Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Links: December 23

Super Cat AWAAAAY!

Brown trousers time on a highway in Russia.

Original Green Goblin makeup screen test. [link]

From about freezing to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, snow forms as flakes. When it hits about 23 degrees the snow forms into needles and at about 22 degrees hollow columns. When the temperature drops to around 10, flakes start forming again. But when it gets to -8 or so, it's once again columns. At -30, snow stops forming altogether.
Despite 75 years of research, no one knows why. [link]

5 extremely wasteful film shoots. [link]

I didn't realize there was a debate about what the first chord of "A Hard Day's Night" was. This guy tells us.

Click the genres to navigate the maze of music types. [link]

Christmas light show done to the Skyrim theme.

An adult taking standardized tests. [link]
note: If the reading and math quizes at the top are an honest comparison to the standardized test then I think the school board member may not deserve all these other degrees he has.

6 reasons Star Trek: Voyager never worked. [link]
It's fleshed out much better than my general complaints about how every character was pretty much every actor trying to place the same personality.

A Very Calvin and Hobbes Christmas.

Cat regularly catches the bus. [link]

Real people play against real pigs in iPad app. [link]

Illegal torrent activities of the major movie studios. [link]

Skull smashing slingshot. [link]

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Santa is a strange idea

I was just thinking about Santa's means of transport. We take it for granted that he rides in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. How did they get to that point? There had to be a thought process that got us to that point.

We'll start with the fat man in a suit who brings gifts. Some form of that character has existed in most European cultures for centuries. Now lets picture someone trying to put the kids to bed on Christmas Eve.

Mom: Good night. Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite.
Kid: I'll try. But they get so mean in the winter.
Mom: Yes, well, sleep well anyway.
(Mom starts pulling door shut.)
Kid: Mom?
(Mom stops. Opens the door a bit.)
Mom: Yes, sweetie?
Kid: How is Santa getting here?
Mom: He rides a sleigh.
(Door starts to close.)
Kid: Like ours?
(Door opens a bit.)
Mom: Yep. Just like ours. Now go to sleep.
(Door starts to close.)
Kid: But Mom?
(Door opens a bit.)
Mom: Yes?
Kid: It takes our two horses an hour and a half to get to Grandma's. How does Santa get to all the kids homes so fast?
Mom: Um... I suppose he must have more horses. Good night.
(Door starts to close.)
Kid: How many horses?
(Door pauses.)
Mom: Twelve. He has twelve horses. Good night.
(Door continues to close.)
Kid: Mom?
(Door pauses. Mom sighs. Door opens.)
Mom: What?
Kid: Santa lives way up north, right?
Mom: Yep. Goodnight.
Kid: Isn't it too cold for horses? Wouldn't they freeze?
Mom: (sigh) Uhhm. Yeah. He... uses...
Dad (voice from outside room): Reindeer. They live up north.
Mom: Yes. Santa has a sleigh just like ours that is pulled by twelve reindeer. Now go to sleep.
Kid: What's a reindeer?
Mom: It's a really big deer with huge antlers that likes to stomp on children who won't go to sleep.
(Mom almost gets the door closed.)
Kid: Does Santa visit cousin Ichabod?
(Door doesn't move.)
Mom: Yes.
Kid: Over the mountains?
(Mom grumbles. Door opens a bit more)
Mom: Yes. Over the mountains.
Kid: But how does...
Mom: He flies.
(kid opens mouth)
Mom: Yes. Over the mountain. Santa is awesome like that.
Kid: Santa can fly? Can I fly?
Mom: No! You can't... (mutter) The reindeer fly. They pull the sleigh and they fly and if they get to a house where the kids are still awake Santa feeds them the gifts he was going to give to the little kid.
(Mom closes the door quickly)
Kid: And that's how Santa gets on the roof so he can come down the chimney?
Mom (Through door): Yes.
Kid: Mom?
Mom (Through door): WHAT!?
Kid: How do twelve big deers fit on the roof?
(Mom opens door.)
Mom: What?
Kid: Deers are big. How to twelve of them fit on the roof?
(Mom and voice of Dad together)
Mom: They're tiny.
Dad: There's only eight.
Kid: What?
(Mom glares up the hall.)
Mom: There's not twelve. There's only eight. Eight. Tiny. Reindeer. Now go to sleep.
(Mom closes the door quickly.)
(There's a long silence.)
Kid: But Mom?
Mom (from down the hall): MAGIC! NOW SHUT UP AND GO TO SLEEP!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Carols

I'm sure you're sick of Christmas music by now. Take a break with some stuff that the radio isn't likely to be playing.

"The Night Santa Went Crazy" by Weird Al Yankovic.

"The Twelve Pains of Christmas" by Bob Rivers

"Christmas at Ground Zero" by Weird Al Yankovic

"I Want My Chevy for Christmas" by Cheech and Chong

"The Restroom Door Said Gentlemen" by Bob Rivers

Heck, just search for "Twisted Christmas" by Bob Rivers.

"Oh Holy Night" by Eric Cartman.

"12 Days" by Straight No Chaser

OK, the radio plays this, but I still like it.

"Keeping Warm in Calgary" by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra Chorus and Tweeters.

We pause now for this message from XKCD

Submissions from friends:
"Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses

This one gets stuck in my head from time to time, but never knew where it got stuck in from.

"Father Christmas" by The Kinks

"The Christians and The Pagans" by Dar Williams

"Merry Christmas from the Family" by Jill Solube

"What Do You Get A Wookie for Christmas (when he already owns a comb)"

"Santa's Beard" by They Might Be Giants

"I Want an Alien for Christmas" by Fountains of Wayne

"12 Days of Christmas" by Allan Sherman

Sorry, but Adam Sandler's "Chanuka" gets too much radio play to make the list.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows

Trilogies can be tricky. Often there's a strong first that is based on a good idea. It's highly profitable so a second is demanded. But the second movie is forced. There's no great idea that inspires the script, just the promise of payment. The third is just done because they want to be able to call it a trilogy. No real motivation for the writers at all. This pretty much defines everything Disney does. They're an empire of sequels.

The first movie also has the benefit of introducing viewers to a interesting new world. By the second they know the world so the writers have to introduce something new. This constant need for newness and discovery is why shows like Star Trek, The A-Team, The Incredible Hulk, Quantum Leap, and countless others do well. Each episode takes the familiar characters into a completely new setting.

There are other kinds of trilogies. Those that have a weak second movie only because it's leading to a strong third. The initial Star Wars trilogy, for example. Or the Back to the Future trilogy. The Matrix trilogy tried to do this, but it turned out the second and third movies were both part of the ill conceived and very forced second movie mentioned in the beginning.

There are exceptions. There are those rare occasions where a surprisingly good movie with a small budget inspires someone to use that to make a grand second movie. "Terminator 2" and "Chronicles of Riddick" come to mind. Note that there was a sizable gap between the first and the second movies as the stories needed time to come together. The upcoming "Star Trek 2" should also be pretty good as everyone involved wants to make sure that they're making something good instead of Star Trek for the sake of Star Trek. If they screw up here they've brought back Star Trek just to kill it again. And "The Dark Knight" wasn't planned when they did "Batman Begins", but they only pushed ahead when they had a good idea for the second movie. This coming third movie seems there only because it was insisted upon to have a trilogy. Hopefully it's good, because that will help them with their plans to adapt "The Dark Knight Returns" in 10-20 years.

"Men in Black 2" was a forced movie with nothing particularly new. "Men in Black 3" takes the known characters to a new time. It's also removed from the originals by enough that I have to think someone finally came up with a good idea.

There's another type of trilogy. One that was always meant as a trilogy. Lord of the Rings is a good example. The Sherlock Holmes movies are proving to be another. They started with a grand idea that would take three movies to tell properly. But the Sherlock Holmes movies can each stand on their own in a way that the Lord of the Rings movies can't. You can walk into this second Sherlock Holmes movie without having seen the first and you shouldn't be lost. It'll still be nice if you've a passing familiarity with the characters, but not vital.

If I've been willing to blather on for this long in a movie review you already have some idea what I think of it. It's either damn good or something that would get you caned in Malaysia. (Have you contributed to the Send Uwe Boll to Malaysia Fund, yet?)

One could argue about how this Sherlock Holmes departs from the characters developed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once upon a time. It seems to me the adjustment is like adjusting any mention of currency for inflation. You couldn't compare the sales of Doyle's books to the earnings of modern books without adjusting his earnings for inflation and you can compare his characters to these without taking into consideration a change in society. There's plenty of modern adaptations of Shakespeare that don't get similar complaints. Holmes has always been a bit of a manic thrill seeker with no compunctions about getting into drugs or fights when be became bored due to a lax caseload.

Some of Holmes' tricks will be old if you've seen the first movie. Such as the way he analyzes his fights before getting into them. But this new movie throws a few twists into that as well as introducing a few new interesting elements. And Watson really comes into his own, both as a man of action and as a pretty good detective of his own. Plus we get to meet Moriarty and see his and Holmes' minds work against each other. By the way, props to Michele and Kieran Mulroney (the writers) for showing Professor Moriary as a professor instead of just a clever guy with a title.

Yes, I will be getting this on DVD. I may even see it in theaters again before it closes. And when the next one comes out I'll be there on opening weekend.

Santa's system test

Santa's sleigh performing pre-holiday systems check.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Obituary: Christopher Hitchens

As an agnostic (defined here as an atheist who is still listening) I've repeatedly come across the works of Christopher Hitchens. I haven't actually read any of his books. But I have enjoyed many of his articles and interviews and really enjoyed his debates.

Richard Dawkins is a level headed, even keeled, scientific sort whose books (that I also haven't read) approach the concept of god from a biological and otherwise science based stand. He has converted many Bible thumpers with cold reason.

Christopher Hitchens had the science based arguments in his repertoire, too, but he wasn't nearly as even tempered. He had no qualms about calling a moron a moron. His arguments included pointing out the abysmal logic of The Bible and worse logic of it's believers.

Despite our similar thinking, it took me awhile to warm to Hitchens. Largely because when I first looked at his writing he was convinced that the invasion of Iraq was justified because everyone knew Saddam had nukes. I don't know where he got his news from, but I always had trouble understanding how ANYONE could believe that. And that tinted most everything of his that I read. Eventually, he admitted that he had been working with flawed information and that the war was the result of a grand con job. That he was willing to change his opinion based on new information improved my view of him significantly. He became, in my view, not just an atheist with great, and sometimes cruel, debate skills, but fell into the definition of agnostic that I used back in the first line of this post. You'd never catch Ken Ham or Ray Comfort changing their story when proven wrong or given new information. And they have been, oh so many times.

In June 2010 he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. The same thing that killed his father. It caused him to cancel a book tour, but didn't stop him from continuing to write and debate and give the occasional talk. The cancer and the treatment showed on him, but where it was possible to keep working, keep debating, and keep educating he still showed up and made no effort to put makeup over what was happening to him. He was forced to cancel many events when his voice failed, but only then.

One thing he made clear early on was that there would be no deathbed conversion. Christians often try to claim that prominent nay sayers of their God changed their mind as they died. Charles Darwin is one of the most famous cases of this, but anyone who claimed to have seen it has been proven not to have been in the room. Hitchens said that if for any reason he says otherwise in the hours before he passes that he can guarantee that it was the drugs talking.


I wrote this Wednesday just because I wanted one ready. Wrote about what I knew Hitchens for - his trashing of theists. But he was a writer first and a writer about religious issues second. He continued writing articles on a variety of subjects right up until two days ago. He documented his development of cancer and gradual passing from it beautifully. I figure it'll end up in future versions of his biography "Hitch 22" and could be used as reading to help others with terminal cancer.

There are plenty of other eulogies out there. But one of the best has to have come from The Onion.

Source: The Onion

Friday Links: December 16

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois has been on trial for corruption for awhile. He had tried selling Obama's old Senate seat. He was recently sentenced to 14 years. [link]

A toast defibrillator. [link]

Drifting, or Hagawlah, in Saudi Arabia.

Medial marijuana laws reduce traffic fatalities. Possibly by reducing drunk driving. [link]

A wasp smaller than an amoeba. [link]

We've seen flames burn in null gravity before. Recently, a more in depth study of the stuff was done. [link]

Feed a word into this and listen to the music it makes based on the word. [link]

How to build a great paper airplane. [link]

We've been waiting for some time for this, but with this new woolly mammoth discovery some scientists claim to be only 5 years from a successful cloning. [link]

Paypal turns out to be dicks. [link]

Pictures of baby weasels in the wild. [link>]

Mythbusters is a safe show and a welcome addition to any neighborhood: BUSTED! [link]

The LA Times is a photo thief. [link]

What the opposite of helium does to your voice (and other science).

Cooling canals for a nuclear reactor proves to be a good home for endangered crocs. [link]

The Kepler telescope has found 2,326 potential planets in 16 months. One appears to be in the Goldilocks Zone. [link]

Bent wire still lifes. [link]

Crocheted tie fighters. [link]

A collection of photos of low flying aircraft. My favorites were when you see where planes flew too low and took damage but still managed to limp home. [link]

A trailer for a sci-fi movie that is just a concept. With all that's in this trailer the movie would have to be close to 3 hours long.

The alleged Ark of the Covenant is going to be moved. I'll let you look at it first. [link]

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 reached one billion dollars in sales faster than "Avatar" did. [link]

Picture: Gingerbread Weasley house. [link]

A gift of peace in all good faith. [link]

Richard Thompson, I know you're reading this! We have footage of Dill's brother's in action!

Trailer for "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe."

50 tons of corn stolen from a train in Brazil. [link]

How Elvis Costello got banned from SNL. [link]

Rats will free trapped rats. [link]

How chicken wire is made. [link]

An old Woody Allen stand-up bit about the time he shot a moose. [like]

John Updike's rules for reviewing books. It means I'll have to start taking better notes in the future. [link]

That's what my manger scene needs! A statue of a guy taking a dump! [link]

We recently saw lawyers in Florida using strippers as para-legals to drum up business. In Illinois a law firm pretty much came out and said they want a shapely secretary who puts out. Not for criminals. For the lawyers. She puts the perky in "executive perks". [link]

Louis CK is trying an experiment to see if people will buy the sort of stand up act that cable channels used to run. [link]

The biggest box office bombs. Some are good movies, some deserved to bomb. Yeah, Battlefield Earth, we're looking at you. [link]

Sweet new free program from AutoDesk (makers of AutoCAD). [link]

Really loud TV commercials will soon be a thing of the past. [link]

Mitt Romney's slogan is also a KKK slogan. Yeah, it happens. But why does the press apologize for mentioning that when it'd be headlines from now until the election if Obama said it? [link]

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book Review: Spin

Many times have I come to you with science fiction novels that I said were good, but I wouldn't put them in my top 10 or top 25. This isn't one of them. It'll take me time to sort out where, exactly, it belongs, but I feel safe placing this book in my top 25. I'm really gonna have to define that list some day.

In the not to distant future the stars all suddenly go out. So does the moon. So do the satellites. Earth has been put inside a bubble. Everything inside the bubble moves at only one second for every three years that passes on the outside. We're shielded from stellar radiation so we don't have three years of sunlight hitting us every second. An artificial sun shines down from the inside of the bubble. Someone has done this and that someone doesn't want us dead.

Tyler Dupree grew up with Jason and Diane Lawton. They were from a rich family. Tyler's dad and theirs were friends. Tyler and his mom got to live on the estate in a small house while she worked as the housekeeper.

The story focuses on Tyler. As he lies in a hotel room undergoing some painful medical treatment he feels a compulsion to write what he remembers before it's gone. He tells the story of growing up with Jason and Diane. He tells about the stars going out, the discovery of the spin barrier, and growing up in that world. When you know that in 60 years the sun will envelop the Earth what do you do? Follow wacky religions? Becomes a genius to solve the spin problem? Establish a network of communication weather balloons? Launch rockets beyond the barrier to learn more? Nuke the things in orbit that likely created the barrier? Terraform other worlds? All of the above?

In the short periods when he's lucid we watch Tyler fleeing forces unknown who want to control whatever treatment he's taking. And while fleeing them he needs to find a way to get through that arch outside his window. The one plunked right down in the middle of the Indian Ocean. 

Robert Charles Wilson has created an interesting world and writes it well. This was one of the few books I've read in awhile that I found myself eager to pick up and reluctant to put down. 

I recommend this book fairly highly. And so do others. It got both a Hugo Award and was nominated for a Locus Award and a John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Movie Review: The Muppets

I'm not even sure why I'm writing a review of this movie. You've all already made up your mind whether or not to see it. Most of those who want to see it already have. But here it goes anyway.

I heard there was a new Muppet movie coming out and that it was being made under Disney ownership. I was expecting another "Muppets From Space" or "Muppet Treasure Island". Because, frankly, Disney can't come up with fresh ideas to save their life. And Jason Segal wrote it and made himself a major character? Who does that?

Then a friend saw an advanced viewing. He said it was good. On par with the original. I trust him. He says it's worth seeing and I'll see it.
Then other friends saw it. They said it was damn good. On par with the original.
Life stepped in. I missed weekend after weekend.

Yummy and I finally got our acts together and went to see it. The timing was tricky. To get to a showing that fit our schedule we had to go to a bad part of a bad city. The theater isn't generally bad. They have good popcorn. It's in good condition. They're just in a bad location. We got two of us in an evening showing for under $20. No stadium seating. The lights don't come up between shows. And, this time, the heat was out. We sat in our big coats and shivered for two hours.

And we loved it.

You can't help but love the Muppets. It was completely different than any other show on TV. Barely controlled chaos. They used a philosophy similar to Monty Python. If you don't know how to end a sketch you blow something up. But they're not just talking gloves and slapstick humor. They each have a personality of their own. Each personality is a caricature of a real person's personality. Each has their own psychological problems. And you love them for it.

Even my parrot, Gandolf, loves them. Specifically the Swedish Chef. She'll blather on in mock swedish for 15 minutes when she's in a good mood. Not parrot babble. Mock. Swedish. Und shee awlways und wif der bork bork bork.

The movie starts with a couple of brothers. Young Jason Segal and Walter the felt boy. As kids they watched The Muppet Show together. To Jason they were funny. To Walter they were where he belonged. When they grew up Walter tagged along with Jason and Amy Adams anniversary trip to LA. Walter just wanted to see Muppet Studios. But it was run down. Partially in ruins. Decaying.

Jason wrote himself into Walter. He wrote everyone who ever watched the Muppets into Walter. I dare you not to tear up when Walter is standing in Kermit's office and looking at the picture of Kermit and Jim Henson hanging on the wall.

Walter finds out about a plot to level Muppet Studios and drill for oil. Our heroes set out to find Kermit and tell him. From there it becomes one of the great movie cliches. You need to get your TV characters on screen? Make them have to raise the money to save the whatever. But, what story hasn't been done to death? If you tell it well then it doesn't matter what story you tell.

I know I didn't want the movie to be about Jason and Amy. But in the effort to fit what was originally (I'm told) a 3 hour movie into less than 2 hours some things got trimmed. You see several times where Jason volunteers them to do something and Amy kind of gets this look on her face. She gets a speech, a song, and bit at the end about their story. The one where he's neglecting her and she just wants to spend time just the two of them. It parallels the story of Kermit and Miss Piggy. They've not seen each other for years because Kermit was never able to say that he needed her. In the end, they both figure out what they needed to do.

And then they play the Muppet Show theme song. And you find you're really glad you still have those tissues in your coat pocket from last winter.

Yeah, I'll be getting it on DVD.

I may try to finish writing up scripts for my idea for a science show starring Dr Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Reprint: Santa Claus

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

A conversation between Susan and Death:

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

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

Santa is the model for what we want our kids to become. Happy, generous, well fed, and with super powers.
We should all get our ideal body image from Santa instead of Barbie.
He threatens to withhold gifts from bad boys and girls, but he also shows nearly total forgiveness for their sins because he almost always comes through with the gifts in the end.
And nobody has yet killed in his name. How many other dieties can claim the same?

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

Friday, December 09, 2011

Friday Links: December 9

You're already a hardened criminal. What law firm do you use, the one that sends you strippers posing as paralegals or the one sending some guy in a suit? [link]

A horrifying revelation about how Time Lords spell. [link]

Jack Handy and the Martians. [link]

Acoustic Superman Theme.

Plastic Surgeon General's Warning: Smoking can make your nipples fall off. [link]

Chewbacca to appear on Glee. [link]
Does this mean that George Lucas now admits the Star Wars Christmas Special happened?

Dogs get PTSD, too. [link]

Jameco shows off their billiard ball powered computer. [link]

Then they explain a bit about that bladeless Dyson fan. [link]

The story of how the LAPD and media handled the reporting of the break up of the Occupy LA camp. If you don't want to read the whole thing be sure to jump to the update at the bottom of the article. [link]

Do plants feel pain or pleasure? Studies indicate they do. But then studies also indicate tin feels pain. [link]

Life on Earth started as a global organism. [link]

Launch of NASA's latest Mars rover should make golfers envious. [link]

The Russian Martian probe, however, has a doozy of a slice. [link]

Game: Kikka - find the secret way to build the chrysanthemum. [link]

Could Starcraft 2 replace chess as a game to study how the mind works? [link]

The original zombie novel. [link]

The boys from Hanson have a new beer. They're calling it Mmmhop. [link]

1:30 prequel to The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe. [link]

Best. Christmas Decoration. Evar. [link]

Thursday, December 08, 2011

"Xmas" is not a secular plan to "take the Christ out of Christmas." "The usual suggestion is that 'Xmas' is ... an attempt by the ungodly to x-out Jesus and banish religion from the holiday." However, X stands for the Greek letter Chi, the starting letter of Χριστός, or "Christ" in Greek. The use of the word "Xmas" can be traced to the year 1021 when "monks in Great Britain...used the X while transcribing classical manuscripts into Old English" in place of "Christ". The Oxford English Dictionary's "first recorded use of 'Xmas' for 'Christmas' dates back to 1551." Paul Brians adds that, "so few people know this that it is probably better not to use this popular abbreviation in religious contexts."
- Wikipedia

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Sod Off Wednesday: December 7

The road north of the family farm has become a popular place. Some roads are known as places where under age kids can go with their Everclear. Others as good make out locations. This one has become known as a place to set cars on fire.
I don't know the story behind the fire in this picture, but the one before it was someone torching the car of a landlord who had kicked the firebug out of a mobile home park.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Movie Review: Hugo

I knew very little about this movie before going to see it. I honestly thought it was going to be a very detailed digitally animated movie. But something compelled me to see it.

The movie starts slow. Almost painfully slow. But that makes the audience more likely to latch on to any little thing they feed us. There's a boy who lives in the walls and in the clocks of a train station in Paris. He keeps the clocks running. He watches people go about their lives down below. He likes to steal from a toy maker. But not for the toys. For the parts.

The movie starts to pick up. He's got a notebook with some sketches that don't make much sense to the audience. But they upset the toy maker. Hugo starts running around with the girl the toy maker is raising. She's looking for adventure. He has a mystery that he needs to solve since it's all he has of his father.

The movie has a magical quality. It doesn't move like we're used to. The very pacing seems to lend it a slightly odd feel. And it feels bit like a Narnia story or Peter Pan. But instead of having to go to a distant magical land they find it around each corner. They find it in a library run by Christopher Lee. They find it in a shop full of clockwork toys. They find it inside stone walls that feels like climbing inside the toys while making everyone outside look like they're the toys.

The big mystery is what is that clockwork man? Who made it? What does it do? Why does this strange girl have a necklace that fits in the automaton's neck? What does the toy maker know about it? And why is he so angry?

I liked this movie. I don't know if I'll get this movie on DVD, but I'll definitely try to take Yummy to see it. If I can't then I'll get the DVD. It's a story she'd love even if it didn't star Ben Kingsley.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Dougmas Jar 2011

December snuck up on me. Nobody told me we were having December this year. I'm not ready! I'm starting a bit late on the Dougmas season, but here's a start.

You have to start with a Dougmas Jar. Or a Christmas Jar or a Kwanza Jar or a Channukah/Agnostica/New Years/Festivus/Whatever Jar. From December 1 through December 31 all good Dougintologists have a jar set by where you empty your pockets. Each evening when you empty your pockets you're supposed to dump your change into this jar. Then, on New Year's Day, you count up the change and send a check for that amount to your favorite charity.

Why should you put your change in a jar at home? Because fuck the Salvation Army. That's why. Lets see if I can finish this post without ranting about them.

I started decorating my jar last night. It's a bell jar that I painted all white. I intended to follow up with some red. I thought the snap line I use for making lines in construction projects would work well. It didn't. Flat surfaces only. So I'll keep working on it. I've got bottle of red and green paint, too.

I'm afraid the jar's take is gonna be pretty slight this year. I barely use cash at all anymore. That's what I tell the homeless guys anyway. And it's pretty much true. The years that the jar did really well were years when I hit a stamp vending machine and got lots of change in the form of dollar coins. But now... now I'm gonna have to make a special effort this month to use cash at Starbucks, Subway, um... and other places just to have change.

Dougintology has a short list of preferred charities.
• Solar Electric Light Fund (
• Trees for the Future (

SELF is an organization that provides loans to people in remote areas so they can buy solar equipment. The loan is paid back over several years by using what they normally would have spent on generator fuel for three years. It helps to improve their education, their productivity, their health, and many other aspects of their lives.

Trees for the Future plants trees in areas where there's enough rain to support life, but poor soil management has made it a desert. This includes areas bordering the Sahara desert and clear cut rain forest. The trees break up the soil so native plants can take root, the leaves are edible, and eventually the tree can be used as fuel. It helps make an area better able to support the population rather than helping feed a population in an area that can't support them.

For our patron saint, Douglas Adams, I include:
• Dian Fossey Gorilla Foundation (
• Save the Rhino (

You may also want to consider...
Operation Foxhole is now defunct, but The Fisher House Foundation creates Ronald McDonald style housing for wounded soldiers. While the soldier is in the hospital his family gets to stay in the Fisher Houses for free. But I think there may be some arrangement about who does the cooking in the house.

Similarly, there's a Dougintology Shitlist. We disapprove of faith based charities. Partially because they usually refuse care to people who refuse to attend their services first. Partially because they refuse care to those whose lifestyles they disapprove of. And partially because they spend the money on stuff to promote their faith or get them exempt from anti-discrimination laws.
It's not charity if you're using it as a bribe. This is not what Jesus would do.

The Christian Children's Fund made the list for refusing $17,000 raised in memory of Gary Gygax. They didn't want money donated by Dungeons and Dragons players or that was raised by selling D&D merchandise. The poor children that might be fed or provided with clean drinking water were better off hungry than fed with dirty gamer money.

Christian Charities made the list when they threatened to stop providing aid in Washington, DC completely if they were forced to obey local anti-discrimination laws. I'm not sure if they followed through on the threat, but they did stop providing support to spouses of employees when DC legalized gay marriage. They also gave all foster care duties to another organization so they'd never have to adopt out children to gay couples.

The Salvation Army isn't as bad as Christian Charities. They're pissed that they can't discriminate in their hiring practices, but they do still put care of (and proselytizing to) the needy above their own bigotry. But, where legal, they do turn away homosexuals and refuse to hire them. A good deal of the money given to them is spent in lobbying efforts to make them exempt from these laws both here and internationally. More money is spent on bibles and other material used to try to convert those who need their help.

If you have a charity you particularly like or particularly hate let the readers know about them in the comments.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Friday Links: Dec 2

Carpeted stage + sudden braking = comedy

A guy give a shout out to the previous owner of his AD&D manual. [link]

Why don't we find turkey eggs in stores? [link]

Dr Who Christmas Special trailer - The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe. [link]

"Rampage: The Movie" - great potential to be awful or awesome. I put my money on it never being finished. [link]

Showing off in Skyrim.

How to report a Cthulhu infestation.

The unaired 1994 pilot for "24". [link]

Why Obama still matters. [link]

When the new "Arrested Development" episodes come out they'll air on Netflix. [link]

What we know so far about the Adderall shortage. [link]

As far as that goes, why the hell can't I get any Benadryl anymore? [link]

And why can't students at Fordham University get birth control? Because the Pope is a dick. [link]

If the humans die off the octopi and squid will eventually take over.

Muslim vs muslim culture clash. NSFW picture at the end of the article. [link]

Pictures of personal flying machines. [link]

NYPD got a high resolution panoramic camera for crime scenes. Here's a few of their pictures. [link]

Leonardo da Vinci and my first cousin once removed both carried around sketchbooks. [link]

Picture: lightning bunny. [link]

Much of this article about Edison and Westinghouse is old news, but scroll down to the bit about the first execution by electrocution. [link]

Quick comparison of iPhone and Android sales, profits, and market share. [link]

What is the PROTECT IP Act? [link]

If you give an engineer a lathe - The making of a teeny V-12 engine.

Brian Blessed alarm clock app for iPhone.

The use of pepper spray on protesters has resulted in interesting reviews for that stuff on Amazon. [link]

Think it's due to this guy? [link]

South Korea prison getting robotic guards. [link]
When the machines rise up it'll be in either Japan or South Korea. While the rest of the world fights the machines North Korea won't even realize there's anything wrong.

What have The Muppets been up to since their last movie? [link]

I want this coat. Just to wear around and scare people. [link]

Matter and energy can't be created or destroyed. It can only change forms. Until now. [link]

On my drive to Kansas I saw more dead deer on the road than prairie gators (thrown tire treads on the side of the road). But I hadn't realized there's so many that they've had to start running into people. [link]

To do when next in Pittsburgh. [link]

US Patent office shows off invention models. [link]

How the new Muppet movie originally ended. [link]

QI: How many balls are in the jar?

Half-Life: Origins

Alan Moore talks about the Guy Fawkes masks based on his "V for Vendetta" creation and their now popular use in activist groups. [link]

Tiny models of crime scenes. [link]

"Unfortunately, we at find ourselves unable to recommend this lovely item to you as the price appears to be either a misprint or a satire." [link]

A squirrel impersonating a Star Trek communicator. I laughed more than it deserved.

Thursday, December 01, 2011


This is an icebox. A proper one. No electronics. It actually needs a big block of ice to work.
It had been in the wheat truck building on the farm with rusty tools and bolts in it. When they started cleaning out that building with the idea of putting a new building there I and a few others spoke up and made sure that sucker was saved.

These two pictures are of The Muffin Man's kid, The Grouch, and the girl who rents the farmhouse in the loft of one of the barns. The loft is one of the places that my cousins and I would hang out and play when we were kids. It's been occupied by a polystyrene castle that my uncle had made for the Lawn, Garden, and Flower show some years back. In fact, it still is, but she has still cleared a space up there to play. She introduced The Grouch to the ancient art of throwing mud dauber nests against the concrete and watching them explode.

Chipped Chocolate Pie (revised)

A year ago today I posted this recipe for the first time. The final product wasn't completely correct because I didn't know what I was doing. This time I had help from my cousin, The Muffin Man.

This particular recipe was known as Grammie's. At her funeral her sister was overheard laying claim to it. Another sister had never heard of it and was learning something new about Grammie.

It's called a Chipped Chocolate Pie. This is different from a chocolate chip pie in that two of the words are switched. Also, you're supposed to shave your own chocolate instead of using a bag of chips.

For the crust you'll either need:
16 graham crackers, crushed
1/3 cup butter
1 graham cracker crust

For the contents you'll need:
30 large marshmallows
1 cup heavy whipping cream - Whipped
1/4 cup hot milk
1 ounce (1/2 square) semisweet chocolate, grated

The crust
I made the crust the first time and went the easy route the second. I recommend trying to make your own at some point. I found it rather interesting. And when you make your own you have some leftover crumbs to sprinkle on top.
Set aside 2 tablespoons of smashed cracker to put on the top of the pie later. Mix the rest in with the melted 1/3 cup of butter. At first you'll have some really buttery crumbs and lots of not at all buttery crumbs, but just keep stirring and it'll even out. The butter serves to help make the cracker crumbs sculptable. Then line the pie pan with the buttery crumbs. They don't pack well. Not by hand. My brother says I should have used a second pie pan to pack the crust better. Even if you don't it'll be fine. Mostly you're just wanting something to make sure the pie filling comes away from the pan.
If I were doing it again I'd probably use more butter. But maybe the second pan would do the same job.

The filling
Last time I wanted a double boiler that I didn't have. Turns out I don't need it.
Put the 30 marshmallows and the milk in a bowl. This should leave you enough marshmallows in the bag to snack on or pay off nosy family members.
The bowl went in the microwave. 30 seconds and stir, 30 seconds and stir, repeat until the marshmallows are melted. Should only take a minute and a half to two minutes. Then it was stirred with a fork to help it cool. Sort of a lift and drop movement. To give it surface area to cool better. Pour a bit over your finger to test the temperature. You're shooting for the room temperature neighborhood.

Get some kind of grater to use on the chocolate. The squares we used were 2 oz. We needed half of one square. Expect to leave some knuckle in there. If the final pie is pink then you left too much knuckle.

The whipping cream sat in the fridge overnight. Partially because it's dairy and we weren't using it immediately and partially because it's my understanding that it whips better that way. It should also help with what comes later. Blenders are your friends. I introduced air in my first one with a fork, but it wasn't enough. A blender got it nice and foamy and to a point where a hole was left when I took the beaters out. That's what you want. Something that can be shaped and formed a bit.

You're supposed to let the marshmallows cool for a little while. Another mistake from the first try was not letting the molten marshmallows cool enough. It melted the chocolate. This time it was allowed to sit while the cream was whipped. Then the marshmallow ooze was poured slowly, a bit at a time, into the whipped cream. Then I folded the cream over itself again and again until the marshmallow was mixed in. We repeated this a few times and then stopped. The foam in the cream doesn't hold up well when it's hot. When about half the marshmallow was folded in we put the mix in the fridge so it could cool down. Then we continued. After all the marshmallow is folded into the cream, fold in the chipped chocolate.

Pour all that in the pie crust.
Sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs you set aside on top of the filling. If you don't have extra crumbs some chocolate or cocoa would do well, too.
Throw that mess into the fridge for a few hours. Preferably overnight.


The pie was a success. It always is. At the family gatherings we have to cut it thin to make sure as many people as possible get some. I think everyone got a slice. Since it was a special occasion I think everyone wanted to make sure that everyone got at least some of the pie.

Note from The Muffin Man:
other delicious variations include: use a oreo crust instead of graham cracker, try adding in 6-8 chopped up cherries, try adding in 1 or 2 crushed small candy canes, drizzle top with chocolate syrup or fudge