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.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Test Pattern

Packing, loading, driving, unloading, etc, and whatnot.

Back tomorrow.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Self-Evident

Someone asked me the other day why I don't go to see as many movies as I used to and why I wind up watching a lot of international stuff or non-theater releases on my iPad.

Well, I just read today that someone's getting paid to reboot the "Halloween" slasher franchise again. Yes. A third iteration of the hulking Michael Myers in his creepy white mask stabbing people. Wait, I'm sorry if that spoiled it for you; I realize there's a possibility that someone might go to a "Halloween" movie and not know it's about the creep in the white mask stabbing people.

And this isn't someone with a GoPro and a YouTube channel -- it's an actual Hollywood studio and actual Hollywood writers and directors. Sure, they were responsible for Pineapple Express, but that was a real live Hollywood release even if it did ace out all of its competition for Stupidest Damn Non-Electoral Thing of 2008.

Co-creator Danny McBride says they are attempting to remove some of the supernatural touches added to Michael Myers in later movies. Their Michael, he says, will not be some demonic being impossible to kill.

Yeah, if only. Look, if having Swill Czar Rob Zombie direct an iteration of your franchise can't kill it, then it really is an unstoppable force. But not supernatural. More like sewage.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Assorted

-- This item at Atlas Obscura notes that during the ramping up of railroad technology in the mid-19th century, there seemed to be a spate of madness aboard trains when they were in motion, Various causes were suggested: The motion affected the brain inside the head, the noise overwhelmed the senses and reason, and so on. Eventually, as no real cause was found and suspicion grew that the real problem was that some folks who boarded trains were a little off already. The phenomenon has recently arisen again in connection with a modern transportation system, flying, although in this case it's the frickin' owners who are crazy.

-- The last sentence in this Ask the Past item on how to improve your memory or at least avoid damaging it. Sayeth one Guglielmo Gratarolo in The Castle of Memorie about things that can be hurtful to the memory: "Also immoderate sleepe and violent vomiting." My undergraduate GPA is now explained.

-- Am I weird to think that a place called the American Writers Musuem would own some actual text artifacts?

-- The Spectator features an article by David Butterfield on ten commandments that a good public house or "pub" should live by. I can find no quibbles; in fact I may try to see how these might apply to the establishments operated by members of my own clerical profession.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Does Not Compute

Scientist Janelle Shane recently gave the neural computer network she developed the job of coming up with pickup lines. She did this by collecting many of them and feeding them into the network and seeing how well it could learn the technique.

Shane notes that the data collection process for this particular project was rather gross. In the end, the network was able to reproduce the basic formula but wound up stymied by the plays on words on which most of these lines depend. Some of its offerings made actual sense, although they may not have been what last-call lotharios would see as smooth: "Are you a candle? Because you are so hot of the looks with you." Or simple and direct, like, "I want to get my heart with you." "You look like a thing and I love you." And the always reliable, "Hello."

And some of them are incomprehensible: "Hey baby, I’m swirked to gave ever to say it for drive." Or "If I had a rose for every time I thought of you, I have a price tighting."

On the other hand, some of those latter lines could intrigue a lady more than the supposedly smoother come-ons. She might want to hang around to see just what the heck you were talking about, or what wild phrase you might come up with next.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Little Refresher

Three minutes and nine seconds of pure cool, thanks to Brother Ray and Quincy Jones adapting Rudy Toombs' "One Mint Julep:"



Genius indeed.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Homework Pays Off

At Mental Floss, they've compiled a list of seven scientific advances that came about from school projects. The students, working either alone or in collaboration with a more experienced scientist, developed their respective projects into some significant breakthroughs in the different fields in which they worked.

I confess none of my science projects was ever going to be anywhere close to even a minor scientific discovery, unless it was how fast one could be completed when the previously-forgotten deadline loomed.

Whatever started growing in my ill-tended undergraduate refrigerator, on the other hand, was most probably unknown to science. Maybe that was for the better.

Monday, May 8, 2017

My Keyboard Asplode

Former President Bill Clinton will team with thriller author James Patterson for a new political suspense novel, set for a 2018 release.

The novel represents a joint effort by the men's two different publishers. It's also probably one of the first co-author jobs involving Patterson where he will have to do most of the writing work. Mr. Clinton has written only nonfiction; his tale-spinning has been mostly in the spoken-word milieu. And if you think it was easy to not type "oral" there you are sadly mistaken.

Patterson will probably write a large part of the book, relying on Clinton for perspective on what it's like to be a sitting president since it will feature one as a lead character. Clinton's own work in his four earlier books, according to interviews, was highly collaborative and usually involved a first draft from him and then a team effort in polishing and editing. Patterson's work with co-authors has been rumored to be sometimes little more than signing his name on the cover and on the back of the royalty checks. But before he could swing that kind of gig he had to make his bones writing his own stuff, so he will probably manage here.

The title? The President Is Missing. Rumors that Clinton's response to that decision was a smile, wink and the statement, "I bet I know where to look" are, as yet, unfounded.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Finns for the Win

I can't ever remember needing a thousand cans of beer at one time. But apparently the folk of Finland have a better imagination than I do. And they have a thousand-pack available to handle it.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

You Can Dance to It...Or Maybe You Can't

Have you ever wondered why no one made a synth-pop song about the quantum uncertainty exemplified by Schrödinger’s cat?

Well, wonder no longer, because now someone has.

Friday, May 5, 2017

New Digs

Getting to Mars? Pretty tough gig.

Living on Mars once we get there? Probably even tougher.

I still think we'll do it. I'm more and more pessimistic that I'll live to see it unless I'm around to join the Nonagenarian Brigade, but I think eventually private enterprise will combine with human desire to see what's over the next hill will make a way to do it.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

This Speech is Free

Writing at The Washington Post, Catherine Rampell notes a new poll which, if accurate, shows that 49% of the people who responded to it are silly twits who should not be allowed back into a voting booth until they can demonstrate they understand the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The poll was taken in light of recent campus events in which industrial-sized toddlers threw tantrums serious enough that the adults involved were unable to complete their planned activities. In much the same way that a two-year-old's meltdown in the grocery store can make mom or dad head home and schedule the trip for later, the chanting children afraid of all ideas but their own have forced speakers to record their talks for online viewing or in some cases cancel altogether. Were this poll -- asking whether or not campuses should allow guest speakers to appear if their words "are considered hateful or offensive by some" -- conducted on an actual campus, we would expect a large group to respond the same way their emotional peers respond to naptime at the day care center.

But the new poll was not conducted on a campus and includes the responses of everyday Americans who are supposed to be more grown up than that. And if it's right, 30% of those people think universities should not have such speakers on campus, with 19% being unsure about it. The questions in the poll are reprinted exactly as they were asked, so there's no guesswork involved: 30% of the people responding have forgotten what country they live in and 19% require spinal reconstruction.

We can allow that people didn't listen closely to the question, I suppose, and maybe they didn't notice the words "considered" and "to some." The problem is that "hateful" and "offensive" are by definition subjective standards. Sure, some speech is clear, cut-and-dried hateful and would be seen as such by everybody.

But most such speech lives in a gray area that requires one to accept a particular definition of hate or offense in order to consider it hateful or offensive. I, for example, mired as I am in my traditional Christian theism, would consider a speech advocating mandatory readings of Phillip Pullman in church to be offensive. Many people, though, would not think it offensive at all and might want to hear this presentation. According to the poll 30% of people think that I, in my role as "some," should be able to prevent that speech from being given because I consider it to be offensive.

The irony in this situation, I think, is that most of the speech that really is hateful and offensive should be heard more often because exposure to it frequently drains it of power. In my example, a regular reading of Pullman would quickly point out how lightweight his thought is when it comes to theism. When you hear a good old-fashioned anti-Semitic "Jews run the world!" ranter start going off, you figure out pretty quickly what a load of hooey it all is. When people watched the ilk of Bull Conner set dogs and fire hoses on polite, well-dressed folk who wanted to do radical things like vote in elections and sit down at a lunch counter, even those who probably retained quite a bit of racial prejudice started saying, "That's not what this country is about."

And I'll confess overreacting with my suggested remedy to the problem. I'm not in favor of disenfranchising people who should know better -- if for no other reason than on some issue or another I've been among their number and will be again. People who don't know what they're doing have just as much right to vote as people who do. Even if it seems the former are already distinctly over-represented in elective office.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Box Office Bonanza

One the one hand, it's kind of impressive that a three-hour musical, the sequel to a two and half-hour musical, performed in Telugu beat a movie with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson at the box office. So hats off to Baahubali 2: The Conclusion.

On the other hand, the aforementioned Hanks and Watson vehicle was the awful The Circle, so the Tollywood release didn't have to try as hard. Tollywood, by the way, refers to a movie made in India that resembles a Bollywood movie but is filmed in Telugu rather than Hindi.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Up Side, Down Side

On the up side, Middlebury College is saying that it actually took some disciplinary action against students whose near-riot prevented a professor from speaking on their campus and sent another professor to the emergency room. Middlebury says that no description of the sanctions will be released until all of the students identified have been dealt with, and that as far as they can tell no Middlebury faculty were involved with the events once they proceeded beyond the ugly but physically harmless shout-down phase.

Their decision to wait until everyone's been handled seems pretty wise -- announcing what happened to certain students now could open them up to legal challenges if punishments for subsequent malefactors were different from what had already been handed down. I'm thinking these li'l darlings might be prone to suing, and Middlebury is going to take every step possible to cover its institutional behind.

On the down side, the chairman of the school's political science department apologized to "the wider Middlebury community" for co-sponsoring the original event. No word yet on what his response was to young children whom he may have forced to eat their vegetables without consulting their desire to supersede said vegetables with ice cream.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Signing Off

I've used information and photos from the Cassini space probe orbiting Saturn several times on the blog, because it's been a workhorse satellite and investigated so many fascinating things about one of the solar system's most fascinating planets.

But the probe is running low on fuel, so later this year it will be sent on a course into Saturn's atmosphere to destroy it. Scientists consider that although the possibility of some kind of life on Saturn's moons is faint as far as we know now, and the chance that Cassini would crash into one of the moons in question is slight, there's no reason to risk it.

After all, if there's an intelligent species living under the icy surfaces of one of Saturn's moons, we'd really rather not have our first interaction with them be littering.