Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I know, I didn't post this morning. I'm home sick with a head cold and am not in a writing mood. And tomorrow is a holiday. Check with me again on Friday.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Road trip recap

Last week, while you were enjoying the Dougintology rejects, I drove back to Kansas with Yummy. She was kinda freaking out before the trip but she did well and had a good time.

Typically the trip takes 21 hours. But I'm getting old and my eyes aren't what they used to be. She was to take the daylight hours and I the night. But around midnight (hour 14) my eyes started to rebel. I wasn't tired exactly. My eyes had just had all the stress they could take. I asked if we could swap back for an hour and she gave me an hour and a half. We swapped back and forth several more times but on the other side of Kansas City (3 hours to home) we both gave out. But this allowed us to drive through the Flint Hills in the morning light. The total trip out came to about 26 hours.

It was 11° outside when we got to my parent's place, up from 6° when we entered Kansas.

Over the next week I proceeded to drag Yummy all over creation and introduce her to everyone in the general area of creation. We toured the farm in 17° weather. She killed the battery pretty quick which ensures that she must stick with me at least long enough for another photo safari to Kansas.

Yummy got to find out just how good her new winter gear really is. She got to understand why I want to put some coveralls in her trunk.

I took her to have lunch with Grandma. I took her to take Grammie from the nursing home for ice cream with Oreos at Wendy's. I took her to meet some friends who were in from Texas. We drank wine and played 4 hours of "Eurorails" with my brother before realizing that we were still 2 hours away from an end to the game. She survived Dougmas with the majority of the Wise clan (21 people in Mom and Dad's place). She was made balloon animals by another friend in town from Oklahoma. I took her to have lunch with the ex-girlfriend who she really got along with and did no eye scratching with. The ex-gf's awesome new house helped the conversation along. It really is awesome. We ended the trip by crashing with some friends up in Kansas City who through a little "Ibid's in Town" party.

Her first night with the family Yummy got a lesson in how grain elevators tend to explode from time to time. Specifically she learned about this one.

View Larger Map

We tore around the pasture on a 4-wheeler where we stirred up several deer, two quite close, saw an owl in flight, walked on a frozen pond, and nearly ran over a jackrabbit who was a bit too good at standing still. One of the farm dogs rode on the back of the 4-wheeler huddled up next to Yummy.

We took an axe to the ~6" of ice covering the horse tank. There's no horses out, but the goldfish in the tank needed air.

On that night in Kansas City Yummy learned what happens when it's 70° in December in Kansas. Power was lost and some rather tornado like sounds were made outside. Yummy didn't wake to the thunder and wind. She woke when the ceiling fan shut off.

Then we drove back. Coyotes waited in a field in Missouri to finish off the midwest's showing off.

We had a 3 hour lead since we left from Kansas City. Even so, there came a point where Yummy no longer felt confident with me driving and we found a nice parking lot to nap in. Two weather fronts collided over us and moved with us as we made our way east. Eventually, she got us ahead of the storm and it chased us the rest of the way back.

For Yummy's account of the trip go to

I'm home with a cold today. I assure you, when I can get these pictures off my camera I'll let you know how I made out for Dougmas. Let me just say that Yummy loves her some gift giving and she's very good at it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Movie review: Bolt

I'd only seen one commercial for this movie but a whole bunch of posters. None of it was really selling me on the movie. But Yummy saw "Bolt" with a friend and recommended it. So when we met up with some friends over my Dougmas vacation and we wanted to see something we went to see "Bolt - 3D". I didn't know it was 3D when we bought the tickets so that was an extra bonus.

"Bolt" is the story of a dog with a TV show only he doesn't know he has a show. All the cameras and equipment are hidden. So each week when the little girl who owns him gets in trouble he thinks she's really in trouble. When he uses his super powers the special effects are already placed so he thinks he really has powers. But in an effort to up the ratings Bolt fails to save the girl by the end of the episode. He thinks she's still in trouble. So he escapes from his trailer and goes off to save her.

He heads out without his powers where he must cross the country (why he's in a trailer in New York while the filming is in California is never properly explained) with a feral cat and a fan boy hamster.

It's a pretty good movie. Yummy sat next to me all hunkered down and giggling madly through most of it. She loved how the pigeons move like real pigeons and the completely daft fan boy hamster.

There is something about the movie that bothers me. You probably know that a couple of years ago Disney paid Pixar to take control of their animation division. The trailers for "Up!" show the Pixar name which indicates to me that Pixar will remain it's own name within the Disney company. "Bolt" has a Pixar short before the main movie. But "Bolt" is NOT a Pixar movie. John Lasseter is the head of Pixar and was the Executive Producer for "Bolt" which explains why "Bolt" is a good movie even though Disney made it. John Ratzenberger didn't do any voices even though he's been something in every Pixar movie so far. But the posters for "Bolt" don't advertise the names of the actors doing the voices which is another Pixar trait.

None of this really matters, of course. I should be happy just because the movie was good. But I'd like to know more about Pixar's role within Disney. Because Pixar only makes good movies. I only saw "Cars" because it was a Pixar movie and I had faith that they would make the movie good despite the lame trailers. If "Bolt" had a similar mark I would have seen it sooner. Should I start having faith in both the Pixar/Disney and plain Disney movies?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday Links: Dec 26

I've been out this week so I don't have much in the way of links. Largely because I wrote this a week ago.

Buried on the Sci-Fi Channel website that I check from time to time. They used to regularly publish short stories on the site. [link]
No, no it's good stuff. I particularly like "A Wind is Rising" [link]

Speaking of the lost dark reaches of you should check out the ruins of "City of Dreams". Audio shows written by J. Michael Straczynski. [link]
It used to be part of "Seeing Ear Theatre" but the main site is gone now.

After yesterday's Doctor Who fanboy explosion I'd be remiss not to post this Dr. Who short story. [link]

The Fail Blog. A blog about various things that have gotten screwed up. [link]

Cake Wrecks. A fail blog with cakes as a specialty. [link]

The Daily WTF. A fail blog with IT as a specialty. [link]

Bad Astronomy. A science and debunking blog by Phil Plait. [link]

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Doctor Who

YUMMY! Don't read this! Not yet! Spoilers and all that.

If you'll pardon me, I'm about to stuff 4 years of fan boy freakout into one long blathering essay.

Ok, so I'm a bit obsessed with Doctor Who. It's simply one of the best shows ever. Even back in the good old Tom Baker days when they spent more on tea than on special effects the stories were good enough to make you hide behind the couch. You're doing something right if you can make people want to hide from what are basically giant pepper shakers.

The original show ran from 1963 until 1989. When it finally went it deserved to go. The writing was awful. Many people, including me, blamed the actors. But a few years back someone started making new Doctor Who audio programs starring the last four actors to play The Doctor. They're good. They're actually really good. So the blame lies wholly on the writers.

Fox tried to bring the show back when I was in college. It didn't work. There are some shows that need the American touch and some shows that only the British can do right. I wouldn't trust the Americans to do any Discworld adaptations. They did a lame enough job on "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". NBC slaughtered the show "Coupling" even using the exact same script.
But, again, it's not the actor's fault. Go watch "Shada" at It was written by Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, back when he was a script editor for Doctor Who but they stopped half way through filming and never got back to it. Paul McGann's Doctor makes a great substitute for Tom Baker's Doctor.

Four years ago they brought the show back. For 14 Saturdays each year I flop in front of the computer and start downloading the episode that aired in England just an few hours before. I justify this piracy by making sure to buy the DVDs on the release date and using them in history lessons for the neighbor kids.

Russell T Davies had a hard job before him. He had to sell his new show to us classic fans and reel in a new generation. He and Christopher Eccleston did a fabulous job. They introduced The Doctor, they went into the future, they went into the past, they returned home, they introduced an enemy from the classic series, and then they wrapped up the season by killing off The Doctor just to show the new viewers what happens. That is, he grows a new body with a new personality.

Each season had a meme that carried through each season. "Bad Wolf" in season 1. "Torchwood" in season 2. "Mr. Saxon" in season 3. They brought back the Daleks in a few different ways. They brought back the Cybermen. They brought back The Master. They brought back the Sontarans. And, so help me, I jumped about with delight each time. I was positively giddy when they had the big Dalek/Cyberman fight that we'd been waiting for since 1963.

I mentioned Douglas Adams and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" several times. So does the show. When David Tennant became Doctor number 10 he found himself late in his first episode still walking around in a nightgown and said

"Not bad for a man in his jim jams. Very Arthur Dent. Now there was a nice man."

Arthur Dent, of course, one of the central character in "HHGTTG". They also named an episode "42" after the meaning of life, the universe, and everything as told by the same book. And in the episode I just finished watching they had Richard Dawkins talking about some new planets in the sky. Adams was a big fan of Dawkins and the two eventually became friends. Adams introduced Dawkins to his future wife, Lalla Ward. Lalla Ward also played Romana, one of The Doctor's companions back when Adams was working on the show. So the Dawkins reference works a couple of ways.

Two shows have spun off from Doctor Who. "Torchwood" is a bit more adult and stars Captain Jack Harkness who heads a top secret organization to collect, study, and develop alien artifacts that fall to Earth. "Sarah Jane Adventures" is a kids show starring a former companion from the late 70's-early 80's who made a guest appearance in season 2. I've seen about an episode and a half of the latter.

Earlier in season 4 there was an episode called "The Doctor's Daughter" where someone grew a soldier from The Doctor's DNA. The actress playing the Daughter is actually the daughter of the 5th Doctor, Peter Davidson. Apparently she and Tennant are dating now.

Really, how often is the changing of Executive Producers for a show something that makes the news? Never! Never but now. But this has been mentioned in lots of mainstream news outlets.
There will be 5 Doctor Who specials in 2009 and season 5 will start in 2010. The new Executive Producer will be Steven Moffat. Moffat was the creator and sole writer for the show "Coupling" I mentioned earlier. Brilliantly funny. "Coupling" referenced Doctor Who and the use of sofas as defense against Daleks several times. And he's been writing for the new show since season 1. It doesn't take a lot of arguing to say he's done the best, scariest, and most Doctor Whoish episodes so far. Even as a 30 year old he's managed to make me consider the back of the couch for a hiding place again.
And, as I mentioned recently, he's trying to get novelist, comic book author, and movie writer Neil Gaiman to sign on as a writer for season 5. It has been mentioned that Gaiman's episode of "Babylon 5" wasn't really "Babylon 5ish" but it was good if you don't look at it in terms of the show it was part of. But we still look forward to seeing what he produces.

We're wrapping up season 4 now. We all know that Russell T Davies is leaving at the end of this season. One of the big questions has been if David Tennant would be leaving with him. Catherine Tate, the current companion, has been claiming he dies. Tennant says he doesn't. And the episode ended with a greviously injured Doctor appearing to regenerate but not showing his new form.

The episode I just finished watching was part 1 of Davies 2 part farewell. In it we have not only The Doctor but his three companions since the show returned: Rose, Martha, and Donna; the remaining "Torchwood" cast; Sarah Jane Smith; the long discussed Shadow Proclamation; the oft mentioned Medusa Cascade; more Daleks; and...DAVROS!

I know! (squeel!)

If you haven't been watching then here's what you need to NetFlix and in this order.
Doctor Who: Season 1
Doctor Who: Season 2
Torchwood: Season 1
Doctor Who: Season 3
Torchwood: Season 2
Doctor Who: Season 4

and if you can get a copy of the Tom Baker years of Doctor Who it wouldn't hurt.

I actually wrote this near the end of season 4. The DVD for season 4 is now available for sale. I told it to post today because today is a special occasion. Ok, yes, Christmas and all that. Feh. No, today's the day the Dr. Who Christmas Special comes on. I WILL be downloading it as soon as I get back to DC.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Haiku

And now, a Christmas Haiku.

Blood blood blood blood blood.
Blood blood, blood, blood-blood blood blood
Blood ho ho ho blood.

I've never been very good at haikus.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Carols For The Psychiatrically Challenged

This is not original to me. I found it in one of my old e-mail accounts

Christmas Carols For The Psychiatrically Challenged!

Schizophrenia --- Do You Hear What I Hear?

Multiple Personality Disorder --- We Three Queens Disoriented Are

Amnesia --- I Don't Know if I'll be Home for Christmas

Narcissistic --- Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me

Manic --- Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and Fire Hydrants and ...

Paranoid --- Santa Claus is Coming to Get Me

Borderline Personality Disorder --- Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire

Personality Disorder --- You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll tell You Why

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ---Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells ...

Agoraphobia --- I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day But Wouldn't Leave My House

Autistic --- Jingle Bell Rock and Rock and Rock and Rock ...

Senile Dementia --- Walking in a Winter Wonderland Miles From My House in My Slippers and Robe

Oppositional Defiant Disorder --- I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus So I Burned Down the House

Social Anxiety Disorder --- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas While I Sit Here and Hyperventilate

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas week

I will be largely AFK next week. However, I have pre-written posts for 4 out of the 5 days. They're scheduled to automatically go up each morning. So you'll still get your Dougintology fix.

I'm still hoping to have that last day filled before I go.

Friday Links: Dec 19

Uses for plastic bottles. [link]
One thing he doesn't do is pour boiling water in the bottle. This causes it to shrink and get thicker. Put the cap on while the plastic is still soft so it doesn't bend out of shape. Once it cools you have a very durable water bottle.

When I talked about the Dougmas Jar some people wondered why I dislike the Salvation Army. Here's part of the reason. They're forbidding one of their leadership from marrying a non-member. [link]

Expensive gift ideas. [link]

5 comic book heroes that made a real world difference. [link]

Professional liquid cooled computer. [link]

This chair says "I'm the guy in charge". [link]

The singing group "Straight No Chaser" singing their take on "The 12 Days of Christmas".

An addition to the Pro column in the argument for forced sterilization. [link]

The homes of the people who are supposed to get us out of the housing mess. [link]

A list of common misconceptions. [link]

Idiot thief claims to have been held prisoner by a ghost for 3 days. [link]

Brain scan can start reading images in your mind. [link]

Finally, a working reconstruction of the Antikythera mechanism. [link]

Detroit newspapers to cut home delivery to alternate days. [link]

Vertical farms. [link]
slideshow [link]

Looks like they actually are making a Wolverine movie.

And possibly the most useful link of the week is a site that plots the route of your trip and tells you the weather you can expect as you travel. [link]

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Quick and easy snowflake

Enough of the down on Christmas mythology posts. Today I'm gonna show you how to slap out a snowflake.

Don't print that. It's the wrong size. Well, I suppose you can do this with any size square. I really wanted to spend more time on the graphics, but ... you don't wanna hear it.

Don't print it, but use it as a guide. What you want are six (6) squares of paper. I tend to take regular white printer paper, turn the top sheet 90° to the other 5, mark the edges, and cut. Another solution is to just fold the paper at a 45° angle so the top edge meets the side, mark the edge, and cut, but that does tend to leave one with a crease which we don't want for this project.

Now, you can see in the graphic that you need to make four (4) cuts while leaving the middle intact. They don't have to be exactly where mine are, just try to make them consistent across all six (6) sheets.

Now bring the upper case A toward you to meet the other upper case A and attach them. Tape, stapler, glue, you decide how.

Do the same thing with the lowercase b and the other lower case B only bend them away from you.

And then bring the two upper case Cs toward you, meet them up, and attach.

Repeat this with the other five (5) sheets of paper.

Now, take three of the reformed sheets and press the upper case Ds together. The As from one sheet should be touching the Bs from the next. Fasten the Ds together however you like. I'm fond of staplers, myself.

Repeat with the other three (3) sheets.

You now have two nearly identical half snow flakes. Put the bound Ds from one against the bound Ds from the other and attach.

If you want to call that done you can. Sometimes I find it necessary to bind the As from one sheet to the Bs of the next just for structural stability. It's up to you.

The picture (below) shows the one I made for the office. I hung it from the ceiling so it dangled just above the tree. You can also take another sheet of paper, twist it into a cone, and fasten it to the snowflake (you figure out where) and put the top of the tree in the cone.

The eyes are courtesy of Scott Kurtz of

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is there a Santa Claus?

I was trying to space these to one a week, but I have some drawing to do for what I wanted to post today. You'll get that one tomorrow.


Generally when you see someone talking about the origins of Santa Clause you read about the Christian development. There's the sainted Bishop Nicholas, an orphan from the 4th century who paid the dowries of some girls so they wouldn't have to become prostitutes and who tossed gifts in the windows of poor children.

The Dutch also had Sinter Klaus who rode a white horse to deliver gifts.

On a rare occasion you'll hear mention of Santa's Norse frost giant past. This is related to the fact that Sinter Klaus was also a Norse name for Thor.

Thor was the god of the peasants. He was depicted as round, jolly, and elderly with a long white beard. He wore lots of red and his element was fire. Each fireplace was a sort of temple to him. He rode a chariot drawn by two white goats named Cracker and Gnasher. He lived in the north among the icebergs. He would come to the houses of the poor during the Yule season through the fires in their fireplaces and bring gifts.

We all know about Thor's hammer. The hammer was a weapon but as the tool of a carpenter it's also a symbol of creation. Like Santa, Thor had an army of elven helpers who were also skilled craftsmen. They're the ones who made Thor's hammer.

Thor's father may also have been drawn upon for the Santa myth. Odin rode an 8 legged horse named Sleipnir. That might have translated into something a bit less freaky. Some like 8 tiny reindeer. Odin lived in Valhalla (which translates as the North) and rode around during the winter solstice bringing gifts to the good children and punishing the bad.

In Sweden today Thor represents Santa Claus.

As paganism and Christianity collided Thor and Christ did, too. I can't find any specific tales but there are several references to their conflict. Much like how the Greek god Lucifer (a.k.a. Morningstar, a.k.a. the planet Venus) survives as a fallen angel (but not Satan) that Thor may have fallen to the role of Satan himself.

Let me try that from another direction. European versions of St. Nick are often accompanied by a demonic figure. You'll often hear about the Krampus1 who accompanies the saint. While St Nick brings gifts to good children the Krampus remains chained at his side and under the control of the Christian figure. The demonic figure, whatever his name, variably whips, eats, or enslaves bad children. One of the names of this figure is Black Peter which is another name for Satan. Sometimes Satan is said to use the name Robin Goodfellow and laugh "Ho, Ho, Ho." Satan also uses the name Nick, as in St. Nick, so take all this stuff about names as you will.

The point being, that as Thor lost the culture war he seems to have been relegated to the monster servant role while the gift bringer role was usurped by a saint. Many pictures of St. Nick show him wearing a crown of holly. It's suspected that the crown of thorns worn put on Jesus' head at the crucifixion was a prickly holly wreath instead of the thorny vines of unknown species that are often shown.

I'm not expecting to convince anyone of anything. I think that the American Santa is based more on Thor than on the 4th century bishop. Not that it really matters. If you'll permit me to switch to a different category of geek for a moment I want to quote Worf from "Star Trek: Deep Space 9". He overheard the Doctor and the Chief Engineer fighting about the Alamo and how Davy Crockett died.

You are both wrong. The only real question is whether you believe in the legend of Davy Crockett or not. If you do, then there should be no doubt in your mind that he died a hero's death. If you do not believe in the legend, then he was just a man, and it does not matter how he died.

Similarly, it doesn't matter where the Santa mythology originated. What matters is the legend. What matters is what he's been made into. What he's been made into is the Santa I believe in.

After all of the parallels I mentioned before I also want to note that Jesus was a bearded carpenter who rode a donkey and that Buddha is a pretty jolly fat man, too. Mythologies interbreed a lot.

Before you go. Enjoy this Krampus puppet.

1 Knecht Rupprecht; Pelznickle; Ru-Klas; Swarthy; Dark One; Dark Helper; Black Peter; Hans Trapp; Krampus; Grampus; Zwarte Piets; Furry Nicholas; Rough Nicholas; Schimmelreiter; Klapperbock; Julebuk; etc.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


December 22 marks the first day of the Winter Solstice. For three days the sun rises at the same point on the horizon. On the fourth day, December 25, the sun starts to move back to the north. This has been celebrated as the birth of the Sun (or the son) by numerous cultures.

One of the most familiar is that of the Zoroastrian god Mithra.

Mitra: proto-Indo-Iranian - composed of "mi" meaning "to bind" and "tra" meaning "causing to". Means "that which causes binding, covenant, contract, oath". Origin of the name "Mithra".

Mithra was called "the good shepherd,” "the way, the truth and the light,” “redeemer of souls,” “savior,” and “Messiah." He was identified with both the lion and the lamb. He was considered the life giver, the mediator, the source of grace. His name was Love.

Mithra was born to a virgin mother and was considered both human and divine. He was born in a cave and was attended by shepherds and magi led there by a falling star. In the catacombs of Rome lies a relic showing Mithra resting in the lap of his virgin mother.

He was a traveling teacher with twelve disciples. One for each house of the zodiac.

In the spring he sacrificed himself for the world, was buried in a tomb, and after three days rose from the dead. This is known as the passover of the Magi.

Before the passover Mithra held a "Lord's Supper" at which he said, "He who shall not eat of my body nor drink of my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved."

He was one of a trinity of deities that included the good Ahriman and the evil Ormuzd. Mithra was the moderator.

His followers took Sunday as sacred. They acknowledge a heaven, home of the beautiful ones, situated in the upper regions and a hell, home of demons, in the bowels of the Earth. They believe in a flood near the beginning of time, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the dead, the last supper, and a war at the end of the universe.

All this from 600 years before the birth of Jesus.

p.s. In "Lord of the Rings" there's a super hard metal named Mithril that's incredibly valuable. Bilbo Baggins and then Frodo had a vest made of this that saved him repeatedly.
In the same series the wizard Gandolf was also know as Mithrandir.
The names of both the metal and the wizard have their origins in the god Mithra.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Movie Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still

It looks like the new version of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" will stand next to films like "Battlefield Earth", "Gigli", and anything directed by Uwe Boll in the disgustingly bad movie hall of fame. Even as I watched the trailers I knew that to enjoy this movie was to leave all comparisons to the original at the door. This is not that movie and the two should not be compared.

But I still planned to see the movie. Right up until I read this.
It's a collection of reviews from most any significant reviewer you may have heard of. Even the good reviews say it makes them pine for "Mystery Science Theatre 3000".

Part of me still wants to see it. It's been so long since anything has come out that holds any interest for me. I've seen 3 movies since July: "Igor", "Quantum of Solace", and "Twilight". You know I only saw "Twilight" because I'm dating. Damn it, this movie was supposed to not suck.

See, I don't believe in supporting bad movies and bad corporations. I don't shop at Wal-Mart since I don't like them forcing their vendors to move to China. I don't shop at Amazon since I don't like them patenting stuff they didn't invent. This movie is awful but I still want to see it. Think it'll be in the dollar theaters by Christmas? Sure, there's not one around here, but there are some out in Kansas.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Links supplemental

I'm going on a major road trip in a week. Since it's in late December weather conditions along the way could be an issue. I wanted to know what to expect along the way. I fully expected to have to write up a page that tied and Google Maps together. Luckily, someone else already did.

Enter your starting point, ending point, and when you plan to go. This site will give you forecasts for the trip. It's limited to 6 days in advance.

Friday Links: Dec 12

Couple beat their baby to death with a hammer to rid it of demons. [link]

I want one. Buy me it! [link]

Jones' Big Ass Truck Rental & Storage

10 Fun(?) Facts About Charles Darwin. [link]

A video showing Lockheed Martin testing their new missile killing robot. [link]

A get out Armageddon free card. [link]

Lameness in Star Wars canon. [link]

I just finished watching "Jericho". It was a show about a small town after nukes destroy 23 major American cities. It ended long before the storyline was over, but it still stopped in a good place. The whole run is available on CBS's website. [link]

The 10 least successful holiday specials of all time. [link]

A crocheted Beholder. [link]

Blocks for your little mad scientist. [link]

Jon Stewart beats up Mike Huckabee with his own words. [link]

The truth of the auto maker bailout. [link]

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A thank you

I don't know if any of you gave a little something to help out that woman that John Scalzi donated his story for. But here's a thank you letter from her.

Utility closet

Most of the work was done Tuesday, but I didn't get hot water until Wednesday. Even so, I now have a brand spankin' new furnace and water heater.

The duct guy should be out in a day or two to replace the ducts upstairs. And I'll soon buy new doors for the utility closet. The old doors had no ventilation slats so they were useless and are long gone.

The water heater is a gas powered, electric ignition, tankless system. It heats 3 gallons per minute. I went with this partially to free up some space but largely because with a hot water tank you have to keep reheating the water and wasting energy.

The shower had an odd smell. Not bad. Just different than before.

Now that the old water tank is out of the way it turns out there's some storage I didn't know about at the very foot of the stairs.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Help out a friend of a guy you read

A guy I knew in college has made a video that he's trying to win a contest with.

Please go to, go down the right side and vote for "Make Every Moment Count". If it says you already voted then you'll have to create an account. I'm assuming that you have a dedicated spam address.

You can see another one of his videos on his site.

Technical aid for bloggers

Most of my readers are themselves bloggers. This tip is primarily for them. Actually, it's my notes so I won't forget, but that doesn't make me look at all magnanimous, does it?

It's fairly easy to embed video in your page. You go to YouTube, find your video, and copy/paste the contents of the "Embed" field on the right to your site. But you don't necessarily want to show the whole video. For example, I want to share a video of John Barrowman (Capt. Jack Harness from Dr. Who and Torchwood) singing "Sunset Boulevard" on the show "Sound of Musicals". But the video YouTube includes John and Andrew Lloyd Webber blathering on. I want to cut straight to the song.

Here's what you'd get from YouTube
<object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

But if you add in a short code in a couple of places you can control where it starts.
Add "&start=78" or something similar to the value.
Let me explain.
The ampersand separates variables in the string. So you'll need that to separate the "start" command from the other variables. Without that you'll only turn another variable into hash.
The number is where you want the video to start in seconds. I my case the music starts at 1:18 so I put in 781.
So what you'll get is

<object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

So you end up with this.

1 Do I really need to explain that's 60 seconds for the first minute plus 18 seconds into the second minute?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


I've mentioned before the four big Dougintology charities. I keep the list short because when you get a huge list they all blend together and it becomes difficult to know who to give to.

My list includes:
* The Solar Electric Light Fund (
* Trees for the Future (

And for Douglas Adams:
* The Dian Fossey Gorilla Foundation (
* Save the Rhino (

But I've seen quite a few other worthwhile charities come up lately.

Awesome writer John Scalzi is helping a friend and fellow sci-fi writer, Vera Nazarian, save her home. Health problems, sick parents, legal problems, and (say it with me) a subprime loan are making it look like she may lose her home. So far they've raise a bit more than half of the $11,229.72 she needs.
More here.
John Scalzi is donating a short story. The story is free but if you like it you can contribute via Paypal. By contributing via Scalzi Subterranian Press will match your donation up to the first $1,000 donated for Scalzi's story.
You can see how to donate and read the story here.
You can see what others are doing to raise money here.
p.s. Between my writing of this yesterday morning and close of business yesterday Scalzi had raised $2,058.48 not including the matching $1,000 from Subterranian Press. The collective charities have ensured that she can keep the house. Additional money will help cover the $2800 sewer repair bill or the mounting medical bills of her parents. This Christmas you can be thankful that you're not her.

The child of a couple of astrophysicists at Oxford has leukemia. He's had 4 years of chemotherapy and a couple of bone marrow transplants. Now he's down to a new antibody treatment. To raise money his parents are selling prints taken from the Palomar All-Sky Survey done in the 1950s. You can pay through Paypal which makes the conversion from dollars to pounds.
You can order from here.

Techskeptic has created a list of athiest and secular charities. link

Monday, December 08, 2008

Rerun: Santa Clause

From last January:

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

A conversation between Susan and Death:

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 05, 2008

Links Friday: 5 Dec

David Tennant (Dr. Who) fulfills a pianist's last wish by performing Hamlet with his skull 26 years after his death. [link]

"The Electric Company" returns in January. [link]

If you're buying someone a telescope for Dougmas read this first. [link]

Dec 25 cards. [link] [link] [link]

How to build a Flintstones car. [link]

Hubble Telescope Advent Calendar (check daily) [link]

Crabs own this island

One solution to the looming energy shortage is to make smart appliances. Power demand spikes at certain parts of the day and slacks off at others. It would help to shift the demand from peak times to slack times. Typically advocates mean plug-in hybrids that wait to charge until after most people are in bed. These appliances would communicate with the electric company to know when is best for them. Your bill would even reflect this by charging less for off peak usage.
Here's a smart fridge that doesn't live up to what I describe above but is a start. [link]

Supersonic booms to calm a hurricane? [link]

For the Jewish Star Wars fan. [link]

500 years of board games. [link]

This black Christian woman is OK with slavery. [link]

World of Warcraft does "Who's On First". [link]

40 best TV show themes of all time. [link]
Even if you skip the rest you want to hear number 7

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Santa's House Elves

A friend of mine has a couple of sharp little girls. I'm getting them a microscope for Christmas. But they are still little girls. A couple of years ago the oldest became concerned about Santa's elves. She wanted to know if they're slaves. So their father took them to the mall to ask Santa. But, in the father's words,

Oh, she punked out :) She was afraid Santa would get angry. I told her he wouldn't, but if she didn't want to ask, that was fine. I did ask her if it was still on her mind, but she said she figured they always looked so happy, they probably got a lot of vacation, which meant they weren't slaves, since slaves probably don't ever get vacation. Kid's astute. Regardless, the concept is still quite worthy of socking away as a good scene for a script or one-act or something.

Naturally, I felt compelled to answer.

Short answer: They're more like house elves than LOTR elves. They work there because they like it.

Longer answer: You can get into the gaelic mythology about how if the elves like you they can come clean your house, repair shoes, do woodwork, etc. in exchange for a plate of milk.

Hippie answer: Santa has a big commune in the far north where they all eat together, live together, and all work for the common good.

Cruel answer: Santa has an assistant known as the Krampus. While Santa gives toys to the good boys and girls the Krampus stuffs the bad ones in a sack and takes them away. Those aren't elves. They're bad children.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

drinking in space

I saw this video the other day of someone demonstrating a cup designed to allow astronauts to use cups in space. Those of you familiar with the problems of dealing with fluids in zero gravity can scroll to the last video. The rest of you get a lesson in fluid dynamics in freefall.

Without gravity pulling it down liquids will drift around and get into electronics and things. The surface tension pulls it into drifting globs of fluid.

I'm going to start with a water balloon being popped on a Vomit Comet. That's an empty 747 that flies really high and then drops over and over again. This allows for 90 second simulations of zero gravity without the expense of going into space. Then they have to try to grab it in a bag before the gravity takes effect again.

Again in a Vomit Comet. They're adding blue liquid to red to see how they interact.

Normally they'll have a bag of liquid with a straw to drink from. But it's also fun to put globs of liquid in the air and drink them.

You can use chopsticks to grab the liquid and drink it.

In that last video you may have noticed a can of something on the table. That's honey. Notice how the honey clings to the side and the bottom of the can. That gives you some idea how this new cup idea works.

There are times when you just want a proper cup to drink from. It just doesn't feel right doing a toast and raising a bag.

Further study in fluid dynamics can be seen in the Saturday Morning Science collection at The first 30 minutes elaborate on how fluids behave in the absence of gravity. There are some other sweet demonstrations in the last 17 minutes. I particularly like how they use CD players as gyroscopes.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Tale of the Water Heater

The water heater and furnace replacement did not go as smoothly as I would have liked. In fact it wouldn't be an exaggeration at all to say they're still here.

I started trying to drain the tank around 8 P.M. Sunday night. But the water wasn't running out the hose. I opened up the hot water taps around the house to let the air in but that didn't help. I put a bucket under the pressure release valve and got water out of there but not terribly fast. I used a snake on the hose but that wasn't the source of the problem at all.

I continued taking water from the pressure release valve and messing with the spigot for an hour or so. The water just wasn't coming from the spigot at more than a dribble. I continued dumping bucket after bucket from the pressure release until 4:30 in the morning when it finally stopped. I'd say I drained at least 35 of the 50 gallons that way.

Eric showed up at 9:00 just like he said. He saw my issue with the spigot, unscrewed the knob from the spigot (I didn't have the guts for that), jammed a screwdriver up there, and wiggled it around. Calcium buildup and water started coming out so he put the knob back on. Water came out of the hose but not fast. We let that sit while the furnace guy messed around out front. After an couple of hours they came up to tell me that the wrong adapter was sent. They can get one but they'll have to hit several places, none of which close, and there's no way they'd get the work done today.

Eric refilled the water tank, cleared the air from the pipes, and flushed out that crud that always appears when you do this stuff. He also tried to clear more of the calcium so that the tank would drain easier in the future. When he came upstairs it looked like he'd been spackled. Calcium bits had been blown clear across the first floor. Eric did clean that up. I didn't see the stuff on the TV screen until later. Mom says I'll still be finding that stuff when I move out.

So we'll reschedule this and try again soon. The more paychecks I have in the bank when I have to pay up the happier I am.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Home improvements: The Kitchen

Long time readers know that I've been slowly refurbishing and even rebuilding my house a bit at a time. That wasn't the plan when I moved in. The place had just been refurbished and new appliances put in the kitchen. But it wasn't done well. It was done like a Hollywood set. It only needed to look good for a little bit. In the case of Hollywood it's until filming is done. In the case of my house it's until the sale is closed.

I did my own inspection. Generally that's a bad idea, but I knew what I was looking for. Alas, none of it could be seen because everything that should be seen was sealed up. I'd have had to take a crowbar and sledgehammer to find out what I wanted to know. Professional inspectors who have come in since tell me that had I paid an inspector in the first place I would have wasted my money.

I started this blog just before I had the whole back wall torn out and replaced along with a bathroom that really should have dropped through my kitchen ceiling. I've been using it to document the repairs and replacements. It's covered the reconstruction of a common wall in what I'm now calling my library. I've told about replacing the floor and ripping out the ceiling in that room. There are pictures of me putting in a hatch to the space above my bedroom and building an attic up there.

What I did yesterday is very minor but it's leading to something huge. I replaced the garbage disposal. Actually, I wanted to get rid of the old one and just go to old fashioned pipes. But that would have required some major renovations to the bottom of the sink so I just bought a new one and swapped them out. The plumbing, the wiring, that was nothing compared to just being able to do it in the confined space.

I should also mention that I'd been putting this off for months and that only a very persistent girlfriend got me to do this now.

There's a hose that runs from the garbage disposal to the back of the sink. It's allows airflow and it's where crud goes when I have to take a plunger to the sink. There's another hose that runs from that same vent to the underside of the dishwasher. That hose smells awful. It also wasn't attached very securely. Nope, sorry, no tale of filthy water running all over my face. We just wanted to know where it goes and if anything was wrong.

The dishwasher wasn't properly installed. No big surprise. They'd failed to give it an electrical cord. They did come back and fix it, but didn't screw it back into place. So it pulled right out. The wall behind the dishwasher was mangled. Debris everywhere. Knocking and a follow up stud finder show that the wall wasn't built properly. Plus there's a cold draft coming in there. The wall needs more than that hole patched. It needs to be replaced. I've already had one cabinet fall off the wall because it wasn't attached to any studs but just screwed to the Sheetrock. These clearly weren't installed right but they do appear to be attached to something. Not much, but something. This hole is letting in not just cold air, but mice, too.

I'm feeling inclined to lose the dishwasher since it's only been used 4 or 5 times in the last 4 years. The counter isn't attached to that flawed wall. It'd be so easy to just gut the kitchen. Yanking the ceiling is already in the plans. That wall needs to be brought up to code. The only question is whether I do it or whether I hire someone to do it.

As you're reading this there's a team of people in my kitchen gutting and rebuilding my utility closet. The furnace, that was failing last winter, and the hot water tank, that's been flipping breakers and limit switches lately, are both getting replaced. Ducts are being put in. Then I can finish putting down the library floor and get that sealed. Then Yummy can paint that room. Yummy loves to paint.

The point being my bank account is hurting. Once it recovers by a lot it will be used to fix up the kitchen. More counter space for sure. And with that space my first microwave since I moved to DC. Walls all up to code. Properly installed cabinets. That induction range top that I've been wanting for years. The ceiling will be covered with translucent plastic and ropes of LEDs put up there so the whole ceiling will glow. And maybe even an itty-bitty dishwasher that will actually support a one-two person house.

Yummy was wondering why I have plexiglass behind one of my book cases. I think it should be used to seal that hole behind the dishwasher.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Links Friday: 28 Nov

Underground glaciers found on Mars. [link]

Sweet wrist mounted computer. [link]

Why we keep church and state separate. [link]

The Big Picture is a collection of themed photos posted every couple of days by The Boston Globe. Check out the International Space Station pictures and how the station has grown over the years. [link]

Tilt shift photography seems to have become popular lately. It allows for a narrow depth of field at a distance so what you're shooting looks like models. Keith Loutit has some great tilt shift videos that look like stop motion of models. [link]

Lycos (remember them?) has opened up an online free movie library. [link]

Crash tests on a Smart Car ForTwo

You probably heard about the astronaut that dropped her tool bad while on EVA last week. Well some amature astronomer caught sight of it. [link]

A meteor recently passed over Edmonton, Canada. Here's the best video I've seen of it.

Play "Doom" online for free. [link]

Star Trek vs. Star Wars

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Movie review: Twilight

Yummy and I went to see "Twilight" Sunday. "Twilight" is the first book of an ongoing series about a girl and her vampire boyfriend. One could compare the popularity of this series to Harry Potter with the male fan base removed.

A seventeen year old girl goes off to live with her sheriff father up in the perpetually cloudy northwest United States. Skipping ahead... she starts dating a vampire. He's not the kind of vampire that drinks the blood of humans. He and his family eat animals and vegetables and whatnot.

The vampire has all the abilities of modern vampires with none of the weaknesses. He's fast, strong, good looking, and can read minds. When he goes into the sunlight he twinkles instead of dying. You kill them by tearing off their heads and burning the body.

The movie wasn't the disgusting pre-teen romance crap that I expected from the vampire-romance genre. OK, it was a bit, but not as bad as it could be. Take all three Spiderman movies and cut out almost everything but the Peter and MaryJane scenes and you're close.

Yummy has read the books. She didn't approve of some of the casting and said that there were some minor but not terribly significant deviations from the book. I mean, outside of cutting 300+ pages down to roughly 40 pages of the same formatting.

Most of the action is like what you see in the show "Smallville". Not much at all. Just the occasional demonstration of powers. There is a fight scene near the end of the movie when the central vampire family meets up with another family that isn't committed to protecting humans.

It wasn't awful, but I won't be getting it on DVD.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Movie review: Quantum of Solace

At long last we're getting back into movies that don't suck.

"Quantum of Solace" is probably the first Bond movie that's a sequel. Most of the movies stood on their own. You didn't need to see what happened previously in order to know what's going on. But with the previous Bond movie, "Casino Royale", the franchise has been rebooted. "Casino Royale" was the last book to be made into a movie, but the last of the unfilmed Ian Fleming books. It was also the most accurate book adaptation of any Bond film.

"Quantum of Solace" picks up just minutes after "Casino Royale" ends. There's a very jerky high speed car chase down a winding mountain road with lots of close ups so that it can be tough to know what's going on.
There's a brief interrogation where very little happens outside of the villain taunting MI-6 about how little they know about his organization. Then there's gunfire and escape. Bond spends much of the rest of the movie chasing down this villain and killing people. For a little bit I started to think of it as "The Bond Identity".
Bond is forced to turn rogue when M calls him in despite his progress in the case.

In the end very little is gained aside from learning the name of the new secret criminal organization that we're hoping runs through the next several movies.

I bought "Casino Royale" on DVD. It's the first Bond movie that I've bought. "Quantum of Solace" isn't something I'd want on DVD unless the next movie is another sequel that's good enough that I'd want "Quantum..." to fill the gap between the two.
However, I would be interested in seeing a video game based on "Quantum of Solace".

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Anniversary

On 23 November 1963 the first episode of "Doctor Who" aired in England. That makes yesterday the 45th anniversary.

Many people think poorly of the original series. They appeared to spend more on tea than they did on sets. The Doctor often had to face the horrible mop monster or the creature from the bubble wrap lagoon. But they had some great actors and better writers. They were good enough to make giant salt shakers seem scary. They were good enough that the show kept on going despite changing the cast every few years.

Or at least until the 80's. Then the writers turned to crap. We thought the actors were crap, too. It wasn't until someone started making Dr. Who audio programs using Doctors 5 through 8 that we realized that Doctors 6 and 7 were actually pretty good and that it was the material they were working with that was awful.

The new series operates a bit differently. The writers are great, the actors better, only now they have an actual budget. The show holds such a special place in British culture that they get to do things that no other show can pull off. Like "Star Trek: The Next Generation" did here, celebrities jump at the chance to do a cameo on the show. But probably the biggest thing they got to do was film inside Shakespeare's Globe Theater. Nobody gets to do that. Nobody.

To give some indication of how far it's come, I give you the first ten minutes of the pilot episode "An Unearthly Child".

Friday, November 21, 2008

Links Friday: 21 Nov

Collectable religious cards. (link)

50 great examples of tilt shift photography. (link)

The new Star Trek movie trailer. (link)

The trailer for the movie "The Unborn". (link)

The trailer for Pixar's new movie "Up". (link)

Adobe Photoshop modeled in reallife (link)

The first two minutes of the Doctor Who Christmas Episode. (link)

Game: Phage Wars (link)

You've heard stupid user stories. Here's some stupid tech support stories. (link)

Saturn sings. (link)

From the Wall-E DVD: Burn-E. (link)

End of the world headlines (link)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dougmas Jar

This is a long one. Sorry.

The time around the Winter Solstice is known among Dougintologists as the Dougmas Season. One of the ways we celebrate Dougmas is with a Dougmas Jar.

The idea is simple. You want to take jar and decorate it. On December first this jar gets placed near wherever you drop your keys and wallet and whatnot when you get home in the evening. As you're emptying your pockets you drop your change into the jar. You do this for the whole month and then on New Years Day you count up the change and write a check for that amount to your favorite charity.

The Church of Dougintology has its own preferred charities.

The Solar Electric Light Fund ( provides microloans to people in remote areas that the electrical grid hasn't been, or can't be, wired. $500 can provide a house with solar panels, batteries, and lights. Maybe even a small fridge to keep vaccines from spoiling.

Trees for the Future ( plants trees in barren areas. I believe that $0.10 plants 1 tree. The desert generally known a the Sahara Desert (Sahara is actually just one part of the huge north African desert) continues to expand due to poor land management. TftF works with the locals to plant Moringa trees in these areas. There's already enough rain, but the soil is often packed hard. The trees help break up the soil so other things can grow, provide food for the locals, and eventually become fuel.
I like this one because it helps create an environment where the locals can support themselves instead of continually needing donations of food and money so they can continue living where nobody should be living.

For Douglas Adams (a Dougintology saint) I include:
* The Dian Fossey Gorilla Foundation (
* Save the Rhino (

The Do-Not-Give list:
This tradition started because of the overly secular nature of the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army is one of the most universally recognized charities. They provide food and shelter for the homeless whether due to poverty or disaster. Seems like a good cause, right? Alas, they are also a religious organization. Their giving is based on whether or not you believe what they believe or are at least willing to sit through their services. It's not out of the kindness of their hearts that they're helping people. It's just a tool to try to manipulate the most vulnerable into sharing their beliefs.

And then there's their stand on gay rights. They do hire gays, but only because they're legally required not to discriminate in their hiring practices. They've spent several years spending your donations to lobby the Bush administration to give them a waiver on having to not discriminate. They've spent donation money to fight equal rights for homosexuals laws in Scotland. They refuse to provide aid to poor gays. They refuse to provide equal benefits to gay employees.

Just added to the Do-Not-Give list: The Christian Children's Fund.

You may have heard that Gary Gygax died on March 4th of this year. Gygax is best known as the creator of Dungeons and Dragons. D&D not only helped provide many thousands, if not millions, of geeks with a social life and human interaction but also spawned dozens of board games, computer games, books, and comic strips. He was a beloved father figure for many geeks. So at this year's GenCon Indianapolis they dedicated the Charity Auction to Gygax's favorite charity: The Christian Children's Fund.

They raised $17,000 for the charity but when they tried to present it the charity rejected the money. They didn't want to take money from D&D players or that was raised via the sales of D&D material. They felt the money was somehow tainted and that the poor children that might be fed or provided with clean drinking water were better off hungry than fed with dirty gamer money.

The money did finally find a good home. The Fisher House Foundation doesn't discriminate about who gives them money. The Fisher Houses are like Ronald McDonald houses for wounded soldiers. While the soldier is in the hospital his family gets to stay in the Fisher Houses for free. But I think there may be some arrangement about who does the cooking in the house. They were happy to have the money.

The Church of Dougintology frowns on any kind of discrimination and use of carrot or stick to manipulate people into sharing your beliefs. It encourages everyone to find their own beliefs even if that belief is no belief.

We disapprove of faith based charities partially because they usually refuse care to people who refuse to attend their services first. It's not charity if you're using it as a bribe. This is not what Jesus would do.
We also disapprove because a healthy chunk of the money is used to buy Bibles instead of food or health care. We're giving to help the poor, not teach them that their ways are wrong and they should reject their medicine men.
And partially because they'll refuse aid to good Christians whose lifestyle they disapprove of. So what if the homeless gay guy is only homeless because his parents' Christian beliefs required they throw him out of the house when he came out of the closet.

Anyway, I found a jar for this year. I may even decorate it. If you do something similar I'd love to hear it.

Operation Foxhole ( creates care packages for soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. There are religious groups that create care packages but they're mostly religious DVDs and books. Operation Foxhole is run by soldiers. Their care packages include things that deployed soldiers actually want. Things like fresh socks, Skittles, and whatnot. They accept donations of money, goods, or letters. You can use the link above to find out more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rerun: Schrodinger's Cat

I have to run off to class and don't have time to write a proper entry so you get another science lesson. Tomorrow I tell you about the Dougmas Jar.

In 1935 Irwin Schrödinger came up with the thought experiment known as "Schrödinger's Cat".

In the previous lesson how we learned that subatomic particles, such as electrons, don't really seem to exist in one place until you see them. Instead they give the appearance of existing in a cloud of places where they possibly or probably are until they're observed.

Here's how Schrödinger suggested you imagine it in relation to isotope decay.

One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small, that perhaps in the course of the hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer which shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a "blurred model" for representing reality. In itself it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks.

Huh? Let me rephrase.

Take a box. In the box you put a cat. Next to the cat you put a vial of poisonous gas. The vial of gas is sealed by a complicated device containing an atom of a radioactive element that has a 50/50 chance of decaying in the next hour. When that element decays it will release the gas and the cat will die. Now seal the box.

When you come back in an hour the radioactive element may or may not have decayed. In fact the math shows that it has both decayed and not decayed and it has neither decayed nor not decayed. The only way to find out if it has decayed or not is to open the box and look at the cat. Until the box is opened the state of the cat is in flux. The cat is both dead and alive and neither dead nor alive.

Irwin regretted writing this explanation for the rest of his life. Most people misunderstood what he's explaining. The cat isn't real. The experiment wouldn't work. It's only told to try to explain subatomic behaviors on a scale we can better grasp

Among physicists this thought experiment has provoked several philosophical physics questions. You can read more about them at Wikipedia. Among non-physicists this provokes mostly misunderstandings. In the crap-science film "What The #$*! Do We Know" they try to make this a point of religious thought for worshipers of a 35,000-year-old warrior named Ramtha.
Some eastern philosophies make the point that we control our own universe. This is true as far as how an individual views his own life. Getting fired can be a crushing blow or a breaking of chains. Your car breaking down can be a point of great stress or the beginning of a story you can tell for weeks. But your viewpoint can't change the nature of water or manipulate matter as the movie tries to claim Schrödinger proved.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Movie review: Bender's Game

The scheduling imbeciles at Fox killed Futurama a few years back by giving it a time slot that was often overridden by football. But a change in management and high ratings for the reruns made Fox take a second look. Instead of producing new episodes they're making straight to DVD movies that will then get broken up into half hour bits for television broadcast.

The first was Bender's Big Score.
The second was The Beast With a Billion Backs.
Tuesday they released "Bender's Game," the third of the new Futurama movies.

"Bender's Game" was very much like the TV series. It was funny but not as funny as the first two movies.

The main story line is about Bender trying to learn to play Dungeons and Dragons. But once he managed to develop an imagination he couldn't shut it off. His whole world got twisted to fit his D&D fantasy.

A side story is about a fuel shortage being caused by billionaire oil and robot tycoon Mom in order to drive up prices. But Professor Farnsworth knows the secret of her power source and vows to destroy it and free the world from her monopoly.

The two stories collide in a fantasy world that spoofs "The Lord of the Rings", Dungeons and Dragons, with a dash of Harry Potter.

This movie isn't as self referential as some of the previous Futurama movies. But I also didn't laugh as much. Even so, if you were a fan of the show you'll want to pick this one up.

Monday, November 17, 2008


go'way. Sick.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Links Friday: 14 Nov

Phil Plait talks a massive and rather impressive deep space image. Those aren't stars. They're galaxies.

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy.
You can watch an astronomy related video per day starting in January or contribute a video now.

The original ending to Little Shop of Horrors

Atari Joystick candle

Make your own Gummy Legos

Trailer for the video game Snoopy: Flying Ace

The stick introduced to the Toy Hall of Fame

Hardest Game ever.

NASA engaging in antique data recovery.

And finally we say goodbye to the Phoenix Martian polar lander whose signal was recently lost and has been declared dead.
This was the lander that saw it snowing in the upper atmosphere, took pictures of dust devils, and dug up ice out of the soil to establish the existence of water on Mars beyond any shadow out a doubt. It's life expectancy was 90 days and it lasted twice that.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Since my readership has nearly doubled (up from 8 per day) in recent weeks I feel I should explain what Dougintology is.

Dougintology is what I call my own personal religion. It's not so much what I believe, but what I would believe if I did believe.

It seems clear to me that none of the current religions are correct.

Suppose for a moment that what I was told in Sunday School when I was really young is correct and that God himself wrote the Bible. You can take that as a grandfatherly figure hand delivering a stack of paper written in his own handwriting or just dictating it to a few dozen individuals. However you think he did it we're starting at a true and correct version once upon a time.

Since then the book has been translated and those translations translated several times over with each iteration getting twisted by a little or a lot to fit the religious perspective of the translator. Some religious leaders have cut passages and even whole books that didn't fit what they wanted taught. The whole New Testament was assembled by political leaders who were trying to end the feud between the Christian and Pagan populations of Constantinople.

At this point even the Pope admits that much of the Bible isn't true. It's allegory.

And how is your religion determined? By proper education into the various options and contemplation of the nature of creation, the afterlife, and the soul? No. It's part of your culture. If it weren't, the various religions wouldn't clump by geography as it does now. People choose their religion only about as much as they choose what language they want to speak.

This isn't to say that the popular religious texts are without value. You must simply pick and choose what parts have value and what parts don't. Just like any other book.

When the Bible talks about a camel passing through the eye of a needle the word that was translated as "camel" properly translates as "camel hair rope". A minor difference but a clear example of how things can go wrong in translation.

Dante's "Divine Comedy" is a fairly accurate telling of the Catholic views of the afterlife in his day. In recent years, however, the Vatican eliminated the last official beliefs in any part of it when they eliminated Limbo. Was the afterlife that Dante wrote about a departure from God's original word that has been corrected or is the church cutting out parts they don't like?

Lilith used to be listed as Adam's first wife. In Hebrew and Muslim variants of the Old Testament she still is.

I pull from several different texts, religious and non, when establishing what I think would make for a good religion. Parts that encourage slavery, rape, incest, and the like get cut. Parts that condemn eating shrimp or wearing poly-cotton blends I ignore. Parts that talk about unicorns and genies I laugh at. I build my own allegories where I see interesting parallels. I establish my own holidays.

As we move into the holiday season you'll see several posts much less serious than this one talking about some of my holidays and seasonal beliefs. You'll probably like them a lot more than this post.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rerun: Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

I've got a thing or two to write about, but they'll take time. So, since I have a bunch of new readers, I'm reposting an entry from September 2007 instead.

I am a geek of all trades. Among the many kinds of geek that I am, I am a sci-fi geek. The best kind of sci-fi are the kinds where the science is based on real science. An understanding of the fundamentals is key to appreciating some books. So I'm going to give some simple lessons in areas of physics that most people aren't likely to have dealt with.

Let me start by insulting your intelligence and work up to more complicated issues.

Things that you can touch are called "matter". If you smash up matter into little bitty pieces and then smash it up some more you get what are known as molecules. Break down the molecules and you get atoms. Atoms break down into neutrons, positrons, and electrons. In charts of atoms you get a picture that reminds many people of the Solar System picture. That is a big thing in the middle with smaller things going around it. In an atom the thing going around is called an electron. But instead of having a nice orbit where you can point at the electron and say "there it is" the best you can do is point to an area around the nucleus (the big thing in the middle) and say it's in here somewhere. You can chart the probability of where it is, but if you actually measure it then you've changed it.

At the subatomic level - I mean when working with the electrons, neutrons, and positrons - there's all kinds of weirdness.

Watch this film that explains the double slit test.

Dr. Quantum Explains Double Slit Experiment

Posted Jun 07, 2007

This is the strongest experimental proof of alternative universes.

Remember what I said about not being able to know where the electron was around the nucleus? Just where it PROBABLY is. Similarly, in the experiment you just watched you only get to know where the electron you're firing PROBABLY is. Some scientists think that the electron is in all the locations it could be but in parallel universes. So even when firing just the one electron at a time all the possible electrons in all the possible universes interfere with each other and make the pattern on the wall. BUT when you put up something to see which slit the electron goes through you force one of the universes to become OUR universe. This is what Doc Quantum meant when he said that it "collapsed the wave form". All the possible universes collapsed once observed.

Think of "Back to the Future". By going back in time they changed things and reality split into two alternative time lines. So Marty had to go back and fix things so that the two realities collapsed back into one. It's fun to think about alternate realities where Hitler died in that WWI gas attack and what not. But what about that reality where the only difference is you wore a green shirt one day instead of the blue one. The color of your shirt didn't change anything so those two realities collapsed back into one once two versions of you take the shirts off. Similarly, all those parallel and interfering universes with the electrons collapse into one. When they collapse depends on when they're observed. If observed before going through the slit only one hits the wall. If you wait to observe until after it hits the wall then all the other universes have messed with it. Only one of the many possible electrons in the many possible universes gets to hit the wall. But all the possibilities influence the path it takes.

I know, freaky, huh?

We have nothing but science fiction writers to allude to multiple universes on a super-atomic scale. It's just a helpful allegory to help understand the weirdness of the double slit experiment. And it's a fun "what if" thought experiment.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

I don't usually do any kind of Memorial Day or Veterans Day related post. Usually what anyone writes just comes out cheap or sappy or maudlin or lame in some way. But yesterday J.D Frazer, creator of the comic "User Friendly", did one I like.

I'm going to Mars and I'm taking...

Congratulations, out of all of the applicants your name was chosen to be part of the first Mars colony. You'll be taking a craft up to the orbiting shipyards where you'll board the colony ship with five other people. Over a span of six months you'll make your way across the void to the red planet where the six of you will take the equipment stowed aboard the ship and setup the initial settlement. Shelters, gardens, water purifiers, air recyclers, waste disposal, rations and the like are all provided.

You probably won't make it back to Earth. You can't even get shipments for another 2 years after you land. You're allowed 5 personal items. Weight isn't really an issue. For the purposes of this thought experiment your feather pillows and your autographed Wile E Coyote anvil are equal. What are your 5 things?

Someone else's list.

Monday, November 10, 2008

mythological creatures

I was thinking about mythological creatures the other morning, like I often do, and it occurs to me that centaurs and fauns may be the same creature.

Think about it for a moment. You're a traveling storyteller. You spend your life moving from town to town where you tell stories and spread news of surrounding areas. In order to keep the attention of your audience you have to keep your stories succinct and moving quickly.

Keeping that in mind, if you were talking a centaur without drawing it how would you describe it?

Now how would you describe a faun (or satyr)?

You need pictures don't you?

It's a question kind of like the one about the mermaid. She's half fish and half woman, but which half is which? Or is it like how Obama is half black and half white but in no way resembles a zebra or dalmatian?

You're telling all these kids about your mythological being and you talk about someone who is half horse and half human. They get an image in their head and go on to try to draw the creature. In both their lower torso is fuzzy and hooved while the top is bare. But does it have two legs or four? Humans and horses both have four appendages, why would a crossbreed have six?

It could well be something bigfoot-like. All covered in horse fur, a mane, and a tail. Or maybe just a person with a really long face.

I dunno. This is what I get for thinking.