Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Links: July 29

The lobby scene from "The Matrix" redubbed a capella.

Your cable box uses more power than your refrigerator. [link]

Nifty antique typewriter. [link]


Great J. K. Rowling quote. [link]

Wi-Fi transmitter of the gods. [link]

Song about making your own mainframe.

Car tossing sewer geyser.

Clips from the Wonder Woman pilot that got the axe. [link]

Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion, ... Maru? [link]

Pluto now has a fourth moon. Third if you think of Charon and Pluto as two parts of a binary planet. [link]

Midieval superhero outfits. [Green Lantern] [Superman]

It's so hot outside... HOW HOT IS IT? [this hot]

Fully authorized Cowboys vs Aliens fan film.

The 11 Doctors. [link]

Cofounder of Mattel and inventor of Hot Wheels dies. [link]

Game: The Lance - jousting. [link]

Brent Spiner webcast Q&A. [link]

Polar bear swims 426 miles. [link]

The Zodiac Killer's code finally broken? [link]

Study indicates that maleness and femaleness may have other causes than previously thought and can conceivably change well into adulthood. [link]

Light at the end of the tunnel or creepy sewer demon? [link]

Color pictures of London in WWII. [link]

Functioning medical tricorder tattoos. [link]

Texas Board of Education, in a truly stunning move, unanimously rejected creationist bullshit from the science curriculum. [link]

Brain damage allows one guy to draw fractals. [link]

“It was a dark and stormy night.” is considered one of the worst opening lines for a book ever. Every year a contest bearing the name of the guy who wrote that line is held to find other really awful opening lines. Here are the 2011 winners. [link]

Color change roof tiles. [link]

A bull who really knows how to toss a cowboy. [link]

Harry Potter as an 80's teen comedy.

South Dakota town for sale. Only $800,000. [link]

Stay open. Stay open! STAY OPEN!!!

Stupid bar trick.

Infographic about blood splatter forensic analysis. [link]

How many words do you know? [link]

And I always love me some "I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC". In this one Captain America and Green Lantern compare movies.

note: Ryan Reynolds played the lead in Green Lantern and will likely play the lead in a Deadpool movie.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The size of stuff

I know stuff. It's what I do. So people ask me questions. Typically space questions, but about a lot of other subjects, too. One of the trickier things to explain about space is size and distance. In Star Trek a trip between Earth and the middle of Orion's belt is a few days at high warp. They can get there in about the same time it takes us to get to our own moon. How do you explain light years to people who will almost certainly never travel further than 12,500 miles from the place they were born? Light moves so fast that to us it's indistinguishable from instantaneous travel. It takes 8 minutes for it to get here from the Sun, but how far is that, really? A fit guy on a bike can make it across DC in 20-25 minutes. The light from the nearest star to our own is four and a half years old when we see it. But it would take generations for someone to get from here to there. We have a hard enough time thinking beyond the next fiscal quarter, let alone what our great, great, great grandchildren's careers will be.

Anyway, I collect props for helping to explain this stuff. This video is the latest.

All the objects in our star system that are bigger than 200 miles across. (click to enlarge)

Another picture for size scale. (click to enlarge)

Distance scale. [link]

Computer wallpaper showing the Earth, Moon, and distance between to scale. [link]

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Compliance training: the live blog

Some months ago I had to undergo some "training" through my contracting agency. Nothing useful was achieved but I believe it did serve it's purpose of covering the ass of whoever is gonna get the blame when they lose the contract to handle a bunch of the contract military employees in the DC area. It's not that they've done anything wrong. The job just gets rebid every other year. Nobody ever gets the job twice. But someone at the company is probably gonna take some grief for it and he wanted to prove that he did what he could.

Because they have employees spread all over the country we had to dial in to a conference call or get on via Skype or something.

9:45 - I dial in.

9:48 - Do I have any beer left? No? Crap. I didn't want to do this sober.

10:00 - They finally pick up the meeting.

10:04 - Speakerphones on both ends. [sarcasm]Just great sound quality.[/sarcasm] Only 5.5 hours of this ahead.

10:05 - I've talked to people who took the class yesterday. Believe me, they were not excited and nobody wanted to do it again. Don't bullshit us like that.

10:08-10:15 - Role call. People who can't see each other all claiming to be there. 3 layers of speaker phone and a mexican accent. Great.

10:16 - If you were a shoe what kind of shoe would you be? Yeah, everyone had to answer.

10:16-10:22 - a mess of people talking

10:22-10:29 - Talk about Agenda. Someone hit mute in the main room so it was quiet for most of that.

10:30-10:45 - break into groups... in a conference call

10:45-11:00 - lecture about how little they want to lecture at us.

11:00-11:11 - It's gone quiet. We're in another breakout group and I missed what I'm supposed to be talking to myself about. It's like second grade all over.

Oh, that was a break.

11:12 - Employee owned business. Employee owned business. Blah, blah, blah. It doesn't motivate me because you're just one of a string of contractors that have been hired to write me paychecks. In a few months you'll be nothing to me at all.

11:21 - oh, I'm supposed to be looking at that Powerpoint presentation that they posted on the intranet that I've never accessed before.

11:24 - what is that noise? Apparently people are being set on fire in the conference room. That or the agony of this talk is much worse in person.

11:34 - apparently just about everybody who works for the company (everyone but me) has a badge or a frock that says the name of the company on it. They're clearly labeled so nobody where they actually work will think of them as a real employee.

11:38 - don't date coworkers. No worries. There's a significant age difference between me and them.

11:45 - don't surf for porn on government computers. Don't make private calls on government phones.

11:48 - don't bring your own stuff into work. They may not let you take it home again and the company isn't gonna back you up.

11:50 - lunch

1:00 - repeat of lecture about how little they want to lecture us

1:15 - asked us to rat out coworkers

1:20 - talked about how they showed up to check on an employee who worked a lot of overtime and they went through his trash. He did a great job, but was stealing printer paper. Who is supposed to be the bad guy in that story?

2:00 - breakout sessions - all the people in your group are in a boat, but there's not enough room. One of you is getting thrown out. Who and why.

I'm calling in from home so my boat is just crazy small and I'm probably schizophrenic.

2:30 - They're explaining who got tossed.

By the time everyone had said something the meeting was over. I'll be glad when this company is gone.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Lets see the Marvel movie countdown as it stands so far.

The Incredible Hulk (the one with The Abomination)
Iron Man and Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger

That's 5 super hero movies that have to all not suck in order to make one movie, The Avengers, starring all of them. That's no small feat when you consider how many other super hero movies have gone wrong. Daredevil, Electra, both Fantastic Fours, Spawn, The Hulk, Superman 3, 4,and (debatably) Supermans, Batman movies without either Micheal Keaton or Christian Bale, the Captain America movie where Dolf Lungren was Captain America, (debatably) Spiderman 3, the list goes on. It's the movie making equivalent of the Apollo Program.

Captain America is an old story. He first appeared in March 1941. So to a certain degree it's gonna be hard to give away spoilers. Sitting next to us in the theater was a couple who may very well have a copy of Captain America Comics #1. So I'm gonna give some bits away while pointing at references to the other movies.

Steve Rogers is a skinny, sickly dork who desperately wants to join the Army and fight in WWII, but gets rejected repeatedly. So he volunteers for a program to make him bigger, faster, stronger, with increased metabolism and healing factor. He's given the Super Soldier formula which is destroyed shortly thereafter. If you go back to "The Incredible Hulk" you'll see that Bruce Banner was continuing the effort to recreate the Super Soldier program by bombarding a similar formula with gamma rays. The resulting explosion turned him into The Hulk.

Howard Stark, father of Tony Stark/Iron Man, was heavily involved with the development of the original formula along with other military weaponry.

In Iron Man 2 the device in Tony Stark's chest that keeps him alive and powers his suit is slowly poisoning him. But he finds that, for some reason, his father encoded a safer molecule into the layout of the fairgrounds. That fair is the one where Howard Stark is showing off his hover car.

You also saw Captain America's shield used to prop up a particle accelerator that Tony Stark was building. Rumor has it that you could also see it buried in the snow in the arctic in The Incredible Hulk. I haven't seen it though.

While they never use the word, the Cosmic Cube is the powerful object that the Red Skull is after. After the credits in Thor, they're studying a circuit that Loki is showing great interest in. That was the Cosmic Cube, too.

In Thor they talked about Yggdrasil, the world tree, that connects Midgard to Asgard and all the other worlds. When Red Skull goes to steal the Cosmic Cube he finds it in a hidden compartment inside a wooden wall with Yggdrasil carved in it.

I feel that I saw more, but that's all I can remember two days later.

And that's really all you need to know of the plot. It's a good story well told. I'll definitely be getting it on DVD and I highly recommend the movie to anyone.

Don't forget to sit through the credits.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Movie Review: Harry Potter part 7 part 2

Kind of a silly movie to review. It's the 8th movie in a popular series of movies and books. Either you've skipped these entirely, you've already seen it, or you're planning to soon.

None of the books in the series have been small. None of the books could be effectively translated to film. Some did a better job than others, but all had favorite bits hacked out and most felt rushed. The seventh and final book, however, was a bit disappointing. They spent half of the book camping and doing nothing. So I was a bit pissed when I heard that of all the books this was the one they felt deserved two movies. The book with the least to cut got twice the screen time. It also turned out to be the best of the movies.

If you're new to the series I'd recommend reading or listening to the first 6 books and then watching these last two movies. They turned out able to explain what was going on better than the books did.

The big complaint is that in Snape's flashback you got that he loved Lily Potter, but not how broken his heart was when she married James instead. But they did a better job of showing that it was his patronus that saved Harry in the woods in a previous book and not his dead father's patronus.

I won't be getting it on DVD because I much prefer the audio versions. But if you're on the fence about seeing this Harry Potter movie I highly recommend you see it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Links: July 22

This explains a lot about Arizona. [link]

Father and son at the first and last shuttle launch. [link]

Final shuttle launch seen from a student balloon project. [link]

The video coat. [link]

Home Depot trip run by a 4 year old with a project in mind. [link]

Weird trees. [link]

Cuba does a horror film. And it's a zombie flick. "Juan of the Dead" trailer.

The finale of the 2011 RoboCup Adult Size competition. Robots playing soccer always beats women playing soccer in my book.

Teller of Penn & Teller talking about the psychology of magic.

Oklahoma state representative Sally Kern doesn't know The Onion is a joke. [link]
But I give her props for bothering to check other sources.

Longish article about a scale model of the Mississipi river basin that was used to predict flooding and test the value of dams and overflow basins. [link]

Sarah Palin threw a movie and nobody came. [link]

How to switch off a cat.

Otherwise it'll be up all night fighting your apples.

More creepy pictures on Post-Its. [link]

"If we can't win on quality, we shouldn't win at all." This is why I love the guys at Google. [link]

Heritage Foundation tries to claim that poor people aren't actually poor because electronics are cheap and easily available. [link]

Larry Flynt gets to call Rupert Murdock scum. [link]

Creepy ventriloquist dummies. I mean more creepy than usual. [link]

A proposal on how news websites should look and function. He does kinda forget that a site needs advertising. [link]

10 unusual bookstores. Number 10 is my favorite by far. [link]

A collection of electron microscope images. [link]

Borders has given up. [link]
Sucks for them, but hopefully it's good for smaller book sellers.

Great leaping Borneo Rainbow Toads! I ain't seen one of them varmints in 87 years. [link]

Another article about the virus that was attacking Iranian nuclear centrifuges. This one focuses on the detective work. [link]

NPR had a report about this a few months back. These guys figured taxes would be more acceptable if we knew how they were being spent. They got Obama on board with making receipts. The paper receipts may or may not manifest, but you can see how much of your taxes go where right now. [link]

China managed to revive the illegal ivory trade and elephant poaching. [link]

My new favorite auction site. [link]
OK, so my brother and I went there to look at farm equipment, but there's stuff that you're still gonna wish you could drag home. Stuff like this

Iced tea stand on the honor system. [link]

Harry Potter babies. [link]

The secret origins of phone numbers. [link]

Kinetic sculpture that uses actual wave data from a specific location as it's motion commands. [link]

China makes counterfit stores, too. [link]

Math + fairy tales = [link]

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rain barrel rejigger

Have you seen what rain barrels cost? The cheap ones are still over $100. That's why I built my own a few years back. Just a plastic trash barrel with a hole in the side and a spigot placed there and sealed with fish tank sealer. I cut a hole in the lid the precise size of the tube that was redirecting water from the rain spout.

I should have put screens over the holes and let the water run through them. That's to catch the leaves and bugs and gunk that wash off the roof. It's also to keep mosquitoes out, but the fit between the tube and lid were tight enough to keep them out anyway. It was also tight enough that in a serious rain the water couldn't escape fast enough, would back up the drain pipe and pour over the gutter.

Still, I was reasonably happy with it. It filled up with just a little rain. A hose running under the house got me a modest flow of gravity fed water. Then I needed to haul pitchers of water through the house when the barrel was half empty.

The second year a rat chewed through the hose where it passed through the front wall of the house. Kinda cut the water pressure a bit.

Last year I finally found the pump I wanted. It watered the yard just fine, but drained the barrel pretty fast. Mind you, for those two months in summer when I actually need the rain barrel it always empties fast. Lots of heat and no rain. I'd sometimes have to steal the neighbor's hose. And his spigot.

This year I bought a proper rain barrel. It's a good deal bigger, has a big screen covering the top, and is designed to be connected to other rain barrels just like it so you can keep more water. And it's amazing the amount of grossness caught on the screen.

I told you all that so I could tell you this.

When I'd used enough of the water from the old barrel to make it movable I dragged it out front. Yesterday I hooked the hose (rat damage repaired) to the spigots of both barrels and opened them. Water flowed from the barrel in the back to the one in the front. The size difference is enough that when the pressure equalized the barrel in front was 80% full while the one in back was still at 50%. Now I can water the plants with the watering can without having to keep tromping through the house tracking in mud and letting out cool air.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

camp raspberries

We went camping last weekend. Me, Yummy, and some old friends of hers.

We call it camping because there's a tent. But there's also a gravel pad, a bathroom, running water, a bunch of other "campers", and Camp David somewhere in the same wooded area. All in all a good place to flee to when the zombies come. Once a year we go to Cunningham Falls State Park and spend a weekend hanging around a fire, cooking things, and breathing smoke. Somehow we never quite make it to the hiking trails or these alleged falls.

This year we happened to show up when the raspberries were ripe. In the actual camp loop they were pretty absent, but walk off a little ways beyond the horseshoe pit and there's a healthy bush. Take a walk down to the overflow parking and it's solid berries almost the whole way up. After parking my car Yummy came back to camp with a large cup full. It pretty well shamed any of the other berry collections so far.

After breaking camp we decided to take some back roads home instead of just following the GPS. We quickly came to the historical monument that the road and town of Catoctin Furnace were named after. It's an old pig iron smelting establishment. Created iron cannons and cannon balls for the Revolutionary War and, allegedly, for the USS Monitor during the Civil War.

Now, if you go around behind the big chimney, furnace-ie thing there's a very steep dirt path that goes up to a clear grassy area. All along the clear grassy area there are raspberry bushes. Having already eaten all that she had in camp, we picked the bushes of the better stuff. There were signs that someone had been there just a day or two before and what we were getting had become ripe since then. We left a bunch that should be totally pickable by now.

While it seemed like we got a lot of raspberries pretty much all recipes I've found online require quite a bit more than we got. I'm not sure we could have gotten the quantities we needed even if I'd had long sleeves to go with my always present jeans, shoes, and socks. I waded into the thorns in a few places and got some good stuff, but I got scratches and histamine reactions to pay for it later. That's one job the Mexicans are welcome to.

Not finding anything terribly useful for the quantity that I have, I decided to just pour vodka over them. In a week or so I'll use it to flavor some ice tea and top some ice cream or something.

A few are being dried for seeds.

If you live in the general Maryland/DC/Baltimore area check out the bushes on top of the Catoctin Furnace. If nothing else you can get a few handfulls of seedy, juicy eating.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


What did cartoon characters use to represent ideas before the invention of the light bulb?

If we ever develop flying saucer technology I think the first ship should be called the USS Whammo.

Why don't we have bricks shaped like Legos? They'd require less mortar, wouldn't suffer many of the issues I see in older brick homes, and you wouldn't have to worry about bricks falling out of the middle of the wall.

It occurs to me that the recently passed date for the end of the world prophecy would have been a good time for a killing spree. We could have killed and destroyed the bodies of the entire Westboro Baptist Church (, scattered some of their wardrobe around their homes, and told everyone that it turns out they were right and they were the only ones who were raptured.

I've discovered the secret to immortality. If you are what you eat, then you should only be eating things that are still alive.

They keep talking about passing the bills for our spending off to the next generation. Well screw that. I say we claim the Social Security of everyone who was 30 to 50 when Reagan took office. SURPRISE, BITCHS! You have to pay your bills like everyone else.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Links: July 15

San Francisco considering a ban on pet sales. [link]

The Singing Saruman

Live action RoboCop theater. [link]

Saturn gets indigestion. [link]

How not to get hit by a train.

How to get better photographs.

How to talk to little girls to discourage them becoming vacuous fashionistas. [link]

The history of the Space Shuttle in pictures. [link]
I don't remember the introduction of the first Space Shuttle, even though I was 6. But I remember what a big deal Sally Ride was and that was only two years later. Kinda wish I knew how new it was back then.

I've already heard members of Congress calling Reagan a Communist. It's been one of the arguments that I've used to illustrate the extreme right shift of the Republican party. This article better explains how Democrats now are the hard right of back then. [link]

Are wrinkly fingers really better treads for primates? [link]

Mexico may have hotter drug wars, but also a better economy. Enough to cut the desire to head for the United States of Air Conditioning. [link]

Macaque self portraits. [link]

The Ban Powerpoint Party. [link]

Gay or straight, marriage is really a chick thing. [link]

Real Housewives of the Bible is supposed to show how women SHOULD act? Clearly you haven't read the Bible. [link]

Looking for the best book for beginners on a subject? This can help. But I stumped it the first couple of times. [link]

Map of useless stereotypes. [link]
What exactly are useful stereotypes?

Cry "Havoc" and let slip the pets of war! [link]

Toy Story/Shining mashup picture. [link]

About 8 years back I got to see a prototype for these flying around DC for a couple of weeks. When lit from the inside they look like floating light bulbs. [link]

REAL jobs for the autistic. [link]

Aw. Cuteness. [link]

You've seen gadgets like this before (or at least I have). This one takes it up another notch.

A comparison of AlQaeda tactics to IRA tactics. [link]
The issue I have is that AlQaeda and the IRA want different things. IRA wanted freedom. AlQaeda wants an oppressive theocratic government. AlQaeda needs to run more like the Tea Party than the IRA.

How a total computer newbie uses a browser. [link]

Stills from the deleted pie fight from Dr Strangelove. [link]

What that strawberry on the tomato shaped pincushion is for. [link]

Obama's reading of his book remixed into weirdness. [link]

In Japan you can use your phone to order groceries off this big grocery wall in the subway. [link]

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book Review: Agatha Heterodyne and the Airship City

I've talked about Girl Genius before. It's an online comic that I read. And I make sure to grab the bound graphic novels when they come out. Number 10 came out at the beginning of the month. They got at least two Hugos. Maybe three. They kinda blur together. Then they put out a book. I was dubious about the book. But when plundering a Borders I found a copy and grabbed it. Now I'm glad I did.

If you want to know the story then you need to go to their website and start reading from the beginning. This novel covers the first three graphic novels. Many reviewers have said that they were told for years to check it out, but balked because they don't read comic books. Then they read the book and were hooked. They've since gone through the complete archives. So trust me.

When adapting a movie to a book it's usually not the person who wrote the movie who is writing the book. The author has to work with the movie, and maybe the script as it was before scenes were dropped. Then they have to start padding it out with their own stuff. It rarely works out well. But this is a novel written by the people who created the original story. They know what had to be left out. They know the smells and sounds that didn't convey well to cartoon. They know exactly what an expression is supposed to convey. And they finally got to express some of those little bits that just couldn't go in to the story before.

The prologue, for instance, tells of the Heterodyne Boys in one of their untold stories. About sitting in a swamp, Bill being brilliant but uncommunicative, Barry watching the sky for a predicted attack by one of The Other's Hive Engines. The city of Beetlesburg, only touched on in the comic, gets fleshed out nicely, complete with a touring Jägermonster and Agatha's state of mind before we even get to the first page of the comic story. And then a story that consists of a page or two in the comic is given due respect and fleshed out to be made more understandable. Except, of course, for the bit that we're not to understand for many books still to come.

Whether you're a fan of the comics or not I highly recommend this book. Judging from what I've seen called Young Adult lately I'd say this book totally qualifies. It tells a good story quite clearly and entertainingly while not getting into subject matter that some might think of as NSFW while still being a book that adults can totally enjoy.

- - -

Now, Phil and Kaja Foglio, if you happen to be reading this, I have some casting suggestions for when this gets made into movies or, more appropriately, a radio programme.

Jürgen Prochnow (Dune, Das Boot) should play Baron Klaus Wulfenbach.
Patrick Warburton (The Tick) would do a great job as Othar Tryggvassen: Gentleman Adventurer.
Brian Blessed (Brian Blessed) needs to be one of the Jägermonster Generals. Him, John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings), and maybe Peter Jurasik (Babylon 5). Peter Jurasik might need to be used as another Jägermonster just so we can keep him around and hear a lot of him.
I can see Rosario Dawson (Sin City) as the psychotic pirate Bangladesh DuPree.
For Krosp the cat I kept coming back to Kelsey Grammer (X-Men 3). I want to give him dignity, but a slight lisp. He shouldn't come off all Muppetish. More Yoda and less Snarf.
You two should do nicely as Punch and Judy. I mean being Agatha's parents and all. If not that then Kaja as Von Pinn.
Moloch never gelled in my head. Same with Gilgamesh. They're just not enough of a caricature for a voice or a face to come to mind.
Give me a time machine and I'd cast Carrie Fisher as Agatha. Then I'm gonna cast Lucy Lawless as Wonder Woman just because it was the role she was born for.

Seriously though, talk to the BBC. You know this'd be a great radio programme.

And Danny DeVito as Dr Beetle.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sod Off Wednesday: July 13

Ten years and one week ago I moved to DC! Nine years and eleven months ago my stuff arrived.

Movers can sod off.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rock city

I was largely out of touch while in Kansas. Comments left here go to my spam address which I didn't check while away. Sorry I missed those of you who wanted to get together. A lot that I wanted to do in Kansas didn't get done.

On the drive west we took a slightly alternate route. Normally we just hop on I-70, point the car west, and forget about it. This time we went a bit southerly, but not so much as to add too much time.

View Larger Mapspecific addresses have been removed to protect our parents

Yep. Those areas of the country with flooding? They're flooded. Even with the water level dropping there were vast areas of submerged field.

Since we'd already hit all the strange little sites along the way we made a last minute decision to detour and hit Rock City. For those following along at home, that'd be point B on your maps. It's this 5 acre park with strange rock formations.

These rocks were caused by calcium in water getting into the limestone and hardening it so it wouldn't wash away with the rest of the ground.

Rock City costs $3 or $0.25 for kids. It's a good place to stop while trying to get across Kansas.

And it was a good thing we went there. See how bright and sunny and HOT it is in these picture? It wasn't so 45-60 minutes to the south. We finished the audio book and turned on the radio. But it was a weather broadcast talking about capsized boats on Cheney Lake, an overturned fireworks tent in Wichita, and generally high winds. We drove into rain that made me pull over for a little while. Me and most of the rest of the traffic. But had we taken I-35 down from Kansas City we would have had it worse and for much longer.

But back on the farm? Nothing. They watched it move north and cursed furiously. But some rain did come a bit later. A whopping 0.15" for which they were overjoyed. It's the most they've had in 6 months. Not at once. Total.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review: Ghost

TWO! Two major three day summer holiday weekends without a major movie coming out. NO! Transformers 3 doesn't count at all! It's NOT a major movie. It's the second sequel to a crap series of movies based very poorly off of a cartoon that was successful when I was 8 and a complete mess a couple of other times. I love me some Optimus Prime, but these movies only prove how bad that unmade Superman movie had to be in order to get Michael Bay to refuse the job for artistic reasons.

So instead you get to hear about this book that I finished reading.

I have read a LOT of Piers Anthony books. One summer I'd go to visit a friend rather than go home after work. He had an insane amount of the Xanth series. There were 17 or 18 books in the series back then. There are currently 34 and 2 more on the way. He also set me up with the Incarnations of Immortality series. I saw a hard copy set of the "Incarnations..." for sale in college. By the time I went home and got my checkbook and returned they were gone. But Yummy got me a set for Christmas a couple of years back. She even got Piers to sent autographed stickers to shove in a couple of them.

So when I saw a book of his that I hadn't read (and wasn't some Xanth book in the middle of a massive series) at a big library book sale I grabbed it. It's a 1986 book called "Ghost". It's a bit deceptive to call it a 1986 book since the introduction talks about all the versions it went through and with each one another attempt to sell it. I have to assume it took him so many attempts to sell it because it's more than a little trippy. But, having so much time to work and rework it there came a lot of opportunity to include a lot of symbolism and ideas mentioned early in the book that would become significant later. Stuff that probably wasn't in the early drafts, but showed up as he spent time thinking about the book.

So, anyway... trippy.

The book starts as a fairly sensible sci-fi book. Earth is short on resources. Cars are gone. Everything is electric and there's not a great deal of that. Public transit shut down recently. There's some pedal powered helium sail balloons that make the skies like the surface of a really busy lake of sail boats. But there's still a space program that consumes a lot of power. So it's not popular. They have to draft people into it. A few stay. They're required to return to Earth at least once a year for a month. It takes a lot of power, but they gotta keep the loyalty of those in space. Can't have them rebelling and all that.

Back on Earth for only a few hours our hero is called back into service, promoted two ranks, and given command of a ship. Not just a space ship. One of them new fangled time ships they've been experimenting with. Their job is to go after another time ship that took off into the crazy distant future and was lost. The original ship was looking for new power sources. So, if you see any of them, bring them back, too.

Time travel requires a different link with home. They have a psychic on the ship to monitors a beacon back to their own time. But the beacon can be disturbed by strong emotions. So right off the captain starts chatting with the crew one at a time to see who is disturbing things. As he goes he starts mentally picking which of his 7 member crew is which of the 7 deadly sins. Could the disturbance be because of the rules in space that any of the crew must be sexually available to anyone else? After all, there's an engaged couple and an engaged to be engaged couple. One of them seems violently upset that his pet theory of how the universe ends has been disrupted. Another has a nice calm chat and then kills herself. Gotta cover that up. That'll definitely upset the crew, and thus the beacon.

The old idea that the universe exists in a cycle of Big Bangs and Big Crunches was disproven. What was freaking out one of the crew members is that this means that the universe just gets bigger and bigger and ages and ages until it's all dead. There's gonna be ghosts that hate those on the time ship.

This and the fact that everyone seems to get more mentally unstable the further they get from their own time, or possibly the faster they move through time, finally gets to the captain and he orders the ship to stop. Stopping could take days, but they slow down enough to get a look at a completely dead galaxy. It's a whole galaxy of protoplasm. It's also a black hole somehow. It's not clear. And the hidden girl who killed herself is still talking on the intercom an awful lot.

Well, the stuff the galaxy is made of seems to respond to mental energy. You can't push it around, but with just mental exertion you can move it and shape it and turn it into things. And then the ship starts to dissolve around them and everyone's subconscious starts to make their own dream world. And the captain needs them all working together in order to escape the black hole/ghost galaxy back through time. And he uses his ideas about the 7 deadly sins to reach them each, but he can't unify them unless he can figure out and escape the trap of his own sin. Then they're all really dead, but now made of ghost galaxy stuff but nobody on Earth ever need to find out if they can just mentally rebuild their ship and go back. And if they can make it back and a couple of them have a kid then the one who killed herself can be born again into that body.

It's a strange book to describe. It works better if you read it, but there's plenty of other Piers Anthony I'd recommend first. I think it probably only sold because he's already a fairly popular author and the publisher figured anything in his name would sell. You know, the kind of thinking that got Isaac Asimov to write joke books. "Ghost" seems the kind of book that an author would list as his favorite book of his own. You know, the one that is kinda weird and didn't sell well and most of his fans haven't heard of it, but he likes it.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Breaker breaker, good buddy

What was your first internet handle? Nobody uses their real name, so what was yours? When? And why?

Monday, July 04, 2011

What a long strange road trip it's been

In Kansas for the week. If you're lucky I'll post something from my phone.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Friday Links: July 1

Conan O'Brien's video editors on the new Final Cut Pro.

Miss USA (yeah, that's still happening apparently) was one of two contestant who actually believe in evolution. [link]

Cartoon explanation of evolution. [link]

Why you always see "Free Public Wifi" sites in airports. [link]

Whining may be the most annoying sound. [link]

Oreo filling art. [link]

An unusual bookshelf. [link]

Panning for gold in the middle of the city. [link]

Game: Snail Bob 2 - clear the way for the snail to crawl across the screen. [link]

Problems in Georgia as efforts to get rid of illegal immigrants is wildly successful. [link]

Subway riding dogs in Russia. [link]

A dog with 4 prosthetic legs. [link]

Nevada makes robot driven vehicles legal. [link]

A 3D printer that fuses sand with the sun and a big ass magnifying glass. [link]

Rod Blagojevich found guilty on 17 of 20 charges. [link]
You really need to listen to this hysterical summary of his first day on the witness stand. [link]

20 odd interview questions. [link]

Splitscreen: a love story.
Splitscreen: A Love Story from JW Griffiths on Vimeo.

Watch the video about the concrete that lets water through. [link]