shambling brain eating zombie. He'd probably be a billionaire by now if he'd claimed right to that. On the other hand he used that idea because he was a poor film student with no budget. By not copyrighting it he made it a gift to hundreds of other poor film students with no budget.

His latest movie is "Diary of the Dead". Much like "Casino Royale" it's a prequel to other movies in the series but somehow takes place after the other movies. So I'm ignoring the rest of the Romero's zombie flicks when discussing this.

This movie has a message. Not "watch out for commies" like some of the early work. This is more a commentary on film makers and their behavior in situations like New Orleans after Katrina or, more pointedly, their behavior in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. They hide behind the camera and the detachment, real or imagined, it provides from the horrors around them. They become more interested in capturing everything than anything else.

The movie is supposed to be a documentary chronicalling the rise of the undead using mostly their own footage but mixed with footage pulled from YouTube and the rest of the internet. It opens with uncut footage uploaded by a news cameraman who disliked how the press cut it up to change what happened. What they were there to cover was a three person murder/suicide. What they got was the dead rising from the stretcher as it was being taken to the ambulance. A voice over helps explain what the project is.

The movie then cuts to a bunch of film students in the woods trying to make a mummy movie. They hear on the radio about the dead rising and decide to call it a night. Upon returning to campus they decide to load up the Winnebago and try to get home as a group.

The movie is like "Cloverfield" but with people who know how to work a camera. It tries to capture some of the human element that the original movie had. It doesn't explore the ravished countryside like "28 Days Later" did but it does chronicle their trip and the people they meet or run over along the way.

"Diary of the Dead" is a good supplement to the other Romero zombie flicks but it doesn't have the gore that they do. It's "Shawn of the Dead" only without the humor or the happy ending.

I apparently see more good in the movie than many other reviewers. I'll go see the sequel but I won't get it on DVD.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Movie Review: The Spiderwick Chronicles

I haven't read the book so I can't compare to the movie. If I were to guess I'd say this book was written in the 40's in England. It has the same feel as many of the children's books written back then but updated for today.

In this movie a woman and her three kids move to a large house out in the country. She's recently divorced and can't afford their old place on just her salary. While exploring the big spooky house the surliest of the kids finds a book with a warning not to open or read it that he promptly ignores. Almost immediately unseen creatures described in the book start messing with the family. In fact pretty much everything that goes wrong in the movie is the direct result of that kid being a real idiot who can never follow sound advice.

As usual there's good invisible creatures and evil invisible creatures. The evil ones want the book's secrets so they can conquer the world.

It's a well done, richly populated fantasy story akin to "The Neverending Story". I rather preferred this movie to "The Neverending Story". It doesn't feel crammed to fit like so many movies in this genre do. But even so I probably won't get it on DVD. I dunno why. Go see it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

X-Minus One

I got the complete collection of old "X-Minus One" radio shows. If you don't know them they're half hour productions based on the short stories by some of the greats sci-fi authors of the day. Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury are some of the more common sources. I've read most of the original short stories from both authors. Something occurred to me awhile back, but the tedium of my job has allowed me to work it out a bit more.

When Isaac Asimov wrote about space travel he'd send out the best and the smartest. His universe is full of lightly colonized planets with some of the best educated humans and tons of robots. Most of Earth's brightest have been lost to the stars while the poor, the uneducated, and miserable are stuck on the home world. That leaves a planet crowded with the people most likely to have more kids while those least likely to have a bunch of kids are out on empty planets. Earth has few robots because the humans need the work. Despite having more people the people on Earth are pretty much stuck since the brain drain has allowed all the people who could develop advanced weapons and fighters to live elsewhere.
OK, that was a bit more than needed for my original point. The so-called best and brightest are on the ships. Space travel is expensive so they want the best trained to get the most for their money.

Heinlein was in the Navy until some lung condition forced him out. He views starships more like Navy vessels. They're crewed largely with people you're more likely to find in a bar than in a lab. Crude, loud mouthed, and handy with a wrench. The planets have people who are indentured servants. People you're likely to see working the fields or the mines on modern Earth. Hopefully when you've finished your contract you have enough money left to pay your way home or else you have to sign on for another contract.

Gene Roddenbury's universe (Star Trek and Next Generation) was more like Asimov's not because only the smartest got to move away but because he made everyone the smartest. The education system worked, the government was benign, and they'd achieved the perfect balance of capitalism and socialism to see that everyone had the chance to be something great.

I'm not sure what my point is other than to notice that difference between these different visions of the future.

What's your vision?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A eulogy

An old classmate of mine recently died. We were in school together K through 12. It's just as well I wasn't at his funeral. They wouldn't have liked what I had to say.

He was a bully. Not one of the alpha bullies. Not one of the huge, mindless, violence machines that littered my class. No, this guy was one of the followers. He was a Crabbe or a Goyle to a couple of very large and dangerous Malfoys. But still, if he went to Columbine instead of Clearwater he would have made the "must shoot" list of the guys in trench coats.

Less than a week after graduation he was out partying with several other people at Lake Afton. He dove in, hit his head on a log, and was left paralyzed from the neck down from then on. Rumor has it that he regained some motion in his fingers, but he spent the rest of his life like that. This was the first of a series of incidents that left many of the brutes from my class dead.

I'm told that he managed to start his own stock trading company. How well he was doing I don't know. It's better than I'd have expected from him. I imagine that being a quadriplegic limits your options enough that he was forced to work in directions that he otherwise would never have gone.

It's been 15 years since I've seen him. I'd like to think that in that time he became a better person. Maybe the chair altered his attitude in the same way it altered his career path. Maybe he used the extra years so many of his friends didn't have to change his ways. It could happen. My cousin married a bully who smacked around her brother for years. Her husband seems to have reformed but he can still be heard bragging about some of the mistreatment he heaped upon others back in the day.

I know the man in that coffin is not the same person who sat a few rows behind me at graduation. Only his family can really speculate about how much he changed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The chicken and the egg

Happy Valenteen. I hope you didn't shave or apply make-up.

I've known for several years now the answer to the question to which came first, the chicken or the egg. What I've just realized is that the answer is one which can come back into question when dealing with the theocratically minded.

A Dougintologist believes that the egg came first. As one species becomes another through the gradual process of evolution there must at one point have been a creature that was almost but not quite a chicken. This creature, the chucken, laid an egg expecting another chucken to come out. Instead a slightly different creature came out. That creature and it's offspring would eventually become the creature we now know as lunch.

A Biblical literalist would claim that between five and six thousand years ago the first rooster and the first chicken popped into existence in some oasis in Algeria or possibly Morocco. A couple of days later some naked guy came along and called them chicken.

The Social Constructionists would claim there was neither chicken nor egg until scientists said there was.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Movie Review: Futurama: Bender's Big Score

From Matt Groening, the guy who brought you the comic strip "Life in Hell" and "The Simpsons" came sci-fi comedy "Futurama". It was a popular show while it lasted and when it could be seen. But the schmucks at Fox shoved it into the 7:00pm (6:00 central) time slot. This meant that it ran an hour before standard prime-time shows. This was rough on ratings but the show muscled on thanks to die hard fans. The second problem with this time slot was that sporting events frequently pre-empted the show. The only people who got to see the show were on the west coast. The rest of the country had no idea if the show was going to air at all. This successfully killed off the show.

Jump forward a couple of years. Those head Fox schmucks are gone now. The turnover rate for people in the position of head schmuck is ridiculous. I'd lay odds that those were the same bastards who canceled "Firefly". Anyway, they're gone now and the new head schmucks recognize they had a good thing. Partially because the DVD sales are great, ratings for the reruns on Comedy Central are high, and Comedy Central was talking about commissioning new episodes. So they start talking about bringing it back. What they have instead are a series of movies that can easily be broken into episodes.

The first movie is "Futurama: Bender's Big Score". Why I didn't buy it myself I don't know. I'll buy the next three.

"Bender's Big Score" is very self referential. I think they make reference to almost every previous Futurama episode and bring back nearly every character who has ever appeared. Big fan service episode. Really, that's who is gonna be watching this.

Time travel is a major factor in this episode. They tell you early on that it's gonna get confusing and they're not kidding. Some time travel shows are confusing because of their use of grandfather paradox or predestination paradox. This show says screw all that and works cause the universe to collapse every couple of minutes. The episode is littered with duplicate people who the universe has to destroy in horrible and inventive ways.

Quick summary: They open by mocking the people who canceled the show. Then they get conned by spammers who take the crew for everything and then start using Bender to pillage history. Fry returns to his own time several times and works his way back to the future.

Coming soon:
Futurama: Bender's Game
Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs
Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder
all in post-production

Monday, February 11, 2008

It's monday

There were no good movies this weekend, I didn't quite finish the main book I'm reading, and I'd rather not dip into my reserve postings yet so... I guess you get to hear about construction.

You should have seen the picture of me working on my attic. If not just scroll down a bit.

I got the hole cut and cross beams installed. Then I needed to get the hatch and folding ladder up through the hole. It weighs about 65lbs (~30kg). I ran a extending ladder up through the hole, leaned the hatch against the ladder, and lifted. I got the hatch above my head and through the hole with about an inch to spare. But it needed to go higher. I lifted my right foot to climb the ladder and the hatch started swinging to the left. I put that foot down and tried again with the left foot first. The hatch swung to the right. I tried a few more times but without a third arm to stabilize myself better it just didn't work.

The clothesline rope I've been looking for for a year or two materialized as if by magic. I tied it on to the hatch, climbed into the attic, and started hauling. But the closer it got the harder it was to lift. I never got it high enough to grab and leave my spine intact.

I needed help. I considered the neighbor kids who are always asking to help since they're bored silly. But they're too short and probably not strong enough to lift. And even if they are they'd get squashed if I lost my grip. So I called Bruise at work and asked him stop by on the way home. He lifted, I grabbed and pulled. No sweat.

Later I sat the hatch on my shoulders and lowered it into place. I hadn't cut the hole to fit the hatch. I cut the hole to get the pieces of ceiling joist removed. So the hatch was supported by slats on one end and by a tight fit on the other. I'd also sunk some screws into the sides so if the first line of support failed there was something else to back them up. I drove what nails I could and cut the hole larger so the hatch would open.

Yesterday I opened the hatch so I could swing the hammer enough to drive the rest of the nails. The ladder comes in three pieces that are hinged. When fully unfolded the hinges should also unfold completely. Anything less and the ladder becomes unstable and more prone to breaking. But there was about a 15° gap that I had to close. Plus the legs were squared off so I needed to cut them so they'd hit the floor flat. I made an educated guess and cut. I apparently wasn't educated enough because two further cuts still didn't do the job. Finally I grabbed a slat of bamboo flooring, ran it along the middle 1/3 of the ladder and on to the floor. Then I marked it. I transfered the mark to the lower 1/3 of the ladder and cut. This cut was just above the bottom step. It seemed a ridiculous amount to cut off but it turned out to be right.

It was a thrill to be able to walk up the ladder the first time.

Then I hooked up the wet/dry vac in the attic to start getting crud out. The bedroom ceiling was built by nailing thin slats to the ceiling joists and then smooshing some cement/plaster-type substance through the gaps. So I had to move back and forth along the ceiling, reaching between joists, and running the vacuum hose up and down the slats between smooshed substance. By the time I ran the width of the house three time (15ft/pass) the wet/dry vac was full of a nasty black substance and refused to take any more. Still, it's an improvement on vacuuming up a dust so fine that it clogged the filter every 5 minutes. More of this task tonight.

The next horror will be to make the ceiling around the hatch look clean. It's all ragged and ugly at the moment.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Book review: The Subtle Knife

"The Subtle Knife" follows "The Golden Compass" in the "His Dark Materials" trilogy by Philip Pullman.

This book wasn't nearly as insulting and obviously intended for little kids as the first book. As way of review and summary I'm going to focus on the controversy of these books. Christians are very upset by these books. I'll get to why quickly.

The world of these books contains multiple dimensions or alternate worlds.
The first book focuses on something that looks a bit like England before the invention of the automobile. Each person has a being that is never far from their side their whole life. It can change shape when you're a kid but when you reach puberty it picks one shape that is indicative of your personality and stays that shape until you die. This creature, a Daemon, is basically a manifestation of your soul.
In this world the church is pretty much still in control of everything. They monitor all scientific research, make sure people obey them, and aren't above assassinating people that piss them off. They're researching a substance called Dust while making sure that nobody else researches it. They fear Dust without really knowing what it is. They know it's attracted to adults but not kids. They've found that Dust loses interest in people once they've had their Daemon's cut away. But that makes the people effectively zombies (voodoo, not braaaainnns). They find this out by experimenting on children. They've already cut away the souls of their staff who mindlessly continue their given tasks.

In the second book our heroes have made their way into another dimension where people don't have daemons, but there are spectres that are invisible to kids but not to adults. When you reach puberty you can see them and they come eat your soul.
From there our heroes make it into a third dimension that is much like our own world. They're researching dark matter which is the same as Dust. It's established that the Dust is really fallen angels. So, the church is really the good guys right? Fighting those who rebelled against God? I started wondering what the churchies were objecting to. Sure, the church is running experiments on kids and cutting out people's souls but if it's to help fight God's enemies then it's good, right? Lord knows that the real world church has a history of being much nastier and repressive than the one in the book.
The Dust caused people to evolve into intelligent beings, not God. The Dust wants to use us in in the next war against God. So... thanks, but no thanks.
The Subtle Knife is a tool that can kill the spectres in the second world and open passages into alternate dimensions.
Meanwhile, back in the first dimension the church has been busy cutting out people's souls to raise an army of mindless soldiers. The zombie soldiers are to be used to fight the army that is being raised by the hero's father to fight God.

So really, the question of who is good and bad depends on your point of view and whether you think the ends justify the means.

At the end of the book we find that Dust and the people working for it call God "The Authority" and view it as an oppressor who cares only for obedience from everyone. From my own reading of the Bible I can't really say that this view is out of line. God always seemed like a real self important jerk to me.

So aside from the obvious bit where the fallen angels talk about the oppressive nature of God (what else would you expect them to say about God?) I think the big objection that the Christians would have against this book is that it encourages people to think about issues. Christian leaders have never been big on people thinking about stuff.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Book review: The Han Solo Adventures

Back in the 70's Brian Daley wrote a trilogy of books about Han Solo and Chewbacca that came before the Star Wars movies. "The Han Solo Adventures" is a compilation of all three books.

If you're looking for a Star Wars book this isn't it. All three books take place in a galactic arm with no native intelligent life. It's just a bunch of star systems and planet being stripped of their resources by a big corporation that operates outside of the Empire's influence.

There are certain story elements that had to be replaced since they hadn't encountered the Star Wars heroes yet. C3-P0 and R2-D2 are replaced with two other droids, Bollux and Blue Max. Bounty hunter and sharpshooter Boba Fett is replaced with another sharpshooter (whose name escapes me) that wants to put his skills against Solo. Obi-Wan, Luke, and Leia were just story related passengers that get replaced story to story.

But if you're looking for Han Solo stories then these books are for you. They do expand upon his character and background.

They're not terribly compelling books. They're not making my top 10 anything list, except maybe top 10 Star Wars books that I've actually read since a one eyed shop teacher could count the number of Star Wars books I've read without taking off his shoes.

If you're looking for a good Star Wars book I'd suggest "Tales From the Mos Eisley Cantina". It's a collection of short stories that tell the stories of each and every creature you see in the Mos Eisley Cantina in the original Star Wars movie (Episode IV: A New Hope)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The attic

An unmodified picture of me working on the new attic. If my pose seems awkward for operating a saw it's because I was cutting through ceiling beams and really didn't want to be sitting on one. Plus 118-138 year old wood is REALLY hard.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hand off


I just got off the subway and I'm heading for the surface. In front of me is some white guy in a jogger's outfit with something Hawaiian written on the back. As he approaches the escalator he looks off to the side. Coming off the down escalator some middle eastern looking fella in American style clothing comes crosses over and bumps into the first guy. They apologize to each other and as they pass their right arms bump and their hands meet. Not just a bump. The white guy took something from the middle eastern looking fella's hand that he then slipped into his pocket without looking at it.

I don't know if they heard me laugh or not.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Good Saturday

No, I'm not declaring yet another new holiday. I mean I had a good Saturday.

After sleeping late (any weekend that I get up before 10 AM is automatically a failure) I went out for my typical breakfast. There's no new movies or good talks to attend so I'm just bopping about.

Walking down 13th street I found a new historical sign. They're popping up all over town to tell about historical buildings and neighborhoods. This one was stuck to a fence announcing that the house behind it was where Duke Ellington grew up. I knew that one of the big jazz legends had gone to school up the street from me but I'd forgotten who.

Several blocks later I was deep in thought about not terribly deep subjects when something demanded that I stop. I'd just walked past the first ForTwo Smart Car I'd seen in person. As I was checking it out to make sure it was really what I thought it was someone actually came up and asked me if it was my car. We walked on for a few blocks talking about it. And no, I didn't ask her out. She has a husband.
My next car

I finished two books that you'll get reviews for soon. "The Han Solo Adventures" by Brian Daley and "The Subtle Dagger" by Philip Pullman. I never have just one book going at a time.

I got home and councelled an old friend via chat.

Then I shimmied back into the attic and got back to cutting away some beams. But that's another post completely. I think I got some good pictures, too. Before coming down I started finally creating an opening into the bedroom. I should be able to, at the very least, get the box created Sunday even if I don't get the ladder put up.

Friday, February 01, 2008


Valenteen. It's the day before Valentine's Day. You know, like Halloween comes before All Saints Day (a.k.a. All Hallows, a.k.a. Hallowmas). Only instead of dressing up you're supposed to completely fail to dress up.

Here's how to celebrate. On February 13th you skip all the usual morning preparation stuff. Guys shouldn't shave, apply cologne, or use anything other than a hairbrush on their hair. Women should skip their makeup and perfume, only use a hairbrush on their hair, and wear comfortable clothes to work.

Obviously if there's a dress code you have to stick to that. So sweat pants are probably out of the question. But still you should feel free to leave the high heels at home. Forget the tight and/or revealing clothes for one day.

Because the next day is Valentine's Day. It's all about romance and candy and candles and dressing up for your significant other... and huge profits for the candy, card, flower, and lingerie companies. Every day we dress up a bit. For Valentine's Day we dress up a LOT. If for just one day, Valenteen, we fail to dress up and show our partners our real selves it'll make the work we do on Valentine's Day that much more impressive and hopefully make our partners appreciate the work we do every other day a little bit more.

Because Valentine's Day is the day for all the people who have someone to really rub it in the noses of the single people of the world. As if we don't have to put up with enough of that crap the rest of the time. Valentine's Day is the day they really do it up and yell "neener neener neener" at the single people of the world.

You don't think so? Send those flowers to her home instead of her office and see how much they mean when all the coworkers DON'T get to see them.

Valenteen is the holiday for single people and for those who found someone only after a long hard struggle to show their solidarity with the singles of the world.

Because men are clueless dorks who have seen so many Valentine's Day signs, displays, and decorations since January 2nd that they've become numb. After all that they're still gonna screw up the big day. If you come out without makeup, your hair pulled back, a sports bra, and frumpy clothes he might realize he has 24 hours left and actually be able to pull something off.