Friday, February 27, 2015

I have been, and always shall be, your friend.

Leonard Nimoy is dead. After a career like his it's hard not to want to deal with the loss using quotes from that career.
We are assembled here today to pay final respects to our honored dead. And yet it should be noted that in the midst of our sorrow, this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world; a world that our beloved comrade gave his life to protect and nourish. He did not feel this sacrifice a vain or empty one, and we will not debate his profound wisdom at these proceedings. Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most... human. 
- Capt. Kirk in Wrath of Kahn
I'm too young to have seen Star Trek in it's original airing, but I remember watching it on TV as a kid. Star Trek is considered the domain of nerds, but everyone watched it and everyone had a character they related to. The nerds tended toward Scotty and Spock. James Doohan was constantly told that someone or other went into engineering of one kind or another because of him. I want to take this opportunity to tell Nimoy what Spock did for me and some of my friends.

The story told about Vulcans is that they're beings of pure logic. Or, rather, that they're highly emotional beings who strive to bury their emotions. They work on self control and denial of feelings, both good and bad, until they appear to be beings of pure logic. And if you can break through that shell you'll evoke a rage that would terrify a Klingon.

I was a nerd before nerds were generally accepted. I watched Revenge of the Nerds pretty much on loop. And I was picked on. I was outcast. Birthday parties were filled with people I had classes with, not necessarily friends. I also developed crushes well before I probably should have. That one woman on the school bus back in Kindergarten or 1st grade. That one classmate in 2nd grade that I would still drop absolutely everything and go slay a dragon for.

Spock helped me bury all that. The classmates standing on my head, the isolation, the hopeless crushes... these all got skimmed over even in grade school. Just skimmed over, mind you. When I'd finally crack there were fits of rage, but I'd try to keep them in private. Most would call this behavior unhealthy, but it was the only way to cope that I had. In my mind I became like Spock for awhile.

When I got older I would meditate. In my head, down a long flight of stairs, in a long, dark hall, there was a room with a machine. And I'd pull the levers and turn the knobs to turn down the emotions, to limit hormones. I couldn't do anything about the thugs, the bullies, or how they'd turn against any girl I showed affection to just as much as if they came after me. I had to get rid of their ability to hurt me and those I cared for so I had to get rid of any feelings of affection that I could never express without hurting that person. So I used the machine to turn everything down.

That girl who sprinted away down the halls when I asked her out. I had to let that slide off. The one who hung the love note in the school display case? I knew what kind of person she was now. Just walk away. Instead, appreciate the fact that every girl in school stopped talking to the guy who threw me across the gym locker room for using "his" shower head. I knew why the women reacted they way they did. They were defending themselves from monsters. I knew already that the best thing to do when I liked a girl was to avoid her and make sure that nobody ever knows that I like her. But there were a few women that were friendly enough to me that I thought maybe, just maybe...

By then I wasn't summoning Spock by name, but it was him. It was his example. It still probably wasn't healthy.

This is not going how I expected when I started writing.

In college the bullying stopped. So I had that going for me. But that didn't matter anymore. I couldn't, and still can't, get insulted. At most I cock one eyebrow and think "fascinating". Everything washed over me. But, with women the issues remained. I could keep the world out, but when you fall for someone that comes from somewhere deep inside and bubbles out. The levers on my machine helped keep those feelings to a simmer, but couldn't turn them off. But the constant, ongoing rejection was an issue. I got my first pity date my Junior year. It wasn't even a pity date. She was pressured into it by our friends. I had random women approach me on the sidewalk and tell me they'd never go out with me. Guys, in the meantime couldn't keep their hands off my ass or stop complimenting me at the urinal.

There was one woman who was interested in me. And, truth be told, I was interested in her, too. She flirted with me pretty heavily. She came over and introduced herself when we first started college. She sat next to me in all of our psych classes. But she was a flirt. She flirted with everyone. She slept over in the rooms of most everyone on my dorm floor. So I never took her seriously even for a minute. She pinned me to the wall with her hips and read my homework in a seductive manner and I just assumed she was being silly and having fun. NO woman was interested in me. And this one is treating me like she treats everyone. Why would I take her seriously? And here is where I blame Spock. Spock and my entire dating history. I only found out she was serious when we were taking the final for our last psych class together. She finished first and told me she loved me as she left. I finished as fast as I could and went after her. I found where she was logged in to the computer system and went after her, but she was gone. And when we got back from Christmas she had a boyfriend.

I have gotten better at detecting flirting, but it still takes 5-10 minutes to register "hey, dummy, you were supposed to ask her out".

In my junior year I attempted suicide. I had friends, but they didn't really help with the idea that life was eating, class, and work with the only prospect for the future being that class would eventually be replaced with more work. Work I'd do to pay for the food. So I took lots of sleeping pills. I listened to the psychologists try to convince me that dating wouldn't make me happy. And I almost believed them. But years later, with a lot more time, reflection, and perspective I can say with confidence that they were 100% full of crap. I met someone during my first senior year and it was life changing. Just that one person to smile at you, to hold you, can be all you need to make the pain go away. And even when you separate the simple fact that she was there once upon a time can help you for years to come. Can let you walk away from the women that are bad for you.

Which is good. I'm pushing 40 now and I can't flirt. The old programming remains. I know better, but the middle school and high school training is embedded as instinct. The worst thing I can do is let a woman I'm interested in know. It's more Lancelot than Spock. I'm protecting her. If I don't ask her out she won't be a target. Or she won't have to let me down gently. And I won't have to summon Spock to deal with the disappointment. All this I fight, but it is ground into me so deep that it is a struggle. I know how to be friends with a woman. But if I want something more I don't have any clue what to do next. I move slowly. And when you're 40 that's a huge problem. And I don't know if I should blame Defense Mechanism Spock, the bullies and classmates, or if I'm on the Aspergers Spectrum somewhere.

Anyway, look, Nimoy, your inspiration helped me and a lot of others for whom emotions were a curse. And, beyond Spock, when you'd appear on other shows, Fringe, Mission Impossible, your many voice acting roles, or whatever, we were always happy to see you. An old friend come by for a visit. At one point Star Trek was playing on TV somewhere in the world 24 hours a day. It's been shown in 100 countries in dozens of languages. You are mourned by the world. And you will be remembered long after the era Star Trek is set in has passed us by.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Friday Links: February 27

Before action figures. [link]

Is this what they mean by weighted dice? [link]

I've played Half-Life 2, and I don't remember this part.

Republican in Congress believes stupid thing (part infinity plus one). [link]

Guy I know gets interviewed for making games. [link]

Frog riding a beetle. [link]

"Blood is thicker than water" means the opposite of what you think. [link]

This guy was so mad he had to carve it into rock. [link]
note: he actually wrote it in mud and waited for it to dry.

Short Adam Savage TED talk.

Don't march in step on a bridge. [link]
Because I know you had plans to do that this weekend

Man ordered to pay child support on kid proven not to be his. [link]

Monday, February 23, 2015

I remain cold and wet

Saturday I did some insulating in the problem room from last weekend at the rental house.

Sunday, I went to the basement to get some socks out of the drier and found several inches of water. And my socks. The temperature had climbed up to 45°F after the low of 1°F and heavy snowfall of the day before. The snow was melting pretty fast, and the water table was climbing accordingly. When that happens, the water likes to come up through my basement floor.

The lowest part of the basement just happens to be at the bottom of the stairs. So if anything goes wrong, the first thing to happen when you go to respond is that you'll step in the water. As the water rises it floods towards the front of the house. Once the water hits about 2" it breaks over the high point in the floor and finally starts across the room to the sump pump.

I swept for awhile, and got a bunch of water down the sump pump. Then I remembered the shop vac. I vacuumed and vacuumed and dumped and dumped, and made great progress. But eventually I found that I was no longer making progress. I hadn't considered that the basement was still flooding. Until the water table went back down I was just wasting my time. So I went to have breakfast - at around 6:30 at night - to see if the water level came back up. Sure enough, an hour later the water was high enough to be draining nicely into the sump pump, again. Off for 13 seconds, on for a second or two, repeat.

I kinda prefer it when the pipe is broken. Sure, my flooding is a bit more relaxed, but with a broken pipe there's something I can fix.

Between the pipe and the flooding, I've learned something. After working in the cold and wet in somebody else's house I want eggs, potatoes, pancakes, coffee, gravy, and like that. After working in the cold and wet in my house I just want whiskey. Since it was Sunday, I settled for some rather crappy mead.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Links: February 20

Game: Troglodytes 2 - move your characters to the top of the screen. [link]

Oklahoma had 3 times as many earthquakes as California in 2014. [link]

Robot fish takes over a school of fish and becomes their leader. [link]

NASA proposed a cloud city above Venus. [link]
Can we name it Lando?

Satellite launched in the 1960s starts transmitting again. [link] [what it sounds like]

World's blackest material. [link]

Senators dismiss intelligence reports calling for a closing of Guantanamo Bay. [link]

Older tractors gaining popularity as new tractors become too advanced to repair yourself. [link]

NSFW - Tijuana Bibles from the creator of Bazooka Joe. [link]

Toddlers more deadly than terrorists. [link]

What the far side of the Moon looks like.

The movie Looper done with Loony Toons characters.

This weekend I'm eating all the eggs. [link]

50 Shade by a guy. [link]

Ukranian Parliament fight as art. [link]

"I'm getting sick and tired of dinosaurs being forced on our children." [link]

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book review: Lexicon

I'm coming to like author Max Barry. I previously reviewed his book "Jennifer Government" which I still recommend. Now I've recently finished "Lexicon" which I like for so many reasons.

Words have power. Not like Harry Potter, not magical. But within the human brain different words have different effects. Take two words with identical definitions, but the meaning is slightly different. One evokes darker thoughts than the other. One implies implies benevolent of malevolent intent. Politicians, advertisers, and news agencies are always being careful to pick words that make people think certain ways about certain topics. The choice of word changes how people think and can cause changes in brain chemistry. But, according to the book, it goes deeper. Those who know how words work can manipulate your brain. Like moving tumblers in a lock, the right combination of syllables can open a mind to outright control. At the heart of this book is a school and organization where they teach people how to use the words and then use them on the world. 

The book is broken into four parts. For the first two parts, the story alternates chapter by chapter between a homeless girl with an inate talent for manipulation who gets selected for the school and a guy kidnapped from an airport because they think he's resistant to the control words. After that the book becomes a bit more disorderly and jumps all over in time. 

This isn't new. It's interesting, but I saw it done in "Soon I Will Be Invincible". But in this book it helps obscure where the story is going. Enough TV and reading will cause a person to start to anticipate in stories. You can figure the orphan child is going to become the chosen one who will eventually smite Darth Voldamort or whoever. This book manages to throw the reader off the trail repeatedly, without all the trauma that comes with storyline shifts in Game of Thrones.

I've already loaned this book out. I suggest you read it, too.

Monday, February 16, 2015

9 degrees of pipe separation

9°F (-12°C)

That's how cold it got in Baltimore Sunday night. Even in Kansas we'd be calling that pretty cold. Here that's an 80 year low. The cold didn't really bother me. The radiators may have run a bit more than normal, but I'm comfortable. And keenly aware of how lucky I am to live somewhere and with the kind of lifestyle where I don't have to worry about the bitterest of cold weather.

My renters aren't so lucky. And at about 10:30 Sunday night I got pulled into their world. That's when one of them showed up at my door telling me that their pipe had broken. It took me a few minutes to realize that it was a renter. I just thought a desperate neighbor was coming to me for help. I mean, I'm happy to help anyone who has a burst pipe. I just need to know which house.

The pipe ran through the basement wall and out the front. I thought it was a spigot at first. No worries. Just turn off this valve by the meter and we're all set. All set, and then we wait for all the water in the house to drain. Uuuhhhh... there's something more going on. I looked under all the blankets they had wrapped around the pipe. Oh, shit, that's a valve. That's not a pipe going out to a spigot. That's water coming in from the city. And the PVC pipe is split on both sides of the valve. Turning it off only stops half the spray.

Call the city. HELPMEINEEDTHEWATERTURNEDOFFATTHISADDRESS! Please press 1 in the case of a city utility emergency. ONEDAMMITONE! We're sorry. Our offices are closed. Please wait while we redirect your call to the Baltimore City 311 etc etc. ... If this is an emergency please press...

I should note that at this point my phone is showing off how waterproof it is. The damn thing should have died by now if it were any other phone. Still, the touch screen isn't as responsive as one might like. Possibly because my fingers and ears were wet. Eventually, I got someone on the phone who had the voice of a shy two year old with laryngitis. I thought it was my phone and the water, but no. It was 11:30 and I was talking to the night shift.

Eventually, I managed to get the rental house on the queue of places that needed their water turned off. But the best they could do was say they'd be along sometime in the next 24 hours. TWENTY FOUR HOURS!!! Sure, there were pipes breaking all over the city, but that shit ain't cool!

And the whole time that I'm on the phone to my contractors, to the city, to whoever, the renters stopped hauling off buckets of water to dump down the sink. I'm trying to save YOUR stuff! Make a fucking effort! It's bad enough that your water was off all day and you didn't say anything. We could have done something about this when the hardware stores were still open. The moment this pipe is fixed we're getting heating tape secured to it for next time.

I want to give credit to my coat. It's a jacket designed for use and sold exclusively in stores meant for the military. It's fairly hydrophobic and pretty warm. Most water and stain drop right off. But it can't save you from a direct spray if you decides to stand in the spray. My coat got wet, but it still kept the water off of me. I LOVE this coat. It made sure that I didn't know just how wet it was. We'll get back to this point.

I went out front with a pair of the cheapest channel locks (these) that I've ever seen. A smallish manhole labeled "water" was in the sidewalk and was secured by a five sided bolt. The city doesn't want you getting in without their special tool. But the channel locks and I managed to get it open anyway. Then I had to pop home to get my massive, awesome channel locks to turn the cutoff. While at home I decided to change to my heavier coat. That's when I found out that my Army coat had frozen into a shell that I had to break my way out of.

I got the water turned off a bit after midnight and went home. Called the city and cancelled the guy coming out to turn off the water. He was needed elsewhere. And finalized who was coming out in the morning to fix the pipes.

The next morning I found out the heat was out as well as the water. That's weird. One valve for both? Nope, one of the indoor cutoffs I switched was for the gas. Ooops. I set them up with space heaters until we could get things running again.

After we (plumber and I) got the blankets off the pipe we found a second shutoff valve about a foot below the cracked one. I should have been able to solve everything and head home in 5 minutes the night before. Sigh.

We got the furnace and oven running, again, and headed out to Home Depot. There we joined the mob in the plumbing aisle. A couple dozen people needing to fix their pipes. They had the essential stuff, but they were totally cleaned out on heating tape. Instead of trying another one, or Lowes, we went to the plumbing supply store figuring fewer people would go there. We found what I wanted, but had to get 16' or up since the shorter lengths were sold out.

Once we had the parts, the repair took five minutes. But the water still wouldn't run. There was another frozen blockage. It took longer to get the heat tape installed and insulated. Then ten to fifteen minutes to thaw the blockage. It released with a hiss, spray, gurgle, slurp, and then the noise took off down the pipe.

The renters weren't concerned with the wet carpet. Apparently, the front porch used to leak enough that there was lots of flooding and the carpet routinely got wet. It's fixed, but they're used to using a carpet shampooer to deal with wet carpet. I'm not arguing, because it'll be a huge pain in the ass to get the furniture out to replace the carpet. But the moment they're gone the carpet will be, too.

Movie Review: Kingsmen - The Secret Service

Did you see "The Avengers"? Not that one. The 1998 one with Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes based on the British TV series from the 60s. I had high hopes for that movie. And I really liked the first half of it. The second half was a suck fest.

"Kingsmen: The Secret Service" comes close to what I expected from "The Avengers". They have a spy agency full of people who can kick your ass fairly effortlessly while dressed in tailored suits and sporting bumbershoots (see: golf umbrella), manners, and a dry sense of humor.

I was a bit concerned by the trailers. A major part of the story seems to be the introduction of a "hip" young protagonist. I appreciate the need to have someone who the audience can relate to who can help walk the audience through the foreign universe. But all too often that person is so completely unsuited to overall feel of the movie that he winds up screwing everything up. Rose Tyler worked beautifully to bring a new generation of people into Doctor Who. But Marlon Wayans was the biggest thing working against the 2009 GI Joe movie. Luckily, Eggsy doesn't tank the movie. He remains himself, but he adapts to the program more than the program adapts to him. He doesn't remain a crude guttersnipe.

The movie runs in two parallel storyline that click together at the end. One is about the Kingsman finding out about a billionaire super villain with mysterious, but evil plans. The other is about Eggsy trying out for the Kingsman and trying to prove his worth among the highly educated hoi-polloi.

The question you have to ask yourself at the end of the movie is how evil the villain really is. If he pitched his plan to you, would you side with him?

I'll probably get this on DVD.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday Links: February 13

Mars Orbiter sees Mars Rover. [link]

Why Google should buy Radio Shack. [link]

Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy off sadness. [link]

Making Labyrinth dolls from Barbie dolls. [link]

Game: Name That Beep [link]

Reddit comment gets optioned for a movie. [link]

Paragliding from Mt Everest. [link]

Mythological weight lifting record broken by Game of Thrones actor. [link]

Lion gives a speech.

Haircut punishment. [link]

One man's quest to remove one grammatical error from Wikipedia. [link]

You can graft tomatoes to potatoes. [link]

Counselling through texts. [link]

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Movies review: Project Almanac and Jupiter Ascending

There was a long dirth of movies I wasn't interested in seeing. It ran from Guardians of the Galaxy to around Thanksgiving. And I think I'm finally caught up.

Birdman was an interesting idea, but it wasn't that interesting in execution. I did like how they edited it to make it look like most of the movie was one continuous shot. Why wasn't that mentioned in the marketing?

Into the Woods was great. There were a few things cut from the full play, but the increased production values made up for it. Glenn Close is no Bernadette Peters, but Chris Pine was fantastic in the song Agony. Might buy. Eventually.

But today I came to write about the movies I saw this weekend.

Project Almanac is a time travel movie. Never would have gotten that by watching the trailers. This is another movie made without a steady cam. Sure, sure, you want it to look home made. I try not to give my camera to the epileptic.

A kid got accepted to MIT, but doesn't have the money to attend. He's looking through the basement lab of his dead father for some experiment he can submit for a scholarship and finds a time machine he was working on for DARPA. He and his friends and his sister who films absolutely everything get the time machine working and screw up time.
It's a decent movie. Predictable. I'm glad I saw it, but won't be buying it on DVD.

Jupiter Ascending is the opposite end of the production quality spectrum. They got to go overboard on set and costume design. The worst special effects in this movie were Channing Tatum's beard. But, and I can't say for sure what it was, but everything on Earth seemed awkward. It bothered me. Much the same happened in the Thor movies. But get away from Earth and the movie starts coming together.
From the trailer I was expecting a movie about an Earth girl who was the lost sibling of a family that ruled the galaxy. And the siblings spent more time fighting for power than ruling and didn't want to let their sister get a share. But the spunky girl from Earth grew a spine and took power over them all.
The real story is about how the dead matriarch of a galactic corporation left her share of the family to her reincarnation. And this girl on Earth happened to have the same genetic code as their mother. The kids didn't want to let Earth girl come to power and take over Earth, because Earth is where the plan to harvest all life to make a potion that makes people young, again, and would be worth a fortune. The Earth girl gets shoved around a lot, makes some foolish decisions, and her bodyguard saves her ass repeatedly.
Glad I saw it. Will not buy.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Book review: Red Planet Blues

Long time readers know I'm a Robert J Sawyer fan. Well, here's a review of another of his books.

"Red Planet Blues" is an expansion on a shorter story Sawyer wrote for some publication or other. I forget who, the book is a whole ten feet away, and it doesn't matter that much. Having not read the other publication, I have to assume that the old story is what makes up the first 10 chapters of the book. At that point you could walk away satisfied with a good story. The rest of the book picks up six months later with a new story that's still connected with the old.

As you can guess from the title, the story takes place on Mars. No government to speak of other than that created and for the benefit of the company that forms the heart of the company. It's in their interest to keep the piece so long as it doesn't cost much. Many of the people at the colony are there searching for fossils. Oh, yes, Mars once had life and it was big enough to create fossils. Most are in pretty cruddy shape, though. But, once upon a time there were some guys who found a motherlode of high quality fossils. They took a bunch back to Earth and auctioned them off for an insane amount of money. But it's well known that they died on the way back from their third expedition. And their dig site has been lost ever since.

Also, a lot of the people on Mars aren't people. Not anymore. They've been transferred into rather expensive robot bodies. This makes them effectively immortal, nigh indestructible, and, typically, better looking than they were before.

Our stories are based around a private detective. He's wanted on Earth, so he's stuck on Mars in a body that's gotten too out of shape to survive Earth gravity even if he could go back. And a tall shapely woman just walked into his office.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Friday Links: February 6

The FCC finally made a ruling on Net Neutrality! [link]
Now Congress gets the opportunity to undermine the FCC.

I'm gonna have to try making this someday. [link]

Women murdering men in art. [link]

How to tell if you're in a soft sci-fi novel. [link]

What it's like to freeze to death. [link]

Photos from 1888 blizzard. [link]

Comcast is writing letters to the FCC for politicians. [link]

Difference in views of scientists and general public on science. [link]

3D printing buildings. [link]

Details on how to plant corn, beans, and squash to help each other. [link]

Lego Matt Smith regenerates into Lego Peter Capaldi.

Being a non-white cop. [link]

Cat survives being hit by a car and buried. [link]

The new Air Force 1 - before the beginning. [link]

Interesting x-rays and how doctors share them. [link]

Mexico City offers free subway rides in exchange for exercise. [link]

Cheap gas is how Saudis sabotage climate treaties. [link]

Terri Schiavo's husband speaks out against Jeb Bush. [link]

Man vs Tank playing tennis. [link]

School bans 66 kids without MMR vaccination for 2 weeks. [link]

When the Amish get measles. [link]