Friday, August 31, 2007


This is the first anniversary of the day I moved back into my house. I've been sleeping on my couch for one whole year.

Progress report

Previously on Dougintology...

This house was built between 1870 and 1890. The mortar used back then was lime based. But much of that lime has washed away leaving sand between the bricks.

In March I started uncovering the bricks.

Then I destroyed a cart getting some mortar.

After ten days I showed a picture of my progress.

It was easier to work upstairs during the winter than during the summer. The summer is miserable. But with cooling weather I've been making myself get something done almost every night. It's "almost" because there's still some hot humid spells.

This picture was taken two nights ago.

All the cement was torn off the face of the bricks. I started chipping out the mortar but soon switched to a drill. These days I drill holes in between the bricks to loosen up the mortar a bit more. This also tells me the relative hardness of the mortar. Some is still pretty hard so I only go in half an inch. Some offers no resistance and I punch clear through the wall. Some bricks came out completely but most stayed. The worst damage in this room is the chimney. Drilling and milling around the chimney is like drilling into Rice Crispie Treats.
The work was being done in zones. I'd clear an area, blow out the dust with a wet-dry vac in reverse, let the dust settle, pack mortar, repeat elsewhere. This was intended to help prevent the wall from falling on me or at least keep bricks from falling out where I didn't want them to. But it turns out that precaution is only necessary in the chimney. In this room anyway. The next room will likely be worse. I started here because the room was already empty after the back wall was replaced.

I'm having to be careful, particularly around the round thing in the chimney. This house had a wood burning stove, once upon a time. That's where the exhaust went. If the house were a bit bigger I'd put one back in or get a corn burning stove. As it is I just don't have the room.

Compare to this pic from March.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

future of cars

DARPA is the wacky research arm of the US Military. Only about 1 out of every 10 projects they get involved with goes anywhere. They built the DARPA-Net which became ARPA-Net which became the internet.

A few years ago DARPA sponsored the DARPA Grand Challenge. The challenge was to design self guiding vehicles. They had to navigate a long winding track in the desert that they were unfamiliar with 24 hours before the beginning of the race. Of the top three winners two used GPS while one relied on it's own sensors.

This November DARPA will be sponsoring the DARPA Urban Challenge. This time they'll be navigating a city. They'll face traffic, on and off ramps, highways, and city streets.

The point is to be able to convert most military vehicles in the field to automated vehicles. After all, a robot can't refuse to drive a tanker full of tainted fuel through insurgent territory.

It won't be long before this technology is made available for our vehicles. Probably with a combination of GPS, cameras, and laser scanning. GPS for planning routes and being able to predict what's coming. Lasers to determine the shapes and proximity of things around you. Cameras to determine what those things are.

You should be able to get in your car, tell it where to take you and it'll drive you there. So I was thinking about problem conditions and safety issues. My GPS gizmo works pretty well, but maps change and construction fouls things. The car's built in GPS system would need to have the maps in updatable flash memory. It would need to receive updates about construction so it wouldn't try to exit on a closed off ramp.
If the car wasn't able to receive updates for an extended time or if the flash drive failed the car would have to refuse to start. Or, in the early days, refused to automate.

Of greater concern is the fact that your vehicle would be completely trackable. Universal LowJack would be great. It would eliminate car theft except for the most tech savvy thief. On the other hand you'll have to worry that the feds can find your car anywhere and anytime. When you get stuck in the snow they'll be able to find you. If you're having an affair they'll be able to prove your car was at so-and-such home or hotel at a certain time in the divorce proceedings. When George Orwell Bush III takes office he'll be able to follow you anywhere.

So, would you take a fully automated car if you knew you could never go off the grid?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Book Review: The Draco Tavern

I've been very unkind about Larry Niven's more recent work. He's just not what he used to be. But he's always kicked ass with his short stories and still does.

"The Draco Tavern" is a collection of very short stories that take place in a bar called "The Draco Tavern". Some years from now, about 10 years from whenever you happen to be reading the story, an alien craft parks near the moon and sends landers to a good landing point in Siberia. Many more have come and gone since then. The ships are owned by a race known as the Chirpsithra. But there's lots of other aliens who have booked passage on their ships.
Sometimes when talking to the aliens a person can learn something that will make him a fortune. Rick did so and earned his fortune early on. He spent his money to open a bar near the landing area. A bar that caters to aliens of all kinds. Most of his staff are researchers who volunteer to work there just to be able to be close and study the aliens.
These are genuinely alien aliens, too. Being a book he's not restricted to people in costumes.

Most of the stories are thought provoking in some manner or other. And they're typically only about 5 pages long. More bathroom literature. You'll probably have to brush your teeth or rinse your mouth to get a story finished.

Great book.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Book Review: Hybrids

The third book in a series by Robert J Sawyer.

Book 1: Humans
Book 2: Hominids
Book 3 Hybrids

The series takes place in reality where 40,000 years ago the universe split. In one history humans became intelligent while the Neanderthals died off. In the other the Neanderthals became intelligent while the humans died off.

In the first book Neanderthal researchers doing experimentation in quantum computing accidentally punched a hole through to our world and one dropped through.

In the second book a permanent porthole was established allowing travel back and forth by scientists and diplomats.

In this third and final book the Neanderthal that fell through in the first book and the Neanderthal genetics researcher who confirmed he really was a neanderthal are in a serious relationship. They're looking at getting married and having children. But Neanderthals only have kids once every ten years. This means the two must have children on a schedule if their kid is to fit in on both worlds. Plus, we have 23 chromosome pairs while they have 24. Even if they do have a kid naturally it'll be like a Neanderthal with Downs Syndrome. Luckily a scientist on the other world has developed a device that would allow them to tweek the genes so that they could not only match up, but determine what characteristics the kid would have. Most difficult is the part of the brain that makes people imagine there's gods, ghosts, and UFOs. Neanderthals don't have it.
Plus, the device is banned in that world and the researcher has disconnected from the network and gone to live in the woods. They hunt her down, get the device, smuggle it back to our world, and leave it with a trusted friend. This trusted friend starts using it to develop a Neanderthal specific version of Ebola so he can wipe them all out and take over their world for mankind.

There's less of the anthropology science that was in the first two books. We've also gotten past the religious debates and most of the genetic science. There's some genetics, but most of the hard science is in the development of the virus. The interesting philosophical discussion in this book is related to whether or not, given the option, you'd make sure your child couldn't believe in God. Plus, some about whether or not all human men should be banned from the other world.

It was a good end to a strong trilogy. This series, as with everything by Robert J Sawyer, goes near the top of my recommended reading list.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Movie Review: Black Snake Moan

This is not the movie they showed in the trailers. In the trailers "Black Snake Moan" is the story about some religious fundamentalist who chained up a druggie sex fiend in his house while he tries to drive the sin from her. Seems like a story that stars mostly just two people and their interaction. Could be performed just as well on a stage.

In reality this is the story of two people. One is a middle aged (or just past) black man whose wife has just left him for another man. The other is a late teens white girl whose boyfriend has just joined the army so she's started having sex with everything that moves and doing a lot of drugs.

The first part of the movie covers how their lives fall apart and how poorly they're dealing with it. Then the girl gets dumped in a ditch outside the guy's house after getting beaten by one of the guys who wanted to jump her. The guy brings her in and fixes her up. She keeps wondering about in a delusional haze so he ties a chain to her. When she comes to he doesn't undo the chain. She still "ain't right".

A little time is spent with her making crude comments and him preaching to her. She acts like he's her molesting father and he acts like she's his cheating wife. But with time they both soften and become friends. He gets her to dress better and she gets him to play his guitar in public again, he expresses his grief through the blues.

By the end of the movie he's got a new girl and she's got her boyfriend back and the ability to cope when he's not around.

Not something I'd have bought on DVD, but it's worth watching once.

Friday, August 24, 2007

iPhones in Space

I was at the Weird Al concert and someone a few rows in front of me had his new iPhone out. I started to wonder if an iPhone might work in space, aside from the fact that it's way outside the service area, or would the electronics fry in the solar wind?

A decade or two back we had to be very careful with our orbiting electronics because the radiation from the sun would fry things. Even now we have to power down a lot of our satellites during periods of intense solar activity. You may remember stories about sun spots messing with TV reception back when everyone used antennas. It's even been suggested that they were partially responsible for the big blackout across the American north east a few years back.

The reason I ask this question is because the iPhone is so powerful. It's practically a whole computer. My PalmPilot is more powerful than what went to the moon. The iPhone isn't on par with my Macintosh G5, but it seems to be competitive with the MacMini except no CD-ROM, keyboard, or monitor.

I'm still working up to something here. Hang on.

My PalmPilot has all kinds of attachments available to it. There used to be a modem you can clip onto the bottom, I've got a wi-fi card for mine, there's GPS attachments, barcode scanners, infrared keyboards, cameras, microphones, solar rechargers, etc.

Now imagine being able to do the same thing with an iPhone. Clip on some microthrusters and some solar panels and you have a satellite. Clip on a better camera and it's a spy satellite. Clip on an infrared camera and it's a weather satellite.
Got a deep space probe? Why build a whole new computer for it? Build your satellite and then pop in an iPhone as it's brain.
You could send up a constellation of seven small satellites. Six surrounding one. Each within wi-fi range of three others. The one in the middle could have the sat-phone attachment so that it could just dial back to NASA using the Iridium satellites instead of needing a big radio dish.

Once enough old satellites got replaced with this new brain then they'd be able to talk with other nearby satellites in orbit. It's pretty crowded up there and collisions need to be watched out for. They'd be able to communicate and negotiate the slight changes in orbit they need to miss each other.

I'm only really using the iPhone as an example because that's what gave me the idea. And there's already a manufacturer for it. But if NASA (or Boeing or Lockheed-Martin or...) could develop one multi-purpose satellite brain that could be used just dropped into whatever needs it I think they'd save a lot of time, effort, and money. Clip on the attachment, install the software, chuck it out the back of a Space Shuttle.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bad news for rat phobics

I saw an article a few years ago that I thought just amazing. Anyone I tell about it is similarly stunned. Someone demanded the source article and some references. So I provided them. I hate to waste research so you'll benefit, too.

Basically, the original article talks about how researchers at the University of Florida scooped the brain out of a rat fetus, grew it in a petri dish until there was and array of 25,000 cells. They hooked up 60 electrodes and the rat brain learned how to fly an F-22 flight simulator. Not at first, obviously. At first it wiped out a few hundred times. But it slowly got better and better and the neural network developed in response to the controls.

Don't believe it?
I first heard about it from "The Register".

The University of Florida announcement

A picture of the doctor

The article in the Australian newspaper "The Age"

National Geographic

Discovery Channel



Just Google "Rat brain F-22" and you'll get a zillion hits.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

TV Show Review: Eureka

I just discovered "Eureka" on the Sci-fi Channel. Eureka is a small town established by the US government to house all the most brilliant scientific minds of the day. It's also where I'd move if I had the chance. Granted, I'm probably gonna need another eight years of school just to be the janitor, but it's my kinda town. The schools are fully funded, Segways are commonplace, as are Smart cars and Gem cars. The spa is powered by the thermal waste from the nuclear power plant. There's little to no interest in sports. The place is perfect. It's perfect aside from the weekly threat to life, limb, and sanity.

The show is like "The Outer Limits" but with every episode set in the same place with the same people. Also with better directing. "The Outer Limits" always seems to put me to sleep. You know how many shows have a certain quality to them that lets you identify the show instantly? Like I can flip on "SG1" and know that it's "SG1" even though the main characters aren't around and the scene is not remotely Stargate-ish. You can turn on "The Outer Limit" and know that's what it is because of some quality to the lighting or general blahness. The story may be great but I'm still gonna nod off. "Eureka" has those good stories but isn't gonna knock you out.

If you're like me and don't have cable you can now watch your favorite Sci-Fi Channel shows without pirating them or waiting for the DVD. For Eureka just go to and click on one of the links that say "Watch full episodes". It'll take you to the start of season two.
Also available is Flash Gordon, Dr Who, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, both Stargate series, Enterprise, Dresden Files, and some other stuff that doesn't interest me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


"Never get involved in a land war in Asia" - The Sicilian "Princess Bride"

One of the best ways to furnish your house in DC is to spend some time aimlessly wandering the back streets. You can get a sofa, chairs, TV, lamps, bed frames, kitchen cabinets, window air conditioners, shelves etc. etc. Just leave the mattresses where you see them.

My most recent discovery was a copy of Risk/Castle Risk that someone left out for the taking. They also left out a copy of SceneIt but someone had already looted the DVD out of it.

Risk is a very educational game.
Geography for example. I know that I'd have no idea where Kamchatka is if I hadn't spent so much time invading across the Bering Strait.
You can also learn tactics. Even if you've never heard of Napoleon or Hitler you'll soon understand why Asia makes such a lousy battlefield.
With the right players it reinforces history lessons. "I just spent 25 armies on Vietnam! Why can't I beat them?" "Same reason the French, Americans, and Chinese couldn't keep it, punk."
And statistics... Can my four armies take your three or will your two dice carve up my three?

So when I saw it with a "free" sign on it I grabbed it. After a couple of weeks the weather cooled enough for me to catch the neighbor kids out and about. So I snagged them and we started a game. Their lives are very different than mine at that age so I knew they'd never played before. We only got through a couple of rounds before having to end the game. But the next night we got a four player game going in the middle of the sidewalk.

We started with the fast start method. This is where you deal all the cards and that's how territories are assigned. I had to help them. On a map of the world they couldn't find the United States, they couldn't find Australia, they couldn't find Africa. But by the end of the game they were starting to work out the continents at least.

Tactics were next. I had to spell out for them that by continually attacking until nothing was left they left themselves open to a slaughter. And if you don't want to attack places with a bunch of armies then others won't want to attack you where you have a mass of armies.

My favorite part was watching the twins. They decided early on to work together. But being brothers that didn't last. They were driven to destroy each other while I hunkered in Australia waiting to swarm out and rain death. Charles learned the value of striking at weak points but he always fought until he had nothing left to attack with. This left him open to easy slaughter.

The twins really got into it. I mean, they're just starting 10th grade and can barely read, but they were getting their countries down and really getting into the game. Charles was running around when he wasn't playing and quit when he saw he was gonna lose. So when the twins asked to borrow it I gave it to them. Their siblings and cousins are gonna scatter pieces everywhere and ruin the cards, but until that happens the two of them should be tricked into learning something.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Movie Review: Death at a Funeral

Not a well publicized movie, but I've seen a few trailers. It's terribly British.
Basically "Death at a Funeral" is a movie about a funeral where everything goes wrong. And it's directed by Frank Oz (Yoda, Grover, Bert, and a director of fantasies and comedies) It's a two hour version of "Frasier". Things go wrong, people try to hide it, and there's lots of miscommunication making things worse. I loved it.

There were several actors that I vaguely recognized. The only one that I could place was Alan Tudyk who I know best as Wash from "Firefly/Serenity". He spends most of the movie tripping as his fiance gives him some hallucinogens that she thinks are Valium. Much funnier than the guy who was eating mushrooms in "Severence".

The movie opens with the wrong coffin, thus wrong corpse, being delivered to the funeral.
Alan wants to marry into the family but her father hates him so he's freaking out. Thus the need for Valium.
One of the brothers is a famous writer in New York while the other stayed at home to take care of the parents. So there's tension there.
One guy is there just to hit on Alan's fiance.
A midget shows up with proof that the deceased was having a homosexual love affair with him and wants money. They tie him up and give him a handful of "Valium".
Meanwhile Alan is in the bathroom freaking out and then...

You know, this is one of those movies where the discovery is half the fun. I have to give enough away so you'll want to see it, but not so much that I'll ruin it.

I'm not going to get it on DVD right away. Like I said, the unveiling is half the fun. I may get it sometime down the road.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Concert review: Weird Al

I don't go to many concerts. They just cost waaaay too much. I once won tickets to an MC Hammer concert. A friend took me to a free concert of a bunch of heavy metal bands. But the only ones I've paid money to see have been Weird Al and Weird Al.

Last night was my second Weird Al concert. The first one was back in Kansas city about seven years ago. It was an outdoor venue, my seat wasn't that good but some better ones were open for me to move too. As the concert was about to being the skies opened and it poured for about an hour. We all moved to shelter and waited. Barely anyone left. I bought an extra ticket with the intent of taking a date. I couldn't find anyone to go with me.

This time was indoors at the Warner Theater in downtown DC. I considered buying a second ticket but didn't since I knew it would go to waste.

Weird Al spends the first third or so of the concert changing outfits between every song. While he changes they show clips from the various TV shows and movies he's either appeared in or been mentioned on. Then he switches to a medley of his less popular songs. Then back to costumes later on. Applaud long enough and he will come back out.

For clips and interviews from AlTV go to

For "The Saga Begins be brought out Darth Vader and eleven members of the 501st. The 501st. You know, Vader's Fist? STORMTROOPERS! They stood at attention at first but as the song went on you see them start bobbing their heads. By the end they were rockin' out. Vader lit up his light saber and was waving it in the air like a lighter.
During the line "And in the end some gungan's died..." someone shouted "NOT ENOUGH!"

There's enough people who have been to several of his concerts to know how things work. During "Fat" he wears the fat suit. When he jumps the audience is supposed to do a little hop

Part of his encore was a song based on an "interview" with Michael Stipe where they agree to do a duet. Stipe says "Everyone has cellphones. I mean come on" or something to that effect. Al turns it into a song. So everyone brings out their cellphone, makes it glow, and waves it in the air.

Anyway, next time he's in your area you want to go to his concert. There were people there ranging in age from 90-something to only 8.

I'd also pay to see "They Might be Giants" or an "Oingo Boingo" reunion tour.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Very Large Array of very tiny dishes

If you saw the movie "Contact" then you've seen what's called the "Very Large Array". It's two rows of a few dozen large satellite dishes set at an angle from each other. The dishes work together as a radio telescope. I've been wondering if one could do something similar with a few hundred of the satellite dishes people used to have in their back yards or that TV stations have on the roof.

Looks like Direct TV has a similar idea.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


One thing I hate about DC is the rats. The little bastards are everywhere. Big suckers, too.

I was out trying to water the plants in my front yard and having a miserable time of it. I'm using gravity to pump the water from a barrel in the back yard through a hose under the house and into the plants out front. Needless to say I don't get great pressure through the hose. One day the pressure was particularly bad. I kept twisting and turning the hose to clear the kinks while the water would come in a slow trickle, maybe. I finally notice the spring that was coming from the wall near the steps. Closer study revealed this.

As you can see in exhibit A one of them decided that his access into my crawlspace was being cramped by my hose. I've since cut out that section and installed fittings to join the two pieces back together. The hardest part was priming the hose after so water would flow.

The rat came inside. I could hear him rustling around in the kitchen and living room while I was trying to sleep. I got glue traps and divided the two rooms. Half an hour after I settled in for the night I heard scrabbling. I hit the light and grabbed the shaft of an old umbrella. I felt like Sylvester the Cat. The part of the rat was being played by a kangaroo.
The rat had only had his back legs and tail stuck in the glue. It was trying to head for it's exit in the floor of the utility closet. But first it had to make the glue trap fit between the wall and the lumber leaning against the wall. The trap got wedged there and the rat pulled himself free.
The glue traps remain but the rat has not returned. I suppose that's why it's so big. It's smart enough to know when the jig is up.

This is standard from what I've learned of trapping mice and rats. Traps require the creature to let his nose override his brain. Poison leaves you with rotting animals in the walls. Glue traps are your best bet, but then you have live creatures to deal with. Mice start screaming when they get stuck. Rats tend to only get half stuck and then pull themselves free. You gotta get both halves of them stuck and that tends to require two traps. I've shoved them in pizza boxes and stomped them. I've dropped bricks on them. My plan this time was to make a rat and glue trap sandwich, leave it under someone's tire, and wait for them to go to work.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Learn to walk, you moron!

I'm probably the jerk here. I'm just so superior at everything that I have trouble understanding why other people aren't so awesome. The thing I'm finding the other bipeds around me inferior at today is walking.

I'm not going to criticize people for not walking enough. I'm mad that people don't walk faster. Although, if they walked more they probably wouldn't be so overweight and would be able to walk faster. That's not fair. It's not just fat people who seem unable to put one foot in front of another. It's 95% of the city.

Those 5% of pedestrians that I come across that can actually walk like they plan on getting somewhere have a bond. I don't come across many, possibly because they're walking fast enough that I can't overtake them. But I try to compliment those people I meet with basic walking skills. We laugh and joke about how they need an HOV lane for sidewalks just so we don't have to navigate around some lump every few yards.

I'm not talking about the sort of walk where you're late or otherwise in a hurry. This is just simple walking around town, out for a stroll sort of walking. Even out for a walk with a bird on my shoulder and three bags of groceries slowing me down I'm passing people left and right.

Old folks I can forgive. They're old. Their joints are shot. I don't mind them.
For that matter, I don't mind cruising behind one of the slow people on my Segway. I could be cruising at 12.5 mph but I'm not. I don't mind because I'm being blocked by someone who doesn't have that ability. But when I come up behind the same person and we're both walking my blood pressure goes up. I'm walking, s/he's walking, why can't that person just go a bit faster?

I'm not particularly tall. I just take longer strides than other people. I had one person comment. She was walking fast but taking a lot of steps. I was walking fast but taking very few. We were the same height, she was wearing pants and flats. By her perspective it seemed like I was moving in slow motion but quickly.

What set me off was dropping off my time sheet today (yesterday now). Eight people ahead of me in the hall and I passed them all over the 50ft or so of hallway. They didn't make it easy. Three were obese, one of the average sized ones was weaving back and forth so as to look like she'd pinch you against the wall if you tried to pass.
That's just what set me off. It happens all the time, every day. Sidewalks, hallways, tall, short, fat, and thin. They just don't seem to have the basic skills necessary to place one foot in front of another in anything resembling a timely manner.

Why do I walk so fast? I blame Mom, in part. See, she grew up on a dairy. She learned to walk fast so she could cross pastures before the bull saw her. As a little kid out shopping I had to be able to really move in order to keep up with her. Of course, it meant in middle school and high school that the recruiters for the track team wouldn't leave me alone. I can't run for anything because my lungs are bad, but I apparently give the impression of being able to lope across the African Veldt or something. One teacher threatened to flunk me unless I joined the track team. Luckily I didn't care enough about my grades for it to bother me. I told her to go ahead. She didn't flunk me.

Please, when you're walking somewhere, just try to squeeze an extra inch or three out of your stride. Your muscles will stretch and soon it'll be second nature. Then you can get mad at slow people, too.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bag 2

Bag 1 started back in March.

I still haven't replaced that cart. I guess I don't need to.
The temperature dropped low enough for me to go push mortar earlier today. I finished off the last of the first bag in one tray full. Looks like I have room for 3-4 more trays before I have to start drilling again.

For this expedition I used my Segway. I rode to HomeDepot, hopped off, and pushed it in the front door. There were some odd looks but nobody could actually find a reason to object so I went on. Way back in the store was a nearly empty pallet of type S mortar. The first two bags had holes in them that left me and the Segway covered in gray dust. I threw them aside - as much as I can throw and eighty pound bag of shifting sand - and got one of the intact bags off the bottom. I set it where my right leg would go and headed for a register.

Someone stopped me an asks how much I paid for that. "Oh, about five bucks." which showed my mind was not on my Segway. Ask me that on the way home from work and I answer more reasonably. Anyway, I had to give my prepared speech on Segways.
He asked me how I was getting home so I demonstrated the peg leg technique I typically use.

At the register she spend five seconds looking for the barcode on the Segway before figuring out that it was the mortar I was buying.

Out front a loud beeping reminded me I needed to start the Segway before putting the mortar on. That required taking it off and reforming it into a skinny, tall bag instead of a pear shaped bag. This was so that it would sit on the button my foot is supposed to press and trick the machine into thinking I was standing there.

I started off with my right knee on the bag. That was good until the end of the parking lot. The bag deformed and the contents shifted so I was now in a painful position. So I put my right foot on the bag and adopted the dramatic "Land HO!" posture. It worked but by the time I got home my left ankle was killing me. But the struggle from last time was enough less that I still had the strength to heft this bag upstairs instead of dumping it in the middle of the kitchen for five months.

Mine is hardly the only construction in the area. At the end of the block a house is going up. A few houses down someone is gutting their place. By the alley the wall on the end is coming out and being rebuilt for much the same reason I'm working on mine. The mortar is shot and the wall was bulging out. The means there's three massive dumpsters along my street.

1,372mi on this Segway since buying it at Christmas.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Book Review: Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of World History

"Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of World History" by Richard Shenkman is great bathroom literature. It goes through a bunch of items from world history and clears up a bunch of the misconceptions we picked up from school.

Nero didn't even own a fiddle.

People being cruxified didn't carry the whole cross. They just carried the crossbeam. The pole was already at the site.

Mari Antoinette never said "Let them eat cake."

World War I and II should be WW VIII and WW IX.

There's lots of other stuff. It's all broken down into small chapters that are easily read in the time it takes to squeeze one off. All except for the couple that are a bit longer.

It sat on the back of my toilet for a couple of months before I finished it.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Book Review: Footfall

"Footfall" is a Larry Niven book from the mid-80's. That makes for some major differences between it and a similar book written today. It's also back when Niven was still in his prime writing years.

It's a book in four parts.
In part one American astronomers discover a space ship approaching Earth. They found that it dropped off it's ram scoop (a device for collecting fuel from interstellar hydrogen) so they clearly came from another star and were planning to stay. They attempt communication.
Besides the usual first contact stuff the book also covers the American interaction with the Soviets. How much do we trust each other? Is this all an American trick? Can the Americans put an ambassador on the Soviet station?

In part two the aliens attack. They blow up the dams, military installations, possible military installations, and all major intersections. The leave the cities largely alone since they just want us to surrender, not wipe us out.
Beside the human perspective we also start reading about the alien perspective. How they got the technology they're using, their society, how the differences in cultures influence how successfully they predict our behavior, and conflicts on the ship.

In part three we're not just surrendering like they think we should so they drop a dinosaur killer asteroid into the Indian Ocean.

In part four we take the battle to space when we launch an Orion1 ship.

The book covers some people in the Soviet Union political system and their conflicts with the KGB who think everything is an American trick. It covers a group of survivalists in the northwest United States. It covers the people captured off the space station. It covers the American government inside Cheyenne Mountain. It covers some people who manage to move around within the US moving among the various groups.

It's a pretty good book. Usually alien invasion stories are saved for the movies while space wars, semi-peaceful alien visitors, and galactic empires are saved for the books.

1The Orion Project was put together back in 1957 to build a atom bomb based launching system for space ships. The idea was to build huge ships with a flat bottom. A series of nukes would be shot under the ship and detonated. Each explosion launching it higher into the sky. Today we know that's absolute madness. But back then atomic this and nuclear that were the answers to everything. The Orion Project was canceled because they found out that setting off dozens or hundreds of bombs in the atmosphere would be bad for people.
This project included Freeman Dyson who is best know for his idea of the Dyson Sphere which Larry Niven modified into the Ringworld or Niven Ring.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Movie Review: Super Size Me

My boss loaned me "Super Size Me" on DVD. I'm guessing it's because whenever someone in the office asks me if I want to go to the Burger King on base I have to make snide comments.

I liked about 1/3 of the movie. Those were the parts covering the guy's experiment.

Hold on, we're all clear that "Super Size Me" is a documentary about a guy who ate nothing but McDonalds food three meals a day for a whole month, right? Good.

Anyway, I liked the experiment but the rest of the movie seemed like health class all over again.

It made a few things clear. I have to drive back to Kansas these days instead of flying back. That means eating road food. I refuse to eat at McDonalds or Burger King. Not because I'm concerned about my health, but because their stuff is awful. I'm a hamburger connoisseur. I know good hamburgers. The Whopper tastes like the crap hamburgers they served in the college cafeteria. McDonalds aspires to be only that bad. Their french fries are like greased shoelaces. I can't figure how anyone can prefer them to Wendy's. McDonalds and Burger King are at least consistent. Wendy's quality varies not just from store to store but also based on who the manager is when you show up.

Ok, the point I was going for is that over the course of my trip I'll probably stop at a Wendy's and an Arby's. I'm feeling pretty miserable by the end of my trip and feeling some after effects for a few days. I thought it was just the fact that I've been driving for twenty one hours. That probably helps. But from the symptoms the guy in the film was suffering I'm pretty sure that hitting two fast food joints plus a few Qwik-E-Marts along the way has a lot more to do with it.

For my next trip home I'll try to make a sandwich or five before I leave home. And I'll probably have eaten them all before I hit the beltway.

Anyway, if you haven't seen "Super Size Me" yet you should. Don't buy it unless you want to pass it around to your friends. But see it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Movie Review: The Kingdom

I love getting lots of free screening tickets. "The Kingdom" doesn't come out until Sept 28.

Think "CSI: Saudi Arabia" meets the computer game "Rainbow Six".

The movie opens with a brief history of Saudi Arabia and it's relationship with the United States. We then move to a terrorist attack on an oil company's employee compound. Jump to the US where the CIA wants to send a team to investigate but since Americans in Saudi Arabia is what the terrorists are trying to get rid of we're not going to send anyone and further destabilize a government that gives us cheap oil.
The CIA manages to send a team anyway. The movie becomes an ongoing conflict between the investigators and the Saudi security forces. Some kind words to a prince and things loosen up. The investigation moves on with the help of some Saudis who have no idea what the Americans are doing since they don't do forensic investigations.
Having found what they need they go after the terrorists. Then, on the way to the airport, they're attacked and someone is kidnapped. This leads up to a huge battle at the end.

This was a really good movie. Much better than the trailers make it out. They just play up the action, which is better than the trailers show. You get a good idea of what life in Saudi Arabia is really like, at least for the military folk. The audience really got into it.


As much as I rave about this movie I don't feel the need to see it again. I won't get it on DVD.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Movie Review: The Bourne Ultimatum

This should be short and sweet.

Have you seen the first two Jason Bourne movies? If not then you should skip this one, too. Same story if you saw them and didn't like them. If you saw them and liked them then this is another part of the same story so go see it.

All three movies are basically nonstop action. They're three action packed books crammed into two hours. The action sound track barely pauses.

A guy wakes up in the first movie with his memory gone. But someone is trying to kill him. He discovers he has super fighting skills but is unwilling to kill. As his memory returns he discovers he was part of some government black ops/dirty op program. They won't let him be so he fights back to bring down the program. Repeat two more times.

Not my thing. I want a bit more reason to my action flicks.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Movie Review: The Ten

This is a sketch comedy show with a big budget and a full length movie time slot.
It features writers, directors, and actors from "The State", "The Upright Citizens Brigade", "Reno 911", "Strangers With Candy", "Mad TV", "TV Funhouse", and "Saturday Night Live".

The connecting theme behind all the sketches is The Ten Commandments. Ten short stories, each based on violating one of the commandments. Some of the stories link together. The guy who plays Jesus in one story has his picture hanging on the wall in another story. The woman who left her husband for a reporter in one story leaves the reporter for a ventriloquist's dummy in another.

As with any sketch comedy show there's hits and misses. If you liked the shows I mentioned above you'll like this movie. Personally, I think it would work best with a roomful of friends and while a bit high.

I liked it for free. Might be worth a second run showing or a Dillon's rental. I'm glad I didn't pay to see it. I won't get it on DVD.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

get your lingerie right here

An old college roommate of mine and his wife have started their own lingerie company.

Trashy Couture

Go try help Wes out. He needs the money so he can buy a sandwich for his model.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Movie Review: Sunshine

I'd heard some people grumbling about this movie. They said there were four storylines and they tried cramming them all into one movie. So it was with some hesitation that I went to see it anyway.

In "Sunshine" the sun is slowly dying a few billion years early. Mankind goes forth to reignite the sun. The first ship, Icarus, disappeared shortly after passing beyond communication range. That was seven years ago. Now Icarus II is trying to complete the mission.
The movie starts just as Icarus II is reaching the limit of communication ability. The solar interference is becoming too great. This is a bit dubious since we later find out they haven't yet passed inside the orbit of Mercury.

You know something has to go wrong. It's just a question of what.
More and more crew members are spending time in the observation deck with the filter as low as possible for them to survive. Maybe they're going mad.
Some of the crew is having nightmares about dying on the Sun. Premonitions or just stress?

Naturally, they get a distress signal from Icarus. Do they complete the mission as is or do they try to get a backup bomb from Icarus? Not much of a movie if they don't visit Icarus. That's when things start going wrong and people start dying. You don't think maybe whatever stopped Icarus might get you, too?

There's a few points where the science goes wrong. I only mention that because they were trying to get so much right. The Icarus II has a big hydroponic garden to provide oxygen and some variety in their diet. Most sci-fi movies never show it if they mention it at all. The ship looks like something 21st century humans might make instead of a sci-fi ship that just looks like a building with style.

It's not an "Armageddon" style sci-fi. They treated it more like "2001: A Space Odyssey".

I liked it, but I'm on the fence about whether to get it on DVD or not.