Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday links: Jan 30

Last week was light so this week is particularly heavy.

Klingon keyboard [link]
You may think that Klingon is a useless language to know. Speaking as a programmer, however, I know of a use. Commenting your code is a very valuable exercise. It tells you later what you were thinking when you were writing code. Often you can't remember what the hell you were thinking the next day, let alone years later. My story from last week proves that. But commenting your code also means that others can read your code, figure out what you were doing, and take over your job. Uncommented code provides job security. But, what if you use a thoroughly obscure language? Like Klingon!

Paraidolia: the phenomena of seeing meaning and shape in random patterns. This site shows things that look like countries. [link]
Now Yummy knows where to send those pictures of cat poop shaped like states.

Toddler rescued from pet python. [link]

Dirty city names in England. [link]
Reason number 492 I should be British.

2,000 people offered up a solution to the problem at the end of the movie "The Italian Job". Here are the top 5. [link]

Deep sea webcam. [link]
You may need to be patient. First time I turned it on I saw a fish and a freaky crab/lobster/spider thing. But I've also seen a lot of nothin'.

Fermenting tips for you homemade beer makers. [link]

Moss bathmat. [link]
Yummy would never let me put this in my bathroom.

This doesn't look like much until you realize it was painted with bioluminescent bacteria. [link]

Science tattoos [link]

Nazi made a city of twins in Brazil. [link]

Tiny housing [link 1] [link 2]

How to hack an electronic road sign. [link]

Barack Obama does good:
He lifted the ban on providing federal funds for international groups that perform abortions. [link]
He blocked all Bush's last minute regulations. [link]
The link went down, but he's also expected to loosen the restrictions on stem cell research.
Closing of Guantanamo Bay order drafted. [link]
Lifted the ban on states setting their own, more strict, vehicle emissions standards. [link]
And just generally kicked ass. [link]

Another "Grow" game. [link]
If you haven't played any of the games in this series before it's all about playing the different bits in the right order. But the wrong order is interesting, too. The page has links to the previous games.

Sabre - a game that simulates training with a light sabre, blast helmet, and floating training droid. [link]

Religious stuff:
Anti-choicer rams a Planned Parenthood with his SUV. [link]

Australian refugees know the proper use for a Bible. [link]

Nature show host Sir David Attenborough talks about the hate mail he gets for not crediting God. [link]

Christopher Hitchens (angry atheist) and Bill Donohue (deluded fundamentalist) discuss Mother Theresa's letters.

How to confuse an anti-choice activist. Just ask "if abortion is illegal what punishment should there be for violators?"

A fluid that changes colors in ultraviolet light.more info: [link]

NYC subway poster vandalism artist.

Bubblicious from Rex The Dog on Vimeo.

Dancing eyebrows.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Book Review: The Man with the Golden Torc

I like books by Simon R Green. I was going to say that all of his books are basically the same, but the same could be said about John Grisham and lots of other popular authors.

His books tend to be about a lone human with magical abilities performing some detective work in a magical world existing unobserved within our mundane one. In "The Man with the Golden Torc" it's kind of a James Bond take off. Eddie Drood, better known as Shaman Bond to the world at large, is a part of the ancient and large Drood family. Since man has had basic verbal skills the Droods have worked with a being from a higher dimension to protect the world from all manner of things that go bump in the night. But Eddie has always felt that the family was a bit restrictive. Instead of living in the huge mansion and working with the family he has lived on his own and done his own thing. The family has allowed this only because he still believed in the cause and accepted missions that he was given.

One day he's given a very important mission - the delivery of a powerful relic to the protection of Stonehenge. He goes to the Drood equivalent of Q Branch to get some great weapons and heads out. On the way he gets attacked by wave after wave after wave of various brands of baddie. The family has sold him out. He's been declared rogue and they want him dead.

The rest of the book is very busy. They pack a lot into roughly 400 pages. Eddie Drood turns to various opponents of his family and other rogue family members to try to find out why they want him dead, who the traitor in the family is, and finally fight his way back into the family mansion to put an end to the threat to himself, the family, and possibly even the freedom of the world.

I'm not gonna list it as a great book, but it is a fun book. It's an easy and entertaining read perfect for coffee shop and subway reading.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Creation from a creator's view

It's icy out. I thought I'd get to skip work today but there's too much to do. So here I am and here's a quick post for today.

I have a tendency to take mythological people and events and twist them. Usually it involves a big misunderstanding by the storyteller. So the other day I'm thinking about Adam and Eve (look, even the Pope admits it's not true).

Take on the mindset of God for a moment here. You've managed to create life. That was fairly easy. Intelligence, however, has proven to be a bit more tricky. You've got lots of animals with a low level intelligence, but nothing very good. Stimulus response was fairly easy. You've gotten some basic problem solving skills in a few birds and apes. But, really, everything you've made just follows the program that you've written for them. You need something that can depart from what the programming tells it. Rabbits that will stand and fight or something like that.

So you have a testing ground made up. Like a maze for a rat. You make up yet another hominid model. You input a basic instruction, "don't eat the fruit on the tree in the middle of the garden or I'll KILL you", and release it into the garden. Then you send in a probe to provide contrary information. "Eat the fruit. The fruit will make you smart." The hominids then have to reason out whether they're going to obey the first set of instructions or break with that. Previous models didn't eat the fruit and the programmer had to go back and see where the flaw was. These new ones, however, eat the fruit. This proves they are capable of independent thought and action. The programmer does a little dance and then releases them into the planet he's been working on.

Of course, I'm abandoning all pretense of god's love and all that stuff. As the programmer there's a certain pride in his work and he'd hate to see anything happen to it, but he could just as soon chuck it in the bin or put it in storage when he finishes the next model.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Internet TV

Several months ago I created a list of the websites to go to in order to watch my favorite shows online. I successfully managed to go almost completely without using the television. It helps that I don't watch sports. I really don't know how I would have watched football online. The only times I needed the TV was to watch Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and recently I had both a TV and C-Span to watch the parade following the Inauguration. Even so, I was pissed because the one thing in that parade I wanted to see was at the very end and both cut off coverage before we got to that point.

Anyway, I need a new listing. So here it is.
I can't find a list of when all the shows return from their mid-season break so I'm only putting up what I know is playing. I'll add other stuff as it shows.

The Simpsons
American Dad
Family Guy



Supernatural week behind
Smallville a week behind.
Life on Mars

Battlestar Galactica
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles requires install

I still recommend "ReGenesis".

And if you do watch sports there is now Major League Baseball at

Monday, January 26, 2009

Movie review: Underworld - Rise of the Lycans

It's kind of odd, there were always three Underworld movies planned. It's odd that the third was already planned as a prequel. Or am I wrong and the third planned movie was so bad that they canceled it and put in a prequel instead.

I've seen the previous two Underworld movies and they were decent enough creature movies but I remember absolutely jack about them. OK, they both had Bill Nighy and Kate Pekingsale... Solarsail... Backonsale... That one chick.

So Yummy and I went to see this. It was largely what I expected. Vampire overlords and werewolves playing sort of a "Romeo and Juliet" with shades of "Robin Hood" and some "Gladiator" mixed in with heavy contributions from the artificial blood community.

Bill Nighy plays the same guy you've seen in the first two movies. Michael Sheen (who was in the first two movies and has done a bunch of other stuff but is completely unfamiliar for some reason) plays the first shape changing werewolf. And Brad Pitt plays the daughter of Bill Nighy and girlfriend of Michael Sheen.

There's a lot of blood in this movie. That and a lot of people getting hurt in graphic ways that makes the audience cringe in sympathy.

You don't have to have seen the prior movies to understand what's going on. Which is good because I don't remember much of the prior movies.

It was a fun movie but I'm not getting it on DVD.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday links: Jan 23

First off, one of the few surviving grandfathers of science fiction, Frederick Pohl, now has a blog. [link]
Above all else I recommend reading his first post "Sir Arthur and I" about the collaboration of he and Arthur C Clarke in Clarke's final days. [link]

Animated toy autopsies. Creepy stuff. [link]

I used to work for this company. They make modules for technology classrooms. The kids spend 7-10 days at a module and then rotate to the next. This is one of the classroom modules I worked on. [link]

Astrobiology rap

Good riddance to President Gore. [link]

Inauguration mobs as seen from above. Looks like a lot smaller crowd than what I saw on TV. Still a lot of people, though.[link]

The third Star Wars: Battlefront game almost had an ObiWan turned Sith character. It was ultimately dropped, but the concept art remains. [link]

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What was I thinking?

I ran across this recently. I wrote it on the 4th of July. I spent the day down on the Mall with my parrot waiting for the fireworks. I was probably a bit dehydrated and I definitely had a headache. I had a story idea, sat down with my Palm Pilot and collapsible keyboard and started writing. I had a good idea about where it was going at the time. The next day I couldn't remember what my plan for the story was. This was only the first chapter of what I think would have been only 3 or 4 chapters. But even in this first chapter I see that I drifted from my original idea.
The woman was originally supposed to be able to remember what was in the realm we all come from before birth and eventually return to when we die. While most of us block out what was there except for a vague idea that death is bad. She remembered it all.
But as the chapter goes on the woman becomes self destructive. That seems to run counter to the whole idea I was working with.
The day after I wrote this I couldn't remember what I had planned for the rest of the story. I remember exactly as much about it now as I did on 5 July 2003.

I've considered that maybe this was the horrific place and people are sent here as punishment for some crime committed on the other side. It works a bit better with what I've written. But I still don't remember what came next. I know this chapter was just laying out a foundation for something that came later.

I've held it for years in the hope that something would come back to me. It hasn't. but I offer it to you because even without the rest this story creeps me out.

Why are you afraid?

Have you ever wondered why we're afraid to die? Most of us believe in a Heaven or some sort of eternal reward waiting for us when we die. We're convinced that death will bring a reunion with our loved ones, a higher level of being, or join us with an all loving patriarchal deity. So why haven't we all wiped ourselves out? Why don't we all just step in front of a bus, lean too far over that protective railing, or just turn a gun on ourselves and end it all?

Sure, we can rationalize to ourselves that we have evolved a protective self-preservation instinct or say that our all loving god will make us spend eternity trapped in a non-consuming fire. But deep down we know those are just the lies we tell ourselves. Deep down we know the truth. Deep down we've buried the pants-pissing truth.

Janice Blish had been ill for a long time. The physical illness was fairly new, only eight years or so. She found it darkly humorous that she had taken so long to come to terms with her cancer and her impending death, especially considering her other illness. Janice Blish was also suicidal and had been most of her life.

Born Janice Elouise Blish in a small hospital in north central Kansas, she was one of the few reported cases of Post-Partum Catatonia also known as Baillie Syndrome. Baillie Syndrome is considered a disorder because it happens so rarely but it's actually indicative of a strong will and an inability to fully forget certain things. The most notable symptom is that the child is born in a catatonic state. Sometimes a few good slaps will snap the infant out of it and make it progress on to the next stage: screaming. In the case of Janice the slapping didn't work. She remained in a rigid catatonic state for just over fifteen hours before she started screaming. It was another week before she stopped.

Growing up, Janice was a very quiet and sullen child. She was never affectionate to anyone, even her own parents. She suffered pain and injury in silence. All the usual scrapes, bruises, and ear infections that come with childhood she took without even a whimper. Her parents probably would never have found out about the regular beatings she received at school if the bullies hadn't finally broken her arm. Doctor Grey, the family physician, commented on how well behaved Janice was and how she didn't cry out when he set her arm. Her mother just smiled and added that to the long list of little things about Janice that horrified her.

She never once celebrated her birthday. Her parents tried having a birthday party a few times, but...

It was at her first birthday party that Janice had her first breakdown. It's often said that a baby has no idea what's going on at his or her first birthday party. Full understanding may elude the birthday baby but some hint manages to penetrate the mush in their heads. All the friends and family in attendance, those who had spend time with Janice and complimented her parents on their quiet well behaved girl, saw her cry for the first time since she was released from the hospital. It wasn't one of the familiar baby cries of "I'm hungry", "I'm tired", "I need a fresh diaper", or the expected "Who are all these strange people and why won't they leave me alone." This was the cry of someone who, after having a rotten tooth pulled in a very slow and painful manner is told they still have thirty one more to go before they're finished.

The second birthday party was even worse. She'd managed to do relatively well for most of the day. With Mom furiously cleaning and Dad furiously staying out of the way Janice had managed to block out what was happening until the guests started to arrive. She sat silently as each of the guest arrived, wished her a happy birthday, and put a gift on the table. She sat and took each mocking reminder with only the twitch under her right eye revealing what was going on in her head. It was the cake that finally broke her. Her mother brought in the cake while everyone sang "Happy Birthday" at her.

When the cake was finally stuffed under her nose and she was told "make a wish, honey" she turned and spat in her mother's face. While her mother stood in shock with spittle running down her face, Janice proceeded to tell the rest of the guests how she was feeling as best she could with her limited vocabulary. She started screaming. There were no words in the scream. Words would have diminished the meaning of the scream. It was a primal scream of a crazed bull elephant charging a village or a damned soul having words with Lucifer. She pointed the scream at each and every guest in turn before turning the scream on the world at large.

Apologies were offered by all invited to the third birthday party.

After that only two things served as recognition of her birthday. Magazines she didn't subscribe to and churches she didn't attend would send her birthday cards. The satisfaction she got from cutting the cards into mere whiskers of paper were very therapeutic.

The second marker was when Janice would spit on her mother and father before sitting down for breakfast.

Janice first committed suicide when she was thirteen. She didn't attempt suicide, she committed suicide. She cut a deep gash the length of her arm with a paring knife that had been in the family for almost sixty years and had been sharpened so much that the sliver of remaining steel could remove the wings from a fly without the fly noticing. She went to bed that night with her arm dangling over the side of the bed into a kitchen waste basket and her wrist spurting blood. In the morning she rinsed the blood from her unmarked arm and poured the blood down the basement drain.

Two weeks later she sorted through the medicine cabinet and cleaning fluids under the kitchen sink. She mixed up the different fluids and powders at random and poured a tall glass of foul tasting liquid. She never even got a stomach ache.

She broke open thermometers and drank the mercury. She collected toxic plants and ate them. She stepped off the roof of her school and fell three floors onto bare cement. Never once did she feel the slightest ill effect.

It occurred to Janice once that she might just be immortal, that life was, in effect, a life sentence. She was unwilling to accept that answer. There had to be a way out, a way of escape, if she could only find it.

When she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of thirty Janice was relieved. The doctor felt he had to repeat himself several times. He'd rarely seen such a reaction without a pregnancy test being involved.

He presented her with all the usual information. Treatment options, which she rejected, expected symptoms, which she didn't care about, and timelines, which she asked how to accelerate.

The doctor asked her not to come back and she happily agreed.

But as the cancer progressed, as her final hours drew near, Janice had doubts. Her lost memories, the ones that had haunted her life, made her miserable, and showed her every misery that life offered without actually telling her why or what was really going on, ruined death for her, too. Just as she couldn't explain the tortures and agonies that life brings to a person who treasures every sunrise, she couldn't explain now why suicide was a snow day while this more natural death was more like being called into the principal's office. She should know why the principal wanted to see her but she couldn't remember. All she knew was that the principal rarely wanted to compliment someone for their spiffy new necktie.

On the evening of April 6, 2003 Janice slipped into a coma. By sunrise the next morning she was dead. She was unmarried and had no spouse, kids, or pets. She was survived by her mortgage, a small infestation of termites, and two somewhat relieved parents.

End part 1

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Book Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything

I pirate a lot of audio books. Or, rather, I used to. In my searches I found "A Short History of Nearly Everything". It sounded interesting so I downloaded it. I listened and heard a quality description of a number of scientific points explained in a lightly humorous and easy to understand way. So when I saw several copies of the actual book at the bi-annual Friends of the Arlington Library Book Fair I grabbed one.

This book stayed in my office and came to the bathroom with me a lot. The whole book was read two pages at a time. OK, to be fair, there were a few times I sat back and read it while the computer processed something or I waited for the printer to cough something up. I finally finished it when I had to go take a "random" drug test.

You can probably tell what I think about it from the fact that I heard it AND read it. It's good and I recommend it.

Bill Bryson, the author, isn't really a scientist. He says early on that he has the same problems that most people have with science classes and science books. He looked at a graphic in a good old 50s science text that showed a cutaway of the Earth. He wanted to know how we knew that's what it looked like. He tried looking more into the subject and found most of the literature on the subject to be cripplingly boring. He also felt that the writers were keeping the best stuff quiet.

When he first conceived of this book he was on an airplane and he realized he doesn't know why the oceans are salty but the great lakes aren't. He didn't know a proton from a protein or a quark from a quasar. How do scientists know how much the planet weighs, it's age, or what goes on in an atom. So he started this book from a position of absolute ignorance. So he spent 3 years doing research and came up with this book.

It is a very thick book and looks rather intimidating. But if you made it through Harry Potter you can make it through this. The reading levels are roughly the same. OK, this might be a bit higher. But it's not overly technical. You should also think of it as a series of smaller books. The subject areas break it down so completely that 478 pages of text are really just 7 smaller books.

Brand new this book ran about $30. This was a popular enough book that you should be able to pick up a copy in almost any used book store.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Vacation: all I ever need

It's Inauguration Day and I've got the day off.

To answer your next question, no, I'm not going. Well, maybe just to get a picture of the mob scene.

Yes, it's a historical day. America gets to start being the good guy again. Oh, and there's a greater amount of melanin in the guy taking over. That really shouldn't have been an issue.

It's interesting, some people are arguing that this proves that racism really is dead. I take the opposite view. Enough racist assholes stuck their head up in the lead up to the election that a lot of closeted racists suddenly started thinking it's OK to be racist. 12 months ago I though racism was a lot more dead than I think it is today.

One of the big arguments against JFK was that he was Catholic. They thought the country would be run from Rome. Instead it pretty much killed Catholicism as a negative in a candidate.

With any luck 8 years of a black President may help kill off another grand swath of racism.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Vacation: all I ever wanted

It's a holiday and I'm treating it as such.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Links: Jan 16

Papua New Guinea woman burned as a witch. [link]

"The Recently Deflowered Girl" Illustrated by Edward Gorey. [link]

Escape artist octopus to be freed. [link]
A point should be made that octopi that figure out how to escape do so repeatedly. They also have a life span of only a few years so a replacement would be needed soon anyway.

Specs for Obama's new car. [link]
I've often wondered what kind of milage my car would get once I'm elected President.

A clip from the game "Left 4 Dead" with the Macho Man Randy Savage mod. [link]

Part 1 of a news based game show in England. This episode is hosted by former Doctor Who, Tom Baker. [link]

Apparently Coke makes a decent toilet cleaner. [link]

How to make an Atari joystick lamp. [link]

Pen trick fail

Short story: An Athiest on Judgement Day [link]

I don't know when I'd ever wear it, but I've wanted a good Dr Who scarf pattern for years. [link]

This person has made a fridge for use in poor areas of the world. [link]

Plans for lots of different kinds of paper airplanes. [link]

How one guy build a self guided robotized squirt gun. It finds things and shoots them. [link]

I want to see more of these kinds of video cameras around DC. [link]

You know that if I had the space I'd try to make this greenhouse out of 2-liter bottle. [link]

What political cartoonists say they'll miss about Bush. [link]

Another older video but still awesome.

A parable about furniture making.

Fractal-like wood burning. I must try this. [link]

An interview with a guy who found Christianity and then left it. [link]

First documented case of sleep e-mailing. [link]

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The SXS Viagra ready to launch

The final Space Shuttle launch is coming. There's actually more left than I thought but the end is coming. You can catch one on Feb 12, May 15, July 30, Oct 15, Dec 10, or in 2010 on Feb 11, Apr 8, and May 31.

After that there will be a 5 year gap before the replacement rocket are expected to be ready to go. In the mean time NASA will be using private space agencies to lift cargo into space. Orbital Sciences got $1.9 billion while Space X got $1.6 billion. The numbers are a bit odd since Space X will be doing 12 launches and hauling more per launch than Orbital which will only be doing 8.

Shown above is Space X's Falcon 9 rocket. It can haul 12 tons into low Earth orbit or 5 tons into geosynchronous orbit. A couple of days ago they tested to make sure that it could successfully be stood up on end.

For a sense of scale look at this.

This is a quarter of the nose piece. When together it measures 5.2 meters across and 14 meters long.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Speak slowly, clearly, and into the phone.

I got home from work yesterday and found a very strange message on my answering machine.

Some woman with origins from somewhere south of Texas called me. Her name was Hena. Or at least that's how it was pronounced. She was calling from Custom Graphage or Droppage or Package or... Anyway, she has a package from the UK that I'm expecting. More on that in future posts. After listening to the message three times I finally figured out that the tracking number is indeed that of the expected package. The way she said the initial zero made it sound like at least 3 numbers.

She left a phone number that was either seven numbers long or else that one syllable mush before the phone number was actually the area code. The number I first translated doesn't exist in the DC 202 region. I was able to make out a couple of other possibilities but one was some guy's cellphone and the other was a doctor's office.

Then she said what I translated as "We tried to get you costume duty from your shipment of James."

So I bring up my e-mail with the tracking information. The shipping company DPD listed the package as having been passed to the DPD Group. Google lists the DPD Group as a print shop in Georgia. I called them anyway. They assured me that they don't have my package.

Finally, I change my answering machine message to "This is the answering machine of [me]. If you are trying to send me a package and want me to call you back You. Need. To. Speak. Very. Slowly. Very. Clearly. And. Leave. Your. Whole. Phone. Number."

Post Script:
Four hours later I looked up my tracking information again. It has updated to indicate that the package is in New York and has just cleared customs. Suddenly everything makes SO much more sense.

Customs agent Jina? Not everyone in America uses the New York area code. There are 3 more numbers that I needed.

Post post script:
I got an e-mail from the shipping company in England this morning. A man named James gave me the area code and told me the confused digit.

This almost makes sense if you already know what Jina was talking about.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Amazing Christopher

I went to high school and college with a guy who goes by the name The Amazing Christopher. The Amazing Christopher juggled a lot as a kid and rode a unicycle around our hometown of Smallville. Professionally he's a programmer, but after hours this mild mannered computer geek holds down a side business as juggler, balloon artist, and magician.

The Amazing Christopher and I used to exchange Christmas gifts each year. One good one and one lame one. But since his family has moved out of Smallville it's harder for him and I to meet up when we're in Kansas at the same time. But this year I finally got him an autographed Berkley Breathed book and he got me that Geek Pen you saw a few days ago. While there he got to meet Yummy and showed off for the family a bit.

For Yummy he made this monkey complete with cymbals. He also made bananas and a strawberry.

For Mom he made this bug that straps onto your wrist.

Then he made this little game. You're supposed to pull on the end of the clear balloon and launch the ball to the other end. It's trickier than it sounds.

The Amazing Christopher operates out of Tulsa, Oklahoma and is available for weddings, birthday parties, mall openings and ... I dunno a bris or something. Even if you don't want him performing you'll want him to decorate for your wedding reception or prom.

He does bouquets: link
He does decor: link

Check out the rest of his photo collection at

Monday, January 12, 2009

Book Review: The Quiet Invasion

I finally read the end of Sarah Zettel's book "The Quiet Invasion" last night. You'll see book reviews on this site come in fits and bursts. See, I tend to do most of my reading on the subway, in a coffee shop, in the park, etc. Somewhere not at home. I don't want to carry two books so I'll carry one that I know I can't finish during one outing. So then I have several books with only 12 pages left sitting in a pile. Sometimes you just have to suck it up, lie on the bed with some chocolates, and finish that book.

In this book mankind has moved out to the neighboring planets and satellites. There's a large Mars colony, a lunar colony, asteroid mining colonies, and a large pure research base on Venus. The Venus colony houses not just the researchers, but their families and a large support staff as well. But they and the rest of the colonies are still under the thumb of Earth. There have been revolutions but they've always been squashed and new restrictions put on. For example, they can't have their own ships. They must rely on Earth for all their import/export needs.

Then one day a clearly manufactured structure is found on Venus. It must be alien.

Aliens on their home planet have a problem. Their cities are large, flying, living vessels. Everyone, including the cities, eats by absorbing this nutritional stuff in the air that is put off by the vast forest that covers the surface of the planet. But now there's some kind of cancerous plague. It has destroyed great swaths of forest and is killing off some of the cities. So they send out probes to try to seed other planets with life. It only takes on one planet. Big surprise, it's Venus.

The alien structure on Mars turns out to be a fake. Humans probably made this. Someone is running a scam. On the way back from the initial inspection the shuttles crash and the aliens come out of hiding to save who they can from one of the shuttles and put them in the non-ruined but still crashed shuttle.

So there's two worlds failing.
The Venus research lab is having trouble making ends meet because all they do is study Venus. There's no return on investment. The leader had hoped that finding an alien artifact would increase interest and funding and maybe even lead to them getting out from under Earth's thumb.
The alien planet's cities and food are dying.
So diplomatic talks are opened.

The book covers the political issues on the ground for both sides and the talks between the Venusians and the aliens. The aliens want a place to live. The humans want help in defending themselves against Earth if Venus tries to break free. The aliens see that Earth is willing to cut off the food supply for Venus if Venus doesn't obey. Their conclusion is that Earth humans are insane and must be exterminated. Other aliens think that the Venus human are dangerous and they must be destroyed so the aliens can keep Venus to themselves.

It was a decent book, but clearly not one I was driven to pick up at every free moment. I'd be willing to read something else by this author.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Friday Links: Jan 9

Catholic school teacher fired for marrying someone who had been divorced. [link]

Adam Savage (co-host of Mythbusters) gives a talk about a crafts project he got obsessed with. [link]

A 4Kb zombie killing game. There are rumors of an exit, but I haven't seen it. [link] Oop! Now I have. For level 1 just go north. It's a red room.

Find where your user name is still available. [link]

The problem with satirizing religious groups is that no matter how extreme you make your view there are real people who are more extreme than what you're saying jokingly. The question you have to ask is if this is a spoof or not. The Paliban - Sarah Palin supporters... or are they? [link]

2008 Darwin Award winners. [link]

A man tells his story about being charged with child molestation for leaving his church. [link]

Why, yes, we do have one on the farm. My uncle made it as a kid. [link]

Remember Trap-jaw from He-Man? This is how he should have looked. [link]

"Help, help, they're not letting us repress them!" [link]

"The Last Question" by Issac Asimov [link]
The graphic novel version. [link]

Help map microbes movement about the country. [link]

An old video but a good one. Star Wars Episode 1 explained by a 3 year old.

I was never sure if Stay Puft was an actual mascot or not. [link]
See also: Ghostbusters [link] Tell them about the Twinkee.

I bet these mannequins have less plastic than most models with similar dimensions. [link]

Our 4 month anniversary is Saturday so I made Yummy one of these. [link]

Some recommended evolution texts for kids. [link]

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Do you know the muffin man?

I made reference yesterday to my cousin The Muffin Man. He's a baker.

He use to make new kinds of biscotti for Nonni's (the biscotti supplier for Starbucks).
He made wheat bread with the color, texture, flavor, and nutrition of white bread for Sara-Lee.
Now he works for Starbucks directly. He made their Oatmeal and Apple Bran muffins. He's been moved from sweets and muffins to sandwiches, cold case stuff (yoghurt, fruit cups, cheese plates, etc.) and all of the warm food (English Muffin sandwiches), Piadini (folded pizza/calzone type breakfast), and New (super secret work to launch 3/3/09).

I found out while I was in Kansas that I'd already eaten one of his new sandwiches. It's Grandma's Turkey Sandwich.

It's basically Thanksgiving leftovers between pieces of bread. Not just the turkey, but stuffing and cranberry sauce as well. It's really good.

Anyway, I'm rather proud of him.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Department of Acquisition: Dougmas Report

I made out well for Christmas. I'm sure it helped that we drove so there weren't restrictions on how I was supposed to get it back to DC.

Yummy commissioned some Dalek refrigerator magnets for me. She watches this sites where people make stuff and try to sell them. There was a couple whose work she'd seen there and asked them to make a Dalek figure. Well, the whole figure would be hard to make, but they said they could do something that's flat on the back like a magnet. She said "Do it!" and also asked for some word balloons saying "Exterminate!" They liked her idea enough that they not only made some for me but made a couple for themselves.

Same site, different person. He makes caricature of fanboy beloved characters. The top picture contains my Doctor (Tom Baker) and Yummy's Doctor (David Tennant). The lower picture is of Shaun and Ed from "Shaun of the Dead".

Yummy also got me hard cover first printings of the seven books of the "Incarnations of Immortality" series by Piers Anthony. She also got in touch with him. While he wouldn't sign them for fear of delays and damage while in transit he did send her two autographed stickers to place inside of whichever I want.

My cousin, The Muffin Man, got me several old Dr Who books from the original series.

A guy I went to high school and college with used to exchange good and gag gifts years ago. I got him an autographed Berkley Breathed book back then but didn't get it to him until this year. He got me a geek pen.

I also got some shirts that I asked for, a couple of wallets (one for Dollars and one for Euros), and the book "How to Save the Planet Without Leaving the Office".

Finally, Yummy got me this toy.
See, Target commissioned this action figure but serious collectors ravaged the shelves so she could never find them when she went there. But she knows how to make good use of Ebay.

You don't get the last one? Watch these.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Movie Review: The Tale of Despereaux

The trailers don't really tell you much of anything about this movie. They talk about how it's the tale of a mouse who isn't afraid of stuff like the rest of the mice. And that's all. That makes for a nice cliche since there's always movies, particularly cartoons, just like that. A thing that doesn't act like the rest of the things does a thing and learned to accept himself and become accepted by the rest of the things. Well he's just a character in this movie.

The movie is also about this kingdom on an island that used to make great soup until one day a rat fell in the queen's soup and she had a heart attack and died. The king then banned all soup from being made, sold, bought, or eaten and banned all the rats. The rats moved deep under the city. The mice lived not quite so deep.

The movie is about the king's daughter. The movie is about the rat. The movie is about the princess's servant who is a little deranged because she wants to be a princess so much. The movie is about a lot more than just some Hollywood cliche.

It's a good movie but not a great one. I won't be getting it on DVD but I would recommend it to people with kids who need a non-Barbie/non-Disney princess movie or else they'll go completely balmy.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Movie Review: The Spirit

Classic comic book creator Will Eisner died a few years back. He was a big enough figure among comic creators that the annual award for comic book writers and artists is called an Eisner Award. Eisner himself handed them out right up until his death.

Eisner's big creation "The Spirit" hasn't been published as a monthly in a long time but collections of them started being released in bound hardcover format near his death. With Eisner's passing there were several tributes to him made. There was a Batman/Spirit crossover about two years ago. And now there's a movie.

I wasn't sure what to think when I started seeing the trailers for this movie. They kept showing scenes that looked much like writer/director Frank Miller's previous work, "Sin City". That worked for "Sin City" because that's how the comic was drawn. That's not how "The Shadow" was drawn. But trying to mimic "The Shadow"'s style would likely lead to something like the Dick Tracy movie. But the previews just showed the most dramatic scenes. The most dramatic scenes do look like that. The rest of the movie is dark with some stark color contrasts, but it's not the pen and ink style and there are lots of other colors.

I haven't read much of "The Spirit" so I can't compare the movie to the comics. Others who have read a lot assure me that Frank Miller did a great job of capturing the spirit of "The Spirit". I had some doubt because while I think only comic book fans can properly make a comic book movie Frank Miller, famous for his own comics, tends to steer things to the dark and prostitute filled. But, as I said, he kept true to the original this time.

So what can you expect when you see this movie? And, yes, you do want to see this movie. Take your standard pulp noir story about a private detective working the dirty seedy streets of the city. Now, give that detective the ability to survive the kind of poundings that a comic book character (or a Warner Brother's character) is likely to take. Finally, give the artist a sense of humor about the world he's working in.

For example, early in the movie you have The Spirit fighting his arch-nemesis, the equally indestructible Octopus. The Octopus is an evil genius who finds very little in life nearly as entertaining as fighting with The Spirit. So they fight it out in the middle of a bog. Some defining moments are when The Octopus breaks a toilet over The Spirit's head and gets mad when The Spirit doesn't laugh, saying "Toilet's make everything funny" or words to that effect. The Spirit retaliates by hitting The Octopus with a kitchen sink. Possibly a reference to the old publisher "Kitchen Sink Press" or just a gag about how they threw everything at each other, including the kitchen sink.

The Octopus also has a clone army of grinning idiots with their names on their shirts. You sometimes see them grouped to form interesting phrases like "Huevos" and "Rancheros".

I thought it was a great movie, I will be getting it on DVD, and I'd be willing to go see it again.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Friday Links: Jan 2

New Scientists's Top 5 science videos of 2008 as chosen by viewers.

Paper people with giant heads. [links]

10 good succulents. I found this interesting because you want succulents when making a green roof. Succulents retain lots of water and should be able to sustain themselves on mere rainfall. But most of all because other plants you might use on the roof are likely to dry out and catch fire. [link]

What happened to Michal Vicks dogs. [links]

NASA has awarded contracts to private space enterprises to continue supplying cargo to the international space station. Part of me is ecstatic about this. Non-government bodies operating space craft is too common in hard science fiction for me not to have visions of a proper space age. On the other hand I think that a space elevator or six are necessary for you or I to get into space. But that would be competition for the same resources and these corporations are likely to lobby against that. [link]

Seven people who sued the scientific method. [link]

Free space shuttle (please provide $42m for shipping and handling.) [link]

101 athiest quotes. [link]

Apparently there's some people in Japan who like to hunt down strange and unusual manhole covers. Here's a site to help find many of them. Or you can just sit there and look them over. [link]

Student finds way to extend the battery life of handheld devices 12 fold. [link]