Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Links: May 29

First, Happy Birthday, Yummy!

Game: Soundory - Memory played with sound. [link]

Those strange messages in your spam translated into pictures. [link]

Stanford offers free classes online for no credit. [link]

Some guy setting the jet pack speed record.

Quilted maps [link]

Science geek merit badges. [link]

DARPA tries flying jets in goose formation. [link]

Some guy is trying to figure out how to encode images so they fit in a Tweet. [link]

Soldier goes out to fight in his pink underwear. [link]

Home made massage chair. [link]

Washington state recently passed an assisted suicide law. Oddly enough, I didn't hear about it until it was first used. [link]

Conservative radio host gets waterboarded and concludes that it's torture. [link]

Pictures from the last mission to Hubble. [link]

Turn a disused newspaper rack into a planter. [link]

Cameron's house from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is for sale. [link]
Only $2.3 million or $11K per month.

If your kids need last minute extra credit in science. [link]

A dog who hates balloons.

Weapons that were built and failed. [link]

What my friend Tlaloc learned from psychics. [link]

Computerized random number generators aren't actually random. So clearly you need one of these.

If Nathan Fillion played Green Lantern.

Teeny fuzzy thing.

Movie news:
Bazooka Joe movie in the works. Yeah, the kid from the gum. [link]
A movie about other vampire slayers that aren't Buffy. And lets do it without Joss Whedon! [link][related cartoon]
Dr Who movie definitely being written (and other Dr related stuff). [link]
Hold on. They said Ridley Scott is doing WHAT!?! [link]

Game: Cargo Bridge - build a bridge and see if it supports some guys hauling cargo. [link]

4,000 year old leper found. He's dead. [link]

Holy crap I have a lot this week. I should stop there.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Book Review: The Gods Hate Kansas

See that picture? Isn't it great? '60s art work, a title like that, you can't help but think it's kinda awesome. You can buy a poster sized version for your wall [link].

This book has come to my attention several times over the years, largely because I came from Kansas. Yummy bought me a copy for Christmas. I finally read it. It's OK. I'm not recommending it too highly.

It starts out as another aliens inhabit humans and try to take over the world type book. Beings of pure thought ride a fleet of asteroids to Kansas from the Moon. The team that goes to investigate open some up and release the aliens that take over their bodies.

Instead of spreading out and taking over high ranking politicians they empty their bank accounts, set up an electric fence around the crash site, and start building a tower.

Then a plague breaks out that causes the blood to rush to a person's head, they bleed a bit, and then die. Some people are buried, some are burned, but this doesn't stop the spread of the disease. The aliens claim they've come to stop the plague by transporting the dead to the Moon where they're completely isolated. But the people aren't actually dead. Sucks to be the ones who were buried or burned. No, they were apparently hypnotized to do that.

Oh, I know. Believe me. But this is some of the more solid science in the book.

Eventually we discover that this alien race split into one of pure knowledge and thought while the rest remained emotional workers who kept their bodies and served as vessels for the thought creatures. But the thought creatures found they were going to evolve into nonexistence in another hundred generations or so. Look, don't even ask me how beings of pure thought reproduce. Anyway, they got some bodies and left their homeworld in search of a solution. Well, they crashed on our Moon. They sent several waves of asteroids to Earth but they weren't properly shielded so the passengers died. The bodies are getting elderly when they discover proper shielding. They've come to Earth to steal new bodies and build a ship.

The hero of the story can't be controlled, his mind read, or get hypnotized because he has a silver plate in his head after a car accident. He fights them back to the Moon, finds out what's up, and tells them that had they just asked we would have given them what they need for their ship. Of course, the technology we learned while building it would help.

And the solution to their fatal evolution problem is just that they need to start having emotions again and just be better people.

I had to read it eventually. Really, you're better off with the poster.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Movie Review: Terminator 4 (Terminator Salvation)

A few weeks ago I told you that Yummy and I watched the original Terminator movie. She was house/dog sitting for someone over the weekend and they had Terminator 2 and 3. So we watched both of them before watching Terminator 4 which just opened in theaters.

The reviews for this movie have been pretty bad. We were warned against seeing it pretty strongly. But having seen 1-3 we felt compelled to see it. And really, it wasn't that bad. You do have to know what to expect. This is Terminator, not Shakespeare. We're not shooting for an academy award with this movie. Like the previous movies it's first and foremost an action movie. What makes them better than other action movies is an element of the storyline that makes you think.

Terminator 1: Bang, pow, hurt, by sending someone back in time to kill the mother of their greatest foe the machines ended up creating that which they wanted to destroy. Time travel paradoxes were fairly new to movies when the first one came out and it kinda blew peoples minds.

Terminator 2: Bang, pow, hurt, if the machines hadn't sent someone back in time we wouldn't have developed the technology to create the machines.

Terminator 3: Bang, pow, hurt, those sent back to protect John Connor from the machines were only there to protect him. There was never any hope of stopping the machines. We reach the climax of the movie with John Connor and friend breaking into what they think is a NORAD type hardened bunker that is the home of Skynet. Instead it's just an abandoned bunker where they can survive. That shock helps you forget how much you disliked the robot chick. So it's just a different kind of mind fuck.

I'm not gonna tell you much about T4. If you've seen the trailers you already know that one of the central characters is a robot with a human mind and organs who doesn't realize he's a robot. When you reach the end of movie you find an elaborate story about plots and counterplots and counter-counterplots.

At first I was blown away by the appearance of what I thought was a completely digital Arnold Schwarzenegger. The physical proportions seemed a bit off, but it looked like a real human being and I know Arnold isn't that buff or young any more. But I did a bit of research and it looks like they got a real human and put Arnold's face on him.
The digital people shown in "The Animatrix: Final Flight of the Osiris" were pretty damn convincing. Sometimes they looked real, other times they didn't. I had hoped that they'd made enough progress to get a realistic looking digital Arnold. No such luck.

T4 can be watched without having seen the previous three.
I won't be getting this on DVD but I am glad that I went to see it.
I am a bit annoyed that Fox canceled the Terminator TV series "The Sarah Connor Chronicles". It was a surprisingly good show.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Solar Decathlon - early review part 2

Back to the Solar Decathlon houses.

Kentucky is being rather secretive about their house. This is rather odd since they've apparently used it to compete in two other solar home competitions.

Boston has a good looking house. You should really go to their site [link] for a look. Partially sheltered decks allow winter sunlight in but not so much summer sun. There's a water catching system, a privacy wall, and a trellis wall. The foundation is supposed to readjust for different angles of ground at whatever competition site they visit.

Louisiana has some construction pictures up. I can't tell much from them other than the fact that the roof is higher on one end than the other. I've seen someone try that in the past. It looked good.

I like the look of Santa Clara's house. I can't tell much about it other than it uses a lot of water and is in an L shape. It just looks neat.
They've got a webcam, too. [link]

Missouri always puts on a good show. The slats you see let in the winter sun, but not the summer. It sounds like one of the more interesting things they'll have will be the home automation system. Last time it was the solar water heater integrated into the solar power collectors.
Webcam! [link]

Minnesota seems to be going for a barn look as well.
What? I'm 16 houses in! We're a bit low on unique features to blather about.

Wisconsin has a V shaped roof. This has some advantages and disadvantages. The big plus is that it hides your solar panels so your neighbors won't bitch about how ugly they are. It also moved all the rainwater to just two points so it can be easily directed to a useful purpose.
On the downside, it runs all the water to a channel in the middle of the house. I'd imagine that it's more prone to leaks than a peaked roof.

Canada seems to be departing from their usual super insulation strategy. This house has a shade that goes around the outside of the house and can be raised or lowered in sections as desired.
Frankly, I preferred their house than only lost 0.5°F overnight with the heat off.

Virginia Tech offers up nothing in the way of photos, architectural drawings, or even floor plans. What you can see is their list of expenses. [link]

And we wrap up these preliminaries with Germany, the 2007 winner. They had some slick stuff, but I'm not sure I would have given them first.
I can't tell what their house will look like from the outside, but you can see the cutaway. It appears to have what so many others have missed - storage space. I believe that's what the space overhead is. Now that I think about it, it could be the bedroom, too. I don't see one elsewhere.
The site is in German, but you can get to Google's translation link

In a few days I'll put up some of my pictures from previous Decathlons.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Links: May 22

Monkeys hate being cheated.

A humorous breakdown of various religions and why they're wrong.

I've tried this a time or two with some success. Nothing like this.
Creased paper art. [link]

An open letter to Oprah about why she shouldn't give Jenny McCarthy a voice. [link]

The Japanese creep me out sometimes.

New Star Trek movie uploaded to ISS for astronauts to watch. [link]

Speaking of Trek... here's how to make a full size papercraft phaser rifle. [link]

Yet another reason to wear pants to clean your fish tank. [link]
I'm a bit dubious about his story.

A review of a book that explains an alternate way to engineer a dinosaur. [link]
Sounds more promising than the wooley mammoth genome reconstruction efforts.

Some British ladies knitted their village. [link]

I think those houses needed some lights. [link]

Transformers USB stick and MP3 player. [USB link] [MP3 link]

Whack-a-kitty

Trailer for the next Dr. Who special. [link]

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Solar Decathlon - early review

I've been going over the websites for the individual teams competing in the Solar Decathlon this October. Here's the first 10 schools.

Cornell has a unique design [link]. It appears to be three cylinders connected by a glass cube and covered by a flat roof. It's an interesting building from an architectural standpoint. Looks like it might not be the most efficient for collecting energy. But their design allows for only heating and cooling select areas instead of the whole house.

Ohio State appears to have tried to fill every inch allowed. Not terribly interesting from an architectural standpoint. But, have a look at their windows. They've got some interesting ideas on how to cover the windows or open the house.
Go to here click "Our House" and "House Design".

Iowa State has what I'd call the default house for this contest. Mobile home shape with a roof that all slopes one way. Window covers that slide back and forth. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. This structure gets used a lot because it's a good one. Your average contractor should be able to build this easily. It doesn't get the oohs and aahs but it is more likely to find a place in the real world.
What they have that others don't have is a webcam so you can see the contruction. Watch them work here.

Arizona has a more stylized variation on the Iowa house. The structure [link] is significantly more elaborate. And they have an odd skin [link] that I'm not even gonna try to figure out until I see it in person.

I regret that Penn State [link] is being rather secretive about their house. They had a good place last year that made nice use of rainwater runoff.

You can get the best look of Rice University's house here. Looks like they've got a green wall to help keep the house cool in the Texas heat. I'm not sure about how they have the house in sections. It'll probably work better in person that on screen.

Alberta's house has a design that I like. And what appears to be a rooftop deck. I hope they let people up there. Most schools that have lofts or rooftop access keep people out.

I'm glad to see Puerto Rico is back. The first year they had two schools on either end of the island working together on a house in the middle of the island. It was a 100 mile commute for each. Not a lot of work got done, the house looked like crap, and they were still working on it while people were touring it. They worked that out and have put on a good show every year since.
The schools tend to design either for their own region or for their exact lot on the Mall in DC. Canada had a place that was virtually invulnerable to the cold. Puerto Rico designs for their island climate. Go here and click on the lower two pictures.
And they made an L-shaped house. Not so remarkable for a real house, but pretty different for the competition.

Right off the bat I love Spain's house. The whole solar array is on a central pivot point. It can be adjusted for whatever part of the world they're competing in and move for optimal position over the course of the day.

The Illinois team was looking to pay homage to the rustic, urban origin of their materials. Their home looke like a barn because the wood came from a barn and a grain elevator.
Be sure to have a look through their gallery. [link]

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Solar Decathlon 2009

I recommend that you find yourself in Washington, DC this October 9-13, 15-18 for the 4th Solar Decathlon.

I am a Solar Decathlon Groupie. I love this stuff. I get a little giddy just talking about it. Gandolf and I have been to every one so far. We're there during construction, we tour the homes, we explain the technology to groups outside the homes, and we stop by during the break down.

I suppose I should stop and explain what I'm talking about.

Twenty colleges from around the country build a small home that fits in a set area and is completely solar powered. Then they transport the homes to DC and set them up down on the National Mall. They compete in 10 fields - Architecture, Market Viability, Engineering, Lighting Design, Communications, Comfort Zone, Hot Water, Appliances, Home Entertainment, and Net Metering. While they're here we get to tour the homes. Much of the work I've done on my house has been inspired by what I've seen at these shows.

Some schools get a small group of engineers to develop their house. Others expand the program across as many disciplines as possible. Some make it a two year class. Others make it an extracurricular program. Some sell their home after the show. Some turn it into student housing on campus. Some develop new technology for their home that they patent and try to find someone to manufacture and sell it.

Competing this year:
Cornell University
Iowa State University
Penn State
Rice University
Team Alberta (University of Calgary / SAIT Polytechnic / Alberta College of Art + Design / Mount Royal College)
Team Boston (Boston Architectural College / Tufts University)
Team California (Santa Clara University / California College of the Arts)
Team Missouri (Missouri University of Science and Technology / University of Missouri)
Team Ontario/BC (University of Waterloo / Ryerson University / Simon Fraser University)
Technische Universit├Ąt Darmstadt
The Ohio State University
The University of Arizona
Universidad de Puerto Rico
Universidad Polit├ęcnica de Madrid
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Kentucky
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
University of Minnesota
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Virginia Tech

The main site is http://www.solardecathlon.org/.


More tomorrow.




In fact, you'll probably get sick of it soon.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What would you do?

You're swimming in a lake, and there is a kitten and a child drowning, and you can only rescue one of them. Somehow, you get a flash that the child will grow up to be a serial killer, or another Adolph Hitler. The kitten will be an ordinary kitten, who, if you rescue it, will live to be a great old age of 18 and will be a good companion for a single owner.

So....do you rescue the child, knowing its future, simply because rescuing a child is more important than rescuing an animal;

Do you rescue the child hoping that an intervention will prevent somehow the terrible future you saw;

Do you rescue the child because it's simply the right thing to do;

Do you rescue the child for some other reason;

Do you rescue the cat because you don't want that future to come true for the child;

Do you rescue the cat because it will be a better presence on the earth for its years;

Do you rescue the cat because you like animals better than children;

Do you rescue the cat simply because you feel there is no escaping destiny and the child must be stopped before all those terrible things happen;

Or do you make some other choice?
-----

I put the panicked, wet, angry cat on the child's head.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Friday Links: May 15

Orangutan figures out how to escape zoo...but doesn't [link]

Some guy documents how he turned his pool to a pond. [link]

Global warming to create a species of giant spiders. [link]

Model city made from insanely well balanced eggs. [link]

Check out this woman's doilies. They're models of viruses. [link] click "Doilies"

A long exposure of a Roomba cleaning a room. [link]

An older link to a realistic video of an elephant on a trampoline. [link]

A music video about the failure of the game "ET" for the Atari. [link]

Old school Trekkies. [link]

A movie I probably won't see.

Sweet Space Shuttle launch pic. [link]

Yarn skulls. [link]

Advice for someone leaving Islam (or any religion, really). [link]

Game: Sneeze - spread plague among a group using just 1 sneeze. [link]

I was raped by my Dyson. [link]

Painting a room with position sensitive art. [link]

Teeny people in your food. [link]

Friday, May 15, 2009

Movie Review: Star Trek

I have been, and always shall be, your friend.



I'm postponing Friday Links in order to tell you that you need to go see the new Star Trek movie. And I'm gonna try to do it spoiler free.

There are a lot of possible names for this movie.
Star Trek
Star Trek XI
Star Trek: Reboot
Star Trek: Proof Rick Berman is a Hack
Lens Flare: The Motion Picture

I'm assuming by now that we all know what a reboot is. We've seen Batman rebooted a couple of times. We've seen two takes on The Hulk. James Bond has returned to it's origins. And now Star Trek has done the same thing and done it well.

J.J. Abrams needed to be able to start fresh. 43 years ago Gene Roddenberry finally sold one of the many ideas for a show he'd been developing. Gene was a science fiction writer who chose TV instead of books as his medium. He knew his science well enough that even when he was making up impossible tech it kept a foothold in real technology. He made sure that the writers used his ships correctly. He had whole languages developed for many of the alien races. Much of the technology that he created for the show has been the basis for real world technology ever since. Some of the bleeding edge science he addressed has been investigated and proved prophetic.

The show only lasted 3 years. When it came back as Star Trek: The Next Generation Gene had "help". Rick Berman, a man with almost no experience writing, directing, or producing, became Gene's right hand man. Gene successfully guided the show until his death. Then came Deep Space Nine, a show best viewed when you know how it fits with the better and later seasons, Voyager, who couldn't keep it's own story consistent let alone jive with the rest of Trek, and Enterprise, who drove the final nail in the coffin despite a great final season. Rick Berman took a lot of the blame for the decline and fall of Star Trek. It appears now that he deserved it.

With the huge base of fans who know every little nuance of the 43 year history J.J. Abrams had a problem. He had to get too much right. He had no room to move in order to make a good movie. It was time for a reboot. But instead of just starting fresh he found a way to create a whole new Star Trek universe based on the old. I just can't tell you what that is because of spoilers. He's disposed of the baggage that comes from a long history but kept what made classic Star Trek great. He kept the characters.

If you were a fan of the original you'll like what Abrams has done with Trek. If you weren't a fan this is still a damn good movie. If you hated the original you'll still probably like this movie. If you've never seen any Trek you'll find you're not missing anything important.

I will be getting this movie on DVD. I don't have any Trek movies on video.

A sequel has been announced and the writers selected. I'm hoping it goes into the war with the Klingons and helps explain why they hate Kirk so much.

I also recommend you read what Scott Kurtz has to say about the new movie. [ link]

Seriously. Go. See it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's dark and wet down there

Last night I crawled into a very dark and wet hole filled with rusty metal and broken glass. I was trying to insulate the house.

Perhaps I should provide a bit of background information.

In 1890 (or 1870-1890) my house was built. The whole block was built to house railroad workers. They sealed a remarkable amount of crap down in the crawlspace. Alas, none of the crap they sealed down there was insulation. So, come winter, you can't sit on my floor because it's too cold. In fact, the furnace has to struggle a bit to keep the first floor at a reasonable temperature. Some time back I swore to do something about this.

That pink fiberglass roll out stuff is OK insulation, but not great. Plus, down there it'd get damp, lose most of its insulating value, and probably grow mold. That's the last thing I need.

There are big sheets of Styrofoam that could be cut and fit into place. But if the floor joists are as irregular as the ceiling joists were then each piece would be a custom fit.

There is spray foam. Alas, termite sprayers and electricians and insulation sprayers want nothing to do with the underside of my house. I tried using TigerFoam DIY foam but the tanks won't fit under the house and my experience has shown that the hoses don't seal worth a damn and you lose most of the chemical and spend the next 4 years experimenting with ways to clean up the rest.

I finally settled on Multi-Ceramic paint. Multi-Ceramic paint is a paint with an R-rating of 201. So a coat of paint the thickness of a business card insulates better than a window and most walls. Alas, it costs about $100 per gallon.

Back when I first got some this blog came up number one on Google for information about the product. Higher than the company that makes it. I'm seeing now that the preferred usage is the inner hull of boats. Also, other people are having the same problem with the supply line that I suffered.

So, I ordered 10 gallons (two 5 gallon buckets) of this stuff back in 2007. By the time it was delivered the cold had come and I wasn't about to crawl under the house. I was ready to do it in 2008 when the weather warmed up. But the stuff had separated and shrunk. I called the company, they asked me if I'd been storing it outside or in the garage. No, I said, it was in the kitchen, then the closet in the library. They said to return it to the dealer and they'd replace it. This was June. Come November they sent me four 3 gallon buckets. So $200 of free paint. On the other hand, the day after I got the stuff the temperature plummeted again.

The only reason they delivered it then was because someone in the company had used their e-mail list to spam people with political propaganda. I flew into a rage telling him that it was completely inappropriate to be using their e-mail database like that, especially when their time would be so much better spent sending me what I ordered oh so long ago.

So, last night I opened one bucket, spent a good 5-10 minutes with a drill mounted paint stirrer making sure that it was all mixed up. I found my worst clothes, found my lamp that clamps on to things, put on goggles, dug out my respirator2, poured the paint into the bathroom trash can (since it fits through the hole into the crawlspace), ran power under the house, and hooked up a paint sprayer. Then I shimmied through the hole into the damp, dark, and damp underbelly of my house.

It was a long crawl. Near the front of the house there's enough room between the ground and the joists so that I can sit up as long as I duck. Near the back of the house, where I crawled in, you can just barely crawl on hands and knees. The crawl was made harder due to the fact that I had to keep stopping and bringing along the bucket of paint, the sprayer, the light, and the extension cord.

About halfway along I got sick of crawling and decided to start there. It took awhile for the paint to move up the hose into the sprayer. It's rather thick paint. Even then it liked to cough and sputter. I sprayed from the wall to about the center of the house in between three gaps between joists. Then I crawled to the front of the house. I got from the wall to about 1/3 of the way across when the sprayer stopped working. I think it's just gummed up but efforts to ungum it were unfruitful.

I'm thankful that I keep a rain barrel out back. It provided several gallons of water for rinsing everything.

I think I managed to spray about a gallon of paint. I put it on pretty darn thick, too. There's still a lot of space to cover. Moreso because it'll have to be done with a brush. On the other hand, I shouldn't need the respirator.


1R-rating is deceptive because it's defined by Owens-Corning and they fiddle with the definition so their products have a high number. Allegedly, the higher the number the better it insulates, but it assumes zero humidity and wind. Either one severely cuts the insulation value. A more honest number is the K-value. It refers to how poorly it conducts temperatures. The higher the number the harder it is for heat or cold to move through it. A metal rod has a low value. This paint is high enough that you can dip a strip of metal in it, hold the painted part, and apply a torch to the other end without burning your fingers.

2What do you mean not everyone keeps one of these around the house?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Game Review: Katamari Damacy/We Love Katamari

A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to find a used copy of "Katamari Damacy". This was remarkable because it's nearly impossible to find one of those in a physical store. People just don't part with their Katamari games when they're done with them. They play them over and over again.

I figured it would be a good game to play with Yummy. It's a simple game with broad appeal. But my copy was damaged. After playing the first level on a friend's system in KC she was hooked. So I bought a PS3 that was compatible with PS2 games primarily so we could play that one game.

We started a few weeks ago and tore through it. Then, on the way to work one morning, I realized what the appeal of the game is. Sure, as Yummy likes to say, "I like it when they scream". But I think the overriding appeal is that it's Pac-Man. Let me explain.

A Katamari is a ball with lumps on it. Things stick to this ball. You are a tiny son of the King of the Universe (and major jackass, too). You push the Katamari around on Earth. Things stick to the Katamari making it bigger and bigger. You start just a couple of centimeters tall and can only pick up paper clips and gum drops. As the Katamari grows it can pick up larger and larger objects. Soon you're collecting mice, cats, slow moving birds, people, cars, houses, giant squids, islands, clouds, planes, etc. etc.

Pac-Man is a yellow ball with a mouth. You drive it around and collect dots. Instead of avoiding larger animals and objects too big to pick up you avoid ghosts. The basic game play is the same only one has better graphics.

Yummy got me "We Love Katamari" for my birthday. I'd been looking for it in stores for quite some time. But, like the original, people don't like to sell their copies. She had to find a copy online. It's much like the original version. The story for the original is that your jackass father took a joyride and knocked all the stars from the sky. Your job was to roll up material to make new stars. In "We Love Katamari" you have fans that played the first game. They keep sucking up to the King and making requests. The King, in turn, makes you roll Katamaris for the fans. Instead of simply rolling around homes, cities, and archipelagos you also have underwater levels, flaming Katamaris, firefly Katamaris, and other new environments.

Anyway, I recommend any of the Katamari games to anyone of any age or gender.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book Review: The Traveling Vampire Show

I was expecting a very different book when I picked this up. Maybe something with vampires. Instead it's sort of a coming of age story. It's written as if by a man just past middle age talking about one day of his youth.

There are three kids in this story: the main character, his best friend, and a tomboy. The three go everywhere and do everything together. One day they find an ad for a traveling vampire show that will be performing in a field of ill repute outside their small town. They sneak out there and hide on the roof of a snack vending building in the hopes of seeing the vampire. They get stuck up there by a mad dog. They manage to get away, but everything that happens for the rest of the day is tainted by the fear of the vampire.

The boys can't find their tomboy friend and are convinced that the vampire got her. Once she's found they discover her copy of "Dracula" was chewed up and left on her bed. The flowers that the boys spilled in her house while looking for her have gone missing. The sister-in-law who bought them tickets to the show goes missing. Our hero's dad is run off the road by a mad dog.

Under this main storyline is one about the budding romance between our hero and the tomboy.

Finally, late in the book they go to the traveling vampire show. They know the vampire chick is just an actress but the dangers involved in the show split the group. The show involves volunteers from the audience wrestling the vampire chick who is slowly losing her clothing. The show comes apart with the audience fleeing and the sister-in-law having to fight the vampire to free the best friend. There are arrows and spears and much of the crew ends up dead.

Five pages from the end a monster does finally appear. It's a legless creature who rides in a coffin in the back of a hearse. The contestants have all been chopped up and fed to the creature. Including the best friend.

It's well written and a good book if you're into coming of age novels. I was mostly happy that it was over and done with.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Book Review: The Accidental Time Machine


It wasn't that long ago that I hadn't heard of Joe Haldeman. Then someone handed me a copy of "Forever War" and told me to read it. Shortly thereafter I realized that two other books that I'd picked up because they'd managed to catch my eye on more than one occasion were also by the same guy.

One of those two books was "The Accidental Time Machine". It was a remarkably easy book to read. Unlike a couple of other books that I've been working on lately, I actually wanted to pick this book up and get back to reading it. I got through the bulk of it in one evening.

Our lead character is a grad student and lab tech at MIT. He hits the reset button on a piece of equipment he'd made to calibrate some other bit of machinery and it vanishes. A second later it reappears. He hits the button again and it reappears 14 seconds later. It's really not supposed to do that. He takes the equipment home, runs some tests, and finds out that it jumps forward in time and moves in space a bit. Each jump is twelve times the previous jump.

When he finally decides to try it on himself he borrows the car of a drug dealer friend. Forty days later he reappears on a highway, gets smacked, and is arrested. The drug dealer is dead, his car thought stolen, and his professor thinks he stole a valuable piece of equipment. Then some mystery person posts his million dollar bail and sends him a note saying "get in the car and vanish".

He appears briefly on a highway a couple of years down the road but hits the button before he gets involved in another accident. He reappears 30 years later in the middle of an arena full of cheering people waiting for him. The notes he'd sent his professor after his first jump allowed him to predict when and where the time traveler would show up next.

Life is good here, but soon the culture shock becomes too much and he jumps ahead a few hundred more years. Nobody was waiting for him here. Looking at the state of the roads it looks like society must have collapsed. For the most part he's not wrong. 70 years before Jesus returned, there was a war, and now Jesus rules most of New England with his constellation of killer satellites. There are few books that aren't The Bible (now with a third testament), literacy is nearly extinct, technology is nearly non-existent except for Jesus. Jesus is, of course, an artificial intelligence projecting a hologram and backing it up with force fields and the satellites.

He jumps another couple thousand years, but with his new lab assistant, and finds himself in Arizona. New England is still under the grip of the Jesus AI but that's about all anyone knows of that area. Soon our heroes meet up with the AI that runs Los Angeles. LA isn't a tyrant AI like Jesus was. LA is large enough that Arizona is considered east LA.

The next jump takes the LA AI, the lab assistant, and our hero to an Earth where dinosaurs were introduced, mankind is limited to Australia, and intelligent bears live where LA used to be.

Next, the people are all gone, the moon has been terraformed, but there's no people there. Australia has a big note indicating that people have moved to a nearby star system.

With the next jump they find some time travelers that let the LA AI go on but send the humans back in time to the very late 1800s where they settle down and start a life together.

Like I said before, I enjoyed reading this book. But there were some threads that were not wrapped up to my satisfaction. Some things were stolen, some bails were paid, and some jobs were secured without explanation. But, if you liked the classic "Time Machine" book you'll probably like this, too.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Friday Links: May 8


Intelligent Biomechanical Infiltration Device


Get your own cyborg name by clicking the image.

If you translate my real name it turns out that I AM just a sex machine.

Isaac Asimov explains the Three Laws of Robotics.

Sicilian Mob apparently runs the wind farms, too. [link]

Game: Expedition. Think "African Trails". [link]

A clip from The Price is Right.

Christians more willing to torture than Athiests. [link]

Swine Flu dead returning to life. [link]

Burger Klingon [link]

Humane Society donated robotic wildlife to help catch poachers. [link]

How to find a bee hive.

Psychoanalysis bad for priests. [link]

A two parter.
First, a robot mule.

Second, an updated version.

Answer trivia questions (mostly definitions) to get vaccines donated to people in poor countries. [link]

Sudoku-type game. Each row, column, and group must have each number only once. [link]

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Nerdiest thing you've ever done

What is the nerdiest thing you've ever done?

A friend of mine answered "Actually, the nerdiest thing I ever did was, during a 'seance' in 8th grade during a Halloween party, telling the hottest girl in school that my 15th level Cleric could raise the dead. There are times I want to go back in time and give myself a wedgie."

I'm afraid to go ahead and post my answer as it's rather difficult to top and may discourage others. I'm not sure if it was in college when I got Fortran to draw ASCII circles (Fortran has no graphics capability) OR if it was when I calculated the centripigal force of an object in Clarke (a.k.a. Geosynchronous) Orbit.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Vaccines

There's been a lot of debate over the last several years about vaccinating children. In the last year it's picked up steam because Jenny McCarthy thinks vaccines gave her kid autism and then she cured it.

Some people think that the vaccines cause autism. This despite the fact that the one and only study that supported that was done by a guy with major conflicts of interest, was proven to be horribly flawed, and finally the guy who did the study admitted he'd faked it all.

Every other study has proven there is no correlation between vaccines and autism. After baseless pressure caused the chemicals in doubt to be removed from vaccines the autism rate didn't so much as quiver. There is zero evidence supporting their cause and a mountain against but still they push on with their lies.

Recently measles has been making a comeback. This is due entirely to the anti-vax movement. There have been minor outbreaks all over the world, including the United States, and people have died.

If they were only putting their own kids at risk it wouldn't be so much of a problem. But there are people who can't get vaccinated for legitimate health reasons and small children who need to reach a certain age first. Keeping those who can be vaccinated disease free creates a herd immunity. That means that if we're not acting as walking virus incubators then we won't infect others. And if most of the population is immunized then those who aren't won't be exposed.

The movement is strongest in the United States, but it has proven strong in Australia as well. That is until a 4 week old child died of whooping cough. I'm not as good of a writer or as solid on my fact as the Phil Plait. So I send you to his post on the subject. He also has the video of the parents going on TV to tell the nation how their kid died because of others beliefs in nonsense. [link]

Oprah has now given Jenny McCarthy her own talk show to continue spreading her lies to stay at home mothers. [link]

Someone has been keeping track of the number of illnesses and deaths have been caused by failure to vaccinate at Jenny McCarthy Body Count.


But finally, some facts. To arm yourself for debate and to counter people who spread the lies you should keep http://antiantivax.jottit.com/ handy. It's a quick reference to the myths and the facts in the debate.

But, most of all, remember that for valid health information you want to talk to doctors, not people whose sole qualification is that 10 years ago she looked good naked.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Pepsi Throwback

I was recently reading one of the many online comics that I frequent and found out about a product called Pepsi Throwback. Further research indicated that Pepsi Co. is releasing a special version of Pepsi and Mountain Dew that uses sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.

Normally I would have found it interesting and kept a lookout for some. But Yummy recently went to Spain and raved about the Coke over there. See, they still use sugar in their recipe. In fact, there are people who import Coke and Pepsi and other such beverages from Mexico because it's the same recipe (or damn close) to what is in the Throwback recipes.

So, Sunday night we stop off to get some supplies since I'm coming down with a cold. We found Pepsi Throwback and got a couple of bottles.

Yummy liked it a lot.

I had to let the fizz die down a bit. It overwhelmed the flavor at first. But then it settles down and the flavor starts to come out. It is different. Not sure how to describe it. Good. Sure. Better than regular Pepsi I think.

Anyway, just keep an eye out. I'd like it if it did well enough to stick around.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Movie Review: Wolverine

When I first heard they were doing a movie about the origins of Wolverine I was excited. Then I started seeing trailers and became much less excited. In fact, I began to doubt whether I'd bother to see it. But Yummy and I went to see it Saturday and liked it.

Now, I should say right off that while I am a comic book fan I've never really gotten in to the X-Men. I know the core characters, their roles, and their personalities. I knew enough to see all the ways that X-Men 3 was all screwed up. I've got some comics with Deadpool in them but I don't know the guy well. I keep getting him mixed up with some other characters. Which, in the case of this movie, is a good thing. And if you look at the cast listing on IMDB.com you could even argue that Deadpool and Weapon XI are different characters.

What I'm saying is that you have to either not demand absolute adherence to the comics or not know enough to have nailed down the character in your mind.

I'm not sure what to say about the movie. Either you're already interested or you never plan to see the movie ever.

Hugh Jackman returns as Wolverine. He'd done lots of stage work and some unknown roles on TV, but he was made to play Wolverine and it's the role that launched him to the level of fame he has now.

This movie takes you back before any of the X-men movies to tell you where the most popular mutant came from. How old is he really? How did all that metal get in his body? What happened to his memory?

And, there's something after the credits. Nothing great. Certainly no tie-in to the eventual Avengers movie.

I liked the movie. I'm glad I saw it. I may even get it on DVD. This is all more than I could say for X-Men 3.

You may have already heard that Professor X has a cameo. That's true. It's still Patrick Stewart. But, like in X-Men 3, they used a computer to shave off some years. I'm afraid they didn't do a good job, either. They're supposed to apply the technology to make the back story of Magneto work. I hope they put a bit more effort in the whole movie. I don't think I can take 2 hours of Professor X and Magneto digitally scraped back down to 25 year olds if they do that bad a job on them.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Friday Links: May 1

Dropping a magnet through a copper tube causes it to fall slowly.

A video to demonstrate a new TV from Phillips. But that doesn't matter.

A brief history of gay marriages performed by the Catholic Church. [link]

Christian missionary loses his faith in the face of disbelieving tribe.

Factual coverage of the ongoing Swine Flu outbreak. [link]

Kinda disturbing trailer for the movie "My Winnipeg". Involves a herd of horses frozen in a river. [link]

I saw samples of this in person awhile back. It's light transmitting concrete. [link]

Gillian Anderson (Scully from X-Files) may take the role of The Rani in season 5 of Dr. Who. [link]

Music from "Frogger: The Musical". [link]
It makes Gandolf boogie.

Dog playing dead on Letterman.

Transcript of a talk by Nate Phelps, refugee from Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. [link]

Alphabet made from landmarks seen from satellite. [link]

David Attenborough sums up evolution in 5 and a half minutes.

Types of marriage mentioned and accepted in the Bible. [link]

Super creepy reading of Little Boy Blue by Benjamin Linus from Lost. [link]

Commercial you'll probably never see in America.

Game: Power Up - connect the circuit with metal boxes. [link]

Game: DeepLeap - one player Scrabble [link]

LCD wrapping paper. [link]

Glow in the dark Beagles born. [link]

You never see the Chinese decorating their masks. [link]