Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Eastern Bluebird

I've been making an effort recently to learn the names and voices of the birds around us. It's not easy, especially given my lack of free time, but I was able to recognize an Eastern Bluebird as it flew past Bella and I on our morning walk. Don't see too many of those around here, but from what I understand they're making a bit of a comeback.

Monday, June 28, 2010

iPhone Antennas

Some interesting information about cell phone antennas, and specifically why the iPhone 4 is having such bad reception issues. Money quote:
Just about every cell phone in current production has the antenna located at the bottom. This insures that the radiating portion of the antenna is furthest from the head. Apple was not the first to locate the antenna on the bottom, and certainly won't be the last. The problem is that humans have their hands below their ears, so the most natural position for the hand is covering the antenna. This can't be a good design decision, can it? How can we be stuck with this conundrum? It's the FCC's fault.
You see, when the FCC tests are run, the head is required to be in the vicinity of the phone. But, the hand is not!! And the FCC's tests are not the only tests that must be passed by a candidate product. AT&T has their own requirements for devices put on their network, and antenna efficiency is one of them. I know because I have designed quad-band GSM antennas for the AT&T network. The AT&T test similarly does not require the hand to be on the phone.
So, naturally, the design evolved to meet requirements - and efficient transmission and reception while being held by a human hand are simply not design requirements!

Another example of bad tests that don't accurately reflect reality, just like the absurd MPG tests the government runs that everyone knows are wildly incorrect.

There will be Blood

Watched There will be Blood this weekend. It is a completely absorbing movie capped my an incredible performance by Daniel Day-Lewis; you just cant take your eyes off of him. However, the movie as a whole I didn't think was that great. The story didn't make a lot of sense as a closed story, I didn't really understand the whole point about the multiple brothers, and (this can't be overstated) it had, by far, the WORST music of any movie I've ever seen. The music was consistently abrasive and incongruous, and really took away from the rest of the flick.
As an aside, the movie is loosely based on an Upton Sinclair novel called Oil!. Turns out that Paul Thomas Anderson, the writer/director, selectively pulled from the source, which normally might not be a big issue, but may have lead to some of the bizarre story lines in the movie. According to the Wikipedia.
Unlike the novel, "There Will Be Blood" focused on the father, with his son being a supporting character. Paul Thomas Anderson also claimed that he only incorporated the first 150 pages of the book into his film, so the rest of the film and novel are nearly entirely different.

Not that i'm a huge Upton Sinclair fan - i've actually never read any of his stuff - but you wonder if that affected the logical unity of the story.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Poem for the Weekend

If I could live my live anew,
I would try to make more mistakes.
I wouldn't try to be so perfect: I'd relax more.
I'd be sillier than I've been, and as a result
I'd take very few things seriously.
I'd be less hygienic. I'd take more risks
go on more journeys
contemplate more sunsets
climb more mountains
swim more rivers:
I'd go to more places where I've never been;
I'd eat more ice cream and fewer beans.
I'd have more real problems and fewer imaginary ones.
I was one of those people who lived every moment of his life consciously and prolifically:
of course, I had moments of happiness.
But if I could go back I'd try to have only good moments,
Because if you don't already know it, this is what life is made of –
it's made solely of good moments;
don't let the instant be lost.
I was one of those who never went anywhere without a thermometer, a thermos of hot water, an umbrella and a parachute;
If I could live my life again, I'd travel light.
If I could live my life again, I'd start going barefoot at the beginning of spring and I'd stay barefoot until the end of autumn.
I'd ride out in the buggy more often,
I'd get up early to watch more sunrises
and I'd play with more children,
if my life was ahead of me once more.
But, you see, I am eighty five years old and I know that I'm dying.

- Jorge Luís Borges. Translated by Martin Alexander.

Blu-Ray madness

So I finally purchased a new DVD player the other day (it was long overdue) and, as detailed here, picked up a Blu-Ray player. (As an aside, do we really need the hyphen? Just go BluRay and be done with it.)
In short, I'm amazed. It was simple to hook up, thanks to the HDMI cable. The picture of my regular DVDs is incredible, even the older, grainy movies like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. But what is most impressive is the Internet connection. I can listen to Pandora, watch YouTube, download NPR content (including full concerts!), and much more I haven't even explored yet. I easily wasted an hour last night pursuing all of the entertainment options and didn't even scratch the surface. It's impressive, and well worth my hard-earned dime. And to think that I was settling for that crappy DVD player this whole time!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Journey Begins

monsters n mirages arrived yesterday, all eight disks of it. What I have in front of me is all of Steve Kilbey's solo work with the exception of 2009's Painkiller. Six solo albums spanning 15 years and two disks of outtakes and rarities. Exciting!

As SK sez in the liner notes:
[this is] the real sound of my brain
my solo albums are for the ultra SK fan
for the ones who really understand and knew all the stuff i was going on about
here i was undiluted
deluded maybe
but undiluted nonetheless

These albums range from home recordings that weren't really intended for a larger audience to focused efforts that SK hoped would stand up there with his work with the church (such as Remindlessness, about which SK sez: "i did remindlessness the same time we were doing g.a.f./ guess which one got all my best ideas...?"
Anyways, I’ll be taking some time to write about all of these albums over the next month or so. I’m already deep into Unearthed, the first album, and have my first earworm song in “Tyrant”.

Modern Lullabies

When i'm trying to sooth Trey - usually at night when it's bedtime - I've been a bit suprised at the songs that jump into my head to sing.
Trey's default song appears to be The Who's "Endless Wire" off of their 2006 Endless Wire album. It's a catchy song, but not one that I ever thought that i'd be singing to an infant.
However, at least that song's soothing. Hunter's default song was Warren Zevon's "Turbulence" whose first verse runs:
Well you can talk about your perestroika
And that's all right for you
But, Comrade Schevardnadze, tell me
What's a poor boy like me to do?

Turmoil back in Moscow brought this turbulence down on me...

Bonus fact: "Turbulence" was the song that finally taught me the proper way to pronounce "Vladivostok" and "mujaheddin".

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Buy vs. Rent

The Big Picture points us towards an excellent graphic that breaks down all of the costs associated with buying a house vs. renting.

Short story: If you're going to be in a place longer then five years, it makes more sense to buy. If not, rent instead.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I love the Internet

In the back of my mind, I've always loved the sublime stalagmite-like mountains that appear in Southwest China. Randomly reading something today, I discovered that these type of mountains are called "Karst Mountains", which Wikipedia describes as "a landscape shaped by the dissolution of a layer or layers of soluble bedrock, usually carbonate rock such as limestone or dolomite."

A much better description would be to check out these amazing pictures.
Now you know!

No Best Friends Allowed

Continuing the parenting theme of recent days, I've read a few stories like this one denouncing the tendency of some child educators to believe that children should not have best friends, believing that doing so would only cause future pain. As stated in a NYTimes article:
[having a best friend] signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying. […]
“I don’t think it’s particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend,” said Jay Jacobs, the camp’s director. “If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child’s ability to explore other options in the world.”

Yikes. Let me join the party! This attitude is exactly what the excellent book "The Self Esteem Trap" taught me - life is all about dealing with failure and pain, and protecting children from it will only serve to make them more vulnerable to depression and self-esteem issues down the road. This attitude - in educators, no less! - smacks of "helicopter parenting," where parents "helicopter" in to save their kids whenever things are going wrong (problems with other kids, grades, exams, etc.) Humans learn from mistakes, and it's better to let kids make their mistakes when they're kids and able to more easily learn, adapt, and move on then when their adults and mistakes have more severe consequences.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Parental Stress

The NYTimes has an interesting piece out about how fathers are dealing with their new role as not just provider but nurturer as well. As the downer title (Now, Dad Feels as Stressed as Mom) implies, the short answer is: Not very well.
...several studies show that fathers are now struggling just as much — and sometimes even more — than mothers in trying to fulfill their responsibilities at home and in the office. Just last week, Boston College released a study called “The New Dad” suggesting that new fathers face a subtle bias in the workplace, which fails to recognize their stepped-up family responsibilities and presumes that they will be largely unaffected by children.
Fathers also seem more unhappy than mothers with the juggling act: In dual-earner couples, 59 percent of fathers report some level of “work-life conflict,” compared with about 45 percent of women, according to a 2008 report from the Families and Work Institute in New York.
The research highlights the singular challenges of fathers. Men are typically the primary breadwinner, but they also increasingly report a desire to spend more time with their children. To do so, they must first navigate a workplace that is often reluctant to give them time off for family reasons. And they must negotiate with a wife who may not always recognize their contributions at home.

I'm always a bit leery of these articles that take statistical trends and abstract them out to absolutes - in short, anything that states things declaratively. Myself, I've never felt any subtle bias in the workplace about the duties i've needed to provide as a father, but I've always been very upfront about what I feel my parental duties require. I also try, as much as I can, to steer clear of the more damaging gender roles. Having said that, Kelly and I have fallen into a certain division of labor with the kids, and that she spends more time thinking and planning for the future then I, leading to her feeling, in the article's phrase "psychologically responsible, and that’s a burden... That psychological responsibility adds to the sense of feeling like you’re doing more, even though it may be somewhat invisible." But all in all I think that we've worked out a good arrangement - for now, at least. (Who knows what tomorrow will bring as the kids get older!) And both of us certainly try to support and acknowledge each others efforts. Having said that, I know that needing two incomes does put a stress on things - there's never enough time to cook, to put as much attention into the kids after work as you'd like, and daycare is certainly not an ideal way to raise your children, regardless of the quality of the caregivers - but at the moment we're doing the best we can. And I don't feel unduly stressed at any given moment.


I pulled off a 21:18 in the Sharon Timlin 5K this Saturday. That's a pace of 6:52/mile, which is much faster then I had thought I would run it. The race is one I look forward to because the course is so flat - you actually lose altitude over the course of the race.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Not an early riser

Big Papi at the Sharon Timlin 5K yesterday. The security guards were laughing at him as he left because "apparently, he's not an early riser."

First line of Mind of the Raven

The first prerequisite to studying any animal is to get and to stay close. You must be able to observe the fine details of its behavior for long periods of time without the animal seeing or feeling your presence.

First sentence of Mind of the Raven by Bernard Heinrich

Friday, June 18, 2010

Poem of the Day

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
He is all pine and I am apple-orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down!" I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

- Robert Frost, Mending Wall

Father's Day Blogging

It's the little things that I like about being a father. Here are two recent Hunter moments where he made me laugh and improved my day:
- When he danced like Flava Flav to a downtempo beat song
- After crawling into bed with us this morning, he whispered "Bella's sleeping on my foot. ... I think I like it!"

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Technical Madness

So I came into some extra money recently, and decided to buy a new DVD player to replace our current crappy one that not only makes too much noise (such awful whirring!) but also has no cover and generally performs badly.
Now since I fear obsolescence, I decided to buy a Blu-ray player, since you can play normal DVDs on a blue-ray and there's also some cool new features in these players (like downloading movies from Netflix rather than having them shipped in the mail). No problem, right? Wrong. I was completely unprepared for the sheer amount of technical gibberish that was thrown at me by the manufacturer, the resellers, and customer reviews. What I was looking for was a basic unit that would let me play DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and offer basic WiFi features; what I got was a bunch of confusing crap.
For those of you that care, I ended up going with the Sony BDP-S570. The Samsung equivalent sounded more intriguing, but it sounded like the WiFi was not built in – you needed to buy an additional WiFi stick of some kind, so the Sony won out.
However, read the initial customer review on the product’s Amazon page. Who are these people that have the time and money to try out multiple systems? And why can’t they explain their findings to someone who doesn’t know – and doesn’t really want to know –all of the technical details behind them?

La De Da

I rediscovered the one La's album a few months back and have been happily listening to it ever since. It's an excellent example of melodic pop-rock, and I was always really disappointed that they were never able to record anything else. They seemed to have a lot of promise, and had mastered the 2.5 minute song (something more modern musicians should take to heart).

Well, Pitchfork tells me that somehow their record company pulled together enough songs for a box set! Can't imagine that's worth it, but I did found out that a live disk was issued that I bet is hot.

We Must Save It!

One of the big canards that bothers me in current political conversations is that Social Security needs "fixing". I read that as conservatives wanting to start dismantling the safety net.

Anyways, the Big Picture tackles the "issue", although Barry does make some predictions that seem accurate to me about three major changes he sees in Social Security's future:
1) Your Retirement Age Will Go Up: And up and up and up. I expect to see a staggered from 65 (66 and 67 relative to birth date), to 68 then 70 then 72 years old. France just raised their retirement age to (tee hee) 62.
2) Your Taxes Are Going to Go Up: The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) is the payroll tax that funds Social Security. These are likely to increase, in one of two ways: Percentage paid, and gross wage amount taxed. I suspect it is the latter that will be targeted first.
Currently, FICA taxes amount to 15.30% (7.65% paid by the employee and 7.65% paid by the employer) of income. That is a big chunk of anyone’s salary, and raising that is going to be met with a fierce pushback. Perhaps a minor increase in total FICA percentage might be enacted.
However, the gross wage amount tops out at $106,800. That cap is very likely to increase — slowly at first, in COLA increments, than in greater amounts. My guess is this will top out at $200k within a decade, and a million dollars the following decade.
More controversial are other taxes that could fund SS.
3) You Will Be Subject to a Means Test: The third way SS will get its house in order will be to stop making payments to people who don’t need the money for retirement.
The political rhetoric will sound like this: Social Security was set up as an insurance fund. Just as if you don’t receive any compensation for Fire Insurance unless you house burns down, you won’t get social security unless your financial house is in ruins.

Interesting stuff...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Quote of the Day

Even when on their guard, human beings inevitably theorize.

- Stanislaw Lem, Solaris, p. 120

I was thinking about Solaris yet again the other day, picked it up to browse through, and got caught up in the story again. It's a fascinating tale about the inability of the human mind to comprehend anything other then itself. One of the best novels i've ever read, much less SciFi.

(And, as i've mentioned before, please steer clear of the George Clooney movie. It does this book absolutely no justice.)

Washington Post Neologism

Every year, the Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly neologism contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words.
The winners are:
1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.
5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.
6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
8. Gargoyle (n), olive-flavored mouthwash.
9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.
11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.
12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.
14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), (back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.
The Washington Post's Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are this year's winners:
1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
2. Foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
3. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
4. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
5. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
6. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
7. Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.
8. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
9. Karmageddon (n): its like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
10. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
11. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.
12. Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
13. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.
14. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
15. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.
And the pick of the literature:
16. Ignoranus (n): A person who's both stupid and an a-hole.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Indian Sitting

From outside the small but fascinating Native American Exhibit at the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, Mass

Poem of the Day

All great artists are their own greatest threat,
as when they aim an industrial laser
At themselves and cut themselves back to the root

So that, with spring, we can never ever be sure
If they shake from head to foot
From an orgasm, you see, sir, or a seizure.

- Paul Muldoon

Monday, June 14, 2010

Psyched to Get Lost in the Song

Monsters n Mirages is on its way. I fully expect to disappear into this music for a month or more upon its arrival.

Nip Watch

Seven vodka nips picked up on today's dog walk. A lot of beer cans and plastic bottles remain due to lack of a bag in which to carry them.

The True Cost of Gasoline

Ezra very eloquently makes the case that it's much higher then what we're currently paying. He begins:
But as the sludge choking the Gulf of Mexico shows, nothing is easy when it comes to oil. Not even the price. In fact, especially not the price.
Most of us would call the BP spill a tragedy. Ask an economist what it is, however, and you'll hear a different word: "externality." An externality is a cost that's not paid by the person, or people, using the good that creates the cost. The BP spill is going to cost fishermen, it's going to cost the gulf's ecosystem, and it's going to cost the region's tourism industry. But that cost won't be paid by the people who wanted that oil for their cars. It'll fall on taxpayers, on Gulf Coast residents who need new jobs, on the poisoned wildlife on the seafloor.
That means the gasoline you're buying at the pump is -- stick with me here -- too cheap. The price you pay is less than the product's true cost. A lot less, actually. And it's not just catastrophic spills and dramatic disruptions in the Middle East that add to the price. Gasoline has so many hidden costs that there's a cottage industry devoted to tallying them up. At least the ones that can be tallied up.

The whole thing is worth reading.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Poem of the Day

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."

- Wallace Stevens, part I of The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937)

Rare Pictures of Rare Animals

Fantastic images of endangered species.

Mostly Plants

So after a few weeks where I snacked probably more then I should have, I bought the Livestrong app for my iPhone so I can start counting calories again. I pretty much know what I should and shouldn't be eating, but just knowing that if I eat something I'll need to record it is usually enough to prevent me from doing so. It's funny how my mind works in that way. It's very similar to this blog: knowing that I'll be writing something down forces me to organize my thoughts in such a way that I don't embarrass myself if I was just writing this down in a private journal.

Anyways, reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food has got me thinking much more about what i'm putting into my body. As he puts it: "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants." It's a tough fight, because most things include ingredients you wouldn't believe, and it's a struggle to pay attention to what's good and what isn't. Regardless, our first attempts at proper diet management came after reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but which we had gotten away from a bit. Here's hoping we'll continue the good fight.

Sexism and the Movies

Now, I've got no fish to fry with Sex and the City (when I watched the TV show with my wife, it seemed fun enough, if absurd the way that Carrie could survive in the big city as a journalist), but I have been a bit shocked at how vicious the reviews of the Sex in the City 2 movie have been. First there was a reaction against the Photoshopping of the movie poster, to which Sarah Jessica Parker had a great reaction: "How come no one asks Tom Cruise or Will Smith why their posters are Photoshopped?" Now these really mean-spirited reviews, which can be fun to read, but misses the larger point that some people just like bad movies. As this site notes:
My contention is that there is nothing more intrinsically objectionable in women fantasizing about big shopping and the ups and downs of urban sexuality than men fantasizing about war, gangs or fast cars. ... What really irritates me is the effortless assumption of male superiority that suggests male fantasy lives are more serious and real than female ones. ... It’s all trashy and silly. There is nothing inherently noble or serious-minded about men screaming for one patch of the earth’s surface against another patch, as they follow 11 people in shirts and shorts booting a ball. Watching Tarantino films about Americans scalping Nazis, or gladiators capering about in a mock-up of ancient Rome isn’t “higher” than watching women engage in competitive shopping ‘n’ bitching. Indeed, it’s further away from everyday realities, not closer to them. ... In short, the critics of ‘Sex and the City’ need to lighten up and remember that everyone has a different fantasy world.

It's an excellent point, and one that's driven home to me again everytime I turn on an On Demand video for my son while some uber-violent preview is shown in the corner. "Daddy," Hunter says, "they're fighting on the TV. Why?" I have no answer.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Deep Thought

Sometimes, when you're in the doldrums, the only solution is Led Zeppelin.

Outrage of the Day

I always thought that the FDIC deals were rather benign: A bank fails, and the FDIC steps in to prop up the bank until its assets can be sold off. However, as this informative (and entertaining!) video shows, that's not always the case.

Just more proof that big money really is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.

Goodbye Aaron

I'm not surprised by Aaron Schobel's stated intention to retire from the Buffalo Bills, but the way he phrases it sounds like a passive-aggressive request for a trade. Either way, it's a sad way for an excellent player to go out. He could have been a first rate player on a better franchise, but instead he got stuck in the sea of mediocrity that's been the Bills for the last decade.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Interstellar Life?

Like any good SciFi nerd, I've often fantasized about life on other worlds. Some of the coolest moments in my reading history have come by about with Clarke's optimistic musings about life, be it aquatic life on Europa (a moon of Jupiter) in 2010, or jellyfish within Jupiter itself (in the fantastic novella "A Meeting with Medusa"). On the darker side, there's the incomparable Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. (Please don't think of the George Clooney movie. I beg of you.)

Anyways, recently I've read some murmurings of interesting chemical reactions on Titan that might show potential for life, but Stephen Andrew nips that tale in the bud. Money quote:
Exobiologists rightly point out that this new data is tentative at best, and planetary scientists note Titan is not earth in more ways than one. Not only is the surface locked in at almost 300 below zero Fahrenheit, Saturn's gorgeous rings of icy rubble and its battered moons imply Titan resides in a spectacularly violent planetary satellite system of marauding comets and space rocks. Even under ideal conditions, assuming the biotic precursors are there, a world that gets regularly pummeled by debris ranging from dozens of yards to dozens of miles in size might not be stable enough for complex biochemical processes to progress to anything we might recognize as living.

In short, the odds of life existing in our solar system are extremely low, and even if such life did exist, it would surely be in a form that we wouldn't recognize. But that doesn't mean that the fanboy within me won't continue to get excited whenever I read about interesting discoveries in space.

"The Master of the Modern Epic"

Eager for some fun, mindless disaster entertainment, K. and I watched 2012 this weekend. While the SFX, when they finally came, were pretty engaging, as a whole the movie is quite possibly the worst movie of all time. As Kelly said about 40 minutes into the movie, I just don't care about any of these people. This is mainly due to the fact that the characters aren't given personalities, just a bunch of clichés to spout. John Cusack, the only actor that could have pulled this piece of crap out of the morass, just looks bored throughout the entire thing.
I’ve already devoted too many words to it, but I do want to add that the DVD case promoted a "Special Feature!" about the director Roland Emmerich entitled "The Master of the Modern Epic." Now I know that there’s really nothing special about these stupid DVD features beyond cynical corporate marketing, but that claim is so false as to be false advertising.
In short: Stay away. Far away.

Deep Thought

Q: How can you tell if seafood is contaminated by oil?
A: Smell it. Of course.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Quote of the Day

Planted rows went turning past like giant spokes one by one as they ranged the roads. The skies were interrupted by dark gray storm clouds with a flow like molten stone, swept and liquid, and light that found its way through them was lost in the dark fields but gathered shining along the pale road, so that sometimes all you cold see was the road, and the horizon it ran to. Sometimes she was overwhelmed by the green life passing in such high turbulence, too much so see, all clamoring to have its way. leaves sawtooth, spade-shaped, long and thin, blunt-fingered, downy and veined, oiled and dusty with the day--flowers in bells and clusters, purple and white or yellow as butter, star-shaped ferns in the wet and dark places, millions of green veilings before the bridal secrets in the moss and under the deadfalls, went on by the wheels creaking and struck by rocks in the ruts, sparks visible only in what shadow it might pass over, a busy development of small trailside shapes tumbling in what had to be deliberately arranged precision, herbs the wild-crafters knew the names and marked prices of and which the silent women up in the foothills, counterparts whom they most often never got even to meet, knew the magic uses for. They lived for different futures, but they were each other’s unrecognized halves, and what fascination between them did come to pass was lit up, beyond question, with grace.

- Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day p. 70

Just Horrible

The Big Picture documented pictures of helpless pelicans covered in oil on the Louisiana coastline. I can't think of anything more wretched then these poor doomed creatures. Makes me sad and furious, all at the same time.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How You Should Run

I've heard a lot of advice by people over the years about the best form for running. At the moment, barefoot running appears to be the fad of the moment. However, James Fallows points mentions another one:
I mentioned several months ago my joy at seeing Actual Scientific Results proving that "fore-foot" running, where you land on the front half of your foot, is better for you over time than the "heel-strike" running I see all around me by people running in thick, heel-cushioned modern shoes.

Note: You'll do yourself a disservice if you don't click through and check out the shoes that promote this type of running. Strange!
As for me, i've tried the fore-foot running, mainly when i'm running around barefoot during vacations, and I don't find it to be very comfortable at all. I just spend the entire time running on my tiptoes, which can't be very good for you.

Writing Around

I've been reading a lot recently bemoaning the lack of culture out there, people sinking down to the fainting couch and fretting about the kids who spend too much time narcissisticly writing about themselves on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
What they miss in all of this is the fact that the new media and other web tools (blogs!) have completely transformed how people entertain themselves. Whereas 10 years ago, people may have been just sitting there, passively watching TV, these people are now probably actively engaged in the television show, texting their friends about plot points, mentally composing their reactions for a Facebook or blog post, etc. And they’re doing all of this through writing!
This increase in writing can only be a good thing. As Anne Trubek sez:
I would hazard that, with more than 200m people on Facebook and even more with home internet access, we are all writing more than we would have ten years ago. Those who would never write letters (too slow and anachronistic) or postcards (too twee) now send missives with abandon, from long thoughtful memos to brief and clever quips about evening plans. And if we subscribe to the theory that the most effective way to improve one’s writing is by practicing—by writing more, and ideally for an audience—then our writing skills must be getting better.

For someone who writes for a living, I welcome the use of more and more text to communicate. Regardless of what people are writing about, writing itself helps one organize one’s thoughts and helps them shape the meaning of their world rather than accepting whatever rationals happen to come down the pipe. Sometimes a little self-absorption in the form of writing about oneself is a good thing if it means that people are able to better express themselves.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Quote of the Day

One of the insidious lessons about TV is the meta-lesson that you’re dumb. This is all you can do. This is easy, and you’re the sort of person who really just wants to sit in a chair and have it easy.

- David Foster Wallace

The Politics of Oil Spils

I've been even more disgusted then normal with the political news lately. (Politics is my reality TV: part of the reason I pay attention is the train-wreck aspect of it all.) Two things stuck out at me recently:

1. The absurd expectations put upon Obama to "do something" about the oil spill, like he could simply wave a magic wand or call upon Aquaman or something and have it all be fixed up. Clive Cook summarizes the inanity here. Money quote:
Apparently it is a great idea to elect a president who is calm in a crisis, except when there's a crisis. Then what you need is somebody to lead the nation in panic -- or, as Maureen Dowd put it, to be "a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting [sic] what Americans feel so they know he gets it." What the nation needs at times like this in fact is a daddy who will stop being so remote, and make everything all right. You think I'm exaggerating?

2. Ed Herbert takes the long view of recent political developments:
If a bank is too big to fail, it’s way too big to exist. If an oil well is too far beneath the sea to be plugged when something goes wrong, it’s too deep to be drilled in the first place. ...
Instead of staring mesmerized at the tragedy in the gulf, like spectators at a train wreck, we should be trying to regain that innovative can-do spirit that made America the greatest of nations.
All around us is the wreckage of our failure to master the challenges confronting us. We see it in the many millions of Americans who remain out of work and whose hopes are not rising despite all the talk of economic recovery. We see it in the schools where teachers are walking the plank by the scores of thousands because of state and local budget problems.
We see it in the shrinking middle class and in the black community where depressionlike conditions are fostering not just a sense of helplessness, but despair.
What’s needed is dynamic leadership (it doesn’t have to come from the top) to reinvigorate the spirit of America and turn that sense of helplessness around.

Animal Dancing

This article is fascinating. Money quote:
We took the Backstreet Boys song, sped it up and slowed it down at 11 different tempos, then videoed what Snowball [a Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo]did to each. For 9 out of the 11 variations, the bird moved to the beat, which meant that he’d processed the music in his brain and his muscles had responded. So now we had the first documented case of a nonhuman animal who, without training, could sense a beat out of music and move to it.


Aphex Twin's "[rhubarb]", off of Selected Ambient Works, Vol. II, is one of the most peaceful songs I've ever heard. It instantly chills me out every time I hear it. And get a craving for strawberry rhubarb crumble.

Nip Watch

Today's Bella walk yielded 12 nips - all Smirnoff. Would have been more if not for the extreme rains yesterday that washed most of them down into the river valley.

Apple Rant

So there are many small things that bug me about the way that Apple does business, but one of the biggest is the stoopid way that the iTunes Store handles the voluminous number of changes that they are always making to their terms and conditions. Here's how it works:
1. I decide I want a new application for my iPhone (today, it's a nifty Intercall app that will store all of my confusing numbers and codes for me), so I search for, find, and indicate that i'd like to download the application.
2. I am prompted for and enter my password.
3. The app starts to download. It's only now that the iTunes Store realizes that they made some absurd changes to their Terms and Conditions that I have to approve before I can make my purchase. Note that these changes today involve the iPad and the iBookstore, NEITHER OF WHICH I OWN OR USE.

So now I have to back out of my purchase, approve these meaningless changes, then go through the entire purchase process again, even going so far as to reenter my password . This is the antithesis of user friendly, and i'm surprised that Apple, who has a justified reputation of producing crisp and clean user interactions, continually allows this to happen.

Phew. End of rant. Thanks for listening.

"Retirement" Age

The normally astute Andrew Sullivan approves of Veronique de Rugy's statement about how to "save" Social Security:
One way to do that is to raise the age of eligibility to at least 70 and then progressively increase it to track with life expectancy. This won’t be popular, but Americans’ dependency on government programs is less entrenched than that of Europeans.

The problem with this, of course, is that many elderly people find themselves squeezed out of jobs when they reach their late 50s or early 60s. I have a relative aged 64 who was recently laid off in a cost-saving measure, and the odds of her finding a new job are practically nil. It's going to be hard enough for her to survive until Medicaid kicks in at 65. Andrew himself has published emails from people this age bemoaning the lack of job opportunities for folks their age. Raising the retirement age would only exacerbate this problem.