Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Awakening

I'd seen pictures of this statue before, but I didn't know it was in the DC area until just a few months ago. So this weekend I hopped on the Segway and went.
It's a 9-10 mile round trip that takes me across The National Mall. Of course, I was stupid enough to go on Memorial Day so the Mall was packed. The statue was packed, too, but I'm getting to that.

"The Awakening" is currently located at the tip of Hanes Point. It's a statue of a giant struggling to rise from the earth.
See it here at Google Maps. It's the brown spot.

The good sidewalks got me quite a distance, but about half a mile down the peninsula I was restricted to either the road or the sidewalk that runs right up against the river. That sidewalk hasn't been repaired in a really long time. Besides watching out for the hordes of fishermen all along the bank I also had to watch out for places that would drop my wheel through the sidewalk.
On the way back I came up the other side of the peninsula where the holes were big enough to drop the whole Segway in the river. After dodging a few of those I took the road the rest of the way back.

It's like going to see Santa. People were lined up to have the giant eat their babies. Yeah, if I'd walked down like I planned Gandolf would have gone in, too.

What is there to say about an arm?

...or a foot.

...or a hand.

Madness. Under the sun that day the metal was nearly blistering.

The best shot would be taken from about 30 ft above where I was.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Book Review: Moving Mars

I want to first apologize (boy no matter what you do that word never looks spelled properly) to Greg Bear. It used to be that I'd always lump his work in with some of the many sci-fi hacks out there. I don't know why really. Maybe it was his titles or the descriptions of the books or his positioning on the shelf. In just the last year or two have I started looking at his books more seriously. He gets mentioned by some big names, he won some awards, and he remains on the shelves when other hack authors vanish.
I made the same mistake with Arthur C. Clarke. "2001: A Space Odyssey" is a great but terribly dull film. I blamed Clarke instead of Kubrick and I shouldn't have. Read the book and the movie makes a lot more sense. Better yet, convince someone to remake it before Clarke dies.

Ok, now down to business. I bought this book because the author was signing books at Reiters the other night. I liked this guy from page one. Then I liked him a bit less. By the end of the book I was very happy with him.
The story is told in six parts by a woman telling her memoirs. It starts when the Martian government starts throwing kids out of college and firing professors who either disagree with the government or the government thinks disgrees. It's not much of a spoiler to say that government falls. But it gets the woman interested in politics. She interns with a distant uncle and travels with him to Earth where I'm not going to tell you what happens but we start to see hints of a threat and wonder what Earth's real goals are.
She helps set up a more united government and becomes vice-president of Mars until elections can be held. Then her ex-boyfriend informs the government of the discovery of some technology that will throw the whole political framework of the solar system into disarray.

This was one of a list of Greg Bear's books that came highly recommended. Now I'm ...

Oooh! Almost forgot. Some years ago my friends and I were discussing ion drives and if the exhaust would be a problem for other space ships that pass that way later. See, they way ion drives work is that a nuclear reactor causes hydrogen atoms to break apart and then the electrons and nucleii are fired out the back. The free floating fragments are highly reactive and will latch onto whatever they can get. If you drive through a cloud they'll react with your ship and at best ionize the hull, at worst change what a tiny bit of the hull is made of. One isn't bad, but a whole cloud would be bad.
What we didn't take into consideration was the solar winds. That's what we call all the material being blown off the surface of the sun all the time. Bear's figures say that in normal weather it would take a week for the wind to blow away the trail on the Earth to Mars run. The further from the sun you go the longer it takes.

Yes, ion drives are real. NASA has tested them on two deep space probes. Right now they're the fastest drives we have functioning. They take awhile to get going, but they can really move once they get going.

Yes, I recommend the book.
When I reviewed the book Hominids I failed to mention that the author talks about my theory that Cain and Abel were representations of Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals.
I'm glad I posted before reading the book or even I'd wonder if I ripped him off.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean 3

Like most everyone, I liked the first movie. The second movie not so much.
I dunno why. I liked the use of pirate mythology, however corrupted it might be. But having to stray out of the simple world of pirates, treasure, curses, and Her Majesty's Royal Navy and into a more complex world of sea monsters and East India Trading Company may have been part of it. Making the world more complex certainly didn't work for The Matrix or Star Wars.
I'm thinking it was because they made the classic mistake of making a sequel based on the popularity of the first and not because they have a good idea. First movie was a great idea well done. Second movie was for money. Jack's madness was forced both in writing and performance.
The third movie is better than the second but you really need to have seen the second (and first) to get the third. Jack's madness is helped because we get to see some of the things driving him mad.

I'll probably get the third one on DVD and get the second to fill the gap.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Book Review: Hominids

"Hominids" is the first book in a trilogy by Robert J Sawyer. I'd been avoiding this trilogy. It just didn't seem that interesting. Then I read an interview at where he talked about these books along with some of his other stuff. It convinced me.

In "Hominids" there is a parallel universe where Neanderthals survived and Homo Sapiens went extinct. In both universes there's a really deep mine that has been modified for scientific research. We've built a nutrino detector and they've built a quantum computer. Both are in the same spot because they need shielding from everything but nutrinos and the low radioactivity of the mine.
One of the quantum processors is on a tower that vibrates and screws up the calculations. One of the scientists goes to manually brace the tower. When the computer tries to crunch a particularly large number the Neanderthal falls between dimensions and into the middle of the nutrino detector.
The story goes on to talk about how our world deals with finding him and how he deals with being here. But back in his world the scientist he was working with is accused of murdering the missing coworker.

The genetics and the anthropology discussions in the book are something you might expect to see in a scientific journal. Cultural differences are based on what little we know about their species and are filled in with differences between Canadian and American culture. There are also theological discussions and philosophical discussions worth reading. Not of the quality I saw in "Calculating God" but still better than in most books.

I highly recommend this book.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Book Review: Ringworld

It started with a Dyson Shell/Sphere. There were precursors to the idea but in 1959 Freeman Dyson published a paper in which he claimed that a sufficiently advanced society would eventually need the total energy output of their star and would envelop it with energy collector satellites. The idea was that any light from that star would be altered to reflect the building materials OR that we'd be getting radiation from the civilization and the star, but no light. The point of this thought experiment was to indicate what we should be looking for in our search for planets with life.
Others took this Dyson Sphere, connected the satellites, and made it solid enough for people to live on the inside of the shell. This is the commonly known model. If you put too much thought into it you'll start to see issues with this idea. Such as the fact that only the equator would be habitable since you'd need to spin the sphere to provide gravity. The further you go from the equator the more this simulated gravity would pull to the side and the thinner the air would get.

Larry Niven advanced the idea with the creation of a Niven Ring or Ringworld. Imagine a hula hoop big enough for the Sun. Make it big enough to fill Earth's orbit. After all, if we're going to live on it it has to be not too near (too hot) and not too far (too cold). It needs to be in what some call the Goldilocks Zone.

In the book "Ringworld" Larry Niven explores a ringworld built by a now missing alien species. He covers the weather pattern differences in a non-spherical world, the defense systems, and even what happens if society collapses and doesn't have anything to mine since the world is manufactured.

It's one of the great sci-fi books. Most sci-fi readers would put it in their 10 ten favorite books. It's a world unlike any you've heard of. As you continue to explore it inspires the reader to continually slap their head with all the problems and advantages that would come from such a world. Some issues remain and engineering students made sure that Niven heard about it. The second book remedy's these problems. I wouldn't recommend going beyond book two.

The Dyson Sphere appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation when they found Scotty's shuttle craft crashed on the outer surface.
The Niven Ring is the basis for the video game "Halo".

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Book signing

DHS's (Dept. Homeland Security) technology division is having a conference this week. They've invited a pack of notable science fiction writers to help them figure out how to close the gaps in our security. These aren't hack writers. These are the ones with a string of advanced degrees.
Arlan Andrews you've probably never heard of. He's done some writing, but not much. He put together a group called Sigma. It's pretty much for the express purpose of having people with imagination and advanced degrees available to consult with the government on what technology to pay attention to. All too often the suits laugh when told what's coming. Sigma is there to tell them "No, really." When DHS said they wanted to hold this conference Sigma was there to provide minds. Most of the people there last night have a history of consulting with NASA and the government on how to direct the space program.
Since they were in town already several of them went to Reiter's bookstore last night to talk and sign stuff. Reiter's is a technical bookstore. They don't sell sci-fi. Why they were hosting I'm not sure. They got some of their more recent works but I still had to run back out to Borders for special orders. I had requests from people who couldn't make it.
Attending were Arlan Andrews, Larry Niven, Greg Bear, Jerry Pournelle, Sage Walker, and a friend of theirs who showed up to say "hi" but got pulled up front since she also had a new book out.

It's kinda funny to watch a pack of sci-fi writers get together. Greg Bear is clearly comfortable with crowds and talked freely. Niven was pretty quiet preferring to let Jerry talk for both of them unless he had a particular story to tell. Jerry Pournelle had just walked from the Ronald Reagan Building so he was all red and sweaty. Combined with his polo shirt, he reminded me of the old guys who would come in for a few beer after playing 18 holes. (I used to work at a golf course) Most things that they talked about devolved into friendly bickering.

Reviews of their books will come over the next few months. Tomorrow I'll review Larry Niven's "Ringworld". Most sci-fi readers will put that book in their top ten best books ever.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Green roof

I hit the zoo a few weeks back to check out the new Asian Trail exhibit. It looks great. Lots of time, effort, and money were spent. Too bad they didn't spend more on animals. Well, there's a couple of sloth bears, some pandas, couple of red pandas, a few other things. Lots of educational material. I just expected more critters for all the work they put in.

On one of the buildings they put a green roof. It's at a level that you can see it as you walk down a ramp which is what most green roofs lack. This picture shows a green roof shortly after being planted. The plants should expand nicely.
Click to enlarge

I thought I'd written more about green roofs. Apparently not. So here's the summary. A green roof is a flat (or at least flat-ish) roof that you grow plants on. Your house occupies area that could be used by plants. Even unoccupied your house leaves a thermal footprint that reflects heat and warms the air. By putting plants on the roof you help cool the area, clean the air, clean the rainwater, and insulate your house.

If you put much thought into it you're gonna start worrying about roots poking through the roof, mold, mildew, rot, water damage, etc. Well, there's ways to avoid those problems. You build the green roof in layers. One to waterproof, one to block the roots, one to insulate, one to retain moisture, one to drain, one to filter the water, and, of course, dirt. They're becoming popular in DC where many of the building are nearly flat row houses. There's a few organizations you can contact to help. There's probably some in your area, too.

From the bottom up, this is what the Building Museum had for the green roof in their exhibit.
Monolithic Membrane6125-ev roofing membrane
Hydroflex 30 protection course and Root Stop root barrier
Dow styrofoam insulation
moisture retention mat
Gardendrain and Floradrain drainage layers
Systemfilter filter fabric

Monday, May 21, 2007

Movie Review: 28 Weeks Later

Zombie - Voodoo Class: (semi-mythological) These were once presumed to be the recently dead reanimated as a mindless servant of a voodoo priest. Today we know they're merely people given the illusion of death by a mixture of puffer fish toxin and select herbs. The toxin causes brain damage that destroys free will in the victim so that they become mindless slaves. The illusion of death thing makes sure that the victim won't be missed by their families.

Zombie - Romero Class: (mythological) Voodoo Class zombies make for lousy movie characters. Without orders they just sit there. Most of the scare comes from not wanting to become one. But if you take the basic definition of zombie as "reanimated dead", give them self direction, and a taste for human flesh you have something worth filming. They're usually brought back by a virus from space or overpopulation issues in Hell. Being reanimated dead they're not terribly energetic. It's thought that they have a low metabolism and probably exothermic. They tend to move slowly but unrelentingly. George Romero regrets that he didn't copyright this variety when he put them in "Night of the Living Dead."

Zombie - Rage Class: (mythological) Since they're not really dead it's sort of a stretch to call these zombies. It's more like rabies with lightning reflexes. It's transmitted through the blood and has a nearly instantaneous effect. Once infected they fly into a berzerker rage and try to kill anything in sight. They have only two modes: running and killing. This variety was created for the movie "28 Days Later" and returns in "28 Weeks Later".
Premovie summary: Following the outbreak of zombie virus in England the bulk of the population was evacuated. The virus was quarantined to the British isle and the decision was made to wait it out. Five months after the initial outbreak it appears the last of the zombies have died. However, there is much we don't know about the virus and can't be sure that it has died off. I recommend selecting a small population from one of the refugee camps and returning them to a confined part of an area that was once highly infected. If the virus has survived it would be most likely in an area with a large population. We can have an area of London cleared of bodies and ready for repopulation by the 28 week mark. If this colony survives the first month we can assume that the virus is extinct and expand the colony. If not we can sterilize the area and try again with a new batch of colonists.
The public story is that the virus is dead, but only the cleared area is safe from rats, wild dogs, and corpse related disease. And a civilian population will help keep up the existing buildings.
That's the setup. As with most diseases there's a small population that is immune to the disease, or at least a carrier. Predictably, there's going to be some people who decide to sneak past the guards and leave the quarantine area. They find a carrier. Things kinda go downhill from there. The screaming, the bleeding, the dying, and the firebombing. Whew. Great firebombing of London scene. The Nazi's were amatures.

It's not as good as the first movie. The first movie had a certain quality of people on a quest. It was kinda like a "Lord of the Rings" style march on Mordor or a Jewish ongoing march for a safe place to live once out of Egypt or out of Germany. Yeah, sure, flesh eaters, but also people and an exploration of what happened to England in the last 28 days. This has some good people story and some flight from London as well as dodging the US Army. But much of this movie was the large populace getting slaughtered that was skipped in the first movie.

I'm not really into slasher flicks. Jason and Freddy and Chucky were pathetic wannabes. But I have a soft spot for a good zombie flick. Even in video games zombies tend to freak me out in a way that a building full of demons just can't manage. The "28 Days/Weeks/Months Later" series and "Shawn of the Dead" were good because they have a good story as well as living dead.

If this is your kind of thing then this is the thing for you. If it's not your thing then it's not the thing for you. I will be getting it on DVD.

Friday, May 18, 2007

DC's Ride Your Bike to Work Day

Today is Washington DC's ride your bike to work day. I was trying to convince one of my cow-irkers to finally bring his Segway in but apparently it's not responding to keys at the moment. He was gonna ride his bike instead. I told him to give himself an hour and wherever he made it to when I came along I'd tow him from there.

Anyway, today is Washington DC's ride your bike to work day. I saw three bikes heading south while I was heading north. This is two bikes less than usual.

Also absent was this guy.
He's wearing Rollerskis, a National Geographic top, and a Hello Kitty mask.
This picture was taken when I ran into him at the Kite Festival a month or so back.
I tend to see him coming down 14th street in the mornings. He seems to have a trip about as long as mine. Probably around four miles.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Movie Review: Beerfest

I can't believe I saw this movie. I wouldn't have if a cow-irker hadn't loaned it to me.

"Beerfest" is a movie for showing in frat houses. Take the plot of "Cool Runnings", mix in the humor of "Animal House", and throw in some gratuitous boob shots.
Grandpa dies and Great-Grandma gives his Grandkids the job of taking his ashes to Octoberfest of scatter in the Rhine. But, unknown to them, they're really there to go to Beerfest. Beerfest is a beer drinking and drinking game playing competition. The two of them, both serious drinkers, realize they're outclassed by pretty much everyone in the world. Americans aren't even allowed because they drink so poorly.
They go home, put together a team, and spend the next year practicing. They go back, beat everyone, and win their ancestral brewery back.

If it wasn't free I wouldn't have watched it. Heck, even free I wouldn't have watched it if Ron hadn't insisted.

As much as I dog on the story it's not bad as far as movies go. I wish the acting the Star Wars prequels was half as good. The production values were good. There's really not much to complain about other than the fraternity humor.

The coach of the German team was played by Jürgen Prochnow. One of the best scenes in the movie is when they're in a submarine and Jürgen has just finished yelling at his team. He says "I start to feel all cooped up in these U-Boats; I had a bad experience once."

It's a Das Boot reference. Don't worry, most people who would like this movie wouldn't get the reference.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jerry Falwell is dead

Proverbs 11:10 - "When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; And when the wicked perish, there is jubilation."

In honor of Jerry Falwell's death lets take a moment to remember some of his teachings.

Jerry Falwell Quotes
global warming
I believe that global warming is a myth. And so, therefore, I have no conscience problems at all and I'm going to buy a Suburban next time.

The whole global warming thing is created to destroy America's free enterprise system and our economic stability.

It is God's planet - and he's taking care of it. And I don't believe that anything we do will raise or lower the temperature one point.

Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, pot.
Scientology has a terrible track record of bigotry.

But I do know the Scientology Church, like the Moslems, has a pretty hard, strong grip on their constituents.

I think the Moslem faith teaches hate.

Homosexuality is Satan's diabolical attack upon the family that will not only have a corrupting influence upon our next generation, but it will also bring down the wrath of God upon America.

I believe that all of us are born heterosexual, physically created with a plumbing that's heterosexual, and created with the instincts and desires that are basically, fundamentally, heterosexual.

AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals. To oppose it would be like an Israelite jumping in the Red Sea to save one of Pharaoh's charioteers . . . AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.

But I don't believe anyone begins a homosexual.

God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve. [said when talking about 9/11 and homosexuality]

I truly cannot imagine men with men, women with women, doing what they were not physically created to do, without abnormal stress and misbehavior.

We will see a breakdown of the family and family values if we decide to approve same-sex marriage, and if we decide to establish homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle with all the benefits that go with equating it with the heterosexual lifestyle.

Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions.

Billy Graham is the chief servant of Satan in America.

Textbooks are Soviet propaganda.

If I were doing something that the Bible condemns, I have two choices. I can straighten up my act, or I can somehow distort and twist and change the meaning of the Bible. [guess which he did]

And, these Islamic fundamentalists, these radical terrorists, these Middle Eastern monsters are committed to destroying the Jewish nation, driving her into the Mediterranean, conquering the world.

God himself preserved the Bible, and brought it down through the ages.

If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being.

The idea that religion and politics don't mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country. [and proven by turning every religious government ever into an oppressive dictatorship]

I am such a strong admirer and supporter of George W. Bush that if he suggested eliminating the income tax or doubling it, I would vote yes on first blush.

There's been a concerted effort to steal Christmas. [and the Christians have done a great job of it]

I believe that the people of Israel are the chosen people of God.

I grew up in the segregated South, right here in Lynchburg, Virginia.

I believe with all my heart that the Bible is the infallible word of God.

Any sex outside of the marriage bond between a man and a woman is violating God's law.

And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them who have tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."On the terrorist attacks of the 11th of September 2001

You'll be riding along in an automobile. You'll be the driver perhaps. You're a Christian. There'll be several people in the automobile with you, maybe someone who is not a Christian. When the trumpet sounds you and the other born-again believers in that automobile will be instantly caught away - you will disappear, leaving behind only your clothes and physical things that cannot inherit eternal life. That unsaved person or persons in the automobile will suddenly be startled to find the car suddenly somewhere crashes.... Other cars on the highway driven by believers will suddenly be out of control and stark pandemonium will occur on ... every highway in the world where Christians are caught away from the drivers wheel.

Labor unions should study and read the Bible instead of asking for more money. When people get right with God, they are better workers.

I think Muhammad was a terrorist. I read enough by both Muslims and non-Muslims, [to decide] that he was a violent man, a man of war.

Jimmy Carter's "message of peace and reconciliation under almost all circumstances is simply incompatible with Christian teachings as I interpret them. This 'turn the other cheek' business is all well and good but it's not what Jesus fought and died for. What we need to do is take the battle to the Muslim heathens and do unto them before they do unto us.

I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!

The ACLU is to Christians what the American Nazi party is to Jews.

AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.

He who stands against Israel stands against God.

[Homosexuals] want to come into churches and disrupt church services and throw blood all around and try to give people AIDS and spit in the face of ministers.

The Bible is the inerrant... word of the living God. It is absolutely infallible, without error in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as well as in areas such as geography, science, history, etc.

The worst thing about abortion is that they simply throw the babies away,... I mean, they're very tasty if cooked properly.

There is no separation of church and state. Modern U.S. Supreme Courts have raped the Constitution and raped the Christian faith and raped the churches by misinterpreting what the Founders had in mind in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

We're fighting against humanism, we're fighting against liberalism... we are fighting against all the systems of Satan that are destroying our nation today... our battle is with Satan himself.

I think hell's a real place where real people spend a real eternity. [we hope you're right, Jerry]

I am a Christian.

Jerry Falwell Timeline
March 1980: Falwell tells an Anchorage rally about a conversation with President Carter at the White House. Commenting on a January breakfast meeting, Falwell claimed to have asked Carter why he had “practicing homosexuals” on the senior staff at the White House. According to Falwell, Carter replied, “Well, I am president of all the American people, and I believe I should represent everyone.” When others who attended the White House event insisted that the exchange never happened, Falwell responded that his account “was not intended to be a verbatim report,” but rather an “honest portrayal” of Carter’s position.

August 1980: After Southern Baptist Convention President Bailey Smith tells a Dallas Religious Right gathering that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew,” Falwell gives a similar view. “I do not believe,” he told reporters, “that God answers the prayer of any unredeemed Gentile or Jew.” After a meeting with an American Jewish Committee rabbi, he changed course, telling an interviewer on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “God hears the prayers of all persons…. God hears everything.”

July 1984: Falwell is forced to pay gay activist Jerry Sloan $5,000 after losing a court battle. During a TV debate in Sacramento, Falwell denied calling the gay-oriented Metropolitan Community Churches “brute beasts” and “a vile and Satanic system” that will “one day be utterly annihilated and there will be a celebration in heaven.” When Sloan insisted he had a tape, Falwell promised $5,000 if he could produce it. Sloan did so, Falwell refused to pay and Sloan successfully sued. Falwell appealed, with his attorney charging that the Jewish judge in the case was prejudiced. He lost again and was forced to pay an additional $2,875 in sanctions and court fees.

October 1987: The Federal Election Commission fines Falwell for transferring $6.7 million in funds intended for his ministry to political committees.

February 1988: The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a $200,000 jury award to Falwell for “emotional distress” he suffered because of a Hustler magazine parody. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, usually a Falwell favorite, wrote the unanimous opinion in Hustler v. Falwell, ruling that the First Amendment protects free speech.

February 1993: The Internal Revenue Service determines that funds from Falwell’s Old Time Gospel Hour program were illegally funneled to a political action committee. The IRS forced Falwell to pay $50,000 and retroactively revoked the Old Time Gospel Hour’s tax-exempt status for 1986-87.

March 1993: Despite his promise to Jewish groups to stop referring to America as a “Christian nation,” Falwell gives a sermon saying, “We must never allow our children to forget that this is a Christian nation. We must take back what is rightfully ours.”

1994-1995: Falwell is criticized for using his “Old Time Gospel Hour” to hawk a scurrilous video called “The Clinton Chronicles” that makes a number of unsubstantiated charges against President Bill Clinton — among them that he is a drug addict and that he arranged the murders of political enemies in Arkansas. Despite claims he had no ties to the project, evidence surfaced that Falwell helped bankroll the venture with $200,000 paid to a group called Citizens for Honest Government (CHG). CHG’s Pat Matrisciana later admitted that Falwell and he staged an infomercial interview promoting the video in which a silhouetted reporter said his life was in danger for investigating Clinton. (Matrisciana himself posed as the reporter.) “That was Jerry’s idea to do that,” Matrisciana recalled. “He thought that would be dramatic.”

November 1997: Falwell accepts $3.5 million from a front group representing controversial Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon to ease Liberty University’s financial woes.

April 1998: Confronted on national television with a controversial quote from America Can Be Saved!, a published collection of his sermons, Falwell denies having written the book or had anything to do with it. In the 1979 work, Falwell wrote, “I hope to live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!” Despite Falwell’s denial, Sword of the Lord Publishing, which produced the book, confirms that Falwell wrote it.

January 1999: Falwell tells a pastors’ conference in Kingsport, Tenn., that the Antichrist prophesied in the Bible is alive today and “of course he’ll be Jewish.”

February 1999: Falwell becomes the object of nationwide ridicule after his National Liberty Journal newspaper issues a “parents alert” warning that Tinky Winky, a character on the popular PBS children’s show “Teletubbies,” might be gay.

September 2001: Falwell blames Americans for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”

November 2005: Falwell spearheads campaign to resist “war on Christmas.”

February 2007: Falwell describes global warming as a conspiracy orchestrated by Satan, liberals, and The Weather Channel.

To his credit Falwell also said:
Fred Phelps does not give the religious right a bad name, because nobody claims kin to that guy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Culling the herd

Global warming is a fact. There was enough evidence for it twenty years ago when I was in seventh grade and the evidence today is overwhelming enough to drag you into the alley and beat you up.
We can regulate the power plants and add scrubbers that will clean out 90% of the carbon from the smoke stacks, but the power plants are the least of our concerns. The big concern is our cars. Millions of them on the road belching fumes and toxins, releasing carbon that was removed from the air 65 million years ago.
Part of the solution is using one of the various biofuels. This way the carbon your car is belching is stuff that came out of the atmosphere just last year. It keeps the carbon levels more level.
Ethanol and biodiesel are the big two biofuels. You hear more about ethanol because our existing engines can burn it while you need a diesel engine for biodiesel.
Ethanol is a type of alcohol made by fermenting various plants. Corn is good, sugar cane is better, but nothing beats hemp. But legalizing industrial hemp is another subject.
Biodiesel is made by processing the oil extracted from sunflower seed, soybeans, and, best of all, canola seeds.
The problem that was making all the headlines last week was some UN conference announcing the obvious. If we start directing corn, wheat, and other crops to ethanol plants then the price of those crops goes up. Being farm raised, this doesn't seem bad to me at first. Maybe farming can become a for-profit industry. My brother is getting back into farming now that he's out of school and is thrilled by the price of wheat going up.
But if demand for certain crops goes up the result is likely to be increased clearing of rain forest for farm land. We'd rather have the rain forest soaking up the carbon than have the cropland. Especially since those fields that are formerly rain forest tend to be hard, parched, and barren in three years. Thus more clear cutting.
Another complaint is that the global food supply will fall short of what we need. In other words, we have enough food for everyone in the world now but don't distribute it properly. When we do try it get stopped by local governments so the people starve anyway. Now we won't have food for the people who don't have food anyway.

So, what now? What's the magic solution? We've heard about changing our light bulbs, but those lights are expensive. We could drive less but the gym is a whole six blocks away. We could adjust the thermostat warmer in the summer and colder in the winter or rely on open windows and sweaters but that means we might be uncomfortable. We could have fewer children so the population goes down and we don't need the extra crop land. Yeah, all you OTHER people stop having kids! What about legalizing plants that produce more fuel per acre? But plants that look just like industrial hemp can get you high when smoked. You're not a stoner are you?

You want a magic solution? We need a good plague. Hemp, canola, hybrids, and comfy shoes all are needed anyway, but what we really need is a dramatic drop in population. We hunt deer when there's too many to survive in what their environment can support. The humans need to be culled as well. I don't want a "Rainbow Six" situation where someone releases a plague to kill off most of mankind to save the environment. I'm happy to let nature do it. That's why I'm rooting for the Bird Flu.
You laugh, but it has people who actually know what they're doing worried. The expected variation will infect half the planet and kill half of the infected. It's possible that the fatality will drop so it's just another flu. I hope not. The world could do with two billion fewer people.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Book Review: The Last Colony

I jammed through "The Last Colony" by John Scalzi.
I re-reviewed the first book in the trilogy a few days ago.

I reviewed the second book a few months back. (
In it we bump into Jane Sagan, the genetically enhanced clone of the dead wife of the hero from the first book.

In the third book we catch up with John Perry (hero from book 1), Jane (his wife) Sagan, and Zoe Boutin (their adopted daughter). They're all human, retired from the Colonial Forces, working as local administrators at a colony, and operating a small farm. Their former commanding officer shows up and asks them to head up a new colony made up of people from ten different worlds. Just for 3 years and then they'd have the option of coming back or staying there.

The book is filled with twists and turns so it's hard to tell the spoilers from what's not. So I'm putting the first twist in gray text so it blends with the background. Go to Edit>Select All to read it.

But the colony ship doesn't go where they think. The Colonial Forces have sent them off to an unknown planet. They're to be a "lost" colony placed where a consortium of alien planets that have banned colonization by non-member planets can't find them. To keep hidden they're stripped of all technology later than mid-20th century. This is to make the consortium look weak.
On the planet they meet a primitive but intelligent species that I'm not gonna tell you about.
After a year on the new planet there are more twists as the planet becomes the center point in political wrangling in the Colonial Force's scheme to break up the consortium. Then our heroes become even more important as they become traitors to save all of humanity from genocide.

You don't need to have read the previous two books to enjoy this one, but it really helps.
This is the last book to involve John, Jane, and Zoe, but more tales of this universe are still to come and I'll be right there first thing to get them.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Stephen Fry 'The Letter'

An old Stephen Fry sketch. You really need to watch this.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

homemade CD lens cleaner

I am not pleased with the state of CD lens cleaners in the world. They just don't work as advertised. I've tried a few different ones and only one made any notable effect. When my first Playstation 2 stopped working because of a dirty laser lens I cracked it open to clean it by hand because nothing else was working. In the end I had a clean lens, but the alignment was never right again. I got a new one.

Last summer, when I was living in my office, my new PS2 tried doing the same thing. I started experimenting with alternate methods of cleaning the lens. Sometimes it works to just flip the disk and make the CD/DVD/game player read the back of the disk a few times. Sometimes it doesn't.

I wound up making my own lens cleaner that works better than anything else I've tried.

Get a CD you don't want. An AOL disk or that Yanni album or something.

Apply a spray adhesive. You can try other adhesives, but this would probably be the least lumpy glue.

Put a paper towel on the CD.

Trim away any paper towel that sticks over the edge of the CD. Xacto knives or some such blade work well for this.

Now cut through the paper towel on the CD. Break it into eight sections as shown here.

Peel or scrape off every other section of paper towel. Try to clean off the exposed areas as best as possible.

My initial prototype was just a paper towel glued to a CD. But since the paper towel doesn't reflect the laser the machine almost immediately rejected it. I had to reveal some CD so the machine would keep trying to read it. By revealing half the disk at regular intervals the machine keeps thinking "I see it! No I don't! But wait! No. There it is! Gone again." etc. etc. It's just enough to keep the machine trying to read the disk until it times out. This whole time the disk keeps moving the lens up and down trying to get the laser in focus. It keeps hitting the paper towel and wiping off whatever crud is on the lens.
It's not perfect. I have to run this every 2-4 months. Sometimes I have to run it two or three times. But in the end it still works better than other stuff I've tried.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

John Scalzi

Sci-fi author John Scalzi was signing books near Dupont Circle last night.

I first learned about him from this comic strip.

I ran out and got the book. "Old Man's War" is one of the better modern science fiction books. The overall story resembles Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" but with more aliens and less preaching.
In short, humans have left Earth to find the galaxy filled with alien species, they all need pretty much the same kind of planet to live on, and nobody wants to share. Humans have to fight for their planets so they've established a space corps.
Now here's the unique part. Instead of taking young whippersnappers and sending them off to die in the cold vacuum of space they're taking 75 year old people, growing genetically engineered super bodies based roughly on their original DNA, and putting their minds in the new bodies. If they survive their term of service they either get to sign on for a new term of service or they're given a plot of land on one of the planets they've been protecting and given yet a third body grown from their original, unmodified cells.
Our hero lost his wife after her cells were collected, but before she could have her mind transferred. But the Corps doesn't waste flesh. The body is placed in the Ghost Brigade. She has no memories but with the help of a built in Palm Pilot she and others like her are an elite force of super warriors with none of the hangups of people who grew up with inferior bodies.
Of course, they meet and something clicks. That's enough spoilers.
The technology is good and when it isn't the author admits it.
The author also writes great banter.

Anyway, he was talking and signing last night. The book store was not at all equipped for an audience situation. We all just squeezed in wherever we could see the raised platform.
It didn't take long to realize that he knew most of the people there in some manner. They mostly hang out at his website and seem to be an active and close knit community. The in jokes were thick. A few were explained for those of us who just read the books. Including the story behind this picture.

Instead of reading from one of his books he read an unpublished short story. It was about a very angry alien who works as judge on Earth and has been banned from every golf course except for the second worst golf course in the United States. During one particularly good round he finally sees what he's been doing wrong with his life and this round of golf is healing his damaged soul. That's when one assassin after another starts showing up trying to kill him. I liked it, but it was probably a bit long for a reading.
It's not up now, but you can probably expect it to show up with his other free stuff at

I don't have a picture of him, but he has a picture of us.
Guess who I am.

You can find more of the comic strip "Unshelved" at

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Book Review: Rollback

I just finished reading "Rollback" by Robert J Sawyer.
I love RJ Sawyer's work and buy everything he writes. This, however, is one of his weaker works. It's not bad. No, not at all. It's just not what I'd recommend for his first time reader.

The term "rollback" refers to a multi-billion dollar medical procedure that can make you 25 years old again.

Nearly 40 years ago Earth picked up a signal from a planet in the Draconis constellation. All over the planet people started working on translating it. The heroine of our book made the breakthru that allowed translation of the bulk of the message. It was a survey and the aliens were asking for 1,000 randomly chosen responses to be sent back. They sent 999 random responses and one from the woman who figured it out.

18.8 light years there and 18.8 back brings us to now and another signal from the aliens. This time it's encrypted. The woman and her husband are now both very old and expecting death any day. Then a billionaire comes to her and says he thinks the aliens are incredibly long lived so he thinks she has a penpal on another world. He wants her to live long enough for another couple of signals to be exchanged. He'll pay to make her young again. She says "not without my husband". He hesitates because of the ~$10 billion a shot price tag but he wants her so he says "ok". The problem is that the procedure works for the husband but a cancer treatment she got 50 years ago means it doesn't work for her. She says 90ish while he becomes 25 again.

The bulk of the book talks about the issues they're dealing with as the husband becomes younger than his own kids, his younger brother dies, his wife is too fragile to touch, his libido picks up, the social reaction, and his own internal torment.

Part tells of her work on the new signal and why she and only she can figure out what the encryption key is on the alien message.

Many of Sawyer's recent works have to deal with some manner of immortality. Most are machine stored immortality in either mainframes or robot bodies. This is the first that provides immortality in an organic vessel.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Movie Review: Spiderman 3

This movie is getting pretty heavily panned by the critics and I don't know why. Sure, they crammed an awful lot into two and a half hours and deviated from the comic book version a bit and made Peter deviate from character a bit, but other than that it's pretty good.

You can't give Sandman a whole movie to himself. He's no super villain. He's not out to destroy the city or take over anything. He's just an average crook who got himself some powers. He's more likely to be someone's henchman than the guy plotting something. In the comic books he eventually reforms and becomes a hero.

They got Venom mostly right. In the comic books he was discovered in an alternate dimension during a massive crossover between most Marvel comics. While I'd love to see a crossover movie this isn't the story to do it with. Instead he just drops from the sky on a meteor.
In the comics once Peter was free of the costume it was held by the Fantastic Four to study and then escaped. In the movie they had Prof. Kurt Connors (who we're still waiting to become The Lizard) playing the role that Reed Richards played in the comics.

In the comic Harry Osborne finds his dad's Green Goblin gear and tries to kill Peter/Spiderman. Eventually there's a huge fight which wipes Harry's memory. He goes on to marry and have a little boy who hates Spiderman with a vengence. In the movie [spoilers omitted]. If you've seen the first two movies then you know what's coming.

Peter manages to screw things up with MJ just by being clueless and self-centered. Then others help screw things up more. If you're one of those people who hates the relationship angst part of the Spiderman movies then you'll want to skip this movie.

While using the Venom suit Peter's powers are amplified but so are his emotions. After the nasty breakup with MJ he gets Gwen Stacy and goes to the jazz club MJ works in to mess with her in a scene much like the jazz club scene in The Mask. At this point in the movie he's also switched to emo hair which is more comical than brooding.

Gwen Stacy was the love interest in the comics before MJ. Remember that scene in the first movie where Green Goblin has MJ and a trolley full of people held up on a bridge and makes Spidey choose who to save? That scene was lifted from the comics but with Gwen instead of MJ. Spidey caught them both, but the web made Gwen stop too fast and killed her.

There was a bit of back story fixing to make the Sandman story fit. I kinda wish they didn't do that, but there was a message that the author wanted in the movie. The message of the movie is that revenge is bad. Harry's need for revenge is driving him mad. Peter's need for revenge turns him dark and brooding with bad hair. Eddie's need for revenge makes him into a villain. Ahab's need for revenge killed him and his crew. Blah, blah, blah.

For the most part it's a good movie. It tries to be deeper than the first two and ends up being not as good, but it's still better than most superhero movies.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Book Review: The Boy Who Would Live Forever

Frederik Pohl is one of the grandpappys of science fiction. He was one of the guys that Heinlein and Asimov looked up to. Pohl is now in his mid to late 90's and still writing. He was in DC a summer or two back for the Library of Congress (and Laura Bush) Book Fair. It was while there that I heard him pitch this book.

"The Boy Who Would Live Forever" is the 6th book in the Heechee Saga Series. I heard there were other books other than this and the first one, but I just now found out what they were called.

The first book in the series is called "Gateway". It's a pretty good book about a boy who gets a windfall and uses it to get to the Gateway station in search of fortune and adventure. Gateway station is an alien artifact that seems to be a major transport hub. People pick one of the ships, set controls they barely comprehend, and go to one of the many preset destinations the ships are programmed with. Some come back and some don't. Some come back but the trip was so long the passengers all starved. If you find something useful and come back then you're compensated for your find some people got to be insanely wealthy.
It's not in my top 10 most recommended books, but I could probably find a place for it in my top 100.

In "The Boy Who Would Live Forever" the creators of the Gateway ships are found living inside the event horizon of the black hole in the galactic core. They explain the ships, there's cultural exchange programs, and they share the technology to have your mind transferred into a computer to extend your life for an indefinate period of time. The book skips around among various groups of seemingly unrelated people until they all come together at the end of the book.
Reading the summaries of other Gateway books I see that some of the central characters in this book were also central in other books. However, you don't need to read books 2-5 to follow what's going on in book 6.

It's a well written book and I'd probably like it more if I'd read 2-5 first. But it's not going in my top 100. I wanted a Stargate/Star Trek seek out new life and new civilizations type book. I wanted to take a Gateway ship to discover a new and dangerous world. That seemed to be the strength of the original book. It was a setup to a long series of explorer books and maybe a TV series. But that's not where it went.

Book One: Gateway
Book Two: Beyond the Blue Event Horizon
Book Three: Heechee Rendezvous
Book Four: The Annals of the Heechee
Book Six: The Boy Who Would Live Forever

Thursday, May 03, 2007

100 books

This has been getting passed around the various blog sites. Now it's my turn.

Directions: Place in bold type the books you've read from this list of 100. If there are other books you've read by the same author, include those under the original, without the author's name in parentheses.

I'm not doing "also read" listings

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown) listened to
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee) high school assignment
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) didn't read book but was in the play
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown) listened to
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) also everything he's done
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (Orwell) high school assignment
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. Bible total rubbish
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela's Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)high school assignment
50. She's Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card) Great book, but don't bother with the next 3 books
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)high school assignment
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones' Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte's Web (E.B. White) college assignment
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard's First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down (Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) sitting on my "To read" shelf
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Movie Review: The Invisible

"The Invisible" was an OK movie, but I wish I hadn't spent my money on it. See, I knew what was going to happen but I got the impression that I might be wrong. Oddly enough, the scene in the trailer that told me what happens was cut from the movie completely. The weird old man who was supposed to spell everything out doesn't show up at all.

We have a kid graduating from high school. His mom has spelled out his whole life for him but he wants to go to London to become a writer.
We have a girl from the same school who comes from a bad family and fences stolen goods at school. She gets ambitious and steals some diamonds. She pissed off her boyfriend by showing some spine so he turns her in. The first kid's best friend sees the girl put the bag with the diamonds in her locker so she thinks he ratted her out. She and some thugs beat on the best friend until the best friend says the first kid ratted her out because he thought the first kid was already on the plane to London.
The girl and her thugs beat on the first kid and they think they accidently kill him. They dump the body in a storm pipe and take off.
First kid goes back to school the next day and soon realizes that nobody can see or hear him. He's not dead, he's just a spirit until his body dies. He has to get someone to find the body before it dies for good.

It looks like the book may have been pretty good. The movie appears to be trying to convey the doubt and anxiety that comes with leaving high school, the feelings of neglect from his mother who is so busy planning that she never deals with what her son wants, and a variety of other issues. Walking through everyone's life now that he's "dead" helps him understand them better.
This could have become another "It's a Wonderful Life" if told differently. The original book has been made into a movie in Sweden and here so there must be something to the book if you can find an english translation.

If you like reading a lot into a movie then go see this. Otherwise don't bother.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Movie Review: Fracture

In "Fracture" Anthony Hopkins plays his Hannibal Lecter role but in a character named Ted Crawford. Both characters are brilliant minds who keep the cops and lawyers totally baffled.

Ted's wife is having an affair with a hostage negotiator named Rob. Ted decides to ruin Rob. Ted shoots his own wife, waits for the cops, confesses to everything, represents himself in court, and walks away free because of how he organized everything. Everyone knows he did it and that he's laughing at them, but because all mounds of evidence is worthless it ruins Rob and the DA assigned to the case.

I liked this movie but I won't get it on DVD.

Check the comments for spoilers about how Ted foils the cops.