Sunday, May 21, 2017

Malicious Math?

Of course, the issue is not that folks on the internet have a hard time solving this particular math puzzle. As the story at Mental Floss indicates, there's more than one way to do it and neither of them are just plain and simple.

No, the issue is that this poser was an extra credit problem on a first grade math test in Singapore, if the original poster is to be believed. It's possible, although I'm a little skeptical. But I might not have come up with anything like a decent guess in grade one through 12, so probably don't go by me.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Small Screen, Big Stage?

Adam Rogers, writing at Wired, suggests a good reason to look forward to the projected Star Trek: Discovery series due from CBS this fall.

Not the obligatory nod to the series' "wokeness" of having two women in the lead command positions -- that's neat but Voyager had a woman in command of the starship and it didn't make that series any better than meh most of the time. Kate Mulgrew is an excellent actress and the new show boasts Michelle Yeoh -- at least in the pilot -- but Kate couldn't save crap like these and if the same sort of stuff comes with the new show it might be best to leave it an undiscovered country.

Nor, judging from the trailer, is the key in the look of the show. It appears the showrunners like J. J. Abrams' lens flare schtick and we seem to be eyeing yet another redesign of the Klingons. Christopher Lloyd, Michael Dorn and Christopher Plummer weren't great Klingons because of makeup; they were great Klingons because they were good actors given good roles who ran with them (and in Plummer's case ate every bit of scenery set before him with relish and zest in the best Star Trek tradition). Michael Ansara, William Campbell and John Colicos were good with makeup and without, as were the stories that contained them. So again, we're back to waiting and seeing what we actually get for a show instead of marketing.

In my mind, the thing Rogers gets right is the greater viability of Star Trek as a television series rather than a movie franchise. While the first rebooted Trek movie was pretty good with a number of good moments, the sequels have offered literally no reason to watch them. The original Trek movies were hits because they featured our icons in new stories, up on the big screen with a big screen budget. Some of them were good as well as popular, with The Wrath of Khan standing out as a story worth the attention had there never been a Trek fandom or television series. The Next Generation movies highlighted the problem. Their finest hour, First Contact, was a solid story with fine acting, pacing and impact. Tweak it a little, swap the iconic Enterprise for another ship, switch the characters' names around and you could have just as good a movie as one with the NG cast.

Star Trek stories without the icons aren't "movie moments." And Rogers notes they're just big summer blockbusters with a couple of acts of tension-making before a big third-act FX splash. We don't know these versions of the characters the way we got to know them in three years of episodic television and so there's no real reason to care what they do unless the story provides one -- which the writers for those movies didn't do. Sure, we've had seven years of the new version, but only three "episodes" of their lives. Which puts us in the same place a 1966 audience was after "Where No Man Has Gone Before" aired on Sept. 22 of that year: With a lot of miles yet to be traveled.

Television, on the other hand, can offer extended time with characters so we can get to know them. Showrunners can build a world or, in this case, a new corner of a world we know. We can learn why we should care about Sonequa Martin-Green's Michael Burnham or Michelle Yeoh as Phillippa Georgiou.

So while I'll quibble with what I see as some of the sillier things Rogers says in his article, I'm in agreement that Discovery will put Star Trek back where it belongs and where the franchise as a whole has always fared best: On television.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Two Pounds of Pure Rage

I found the header picture for this blog doing a search once for "angry cat," and it was quite obviously one of those. The person who posted it didn't give it a title, but I've thought of a couple over time. "You should be running" is one. "Not enough killing in all the world to make me happy" is another. Because, frankly, this picture looks like a cat that plans to start killing when he gets out of the pool and stop when he's the only living creature left on the planet, and he'll still be ticked off.

His younger colleagues are featured at this post at Bored Panda. Their rage is cute because they are far too small to do any of the damage they want to do; it's hard to rip out throats when you're six inches tall.

No. 2 is kind of like what I imagine a Klingon would look like if it were eight weeks old and covered with fur. But my fave is No. 3, who looks as if it has just been awakened and is deciding whether to conquer the world or slaughter it -- and is thinking that conquering might be a little too much work:


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Impossible Non-Fiction

It may look like an old-fashioned item from Analog, but a purported vacation guidebook to the Solar System bases its listed attractions on the actual conditions of the planets and moons it lists.

The authors are scientists and use the latest data about our neighborhood to describe the possible sightseeing options for wherever you happen to find yourself. They take the license that we could actually right now travel to any of those places, which is the kind of sad part. But maybe someday, and anyway it's a cool-looking book. Once it's not just one more thing I'd have to pack, I might check it out.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Three-Fer

Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett feels a little bad about the way Dallas Cates wound up behind bars -- but since Dallas' family was a group of murdering psychopaths and attempted to kill several people, it's not a crippling level of remorse. Although Joe proved mistaken about Dallas' role in the attack on his daughter April, there were no mistakes about his role in the rest of the matter.

But now Dallas is out -- will he target Joe and his family for his own revenge? If he does, will the plot be straightforward or involve a more subtle line of attack? And can Joe, working with his friend Nate Romanowski, stop Dallas when he makes his move?

Those are all good questions, but C. J. Box doesn't summon a lot of vitality in answering them in Vicious Circle. His choice to make Dallas' plan a lot cleverer in Dallas' mind than in reality is a welcome one, since nothing we've seen about the man before now suggests he's some sort of criminal genius. And Joe does use some old-fashioned detective work to look for clues to mount his case against Dallas and his remaining family members. But the whole novel has a listless quality and most of the plot developments are telegraphed well before they happen, lessening any real suspense in the narrative. Now that Box has tied up the loose ends of the Cates family, here's hoping the next Pickett novel can find some oomph and feel a little less phoned in.
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Lucas Davenport is no longer an employee of the state of Minnesota, investigating its crimes. He's now a United States Deputy Marshal, given a sort of carte blanche to investigate the cases that interest him or where he can lend a special kind of expertise. A drug dealer ripoff in Biloxi, Mississippi that leaves behind five bodies -- including a child -- is just such a case. And when the scanty evidence points to a vicious and exceptionally skillful thief, Lucas is hooked.

But in Golden Prey, the 27th Davenport novel, Lucas is without his usual information conduits and extensive knowledge of his hunting ground and its residents. He knows Minnesota -- but he doesn't know the five states he'll visit to learn what he needs to know about his quarry. It will stretch his abilities in the hunt, and the presence of two cartel enforcers also tracking the stolen money means whatever clues and witnesses he might find could have a very short shelf life

John Sandford does use the new setting to his advantage in freshening what could have been a fairly standard chase story. Lucas himself wonders -- is he any good without his usual contacts and networks? Can he operate in a much less certain environment? These elements help redeem a rather confusing final act and offer hints of some potential as Lucas adjusts to his new role and situations.
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Ace Atkins continues to acquit himself well in extending the life of the late Robert B. Parker's iconic Spenser in Little White Lies as Spenser investigates a case brought to him by his girlfriend Susan Silverman.

Connie Kelly fell for a con man, but she wasn't the only one. M. Brooks Welles seems to have pulled the wool over a lot of eyes, passing himself off on television as an intelligence expert and ex-CIA operative. Of course, Connie was the one who wrote him a check for $300,000, and she would like Spenser to find Welles and get her money back.

When Spenser pursues the case, it turns out that Welles has plenty of secrets -- just not the ones he claims to have. It won't make much difference for Spenser, though, because some of the people with whom Welles shares his secrets are more than willing to get rough to keep them. They'll need to learn that getting rough with Spenser and his friend Hawk is a losing proposition.

As mentioned before, Atkins has done the best of the Parker legacy writers by writing the character of Spenser instead of just aping Parker's style. In this, his sixth outing with the cast, he's got firm hold of the way they interact and how to move their story forward. He delves a little into some backstory for Hawk, but not so much he dilutes the charismatic enforcer's impact. Atkins also handles the Spenser-Susan relationship well, navigating them through a potentially thorny conflict of interests as Spenser tries to learn how to help Connie without compromising Susan's professional ethics.

There's every potential for Atkins to step wrong -- as he's done in his own Quinn Colson series -- and Lies relies a little too much on storylines cribbed from some other Spenser novels. But it's still a good interpretation of our old friends and worth continuing to follow.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

First Step

There was a couple who posted YouTube videos of them "pranking" their children, but people who saw them said the so-called pranks were actually cruelty and abuse. Two of the children have been placed with their biological mother, and investigations are ongoing to determine status and placement for the others.

It's not for me to say whether the children should stay with the pranking parents or not, or what kind of monitoring should be done if they do (although I lean towards "pretty freakin' extensive"). But there's no doubt these were some pretty awful things, if what I've read of them is at all accurate, so someone should figure out what's going on.

And maybe throw in a "that's enough of that" to the jerks who post videos on Nov. 1 of the kids' reactions to being told Mom and Dad ate all the Halloween candy. There should be better ways to get your video shown on late-night television.

Monday, May 15, 2017

You Can't Do This on a Plane

Get pizza delivered when you're stuck, that is.

Passengers on a New York-to-Washington train were stuck in Delaware when the train quit working and apparently had little or no food and water for those on board. So some ingenious travelers ordered pizza from a delivery service in a nearby town, and the veteran delivery driver navigated the terrain to deliver the long-awaited pies.

Well, I suppose you might be able to call for pizza to be delivered if the plane is stuck on the tarmac or something, but airlines don't open the doors once the plan is away from the terminal. And United jets probably have .50 mm cannon turrets on the fuselage to nail Mr. Domino's before he gets too close.

On the other hand, when a train quits working it doesn't fall out of the sky. So maybe it's a wash.