Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Starlost

I want to start by recommending the book "Stalking the Nightmare" by Harlan Ellison. It's a collection of short stories and essays that includes "Somehow, I Don't Think We're In Kansas, Toto", the essay that first introduced me to one of the worst produced great ideas I know of.

"Star Trek" was over, "Doctor Who" had a decade behind it, and TV studios around the world started to realize there was a market for science fiction. Several more good shows had come out, but none from Canada. They wanted to do something about that so they asked a science fiction writer, Harlan Ellison, to come pitch some ideas. He had several that they didn't like, but he finally came up with a winner.

Picture a space ship that has a passing similarity to a cluster of grapes. In each grape is a self contained biosphere. Each has a small population, but the area of the grape is big enough to sustain a different sample of a unique Earth culture. You can start to see how this would be a huge fucking ship. 1000 miles according to the initial description.

Some time back it was discovered that Earth was doomed. Well, the people were. And the other animals. The plants, too. But the Earth itself would be fine. But people had time to build a ship to take them to another planet. But this was a generation ship. Nobody who started the trip would see the end, but their great, great grandchildren might.

100 years or so into the trip it was discovered that disasters like round numbers and something mysterious happened to cripple the ship. Each grape sealed itself to protect the inhabitants. Most of the people in the main common area of the ship died. The ship drifted off course and went on through space uninterrupted. Eventually we'd find out what the disaster was, but not for a few seasons.

500 years later the inhabitants of the grapes, or at least the Amish grape, have forgotten Earth except perhaps as a myth. The world was apparently made as an area 50 miles across with a metal ceiling. They once had a computer that dictated who married who so their limited gene pool wouldn't collapse on itself, but it broke down. Now they have a rather dictatorial version of an Amish society. Their leader insists the computer still works and makes up order they have to follow or else. But this one girl is ordered to marry guy A when she really loves guy B. That's about when guy B finds a hatchway that leads to the rest of the ship. He takes the girl and runs. The Amish leaders order guy A to follow them and bring her back.

They soon find out that the ship is doomed. It's going to plunge into a star. But they have no idea how to fix it or pilot the ship. Remember, shirt buttons are an advanced technology to these three, let alone computer buttons. Sure, that's a horribly Amish stereotype, but how many Amish readers do you think this or any other blog has?

Right, sorry, doomed ship. So there was a multi-season storyline where they had to explore the ship and learn what they could and see if there was anyone who knew something useful. Season one was supposed to end with a big reveal of either the bridge or the engines, I forget. And they were to find out they needed to find whichever of those two they weren't currently in. Sorry, Mario, but the Princess is in another castle. Alas, the network started building the season ending set first and wouldn't listen to Harlan when he said they weren't anywhere close to ready for that.

The good sci-fi shows had the cast encountering new worlds and new civilizations in almost every episode. So besides the big storyline "Starlost" would have been largely episodic in that with each episode they could open another grape that would contain some variation of an Earth culture with centuries of change and evolution to it. Star Trek with less make-up and less impossible tech.

Some episodes would have guy A chasing guy B and the girl. Some episodes would be about meeting strange warped versions of the cultures we're familiar with. Some would have them fighting with the ship's computer. Some would have them leaving the ship to check out the damage.

They also planned to bring in some big name science fiction writers to write some episodes. Sure, Neil Gaiman's episode of "Babylon 5" might be the least Babylon 5ish of the whole series, but it was still good. I'm looking forward to his "Doctor Who" episode this season as well as Steven King's episode of "The Walking Dead" next season. I'd love to have seen Isaac Asimov or Arthur C Clarke writing for TV.

This being the country's, let alone the network's, first attempt at television sci-fi they messed up a lot of things. Still, the legend and Ellison's description of the disaster have kept this show's name around for 38 years. It even got the show released on DVD a couple of years back. You should go to Brandy's Husband's "block" and read his review of the DVD. [link]

And, hey, John Scalzi, now that you've got that "Stargate: Universe" experience (and contacts) under you're belt you wanna try tackling this? Please!?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sod Off Wednesday: March 30

My boss is sodding off to Iraq for four months. Today is our last day to annoy her on this continent.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cheap sci-fi

I was thinking about sci-fi TV shows the other day. They're expensive. Always have been, even when they looked like crap. It's what kept Star Trek on the edge of cancellation for years. It's what got Battlestar Galactica canceled after one season in the late 70's despite impressive ratings. Not sure how Babylon 5 survived so long with such weak ratings until they were in reruns. It's part of what killed Firefly. It's what has now killed Stargate: Universe despite being a pretty good show (unsure what the ratings were, but I know it drew viewers that didn't watch previous Stargate series). And it's what makes new shows such a risky prospect. My Hulu subscription screen lists a bunch of shows that were good, but lasted one season or less. Not that Hulu viewers are valued as highly as network viewers (for not watching commercials), but at least we're not downloading commercial free stuff anymore. Anyway, we assume any new sci-fi show will be canceled at the end of season one, two at the most, unless they have ratings like Dr Who pulls down.

I get that the ratings have to be high to offset the extra expense. That's hard to do when Star Trek's old ratings seem crazy high in comparison to shows today. Today they have to compete against a few hundred extra networks and Netflix. It doesn't help that people who are likely to watch those shows are also more likely to watch them on Hulu where the profits from commercials are significantly less.

This all brings me to the main point of my essay. Could a low budget sci-fi succeed today?

Classic Dr Who had great writers, but looked like they spent more on tea than they did on sets and costumes. One episode I love shows the hand of some stage hand reaching out to help the Doctor with a hatch on a spaceship.

Classic Star Trek looks awful by today's standards, but could we get away with paper maché sets today if the writing and acting was good.

I've gotten Yummy hooked on Babylon 5 where the ships were clearly computer generated and the acting by some of the extras was complete shit, but the main characters were great and the story kept you going. At least it did if you didn't skip any episodes. Would it have killed them to have a "previously on..." segment before each episode?

Would the newer "Battlestar Galactica" have worked with costumes and sets from 1979?
Fringe is struggling. Could they get away with special effects from the original Star Trek?
They keep filming on location. Sure, that scene in Stargate: SG1 was in Toronto instead of DC like they claimed, but could they have gotten away with just sending the camera crew to DC and projecting their footage behind the actors? It's called Rear Projection. They did it for decades in movies. "Austin Powers" used it to get the feel of some old movies.

These are all serious questions. Would you be willing to watch a good show with weak or even bad effects if the story and acting was good?

My dream show is a remake of the Canadian shit pile "StarLost" by Harlan Ellison and Ben Bova. How have I not ranted about this show on the blog yet? Expect a summary in the near future. It was a great idea but horribly executed. Canada hadn't done sci-fi and this was their first attempt. Could it be done today with a quality team of writers, but 60's or 70's costuming and set design? Or would it get canceled mid-episode?

Monday, March 28, 2011


After living less than a mile from it for nine years I finally went to a concert at "Black Cat". Yummy's brother used to be an avid concert goer and has recently rediscovered his concert going side. Yummy and I have started attending with him.

Last Friday there was a sold out show with several bands I hadn't heard of. They could be quite famous, but I'm pretty disconnected. As the neighbor kids once asked "don't you have any music from THIS century?"

The opening act was "The Lonely Forest". They're three guitarists and a drummer and aren't at all whiney. They were fairly relaxed and seemed to be having a good time on stage. But they were loud. I kept wanting to grab a beer from someone's hand and put it on the floor to watch it vibrate. I can see how it might have been like dropping Mentos in Diet Coke if I did so.
The lead singer looks like he should be starring in films with Michael Cera. The drummer looks like he might have been Hurley's stunt double in "Lost".

They were followed by "Mona". Another three guitarists and a drummer. This was their first time in DC and they were a bit more uptight. They were trying to be cool rather than have fun. Two of the guitarists looked like they needed a pack of cigarettes rolled up in their sleeves. The lead singer reminds me of my friend Randall. One of the guitarists looks like he could have made the final cut for the male lead in "Twilight". The drummer reminded Yummy of Gort from the original "The Day The Earth Stood Still".

Between bands we were debating whether on of the stage hands looked more like a young Neil Gaiman or Robert Smith from "The Cure".

By the time the main act, "The Joy Formidable", came on the place was packed. Much time was spent avoiding elbows and making sure I still had my wallet.
Only two guitars and a drummer this time. Also the only band with a girl. She was a bit scary though. If she made faces like that at her therapist she'd have to be committed for her own safety and the safety of others.
The drummer looked like a young Weird Al.

All the bands were loud. I have no problem with that. They're supposed to be. But the noise level made it hard to hear the music. Did that make sense? I couldn't enjoy the music because the volume was so loud I couldn't make out the music. They sound better on CD or in the music videos I've embedded above.

Now listen to the videos above. Hear the difference between "The Joy Formidable" and the previous two? There's a lot more going on. All that extra activity at concert volume was painful for Yummy and we left early.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Links: March 25

We're gonna start with the Doctor Who this week:
Steven Moffat got his Doctor Who start writing "Curse of the Fatal Death" for Comic Relief some years back. Google it yourself. What am I your mother? He also wrote this two part mini-episode for the most recent Comic Relief. [link]

Free "Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft" for Nook, Kindle, and probably whatever else you've got. [link]

"Good Omens" is still on track to be made into a movie. Originally it was supposed to be Terry Gilliam making it, but after so many years you kind of give up on that. It's Terry Jones now. Still in the Monty Python family. And the producer has already done a great job on some of Terry Pratchett's other stuff. Even if the movie doesn't get made you REALLY want to read the book. Seriously. [link]

"The difference between me and Neil in our attitude to movie projects is that he doesn't believe they're going to happen until he's sitting in his seat eating popcorn, and I don't believe they're going to happen." - Terry Pratchett

Sarah Palin, in her efforts to make people think she's remotely competent on foreign affairs, continues to show how staggeringly stupid she is. [link]

Videos of bad ass female guitarists. [link]

The story of a Cosmonaut and his predictable but horrible death. [link]

Flying house based on the movie "Up". [link]

The Smartest Dog in the World.

Answer a few trivia questions about the National Zoo in DC and they get a dime for each one you get right. [link]

Island of the gigantic extinct fuzzy wuzzy bunny wabbits. [link]

Game: Picma Squared - a puzzle game that I'm absolute shit at. [link]

I've not played the original Duke Nukem, but the saga of developing this new game fascinates me. Fourteen years in development and counting.

Animated solar system simulation. [link]

50 unexplicable photos. [link]

Tales of animals tried for crimes. [link] loves to patent stuff they didn't make and sue others already using it. Now Apple is suing them for copyright infringement for trying to use the name "Appstore". [link]

XKCD tells you how to put the Japanese radiation in perspective. [link]

Cat Island came through the earthquake and tsunami relatively fine. In related news Japan has a cat island. [link]

That's a bloody lot of hops. [link]

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Talkin' crap

So… a needle pulling thread.

No, wait… so, last night I'm up playing online games and watching Eddie Izzard routines on Netflix and searching for some electronic Arabic/English dictionaries I don't have to pay for just and generally being a total 21st century internet zombie. Around this time Eddie starts talking about latin. Of course, we're Americans and haven't learned latin in schools since, oh, what? What is today? Oh, right, ever. Still, we have some general background of what it would be like if we cared about anything that didn't happen on American Idol and had an attention span longer than… ooh, a butterfly!

Latin, latin, it's a fucked up kind of language. I know because some transvestite standup comic told me. But like many languages it has not only the usual past, present, and future tenses but masculine and feminine, too. But English doesn't. Alright, there's some basic his and hers, but we don't assign gender to things. Boats, yeah, I'll give you that. Cars sometimes. But not so far as to have different words for male or female cars. It's "car", not "caro" or "cara" and the like. Nobody is getting the crap beaten out of them for referring to some guy's Nike's in the feminine tense (Nika's?).

So I start wondering if that's why America really took the lead in women's rights? Well, us and the Brits. They had female rulers long before we had a Constitution. Still, English speakers. America really took the lead in giving women the vote. And I'm gonna keep believing that so long as I don't look as history books or stop writing crap like this at 1:30 in the morning.

The Brits came up with Chivalry (as far as I know). Of course, it wasn't so much about opening doors as it was about not shoving random pesant women into the mud and raping them. Yeah, it sucked to be women back in the mud ages. And pretty much anytime, for that matter. But, yeah, bad time to be a woman and a much better time to be rich, armored, and male.

Could it be that the women's rights movement got a better foothold here than in other countries because gender division isn't built right into the language. Not as much anyway. Yes "man" is still part of "woman", but we all wear jeans, not jeans and jeans.

Nah, it probably has much more to do with the fact that the whole damn country was established around freedom from oppressive ideas like religious dogma, slavery, and eventually even gender roles.

Ignore all this crap.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sod off Wednesday

Sitting in a staff meeting. They can sod off.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Yard pics

The pics from my yard.

Damn. I, uh, I guess you'll have to turn your head for some of them. I decided against using MC Escher Landscaping.

Yard work

It's a safe bet that we no longer have to worry about frost in this area. That means we can start planting!

Last night I tackled my yard. I threw out the bits of garbage that blow into the yard. Any dead branches hanging out of pots got trimmed away. The orange tree in a pot got moved outside.

At the end of last year I dug up a small sand plum bush from the family farm in Kansas and brought it back to DC. The trunk snapped during the drive and I tried to splice it back together. It didn't work, but I didn't expect it to. My big hope was that the roots would grow something new. And they did. I had two good samples of root and between them I got three shoots. Yesterday I got them transplanted into a bigger pot. So long as they last the summer I shouldn't have to worry about them. If they can survive Kansas winters they can survive DC winters. I'm keeping it in a pot so they don't spread and take over the yard. They reproduce more through spreading roots than they do from seeds.

I also have a big trash barrel full of dirt. I tried to get as much dirt as I can out of it. I'll try to find temporary homes for even more this evening. I'm gonna take another swing at growing potatoes in it. As the plant grows you're supposed to keep building up the dirt until the barrel is full. When the plant dies you kick over the barrel and have potatoes.

Some of the dirt was used to top off another pot that was moved near the house. I've ordered some hops rhizomes to stick in the pot. I shouldn't expect any yield this year, but next year I should have a decent crop. I'm sending some to my brother, too. He has a lot more land to play with than I do. If our brewing efforts do well over the next few years then I may have to include a fermentation tank if we ever replace the barn. That's a huge if. That if could have wiped out the dinosaurs if collided with the Earth.

The tulips and allium Yummy planted last year are peeking up. The kale are getting tall. The mint is coming back. Buds are forming on the tree we planted last year. Still waiting for some signs of life on the sickly blackberry we planted late last season or the grape vines that started coming up wild last summer.

And we finally found a bird bath for the yard. I should have a report on the table I'm making for the yard in the near future.

But that's just my yard. Yummy got permission to plant a garden in the back yard of her place in Baltimore. We spent a good part of the weekend removing trash and raking up several years worth of fallen leaves. The ground was largely bare underneath it. Some weeds needed killing, some still do. But we got a patch churned up and planted. A couple types of tomato, some peppers, Brussels sprouts, catnip, a blackberry bush, and some birdhouse gourd plants. Marigolds were planted along the sides of the garden to drive off the grubs. There's a few other things, but I forget what at the moment.

We put a shelf outside her kitchen window with some basil and lettuce growing in it. Hopefully we can reach out and pluck some lettuce for our hamburgers.

I made her get a tray of peat disks, too. We filled them with marigold and camomile seeds. They were picked for their short germination periods and having prettyish flowers. They're needed in a couple of weeks for something the DC Guerilla Gardeners are doing with some bicyclists from New York. I think they're gonna be taking soup cans and tying them to posts with these plants growing in them.

The residents who are taking care of the front yard at her place are moving in a month. She plans on taking it over. We have a ton of seeds bought or stolen from yards. That front yard is gonna be nuts.

We have some colorful corn and more birdhouse gourds that we're gonna be sticking around town. Gonna get into some actual guerilla gardening.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book review: The Last Starship from Earth

Do I read too much sci-fi? Possibly. But most of it is old sci-fi. Does that help?

I recently read the 1968 book "The Last Starship from Earth" by John Boyd. Not one of the greats. This is his best known of his books.

This was the first book that I felt I needed to share the "about the author" section. Most science fiction authors who served in WWII served in a scientific or technical or even medical capacity. They'll talk about their service, but it's not generally part of the "about the author" section. Boyd was commissioned in the Navy in 1940, served in Russia, England, Japan, and the Philippines. He's the only junior officer mentioned in Samuel Eliot Morison's naval history of WWII.

I debated how much to tell you about the book. I'm tending toward spoilers since this isn't a book you can find electronically and isn't terribly common in the online book sellers. So it's not like you're gonna read it. I've put in a big spoiler alert marker further down. If you read that far and decide you want to find and read it you can stop there. Beyond that we get into the twists and turns of the story.

The book starts out in what appears to be the distant future. The world is divided into castes based on what your family does. If your father was a Mathematician then you're a Mathematician and you have his name but with a number increase. If I'm Doug IV then Dad was Doug III and grandpa was Doug II. We're also all part of a profession and skill level that makes us "professionals". That is we're important and we matter. Unskilled laborer aren't highly regarded. So much so that they're an underclass. It's possible to move between classes, but you have to be something special.

See, the world is run by this computer called "The Pope". It replaced human popes some many, many years back. It does the bulk of planning and thinking and running things and does a good deal of the spouse selection. It sort of narrows your options down to four or so. And they'll all be within your class and profession unless they're trying to breed for special traits.

There are other groups helping to run things. The Sociologists and Psychologists, along with the Priests, run things and have since long before they had the computerized Pope. They're not the smartest, but they know how to manipulate people in ways that the Mathematicians can't.

With all that we have the setup for a Romeo and Juliet story. Mathematician meets Poet, they fall in love, but their love is forbidden. They sneak around but are ratted out and the government comes for them.

Before I move beyond that I need to tell you how the book reads. Since she's a poet he starts studying poetry. In very short order the book becomes worded poetically. It might be crap if you're actually of sufficient poetical interest to know good from bad. It does make the book a bit more challenging to read.

To cover up their secret liaisons they come up with a cover story. First she's trying to write a poem about the Mathematician that created the Pope. When they find out that too much of his life is considered classified they start trying to build an electronic poet in much the same way an electronic pope was created.

But it wouldn't much of a story if they didn't get caught. He goes on trial. She's pregnant so there's not much doubt about his guilt. He's interviewed by the four members of the jury: one each from the three major specialties and one from his own. He thinks he's done well, so does the reader, but they determine that he has the same mental illness as the son of the guy who created the electronic pope. He's too much of an individual and they're afraid he'll start an uprising. They can wipe his mind, they can sterilize him and put him to work as a grunt, or they can fire him off to the planet Hell. Really, the only option they see is sending him to Hell so he doesn't start more shit on Earth.

If you think you'll want to read this book you should stop now.

Another aside - For the most part it seems like the distant future. They talk about a period of time known as The Starvation. Little is known about before. Abe Lincoln started the UN. There's others, but that's the big one that stands out. This isn't the future. This is the present with an alternate past. It's not clear what caused the big change.

There is space travel in this alternate present. Or, rather, there was. There's only two ships left and they ferry passengers to Hell. The pilots are an odd lot. Due to the relativistic effects of near light speed travel they show up on Earth for 3 days every few years and only months have passed for them. They suffer long bouts of solitude with short bouts on a world that keeps changing and passing them by.

So our hero is sent to Hell in suspended animation. They wake him after several months to check on him and he gets to talk to the pilot who also flew the son of the guy who created the electronic pope to Hell.

Once on Hell our hero finds out that his pregnant poet girlfriend arranged to be sent here as well. They find out that the ice world of Hell isn't really an ice world. The planet's orbit is an ellipse so it's a barely habitable ice world for two months of the year, tropical for four, and very pleasant the rest of the time. The guy who created the electronic Pope knew this and rigged the Pope to schedule visits by the ships only when the planet was icy so those on Earth wouldn't find out. After all, his own son was being banished here. And he's still alive. Yeah, apparently they have longevity treatments on Earth, but can't use them due to the size of the population. Hell's lesser population almost requires it even with the rapid rate of reproduction they're undergoing to try to populate this planet.

And it keeps going. The pope maker's son had worked out the same formula for faster than light travel that our hero had worked out. What the formula means is that one can go back in time. He'd created a ship based on that formula to send his own daughter back to Earth to find someone with our hero's education who has a mindset similar to his own and entrap him in such a way that would get him sent to Hell. So, yeah, the poet girl is the granddaughter of the guy who build the electronic Pope.

Why would they do this? They need someone with his brains and personality to send back in time far enough to change the whole world and prevent this repressive society from forming.

How far back? Far back enough to end the 60+ year life of Jesus Christ. In their world Jesus raised up an army and overthrew the Roman Empire to establish a theocracy that survived until the present. But instead of killing him he put a 33 year old Jesus in his ship and sent it back to Hell. That meant he had to stay on Earth. Thanks to his longevity treatment the book ends with him back in the present day at a campus protest with a history that looks remarkably like our own.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Links: March 18

The Demo Knight - a Dark Knight trailer starring characters from Team Fortress 2.

Mimes that aren't mute. They just don't make sense.

Important wetware patch. [link]

CNN reporter in Japan can feel the Earth, move, under his feet. He feels the sky come tumbling down, tumbling down.

Some places in Japan got a 1 minute warning before the quake. How? Something a bit like this. [link]

How oil became known as a "fossil fuel".

I was gonna try something like this. But it was a C17 and I was gonna convert it to a home on the planes of Kansas. [link]

Ammunition insects. [link]

There's no argument possible to claim that this pharmaceutical company is motivated by anything but greed. [link]

Printable bike. [link]

"Bike" run by electric screwdrivers. [link]

Awesome new stamps from the Royal Mail. [link]

Owl wants to look at you.

Insane asylum floor plans. [link]

Minecraft chickens: are they a particle or a wave?

Here's a better explanation of what you're seeing in the previous video.

The Enterprise NCC-1701-A full Minecraft tour.

Material store for inventors. [link]

Batman: Arkham City trailer. Still with Kevin Conroy as Bats and Mark Hamill as Mr. J. The only Batman and Joker voice, in my opinion.

Marble machine with interchangeable parts.

PonyCraft 2

Interview with the guy who was Tweeting as Rahm Emanuel. I think I'll have to read his archive. [link] [the archive]

More poems by cats. [link] [even more]

Roll up any website in a Katamari. [link]

Photo history of Discovery. [link]

Great website for inventors. [link]

If you've played "Portal" you already know why you need to buy "Portal 2". If you haven't then this trailer should explain why.

Dr Who Fan Service:
Saturday, April 23!!! Ah, ah, ah. Spoilers.

Enter your homemade TARDIS into a competition. [link]
Or just look at the other entries. [link]

Thursday, March 17, 2011


By now you all know that the IBM supercomputer dubbed Watson won in a three day Jeopardy game. It's finally available on YouTube and is embedded below.

This game will soon be considered of historical note. You may think I'm overstating things a bit. It's not like a war or a presidential assassination. But it totally qualifies as equal or greater than Deep Thought beating David Levy in 1989 or IBM's Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov at chess in 1997. (I'm having some issue with that later date. I could have sworn that happened before I graduated high school.) I'm sure that as soon as next year there will be programming classes teaching this game in the history portion along with Babbage's (and Lovelace's) Difference Engine, the German Enigma Machine, ENIAC, ARPAnet, and Deep Blue. The difference being that now the class will be able to watch this historical event as homework.

Day 1 part 1

Day 1 part 2

Day 2 part 1

Day 2 part 2

Day 3 part 1

Day 3 part 2

Before you go, you'll want to read Reddit's interview with Ken Jennings. The man is a riot. [link]

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sleepin in

Since I've been working from home I've not dealt with the alarm clock too much. What good does it do to start work at 7:00 if I have to take a nap a few hours later? If I just sleep in I'll get the work done at the same time and do a better job.

This last weekend I spent working our booth at a pediatric medicine convention. I started pulling hours like I'm gonna have to once I start working. I tried going to bed early to compensate, but did a very bad job of it. So I'd go to the convention with something like four hours of sleep. But now I'm trying to catch up and am sleeping until around 1:30 in the afternoon. That's why the post is so late. I've just finished the shower and breakfast routine.

Not that I should have been at the convention at all. Bruce was supposed to do it. It's the one thing that he still can do right. Instead he went to Florida for two weeks. When he asked for the time off nobody bothered to check the calendar. It was assumed that having agreed to go to the convention he wouldn't skip out. There was lots of "But [the managing editor] said I could go!" Yeah, just like that tone of voice you read it in. Like a spoiled kid.

Then he didn't even get to leave on his trip on time. He'd screwed up the displays bad enough for this and some other out of town event that he was forced to stay in town a few extra days to fix it. At least they held him to that level of responsibility.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Movie review: Battle LA

For the Idea of March I've come to slay "Battle LA", not to praise it.

If you're looking for a good action movie this is what you want to see. If you're looking for a bout of motion sickness you'll get your $11 bucks worth here. If you're looking for a storyline you might want to go elsewhere.

I'm not sure what I was expecting. A steady-cam maybe. Seriously, this has to have been the shakiest movie I've seen that didn't try to justify it with scared people holding the camera.

The story comes down to this: Aliens are attacking Earth. Their explanation for why is total crap. The tactics the aliens use are rubbish. And how they kill the aliens pretty much comes down to applying sufficient kinetic energy (i.e. blow them up). They do try to throw in a bit about how people think that Two Face let some soldiers under his command die and he's about to retire. But it's pretty weak. As is the scared father, the orphaned boy watching his scared father die, Two Face bonding with orphaned boy, and the go nowhere sexual tension with the vet.

The one thing I credit this movie with is that their technology has the exact same vulnerabilities ours would have if we developed something similar.

Oh, and that lots of shit blows up. It's a straight up action movie.

Will not get on DVD.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Movie review: Rango

There are, in my opinion, three great westerns: Blazing Saddles, Three Amigos, and now Rango. Obviously, I have a particular taste.

The main story is inspired by the old fairy tale "The Brave Little Tailor" about a tailor who kills seven flies with one blow but is recruited for the king's guard due to them thinking he killed seven people. In this movie Rango the pet chameleon is separated from his family and lost in the desert. He makes his way to a town that is suffering from a drought. He starts telling stories to earn the fear of the town goons and is soon made sheriff. Rango has to protect the town from area villains and solve the mystery of what's happening to the water.

"Rango" has a different sense of humor than you might expect if you're a regular watcher of Pixar-like movies. It has a good dose of old Warner Brothers cartoons (Bugs Bunny and the like) and Monty Python. There's lots of throw away lines that are thrown out and moved on from while you're still processing it. It mixes slapstick and dry humor. And the spirit of the west is awesome.

It works if you don't think about it too much. If you do you start to see major plot points that seem to have belonged to earlier drafts of the movie. You see how they might have tried to give it a message but messed it up. Is the villain really responsible or are the humans? Will the villain's plan work or is he starting another Cargo Cult?

Rango is made up to resemble the Hunter S. Thompson-type character Raoul Duke in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas". He has the same floral shirt. He has the same actor for his voice. When Rango hits a windshield the people in the car are supposed to be the central characters from "Fear and Loathing...". When the bats come out you can't help but think "We can't stop here. This is bat country."

I will get this on DVD and may see it in theaters again.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Links: March 11

Conan showing Apple's new marketing video. [link]

A touching video about an 86 year old WWII veteran sniper being honored. Turns out he's still a crack shot whether using a replica of his old gun or the latest and greatest. [link]

Punishment housing in prison for military WikiLeaker. [link]

New Hampshire Republicans trying to prevent college students from voting. [link]

I Could Pee On This - poems by cats. [link]

Soviet space capsule for auction. Dog not included. [link]

By Mike Huckabee's thinking my parents can't get married. I mean who wants to think about their parents' closed door activities? [link]

Bad for evidence collection, but you can bet these data drives will be popular among government agencies protecting top secret or simply criminal behavior. [link]

Make the show host shut the hell up. Still, listening to Shatner giving Discovery a sort of send off was more touching than I expected. [link]

A series of paintings with messages. [link]

Android users beware of these apps. They are being resold with malware installed. [link]

Wooden binary calculator. [link]

MS Paint for Windows 7 played as sound. [link] [the remix]

An animation of the ISS being assembled. [link]

Image: Read FASTER! [link]

Super Mario Brothers with updated sound effects.

Just Dance as performed by the Fallout: New Vegas dancers.

HP Lovecraft: mathematics substitute. [link]

Game: Transmover new generation. You'll figure it out. [link]

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Let me tell you what I had to go through to see this movie. The theater was showing both "The Adjustment Bureau" and "Rango". I went to the theater with the plan of seeing both. I showed up in time for "The Adjustment Bureau" as advertised, half an hour after the start of "Rango", only to find out that they were installing a new projector in that theater and they'd cancelled the showings of "The Adjustment Bureau" for the day.

But "Rango" would be showing in a little over two hours. So I went to the store clearance at Borders and... well, I won't tell you what I spent, but I saved $76. They had to get me a box.

I showed up for the next showing of "Rango". It was cancelled. Too many people coming to see "The Adjustment Bureau". So if I'd just wait yet another half hour beyond when "Rango" was to start I'd finally get to see the movie that I wanted to see three hours before.

That's a pretty good description of "The Adjustment Bureau" right there. Only I'm filling the role of Matt Damon.

Ever read any Discworld books? In particular the Death centered books? No? Then making comparisons to the Auditors in the Discworld and the Adjustors in this movie won't make any sense. If you have then you'll see the parallels.

There's these guys in grey outfits who look a bit like they're wearing the wardrobe discards from the show "Mad Men". They work for someone who may or may not be God. They look and feel human. Some are programmed to think they are human. There are many copies. And they have a plan.

Sorry. I'm getting distracted. They do have a plan. They don't understand it, but they have one. They have to keep Congressional candidate and Presidential hopeful Matt Damon from falling in love with potential famous dancer and choreographer Emily Blunt who wears this necklace that draws all kinds of attention to her cleavage.

That's a very short description of a movie that is much more than that. It's like calling "Titanic" a disaster movie at sea or saying that "Jurassic Park" is a dinosaur flick. All movies may be rehashes of old stories, but sometimes the quality of the telling makes it worthwhile. And this story was well told. They take the time to tell a good love story. They also show enough of the behind the scenes stuff of the Adjustment Bureau to make them interesting characters instead of just emotionless drones. The end is a bit awkward, but not enough to ruin the movie.

I think I'll probably get it on DVD. I highly recommend seeing it.

If it matters, this movie is based off of a Philip K Dick story. That puts it in with movies like "Blade Runner", "Total Recall", "Minority Report", "Paycheck", "A Scanner Darkly", and "Next". Quality stories with varying quality of story telling.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ash Wednesday

Army of Darkness - part 1

part 2

part 3
Crap. This page doesn't work.

part 4

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Ain't nothing but a book thing

It took us awhile to find this place. When Yummy mentioned she was moving to Baltimore I looked at a map of the area around the address she gave me. There were several book stores in her area, including a cluster of used book stores. One of them was Book Thing. The weather hasn't allowed a lot of walking around, but when we would go out I'd try to direct us in that direction. Saturday I saw a bumpersticker with the Book Thing URL on it and punched it into my phone. Sunday we stopped in.

Book Thing is a place where you get free books. People donate books. They shelve them. Other people take them. All you have to do is write on a piece of paper the number of books you're taking.

The roof leaks. Climate control was minimal to non-existant. Maps of the place were out of date. The floor was concrete. The bathroom is in a McDonalds two blocks away.

It's kinda awesome.

The neighborhood also boasts a Goodwill, a couple of pawn shops, an adult bookstore, several skeezy clothing stores, a quicky tax place, a check cashing place, a community health center, a KFC with heavy bolts on the bathroom and bulletproof glass in front of the cash registers, and a rather nice church.

I'm glad it's not as close to Yummy's place as I initially thought.

The front room seems kind of sparse. A row of plastic bins holds books for children of a wide variety of ages. One wall has books in and about foreign languages. There's a gardening and home maintenance section. One wall contains all manner of textbook about biology, genetics, engineering, welding, programming, some even in the quantities you might need for a modest classroom. A small shelf holds their sci-fi selection. Seems kinda weak just looking at this room.

Then you step through another door to their main room. It runs most of the length of the building. Their legal section rivals their whole other textbook section. The rest of the room is just labeled "fiction". A couple shelves have the romance books. If you're into books about CIA agent [insert name] there's about 20 shelves for you. A couple more for just mystery. Then another small room that I barely looked at because my arms were getting tired.

So really, what you have is a place that provides free books in a poverty stricken area for people who need them. Or people who bother to find the place. I recommend you check it out if you're in the area. If you have books they can use be sure to let them know.

More info at

Monday, March 07, 2011

Esperanza Spalding

Yummy's brother got us tickets to the sold out Esperanza Spalding show in Frederick, MD Friday night. I was unfamiliar with her or her work before this. Obviously, I don't watch the Grammies. From what I've seen online most people are familiar with her because of the outrage by fans of that Bieber girl for best new artist. What impresses me more is that at age 23 she was a professor at ... wait, Berklee? Not Berkeley? The Berklee College of Music. Still, impressive, just not quite as impressive as I was thinking.

Anyway, here's one of her videos. I recommend you search for some others.

After the concert we went looking for somewhere to get something to eat. The area around The Weinberg Center for the Arts has lot of restaurants and bars. They didn't seem to be interested in doing business, however. We checked several places and they had cover charges for DJs that didn't seem to be more than a guy with an iPod and a genre in mind. The kitchen were all but closed. The place we landed still had appetizers and things that could go in a frier, but stuff off the grill was off the menu.

Frederick was struggling to roll up the sidewalks, but they had people like us going around and hitting the sidewalk crew with sticks and shouting "STOP! Put down that sidewalk, dammit! We're using that! GET BACK!"

Friday, March 04, 2011

Friday Links: March 4

If HP Lovecraft were a gardener. [link]
A very expensive, but very nifty video gaming chair. [link]

I don't normally spend long on the sites of artists, but I enjoyed this guy's stuff. Might even use his patterns to line Yummy's new cabinet. [link]

The White House and DOJ will no longer be defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court. [link]

Trails of Tarnation: Black Coffee - stick with it. I almost turned it off several times, but liked the ending. [link]

Camping in a volcano. [link]

Quotes from lesser Transformers. [link]

This quote came up in conversation the other day.
But I credited it to Duke Nukem.

And then this trailer came out.
Sorry, but we've seen trailers before. Until it's on the shelves it's still Duke Nukem: Whenever.

How to beat Watson at Jeopardy. [link]

Step 1 of the Chinese uprising. [link]

Toccatta and Fugue in D minor played on floppy drives.

Best of Canstruction this year. [link]

Strange known Windows bug. [link]

More ammo for the Terminators.

The last known American WWI vet dies. [link]

How to make a Pokebra. [link]

Man almost manages to foreclose on a bank.

Political ideologies represented with cows. Yes, we got it in an e-mail in 1995, but they've refined it since then. [link]

There's a new Thundercats cartoon coming. Looks like it doesn't suck.

If steampunk is too dated for your tastes you can try decorating with something more modern. [link]

Stephen Fry was in DC last week and dressed as a Klingon. [link]

New Simon's Cat.

It started as a joke, but here's a fleshed out version of the book "Goodnight Dune". [link]

Game: Name the movie from the silhouette of an item from the movie. Plays like hangman [link]

Lamps that you might expect from Agatha Heterodyne. [link]

A guy starts with DOS 5.0, installs Windows 1 and runs nearly every Windows update through Windows 7. Possibly only interesting to us older geeks. He tests the differences by installing DOS games and setting some colors and checks to see if they remain and run from version to version.

Teeny homes. [link]

Nifty pics from the Google car. [link]

Freaky walking cactus fossil found in China. [link]

Video of a team of horses pulling a semi out of the snow. [link]

Nifty personal "submarine" prototype. [link]

New York smokers growing their own. [link]

Why computer nerds don't date much (in theory). [link]

repost: Ant spiral

What's the difference between the Tea Party and the Taliban. [link]

The recent Discovery launch seen from a plane.

I don't care if steampunk is dying as a fashion, this house will always be awesome. [link]
This may be a repost, too.

George Carlin put to an autotuner.

Videos of wonderfully engineered moving sculptures. [link]

Dr Who fan service:
The 2011 Dr Who swimsuit calendar now available for free download. Sorry, no Amy Pond. [link]

Continuing memorial to The Brigadier. [link]

And I'm so far from finished with this weeks links.

Somehow these escaped from last week:
The alleged original recipe for Coke. [link]

A fan made trailer for The Avengers using clips from the buildup movies and trailers.

A sad piece about a mummy and the human he falls in love with.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Favorite links from the archives 3

I Got Nothin' Week continues with this uncompleted post that I'm posting anyway.

Dudley Moore had been around longer than I'd imagined. Here he plays Beethoven.

Filming the invasion of Omaha Beach with only 3 guys and 4 days of filming.

Video of why you don't look at the sun through a telescope. Keep in mind, this is how long it takes to burn a hole, not how long it takes to do damage. [link]

50 lbs of Silly Putty dropped from a great height.

Game: The Eyeballing Game - how well can you manipulate geometric figures by hand? [link]

5 Comic book character that made a real world impact. [link]

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Ash Wednesday

The holiday is next Wednesday, but I'm not terribly religious.

The picture I posted Monday was kinda crap. It was taken from a phone in a car at a stoplight. And it looked better on my phone. You can just make out that the gas station is an S-Mart. That's where Ash worked in the movie "Army of Darkness".

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Bird in a bowl

I just realized I hadn't posted today.
Look, it's a birdy in a fish bowl.