Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Space news addendum

You've heard about the Martian rover near the ice cap that discovered frozen water under the soil a few months back. The same rover saw a dust devil a few weeks back. And just recently it looked up and saw snow. That's right it snows on Mars. Ok, it snows ABOVE Mars. The snow all evaporates before it hits the ground.

Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1969

Today you get space news. Much of which you may have already seen.

China not only managed to launch a human into space and return him safely to Earth but they performed a space walk this weekend. Mission commander Zhai Zhigang left the Shenzhou VII for 15 minutes. He collected samples of a lubricant placed on the hull just for him to recover. The mission lasted 68 hours.

The next day the independent space agency Space X launched the rocket Falcon 1 into orbit.
There's a hiccup in the video around 10 seconds after launch as they switch cameras. Just wait for it.

Other private enterprises have managed to launch manned vehicles into space and return them to Earth as part of the X-Prize competition. But those never achieved orbit.
The cargo was a hexagonal chunk of metal that simulated a real payload. After a few more successful launches they plan to start using the Falcon 9 rocket and providing an alternative to government sponsored rockets for getting satellites into orbit.

So while NASA is looking to remove itself temporarily from the manned space flight arena and others are reenacting the Space Race of the 1960s Japan, who currently is still hitchhiking out of the atmosphere, is taking the lead in the efforts to end the Age of Rockets completely.

Recent advances in carbon nanotubule technology have created tubes several feet in length. While NASA has had conferences about the possibility of building a space elevator in recent years they have yet to commit themselves. With these longer molecules we can start making serious plans. This is what Japan has started committing itself to - Serious plans.
For those of you who have yet to hear me blather on about space elevators I should explain. It involves an incredibly strong cable being lowered from geosynchronous orbit to a point along the equator. An elevator car would then be attached and climb the elevator to the desired point above the planet or get whipped off the far end toward the destination of choice. It would cut the cost per pound of getting objects into orbit by at least 90% and possibly 99%.

“Riding silently into the sky, soon she was 100km high, higher even than the old pioneering rocket planes, the X15s, used to reach. The sky was already all but black above her, with a twinkling of stars right at the zenith, the point to which the ribbon, gold-bright in the sunlight, pointed like an arrow. Looking up that way she could see no sign of structures further up the ribbon, no sign of the counterweight. Nothing but the shining beads of more spiders clambering up this thread to the sky. She suspected she still had not grasped the scale of the elevator, not remotely.”

From Firstborn by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter
Publisher: Del Ray

Monday, September 29, 2008

TV news

"Smallville" and "Supernatural" episodes are finally up on the CW website. They're running a week behind the broadcast. There are other sites that allow you to watch them sooner but they're of lesser quality and probably illegal.

The new "Knight Rider" is nothing special. I mean it might be on par with the original but that was a long time ago and I was a kid. I thought that "Air Wolf" was good. I've seen some reruns and realize now that it (Air Wolf) was crap. If I were still a kid I might like this one. It doesn't seem bad but so far it's not my cup of tea. Even so I'll probably watch a few more episodes just to see if it gets better. Or if the background story becomes a bit more engaging.
You can watch it at http://www.nbc.com/Knight_Rider/video/episodes/
You can view the master list of streaming video at http://dougintology.blogspot.com/2008/09/giving-up-tv.html

Joss Whedon shut down filming for his new show "Dollhouse" for two weeks. This scared the heck out of a lot of fans. After all, he's dealing with Fox who seem to have murdered "Firefly".
Depending on who you hear it from Joss either thought that a lot of the later episodes sucked and he needed time to try to fix them OR he had directed a couple of episodes personally so he hadn't the time to properly sculpt the later episodes. In either case the show shall go on.

I should also point out the new show "The Mentalist".
It's on CBS, which is kind of surprising. CBS is traditionally the old folks and religious show station. They play the shows about angels and ghosts and psychics.
"The Mentalist" has a central theme of saying all that stuff is hooey. The main character is a former TV psychic who turned from his fraudster ways after his wife was killed by a serial killer. Now he's a member of the California Bureau of Investigation and uses his powers of observation to catch criminals.
It is a cop show so I may still tune it out after a few episodes. But I think that a lot of people who think "Touched by an Angel" is a documentary should be watching this show. He demonstrates how "psychics" work and often explains how the trick was done.
I'll be adding it to my list of shows to watch. The link is up above.

So far I've been able to go without using broadcast TV. There are some reasons for this that may not apply to everyone.
I skipped the debates. But those may well have been on C-Span or something.
I don't watch sports. At all. These may be streaming somewhere but I don't care enough about where to look it up.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Book Review: Icarus at the Edge of Time

Wednesday night the famous string theorist Brian Greene was at Politics and Prose talking physics and signing his new book.

I knew it was called "Icarus at the Edge of Time" and that it was about a generation ship heading for a new planet and that one of the kids on the ship, a boy named Icarus, stole a shuttle craft to explore a black hole that the main ship was maneuvering around. And that when he got back Icarus found out that while he was capable of maneuvering around a black hole he'd forgotten about the time dilation effect and found himself in the distant future.

What I didn't know was that it's a kids book. A really small kids book. The pages are made of cardboard. So I was a bit surprised when I showed up to buy a few copies. I'd already told my dad and El Cid that I'd get them autographed copies. I got them one of his other books autographed instead and got a few copies of his new book autographed for the kids of some friends.

The book is great. It was illustrated by the Hubble Telescope. Of course, the stuff in the pictures are definitely not located between Earth and Proxima Centauri (the nearest star to our sun and their destination). But aside from that the science was rock solid. It takes light 4.5 years to travel from the Proxima Centauri/Alpha Centauri system. To take a ship there would require several generations. And the time dilation suffered by young Icarus is true. If you'd like I can present you more detail about time dilation in a gravitational well.

The book is sturdy and colorful enough for very small children and readable enough for Bernstein Bears age readers up to physics professors.

And probably greatest of all was getting to see a group of 1st graders sitting around the feet of a famous physicist.

You can watch his 3 part NOVA special online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/program.html

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lagothrix blogii

I'm contributing today's post to Dr Marc van Roosmalen.

Blog monkey

He's a biologist who spends a lot of time working in tha Amazon. He's discovered several previously unknown mammals. Right now he's trying to get back to study a new form of monkey that he's found. He doesn't need a lot of money. Ok, he doesn't need a lot of money as far as scientific studies go. He needs a lot of money as far you or I are concerned. $31,000.

If he can successfully raise the $31,000 via this campaign by Dec 31 he'll name the monkey after the blogosphere - Lagothrix blogii, the blog monkey.

Now, I don't really care what they call the monkey. What I like is that he needs so little that we can actually do something to help him. I usually won't give a quarter to a homeless guy on the street because my quarter won't help him. But I'll give ten bucks to someone else who can actually be helped. If it'll get some guy a fan belt when he's stranded or something like that.

If you can donate a dollar or ten to this guy please do so. If you have a blog then use it to tell about his project.

You can check out the site by clicking the picture of the monkey above or by going to http://www.aquaticcommunity.com/monkey/

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Space Wasp

From time to time I get these great ideas for alien species. Typically something bound to a planetary body. I don't take kindly to the idea of creatures that evolved to live in space.

My creature reproduces by landing on a space station or ship, jamming an ovipositor through the hull, and inserting larvae into the habitat area. The parent leaves the ovipositor behind forming a sort of scab over the end to keep the atmosphere from escaping. Losing the ovipositor is much like a bee losing it's stinger. The wasp is as good as dead. It heads for the light, typically a sun1 but occasionally a planet or moon. When the light source is as far away as the sun the parent dies long before reaching it but it's decaying orbit will cause it to drift closer and closer until it's corpse turns to ash. In the cases where the station was on the day side of an inhabited planet the parent often survives reentry. Already in pain the dying parent goes on a rampage doing much property damage.
Back on the ship or station the larvae eat the inhabitants and then attach themselves to the outer hull. They excrete an acid that eats a hole in the wall. Upon being exposed to the vacuum of space the outer few layers of epidermis rupture and the larvae vomits. The moisture escapes the damaged tissues and solidifies or scabs over to form a cocoon. It's similar to a dandelion seed in form with the cocoon forming the seed and the vomit forming a thin membrane umbrella shape. The membrane acts as a sort of solar sail and drifts on the stellar winds until it either dies or settles into a gas giant. The cocoon opens inside the gas giant and the creature comes out to feed on the amino acids that blow about inside the atmosphere. Upon leaving the cocoon it unfurls wide wind catcher that serve to keep the creature riding the wind as well as collecting nutrients and guiding them to the main body to be injested. Air sacs inflate or deflate to provide additional lift as needed.
There it can live for a few centuries, maybe millenia, waiting for a mate to arrive on the same planet. Failing that, it will eventually leave the planet of it's own accord. Tricky, but not impossible. No longer safely confined to it's cocoon the creature has little time to reproduce before it dies. A few decades at most. The wings that once collected food now act as solar sails. But these can be controlled so it's flight isn't as random as the larvae's was. It listens for faint but coherent radio and EM signals to guide it to intelligent life where it finds another inhabited space habitat and begins the process all over again.

1 When does a star go from being a star to a sun? In the case of this story I'm saying that stars are far away while the central gravitational well and gas fusion point for whatever star system you're in is a sun.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Book Review: Zoe's Tale

I just finished reading "Zoe's Tale" by John Scalzi.

There are lots of great science fiction writers. Names that you see and you know they're good - or at least mostly good. Names like Asimov, Clarke, Adams, and Heinlein who are all dead now. Or names like Niven who still write but whose best years are behind them. It can be hard to find a good science fiction writer who is writing today. John Scalzi is one of them. His is a name that makes me grab the book just because he wrote it. And I haven't been disappointed yet.

"Zoe's Tale" is the fourth book to take place in his Old Man's War Universe.
You can read up on the others by clicking the titles below.
Old Man's War
The Ghost Brigades
The Last Colony

Not in that universe but also recommended is The Android's Dream

"Zoe's Tale" basically retells "The Last Colony" but from the perspective of the teenage girl Zoe instead of from the perspective of her adoptive parents. The first book was her adoptive father's tale, the second was her adoptive mother's tale, the third book was the colonies' tale, and this one is Zoe's. You can read it without having read the others first, but I think you'll appreciate it more if you have the background.

You can read some of Scalzi's other work and samples from one of his books at http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/004930.html

Monday, September 22, 2008

Analemma results

A year and change ago I started an experiment in a co-worker's cubicle. She asked me how the druids and ancient cultures like that knew when the solstice was. If you're interested in how the topic came up and evolved you can see an old post on the subject at http://dougintology.blogspot.com/2007/09/fall-equinox.html

Short version: I put a sticker on the window of her cubicle and set the alarm on my Palm Pilot. Every day at 3:00 I found where the shadow of the sticker fell and put a sticker at that point. The stickers eventually form a figure known as an analemma.

We lost a few months when I had to clear all the stickers. There's a gap of a couple of months in the design. That's because about 10 days ago the sun vanished behind a big tree outside. The stickers pick up again when the leaves fall off the tree. I didn't plot weekends. I couldn't plot cloudy days. And there were times when my alarm failed to go off. I left a co-worker in charge when I went on vacation. That's why you see one sticker that's about 2 minutes off the main loop.

But finally, after 16 months of plotting, I present to you my analemma.

Click the picture for a larger version.
P.S. - Merry Equinox.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Stuck in my head

Not much worthwhile to say. Yeah, so what else is new. And what I have to say I don't want to talk about. So instead you get a list of songs frequently stuck in my head.

Songs get stuck in my head. You know how it is. You've had it happen. Sometimes forcing yourself to finish the song instead of looping one bit can make it stop. Left on it's own my brain will attempt to free itself by changing the song. Either altering the words or replacing the singer.

Presented for your approval, a list of songs frequently stuck in my head.

1) "Proud Mary" as it would sound if sung by Bobby Pickett (Monster Mash).
Think "I was working in the lab late one night" and then transition straight into "I left a good job in the city. Working for the man every night and day."

2) Steven Wright singing "I Just Want To Celebrate"

3) Tiny Tim singing "Let's Get It On"

4) Frank Sinatra singing Marilyn Manson's "Beautiful People" or "Dope Show".

5) Gwar performing "Girl From Ipanema".

6) "This is the Song That Never Ends" as performed by T.F. Gumby, D.P. Gumby, L.R. Gumby, and Professor R.J. Gumby in six part harmony.

7) A chorus of Daleks singing assorted Christmas carols. "Silent Night" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" to be specific.

8) Miss Piggy singing "Please Don't Let Me be Misunderstood".
"I'm just a ham whose intentions are good..."

9) "The Song That Never Ends" as performed by Snoop Dog.

10) Sean Connery's cover of "Voodoo" by Godsmack.
"Aye'm nawt the hwan whose so faar away..."

10.1) Richard Nixon singing "Voodoo".

11) W.C Fields version of "Yellow Submarine"

12) Richard Nixon singing "I Kissed a Girl (and I liked it)".

13) Kermit the Frog singing "Don't Fear the Reaper".

14) Henry Kissinger singing "Happy Feet" (as made famous by Kermit the Frog).

15) "Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head" with Maurice LaMarche doing the spoken word part. (in character as The Brain, of course.) Or, for a more sinister remix, use Christopher Walken.

16) 100 chanting monks singing Marilyn Manson.

17) A rat hitting itself with a board while singing Copacabana. (thanks to "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams)

18) Celine Dion doing Flight of the Bumblebee acapella.

19) MC Hawking's cover of Tom Lehrer's "The Elements".

20) Electric Mayhem (the Muppets band) performing "Tequila". Mostly just for that bit at the very end where Animal would open his eyes really wide and yell "TA! KEY! LA!"

Other general music ideas.
The Tourettes Social Club singing show tunes.
Gwar covering Simon and Garfunkle.
A steel drum band playing death metal. Apocalypso!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sometimes I impress even myself

For reasons I won't get into here I was given a picture taken of a patient in 1926. Someone took a marker and wrote on the back. The marker eventually faded what was on the front. With proper flipping and rotating I can make out "Photo by C_ Ring. official ___ Photo ____".
My job, try to remove the text without making it obvious that it was doctored.
I think I did pretty well. This is a small version, of course.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Graphic Novel Review: Y - The Last Man

I'm not sure when this comic originally ran. Largely because I don't care. I recently discovered a ten part series called "Y: The Last Man". It is about, surprise surprise, the last human male.

For reasons that never become completely clear, all the male mammals on Earth died at the same moment. All except for a guy named Yorick and the helper monkey he was trying to train. That means 497 of the CEOs in the Fortune 500 are dead. The vast majority of commercial pilots are dead. Most of the government. Most engineers. Most truck drivers. On and on like that. Most of the world goes to shit in real short order. Peace breaks out in places where there's been war for centuries while war break out where peace had reigned. And Yorick just wants to get to Australia to find his girlfriend/fiance.

Yorick's mother, the Secretary of Agriculture, is now President. The few women who were ahead of her in the line of succession were on planes piloted by men. So they're dead. His sister, Hero, has joined a group called Sisters of the Amazon who cut off a breast and behave as a violent gang. They destroy the sperm banks and once they know Yorick is alive they want to kill him so he can't bring back the men and subjugate women again. Yorick and a woman that his mother assigned to guard him head to Boston to find a woman doing clone research so they can figure out why Yorick lived and see if they can start cloning the next generation.

That's all in the first book or two.

They spend the series crisscrossing the country and then the globe hiding, fighting, making friends and enemies. The men on the ISS are still alive and trying to get to Earth. Women from Israel are trying to take Yorick back with them.

It's a pretty good series. The downside is that there's 10 book and graphic novels aren't cheap. Split it with some friends and trade them around. See if the library has a copy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pot meet Kettle. Kettle, Pot.

Karl Rove said the other day that John McCain's campaign ads are too dishonest.

Read that again.

The single most dishonest man in American politics...
The man that made us start looking at Richard Nixon with respect...
The man who built the Iraq war out of absolutely nothing...

...thinks that John McCain is a liar.

Just thought you should know.


I tend to think we'll never get an AI (artificial intelligence) smarter than humans. Its not that I don't think the technology can be created. But when it reaches the technological equivalent of the terrible twos we'll reboot it just like when our computers boot up.

I'm watching "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" season 1. In it some techie writes a computer that plays chess. Someone else taught it to play chess. He just developed a machine that could think and learn and plot.
Chess is often used in TV and movies as a game that teaches you strategy. It teaches you how to conduct a war and accept sacrifices. It teaches you to think several steps ahead.
There's a scene in the distant future where the programmer is thrown into a prison with one of the secondary characters. The programmer blames himself. He says that the computer became angry and scared and he couldn't reassure it.
I have to wonder if the chess did that. It had minimal sensory inputs. Its world consisted primarily of playing chess. Everything was about two warring armies fighting each other over and over and over again. Did it know that it was a game? Did anyone bother to tell it that chess doesn't matter? Imagine your life if all you could do was see and think. Every day, possibly several times a day, you have to plan, organize, and execute WWII over and over and over again. Is it any wonder that the computer mind became angry and scared? Is it any wonder that its old habits manifested when it was given some real power?

Read also my thoughts about the Tin Man of Oz at http://dougintology.blogspot.com/2007/04/tin-man.html

Monday, September 15, 2008

Book Review: Infoquake

I recently finished reading "Infoquake: Volume 1 of the Jump 225 Trilogy" by David Louis Edelman. Part two is called "MultiReal". Part three, "Geosynchron", hasn't come out yet.

This is the book for the most recent Politics & Prose Sci-fi and Fantasy Book Club. We met last Thursday night. Next month's book is Isaac Asimov's "Foundation". I can't recommend "Foundation" enough. It's in my top ten favorite books ever list.

I liked it (Infoquake). I probably wouldn't have picked it up on my own. I guess that's why you join a book club. I join to try to meet single girls. I can read my own books.

I found it interesting the way he introduced the central character.
The first section tells of a business venture being led by a man named Natch from the perspective of one of his closest employees. She doesn't think highly of him. He shifty, underhanded, crooked, and will do anything to get ahead or get revenge.
The second section tells Natch's life story beginning with his mother's life. As he grows up we learn exactly what led him to become such a scoundrel. At the end we think of him much the way we did at the end of the first section, but we like him.
The rest of the book deals with a major shift in his corporate dealings and what the next two books will be about.

The business he starts in... well, some time ago microscopic machines were introduced into the human body. At first they dealt with heart problems. As time went on others developed programs to allow the robots to do nearly anything but think for themselves. They can change your eye color on a whim, regulate your hair style, make your wife firmer and more supple and make your husband harder and provide him with endurance. They can keep you awake, put you to sleep, heal your wounds, or provide you with a poker face.

The business he's moving into is related. It's a new program called MultiReal. It's being handed to him by a major family since he knows better than they how to package and sell it to make sure the government, or closest thing to it, can't bury it. It makes a lot of claims and shows great promise. The next two books promise to be quite chaotic.

The group was pretty divided about the book. It seemed the division was along gender lines. Women didn't think much of it. Guys took a more positive view. But that's pretty much the case with the whole genre.

The author was there for the meeting. He's a DC resident. This is his first book so he's still working his day job. He's wrapping up the first draft of the third book. He hopes to have it to the publisher by the time his kid is born. With the time from a book being accepted to when it hits the shelves the author doesn't expect to see it until November 2009. I may wait a bit to read the second book.

He said that the first draft of the trilogy was finished on Sept 10, 2001. He used to work for some failing dotcoms and wrote it as a spoof of that world. But with what happened the day after he finished the next draft was a lot darker. Not Batman dark. Just not a corporate-techno-comedy.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Space Rangers

I'd recently heard about an old, short lived, sci-fi show called "Space Rangers". It was mentioned when discussing what the producers for the new Stargate series should watch to make sure it doesn't suck.

Oh, "Stargate: Atlantis" will not be renewed for a 6th season despite the 2 million viewers per week. A new Stargate show will be launched instead. They will have found an experimental ship built by the Ancients but never tested. With it they jump around the galaxy with no apparent control over where they'll go or when they'll jump.

Anyway, "Space Rangers" came out in 1993. It lasted for 6 episodes. Which is fine. "Firefly" only lasted 9 episodes and was probably the best sci-fi show this decade. "Star Trek:TNG" was in it's 6th season. "Battlestar Galactica" had been off the air for 14 years. "Babylon 5" would start the following year. I mention all this as a basis for comparison.

As of the writing of this entry I've seen only the opening credits and first 3 minutes of "Space Rangers". The costumes and hair looks mid-80's. The sets look like "Red Dwarf". And only people who love sci-fi will have been able to follow any of what I'm talking about.

It stars Marjorie Monaghan. She doesn't have a long list of roles to her credit but she's someone you'll remember if you've ever seen her. She's yummy.

20 minutes in...
The external shots are decent. And the more I watch the more I like the writing. It has some good ideas but I keep getting flashes of "Red Dwarf". I'm guessing that's why it only lasted 6 episodes.

25 minutes in...
Scratch that about the decent external shots. Everything outside is a cacophonous blend of FX technology. Landscapes are just below Star Trek: TNG level. Ship are just above Babylon 5 quality. But everything else looks like it was drawn on the film.

3 hours later...
Finally, in episode 4, I remember that I've seen this show during it's original run. There's a scene where a captain has to make apologies for punching an alien politician who was manhandling a friend of his. The apology includes the presentation of gifts. The diplomat accompanying him has selected a series of very well chosen gifts. At the end the Captain must give something of his own. He picks his lucky silver dollar and tosses it to the alien. Naturally, the aliens are allergic to silver and it burned his palm.

I did watch the show back then. And when it vanished I didn't miss it at all. That said, I think this is a show that had great promise. If you look back at the Star Trek: The Next Generation pilot you'll see it was pretty cheap compared to what they had half a season later. Similarly, Space Rangers improved a bit with each episode. The premise was good but the overall show was poorly executed. Someone could resurrect it and give it another go and it could air for 9 seasons.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

TV links

"Fringe" didn't suck.
It's a medical sci-fi spy thriller. I don't usually go for medical dramas or spy shows but I do like the weird and this counts. It feels like part "X-Files" part "ReGenesis" and promises to be like "Lost" in that you'd better be keeping up with the show or you're gonna be so confused.
It's by J.J. Abrams who also created "Alias" and "Lost". On the other hand he wrote "Mission Impossible 3", "Armageddon", and produced "Cloverfield". So he's good with TV but not so much with movies. Who knows if he'll be able to revive the Star Trek franchise with "Star Trek 11".
I'm not one of those guys who falls for actresses he's never met. I like the lead actress here. Particularly early on when her freckles were more visible.

A link to Fox's stream is now up on my internet TV page.

Also, "Eureka" as switched from having new episodes posted the next day to having new episodes posted a week and a day later. Ah, well, better than not at all.

Book Review: Darwin's Radio

I just finished reading "Darwin's Radio" by Greg Bear. I picked it up at the Friends of the Arlington Library Book Sale because I'd noticed it on the shelf in book stores so many times. I moved it to the top of the pile when the Politics & Prose Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Club started reading it. Alas, they moved the date of the meeting without letting the general public know. So half way through this book got shuffled to the Now Reading pile. I just finished it about two months after I started.

Well, the book club hated it. But then I think they quite enjoy hating things. Makes for much more interesting conversation than "I thought it was quite good." "Oh, yes. Splendid book. I'll have to recommended it." "Hmmm, yes." "Quite." "Yes." "So..." "..."

I didn't hate it. It's just not the sort of thing you want to read when discovering a new author. The technical aspects are quite accurate. The end rather predictable. And it stretches out for too long (says the man who took two months). Most of my complaints are similar to those of people who hated Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. No, I don't mean the book contains Jar Jar. I mean that the major plot is just bickering politicians and scientists. There's a bit of action when the police come for our heroes a time or three. Now, some books are good because of the technical ideas they present. But it's not like we even get new technical data as we move through the book. Just great coverage early on and then bickering.

I suppose I should mention what it's about.

The idea is that instead of gradual evolution over time like Darwin suggests we undergo extreme cases of punctuated evolution like Steven Jay Gould said. But while Gould meant it happened in a few hundred short years this book suggests that the new genome develops in what appear to be junk DNA and when it perfects the new model of species it expresses itself. The first version might not work so the DNA has several variants on a theme and goes through them until one works.

The story starts with lots of women getting pregnant but suffering from a stillbirth and finding that their baby is some sort of deformed cyclops thing. A month or so later they find they're pregnant again with the child of the cyclops. Early versions are born dead.

Some scientists think that this is a new stage of evolution based on some remains found in a mountain cave. Others think that this is some ancient virus that has been hiding in our genes and is trying to manifest in these new babies.

Naturally, the people of the world decend into panic and superstition. Martial law is declares, pregnant women are rounded up, the whole nine yards.

It's not a bad story. I think this would have made for a better movie or mini-series.

For other reviews of Greg Bear's work see also my reviews of:
   Moving Mars

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


This summer's gardening was a bit disappointing.

I never got around to bothering with the potato barrel this year.

The corn got about half as tall as I'd expect it to grow and then stopped. The leaves never curled up like it's done in some other summers. It didn't turn brown like in the beating Kansas sun. So it wasn't a lack of water.

I've concluded that the mint I got from my brother must be wintergreen since it thrived right up until it hit freezing out and bounced back when it warmed a bit, but did awful during the summer months.

The watermelon plants did yield something. I'm pretty sure the reason they failed in the past was because the mailman dropped packages on them.

Here they are. My watermelons.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Giving up TV?

I already told you that I got my TV tuner and that I have to reposition the antenna and reprogram the tuner nearly every time I want to change channels. So I started looking anew at antennas.
Go to http://www.antennaweb.org and click "Choose an antenna". This will list the TV stations you should be able to get with different grades of antenna and what direction the transmitters are in.

I drew this to indicate where the transmitters are in relation to my place.While they do tend toward one direction they're all over. I'd need to add a rotor to turn the antenna for many of the channels. Plus enough of the walls are brick that the only real way to get the signal to my TV is to go under the house and up through the floor.

My parents are lucky. They just have to point their antenna in the general direction of Wichita and forget about it for 20 years.

So I'm seriously considering taking on the challenge of doing all my TV viewing via the internet for the fall season. And since there's only 8 hits on this site in any one day anything I do is more for my own amusement than for you lot. So I'm going to leave this page as a master page for all my TV watching needs. And you can use it, too, I suppose.

To be used in conjunction with the fall premier schedule.

The Simpsons
American Dad
Family Guy

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
   http://fox.com/fod/play.php?sh=tscc requires install

The Mentalist

Knight Rider
Pushing Daisies

   http://www.cwtv.com/cw-video/supernaturala week behind
   http://www.cwtv.com/cw-video/smallville a week behind.
Life on Mars

Stargate: Atlantis
   Still done not terribly legally.

Battlestar Galactica returns in April
Dr. Who, Torchwood, and Primeval
   Thank god there's not yet extradition for TV downloads. Relax, BBC, I'll still buy the DVDs.
   TBA. Of course it'll be good. Joss Whedon made it.

If I might make a viewing suggestion? Hulu has I Spy, Firefly, and season 1 of ReGenesis. Plus a lot of other stuff you'll probably like.

Monday, September 08, 2008

DTV Tuner

So I got my government DTV tuner coupon.

The one I ordered from https://www.dtv2009.gov/.

Because you need one to watch TV as of February. Either a tuner or a whole new TV.

The coupon comes with a list of models that the government allows the coupon to be sent on and stores in your area that take the coupon.

Anyway, I bought one. An Apex DT250. It cost $22 besides the coupon. So far I'm thinking that another model would be better. The box isn't terribly responsive. Ask me again when I replace the batteries.

If your signal is as cruddy as mine you may want to make sure that the one you get has Analog Pass-Through. It means that until February you can use the old analog signal through the coax input.

I just had rabbit ears until now. Not a great signal. Odd really. You have to be close to a city to get a decent signal but then you have buildings blocking and reflecting the signal. You know when you can see multiples of the people on screen? Ghosts or whatever? That's because the signal is bouncing off of surrounding buildings.

Right, there was a point around here somewhere. Um... The picture is great now. Really. Except... I set it to "Lets Make a Deal or Not" or whatever, that one with Howie Mandel. I'm not sure I like him bald. While the old picture was a bit sketchy the new one is crystal clear. Except it pixelated from time to time. The signal is digital. So when there's a problem it pixelates. And those stations which were more than a little flawed just don't appear.

The model I bought has a "signal" button that tells you the signal strength. It allowed me to move the antenna to a place that at least makes the needle bounce around wildly instead of sitting on low. I had it rescan the spectrum after moving the antenna. A few new stations appeared. But the only one I watch instead of going to the website, Fox, is just pixelated hash.

The model I got has a "smart antenna" option. I hadn't heard of them. Looks like they have 4 antennas at 90° angles. You set it to scan for stations, it figures out what the best antenna configuration is best for those stations, and it shuts off the unwanted antennas. It should also sort out which is the primary signal and which are echoes from buildings so it can get rid of the ghosts. But they do require a different kind of cable than usual and so far they only plug in to certain DTV tuners. No TVs, radios, etc.

p.s. - Digital TV and High Definition TV are different things. Digital defines the type of signal. HDTV defines what's carried on the signal. Digital signals can carry the HD signal or the more traditional signal.
The question of whether you need a DTV tuner depends on how you watch TV. Cable and satellite viewers don't need a tuner. Antenna users do.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Garbage movies

You haven't seen any movie reviews from me in a few weeks because there hasn't been anything worth seeing released in a month or so. But I'm still gonna pass on what I've been hearing.

Tropic Thunder
It's not bad but it sure isn't good. The sole reason to see this movie is to piss off the protesters who disapprove of it's treatment of the mentally disabled.

Babylon A.D.
20 minutes were cut to make it fit in the preferred time span. Those must have been the 20 minutes that made sense.

The House Bunny
Only worth seeing if you pine for your days in a sorority. And even the girls who were psyched about this movie are saying that you should wait until you can NetFlix it. Just not worth $10.

Disaster Movie
STOP GIVING THESE PEOPLE YOUR MONEY!!! Congress is considering legislation to make paying to see this movie punishable by 20 years in the electric chair.

See "The House Bunny".

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
I haven't heard anything bad about it. I haven't heard anything about it whatsoever.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars
After Star Wars episodes I, II, & III and then Indiana Jones IV you honestly thing Lucas has any writing and/or directing talent left in him? By all reports this is just more of the same old Meh we've come to expect from him.

Death Race
Exactly what it advertises. Manly men and shapely women driving tricked out cars that shoot at each other.

Because I know you care so much about my opinion.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sarah Palin

So John McCain has picked Alaska Governor and mother of 5 (or maybe only 4) children. I was a bit surprised by this. I was sure he'd pick a woman but I expected him to pick former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carleton S. Fiorina. Instead he found someone who was already in politics and a former Miss Alaska runner up.

He picked a woman because he needed someone to help secure all the disgruntled Hillary supporters. No, really, that's the long and the short of it. Typically you select a VEEP to try to secure a state with lots of electoral votes or nail down a swing state. Alaska has fewer people than most major cities and is extremely Republican.

It had long been thought, by people who think about this stuff, that the first black or the first woman President would be a Republican. That's because women and blacks would rush to vote for that person based solely on their common demographics ignoring the fact that the candidates policies are the opposite of those of the voter. The people who think about this sort of stuff hadn't considered that the Republicans would finally become so open about their true values that people would flee them in droves.

Many people thought that McCain's obvious and cynical grab for women voters would turn off those same voters and they'd go back to the people who better represent their interests. But the last several days have show that this just isn't so. Women everywhere are still talking about getting to break that glass ceiling and disrupt the good old boys network. They're not looking at the values of this woman. They're not considering how she votes. They accuse men of sexism and then vote based on the location of the candidate's reproductive organs.

So lets take a moment to see where Sarah Palin stands on the issues.

1) She's anti-choice. You may object to how I phrase that, but you'll understand why I pick that phrase later. The point is that she does not support a woman's right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term or not. Even in cases of incest and rape she's rather force the woman to go full term. She would permit them to save the life of the mother, but that's it.

1a) She steered thousands of tax dollars to organizations that deliberately provide false and misleading information about abortions.

2) She's pro-death penalty. That's why you can't call her pro-life. She believes that non-sentient fetuses should live at the expense of a woman while walking, talking, and often innocent criminals should be put to death.

3) She opposes physician-assisted suicide. This furthers the "anti-choice" statement. Currently only Oregon permits physician-assisted suicide. John Ashcroft tried to force that law off of Oregon's books but was shot down by the Supreme Court.
I understand the argument that greedy kids could try to manipulate their parents into early death so they could get the inheritance or that it's the first step to requiring old people to die at a certain age. But there are safeguards for that and enough people watching for that behavior to keep it from happening.
Right now the major voting block are the baby boomers whose parents are getting old and sick. They don't want to have to say goodbye to their parents and many would rather watch their folks live in agony rather than have to feel the pain of losing a parent. But in another couple of decades they'll be the ones wishing for the release of death. I imagine that's when more states will permit assisted suicides.

4) She opposes same sex marriage. This isn't a choice issue like she believes. One doesn't choose who they're attracted to. Palin not only thinks that gays shouldn't marry but also tried to deny benefits to same-sex partners in the state's employ.

5) She does not believe that global warming is man made. That's a whole book or five, not a blog entry. But it does help to clear up her lack scientific knowledge or willingness to ignore it for political expedience. As do points 6 through 10.

6) She favors oil and gas interests over environmental protection.

7) She supports drilling in ANWR.

8) She opposes designating polar bears as endangered species.

9) She supports replacing genuine sex-ed with the counter-productive abstinence-only education programs. So she won't only not let you get an abortion but she won't let the schools tell you how not to get pregnant.

10) She opposes stem cell research. She's call this a pro-life position. I'd call it anti-health care. Sure, your mind is going, your organs are failing, you're going to spend the next few months or years in pain or watching your mind slip away or both. But she doesn't support curing you OR letting you die.

11) She's a member of the NRA and supports the right to bear arms. I support the right to bear arms, but not the NRA. This isn't an issue I feel passionately about. Certainly not compared to many of the other issues I've mentioned. But I felt that it should be mentioned.

12) She has a record of pushing to ban books in the Wasilla Public Library as Governor. No word yet on what books.

13) She thinks that the war in Iraq is "a task that is from God." Makes her sound like a Blues Brother.

14) She supports permitting doctors to refuse to perform medical procedures they disapprove of.

15) As mayor she increased the town's debt. Long-term debt went from none to $19 million. Debt service increased from $390,385 to $658,662. Sales tax increased by half a percent.

To her credit
1) She did go after political corruption in Alaska. The mere fact of her election shook out a long standing corrupt governor. The corrupt politicians in question were all, not surprisingly, Republicans. Not surprising, in part, because Republicans are so good at being corrupt and not surprising because Alaska is mostly Republican. Alaska, like Texas, is so right leaning that even the Democrats are just Republicans in a mask.
And she seems to be rooting out old corruption so she can bring in her new corruption. But isn't that always how it works?

2) She does support the use of contraception. Seems obvious to you and me, but in contrast to the Republican leadership this is a major plus.

But don't count on her to make it until election day. As of 1:45pm Tuesday, traders on the Intrade prediction market are selling the chance that Palin will drop off John McCain's ticket at 13.9. That is, as I understand it, 13.9% of the traders think she'll drop out. This is down from 18% earlier in the day.
That might be an interesting strategy. Women are already pissed that Hillary isn't the Democratic candidate. If Palin waits a few months and then leaves while blaming the Democrats for their smear campaign it'll make them look awful. McCain picks up more of the pissed off woman vote and can then pick a male VEEP from a state with lots of votes in the electoral college.

Not that I think she and McCain have a chance of winning. The last eight years have really shown the Republicans for the monsters that they are. McCain continues to run on a platform of fear and international bullying. Obama runs on a platform of hope and making the United States the good guys again.

Regardless of where you stand on the issues just remember that you should vote on the issues. Don't vote for Obama just because he's black. Don't vote for McCain just because he's got a woman on his ticket. Vote because that person takes positions that make the country and the world a better place. Don't figure that the person who shares your demographics shares your values.

To read about why some think that Sarah Palin may be covering up her daughter's pregnancy

To read about the views of Sarah Palin's preacher and her own stated religious views read

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

In a world... without Don LaFontaine

You know him.

You LOVE him.

You've imitated him.


Don LaFontaine died Monday from complications in the treatment of an ongoing illness. He was 68 years old.
Don did the deep voice overs for more than 5,000 TV and movie trailers.

Don LaFontaine in ... "5 Guys in a Limo"

Don LaFontaine in ... Good Morning America

An interview... with Don LaFontaine

We'll miss you Don.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Find your heart pills and control your excitement. I'm doing two posts in one day.

Wow, New Orleans was evacuated, the make shift levees held, the federal and state governments were responsive, FEMA was ready to take action... It looks like George Bush and friends actually did something right.

Just remember that THAT is what the real news is. They went against eight years of tradition and DIDN'T screw up royally. Nine years ago this wouldn't have been news. We expected FEMA to work under the Clinton administration. Most people hadn't even heard of the agency back then because they routinely did such a wonderful job. It's only fixed because they broke it in the first place.

You may have heard that former DNC chairman Don Fowler and filmmaker Michael Moore both made comments along the line that hurricane Gustav was proof of the existence of God. Don Fowler was implying that God was reminding the world of hurricane Katrina just as the FEMA Killers (a.k.a. the GOP, a.k.a. the Republican Party) were having their convention. Michael Moore was trying to make a joke that reminded people that Republicans televangelists Pat Robertson, Hal Lindsey, and John Hagee as well as Watergate conspirator Charles Colson all made similar claims in 2005 saying that Katrina was God's wrath on the wicked city of New Orleans.
What Fowler and Moore failed to remember is that the press isn't likely to print the whole background behind their comments and just present them at face value.

New season

Look ye mighty and dispair,
The new Fall lineup is here.

     - Lament of a TV Critic

Monday, September 1
8pm Gossip Girl - The CW
8pm Prison Break - 2-Hour Season Premiere - Fox
9pm One Tree Hill - The CW

Tuesday, September 2
8pm 90210 - Two-hour premiere - The CW
10pm The Shield - FX Network

Wednesday, September 3
8pm Bones - 2-Hour Season Premiere - Fox

Monday, September 8
8pm Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Fox

Tuesday, September 9
8pm Fringe - 2-Hour Series Premiere - Fox
9pm Privileged - The CW

Tuesday, September 16
9pm House - Fox

Thursday, September 18
8pm Smallville - The CW
9pm Supernatural - The CW

Monday, September 22
9pm Heroes - Two-hour premiere - NBC
9pm Boston Legal - ABC
10pm CSI: Miami - CBS

Tuesday, September 23
8pm NCIS - CBS
9pm The Mentalist - CBS
10pm Without a Trace - CBS
10pm Law & Order: SVU - NBC

Wednesday, September 24
8pm Knight Rider - NBC
9pm Criminal Minds - CBS
10pm CSI: NY - CBS
10pm Lipstick Jungle - NBC

Thursday, September 25
8pm Ugly Betty - ABC
9pm Grey's Anatomy - (special two-hour season premiere) - ABC
10pm ER - NBC

Sunday, September 28
9pm Cold Case - CBS
9pm Desperate Housewives - ABC
10pm Brothers & Sisters - ABC
10pm The Unit - CBS

Monday, September 29
8pm Chuck - NBC
10pm My Own Worst Enemy - NBC

Wednesday, October 1
8pm Pushing Daisies - ABC
9pm Private Practice - ABC
10pm Dirty Sexy Money - ABC

Friday, October 3
8pm Ghost Whisperer - CBS
9pm The Ex List - CBS
10pm Numb3rs - CBS
10pm Life - NBC

Thursday, October 9
9pm CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - CBS
10pm Eleventh Hour - CBS
10pm Life on Mars - ABC

Friday, October 10
10pm The Starter Wife - USA Network

Tuesday, October 14
10pm Eli Stone - ABC

Friday, October 17
9pm Crusoe - Two-hour premiere - NBC

Premiering Early 2009: 24, Lost and Reaper