Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Movie Review: The Simpsons

I wasn't expecting much out of this movie. Twenty years of "The Simpsons" and the show slowly gets lamer. I mean when it's funny it's really funny, but when it's not it's just that cartoon that comes before "Family Guy". It's not just that I'm getting older either. When I watch episodes from seasons one and two I still think it was hilarious.

What I failed to account for is that this isn't a cartoon that they made into a movie 30 years after the cartoon was canceled. No, this is a case of them having twenty years worth of "We can't use that now, hold it for the movie."

Each half hour of this movie is head and shoulders above any half hour of the TV show. I've talked to only one person who didn't think it was that funny. From what I've been able to gather it's because she's stuck with a DC public school education so she can't read very well or very fast. Enough of the humor involves signs and require reading that if you're not prone to reading you're gonna miss a lot of the movie.

I'm really glad I saw this, but I'm having trouble justifying buying it. I laughed a lot, but I can't see myself popping it in to watch over and over.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Jim Dale

Jim Dale puts on one hell of a show.

He was in town last week signing audio books. I know, how does an audio book reader get big enough to warrant a book signing tour? Simple. Read a really popular book. I don't mean some low selling book like the Bible or rubbish like that. I mean REALLY popular. Bigger than Jesus, bigger than the Beatles, I mean the Harry Potter books.

Jim has won nine Audie Awards, holds spots one through six for the most audio books sold and will probably get spot seven soon, has the record for most voices created for an audio book (13), is Grammy nominated, as well well as a bunch of other awards.

He recently did a spot on NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me".

I showed up at Border in White Flint Mall more than an hour early but all the seats were already filled. The audio books were all behind the counter, not that they went out of their way to advertise that, and you needed a receipt that you bought one in order to get a bracelet that let you get in line for a signing. And if you wanted anything else signed you were just out of luck. He's contractually forbidden to sign Harry Potter books, posters, scarves, or anything that isn't an audio book.

Jim got up and never stopped moving. It took awhile to get his mic clipped on and I suspect that's part of why. I shot 59 pictures and got maybe 4 where he actually paused long enough for a clean shot.
A clean shot

Most shots

He spent awhile talking about how he came up with his voices, the process of recording them all so he can play them back when he forgets who sounds like what, the recording booth, etc. Then he started reading. To avoid spoilers he read from old books. After all that he brought some kids up to try their voices. One girl did a great British accent.

They did their best to keep the autograph line moving. No chatting, no personalizations, no photos with Jim, and all autographs in the same place. A bit much I thought. I've been to more popular readings with less restrictions.

Still, if you get a chance to see him you should go even if he's not signing things for you. And if you see his audio books, even the non-Harry Potter stuff, give it a listen. I took his "Around the World in 80 Days" with me on my drive to Kansas last Christmas. Some readings knock you out, but Jim Dale will definitely keep you awake.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Movie Review: I Know Who Killed Me

With everyone obsessing about Lindsay Lohan this movie will do better than it deserves.

There's three ways to make a serial kidnapper and killer movie.

1) Psychological thriller - this is where the movie is spent piecing together clues to hunt down and save the girl. The girl is either tormented and saved at the end like "Silence of the Lambs" or is tormented for awhile, escapes, and is gives the cops a vital clue or two such as "Kiss the Girls" or "Along Came a Spider". These tend to be good movies, or if not good then respectable.

2) Gore flicks - Something like "Saw", "Hostle", or something like that. The point of the movie is to show people getting hurt and graphic scenes of blood and gore. They use sympathetic pain as a replacement for scaring people.

3) Flesh films - I guess this doesn't really fall under a particular genre. The idea is to show long sex and stripping scenes and draw an audience through titillation.

"I Know Who Killed Me" can't decide what kind of movie it wants to be.
Lohan does some pole dancing, but doesn't do any nudity. Other women in the film do, but Lohan saves that stuff for getting in and out of cabs. Two long pole dances and a heavily clothed sex scene. We do get to see that she's put back on some of the weight she lost while hanging out with Paris Hilton and Nichole Richie. (I am ashamed to know that.) She also has a lot of freckles.
There's some long gross scenes of fingers oozing and limbs blackened with frostbite. You can get the general idea at http://bordeninstitute.army.mil/published_volumes/harshEnv1/Atlas.pdf.
There's some detective work and some analysis of the criminal, but it felt like it was written by someone who did his research by watching a season of "CSI" on DVD.
And then there's some WTF scenes where the Lohan twins communicate and feel pain via the mysterious psychic twin link.

Basically, there's two Lohan girls separated at birth. One was raised by a nice suburban family while the other was raised by a crack ho. When suburban Lohan quits piano lessons she's kidnapped by her piano teacher who punishes her by cutting off bits of her until she's lost much of one arm and leg. Meanwhile, the twin she never knew starts having body parts die and fall off. When stripper Lohan's mom dies she finds money sent from the guy who adopted suburban Lohan and goes to investigate. Along the way she loses her limbs and collapses along the side of the road. She's found, taken to the hospital and taken to suburban Lohan's family. Except everyone believes that there's only one of her and she's living in a fantasy world because of the trauma. They work really hard to convince the audience but the audience has already seen the trailer that gives it all away.
Finally, stripper Lohan puts the pieces together, confronts suburban Lohan's father who bought one of them from Crack Ho Mom after his real baby died, and they go after the piano teacher. Dad gets killed, Piano Man gets killed, and suburban Lohan gets dug up before she can suffocate in her glass coffin.

There. I've ruined the whole movie for you. Don't give them a dime of your money. This movie is crap.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Movie Review: Stardust

I got to see a screening of "Stardust" Tuesday night. It's not officially out until August 10.

I know, you haven't heard of it. Few have. Here's the trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/stardust/

"Stardust" is another Neil Gaiman book made into a movie. Ok, "another" may be misleading.
The book "Neverwhere" was developed along with the BBC series of the same name. Due to budgetary limitations that didn't allow some of the creatures the book was better.
"Mirrormask" was developed as a movie since the visual aspects were so important. There is a book, bit it's based on the movie.
"Coraline" was a book first, but the movie is still under development. No trailer available yet, but the movie is supposed to come out this year.

"Stardust" is a fantasy on par with "The Princess Bride" but less quotable. Action, adventure, pirates, witches, sword fights, ghosts, and kissing.

Near the town of Wall is a wall. On the other side of the wall is a magical world. The only hole in the wall is guarded and nobody goes through.
Our hero is a grocery bagger in the town of Wall who wants to win the heart of the most beautiful woman in town. They see a shooting star fall on the far side of the wall and he promises to go get it for her if she'll marry him. She gives him a deadline of one week. Turns out that the star is a young woman.
The king of the magical land is dying. To become king he killed all of his brothers. He expected to give his kingdom to the last survivor of his seven sons. But four are still alive. So he takes the red from a ruby and casts it out the window. Whoever of royal blood touches it will make it red again and becomes king. The jewel zips off and knocks a star to the ground.
A witch sees the star fall. If she gets it and eats it's heart she'll become young and beautiful forever.

The boy, the princes, and the witch all race for the star for their own ends.

I will absolutely get this on DVD when it comes out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bush says "Let them eat cake."

Source credit to http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/4989306.html

That's the problem
President Bush suggests uninsured children go to hospital emergency rooms for their care.

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

After the Senate Finance Committee approved an expansion of the federal Children's Health Insurance Program to cover nearly 10 million kids, President Bush offered a strange rationale for threatening to veto it.

"People have access to health care in America," he told an audience in Cleveland. "After all, you just go to an emergency room."

As any executive of a Houston hospital can attest, that is precisely the problem created by the high number of uninsured people in the United States. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children in the nation, and Harris County the highest in the state. Those who lack insurance coverage frequently delay seeking medical care until they are seriously ill. Then they swamp hospital emergency rooms that are required by law to treat them even if the patient has no ability to pay.

Since emergency care is far more expensive than a scheduled visit to a doctor or clinic, hospitals wind up with large costs that they then pass on to insured patients using their overtaxed facilities. As a result, insurance companies raise their rates ever higher to cover the increased payouts, making their policies too expensive for more working families. The result is a health care system spiraling out of control and more children left unprotected and in poor health.

The senators who voted 17-4 to expand the S-CHIP understand the situation. Their plan would boost funding for S-CHIP from $25 billion to $60 billion for the next five years with the aim of covering 3 million more children. The measure would provide a uniform eligibility level of three times the poverty line for a family with four children, $51,510. The increase would be primarily funded by a steep hike in federal taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products

The Bush administration insists on holding the increase to $5 billion over the five year period, a level that U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said would not even maintain the current number of children enrolled.

Administration officials claim that expanding the program would undermine the insurance industry. But having more children insured would lower costs passed on to private insurers and employers.

Perhaps the most dubious reason cited by the White House for opposing the increase concerns the tax hike on cigarettes, which would go up from 39 cents a pack to a dollar. According to spokesman Tony Fratto, it would unfairly penalize the poor "to finance a new subsidy for the middle class." He didn't mention that higher tobacco taxes would likely reduce teen access to cigarettes and lower the health care costs of treating millions of Americans for respiratory disease and cancer caused by smoking.

America's health care system is broken. Expanding S-CHIP is a stopgap measure that would expand the number of Americans with access to health care.

Me again. Bush has always been like this. Back when he was Governor of Texas and someone with a soul was in the White House the federal government had to sue Texas. The Federal Govt had given Texas, and the other states, a bunch of money for children's health care. This money could be used for no other purpose. Rather than provide kids with health care Mad King George there decided not to spend it at all. That's right, he'd rather nobody ever got it than see it go to help sick kids.

So. Christians of America. Still think this motherfucker is the literal reincarnation of Jesus Christ? Of course you do. I'll save you a spot in line right behind George at the guillotine.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Movie Review: The Thing From Another World

First, a word about the author. John W. Campbell Jr. was a science fiction writer. In his spare time he was, anyway. He was also the editor for "Astounding Science Fiction" from 1937 until his death in 1971. He gave most science fiction authors their start. He had no qualms about sending stuff back to the biggest names in science fiction with notes on how to improve their work. Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein got their start with him and credit him with helping them with their writing. However, both eventually went to other magazines due to personality conflicts with Campbell. He gets a lot of credit for making science fiction a respected genre. He knew how to get authors to tell a good story.

He also gets a lot of grief from the authors for his disregard for the science in science fiction. In his book "The Moon Is Hell" he has miners on the moon working with mercury pickaxes so that if they break they can be easily melted and reformed for working on the freezing moon's surface. His view of the moon was about as scientifically sound as Ray Bradbury's or Edgar Rice Burroughs' view of Mars. Once established, authors were able to blow him off and take their work elsewhere when their view of the value of the science and Campbell's came in conflict.

He also wrote a story called "Who Goes There?" that has been twice made into a movie. Once was the 1982 version of "The Thing". The other was the 1951 movie "The Thing From Another World" that showed last night down on the National Mall.

An alien craft crashes in the arctic and is frozen in the ice. A group of scientists and military men blow up the ship in an attempt to get it out. Then they find the pilot frozen in the ice. They bring it inside where it melts and the creature goes on a rampage.

Frankly, I prefer the 1951 version of the movie. The dialog is better and the story better rounded. John Carpenter's 1982 version seems to be more like a slasher horror flick. Neither is particularly scary so I have to go with the better story.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Potato barrel: year two results

I've done the potato barrel experiment for two summers now.

Year one was when I just dropped a potato with three eyes in one of my planters and walked away. I wasn't there to care for it or water it because my house was undergoing major renovations. The eyes grew out for two or three feet before the whole thing died. When I threw it out I noticed something odd in the dirt. It turned out to be one of three potatoes about the size of a beer bottle cap.

see also:

I held on to two of them. Instead of rotting they sat happily on the shelf all winter long. One started to sprout eyes this spring. I nurtured it along for a couple of weeks and then planted it in my potato barrel.

see also:http://dougintology.blogspot.com/2007/03/sprouts.html

The one eye grew up for about a foot and then fell over. I put some dirt on it and waited. It grew up about a foot and fell over. I put more dirt on it. It grew up about a foot and fell over. I put more dirt on it. I was hoping that part of the potato vine would split off in another branch. It never happened. I was also going for a corkscrew effect. I figured I'd get a barrel full of dirt and the potato vine rising up a loop at a time.

Instead, about the fifth time I put dirt on it, the plant died.

When knocked over the barrel I found that I HAD successfully converted some of the worst soil I've ever seen outside of a clearcut rain forest into the richest, blackest, moistest soil I've ever seen full of the biggest earthworms I've heard of in the United States. That's because I threw in a mixture of a mostly sand type of dirt collected from the alley, grass clippings, apple cores and orange peels, a few worms, and probably a handful of goat chow or two.

I wound up dumping a few handfuls of this stuff on all my other plants.

So here's the strategy for next summer:

1) I wasn't supposed to use just one potato to start. I could have, but I treated it wrong and failed. No, I should have either had one potato with several eyes and cut them apart into separate seed plants OR had several potatoes each with eyes. I think six total eyes would be right.

2) Don't allow the plants to fall over. As they grow up and up and up keep feeding dirt, vegetables, compost, etc. so they always have support. On a potato farm they'll want to send runners across the soil. But in a barrel they don't have that luxury so keep them going up.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Movie Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Last Saturday they were showing "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" at the American City Diner & Cinema Café. I hadn't seen it in forever so I went again. I forgot what a hike it is to get there.

If you're not familiar with American City Diner & Cinema Café it's a 50's style restaurant that shows a old movie every night. Check the Washington City Paper for listings.

Last time I saw "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" it was just a good movie. The many years that have passed have allowed me to see the anti-communist message more clearly.

A doctor comes back from a several week convention to find that people are acting strange. Some people believe that their relatives aren't their relatives despite having their body, voice, memories, and behavior. Several people came desperately needing to see him while he was gone but now it's not important. In fact the waiting room is nearly empty.
Then someone finds a body in his closet and asks the doctor to come by. The body is very generic but has the height and weight of the guy who found it. Slowly it takes on his features right down to the fresh cut on his hand.
Soon they find what look like giant milkweed pods that crack open to produce the generic bodies. These bodies wait for you to fall asleep and then take your memories. They never mention what they do with your old body.
Our leading characters try contacting the FBI but the lines are all down. The whole town has been replaced by pod people. Our heroes skip town, but nearly get caught. They see truckloads of pods heading for nearby towns. They get picked off one by one until only the doctor remains, his ex getting replaced in nearly record time while he's investigating a giant pod greenhouse.
Finally the doctor is found running down the highway screaming like a nut. He's arrested and tells his story. They don't believe him until one of the trucks turns up. They call the FBI.

That's what I saw as a kid.
This time I saw that the pod people were supposed to be communists. When they say "don't fall asleep" they don't mean "or the alien plant will steal your memories". They mean "remain ever vigilant to the communist menace in your community. If you allow yourself to relax your friends, family, or even YOU may become a commie."

Also, if they made this movie today the doctor would have snuck down to the pod people's greenhouse and blown it to hell. Also, I doubt the ex-girlfriend would have been wearing her prom dress to sit out on the lawn.

If you haven't seen this movie in the last twenty years you might want to.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

DVD Review: Andromeda

After Gene Roddenberry's death his wife, Majel, went through a bunch of his old papers and found a few television shows that he'd pitched years ago but were never developed. He'd created "Star Trek", "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was still on TV with outrageous ratings, and "Star Trek: Deep Space 9" was just starting. With his great record Majel was able to get studio heads to take a chance on his other ideas.

"Andromeda" is an under appreciated show. For some reason it just didn't pull the ratings that lesser shows like "Farscape" were able to pull off. After a couple of seasons the networks started bopping it all over the schedule. Weekend afternoons and late evenings mostly. The show was hard to find even if you were willing to watch it in those screwy hours. And so the ratings continued to fall. They tried cancelling it at the end of season 4 but brought it back for a wildly different season 5.

"Andromeda" could be pitched as what came after "Star Trek". Most space faring races have been brought together under the Systems Commonwealth. But when the Commonwealth brings in a race of vicious creatures known as Magog who reproduce by putting larva in other intelligent species there's a revolt. A branch of humanity that lives by the teachings of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche sees the Commonwealth as weak and a hindrance to their master race. In the first battle Captain Dylan Hunt of the Andromeda Ascendant is betrayed by his first officer and best friend who also happens to be a Nietzschen. With the Andromeda evacuated Dylan orders the ship to make a risky escape along the edge of a black hole. Time slows as he nears the event horizon. It slows much more than they expected. Dylan and his first officer engage in a battle that lasts for the next three hundred years.
While only minutes have passed on the Andromeda three hundred years have passed for the rest of the tri-galaxy area. The Commonwealth has fallen. The Magog went on a rampage slaughtering many world. The Nietzschen empire failed to gel so they've fractured into many warring families. They've enslaved much of the remaining populations.
Scavengers come to try to drag the Andromeda away from the black hole and sell off the weapons and parts piecemeal. They thought the crew was all evacuated or squished to a mono-molecular film by the extreme gravity. Once on board Dylan deals with the scavenger's leaders and recruits the rest on to his own crew.
Together they embark on a two season mission to restore the Commonwealth, spend a season working under the new Commonwealth, and then another season fighting corrupt factions within the Commonwealth. All this while fighting the most powerful Nietzschen families and trying to prepare for a devastating attack by the Magog worldship, a system of interconnected planets surrounding an artificial sun and run by a godlike being known as The Abyss that wants to destroy the three local galaxies.

Having wrapped up their storylines for the end of season 4 they had to figure out what to do with season 5. They find themselves trapped in an artificial star system without access to the rest of the galaxy. It starts off promising but falls into a mess of contradictions and uncertainty about how long the show would last.

Roddenberry was known for his hopeful storylines. Some say that was the secret to "Star Trek"'s success. Instead of a galaxy of warring races or one where humanity was the only race he claimed that humanity would overcome our lesser natures and go forth to unite a galaxy of hundreds of alien civilizations.
"Andromeda" once again shoots for the best and noblest aspects of mankind. Captain Hunt is a Superman type character who fights for truth and justice and a safer world for all without becoming a ruler himself.

Best of all, you can pick up a copy of the whole series for only $50. If I hadn't borrowed it from a co-worker I would have snatched it up.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Book Review: Fall of Knight

I love Peter David's stuff.
I first read his stuff back in high school when I was reading Star Trek: The Next Generation books. My favorite books went into the small lending library I kept in my locker. Really. I kept about 16 paperbacks in my locker and about half were out at any one time.
The point is that I kept all my favorite ST:TNG books in my locker. All but one were written by Peter David. He wrote "Imzadi" which is the one Star Trek book that even people who don't watch the show like.
He's also written for The Hulk, Spiderman, X-Men, Fantastic Four, part of the Civil War storyline, and other comics. Besides the Star Trek books, he's done several movie novelizations, some Battlestar Galactica books, and some Babylon 5 books.

Peter David is not limited to his fanboy work and piggybacking off of established names. He has written several independent books. "Fall of Knight" is the third book in this series.

He wrote "Knight Life" twice. Several years after it's initial release he felt the need to go back and add a lot more. An estimated 2/3 more.
After suffering a near fatal wound at the hands of his bastard son, King Arthur went to Avalon to heal. It was said that he would return to take power when the world needed him. "Knight Life" is the story of King Arthur's return. He comes back and runs for mayor of New York City. Merlin has continued to age backwards so he's only eight years old. Percival still lives and is found living on the streets of New York. Things are complicated by Morgan Le Fay and the reincarnations of Guinevere and Lancelot.

The second book, "One Night Only", takes a darker turn while keeping the sense of humor. Arthur was mayor of New York when terrorists attacked. This has helped propel him on to the White House. The war against the terrorist leader leads him to resign his office so he can pursue the Holy Grail which is in the hands of the legendary figure Gilgamesh.

In "Fall of Knight" Arthur and Gwen are spending their days on a boat in the middle of the ocean. But fate steps in to bring them back to America. Arthur is forced to admit that he has the Holy Grail. He stirs people up by implying that Jesus got his powers from the Grail instead of the other way around. A religion begins to form around Arthur. A means is devised to use the Grail to heal the greatest number of people by bottling the water. But, as it tends to be when dealing with magic, every act of good must be balanced with an act of destruction.

I highly recommend the whole trilogy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Movie Review: Joshua

This is supposed to be one of those "Omen" knockoffs. It failed.

What we have is a nine year old, Young Republican, sociopath whose parents have just had their second kid. Shorted of their attention Joshua starts trying to drive his mother nuts. He makes the baby cry and cry and cry knowing that the nonstop crying will drive his mother into a deep depression. She gets meds for it and he messes with her meds. He pulls some disappearing baby stunts and some "get mommy to lock herself in a pitch black construction area" stunts to make her look like the bad guy and make her even more nuts.

Grandma comes by to help with the baby after Mom gets hurt. Joshua uses her fundamentalist Christian beliefs to turn her and his parents against each other. He pulls some disappearing acts on her. Makes her look bad. Then pushes her down a flight of stairs.

By now Dad is starting to figure out that it's Joshua that's doing this. He has to start installing locks on the cabinets so Joshua can't doctor the baby's formula. He has the baby sleep in his bedroom with the door locked. He has Joshua meet with a shrink who Joshua makes think Dad is beating him. Finally, he pushes Dad into beating him in public.

There's also a dozen or so dead animals over the course of the movie.

The movie ends with Joshua starting in on his uncle.

This is all me reading a lot into the movie. You have to psychoanalyze the kid because the movie isn't telling you any of this. It's not particularly scary unless you happen to be someone trying to raise a kid in New York.

Don't bother going to see this movie. I want my money back.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Movie Review: Harry Potter - Order of the Phoenix

This is a movie of contradictions.

This is the shortest Harry Potter movie so far but the thickest of the books so far.

This movie does the best job of covering the gist of the book but it's the weakest of the movies so far.

There's some things that had to be cut and other things they had to change. But for the most part they covered what needed to be covered. Except the revelation scene at the end of the movie needed more.

It's just... there was something missing. There's very little color in the movie, but I don't think that's it. There's some stuff that you have to have read the books first to understand properly.

I just got the same feeling I did with "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe". It has all the attributes of a good movie without actually being a good movie. It's not bad. It's just... meh.

Yep. That's my review. Meh.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A conundrum

You may have seen (or heard) one of the many recent reports about a study about what kind of guy women really go for. It turns out that woman want a big muscular man for affairs or a quick roll in the hay, but they want the skinnier guys for relationships. This is an important discovery along the lines that water is wet, things fall down, and if you drop a broken egg you won't get an egg that's new. Keep making brilliant statements like that and you'll bring and asDUHroid down on your head.

I rank among the skinny. I don't inspire instant lust. Ok, not completely true. I don't inspire instant lust in women. Guys on the other hand... Anyway, I need a couple of months of exposure before a woman starts to express interest. But I can't achieve that through dating.

The longer I remain in DC the more I see why dating beyond college is so tricky. It's summed up nicely in the scientific report. See, a lot of us want a lasting romantic relationship but people don't want to date the people we want to end up with.

Date, I've learned, translates to "someone who gets me so hot and bothered that we're having sex by the end of the first date, or second at least." I'm finding that if someone isn't immediately madly attracted to you there isn't gonna be a second date.

This is different from the way I understood the term when I first moved to DC*. Back then I thought you were supposed to spend a few dates getting to know someone, decide if this is someone you want to keep around for awhile, and then jump them. Silly me.

But this gets me back to my original point. You can be as funny and charming and confident as you like but unless you have the rippling muscles (and the testosterone and pheromones that go with them) you're not gonna get the woman that fired up in the short period of time they seem to demand. The people with normal builds need more prolonged exposure to someone to make that connection.

So, I'm asking, how do we get past this? How does the average person, male or female, get that exposure they need to start a romantic relationship if they don't have the pheromones necessary for immediate lust? We've all heard the warnings against dating coworkers. That leaves us with what?

Don't think I'm basing this off of my miserable dating life. No, no. I've come to this conclusion by listening to the women I've met both digitally and in the real world. They seem to expect an instant spark. Many refuse to go on a second date if they haven't been driven to lust on the first. A few will give a guy a second try, but still want something to happen fast.

*I'm not blaming DC for this. I lived in Kansas City before this and they just don't have enough single women to learn better.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Work stuff

I am The Omnigeek. If there's a computer involved I can do it. Data flows to me of it's own free will. I know much and what I don't know I can find.

I've laid out ~15 of the 25 chapters in our forthcoming "Medical Aspects of Biological Warfare" book and more are coming.
"Medical Aspects of Chemical Warfare" is coming our way along with a history of the Army's dental corps and one or two others. One or two of these books could show up on my desk without warning since they're just waiting on one chapter or forward from one person who just won't get off his ass and get it done.

Meanwhile, the people who host our website dumped Webtrends recently. Webtrends is a web tracking service to let you know how much traffic your site is getting. They decided they can develop their own software cheaper. This is true. Webtrends is pricey. But having dumped Webtrends their priorities shifted so they're not working on that project anymore. But they will post the raw data every day so we can look at the unedited logs. Now, I can read this, but to really make sense of the data requires some work. So I've taken the Mac of the woman whose job it is to monitor this stuff and started rigging it up.
The web server is running, PHP and MySQL installed, the database setup, and software written to dump the daily log into the database. Now to write the code to spit it back out.
And write it while also getting those chapters out.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Book Review: The Android's Dream

"Dirk Moeller didn't know if he could really fart his way into a major diplomatic incident. But he was ready to find out."

That's the first sentence of John Scalzi's book "Android's Dream". The rest of chapter 1 is available for free at http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/004945.html. Go read it. It can stand alone as a short story or it can tempt you into going out to buy the whole book.

Here's the summary of the book. Mankind has gone to the stars and found hundreds of alien races. We're not the puniest race, but that's only because a few hundred have no space military at all. We have to make friends with whoever we can. That includes the Nidu. Also pretty puny, but still several hundred steps ahead of us. After the diplomatic incident in chapter 1 they're ready to conquer Earth. But there is a way to make nice.
The head of the Nidu empire has died and his heir has to follow a special ceremony in order to take the throne. Failure to do so leaves the throne open to other families. As part of the ceremony they must sacrifice a member of a rare, genetically engineered species of electric blue sheep known as "The Android's Dream" after the Phillip K Dick story "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" (better known as the movie "Blade Runner". But someone has killed every last one of "The Android's Dream".
The book tells of the search for the last Android's Dream, the struggle to keep it from getting killed by either side, and the multigeneration plot to take over the Earth.

It's a great book. Go read that first chapter.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Museum review: Bodies: The Exhibition

If you live in or around Washington, DC you can't have missed this exhibit. You may have heard some of the complaints about the people stripped of their flesh peering out from the sides of area buses.

For those of you not in the area I'll explain. Using a technique which replaces all the tissue down to a cellular level with plastic, someone has turned a bunch of corpses into incredibly realistic mannequins. The figures are missing most of their skin. Most are missing varying amounts of muscle and organs. Spines, organs, skin, and individual limbs are laid out to show how they interact to make people move and how they degrade due to disease, smoking, fatty deposits, and whatnot.

Some bodies are displayed playing tug-of-war, throwing discus, conducting orchestras, and whatnot. What I was looking for was the game of poker they made for the James Bond movie "Casino Royale". Maybe it's in one of the other cities that this display is currently showing in.

Some displays are just of blood vessels. Here they pumped the plastics through the system, let it set up, and dissolved away the rest. It shows why the face bleeds such a ridiculous amount, how the small intestine is more important for absorbing nutrients than the stomach, etc.

There's an area showing a fetus at various stages of development. Signs explain that they all were lost due to natural failure and not due to human interference. There is a hallway that allows you to bypass this exhibit.

I make horrible medical texts as well as all sorts of video and photos from Iraq that the public will never see. So I'm not the best person to ask if the display is too gross. I didn't have any problems with what was displayed. They weren't mangled so for me everything was several steps better than what I'm used to.
If you found the displays on the buses disturbing then you might not want to go. Most of the people there were fine with the detailed internal anatomy. From the conversations I overheard there were several medical personnel there as well as people who had medical ailments that were able to see in some detail for the first time the areas that had betrayed them.
A few people brought their children. A little hispanic girl had the audio tour ($6.00) and was doing pretty well. Someone else brought their infant who slapped itself up against every acrylic surface it found trying to get at the exhibits.
In fact I only heard one person who didn't want to touch the hands-on parts that were rumored to be at the end. It was just a rumor.

$25 seems a bit much for tickets. There's some ads that offer $5 off if you order tickets online and punch in a certain code. Alas, by ordering online there's a $4 service charge and a $1 fee for getting tickets emailed to you OR a $1 fee for getting tickets at Will Call. So it's pretty much a wipe.

The whole tour took me about two hours. That seems about right. I was getting kind of sick of it by the end.

The show lasts until October sometime. It's not mentioned in the ads so I figured I should mention it.

It is a bit overpriced, but it's still a show worth seeing. Everything to do around here is either free or overpriced.

Currently showing in Branson, MO; Columbus, Ohio; Prague; Lisbon; Pittsburgh; San Diego; Durham; Las Vegas; New York; and Washington D.C.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Insulating this place is turning out to be more difficult than I thought.

I had ordered some cans of spray insulation from TigerFoam. It's two tanks of chemical that run through hoses and mix as they come out of the sprayer. A thin layer of foam gets applied to the wall which then expands to fill the space between the studs and then some. You need a blade to cut off the extra so you can put up your wall covering.
What actually happened was that the swivel where the hose connects to the tanks leaked so that more chemical came out there than out the sprayer. What little made it out wasn't mixed in the right proportions so the thin layer of foam never expanded. Instead it ran down through the gap in the floor so it dripped on the door on the first floor leaving a mark that I can't get off. There's more on the shower floor that won't come off and some stuck to the glass on a ceiling fan that also won't come off. And then I have two tanks half full that I can't dispose of.

The next best thing is to hire the professionals. If I'm going to do this I'd prefer the soy based stuff. Ok, it's only 2% soy so it's not that great a difference. That's pretty much why it's preferred instead of demanded. Also, with different kinds of spray insulation the spray equipment needs to be adjusted to get the ratios right. This takes time so they don't really want to switch the types very often. So nobody wants to use the soy stuff unless you're willing to buy them a whole new sprayer. New sprayers are in the $10,000 and up area.

Plus, they're gonna want whatever room they work in clear of my personal junk. This would mean them making several trips as I move my entire life from room to room while playing Tetris with my valuables.

I'd prefer to do this myself. That's why I got the TigerFoam in the first place. So I take a look at styrofoam insulation. This stuff is supposed to be installed during construction. It goes on the outside of the wall so the studs aren't a leaking point. My house is already built.
For crawl spaces it's a bit different. They want me to first insulate the ground and then insulate the walls of the crawlspace. I want to insulate under the floor. I may still decide to get the thick, rigid sheets of styrofoam and ... I dunno, glue them(?) under the house(?). They come in 4'x8' sheets so they'd have to be cut to fit.

For the inside of the house I can still resort to rolls of the Pink Panther stuff. It's easy to do. However, it's the lesser of all possible insulations. I'd probably be better off cutting up sheets of the thick, rigid styrofoam.

Crud. I'm still probably gonna have some crew come in and spray in the non-soy insulation. If I do it right I might even get them to do two rooms on the same day. I can't see them doing the crawlspace at all.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Stuff around DC

What to talk about today? I don't have a bumpersticker essay ready to go. Lets talk about the stuff around DC

The 2007 Screen on the Green schedule
July 16 - Annie Hall (1977)
July 23 - The Thing (From Another World) (1951)
Jul 30 - Wait Until Dark (1967)
August 6 - All the Kings Men (1949)
August 13 - Casablanca (1942)
National Mall between 4th and 7th Streets in Washington DC

The 2007 Solar Decathlon takes place on the National Mall in Washington D.C., October 12 - 20, 2007.
It's twenty solar powered houses judged on Architecture, Engineering, Market Viability, Communications, Comfort Zone, Appliances, Hot Water, Lighting, Energy Balance, and Getting Around. They're designed by universities from all over the country and a couple international entries.
The houses are open for tours except when they're closed for judging.
Setup begins about a week before it opens.

The National Postal Museum isn't as boring as it sounds. If you've already shown your visitors the main points in DC then you can hit the Postal Museum across the street from Union Station. They have a history of the mail trucks, a few old air mail planes, a new display about the postal inspectors, and quite a bit more. It's not just stamps.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Book Review: Humans

"Humans" is the sequel to "Hominids" which I reviewed back in May.

In the first book a Neanderthal named Ponder was performing an experiment that dropped him into our universe. In the end he got back home.
In this book his people reopen the portal on a semi-permanent basis. People can pass back and forth fairly easily (after decontamination). Ponder finds himself caught between his man-mate, a potential woman-mate, and the human woman that he developed a romantic relationship with in the first book.
Ponder finds out who raped the human woman in the first book and has to figure out what do to about that.
The Neanderthal diplomat has to learn to adapt to Human diplomacy. Neanderthal scholars give their knowledge and technology freely just to keep them from being another commodity to be bought, sold, and patented.
And there's more time spend debating the non-existence of a god or an afterlife.

The author has gone to great lengths to get his science right in these books. I think I'm going to have to write up a quick explanation of quantum physics to help your through it.

Coming soon: a review of the third and final book "Hybrids".

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Movie Review: 1408

This movie isn't going to win any awards which is further proof that the Academy Awards people have their heads up their collective asses.

"1408" is one of the best horror movies ever. John Cusack plays an author of "10 Most Haunted [insert noun]" books. He did one book a long time ago that was really good, but now he just goes around the country visiting "haunted" places and writing them up. But he's never seen a real haunting. Not until he hears about room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel. He lawyers up and demands that he be allowed to stay in that room. The manager tries to talk him out of it. We learn about the history of the room and how nobody who lives through the room has stayed a whole hour.
This takes up a good part of the beginning of the movie. It's part time filler and part mood setting.

Finally, Mike Enslin (Cusack) gets to the room and settles in. Almost immediately things start to get weird. Soon the clock radio starts a one hour countdown. The room tortures him with visions of his dead daughter, the building changes shape, he sees spirit leaping from the window. All this and so much more.

It's hard to describe just what makes the movie so unsettling or even convince you that it is. So let me tell out about the audience. I've found that, generally, people talk more in really scary movies. It's a defense mechanism. They have to remind themselves that it's only a movie. They start to mock things they normally wouldn't and get louder and louder as things get worse. They talked a lot in the last 45 minutes or so.

If you liked "The Others" or "The Shining" you should like this.

I'll get this on DVD, too.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Movie Review: Ratatouille

"Ratatouille" is the latest Pixar production. Sure, Disney "bought" Pixar but if you look at the deal you see that Disney paid Pixar to take them over. So I'm not gonna call the animation group Disney/Pixar. Disney can't make cartoons for shit. Pixar can. That's why Disney had them take over their animation.

Anyway, "Ratatouille" is a "Cyrano de Bergerac" themed movie. In "Cyrano..." some guy who can't talk to women gets someone with a big nose and a poetic mind to feed him lines to win some woman's heart. In "Ratatouille" some guy who can't cook gets a rat with a big nose who is a wonderful chef to help him cook in order to keep his job.

Much like with their last work, "Cars", the trailer looked kinda lame but the movie itself was pretty good. See, it's Pixar. They understand that the important thing in making a movie is to start with a good story. They refuse to make Toy Story 3 until they see a story that isn't crap. Disney was gonna do it themselves no matter how bad, until the takeover.

Not convinced? "Ratatouille" was written by Brad Bird. He's the same guy who wrote and directed "The Incredibles" and "The Iron Giant". The guy knows what he's doing.

The short animation before the movie was a triple play of comedy. 1) An alien abduction, 2) by an incompetent alien, 3) who is taking his drivers test. It was one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

Definately go see this movie. I will be getting it on DVD.