Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Links: February 26

20 most miserable cities. [link]

NASA engineer submits pictures of patch jobs in space to [link]

Apparently we should avoid this wine. [link]

I watched "At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert" on occasion as a kid. You know, back when there were four networks and one of those was PBS. I heard when Siskel died, but other than that I ignored the show and Ebert for years. We differ on movie opinions. In the last year or two I've been pointed at Ebert's blog a couple of times regarding non-movie stuff. I missed the surgeries that caused him to lose his voice... and his jaw. A recent article about Ebert showed a picture that I would never have guessed was the same guy I saw on TV. [link]

Democrats can't put their feet on the President's desk, but it's fine if Republicans do it. [link]

Republican Governor repeals non-discrimination laws for gay state employees. [link]

UK companies reject Glenn Beck. His show has run 5 days without ads. [link]

Parts 4 and 5 of this Captain Disillusion video explains how Derren Brown REALLY did his trick where he guessed lotto numbers. I watched Derren's video back when he did it. His explanation was obvious bullshit.

Always a favorite video.

In a recent post I expressed skepticism about the guy thought to be in a vegetative state for years who was shown to be awake and aware by someone guiding his hand. Remarkably, he couldn't write messages in languages that the "interpreter" didn't know. Further testing has proven that the interpreter is a fraud. [link]

Nazi nuke project artifacts found. [link]

Should we clone a Neanderthal? Hell yeah! That'd be awesome! [link]

Pigeon on the subway.

Picture and explanation of a dwarf galaxy with a bow shock. [link]

You may have heard about Bob Marshall's claim that if you have an abortion that God/nature takes it's wrath on future children by making them disabled. Well, that's just not true. And Marshall has taken so much heat that he's now claiming that he didn't say that. Sorry, Bob, but everyone has a video camera these days.

Cartoon explaining the development of the brain. [link]

30 useful, but largely unknown, web apps. [link]

A chart explaining why people pirate movies. [link]

Turn a website into a song. [link]
My URL stinks, but is pretty good.

I see the value of Segway's new product, but it's not the commuter vehicle that a regular Segway is. [link]

I've been working through this list of great animal videos slowly for weeks. [link]
Among those is this great video of deep sea bioluminescent animals.

Cherenkov radiation.

Hologram music video. Supposedly, no post production was done. This is what the audience saw.

Neurosonics Live from Chris Cairns on Vimeo.

Robotic vibraphone.

Temple found that's 5,000 years older than the universe (according to creationists). [link]

Waterless hand sanitizer created. Great way to wash your hands in space. [link]

8 shipping container homes. [link]

Even Fox News starts getting scared by how far right the GOP seems to be getting. [link]

Why does the crime rate keep dropping? [link]

Sarah "Obama will kill your grandparents" Palin's grandkid is on socialized medicine. [link]

First zombie book. [link]

Blooper reel from 1936.

General Patraeus rejects Cheney's tactics.

Game: Poppable Cascade - eliminate groups of balls to clear the levels. [link]

Endless domino loop.

Best Wii controller ever. [link]

Game: ShellCore Command - kinda like a tower defense game, kinda like a real time strategy game [link]

An essay explaining why everyone is a fake. [link]

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Comic strips - part 2

More comics:

Questionable Content (
Despite the name it's pretty safe. To describe "Questionable Content" I find I keep wanting to use phrases that describe most comic strips. The term that I wouldn't use on a lot of comics is "funny".

Something Positive (
While "Questionable Content" has very little questionable content "Something Positive" isn't terribly positive. The characters are kinda dark and mean, but in a funny way.

Least I Could Do (
A good comic, but don't let your parents read it. They just wouldn't approve.
This one has had three different artists in it's time. As one becomes busy with his job and other projects they have to beg off and the writer has to find a new artist. The author and current artist have won several awards. They've also joined with several other cartoonists to form Blind Ferret Entertainment. The people at Blind Ferret have an actual office they all work from and have started several side projects. Most recently, they opened the comic book store they've always wanted to shop in.

Looking for Group (
The duo that makes "Least I Could Do" also makes "Looking for Group". It has a long running D&D-type storyline but it also shoots for being funny in each strip. There has been some talk of a movie.

Partially Clips (
For a long time I thought the cartoonist has gotten his hands on some old line art with expired copyrights and used them to make gags. Turns out he's drawing all this remarkably drawn graphics.

Girls with Slingshots (
This is a comic primarily about a couple of girls who always welcome an open bar. That's a completely unfair description because it's so much more than that.
She's been collaborating with the "Something Positive" guy lately. If they're not dating they probably should be.

Sinfest (
Primarily about a guy who wants to be a womanizer and a woman who all the guys are after. It also regularly features the Devil, his two succubi, his fan boy, Jesus, God, Buddha, and a nerd boy that one of the succubi has fallen for.

Evil Inc. (
Started off as "Graystone Inn" but changed to this comic about super villains gone corporate.

The Whiteboard (
A comic about a polar bear that runs a paintball shop. He also tends toward engineering projects that draw the fire department, the police, and NASA.

Rockwood (
A comic about some guys living in a space station.

Oh, yes, many more to come.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Comic strips - part 1

I read a lot of online comics. A LOT. By popular request (when you have 8 readers, a single suggestion is "popular request") I'm listing them for you. This is the first of several posts.

User Friendly (
One of the first online strips I ever started reading. This is a strip by a guy who works at an ISP about a bunch of guys who work at an ISP. He's making enough off this that he could quit his job and work on this full time, but he doesn't. O'Reilly Books, known for making programming books with animals on the cover, prints only one thing that isn't a programming book and that is the User Friendly collections. The art is nothing special, but the humor keeps the strip going.
He is currently on vacation and running repeats.

Sluggy Freelance (
This strip has changed significantly over the years. It started with rather simple art and the standard gag-a-day strip. This is what is now known as the "Suicide Bikini Frisbee Days" for reasons that become obvious when you start working your way through the archives. Soon the stories became bigger and grander to become whole sagas. For one he even gave up being funny just to tell the story. Now it's all one saga running into the next while still managing to be funny most days.
He has managed to quit his day job and make this his full time business and the art (sometimes) reflects the extra time he can spend on it.

PVP Online (
This started as a gaming strip about a group of people working at a game magazine. While it's still technically about that, the gaming side has slipped to allow broader appeal. This author has also quit his day job. He's one of the leaders in the online comic industry. He allows anyone to print his strip free of charge just as long as they also publish the source so readers come buy stuff from him.

Schlock Mercenary (
This is a science fiction comic about a team of mercenaries. The author used to work as a brain at Novell. He took up cartooning as a way to relieve the stress. Then his strip became popular enough to allow him to quit his day job. There are 5 printed collections so far. I've got them all and recommend them highly.

While thinking about "Schlock Mercenary" I suppose I should mention the comics Howard Tayler has joined forces with. Because comics have a business side that can't be ignored several comics join together to pool their server expenses and business experience. "Real Life Comics" and "Shortpacked" joined with Schlock Mercenary to form Blank Label Comics ( There are other comics in the group, but two of the three have stopped updating and I stopped following the third for some reason. Probably a really long hiatus.

Real Life Comics (
A comic about the author's life that strayed from the topic a bit. He tries to keep it semi-connected to his life. However, it should be stated that his best friend does not have an actual satellite or portal.

Shortpacked (
A comic about the people working in a toy store.

Kevin & Kell (
Bill Holbrook is a comic producing machine. This is one of three strips that he does every single day. The other two are On The Fasttrack and Safe Havens.

Sheldon (
This guy started off with an online comic and achieved what many of the online cartoonists yearn for. He became syndicated. But despite the quality of his art and humor he wasn't widely accepted. Newspapers are dying off and most papers don't have room for new strips. They'd prefer to run strips whose creators are long dead. So he left the syndicate realizing that they were taking a huge bite of his profits and those profits would be bigger on his own. So he went back on his own.

Nukees (
The art is simple but the comic is quality. This was originally a strip about the nuclear engineering department at a major California university. It still is, but they don't talk about it as much anymore. The author is one of the grandpappys of online comics. He helped get Keenspot up and running and makes guest appearances in many other strips.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chapter 1

Back in October of 2008 I posted one chapter from a book I used to work on and totally mean to finish someday. Because I'm short of ideas you get another chapter.


“Just another non-descript peasant village in another eastern European, Soviet Union breakaway, wanna-be nation” and “why would you want to bother?” That, in a nutshell, is how Janet Bergman’s boss responded when Janet told him about her latest idea for a tourist getaway package. And it was a tiny curio shop in a narrow back street of that very town that Janet and her husband were using to hide from the cold and wet that had settled on this isolated mountain town.

Janet’s instinct for finding money making tours had made a great deal of money for her and her employers. So much money that they found that they could refuse her no request. She managed to talk her boss into sending her and her husband on so many vacations, using instead the corporate-speak phrase “investigative business trips”, that her husband couldn’t hold down a job of his own. Nobody who blows all of his vacation and sick leave plus some while still in his 90 day trial period is going to last beyond the end of the trial period.

Together they roamed this village from one end to the other and back again. She found the “rustic bed and breakfasts”1 and “native craft shoppes”2 while he found the “quaint local taverns”3. He’d complain about the mountainous terrain and miserable weather while she’d translate his grumbling into “the streets reminiscent of San Francisco” and “ a spring day in Seattle”. On towards evening a cold drizzle4 drove the couple from the narrow streets into a junk shop5 they hadn’t noticed the day before.

The little old lady who kept up the shop peered anxiously over the counter at the young couple in the expensive clothes who insisted on handling absolutely everything on the shelves and why couldn’t they keep their hands to themselves anyway? Not that she minded keeping the store open a little longer. It’s just that, as the ticking of the creepy cat shaped clock on the wall - the horrible, toothy, smiling cat with the swinging tail and the huge unblinking eyes that keep sweeping back and forth, back and forth, ever watching, ever watching, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD MAKE IT STOP! - kept reminding her, sunset was rapidly approaching. Still, she held her smile until she thought she’d fade away leaving only her dentures.

Ten minutes to sunset.

“I think the rain’s letting up.” she hazarded.

How she’d know this was impossible to say considering the lack of windows in this particular shop.

The young man stuck his head out the door for a moment. Looking towards the elderly woman behind the cash register he shook his head.

“Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, hey, hey, hey, hey...” droned the clock toward the shopkeeper. Why she bothered buying that thing was beyond her. “...tick, tick, hey, hey, tick, tick, look, at, me, look, at, me...”


“...tick, tick, look, tick, at, tick, me, hey, hey, look, at, me...”


“...look, at, me, look, at, me...”

FINE! I’m looking!

“I’m watching you.” Grin.

“Perhaps you’d be interested in purchasing this fine clock. I can let you have it at a very reasonable price.”

“Thank you, but no.” said Janet. “I’m sorry to be a bother but we’ll get out of your way just as soon as the rain lets up.”

Five minutes to sunset.

“I’m afraid I really must close up now. Really. Why don’t you borrow my umbrella? You seem like a nice couple. You can bring it back tomorrow.”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that to you.”

“Then keep the umbrella. And the clock. I’ll give you both the umbrella and the smiling cat clock if you’ll just leave. NOW!”

Three minutes to sunset.

“Honey, we ARE in her way.” said the husband thinking affectionately of the strong local ales. “That pub is just down the street. Why don’t we just duck into there and wait this out. We can bring the umbrella back when she opens in the morning.”

“Well, OK. But the clock isn’t necessary, ma’am.”

“...tick, tick, tick, tick, guess, what, I’m, doing, tick, tick...” Grin.

The old woman scurried out with a tattered parasol that would be about as much use in a shower as a pet door on a fish tank. Thrusting the parasol into Janet’s hands the old woman pulled the door open and hurried the two people out into the storm.

Janet and her husband hurried past the two figures hiding in the long shadows. The one dressed in nothing but a diaper shook the rain from his wings and pulled himself up to his full three foot stature. Making sure the coast was clear he gestured toward the shadow. A second figure, identical except for his outfit, a black leather bondage outfit complete with ball gag stuffed in his mouth, stepped out and hurried up the street to the shop. From under one of his wings, wrapped with a series of leather constricting belts, he pulled a notice.

U.S. Government Auction
D.C. Armory
27 December 2005
10:00 hours

He slipped the notice under the door of the curio shop and started back towards his companion.

As the last rays of the sun peered between the clouds and the horizon the shop door opened one last time. From within, a frenzied voice yelled “Stop staring at me!” Something flew from the doorway, smashed against the far wall, and fell into the gutter as a broken pile of grinning clockwork.

The door slammed and began to fade from existence. A minute later the street was empty except for the sound of wet wings trying to get off the ground.

The shopkeeper never got her parasol back.

1 ancient cottage with empty guest rooms.
2 locals trying to eek out a living selling whatever they can find.
3 smelly old bars
4 cooling shower
5 curio shoppe

Monday, February 22, 2010


Bad news. I'm back in the office.

"You and most of the planet. Cry me a river."

True enough. But, you may recall the offices got a steam bath last weekend. I worked from home as long as I could. But I forgot that my work computer was recently swapped for one that had a newer version of the Adobe suite. So all the files I worked with on this machine weren't going to work on my laptop. I needed those files saved compatible with older software.

I still swapped the motherboard on my laptop, backed everything up, and got a bunch of work done on my zero priority project. The job that does have priority should only take me an hour or two. But it is something that needs to get done. So I'm here sooner than I needed to be.

The office is still trashed. Five days to work with and tiles are still down and the carpet is a mess.

I'll probably still get out of here early to allow them to clean the carpets.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Links: February 19

More from this artist... [link]

The view from my window. [link]

One of the commenters works for Fleischmann's. This video should give him a great idea for when he's ready to quit his job.

Apollo 13 kludge. [link]

Just exactly how much is a "jiffy"? [link]

I've sketched out some similar ideas, but this floating city is probably more realistic. [link]

Very strange music video starring flying dogs.

Aerogel prices drop to a point where it's realistic for use in a real house. [link]

"Flattened" - a parody of the gibberish that is "Expelled".

Scott Kurtz interview. [link]
Scott Kurtz is the cartoonist behind PVP (Player vs Player) one of the all around best comic strips online and one of the best overall. [link]

Bikini Atoll radiation level summary. Breathe the air, just don't eat the plants. [link]

Teach the controversy.

Space shuttle in front of a sunset as seen from the ISS. [link]

A machine has been created that turns used office paper into toilet paper. [link]

Video of mosquitoes being killed by a yard scale anti-missile laser system. Watch it at high resolution. [link]

In this video a sonic boom from a launching rocket breaks up a sun dog.

Game: Transform - a new game in the Grow line. [link]

More snow than we got. [link]

A graphic showing the depth of the Mariana Trench. [link]

Dick Cheney confesses to war crimes. [link]

9 minute video of zooming in to a Mandelbrot Fractal set. [link]

An interesting review of fakes in the MicroSD card market. [link]
Short version, Kingston isn't reliable.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Steven Moffat is my master now

Once upon a time George Lucas was the master. He had three Star Wars movies, three Indiana Jones movies, founded the leader in audio effects, founded one of the foremost companies in visual effect, nobody has beat the THX sound system he had developed, and the list goes on.

But then came Star Wars: Episode 1. And then Episode 2. Episode 3 partially made up for the first two, but still gave us reasons to want to confiscate Lucas' writing and directing badge. His followers were long gone before the 4th Indiana Jones movie was made.

Instead they turned to Joss Whedon. Joss created and wrote "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", the spinoff "Angel", the short lived, but brilliant, "Firefly/Serenity", and "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog". And when his name was taken off of the Wonder Woman movie all excitement and hopes for that movie vanished. He writes, he directs, and writes the music for much of his work. He doesn't have the corporate empire that Lucas has, but his skills surpass Lucas without question.

However, there is another. A man whose name I've seen on one great show after another. Steven Moffat.

The first time I saw his work was on a Doctor Who spoof he wrote for the charity "Comic Relief". Of course, back then it was just a name in the credits.

Then I discovered the British television show "Coupling". Being a British show, a typical season is only 6 episodes. Some run longer, but not many. With a run this short it's not uncommon to have one person write every episode. Such was the case with "Coupling".

When Doctor Who was picked up again after being off the air for 16 years I had to watch it. And I saw a familiar name on the writing credits for a couple of episodes. These were the great episodes. These were the episodes that reminded me most of the show I watched as a kid. By that I mean they made me want to hide behind the couch. And season after season it was always Steven Moffat that wrote those really scary episodes. He was the only thinkable choice to take over the show when the guy who brought it back decided to move on.

I mention all this because I watched the show "Jekyll" the other day. I saw it on NetFlix, liked what I heard, and added it to my instant queue for streaming. At the beginning of each episode I saw "Written by Steven Moffet".

He doesn't direct. He's not a musician. But I have the kind of faith in his involvement that I do for Pixar. If he's involved it's gonna be great.

So if you have NetFlix you should add "Jekyll" to your queue. And "Doctor Who". And "Coupling".

I'm going through IMDB and seeing what else he's done.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Review: Agent to the Stars

One of my favorite authors still writing today is John Scalzi. If you haven't read "Old Man's War" then you really need to. Before he wrote that he wrote a trial novel. Just to see if he could write a novel he wrote "Agent to the Stars" and posted it on his blog for free. He asked that people who like it send him a dollar. $2,000 later he told people to stop sending him dollars.

The book was eventually picked up for a very limited run. Apparently, these copies can be picked up on Ebay and similar places for several hundred dollars.

Recently he updated a few references (UPN became Cartoon Network - stuff like that) and it got published again. You can pick it up in most bookstores.

In this book, aliens have been watching Earth for decades. Mostly, they've been watching our television programs. Finally, they decide to make first contact. But, well, look at how aliens are depicted on television and in movies. Sure, Spielburg tends toward friendly aliens and Star Wars and Star Trek have a good mix of friendly and hostile humanoids, but for the most part aliens are here to eat us or enslave us or something. The aliens in this book look like giant globs of snot and smell like the bathroom of a truck stop. They're gonna need representation to help give them a friendly face. So they got an agent.

This agent has the difficult task of figuring out how to make creatures that look like The Blob welcome on Earth. To get to know them better he has one stay at his house. The blob and the neighbor's dog become friends. So much so that when the dog has a heart attack the blob takes over the dog's body. Personally, knowing they can do that makes them that much less trustworthy in my eyes. But the story goes on with a cute little doggie alien. At least until something else happens.

The story is full of holes. It doesn't explore the situation. It doesn't think things through. But it's funny. Scalzi creates some great stories, but more importantly he writes well. His banter is brilliant.

I highly recommend this or anything else that Scalzi has written.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Steam bath

Sorry this is so late. A hot water pipe broke in the office yesterday morning. Or, rather, it was discovered yesterday morning. This end of the hall was completely hidden in a cloud of steam and the power strips were under a couple of inches of water.

I got in this morning to find my door open with a fan and a dehumidifier running. And my room had hardly been touched. My poor cardboard table took the worst of it. The bottom 9 inches or so of leg curled back on itself.

Up the hall, in our main offices, we've got several monster dehumidifiers running and roughly eighteen big blowers. I've been spending my morning moving them around and plugging them in to different areas. They're blowing circuits left and right.

They just turned the network room, which was at the farthest reaches of the flood, back on. Just like that I suddenly become a useful member of society again.

They had this big plank of outlets wired into the circuit breaker in the hall. They had to remove it to get the network room working. Now they want the plank hooked up in my room. Which means that my room will have so many cables running out of it that the door won't close. I have to secure everything in here for the next week.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Links: February 12

Video of neutrophil chasing bacteria. [link]

John Paul Jones, Revolutionary War hero known for saying "I have not yet begun to fight", has a great story from after he died. Listen to it at The Memory Palace. [link]

WWI ship camouflage didn't hide the ship. It hurt the eye. [link]

Cartoonist Bill Watterson's other stuff. [link]

Minimalist Star Wars galaxy posters. link

Nice photographs. [link]

Silly astronaut. You don't belong there. [link]

If you type each number in order spelled out in English how long will you have to type before you hit the C key? link

Wait, Wait, Don't Eat Me. A Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me episode from the zombie apocalypse. link

Cat nip filled severed leg toy. [link]

To foil Obama the GOP takes positions that they opposed under Bush and oppose positions they favored under Bush. [link]

An independent store finder. Great for finding used book stores. [link]

An evolution book for children. [link]

Some of J.D. Salinger's other stories. [link]

Man waterboards his 4 year old daughter because she doesn't know her ABCs. [link]

Satellite tracking app for the iPod or iPhone. [link]

Sarah Palin says it's ok for conservatives to use the word "retard" but not liberals. [link]


NASA has a robot used in space. Technically it's called Robonaut but the astronauts call it Boba because it has a Boba Fett head. [link]
The new version, Robonaut 2, is being called R2. It head doesn't look like Boba Fett. [link]

Make your own bird cage. [link]

There's a show in England called "Dragon's Den" where people pitch their business idea and/or invention to a group of venture capitalists asking them to invest in their business. In a recent episode a homeopath pitched his bottled water as a universal cure all. They ripped him apart.

Denmark has decided that their government will use open file formats for their electronic data. This means they will not use the proprietary formats created for Word, Excel, WordPerfect, and similar apps. They will continue to use those apps, but only if they adopt open file formats in addition to their historical formats. [link]

The story of the man who made the first movie special effects. [link]

From 1940 until now a breakdown of how your tax money was spent. [link]

One of my favorite videos. How crows use traffic to crack nuts.

Republicans have filibustered more in the last year than in the whole of the 50's and 60's combined. [link]

Recently you probably saw an article about a man who had been thought to be in a constant vegetative state for years but it was "proved" that he wasn't because of someone who could guide his hand. Funny how what he wrote was only in the guide's native tongue and not the patient's native tongue.
Now there's a way to ACTUALLY get responses from people who seem to be in vegetative states. [link]

Snails that grow iron shells. [link]

Best. Chase scene. Ever.

Dancing hexapod robots.

Moths under lights. [link]

Game: Rubble Trouble - building destruction puzzles using a variety of demolition tricks. [link]

Thursday, February 11, 2010


My laptop keyboard is sticky. No, it's not that. I'm opening it up to clean it.

My parrot is pissed at me because I sprayed it with bath in a bottle because it was chewing it's feathers.

Psyching myself up for another sidewalk shoveling.

Made my first omelette yesterday. It didn't suck.

The subway is still closed above ground.

Work is still closed.

Watched "Bram Stoker's Legend of the Mummy" yesterday. Not bad for a bad movie. [link]

Almost finished watching Stargate: SG1 all over again. All 10 seasons are available until May 15. [link]

Can you tell I don't have much to write about today?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Movie Review: Boondock Saints

Having seen a trailer for "Boondock Saints II: Bookdockier" Yummy wanted to see the original. It was one of those movies that keep coming up over and over so I figured it must be worth something. Here I was thinking that it was only a few years old with a sequel following shortly behind. Turns out that it was released in 1999. Not sure why they waited so long for another.

I hadn't seen this movie earlier because it's always been sold as yet another movie about people in the city shooting each other. A gang or a mob or some such caught in a shooting war with some guys. Seen it, thanks. Gonna go watch something else.

In fact, it's a superhero movie in disguise. Two brothers are in a bar with their friends when some guys from the Russian mob tell them to get out. They humiliate the Russians and send them packing. The Russians come back later to kill the brothers and end up dead themselves. That night, in a prison holding cell, the brothers have a religious vision and become vigilantes. Together they plan to go out and slay those mafia types who keep getting away with crimes.

In fact, it's a comedy about 30-something delivery boy for the Italian mob named "Funny Man". After they try to kill him for knowing too much he provides intel for a couple of guys going after the mob. His antics add an element of randomness to crime scenes that confuse the hell out of the cops.

In fact, it's a detective movie about an FBI agent who finds himself following the bloody trail of a couple of guys that he had in cuffs and let go because they acted in self defense.

I don't know about buying it, but I would recommend that you rent "Boondock Saints".

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Book Review: Buy Jupiter and other stories

I recently finished reading "Buy Jupiter (and other stories)" by Isaac Asimov. I bought it because of the author. I've got 26 of his books on the shelf in front of me and several more on the To-Be-Read shelf. Whenever I see one that I don't have, I grab it. I should have stolen his medical textbook from the college library basement when I had the chance.

In 1974 Asimov was to be the Guest of Honor as a sci-fi convention. They wanted to publish a small collection of his works for the convention. 500 copies only. So he found some stories that had appeared in magazines (or in some cases rejected) and were never printed in a collection by his publishing company. Alas, the printing came in too late for use in the convention. So his editor swooped in, had Isaac fatten the book a bit more, and they published it.

These stories are very short. I've grown used to short stories that are still 10 pages or more. Almost none of these reach that size. Most are only 3 pages long. And, if your familiar with his books. They each have the story behind the story preceding them.

No Foundation stuff here. One story with a robot, but it's not a "Robot" story.

It's worth grabbing if you see it in a used bookstore somewhere.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Snow day

There may have been bigger and better snows when I was a kid, but I don't remember them.

Friday morning was when it started. Lots of people stayed home because while they could get to work getting home was another story. A neighbor went to work and didn't get home until about midnight. We caught him shoveling his way in to his house.

Saturday afternoon I got up on the roof with the bad ass snow shovel Yummy's parents gave me for Dougmas. Nice metal shovel with a sharp end. Gets even the packed footprints up off the sidewalk. Anyway, I had to go up and shovel the roof. It's a row house with a flat roof so the snow really piled up. Once I dug down to the roof the snow was over my knees.

This was a novel experience for me. In some areas they have to do this a couple of times per year. Where I grew up we had cold, but not a lot of snow. And when we had the snow everyone had sloped roofs. Flat roofs were just a TV thing. Although, there was a barn over at Neighbor Bob's that was knocked down by the snow. But hay was the only thing that had been holding it up for the last decade anyway.

The bulk of the snow was shoved off the front of the house and onto the sparrow filled tree. Yummy was out there trying to feed them crackers. Several landed in the tree and were greeted with white fluffy ice from above. The birdies left and Yummy went back inside. In a few weeks, when the mountain of snow melts down, I'll get to see how many branches the tree managed to keep.

Turns out I wasn't just being paranoid. Yummy was listening to the radio while I was up top. She heard stories about one house, one storage facility, and part of the convention center collapsed under the weight. While the snow may not have caused the place to collapse, if it rains anytime soon the snow will trap the water and that would definitely take out the roof.

Sunday I shoveled the front steps and sidewalk. Not at first. No, first I had to go out back, down the alley and around. The front door was snowed shut.

The snow out back wasn't as deep as on the roof, but it still came up below my knees. So lots of high leg lifts to get anywhere.

And the shovel got right down and scraped the concrete clear. What little was left melted in the sun and dried out before the sun went down. That's surrounded by 2ft walls of snow.

I write this Sunday night to post in the morning. The plow still hasn't come. Yummy very well may not be able to get her car out in the morning. I'm cleared because DC area offices are closed.

I'm sure our friendly neighborhood Canadian has absolutely no sympathy.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Friday Links: February 5

Another scale comparison Flash app. From the whole of the universe down to quantum foam. [link]

Former Christian says she's sorry for being such a prat all those years. [link]

Parent explains why he and his wife changed their minds and vaccinated their kid. [link]

How to clean the sides of the moving sidewalk at the airport.

1/3 of all women in the US military are raped. [link]

Republicans for Rape [link]
"I'm John McCain and I support this sexual violation."

And some guys were arrested for tapping the phones of a Democrat Senator from Louisiana. Fox News thinks that we're missing the proper context. [link]
I'd love to hear what they would have said about Watergate.

After that we need some serious mood lightening.
5 ways to exploit your cat for your entertainment. [link]

Animal prosthetics. [link]

Televised football games show only 11 minutes of action and 67 of players standing around. [link]

Skydiver planning to break altitude record. Will require space suit. [link]
Only 23 miles? Get back to me when Richard Branson jumps from 100 miles.

A familiar corporate world story with a great ending. [link]

Star Wars missile defense system still a failure. [link]
They've got successful chemical laser missile destruction systems. Why are we still working with this missile to missile crap?

Both sides of the argument.

Impressive photos of model towns. [link]

Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes and in seclusion since his retirement actually responded to some interview questions. [link]

New sex doll capable of having a conversation. [link]
Kinda defeats the point of having a doll for sex, doesn't it?

Robert Llewellyn, Kryten from Red Dwarf, has a weekly video podcast called "Carpool". In "Carpool" he rides around in a car with his guest and they talk. Being Kryten he's managed to get some significant names to ride in the car with him and build up a following pretty fast. Besides the rest of the Red Dwarf crew he's gotten Stephen Fry, Patrick Stewart, Tony Hawk, and a variety of other people. [link]
The Patrick Stewart episode.

Anti-choice assassin who murdered Wichita doctor George Tiller found guilty after only 37 minutes of deliberation. [link]

Pope John Paul II flogged himself. [link]

The story of the most prolific sniper in history. [link]

16 year old creates radio that transmits from 1,000 ft underground. [link]

Judge some tape sculptures and get some inspiration to make your own. [link]

An entry for Solar Decathlon Europe. [link]
I hope it gets to come here in 2011.

Cute little trailer. [link]

Nifty shed for our European readers. [link]

How to report the news.

MEGA BUTTER! Inspired by the comic strip "Sheldon". [link]

Avatar makes Michael Bay look stupid. [link]

Horse drawn Hummers. [link]

Game: Gluey - manipulate lumps of goo to clear the level. [link]

There's an island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island. [link]

Tanks for sale. [link]

A house in Detroit is being covered in ice for charity. [link]

Picture (and story) of an asteroid collision caught by Hubble. [link]

Propane tanks on fire always explode.

Sarah Palin even lies about her book sales. [link]

DARPA is using my idea. [link]

John Scalzi tells a story about why e-books won't end publishers. [link]

DaVinci's resume. [link]

Metal foam. [link]

Counter protest to Fred Phelps' family. [link]
I prefer "Stop plate tectonics" and "End construction".

How alcohol built society. [link]

Photos of kamikaze attacks from WWII. [link]

Game: Creeper World - Reclaim technology from a spreading ooze before it takes over the planet. [link]

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Explaining Star Wars

Have you ever thought about how much prior knowledge is required for movies?

"Passion of the Christ" is just a snuff film if you're not familiar with Christianity. And who was that guy we saw at the end with holes in his hands?

"Moon" requires the assumption that you know what clones are. And robots.

The movie that inspired this thinking was "Star Wars". I was listening to an audio version and started to think about the stuff that we just KNOW about what's going on.

Say you find yourself in a "Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" type situation. Lacking any real skills needed to survive in that era you find yourself telling stories in exchange for food and shelter. A regular wandering minstrel sort. So you sit down to tell a story that you know well. Action, adventure, romance, and all that. "Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."

R2D2 and C3PO are obvious concepts to us. We're accustomed to computers and have an understanding of robots from previous movies. We see them and -ding- know they're robots. The story moves on. However, you're sitting around a fire and before you can get any momentum going they stop you.

"What's a robot?"

Armored golems, maybe? Do they even know about golems yet?

Then there's the trouble with space ships. They're a kind of sailing vessel that travels between the stars. You see, the stars are just suns that are very far away. And they each have their own planets with different kinds of people living on them.

You're looking at getting yourself burned as a witch before you even get to Luke and the Skywalker Ranch.

Stormtroopers can be described as special soldiers, Vader as a Duke dressed all in black. Princesses they understand. But the Imperial Senate? Heck, even we have issues with the ideas of royalty being elected. Having convinced them you're not a witch you could get beheaded for discussing radical new forms of government.

Try to explain how the robot projects a hologram of the princess. You're already having issues explaining robots. Now explain holographic messages to a people who don't even have wax records. And how does the armored golem shaped like a tree trunk make these magic images?

What are blasters to people who don't have cannons, let alone guns. Lightning arrows, maybe?

The Force comes remarkably easy since they had to explain that in the movie.

Then come the aliens. The metal automatons came to make sense. Jawas could be human, just small and robed. Try to get the idea of Jabba or the Rancor across intact. How about a light saber? OK, call it a laser sword, you still have to explain a laser. (note: the audio version described it as a beam of light as wide as a thumb. You might get to pull this off.)

Don't get me wrong. The movie can be adapted to medieval with some thinking. The point I'm getting at is how much we have to just know in order to make a movie work. Stuff someone must have introduced to us properly before. "The Matrix" was mind blowing for so much of the population because it had several concepts that fans of the sci-fi genre were familiar with but most people were not. A time paradox was novel when reading "A Sound of Thunder" back in middle school and still made you think when you first saw "Terminator". But by the time you got to season two of "Heroes" and saw Hiro go back and meet his childhood hero in ancient Japan you were more or less comfortable with the ideas of self-fulfilling prophecy and the grandfather paradox.

Of course, I'm using sci-fi as examples. Show Abe Lincoln a movie and the moving pictures alone would likely freak him out.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Movie Review: Silent Running

I started writing this while watching the movie so it may come out a bit odd.

I'd heard of "Silent Running" (1972) before, but never seen it. I saw it on NetFlix and added it to my instant queue. A few days later I saw a list of best underrated sci-fi movies.

The first thing I'm noticing is that it's suffering from 60's poisoning. I gathered that it's an environmentally friendly hippie flick, but there's hippie flicks and then there's hippie flicks. We've got Joan Baez performing 60's flower child music and misty shots of plants and turtles and whatnot. Good thing I know this is all on a space ship or I'd have quickly turned it off.

The ship is standard 70's sci-fi botanical garden design. Look at the ships in old Battlestar Galactica episodes. This shows the same kind of thinking. There's a central framework with engines at one end, a bridge and crew quarters at the other, and attached to the central column are several glass domes with plants growing in there. Artificial gravity has to be assumed. There's a shuttle attached to the framework that looks like a craft from the British sci-fi series "Space 1999".

Then we get into the performances. The characters are a bit cliched. There's one guy who is overly emotional about the plants and trees, the beauty of it all and the wonders of grown food. Then there are three guys who mock him, are loud, destructive, and refuse to see the point. They tear around the ship racing their rovers and tear up the carefully tended flowers just to prove how big of bastards they are.

These three ships that they're running seem to be the last of the trees and plants. Earth is a uniform 75°F with 100% employment but no plant life. After 8 years of tending to these ships full of plants with the hopes of reseeding the Earth they've been told to nuke the trees and return the ships to commercial service.

Nuke the trees? Really? I guess if the characters are going to be doing cliched melodrama we should go that way with the weapons, too. To really drive home how evil you're supposed to think the non-hippies are they're planting the nukes inside the biodomes while bunnies are hopping all around. Overweight squirrels play in the grass as the biodomes detonate overhead after being detached and pushed away from the main vessels.

As a lone guy comes to plant the nuke in one of the final biodomes the hippie is waiting with a shovel. They talk, they fight, the guy with the nuke gets killed.

It's interesting the number of corporate logos on everything. American Airlines appears to own the ships and Dow Chemicals logos are on some of the cargo containers.

The hippie seems to have stolen the ship. He ejected one of the biodomes with some of the crew in it and detonated it. The engines have engaged and he's accelerating. He tells central control that he's got an emergency but that appears to be a ruse to get them to delay rescue. They tell the hippie there's nothing they can do and he's gonna crash into Saturn's rings.

Having successfully stolen the ship he tries to retrain the service droids to plant trees. He starts to crack. He yells at the service droids, he starts hotrodding around in the rovers until he knocks down some cargo containers and realizes what he's doing.
He teaches the service droids to play poker. The place becomes a mess as our hero does no house keeping whatsoever.

Eventually the plants start to die. He can't quite figure out why. I'm thinking they're a long way from the sun and there's not enough light. Or there were multiple nuclear explosions about six miles from the ship. Or maybe the CO2 levels created by a single person aren't sufficient.

Finally, a rescue ship comes thinking they're saving his worthless ass and reminds him that it's dark out beyond Saturn. So he sets up a bunch of lights, turns the last biodome over to the service droids, ejects it into space, and detonates the last of the nukes on board the ship.

A good writer and director might be able to do something with this movie. This version had neither.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Wall

Yummy gets into these demolition and remodeling fits. Walls she wants gone, rooms she wants painted, and exterior doors she wants shifted a foot to the right. But even the stuff I can get behind require money. One project requires this fairly cheap little doodad to finish. Alas, I need 120 doodads to start with. Probably more.

The issue here is money. My job is moving in the not too distant future (currently expected in September) and I'll have to get a car. But I don't want to make payments on the car. I wanna hand the guy a briefcase full of cash and forget about it. Until that time I'm in hoarding mode. Any work that gets done must be cheap.

So you'll understand that I had to distract Yummy from her most recent fit of destruction. Instead of remodeling the kitchen by installing new outlets, new washer and drier connections, and removing a wall I pointed her at the wall along the stairs.

After having my bathroom replaced a few years back there was a new flaw in the brick wall outside the bathroom. The options were to fill it in with concrete, plaster it, and paint it OR to remove everything else to expose the brick. So, obviously, the answer was C) ignore it for as long as possible.

Trying to avoid killing the girlfriend, I got her set up with gear: safety goggles, dust mask, pry bar, and hammer.

Then I went to finish watching "Conan the Barbarian". Once the movie was over an hour later I saw this mess at the bottom of the stairs.

Looking up the stairs I found this.

I cleared some debris and got out of her way again. After two hours of chiseling and two hours of cleaning up debris the staircase had changed.



As we were cleaning, Yummy asked me why there were tufts of hair in the wall.(click to enlarge)
The hairs are horse hairs. They used to be mixed in with the concrete to reinforce it. Like rebar does in larger structures or straw (hay) used to in bricks.

We still need to clean the brick and seal it. Also, removed the carpet from the rest of the stairs so I can remove the paint and try to make it look appealing.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Movie Review: Book of Eli

Saw "Book of Eli" last night. I can't tell you about it, though.

"Book of Eli" is one of THOSE movies. The type where the unfolding of the story and the world therein is what makes the movie worthwhile. You find yourself wanting to talk about the movie when it's over. Because of some revelation at the end you want to see the movie again so you can look for signs.

What can I tell you about it? There's a guy named Eli and he has a book. So far, no spoilers.

Something happened to destroy civilization about 30 years ago. There was a war. More than that, they've lost much of the protection from the sun that we enjoy. The specifics are left vague so you can try to piece it together yourselves.

Eli has been roaming the earth for most of these 30 years hoping to find a place to bring the book and use it for good. To ensure that people who will understand the message for what it is and treat it as Eli feels it should be treated.

The villain, a man named Carnegie, has been building a renewed civilization for him to rule. He wants the book so he can use it to build his empire and get people to mindlessly follow him.

If you see the movie you should see it with someone. In the end you will want to talk about the movie. Some movies you walk out of and say "anyone else hungry?" This one will make you talk about what happened and how it messed with your impression of what you thought the movie's message was supposed to be.

Dunno if I'll get it or not. I want to see it again, but I'm not sure about again and again.