Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Buy this book

Larry Gonick is not a great artist. However, he's great at giving history lessons in cartoon form. I used to see his stuff in some of Grandpa's science magazines. It'd be just some half page or so cartoon explaining some scientific concept or other. When I saw "The Cartoon History of the Universe" in stores I had to have it. I didn't recognize the name, but once I opened it I recognized the artist. From there I just started collecting.

The Cartoon History of the Universe covers history from The Big Bang to Alexander the Great. It's the easiest to get your head around since mankind hadn't spread out too much and following the collective history is easier.

The Cartoon History of the Universe II covers what he calls the Springtime of China to the Fall of Rome.

The Cartoon History of the Universe III covers the rise of Arabia to the Renaissance. By now the world is a pretty big place and it requires a bit of skipping back and forth in time with a focus on a different area each time to tell the story. He does a decent job of keeping it all tied together but there's still a few points where you have to stop and review just to get it all straight.

Cartoon History of the United States covers American history from the early settlers until about 1991 when the book came out. I took this book to school and one of my teachers made photocopies of some sections to add to her lesson plans. She used it to explain Watergate.

Cartoon History of the Modern World a.k.a. The Cartoon History of the Universe IV. This latest book covers everything from Columbus until the American Revolution. By the time you read this I shall have my own copy.

(correction: After hitting the book stores I realized that the books are fresher off the press than I thought. They're still shipping. But this weekend for sure.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Mom and I were talking about tributes not too long ago. See, Will Eisner died a few months back and as a tribute to his work DC Comics made a crossover between "Batman" and Eisner creation "The Spirit".
Mom was making the arguement that we do these tributes after they die because on some level we all believe in the afterlife and want them to know what a great person the deceased was. That didn't feel right to me. And now that I'm doing this mindless data entry stuff my mind gets to dwell on that sort of stuff and figure out what it didn't feel right.

Several recent entries have had to do with my mind trying to keep functioning under the abuse of data entry.

I'm going to say that we do tributes to keep the important people alive a bit longer. Batman creator Bob Kane died in 1998 and hadn't worked in comics since the 1960's. But he's effectively immortal as long as Batman goes on. As long as people keep reading "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" Douglas Adams remains.
"The Spirit" had been out of print for years and largely forgotten. But Eisner's death brought it back for that crossover and, I'm told, they're bringing him back in his own regular comic. And the annual comic book awards are called Eisners. Until recently Will was even there to hand them out in person. Eisner will live on for decades.

We do tributes to keep a part of the people alive. It's not so much to honor them as it is our own inability to let go. And maybe a bit of recognition that the only immortality we're sure of is the contribution of our work on society.

Monday, January 29, 2007

It's a birdy!

I have the coolest parrot ever. You know how parrots mimic their owner's words and even their voice? Well they mimic their personalities, too. Gandolf is a total sci-fi nerd.

I got season two of the new Doctor Who on DVD. She bops along to the theme song.
She quotes from Battlestar Galactica (original version).
She shrieks at the pterodactyls in old Ray Harryhausen movies.
She loves the Indiana Jones movies.
She likes to watch me play the game "Thief".
And I have my comic books spread out all over the house while catching up on 5 years of bagging them. She hasn't taken a bite out of one of them. Everything else is fair game to her, but she won't eat the comics.

Friday, January 26, 2007

lousy building materials

It occurs to me that Rock and Roll is a pretty lame substance from which to construct a foundation. Any contractor who uses Rock and Roll to build your house is setting himself up for lawsuits. And if you were to actually build a city on Rock and Roll it would be a death trap waiting to happen. Some islanders living in mud huts would hear about what happened to your city and want to send disaster relief funds to you.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Evil tree

This is a really nasty tree that lives in the pasture back on the family farm. Some people call it a black locust, some call it a honey locust, but we all know what we're talking about when we call it a thorny locust. These trees are all over the pasture but this particular one is the worst. It's been named the Teddy Bear tree because it has so many thorns it looks fuzzy.
I don't know why blogspot insists on rotating the image. It's vertical in everything else.

This is a close up of the above tree.

Larger and more detailed versions of these photos can be viewed by clicking on the pictures.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Santa Claus

I believe in Santa Claus. I stopped believing years ago when my parents left a letter to Santa that had been mailed out sitting on the dining room table. But I recently saw "The Hogfather". You remember. I reviewed it recently. I didn't? But I could have sworn. Anyway, it's good. Download it from iTunes or wait to get the DVD this Easter.
At the end there's a bit about why it's important that kids believe in the Hogfather. I saw it in the book, but it didn't click quite as well then. Some books are better audio books, some are better read, some are better as movies. But I'm getting off my subject. It's like let me quote from the book.

A conversation between Susan and Death:

'You're saying humans need... fantasies to make life bearable.'
'Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little-'
'So we can believe the big ones?'
'They're not the same at all!'
'Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point-'
She tried to assemble her thoughts.
'Yes, but people don't think about that,' said Susan. Somewhere there was a bed...
'You make us sound mad,' said Susan. A nice warm bed...

Now, you can have your Jesus, your Allah, your Vishnu, Ra, Buddha, Odin, and Zeus but in the end we know deep down they are no more real than Captain Kirk. That's right. None of those gods exist outside stories. Neither do truth, justice, fairness, mercy, duty, a chili place that can do a proper bowl of chili, or any sort of human rights. Hurricanes don't recognize the right to life. Tornadoes don't recognize any fairness in who they strike. It's the belief in these things that's important. We create the illusion of these ideals because we need them to Be. It's important that we believe in them so that we'll struggle to keep them safe.
Santa is "My First Belief System". You know, for kids. It's the first imaginary thing they believe in. It's practice so that someday they'll be able to believe in truth, justice, and the basic rights of all mankind.

Santa is the model for what we want our kids to become. Happy, generous, well fed, and with super powers.
We should all get our ideal body image from Santa instead of Barbie.
He threatens to withhold gifts from bad boys and girls, but he also shows nearly total forgiveness for their sins because he almost always comes through with the gifts in the end.
And since it's still acceptable not to believe in him nobody has yet killed in his name. How many other dieties can claim the same?

I know Santa isn't real, but I'm going to believe in him anyway.

Monday, January 22, 2007


You've heard them. The old guys sitting around talking about their trick knees. Maybe it happened during a war or a football game or when they fell out of a tree, but something screwed up their knees and now changes in the weather cause them pain.

"There goes my trick knee again. Feels like it's gonna rain."

It occurred to me earlier today that there's so many leg and knee injuries here on base — there's a war on, you might have heard about it — that we have access to probably the largest collection of trick knees in recent history. If only there were some way to network those knees. In the cities we can use cellphone towers to track a phone with greater accuracy than with GPS satellites. The more towers there are the greater the accuracy. I think we need transmitters in these knees. As the soldiers spread out across the country their knees would record the pressure and fluid levels in the knee and transmit them back to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) computers which would use the collective readings to predict weather patterns. We'll call it the Wide Area Knee Array, or WAKA for short.

Stop looking at me like that.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Over on my cartoon blog ( I've just finished posting the Invader Zim cartoons. I've got about a week of the cartoon Clerks before I have to find something else.

I missed another DC Blogger Happy Hour. Last time it was because I showed up on time while nobody else did and it wasn't the kind of place I want to just hang out. This time I didn't know about it until it was over. Maybe next month.

I finally found a stash of my allergy meds. I hadn't seen any on the shelves since before Thanksgiving. I'd found some substitute that worked OK, but I was having some skin problems. My skin mostly cleared up after a couple days with the good stuff.
I'd found some online drugstore and asked if they had the inventory to supply me with a six month supply and if the government would think I was running a drug lab. I've no idea what I'd be using Tavist for other than using it to cut cocaine with.
"Aw, man, I am so stoned right now. And my sinuses have never been so clear."

I'll try to come up with a better post tomorrow.

Friday, January 19, 2007

What's wrong with this picture?

I wish I'd had my camera there. I was in Dupont Circle last weekend. There was the usual crowd of people milling about. Some homeless guy was roaming around talking to people. He seemed to be fairly sober. A couple of layers of clothes on topped with a zip up hoodie with stains. His hair was a disaster, he hadn't shaved in several days, his belongings were all piled up on a park bench, and he had a bluetooth earpiece around his right ear. Pretty high dollar item for someone who's supposed to be sleeping in doorways Mr. FBI Agent.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

In the beginning

The basic story is that the serpent talked Eve into eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and she learned good and evil. I've long assumed that this is a standard Pandora's Box type myth where the diety says "watch this but don't open or eat it while I walk over here and turn my back". It's using reverse psychology to get the people to do something it isn't willing or able to do itself.

It occurred to me the other day that the fruit may have done exactly what the serpent said. Adam and Eve both developed intelligence on the level of God yet weren't smart enough to turn around and immediately eat from the Tree of Life before getting busted. The duo left Eden while discussing the impact an 8th dimensional drive would have on the relativistic effect of traveling at or near the speed of light or something similar that maybe half a dozen people can start theorizing about even now. They go off and have some kids who seem to have the mental capacity of slime molds with an extra chromosome pair compared to their parents.

Another idea is that humans weren't God's first attempt at intelligent species. A test was needed to prove the species was worth releasing from the lab into the general population. A lesser creation would be told "OY! You there! Hands off the pomegranates." and would say "OK" and leave the fruit alone. Like computers. Pretty spiffy but not much of a self-starter. No free will. Just data processors. These two, however, were told "Don't eat the pomegranates!" said "OK" and while God was explaining to the parrots "DON'T. EAT. THE. BOOK!" Eve grabbed herself a snack. God sees this and figures he's developed a good enough AI for the humans and sends them out into the world.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Movie Review: Descent

This was one of those movies that I had no interest in upon seeing the original trailers, but the trailers I saw AFTER the movie had left theaters made it look interesting. In this one case I should have listened to the original trailers.

A group of 20-something women gets together every few months to do some wilderness adventure event. In the beginning of the movie the event is whitewater rafting. The main event is cave exploring. But the woman leading the pack doesn't want to bother with the "tourist" spelunking areas and leads them into some unexplored caves. There's some suspenseful climbing events that eventually lead them to the land of the Golums. There's a race of sub-humans living down there that eat people. They look a bit like scarier versions of Golum from Lord of the Rings. They're pale, blind, vicious, carnivorous creatures that navigate by sound.

They eat the women.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Movie Review: Pan's Labyrinth

Do not take your kids to see this fairy tale. It focuses more on life in Franco's Spain. There's graphic murder and torture, a bloody pregnancy, and subtitles. This makes the unedited Grimm's Fairy Tales look positively Disneyish.
That said, as adults you'll enjoy this movie. Sure, there's a few scenes where you'll go "yeeeahhhch" and screw up your face but you can deal with those bits.

The story:
Way back when in a underground fairy land a princess dreamed about sun, sky, and grass. So she snuck up to the surface where the sun blinded her and took her memories. The King knew that her soul would be reborn in a new body and waited for her to return. The princess comes back in the body of a little girl whose mother has married to one of Franco's Generals. As the movie starts the girl and her mother are on the way to the General's camp where the mother is to give birth to the General's son.
In the woods surrounding the camp are rebels who are being supplied by members of the General's household staff. This makes up the bulk of the movie.

There's two ways to view this movie. One is where the girl finds the fairies, they tell her who she is and give her tasks to prove she's who they think she is.
The other is about a little girl who finds herself being sent to a horrible place with her evil stepfather who does horrible things all around her. She makes up this fantasy world that she can escape to.

Good movie but I haven't decided if I want to buy it when it comes out on DVD.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Movie Review: Idiocracy

You probably didn't hear about this movie when it was in theatres. There was no advertising done and it was only released in 7 markets nationwide. The only reason Fox released it at all is because they owed it to Mike Judge, the creator. He's made them a lot of money. Much the same reason they keep "The Simpsons" going despite the beating they give to Fox.

The story is that the US Army wants to keep it's best soldiers for wartime instead of wasting them in times of peace. So they develop a Top Secret cryogenics program to preserve them. It's tested on one average soldier and one hooker. They're supposed to be stored for a year, but the project head gets mixed up with the hooker's pimp and they both go to jail. The project is forgotten for 500 years until a garbage avalanche uncovers it. Due to bad television, Fox News, and the fact that only morons seem to breed the perfectly average soldier is now the smartest man in the world by a lot. He's given the task of figuring out how to fix the crop failures and dust storms. He's pretty intimidated by the task until he realizes they've replaced water - "like from toilets?" - with a Gatorade type product. But after the switch Gatorade sales drop so the computer lays off half the staff, which is a huge chunk of population. As punishment our hero must face off in the monster truck arena while driving a rice-burner.

It's now out on DVD. I'm glad I bought it.
This is really a great movie, but I'm still not having kids.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Dougmas jar takings

I finally got to counting up my Dougmas Jar. Total takings between Dec 1 and Jan 1 were $5.63. I'm not sure if that shows how much or how little I use cash.

I know some of the rest of you set up Dougmas Jars, too. What was your take?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Movie Review: Pulse

I saw the original Japanese version of this movie called Kairo. It was creepy but you really didn't have any idea what was going on. The American version isn't really creepy but you have a pretty good idea what's going on.
Significant parts of one became minor parts in another. Events depicted by cutting away and back were redone with elaborate special effects. The original takes the philosophy that we're all alone when we live and all alone after we die. The new one takes the approach that everyone, even the dead, have a drive to live.

Both movies tell the story about the dead using the internet to come into our world. Once you see the webcams of people committing suicide you're pretty much screwed. You're supposed to close off a room with red tape. In the original it seemed like whoever did that was summoning the ghosts but that could be part of my confusion because it was a way to protect yourself in the American version. Together they make for a decent movie but neither one by itself is worth a damn.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Book Review: The Ghost Brigades

"The Ghost Brigades" is the second book by sci-fi author John Scalzi.

"Old Man's War", the first book, is something like Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" but less preachy. It takes place in the distant future when mankind has taken to the stars and discovered that it's not alone and the aliens are not friendly. Lots of aliens, few habitable worlds, and they have to get their share while protecting their planets. The Colonial Defense Forces recruit soldiers from the 80 year old humans. Why they want the old people I'm keeping a secret. The book follows John Perry as he goes through training and deploys into various battles with aliens of every type.
It's in this book we learn about the elite forces within the CDF known as "Ghost Brigades"

"The Ghost Brigades" is not a direct sequel to the original. Only one character makes the transition between books. It's not necessary to read the first book to enjoy the second, but there's a few points where it would help. In this one we have a scientist who has turned traitor and joined with 3 alien races who are collaborating to attack Earth. One new member of the Ghost Brigades is given a treatment that should give him the traitor's memories. Instead of being immediately effective the treatment takes time to take effect. So the first half of the book is spent with him training and fighting while the second half is spent hunting down and dealing with the traitor.
Again, I'm leaving out a great deal.

Both are fabulous books that I highly recommend reading. John Scalzi is one of the few modern sci-fi writers who still pay attention to the science in their stories.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Movie Review: Happily N'Ever After

Another studio has jumped into the ever expanding world of digitally animated cartoons. I'm not sure who they are. They seemed German. Being unknown they have to put out something better than the established studios.

"Happily N'Ever After" is another animation in the fairy tale genre. I think it's better than Shrek because Shrek had too much humor based on topical events instead of the movie itself. It reminded me more of "Hoodwinked".

In a tower high above the palace there's a wizard and his two apprentices (sp?) who watch over all the fairy tales and maintain the balance of good and evil with scales. When the wizard goes golfing on the eve of the latest iteration of Cinderella's ball everything falls apart. Cinderella's wicked stepmother takes control of the tower and assorted items of power and takes control of the kingdom.
It's up to the apprentices, Cinderella, the kitchen boy, a pack of survivalist dwarves, a bumbling prince, to retake the tower from the Wicked Stepmother, Rumplestiltskin, wolves from various stories, a trio of witches, a giant, and some other baddies.

One of the better digital cartoons but I haven't decided if I want it on DVD yet.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Movie Review: Children of Men

18 years ago people stopped being able to have children. Chaos fell on the planet. Governments fell, terrorism became rampant, facism became the word of the day. But one girl became pregnant. She needs to be at a certain place at a certain time to meet a boat that will carry her to an island where scientists are working to find a cure or at least start a new stock of humanity to survive after the rest die off and the wars finally end. Clive Owen gets the job of helping her evade the government and the "freedom fighter" who want the kid as a rallying point for the revolution.

The movie is dark but with several lighthearted moments made more so in contrast to the darkness. They have no qualms about killing off characters that you've come to like.

It was a pretty good movie but I want to read the book. There was enough going on in the background that it seemed like there was a lot of story not being told.

I may or may not get it on DVD.

Also, coming out today on DVD
Barnyard (my review) and The Illusionist (my review)

Monday, January 08, 2007


I've always liked this tree. It exists on the farm and was planted with a bunch of other cottonwoods lining a trail to an old homestead in the middle of the section.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

what a tool

It's pushing 70 degrees so I decided to use the nice day to get some more sheets of plyboo cut. It took me a bit to figure out if the hardness of the wood fluxuates or if my blade was going bad. I think it's both. I have to replace the blade and then I'll take what I've cut upstairs to finish it. I may have enough to cover the back wall. If not it's close.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Movie Review: Night at the Museum

I'll go ahead and give you the bad news now. "Night at the Museum" is not the sequel to "A Night at the Opera". I didn't even see a Marx Brother reference.

Still, "Night at the Museum" would go nicely on your shelf right next to "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure". Both are silly movies that would give name recognition to historical figures so that teachers, or more likely The History Channel, can build on.

In short, there's an ancient Egyptian tablet in the museum that animates the dead after dark. Ben Stiller is the new night watchman, replacing three old men whose jobs are being cut. He has to deal with walking t-rex bones, a war between the old west and ancient roam dioramas, cavemen, mongols, wild animals from the african veldt, and a host of other characters. Most of the stuff you've seen in the trailers takes place in the first half hour. Instead of going downhill after that, like most movies do, they've simply gotten the introductions done and are getting the story started.

Good movie, glad I saw it, I probably won't get it on DVD.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


We recently got to go check out the virtual weapons training program on base. It's there for soldiers with prosthetics or who whose limbs are recovering from injuries to practice their shooting.

Footage of a training simulation is projected on the wall. Good guys and bad guys skittering around all over the place. Players are given weapons (M16s, M4s, or 9mms) and fire at the screen. The weapons look and respond like real life counterparts. You have to work the safety, reload by ejecting the clip and pulling the ... thingy after slapping the clip into place, it's weighted properly and has realistic recoil. The guns fire infrared lasers at the screen. The hits are detected by a scanner mounted under the projector. On screen you see a red + for a hit, a green + for a near miss, or a little burst of dirt when you hit the ground.

The program has retrained a few hundred injured soldiers. Nearly all have shown significant improvement and the one guy who didn't really had a pretty good excuse. It's used in other places as regular training exercises.

The system is made by FATS Inc.

Dave & Busters totally needs one of these.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Parrot profanity

I mentioned some time back about how my bird loves the Thief games. No? I was sure I did. Anyway, it's the only game she pays attention to. In the third game, near the end, my character comes around the corner and we see The Gray Lady who has now abandoned her little old lady form and become a big pink glob launching fireballs and generally obliterating the city's finest.

I said "Holy..."
Gandolf said "...ass."

Not the word I would have used, but Gandolf knew some manner of profanity went there.
I thought this a fluke. It wasn't. I was just now sitting here watching something strange on YouTube... I forget what and I've already closed that window. All that I remember was that it was really strange. Look, that's beside the point. The point was that when it was done Gandolf turns to me and says "What the ass?"

Anyway, I've reached the conclusion that she's chosen that word for her all purpose profanity. You know, like how "dude" can mean almost anything.

Oh, wait, there was that moment at the end of the latest Hitman game when our contact person betrayed us and Gandolf yelled "BITCH!"