Thursday, July 31, 2014

Don't go there

Moving to a new city involves a period of learning where not to go. In DC that meant trying to check out a clock tower at night which led to being mistaken for a male prostitute, being offered drugs, walking a homeless woman to a bus stop who I used to avoid stopping for a very threatening thug. Driving in Baltimore, it threatened to draw me into my own personal version of Grand Theft Auto as I contemplated trying to rescue a prostitute on her first night out. Well, this new game on my phone has gotten me into inadvisable areas on not one, but two occasions recently.

The game is called Ingress. It's been going on for about two years. You have a map of the world and markers indicating the locations of energy portals. You pick a team and then go try to capture portals for your team. But to do this you must go to the real world location in which the portal is located.

My neighborhood has five portals within easy walking distance. As of now, I own three of them, my team owns the fourth, and the fifth is at the train station near my house, but is too powerful for me to mess with. But to get points and continue to level up I must find more. This was easier when I was fighting someone else for the local portals. So I had to travel a bit to access some others in the Cherry Hill neighborhood.

I walked along the water for a long ways and encountered four portals. The first was out of phone range, so I couldn't claim it. The second and third I claimed in the name of England. The fourth was too powerful to take, but I could gather the energy around it to power some of my other portals. Then I went deeper into the neighborhood toward a cluster of four portals. The road I was on was U shaped and would drop me off back near the beginning of my route. The first half was a bit run down and ghetto looking, but reasonably safe. I passed my accountant, talked to some random people, and generally had a nice walk. But beyond the cluster of portals things changed. The neighborhood looked much better, but felt much less safe. Two guys in their teens started following me. One of them was singing a tune that went something like "Yo, nigger, yo, nigger, yo, nigger, yo, nigger..." and on like that. And they were closing the distance between us. As they got close I stepped into a driveway, got a good look at them, and let them pass. They moved on and put some distance between us. About a block and a half later someone came across the street and attacked the both of them. And I mean he laid them out with a couple of punches. They got back up and ran off while the assailant went on his way. I would have dearly loved at taxi at that point.

The rest of the walk was pretty quiet. I found and ate some blackberries. I walked along quickly decaying sidewalk and around some ill placed trees, and went home. If I go back to those portals it will be with my car.

I mentioned gathering energy around enemy portals. I do that frequently to the portal at the train station. One time I tried it at 1:15 in the morning. In my pajamas. It had just stopped raining. I thought I was safe. Instead, three guys tried to corner me and make me pay a toll. I was supposed to be scared. I was more annoyed than anything.

First, two of them stayed back and the third came over to ask me for money. I told him I left my wallet at home and looked down at what I was wearing. He left. A minute later he came back and asked to borrow my phone. "Nope." This wasn't the answer he was expecting. He explained he wanted to call his mom in prison. "Can't." "Why not?" "Security reasons. It's a government phone. I'm not allowed to let anyone else use it. Spies and what not. You know." And I smiled at him. He just looked at me. I put the phone in my pocket and walked past him towards the two others. Yeah, I was surrounded at that point. Or, could be easily. As I approached the two others I had I different trick in mind. I kept smiling. And what's creepier at 1:20 AM? Three teenaged wanna-be thugs who can't stop giggling or one white guy in his pajamas walking among them with a grin? The two started telling me that if I wanted to come out here I had to cop to them. So I asked them to repeat that a couple of times. Then I asked "I have to ... cop? Comp?" They repeat it a few more times. "I'm not sure what that word is." And then. "Well, I gotta get on home. I'll talk to you later." as I got past them. One of them made a move like he was gonna hit me in my peripheral vision. I was supposed to jump. I didn't. I stopped. I turned and looked over my shoulder with more teeth showing than before and gleam in my eye. He stopped giggling and ran to catch up with his friends.

So that's another thing I won't be doing again.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Movie Review: Snowpiercer

I watched the independent sci-fi movie Snowpiercer last weekend. If you're lucky, it's showing in your local independent theater. If not, then Netflix plans to get the DVD once it comes out. You can look it up and save it now.

The planet has frozen. An experiment in stopping global warming has frozen everything. All but one long train full of people. It drives on a track that winds over the whole planet once a year and never, ever stops. In the back of the train is the vast unwashed masses crammed together for 18 years in such a way to make diesel submarines seem roomy. At the front of the train it's all obscene decadence, luxury, and anything you could want.

There have been revolts and revolutions before, but all have been put down brutally. But Captain America has a plan. He wants to take the next war all the way to the front of the train. 

The story is a familiar one. It could as easily be about the French Revolution or the fears of the 0.1% today or some of the Living Dead movies. The train makes the difference this time. It give it a hint of Masque of the Red Death (people hiding from death in a long string of rooms) as well as gives the audience a new world to explore.

This movie also would have gone well as a video game. At least then there'd be a good reason for progress to be on rails.

I'm still not sure if I'll get it on DVD, but it's been one of my favorite movies so far this year.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gandolf quote

Is that right? I thought you were the bird. - Gandolf Greybird

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Links: July 25

Potty trained parrot.

David Copperfield once made muggers think he had nothing on him to steal. [link]

Diggy Diggy Hole - music video

Comic book character inspirations. [link]

Vegetables are any plant you eat. [link]

The only non-indian survivor of the 7th Cavalry at Little Bighorn. [link]

Finally, a good reason for disliking Jimmy Carter. [link]

Spot on Peter Griffin impersonator with iffy audio.

A penguin that goes to the shops. [link]

The Science of Doctor Who by Brian Cox. [link]

Some of Weird Al's new stuff. Word Crimes and Tacky. [more]

Harrier makes an emergency landing on a cargo ship.

Kid dies because school wouldn't let him carry his inhaler. [link]

Coyotes and badgers sometimes hunt together. [link]
This explains the holes my brother has been having to fill up in his fields.

Bird migration wasn't something people knew about until surprisingly recently. A crane with a spear through it's neck introduced the idea. [link]

Queen Elizabeth aging via money. [link]

3D print Barbie some armor. [link]

Game: Purrmageddon - play a cat in a giant mech suit smacking down the best defenses the planet can muster. [link]

Man vs TGIFriday's Endless Mozarella Sticks. Careful notes of a day spent choking down breaded cheese. [link]

Pictures of Hitler practicing his hand gestures. [link]

Ultra-black material invented. [link]

Thanks to anti-vaxxers, the immigrant children are better vaccinated than Texans. [link]

Stand your ground laws don't stop crime, do increase homicides. [link]

What happens when you decriminalize "indoor" prostitution? Rhode Island accidentally found out. [link]

A timeline of indian land loss. [link]

Bacteria that live solely on electricity. [link]

Sleeping in colder rooms helps you lose weight. [link]

Seaweed beer. [link]

14 fact about the child-migrant influx. [link]

Spray cake in a can. [link]

Video of the creation of a nuke-built lake. [link]

There's an airborne version of MRSA. [link]

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bye bye, Walgreens

So, I'd stopped in to my local Walgreens to pick up some medications and snacks when a rather hostile employee drove me out. I had a couple of plastic bags in the car, so I brought them in with me to reuse them. Hardly the first time I've done that in this or any other store. I'd gotten my meds, some snacks, and was getting some foot powder when someone shelving some stuff asked me what I was doing. Confused, I answered that I was picking up some foot powder. "You can't put that in a bag." Thinking she was joking I asked "What?" Her hostility increased. "You can't be putting stuff in a bag." "I can't use a bag to carry my groceries to checkout?" "No! You might be stealing!" I can kind of understand the thinking. Sure, there's security stuff on the meds to sound alarms as I leave and I'm pretty sure someone would object if I just walked out with bags of stuff. But, sure, I suppose. So I emptied the bag and handed it to her. I then started picking my stuff up. "YOU CAN'T DO THAT!" "I can't carry my groceries up to the register in my hands, either? You're really going to have an attitude about that?" I had a bit of attitude myself at this point. "You can't do that!" So I set everything back on the ground and said "Fine. I'll get them somewhere else." and started walking out. She followed me and called a code something or other. Presumably it meant shoplifter. I turned, pulled the other empty bag out of my pocket, "Here, you can have my other bag, too, if it'll make you feel better." and left the bag hanging there in the air. A few steps later I pulled out my wallet, took out my Walgreens card, and tossed it at her. "Here. You can have this, too. I won't be needing it after this." I then left, went to the CVS a mile up the road and spent $78 there.

I've e-mailed Walgreen's customer service about it. It's not really fair to stop doing business with someone and not tell them what happened to make you stop.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Friday excuses

I had family in town and work to do. So this got zeroth priority and you get no links.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday Links: July 11

Some vampires were staked through the legs. [link]

Monkeys and humans fight over water supply. [link]

How morning sickness helps the fetus. [link]

Chimp in a zoo shows advanced planning skills. [link]

Birth control for men that we can't get our hands on. [link]

Poor boys get PTSD when moving to better neighborhoods, but poor girls thrive. [link]

Hawaii's beaches are made of fish poop. [link]

The founding fathers were hard drinkin' men. [link]
"That's 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, eight of whiskey, 22 of porter, eight of hard cider, 12 of beer, and seven bowls of alcoholic punch. And what will your friends be drinking this evening?"

We can't take pictures of the Milky Way from the outside, so what galaxy is it that's shown in pictures? [link]

NASA can take tax deductible donations. [link]

Goldman Sachs demands Google unsend an e-mail. [link]

August 23

More on the Stargate movie reboot. [link]

We let you carry your guns openly for one day, ONE DAY!, and you're already drawing on each other in the QwikEMart. [link]

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Late night thought

Everybody should kill one person at some point. It's a once in their lifetime experience.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Neighborhood landscaping

This is my hood. You should be able to click to enlarge the picture. The street names have been removed to make it harder for my old university to find me.

Let me tell you what you're seeing.

The blue rectangles are properties I own at the moment. This will likely be added to, soon. If I had the money there'd be a lot of blue on this map.

The green rectangles are lawns that I've been caring for this summer. Four of them I've been taking care of all summer and they look great. Two others straight across from my house have only been taken on recently. One has a little old lady on oxygen whose son is worthless. As of this weekend I'm hopping her privacy fence and mowing her lawn and doing battle with the Virginia Creeper on both sides of the fence. The other is owned, but neglected. It houses many rats that you can hear dying at night. I'm committing lawn genocide and picking up the trash dumped in her yard. This weekend I started some flowers that bees like in pots so I can transplant them once the genocide is complete.

The red rectangle are yards that I took care of last summer. One was abandoned because the house was sold and is being repaired. Another was abandoned because of heavy dumping. All four had fences that were torn down.

The green line is the route that Gandolf and I walk on our Poison Ivy extermination walk. Last summer I only covered my block and the one north of it as well as weeds on sidewalks around those blocks. This year I started covering the full length of my alley. My alley still gets sprayed for all weeds, but the full alley was being targeted for Poison Ivy. I expanded to the next alley when I was looking at properties on that street and saw how horrible they were in the back. It was about a month before I could complete the circuit of the alley and get back home before the bottle ran empty. Any empty house's yard is a target. And stuff I can reach in occupied houses.  I just started doing the alley to the west in the last few weeks. I had probably half a bottle of spray left when I get home.

The black dots are points of particular interest.
First, you see my route take a little jog beside a building north of my block. That building was once 1/5 covered with Poison Ivy. Deformed versions of it continue to try to come back. I won't let it. Other stuff is moving in and I'm trying to be picky about what I allow.
Second, far to the north is an amorphous black blob. That's a field of Curly Leaf Dock. That weed was a major target of last year's genocidal campaign and is included in this years. I poked at the field a bit, but didn't do any serious damage. I may get serious now that the second growth of the summer is starting. One of my neighbors is going to get me some bamboo to plant over there to crowd out the dock and serve as a decorative sound barrier for the trains that pass on the far side.
Third, by the loop-de-loop, is the abandoned community garden. Ten foot fences surround it and are covered with honeysuckle, English Ivy, Virginia Creeper, and Poison Ivy. I was able to target the Poison Ivy fairly successfully. It was a daunting task, though.
Fourth is a batch growing along the side fence of a yard. I can only get what's near the alley.
Fifth is just a messy yard that I use to gauge weed behavior in the area. Poison Ivy moved in that yard this year. That yard also tells me when to watch out for more Curly Leaf Dock.
If I have some left when I get close to home I then cut over to
Six. Former nice landscaping for a back fence. It will be nice again once I get rid of this major infestation. I blew a quarter of my bottle on that last week.
Seventh is a row of bushes that were heavily infested. The more I kill the more I find.
Eighth is an alley that starts with a condemned house that's overgrown. I'm trying to kill the vine back enough that I can move in with limb nippers.
Then I come back and finish on the other side of the fence from dot number one.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Friday Links: July 4

NASA plans to put a greenhouse on [The Moon] and [Mars].

Starfish are an apex predator and they're turning to mush. [link]

How to calculate pi by dropping matches. [link]

Eli Roth showed the movie Cannibal Holocaust to an isolated tribe. They thought it was a comedy. [link]

An abandoned plane that landed itself. [link]

Understanding egg expiration date codes. [link]

I want this watch. [link]

The last jew in Afghanistan. [link]

Martian sunsets are blue. [video and explanation]

Paul McCartney did release a song under a pseudonym just to see if it'd still be a success. [link]

Heavy metal construction.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Book Review: Icehenge

"Icehenge" started life as three short stories in a sci-fi magazine in the early 80s. They were modified, apparently heavily, for this book. Man went to Mars and the asteroids, but not much further. Most everything is run by a corporation more intent on exploiting what and who they have than expanding and exploring. Change comes slow now that humans life for about 600 years.

The first story is about a woman on a ship that is supposed to be the last piece of a secret mission to build an interstellar space craft. They meet with two other space craft that have gone missing over the last decade and their ship is supposed to be incorporated into the new space ship. It'll take a long time to get where they want to be, but they have the time. What they don't have is a recycling system that will get them all the way there. They'll be short just a few years and they need her help to make it work. She does her best and returns to Mars where a brewing revolution will help distract those in charge from the ship fleeing the system. The revolution is put down brutally.

The second story comes decades later. An archaeologist who lived in a dome that was collapsed during the revolution finally has permission to investigate the ruins. He's old enough that he really shouldn't remember any of it anymore. While researching there, a ring of standing ice blocks is discovered on Pluto. It's much like Stonehenge or some similar structure on Earth. He discovered a crashed rover on Mars with papers that indicate the henge was built by a group escaping the star system using stolen ships and the involvement of the woman from the first story.

The third story comes later still. While there has been some reforms since the corporation was forced to admit it's brutality in the revolution, they're still pretty much in charge. Mankind has expanded on to Saturn and beyond, but still not out of the star system. The great grandson of the archaeologist in story two is a historian. He talked to someone at a New Year's bash who makes a believable claim about building the icehenge. This starts the historian on a mission to correct the history. If not the fleeing revolutionaries, then who?

Kim Stanley Robinson, the author, does good work, but often his books get bogged down and you have to wait until the last 100 pages for the story to pick up again. He's just lucky his books are so good. His Mars Trilogy pretty much eliminated the need for other Mars colonization books since he covered it so thoroughly. Since this book is three short stories that's not such a problem as it is with full novels. The first story goes pretty well. The second gets kind of tedious until the archaeologist goes on his one man quest across Mars. The third has places where you think the author has completely lost the thread and then he jumps into or out of a flashback and brings you back into the story.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Book Review: Triggers

You know how I am with Robert J Sawyer books. I'll grab every one that comes along. And that's what happened with "Triggers". I didn't need to know anything else.

You may recall that his book "Flashforward" was adapted into a TV series. The show departed radically from the book, but that's to be expected. I got the sense from this new book that he got a taste of Hollywood and wants to go back. I say this because the book starts like an episode of "24" or some manner of political suspense novel. Terrorist attacks across the country going on for a couple of years. Major landmarks destroyed. The President has a horrible secret plan to stop them for good. Then a conspiracy within the Secret Service puts a sniper's bullet in him while speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial followed by blowing up the White House! dunt. Dunt! DUUUUUUUN! t.

This is a serious departure from Sawyer's normal fare. Typically he's more into copying brains into computers, reversing the aging process, mind swaps, that sort of thing. And as the book progresses you see the old Robert J Sawyer come out to play. The President is being treated at a hospital just one floor removed from an experiment to go into a soldier's head and fix his PTSD. The EMP resulting from the bomb at the White House causes the field enveloping the soldier's head to expand for a brief moment and cause 24 people within that field to be able to read the minds of another. As in person 1 reads the memories, but not the thoughts, of person 2. Person 2 reads the memories of person 3. Person 3 reads the thoughts of person 4. And on like that. And yes, that means someone can read the mind of the President of the United States. 

While the main plot continues, the story settles down into the lives of the connected. One guy can read the mind of a woman who was molested as a child even though she can't remember it herself. One black Secret Service agent can read the mind of a racist old woman. A doctor can read the mind of a nurse who has turned to drugs to escape her life with her abusive husband and secretly has a crush on the doctor. Two others end up in a relationship because she now knows what he likes in bed and can enjoy the memories of being him in bed. And the President getting an attack of PTSD because he's linked to the soldier who was the subject of the original experience.

Of course, eventually someone has to find out what the President has planned and it must be stopped before the book ends. 

If you're a James Patterson lover I think this book would be a good jumping point to Robert J Sawyer. Mind you, I haven't read any James Patterson so I'm going off of what I think James Patterson writes. This is definitely a good place if you're a fan of shows like "24".

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

So. Humid.

Atlantis didn't sink. It just got so humid that they thought it had.