Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I'm Afraid I Can't Do That, Dave...

The combination of news of this little incident with this one about Japanese development of robots that walk around on their own makes me re-think that time my automatic garage door opener was a little slow in letting me in from the rain...

Let's Think This Through...

It takes a lot of work -- and by lot, I mean at least the sum total of all energy produced by all human beings since we started using tools -- to make Tom Coburn sound like the smartest senator from Oklahoma.

Fortunately, his fellow senator Jim Inhofe is not afraid of hard work. Earlier this week, Oklahoma's senior senator said that the tinfoil hat brigade that questions whether or not President Barack Obama is a natural-born U.S. citizen "has a point." He allowed as how he hasn't worked on this issue himself (small favors, thanks, etc.), but he would not discourage their efforts. Sen. Inhofe later clarified his comment and said that the groups who keep bringing this up have a point in that if the president is not a natural-born citizen, then he is not qualified to be president according to Article II of the U.S. Constitution. The White House, he said, has not done a very good job of "dispelling the concerns" of those people raising the issue.

The White House has also not paid great attention to our citizens who believe the moon landing was faked. Nor have they put much effort into allaying the fears of those who believe the Earth is flat, even though if they're right, almost all the laws of physics and 95 percent of modern cosmology go out the window (and over the edge of the world, if you throw them hard enough).

My beliefs regarding President Obama's inadequate qualifications for his office have to do with his inexperience, bad policy ideas and ever-more-apparent ineffectiveness as a leader. A copy of a live birth record was made available online during the campaign and that settles it as much as it needs to for me. Similar issues were raised regarding Sen. John McCain during the campaign, as his birth in the Panama Canal Zone may have meant he was technically ineligible to be president. That point was raised by a professor at the University of Arizona, which McCain represents, so I imagine the law school in Wildcat Land is going to have some trouble getting grants approved for awhile.

In the end, it wouldn't matter if Pres. Obama asked each of these folks (sending the invite via the secret transmitters the government had their dentists embed in their fillings) into his office, displayed the actual copy of his birth certificate and held a seance to communicate with the spirits of his mother and father so they could say, "Yes, he was born in Hawaii. Now shut up and go bother the Air Force about Roswell."

These folks, like the people who believe the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were somehow staged by our own government, or that Sarah Palin's son Trigg is actually her grandson and she covered up the pregnancy of one of her daughters, can't be satisfied. They're delusional. Accurate information corrects my inaccurate ideas, or at least it should. But my delusions say accuracy is futile and it will be assimilated, until what's supposed to prove me wrong becomes another layer in the conspiracy and charade that proves me right.

And as the post title says, let's think this through. If these people are right for the once-in-a-lifetime occurrence the stopped-clock lottery says everybody gets, then Pres. Obama has to step down. According to Article II and the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, the person who would take over as President is the Vice-President, and that person currently is Joe Biden.

"President Biden." That ought to scare anybody, so I think it's time we sent some of those black helicopters in after the birth certificate conspiracy people before this goes any further.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You Keep Using That Word...

...but I do not think it means what you think it means.

A lady describes her experience with an AT&T representative in resolving insufficient communication about signing up for a discount. She points out how she was polite and was dealt with fairly.

The website operator is impressed with her attitude and her results, but asks the question that I think would be first in my mind: AT&T charges you a fee to activate a discount? They make you pay to save money?

I thought only the government did that.

(H/T Fark.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Uh-Oh!

I bet even Earl Scheib would charge more than $29.95 for the touch-up job after this little ding.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Knowledge!

Among the many things seminary never taught me was that ministry would one day involve using the phrase "Do not pick up the armadillos!"

Sunday, July 19, 2009

RIP, Walter Cronkite

Return with me now to the hallowed days of yesteryear, when significant portions of Americans would gather 'round the television in the evening and imbibe the news of the day.

No celebrity marriages, divorces or other interactions that would embarrass a zoo animal. No cutesy "news you can use" segments or "information that will help you protect your family." No bang-zap-pow graphics. No buzzy show titles like "The Situation Room" or "The Factor." Just what went on, when it went on, where it went on, and whether or not it might keep going on tomorrow.

One of the faces and voices of this kind of communication was Walter Cronkite, the anchor at the CBS Evening News. Cronkite's words in 1963 told America its president was dead. In 1969, his words and his moments of wordlessness communicated what many people felt as they watched Neil Armstrong step off his lunar lander onto the moon (Cronkite slept a total of three hours during the 40 hours between Apollo 11's insertion into lunar orbit and its departure; he spent the rest of the time on air or following reports).

One can argue about whether or not the identification of news with a single voice was a good thing. When a huge percentage of the information people get comes from just a few sources, and when reliability and accuracy are only among the criteria whereby those sources are judged instead of the primary criteria, then the possibilities of abuse breed like roaches.

News today comes in the same fashion -- we're told that this or that anchor, personality or reporter is accurate and can be trusted and believed, and that's why they're on the job. The connection between accuracy, trust and believability on the one hand and perfect hair, capped teeth and high Q ratings on the other is never explained, but it must be there, because everyone who I'm told has the former also seems to have the latter. But even though they all try to follow Uncle Walter's footsteps, none seem to attain his stature -- think of the Declaration of Independence. All those men signed it, saying and risking the same things. But John Hancock's the name that earned its own idiom.

Cronkite's reign at CBS Evening News helped create the current climate although he himself left, retiring in 1981, before some of its silliest iterations began to crop up. But whatever he begat by way of broadcast news aside, Cronkite saw himself as a reporter, first and foremost. A typewriter sat next to him at his anchor desk, available (and often used) to bang out a few lines of copy at the last second if new information came in on a story or if something completely new started breaking. Can you imagine any of the blow-dried newsMuppets manning local TV anchor desks being able to do that? On the national scene, if I close one eye and squint I could see NBC's Brian Williams in that mode, but former morning show personalities Charles Gibson of ABC or Katie Couric of CBS? The immaculately made-up Shepherd Smith of Fox? Shakespeare's works will spring from the keyboards of all those monkeys first.

I don't know if that's the way it is, but I'll settle for saying that's how I see it. Happy trails, Mr. Cronkite.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Verification Overload

OK, everybody who thought I was certifiable because I tried to Shakespearacize Colt Seavers is invited to check out this discussion, in which the plausibility of Jon Bon Jovi's claims about rocking a million faces is examined.

I will note that as of this writing, in spite of the detailed analysis about the number of faces seen vs. number of faces rocked, there is no settled understanding about what actually constitutes rocking a face.

(H/T Galley Slaves)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Moonwalkers

Forty years ago tomorrow, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins rode an elevator to a tiny room about 400 feet in the air, resting on top of six million pounds of rocket fuel and a few hundred thousand pounds of rocket. At a little past 9:30 AM local time, five engines at the bottom of that rocket fired and kicked them up into the sky with about seven and a half million pounds of force.

For three days, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins headed towards our nearest neighbor in space, the moon. Forty years ago Sunday, Collins tapped on the brakes and eased the combined command and lunar modules into their parking space circling the moon. Forty years ago Monday, Armstrong and Aldrin climbed into their lunar module and started down towards the surface. Just after 4 PM eastern time that afternoon they landed and, to borrow a phrase a guy writing about spaceships first used a few years earlier, went where no man had gone before. For the first time in human history, there were people living and breathing and about to walk around someplace other than Earth.

Aldrin, an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, TX, took communion prepared for him by his pastor. Sunday, July 19, those worshiping at Webster Presbyterian can take communion using that chalice as they can every year on the Sunday that falls nearest July 20th. At about 11 PM eastern time, Neil Armstrong left the lunar module and put human footprints on a world where none had ever been, and where only eleven more to date have followed. Nine of this dozen still live; the youngest, Charles Duke of Apollo 16, is seventy-four. NASA's current plan has us back on the moon by 2020, at which time he will be 85 if still living. His fellow Apollo 16 crewmember John Young, the oldest surviving man who walked on the moon, will be 90. Eugene Cernan, who followed Harrison Schmitt up the ladder of Apollo 17 to become the "last" man on the moon, will be 86.

In Carrollton, MO, a four-year-old boy was awakened and watched the event with his parents and grandmother in her living room, on the small oval black-and-white screen set inside a huge cabinet. Although his current profession has been called "sky pilot" more than once, he remains merely a major space nerd and is not the astronaut he had at times said he would be. Armstong's step remains one of his earliest memories.

Aldrin followed Armstrong out the door a few minutes later. They spent several hours collecting samples and deploying experiments. The actual "moonwalk" they developed in the moon's one-sixth gravity is a kangaroo-like hop-skip and does not involve any backward motion.

After a seven-hour rest in their spacecraft, Aldrin and Armstrong fired their motor and returned to the orbiting ship piloted by Collins. Forty years ago a week from Friday -- July 24 -- the three splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Complaints about the cost of the Apollo program would begin worrying at it not long after. Those small of vision, who could never understand that the human horizon was not meant to be within arm's reach, would win and barely three and a half years after the first human walked on the moon, the last would.

A visit to the National Air and Space Museum to see the command module or to Cape Kennedy to see some of the Apollo-era equipment can make any modern techno-buff scratch his or her head in wonder. Today's laptops alone make the forty-year-old computers that sent humanity on its longest journey ever look like stone knives and bearskins. State-of-the-art machinery of the time is eclipsed by an old VHS machine gathering dust on a closet shelf, let alone what is available today. Advances in fuel technology, construction and a host of other fields mean smaller rockets do more work. Few of the designers of that time might have imagined the space technology used today by NASA itself or in general.

But they went. And we can't, or won't. I'm not sure which is worse.

Status: Updated?

PC World offers a guide to Facebook status updates. I found it interesting to read, but as a very infrequent status updater -- I tend to treat it like an answering machine message, saying whether or not I'm in or out or whether or not internet's available where I'm staying -- I don't know how much help it will be for me.

There are a number of people to whom I'd recommend several of the messages, such as the TMI updater or the "I'm so sleepy" updater. But if I sent this to them, I might see another kind of update, the "passive-aggressive" one, like "(Insert name here) is really tired of smug so-called friends who think they know so much and can tell other people what to do."

Then I would have to update mine with something like "Brett is really tired of people who don't understand the difference between helpful advice and mean criticism." Then they would say "(Insert name here) doesn't think some people should think they have any business offering advice to other people." Then I would say, "Brett wishes people would approach him directly with issues instead of using oblique Facebook status updates as some sort of mind-reading prompts to hint at real underlying matters."

Hey -- I think I've had dates like that.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Book of Lies

This has got to be one of the silliest books I've ever read.

Meltzer writes suspense novels and has also worked on comic books. He's responsible for the 2004 miniseries Identity Crisis, which used up not one, but two super-hero wives for no good reason. Sue Dibny, wife of Elongated Man Ralph Dibny, is murdered (and given a previously unknown history as a rape victim), and her killer is Jean Loring, the whacked-out ex-wife of The Atom. In a logic-defying twist, Loring is sent, knowledge of secret identities and all, to Arkham Asylum -- home of not a few folks who would just loooove a little sit-down chat with her about that sort of thing.

Yes, well, that paragraph certainly shows I know too much about comics, but my point is that Meltzer isn't long on logic or common sense when he tells a story. Book of Lies is not really any different. Cal Harper, former Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, now works for an agency that helps homeless people in Florida. He and his friend Roosevelt, a former minister, spend nights in a van, picking up homeless people and taking them to a shelter. Roosevelt, you see, was a Methodist minister in Tennessee until he started pushing 40, at which time the leaders in his church became uneasy about his unmarried state. Some church members began to label him as gay, and his denomination apparently put him on some sort of blacklist so he couldn't serve a church. Rather than knuckle under and get married, Roosevelt left to help the homeless in Florida.

Well, this 44-year-old single Methodist minister couldn't stop laughing for about a hundred pages at that scenario, so some of the next part is a little fuzzy. Cal and Roosevelt happen upon a homeless man who has been shot, who turns out to be Cal's estranged father. Although he has been out of prison for several years after finishing a sentence for manslaughter in Cal's mother's death, the two haven't seen or spoken to each other.

Things about the shooting are mysterious, and they grow more mysterious as Cal tries to find out what his father is doing. Another layer of intrigue builds when Cal uses his connections with a tribal police department to run ballistics and learn that the gun which wounded his father also killed Mitchell Siegel, the father of Superman creator Jerry Siegel. And still another appears with the presence of Ellis, a shadowy agent/assassin who works for the even shadowy-er Thule Society for their own dark ends.

Along the way we add in Serena, the mysterious woman who's presence seems necessary to Cal's father, and Naomi Molina, an ICE agent who wants to talk to Cal about her partner Timothy's late-night rendezvous with Cal. The actual "Book of Lies" is supposedly the weapon Cain used to kill Abel, and Cal, his father and Serena must track down the connection between Mitchell Siegel and this ancient artifact. And Roosevelt will use his theological expertise to guide their search so they can stay ahead of Ellis and Naomi Molina.

In essence, this is The DaVinci Code with Jerry Siegel subbing in for Leonardo and Siegel hometown Cleveland, Ohio subbing in for all the places in Europe Robert Langdon gets chased through. In his acknowledgment page, Meltzer says he's trying to tell a bigger story, about fathers and sons and stuff, than just a thriller. After I stopped laughing about Meltzer's dearth of Methodist polity knowledge, I spent most of the rest of the book rolling my eyes, so I may have missed where he did either one. Certain figures pop onto the scene in order to deliver rambling expository speeches and then disappear. Even Serena, who is supposedly some kind of main character, does little more than spout some kind of granola astrology. Molina's pursuit is supposed to offer some kind of pressure on our heroes, but her presence offers little tension and less purpose.

The Miami Herald's book review provides this cover quote: "Marvelously plotted...intricately woven...heart-pounding." I have no idea what book the reviewer read, but its author needs to get in touch with Grand Central Publishing so he or she can get their blurb back.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lightning on Mars?

Well, sure. But any flier captain of great Helium's mighty navy could have told you that...

Judging?

The cover to Dan Brown's upcoming new crappy novel, The Lost Symbol, has been revealed!

No, I did not call it a crappy novel because of the cover -- remember, you can't do that. I called it a crappy novel because I've read other books by Dan Brown. I actually expect the cover to feature more creativity than all 500-plus pages of The Lost Symbol put together.

The All-American Car

I have family in Michigan and although I've visited them many times, I've never driven my own vehicle there. Which is probably good, since the cars I've owned were a Volkswagen and two Toyotas (Although I lived there for a couple months during an internship, I drove the family station wagon, an Oldsmobile). Cars with those nameplates aren't frowned upon in the state whose history is tied to automobile manufacturing, but they aren't the best way to make new friends. Plus, my family members would have to live there after I'd gone, and how long would it take them to live down being related to someone who drove one of those cars?

But according to this item from Cars.com, I should actually have no problem with my Toyota nameplate, because the most American of all cars sold in the U.S. today is...the Toyota Camry. The list ranks cars by percentage of parts made or assembled in the U.S. It also features the location of the plant where final assembly takes place, and only one of the Top 10 most American cars gets put together in Michigan. The Ford F-150 takes shape at two plants, and one of them is in Dearborn.

In fact, Toyota holds four of the top 10 spots and Honda a fifth. GM has three and Ford two, leaving Chrysler out of the running. The article also explores the issue of rating "American-made-ness" by this metric, called "domestic content," and some of the problems it poses.

All I know is that it's going to sound weird to say, "As American as baseball, apple pie, hot dogs and Toyota Camry."

(H/T Dustbury)

Monday, July 6, 2009

People Say Things

And I repeat them here because I find them interesting:

"Eight percent of our brains, my a**."
-- A comment on the announcement that ABC, NBC, MSNBC, CNN and the E! network will all offer live coverage of the Michael Jackson memorial service (CBS may or may not, but since only three or four people watch their news anyway it may not matter).

"There are two options: You lay down or you keep going. The second option sounded better to me."
-- Andy Roddick on how he stayed in his monumental Wimbledon finals match with Roger Federer.

"What the university stands for is serious inquiry, and it is open to change when change is called for."
-- Former University of Chicago student government president commenting on the school's policy that will allow upperclass students to select roommates of the opposite sex. I predict some serious inquiry from a bunch of guys with "My Money and My Daughter Go to the University of Chicago" bumper stickers.

Many people have said many things about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's decision to resign her office later this month -- too many to list here. What are her reasons? What will this do to her political career? What will happen next for her? There are so many differing opinions I just can't sort them out. What will I do? I know! To select the most knowledgeable and therefore most accurate opinion, I will listen to the people who predicted she would resign!

[cricket...cricket...cricket]

Maybe I'll get back to you on that one.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Wow

So I did give in and use my DVR function this morning to catch Wimbledon (I have this thing I'm supposed to do on Sunday mornings and I don't think "I was watching tennis" is going to fly as an excuse for skipping).

Thank you, Messrs. Federer and Roddick. Bj├Ârn Borg and John McEnroe's 1980 finals match, won by Borg in five sets, is rightfully considered one of the best Wimbledon finals ever, but my uneducated and unqualified opinion places this right next to it. And it is far and away the best match I have ever seen Andy Roddick play, even though he lost. Makes me eager for the U.S. Open at the end of next month.

Geek Alert!

Fermilab, one of those monstrously huge underground particle accelerators that smashes stuff together at nearly the speed of light, will offer tours of parts of the facility in July and August. People who wish to participate should be able, it says, to walk up three flights of stairs and should wear comfortable shoes.

Fermilab is in suburban Chicago and among its many experiments is the creation of anti-matter. The Daily Herald story explains a little about anti-matter; I went hunting for some more detailed info but the crossing of my eyes and pain in my head varies directly with the degree of detail offered, so I quit.

What I did find was that anti-matter is produced in very, very small amounts, and when it meets real matter, both particles blow up. Which makes it good that anti-matter is produced in very, very small amounts. Scientists have theorized that many previously unknown things could happen in and around Chicagoland if large amounts of anti-matter met large amounts of real matter:

-- A Northwestern University bowl win
-- A poor Chicago alderman
-- The Cubs in the World Series
-- The Cubs winning the World Series*
-- A Republican mayor
-- An alcohol-free St. Patrick's Day
-- Rod Blagojevich's hair (Uh-oh. I think the scientists have been hiding something!)
-- Barack Obama's humility
-- An Illinois governor handing power over to an elected successor without benefit of indictment.

*In researching this, I asked the scientists about these possibilities, and they said nobody would sign off on this one ever happening except the guy who'd been sniffing too many positrons, and he had this problem of appearing and disappearing at irregular intervals.

(ETA -- H/T to University Diaries. Must remember not to blog on Sunday morning because I forget things like this!)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Don't Get It...

Why in the world, if George Lucas is going to put all kinds of little bells and whistles in the so-called standard versions of the original three "Star Wars" films, would he not fix the absolutely awful green screen shots when Luke Skywalker battles the rancor in the pit below Jabba's throne room in Return of the Jedi?

A friend asked me why so few movie posts this summer. Well, I haven't gotten around to seeing Up yet, and during June, that was about the only big movie released that month that wouldn't insult a pre-schooler's intelligence.

Seriously -- although I might have a whole lot of fun finding ways to snark about tripe like Land of the Lost, Year One and Transformers 2, doing so would require me seeing them, and unless I can find someone to pour Tabasco in my eyes first, I'm not doing that.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Same Thing We Do Every Night, Pinky...

But it looks like someone beat Brain to the punch.

Have I ever told you just how great I think ants are? I mean, they're the best insects ever. Sometimes I throw picnics and don't even eat the food just so the ants can have some freebies. And I'll do it again, any time they want.