Monday, May 23, 2016

Workplace Environment

If your job involved detecting antineutrinos, then you would work in a place that might remind you of the scene where Indiana Jones runs through a tunnel, fleeing a large rolling rock, only reinterpreted as it might have been seen in Tron. Although your everyday view might not be exactly like this:


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Yer Out!

Sportswriter Joe Posnanski offers his opinion on a couple of proposed rule changes in major league baseball.

One is to raise the bottom of the strike zone a little to see if it will reduce the number of strikeouts. While pitchers and managers are big fans of strikeouts, hitters and paying customers are less so. Every fan likes a great pitcher's duel once in awhile, but a steady diet of whiffed dreams does not sit well with those who want to see the ball go places -- either over the fence, when their team is at bat, or into an outfielder's stretching arms, if the opponent is.

Posnanski says that this rule change might do what the competition committee hopes it will do. It might also lead to a string of walks -- which is just about as boring as a string of strikeouts -- or guys just above the Mendoza line blasting 60 homers a season. You never really know until you make the actual change, but fortunately with baseball, the change can be reversed pretty easily. Not so with other ham-handed moves that spawn chains of unforeseen consequences, such as enacted laws from a legislature.

But Posnanski says -- and I agree, which probably relieves a great deal of his stress -- that the other proposed rule is an exercise in weapons-grade numbskullery: The elimination of actually throwing four pitches in the case of an intentional walk.

Ordinarily, a pitcher's job is to keep runners off the bases. But every now and again there is a strategic reason to put one on. Perhaps it will make a double play easier and end the inning more quickly. Perhaps the current batter spent his last two at-bats sending baseballs into geosynchronous orbit but the next one can't hit the ground with his hat. There are other reasons, so the manager will tell the pitcher to throw four pitches outside of the strike zone. These are generally waaaaaay outside of the zone. The catcher will stand up and take two or three steps away from the plate to ensure even the wildest of lunges by the hitter won't connect.

So, someone on the competition committee suggested, maybe we should just let the pitcher indicate he intends to intentionally walk a batter and not throw the pitches. It might save time. Posnanski notes it will save about as much time as beginning that journey of a thousand miles with two steps instead of one. Plus, the central act of baseball is the pitch to the batter. Creating an "instant" intentional walk robs the hitting team of the possibility of a passed ball advancing the runners. Or of the chance to pull a rare steal on a pitchout. Or any number of the unpredictable things that can occur when one human throws something to another human sixty feet, six inches away.

One of baseball's greatest appeals is that once the ball leaves the pitcher's hand, anything can happen. Streamlining one infrequently-used play in the game in order to grab a minute or two against game length is not a good that is great enough to warrant the loss of unpredictability this change would bring. So, Mr. Commissioner, I -- along with every human being with a functioning cerebellum -- vote no.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Something Strange, and It Don't Look Good

Over at The Federalist, Liz Finnegan tries to parse some of the acrimony that seems to have been generated by the scheduled July release of Ghostbusters, a re-envisioning, reboot, restart or something of the 1984 smash of the same name.

A third Ghostbusters movie has been long desired. When Bill Murray showed up at the 2010 Spike TV Scream Awards in his Venkman jumpsuit and carrying a proton pack, pretty much the entire pop culture universe blew up. But Murray repeatedly declined a third movie, at one point being rumored to have actually shredded a script sent to him and returning it in that form to its writer. Harold Ramis' 2014 death would have seemed to have ended the chances for movie no. 3, since he was the writer responsible for making Dan Aykroyd's original script filmable as well as playing Egon Spengler. Iconic 80s movies given sequels with only portions of their original teams are not pretty: Witness Blues Brothers 2000. Or better yet, don't and take my word for it.

As Finnegan notes, Bridesmaids director Paul Feig announced that same year that he would be helming a Ghostbusters project and that it would star "hilarious women." The choice to make the spectre-smashing team all female generated significant interest and buzz, with groups automatically rejecting it or enthusiastically accepting it sight unseen for casting reasons alone. Two trailers for the movie have become the most down-voted movie trailers ever on YouTube ("Chin up, Paul. It gets better." -- Rebecca Black).

A number of the people who think that the idea of an all-female cast is important believe that the only fuel for this dislike is sexism and misogyny.  Finnegan suggests it has more to do with people finally losing patience with the media and entertainment industry's continuous mining of beloved classics to produce crappy echoes of said classics for no other reason than filthy lucre.

I've no doubt there's a sizable number of dudes who are ticked off that they're being given girl ghostbusters and who aren't mature enough to just keep quiet and skip the movie. And I think Finnegan's onto something as well. For every Battlestar Galactica success there seem to be a dozen Poltergeists. I think she seriously overestimates Ghostbusters as somehow "defining a generation," but it doesn't have to be on that level for people to want their experience of it unsullied by a gimmicky cash grab reboot.

There's no reason an all-female team couldn't be a great addition to the franchise, and no reason not to try something new if circumstances prevent actually bringing the band back together. But so far, the two trailers I've seen haven't delivered anything new or funny. The jokes are retreads or mild chuckles or both. I had to see the original movie twice to find out the lines immediately following the first appearance of Mr. Sta-Puft, because the packed house I saw the movie in laughed so loud you couldn't hear them.

Could there be such a moment lurking in this new Ghostbusters? Of course, although nothing on Feig's or co-writer Katie Dippold's résumés indicates it's likely, and that impression is backed up by the aforementioned trailers. So am I planning on seeing it in a theater? Probably not -- the accumulated weight of dull trailers, second-rate comic writers and the dud Ghostbusters 2 make me a lot like the people Finnegan describes. It sure smells like someone's trying to serve up leftovers as a five-star meal, and I've got nothing against leftovers -- but I'm not going out to eat them.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Hangin' Twelve!

Well, maybe -- if there were life forms on Mars in its ancient days that were capable of surfing, we have no way of knowing how many toes they would have to "hang" over the edge of the board.

But on a couple of occasions, there would have been some gnarly waves for them to catch, as two mega-tsunamis reshaped the coastline of an ancient Martian ocean, probably following meteorite impacts. Thermal image mapping of different areas of our neighboring planet found evidence of the huge waves happening about 3.4 billion years ago. By measuring the changed coastlines, backflow channels and other features often left by a tsunami or "tidal wave," scientists estimate the Martian mega-tsunamis (which would make a great name for a rock band or weird mixed drink) were almost 400 feet high and moved many miles inland.

No word on whether anyone was wearing huarache sandals, too.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Whoops!

If you're going to sue someone for taking your name, you should probably be sure they actually took your name.

The Quaker Oats Company thought they'd found a business in California using the company's trademarked name as the name of their Christmas tree farm. So they did what big corporations always do when they find some tiny business using a name like theirs: Send a letter from a lawyer telling them to quit it.

The only problem, as the respondent points out, is that the company is named Quaker Oaks Christmas Tree Farm after a wooded area used by Quakers for their worship meetings. The business is owned by Quakers -- more formally known as members of the Society of Friends. No response has been received yet from the company, although the folks of the Quaker Oaks have invited the lawyer sending the letter to visit them at any time and see for herself.

(H/T Dustbury)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Gatherings

-- A science journalist gave a talk to an association of skeptics about why he was skeptical about skepticism. Steven Novella at the website Neurologica is skeptical about whether or not Horgan was really skeptical or just acting that way. I'm really not sure who I should disbelieve.

-- My recent medical adventure involved my arm. This item makes me almost wish it had been a little more serious.

-- CBS released a teaser for its upcoming Star Trek series. It prompts two thoughts: 1) That "New Crews, New Heroes, New Villains, New Worlds" tag will be worthless if none of those things appear in service to good stories. Laurence Olivier and Katherine Hepburn wouldn't have saved "Spock's Brain," and the coolest gizmodery in the galaxy won't save this show if it takes its cues from Star Trek Into Darkness, which had a few fine moments buried in a heap o' slop. And 2), that all of the gee-whiz graphics at the front end of the teaser don't hold half the excitement as those first four notes of Alexander Courage's theme music.

-- You know, if young people are going to read and pay attention to what Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling says, it's kind of a relief to know that every now and again she's going to say something smart like this. And for the record, Mr. Trump has my full support to go to England and be bigoted there. In fact, I suspect I am not alone in being an American who wishes he would do so.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

No Cure

When one is in the hospital to have antibiotics pushed for an infection, and one does not feel otherwise poorly, one realizes that there is pretty much nothing on the planet more boring.