Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I Want a New Drug

I, like many men, am always wary of how eager I am to do the bidding of an attractive woman, even though she may be asking me to obtain the nuclear launch codes always carried by someone near the United States president. Though I am a loyal citizen and have absolutely no access to restricted White House areas, I cannot tell you how many times I have caught myself just before buying a plane ticket to Washington, D.C., to make the attempt.

There is now hope for me (and for you, too. Don't be ashamed; it happens to every guy). If we receive a dose of the antibiotic minocycline, we will be less likely to be ensnared by the damish wiles of the femme fatale and thus retain command of our faculties ("Now you tell me." -- Philip Marlowe).

Japanese researchers studied the effects of minocycline, which is ordinarily used to treat acne. It also can reduce the symptoms of some mental illnesses, as well as improve decision making. In their study, men who received a placebo were more likely to give larger amounts of money to an unknown woman who was attractive than to one who was considered plain. Men who received minocycline were not.

Researchers have sought out chemicals that may have a similar effect on women, improving their decision-making skills when in the presence of attractive men. Results are as yet inconclusive, but the leading candidate seems to be a compound known as "can-quote-large-portions-of-Star-Wars-dialogue-verbatim-cycline." Although it seems to have little impact when administered to female test subjects, if it is administered to males -- even ones that might be considered physically attractive -- the women are often literally unable to see or hear them afterwards.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Missed It by That Much...

Since we began reading about him in 2001, Wyoming Fish and Game Warden Joe Pickett has had an uneasy friendship with drifter/mountain man/federal fugitive Nate Romanowski. Nate has saved Joe's life and his family's lives more than once, and helped Joe close cases too big to handle alone. And Joe has helped Nate as well, especially by remaining silent on his whereabouts when questioned by federal law enforcement agents who want to talk to, arrest or eliminate Nate -- or all of the above.

As 2011's Cold Wind ended, Nate received a message that meant his past was coming back, and not necessarily to haunt him. Force of Nature opens as that past tracks Nate down and makes the first move in a deadly game. He knows that anyone he calls on for help is at risk, so he tries to flee on his own. But his enemies may already know about his friends, including Joe Pickett. They may already be part of the game, no matter how hard Nate tries to prevent them from becoming pawns.

Force is a rebound of sorts for Box, whose last two or three Joe Pickett novels have been hamstrung by lazy plotting, a few too many ridiculous characters and not enough trimming of repetitious story elements. Box has never lost his easy-going narrative style, and that lends an interesting layer to Nate's anything-but-easygoing hazards. But he does try too hard in some places, especially in working the falconry metaphors, which leads to quite a bit more expository conversation than Joe Pickett novels usually feature. And the whole Special Forces/global terrorism angle of Nate's history is really too far afield for Joe's usual arena of work; it feels shoehorned in and does not fit well.

Even so, Force betters the silly Below Zero by a large margin and may represent Box back in a groove -- now that he has Nate's back story out of the way, he might be able to reconnect with Joe and his family.
Second-generation bestseller author Jesse Kellerman -- son of novelists Jonathan and Faye -- has fallen into a weird odd/even pattern in his books. His first and third books, Sunstroke and The Genius, were interesting novels that didn't let their mainstream audience targeting and style keep them from developing plots, characterizations and ideas worth thinking about. Genius especially stood out in this way. But his second and fourth novels, Trouble and The Executor, were filled with unlikeable characters following ugly or banal storylines that offered no payoff for investing time in them. Trouble, in fact, is a blend of grotesque and banal that produces the mental equivalent of a retching yawn.

Potboiler starts making a good case that Kellerman's odd-even pattern continues. Never-was literature professor Arthur Pfefferkorn had a friend 20 years ago -- Bill -- who became a best-selling author writing high-energy, low-intellect airport novel thrillers. Now his friend has been declared dead six months after being lost at sea, and Arthur attends his funeral. There, he reconnects with Carlotta, Bill's widow and his first love. They rekindle a relationship, but Arthur swipes Bill's unpublished manuscript and reworks it as his own, giving him the success as an author he always felt he deserved but could never attain.

Then it starts to get weird. Bill was involved in some matters that could easily get literature professors and would-be Serious Writers killed, and the manuscript theft sets them in motion. Arthur will have to learn a lot about his character and his limits if he wants to keep himself and the people he loves safe.

Kellerman, a skilled writer, has a great handle on the glaring weaknesses of the adventure thriller novel, called a "potboiler" because writers in the pulp era would turn in manuscripts they knew were knock-off hackery for a simple reason: To keep food on the table and the pot boiling. He uses that to give Arthur several wry observations on the genre and its work, but also lets us snicker at Arthur because he's jealous of the success he hates. He manages to keep things going even when Potboiler crosses the line from comedy to broad, Strangelovian satire, holding his narrative thread together and keeping his focus in spite of the sheer tornado of absurdity surrounding Arthur.

But it's not an unqualified success. After offering a comic opener and bitingly satirical third act, Kellerman seems to want to finish off with a flourish of properly literary pathos and strange imagery that don't mesh with the rest of the work. It's as though he tacked one of his even-numbered endings onto one of his stronger odd-numbered novels.

Of course if this kind of combination is a habit, it may result in some much better even-numbered offerings -- something that may prompt us to, in one fluid motion, cross our fingers and hope comes to pass.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Biiiig Star

To little critters such as ourselves, the planet we live on seems big. But compared to our planet, our sun is bigger still. But compared to other stars, such as the red supergiant Betelgeuse, our entire solar system is small. Replace the sun with Betelgeuse, and everything inside Saturn is quite literally toast.

Betelgeuse, in fact, has the habit of emitting arcs of superheated gas that are, all by themselves, almost as large as the orbit of Neptune.

What are humans that You are mindful of them, indeed.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Fatal Flaw

-- This is obviously not a real pirate ship -- real pirate ships are not bought; they are stolen.

-- I usually don't care to link Michelle Malkin, who's a little too ready to fight when it comes to political matters and sometimes thus careless with the facts. But so far she's the only place I can find the information that the company that won a key billion-dollar high-speed rail company is partly managed by the husband of California senator Dianne Feinstein. You can find which company won the contract, and you can find who runs it, but so far you can't find both pieces of information on the same site.

-- If you were in a car and driving, what's the longest sunset you could experience? About 95 minutes, according to the xkcd What If? blog, and it's not where you'd think.

-- Edward R. Murrow would never have done this.

Friday, April 26, 2013

He Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair

And he needs it now less than ever, as country legend George Jones passed away Friday at 81.

Among Jones final studio albums were 2005's Hits I Missed...And One I Didn't and 2006's Kickin' Out the Footlights...Again. In the former, he revisited songs that he'd originally decided against recording which later went on to be hits for other artists. In the latter, he teamed up with fellow legend Merle Haggard on a record in which each man covered five of the other's songs, then teamed up for duets. Although his voice wasn't the amazing instrument it had been in his prime, a slightly worn George Jones vocal outperforms 90 percent of Nashville at the top of its game and it made these two swan songs fine releases in their own right.

Happy trails, Ol' Possum.

Corruption and Rage

When I was younger, the grocery stores we shopped at usually didn't have a nice rack of books arranged on a newsstand-like set of shelves. They were often on a standalone wire spinner and seemed rarely grouped according to category. I don't know if that was intentional -- in order to check out the kind of books you liked, you had to check out all four sides of the spinner and thus you might find yourself drawn to a new book you hadn't considered before, bringing another sale to the store. Or it could have been that the people who unpacked the books just stuck them in empty spinner slots, or browsers took them from one place but put them back somewhere else.

There usually weren't very many books on the spinners, and it seems like I remember a low turnover rate. So checking them out often meant seeing the same books several times. But that was more exciting than accompanying Mom on her grocery-buying rounds, which never included enough purchases of important items like potato chips and peanut butter and which rarely allowed for a large enough variety of cereal purchases.

I offer this little memory lane jaunt for two reasons: 1) I picked up Kyle Mills' 2009 novel Lords of Corruption from such a spinner in a little nearby Dollar General and 2) that fact is by far the most interesting thing about this story of Josh Hagarty, hired by a charity to help African farmers -- until he learns not everything about the charity is as it appears. Mills joins an unlikeable protagonist to a double-handful of plot holes and predictable situations told in a pedestrian style that you definitely would want to write home about -- in order to warn them away. He brings up several interesting and important ideas about charitable work in Africa, its potential for fraud and its cultural implications, but only to display them as set pieces, not to chew on. They fill the same role as plastic fruit -- they can be viewed, but are otherwise useless. The same, for that matter, can be said of Lords of Corruption.
Sometimes you have to wonder where the marketing people who suggest book cover copy get their ideas. On the back of Day of Rage, I am told that I am reading a work by "the greatest Western writer of the 21st century." I don't know if that title belongs to William W. Johnstone, whose death in 2004 means that he did indeed publish westerns in the 21st century, or to J. A. Johnstone, who took over writing his uncle's characters after having spent many years retyping his manuscripts and helping on research. And either way, since we're just now past a dozen years into that century, calling the race for "the greatest" may be a little premature.

Day of Rage is the second entry in the "Sixkiller: U.S. Marshal" series, which have all been written by J.A. Johnstone. They relate the life of John Henry Sixkiller, a man of mixed Cherokee/European heritage who is both a tribal lawman in the tribe's Indian Territory district and a United States Deputy Marshal. In Day, John Henry is asked by his friend, a judge, to head west and help three mine owners guard their gold shipments from a clever and brutal outlaw leader. John Henry's reputation carries a lot of weight in Indian Territory and western Arkansas, but neither lawman nor outlaw knows him out west. That could be to his advantage -- or it could get him killed.

Day of Rage is a standard Western story of the quick-shooting, quick-thinking lawman facing down considerably greater odds than is best for one's health. J. A. Johnstone's style lacks the kind of polish that might bring it up a few rungs, but it's a meat-and-potatoes read that doesn't promise more than it delivers. There are plenty of possibilities in a tale of a Native American lawman in the old West, and if Johnstone doesn't take much of a look at them here, there's a chance he may do so with experience.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Victory Over Communism!

A plant in Columbus, GA., will soon begin making Twinkies again, and hopes to have them back on store shelves sometime in July.

This news is made better with the thought that it could induce New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a man who has very definite ideas about what everyone else should eat and drink, to curl up in a fetal position somewhere and weep for an entire day.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Double Down

So, if I donated money to Zach Braff's Kickstarter campaign for some reason (leading contender: double hemispherectomy), would that mean that if the movie got made and released and I wanted to see it for some reason (leading contender: replacing lost tissue with neurons donated by Bill O'Reilly and Al Sharpton), I wouldn't have to buy a ticket because I'd already paid for it once?

I'm betting no, but I'm also betting I'll never have to find out.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

¿Quien Es Mas Nerdo?

It's a toss-up to figure out which of these things is nerdier: A video of someone singing Sixpence None the Richer's version of the La's "Kiss Me" in Klingon, or a website dedicated to chronicling and fund-raising for the restoration of the original full-size Galileo shuttlecraft from the first Star Trek series episode "Galileo 7."

I am not the one to decide the nerd quotient of either. Since they both seem pretty darn cool to me, I'm obviously a pre-nerdified judge and unqualified to make a distinction.

Monday, April 22, 2013

From the Rental Vault

Part of the fun of writing about the 2009 Bollywood movie 3 Idiots is in coming up with a good description of it. The closest I can get is a mash-up of A Separate Peace, Revenge of the Nerds and Animal House with elements of The Prince and the Pauper and The Paper Chase. With song and dance numbers.

Oh sure, you say. Anyone could make a mash-up of A Separate Peace, Revenge of the Nerds and Animal House with elements of The Prince and the Pauper and The Paper Chase, with song and dance numbers. Ah, but could they make one that works? Producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra, director Rajkumar Harani and principal screenwriter Abhijat Joshi, working from a 2004 novel by Chetan Beghat did.

Two of the titular idiots -- Farhan (R. Madhavan) and Raju (Sharman Joshi) -- rush off to meet an old college classmate who ten years ago bet them he would be a bigger success than their friend Rancho (Aamir Khan). Rancho is nowhere to be seen -- in fact, they haven't seen or heard from him since graduation. But the classmate has the address, and the trio take off to find him. Along the way, Farhan recalls their college lives in several long flashbacks. Rancho's free spirit and love of pure learning put him at odds with the by-the-book faculty of the Imperial College of Engineering. But his intelligence keeps him ahead of the game, including attempts by school dean Viru "Virus" Sahasrabuddhe (Boman Irani) to oust him and his friends. Along the way we also see Rancho fall in love with medical student Pia (Kareena Kapoor) and we learn how the pasts of both Farhan and Raju influence their work at the school and how they approach it. And of course, we have a few musical numbers, since this is a straight-ahead Bollywood movie and those movies make sure every entertainment base is covered.

3 Idiots owes its success to the uncomplicated storyline from Abhijat Joshi that keeps the flashback/today's storyline confusion to a minimum, the humor and hijinks mostly low-key but amusing and gives Madhavan, Sharman Joshi, Khan and Kapoor great characters and dialogue to work with. And even though it's sung in Hindi, the song "Zoobi Doobi" is an earworm you'd have a hard time getting rid of. The dramatic elements of the script seem sometimes to clash with its comedic tone -- Dean "Virus" is mostly played for laughs but some of his actions are simply monstrous. But that friction isn't often or overwhelming, so Idiots hums along quite a bit faster than you might expect a three-hour movie to do.

It holds the record for Bollywood box-office leader, both in India and around the world and is one of the few Indian movies to do well in China. It also carried off a heap of awards from moviemaking associations based in India and Southeast Asia. And I guarantee you it's the best mash-up of A Separate Peace, Revenge of the Nerds and Animal House with elements of The Prince and the Pauper and The Paper Chase, with song and dance numbers that you will rent this year.
In Kansas City Confidential, ex-con Joe Rolfe (John Payne) was able to get a job driving a floral delivery truck. But when bank robbers use an exact duplicate of his truck to stage their daring heist, he finds himself suspected by Kansas City police and questioned by them. And in the pre-Miranda days of 1952 moviedom, police weren't all that concerned about how gently they handled their suspects, especially when they were sure of the suspect's guilt.

Even though new evidence springs Joe, the police still think he had a role to play and his boss doesn't want to keep him on after all the bad publicity. He resolves to find the real robbers and clear his name, or at least get revenge. Tracking them to Mexico, he waits for his chance: The robbers all wore masks, so they never saw each other's faces, and their meeting to split the take could give Joe an inside track to make his move. But that move will be complicated by law student Helen Foster (Colleen Gray), who's falling for the guy she thinks Joe is while Joe is falling for her.

Confidential is a pretty much by-the-book film noir, complete with Hero with a Past, Ruthless Criminals and Gal Who Knows Her Way Around. It works so well, though, because director Phil Karlson doesn't try to play cute with his noir conventions, like stark shadowy settings, strange camera angles and close-ups of sweating guilty or fearful faces. He just sells out for them like he believes in them, whether he does or not. It works well because Payne is unflinching as Rolfe, determined to have his revenge on the gang who wrecked his life even though he knows nothing about them nor they about him. And it works well because in criminal gang Neville Brand, Jack Elam and Lee Van Cleef, Karlson hit a trifecta of movie bad guys just before they made it big but after they'd learned how to create menacing characters. Elam especially shines as the cowardly Pete Harris, ruthless when he's behind you but craven when you face him.

Kansas City Confidential did well enough on release, but only later became appreciated as a defining noir work that could live up to its tagline and hit with "bullet force and blackjack fury!" In 1992, Quentin Tarantino would use much of the plotline for his Reservoir Dogs directorial debut.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


-- Did you ever wonder how many clicks it takes to officially wear out a Lego brick? Probably not, but Phillipe Cantin did, and he built a robot to find out by putting two bricks together and taking them apart, over and over again. After 37,112 joinings and separations, the two bricks would no longer hold to each other. Cantin notes that they would, however, still click together with an unworn brick, so they were not entirely useless.

-- Back in 1866, Arthur Martine wrote a book called Martine's Hand-Book of Etiquette, and Guide to True Politeness. In it, he includes the following suggestion:
“In disputes upon moral or scientific points, ever let your aim be to come at truth, not to conquer your opponent. So you never shall be at a loss in losing the argument, and gaining a new discovery.”
If this bit of advice were to take hold, we would lose all of Fox News after 7 PM, all of MSNBC during the same time frame and at several points during the day, Salon.com, The Nation, the website Newsbusters, Pat Buchanan, Ron Paul, the Daily Kos, 75% of what my friends post on Facebook and most (but not nearly enough) of Twitter. I'm trying to find the downside, because I'm sure there has to be one.

-- If you ask most folks why movie reboots/remakes fail, they will have a simple answer: Because they stink. Different words may sub in for the verb in that sentence, but the idea is the same. A writer at io9.com thinks that's a little too circular of an explanation and so he offers eight reasons. They're kind of clever, but they basically boil down to eight different facets of "Because they stink." Sometimes Occam's razor really does work.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Unclear on the Concept

NBC announced that, because of the violence in Boston surrounding the bombing of the Boston Marathon and the pursuit and capture of one of the suspects and because of the shootings in Newtown in December, they would pull an episode of their new series, Hannibal.

The episode featured a psychiatrist who brainwashed children into killing other children. Instead of that episode of a show whose title character is a psychiatrist serial killer who murders and eats his victims, they instead aired an entirely different episode of a show whose title character is a psychiatrist serial killer who murders and eats his victims. In the episode that aired, a character learns that her father, who was a serial killer that hunted human beings like prey and who killed her mother and attacked her, slitting her throat, probably rendered his victims like he did the animals he hunted and fed them to her. And the pillows he gave her were stuffed with human hair.

I am grateful to see a modern television network act out of concern for the possibility that their series might not be appropriate, given current circumstances. I can only hope that the Fox network considers carefully tomorrow night's episode of The Following, the Kevin Bacon show in which a serial killer who slaughtered women and cut out their eyes spent his time behind bars building up a cult following (get it?) of people to also be serial killers. And that CBS gives careful consideration to this week's episode of Criminal Minds, its show about FBI profilers who fly around the country and hunt serial killers in between expository lectures to local law enforcement officers who are too stupid to catch them. And that the A&E network takes a close look at this week's episode of Bates Motel, a show about how young Norman Bates became the guy who dressed up as his dead mother and stabbed young female motel guests.

Wait, what was I grateful for again?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Prefixing Precision

One of the bloggers at Patheos reprinted a list from Dictionary.com of words which are technically made up of a root word and a prefix or a suffix. But in reality, either the root word is meaningless or we don't use it anymore.

A couple I recognized. Impeccable, for one, has the Latin root peccare, and someone in my line of work has once or twice run across the tidbit that this is the word we translate as "sin." Peccadillos, or "little sins," also comes from this root. When we use "impeccable," we usually intend to suggest that something has a status beyond question or is faultless. Impeccable manners are manners without flaw. Impeccable honesty is honesty that no one questions.

I had not realized that "debunk" was never really a prefix-root construction so much as a new made-up word from the 1920s. It was meant to describe the process of taking the "bunk" or false information, out of something.

"Bunk" in this meaning is a shortened form of the word "bunkum." That word came into English usage thanks to North Carolina Congressman Felix Walker, who during the 16th Congress rose to speak on the issue of admitting Missouri to the United States. Rep. Walker timed his speech after the house had spent many long and exhausting hours negotiating how Missouri was to enter the union -- as a state that allowed slavery or as one that prohibited it.

Although he had nothing substantive to add to the debate -- a common but interesting ailment in that politicians catch it but their constituents are the ones who suffer -- Rep. Walker insisted on delivering his remarks anyway, saying he had to speak on behalf of Buncombe County, his district. His fellow representatives shouted him down so he could not deliver his speech, which he had to have printed in a newspaper. But his constant reference to his district of Buncombe County became first a Washington metaphor describing meaningless talk meant to satisfy constituents or make the speaker look good and then a commonly-used phrase for the same thing.

Rep. Walker thus became famous not for what he said, but for the fact that he insisted on trying to say it even though it was meaningless and no one wanted to hear it. Today, of course, Congress operates much differently.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Does This Nucleus Make Me Look Fat?

As we may remember from high school science classes, the nucleus of an atom is made up mostly of protons and neutrons. Turns out there are other things in there as well, but throughout the re-thinkings brought on by new discoveries and new theories, the protons have remained constant.

Or maybe not. Physicists had used the movements of another group pf subatomic particles -- electrons -- to determine the size of a proton and found it to have a radius of 0.8768 of a femtometer. A femtometer is a millionth of a billionth of a meter. Recently, just for grins, similar experiments have been done using a different subatomic particle, called a muon. Muons are heavier than electrons and so they are closer to the protons in the nucleus, allowing for a more careful measurement. Using this method, the proton was found to have a radius of about 0.84087 of a femtometer.

Since it would take ten trillion femtometers to span a human hair, it may seem kind of silly to get all worked up over a difference of less than three one-hundredths of one. Kind of like cutting $85 billion out of a multi-trillion dollar budget.  Or measuring a person who's five-nine and finding out that they are actually almost six feet tall -- hmm, maybe this is a significant difference.

And for physicists, it is. The four percent difference in size could come from experiment error, of course, but it could also come from the presence of other particles in the nucleus that haven't been detected. More experiments will be needed to find out just how big the proton is. In the meantime, I would like my doctor to use muon-based measurements to calculate my weight. A four percent drop is just fine by me.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Algorithm Failure Theater

Anyone who's rented movies from Netflix, either digitally or the way dinosaurs like me do with physical DVDs, is familiar with their invitation to rate the movie once you've returned it. You rate it and Netflix enters that data into a formula that's supposed to suggest similar movies or movies that have some of the same qualities as the movie you just rated. Or, if you hated it, the algorithm will note that and not offer you movies that have those qualities.

But algorithms are not foolproof -- after all, human taste isn't foolproof either. i have suggested movies to friends who later looked at me as though I had served them dog food for dinner.

Now, I have no idea what movie I rented that led the Netflix algorithm to suggest I rent Fading of the Cries. It's been in my queue for some time so I don't remember what suggested the recommendation. But since I haven't seen anything since I've been renting from Netflix that's anywhere near as bad as Cries, I have to think what we have here is an algorithm that's lost the beat.

A young writer, recently widowed, buys a large and (of course) spooky house near his sister as a way of trying to heal from his loss. But the house has some lingering effects from its previous owner and they slowly draw the man into a dark obsession.

Cut to 14 years later, where we meet an unlikeable young woman sneaking alcohol from her mother's stash and treating her mother like dirt because otherwise the movie would be five or ten minutes shorter. She meets up with a friend, but they are soon attacked by some sort of demonic spirits/zombies/ghosts and she is rescued by a gothy shoegazer with a sword. At his urging they flee a horde of similarly CGI'd extras. Meanwhile, the mother and the younger sister are besieged by the demonic spirits/zombies/ghosts and barricade themselves in the upper level of the house. Everyone survives until daylight, when the older daughter and emo Aragorn make their way back to the house. They must find a way to defeat the evil wizard who wants a necklace stolen from him by the writer and delivered to the older daughter.

We watch parallel tracks as the writer descends into evil and the present-day protagonists battle the evil wizard and common sense in order to advance the story.

The movie was written and directed by special effects artist Brian Metcalf -- or at least it says it was. It's hard to see any evidence of a story or direction in the finished product. The story makes no sense and there's simply no way to suspend enough disbelief to allow for its logic gaps even within its own narrative universe. It has no flow -- I didn't name the characters or the actors playing them because nothing about what's on the screen gives the impression you're watching real people, so why bother.

It's also hard to figure out who this movie is aimed at. The story and atmosphere are probably meant to evoke Twilight, but they're not strong enough to bear the weight of any imagination that's spent more than 120 months on the planet. On the other hand, there's enough blood, disturbing imagery and obviously-shoehorned profanity to merit an R rating -- but no one who's able to see an R-rated movie without sneaking past the doorman will want to sit through it.

I was toying with the idea of sending Netflix an e-mail dividing the number of movies I watched this month into my monthly subscription fee and demanding the cost of Fading of the Cries be returned to me, but that would admit publicly confessing that I watched it...oh, crap.

Just As He Was

The heavenly choirs add a fine new baritone with the passing of longtime Billy Graham Evangelistic Association singer George Beverly Shea. They had to wait some time to bring him on board, though, as Shea was 104 at the time of his death.

My grandparents enjoyed his singing; my grandfather's favorite hymn, "How Great Thou Art," was one of his standards. Shea reduced his workload as he aged; by the time of Graham's last series of crusades in the early 2000s he would usually sing just one song -- often "How Great," or perhaps the Graham standard "Just As I Am" or his own arrangement of the Rhea Miller poem "I'd Rather Have Jesus."

I've even heard the latter adapted as a praise and worship song a few times; Shea's influence may continue past even his considerable years.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Scientists have understood for some time how the ear turns sound vibrations into electrical impulses that the brain interprets.

The keys are tiny cells inside the ear called "hair cells," which look like what their name implies. As they move, they create those elctrical impulses. The louder the sound, the more hair cells move and the more energy is used. Exactly how the hair cells manage their role is not as well understood. They're hard to see when they're in place inside the ear and when they're not in place or when they're being observed in a cadaver, they don't function. Plus, the hair cells in human and other mammal's ears are delicate enough that it's pretty tough to remove them from their enviroment without damaging them. This delicacy is one reason why prolonged exposure to loud noises causes hearing loss. The hair cells more or less burn out like a lightbulb.

But the hair cells in frogs are tough and quite a bit easier to see, and by studying them, scientists have learned some things. For one, the cells themselves seem to have random patterns of movement and don't just sit still. Since scientists were studying frogs, they were not able to ask if this movement meant the frogs were "hearing things" even when there was no sound, since frogs don't talk (although there are uncomfirmed reports that at least one has an excellent singing voice). Attempts to reach one Mr. Toad of Toad Hall for comment were unsuccessful.

When stimulated by sound, the random movement synchronizes with the hair cells that are being affected by the noise and may amplify the signal to the brain -- a kind of cellular auditory peer pressure. When sounds are very soft, the synchronization isn't as exact and sometimes it's lost. All sorts of acoustic conditions can affect which sounds the ear picks up and what signals it transmits.

Unfortunately, scientists do not at this point have any information on ways to turn one's hair cells off when politicians or Donald Trump are speaking, which means we usually have to leave the area when they start talking.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Thanks, Mr. President

I'm often critical of President Obama's performance in office, but I have tried to make it a practice to highlight it when I like something he's done or the way he's done it. His briefing earlier today following the bombing at the Boston Marathon was perhaps a little more cautious than some people would like, but I felt he said the right things and did not over-commit to defining an event we are still somewhat unsure about.

Nobodies like me can sound off, loathsome vermin like Michael Moore, Cenk Uygur and Nick Kristof can express the depths of their filthy souls and irresponsible meatheads like Chris Matthews can speculate with all of the neuron they can muster, but the President doesn't have that luxury. He sounded judicious and thoughtful, which is what I would hope for. So again, thanks, Mr. President.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Paper Growth

So tomorrow when you file your annual love letter to the federal and state government for the place where you live (unless you live in Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington or Wyoming, which have no state income tax), take a look at this link to the 1913 Form 1040.

Four pages.

With instructions.

I think indoor plumbing is a great thing, but all of a sudden I'm wondering if we got such a good deal on the tradeoff of living in 2013 instead of 1913.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Seuss Set Loose!

A fellow here imagines the way some classic novels and well-known movies might play out if they were written and illustrated by everyone's favorite rhyming doctor.

My favorite ideas are the Iron Man and the A-Team books. My favorite cover art is The Gunslinger, although it also offers a neat idea. Since Seuss was known for paring his narrative down to the fewest words possible -- early readers, after all -- his version of Stephen King's Dark Tower series might be a readable length and omit the horrible Wizard and Glass entirely.

Maybe someone could somehow get in touch with the afterlife and turn the good doctor loose on George R. R. Martin as well?

(H/T Flavorwire)

Friday, April 12, 2013

More Joy in Heaven

How could there not be upon the arrival of Jonathan Winters, the wildly inventive comedian whose improvisational riffing was the prototype of Robin Williams? Winters died Thursday at home at 87.

The first time I saw Williams and Winters appear together on the old Late Night with David Letterman I actually fell off my bed from laughing so hard. Winters was best without the constraints of someone else's ideas or story, so he never broke through on television or in big movie roles. But check out any of his own albums or some of the clips online and you can see what made him unique.

From the Rental Vault: Autumn and Spies

Whether you're a fan of Western movies or not, it's hard to argue that the glory days of the genre treated American Indians fairly. Much of the time they were bloodthirsty barbarians who had the gall to get in the way of the honest homesteaders trying to carve out a living on the frontier. Sometimes they were completely absent from the story, even if it was set in areas and times in which they had a significant presence. Or they may have been the strange and mysterious "other," inscrutable and unknown because of how alien they were to European-descended civilization.

Director John Ford most often placed different groups of American Indians in the latter role -- they were frequently a way to move a story forward and they performed rote roles that were almost preprogrammed, rather than being shown as human beings with distinct and possibly complex motives of their own. So Ford's final Western, 1964's Cheyenne Autumn, is interesting in not only offering that kind of detailed picture of Indians as human beings but as the more sympathetic group of people in the movie.

Ford based the movie on a 1953 novel by Mari Sandoz of the same name. A group of Cheyenne people are wasting away on the Oklahoma reservation to which they've been exiled in 1877. When the movie opens, they have walked to a nearby fort in order to meet with representatives of the U.S. government. They wait all day in the blazing heat while word comes the delegation turned back because the windy conditions made railroad travel "difficult." With scorn, they walk back to the reservation and prepare to return to their northern homelands, "breaking" a treaty already broken.

Quaker schoolteacher Deborah Wright (Carrol Baker) decides to travel with them, and U.S. Calvary Captain Thomas Archer (Richard Widmark) is tasked with pursuing the Cheyenne to force them to return. Little Wolf (Ricardo Montalban) and Dull Knife (Gilbert Roland) somehow hold some of their people together as they travel through lands now empty of their friends and familiar surroundings.

Cheyenne Autumn is a bleak movie, as it shows a group of people who in essence simply want to go home to die. Both Little Wolf and Dull Knife seem to know their people are vanishing and they want to vanish as who they were rather than as a penned-in camp of beggars. Capt. Archer sympathizes but at the same time knows that if other elements of the Cheyenne people gain control, they might decide to fight instead of peacefully dwindle away. And experience has taught him the Cheyenne fight well. The cast all communicate these different perspectives well, and Ford makes his habitual wonderful use of the wide open spaces of the American West. Even so, Autumn isn't the director's best work. His health declining, Ford was unable to offer some of the nuance that marked his stronger stories. And his decision to include a weird "wacky" interlude with James Stewart as Wyatt Earp is a significant misstep. The studio originally showed the move without that sequence, and skipping it does the movie no harm.

Autumn is interesting enough for its excellent performances and elegiac tone, but also as a hint of what Ford might have done had he offered American Indian perspectives in some of his earlier movies. As that, it's also a little sad as representing a lost opportunity for the director -- who made a point of insuring that local Navajos always got jobs on the sets of his movies filmed in his favorite Monument Valley -- to put that same attitude onscreen more often.
Since he had first played English spy Harry Palmer in 1965's The Ipcress File, Michael Caine had parlayed that movie's success into leading man status and the award-nominated performance of Alfie. So by the time 1967 came around and he was working on the third Palmer movie with producer Harry Saltzmann, he wasn't as enamored of the role as he was in the beginning.

Part of that could come from the clumsy, mare's nest of a story that is Billion Dollar Brain. Like the two Palmer movies before it, Brain is based on one of Len Deighton's "nameless spy" novels. Deighton's spy picked up a name because a nameless first-person narrator can work in a book, but not so much in a movie.

Harry's retired from British intelligence and working as a private detective. Though his former superior wants him back, he is through with the spy business. Or so he thinks, as a quick courier job leads him into being a potential murder suspect who has to rejoin his old outfit or face charges. The courier caper brings him in touch with his old friend Leo Newbigen (Karl Malden), who has a new boss these days. That boss uses and communicates via a network of sophisticated computers that issue assignments to its agents on behalf of disturbed (and disturbing) Texas billionaire General Midwinter (Ed Begley). Midwinter's desire to thwart Soviet Russia and liberate the captive Baltic Sea state of Lithuania could very well bring about World War III, especially since the computer shares the weakness of all computers in being only as good as the data it's given.

Caine makes a good cynical observer who is a bit taken aback by the madness into which he's found himself drawn, and Malden also does well as the loyalty-impaired Newbigen. Begley is ridiculously over the top as Midwinter, combining the madness of a Bondian "rule-the-world" villain with the subtlety of Major T.J. "King" Kong. Deighton and screenwriter John McGrath make him a cartoon, and Ken Russell directs the way a nose tackle tap dances: stompingly grotesque.

Brain wasn't well-received when it came out, but over time it seems to have gained a better reputation and some re-thinking. This is one case, though, where the initial opinion was more on target than the reconsideration. Sitting through all of Billion Dollar Brain feels very much like a billion-minute ordeal.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Time + Emotion = Bad Call?

An entry at the Wall Street Journal muses about whether or not baseball watchers can judge how badly an umpire blows a call based on the speed with which the manager arrives to express his objections.

The conclusion seems to be that speed alone can't determine the severity of the call. Managers have a wide range of ages and physical fitness (one of baseball's few legitimate errors is how it makes managers -- whose frames sometimes express their love of delights epicurean enjoyed over a long and successful career -- wear a stretch knit shirt and pants) and these variables affect their approach speed.

After all, the story notes record holder for dugout to blind-as-a-bat no-good so-and-so is held by George Brett following the Pine Tar Incident of 1983 (engineered by then-Yankees manager Billy Martin, himself no laggard or dilettante at offering observations on the accuracy of umpiring). When told his home run was disallowed and he was out, Brett took only 3.7 seconds to make certain he was within umpire Tim McClelland's hearing range before opening debate on the matter. But Brett was 29 and in prime playing shape, unlike many managers.

No recorded film exists of the legendarily fleet Negro Leaguer James "Cool Papa" Bell's years as a coach and manager, so we have no confirmed times for any protest trips he may have made. We may suspect, though, that the man who was said to be so fast he could turn off a light and be under the covers before the room got dark or who was once supposed to have hit a line drive past the pitcher that struck his own behind as he slid into second base would have been similarly swift in supporting his players. He may in fact have been so fast that he reached the umpire before the call was made and corrected the error before it happened.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Unequally Yoked

Brian Goff, a writer at The Sports Economist, muses on one of the reasons we frequently see college athletic personnel "get away with" bad or even illegal behavior until something makes that behavior public. His hook is the way Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice was originally only reprimanded for behavior that, once it showed up in the public view via a video, got him fired.

Goff suggests that such behavior is not necessarily a part of athletic culture and that it's going to happen with any coach. When it does happen, though, universities are poorly equipped to handle it. That's because collegiate athletics is basically a professional entertainment industry that somehow happens to be run by schools, and the two don't always mesh.

After all, think of one of the most common responses given when people wonder why a school's football coach makes more money than the university president (or, in a public university, the governor of the state): It's the free market. Schools are free to offer less money and accept the level of coaching they will receive at that price point, but if they want a top-level coach they have to pay the cost.

On its face, that's a legitimate statement. It's not entirely accurate, since the institution offering the money has it to spend because it gets significant state and federal subsidies. Ginormous U can offer its football coach $6 million because the athletic revenue stream can be used solely for athletics. And it can be used solely for athletics because the academic revenue stream is significantly buttressed by student financial aid, in addition to private donations. The private donations are none of our business unless we're the donors, but the state and federal subsidies come from some of the money we'll be giving to Uncle next Monday and so they are our business.

Even with that caveat, the statement is still true that coaches' salaries are what the market will bear. And that market, with billion-dollar TV contracts and endorsement deals and whatever else an agent can dream up to provide cream to skim, dwarfs the market that exists in the rest of the university. Which means that even though the university president tops a coach on the organizational chart, he or she is the coach's subordinate when it comes to economic power. So until the president or other authority has some extra power in hand matters such as Rice's boorish behavior will be addressed only weakly, if at all. Thus, behavior that earned a suspension brought about a firing only once it was known outside the university community and the power levels were equalized by an expression of public opinion.

Goff doesn't offer solutions -- he's an economist and I imagine he realizes that the amount of money involved in the system makes really workable solutions extremely difficult -- but he points out that for the arrangement under which collegiate athletics operates today, the clumsy handling of the Rice matter is not a bug. It's a feature.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Long, Strange Trip

Sometime in the late 1990s, I visited the Medieval Fair of Norman and saw a decidedly non-Medieval group singing on one of the stages. Six or seven guys with tricornered hats, flintlock pistols and long coats offered up traditional sea shanties along with their interpretations of the same.

I had just encountered for the first time the Bilge Pumps, a group performing piratical music and comedy. Most of the songs were a cappella, with a guitar every now and again or a hand drum to give rhythm. The renaissance fair circuit boasts a lot of groups like this, but many of them sing their shanties and chants with a Garfunkelian perfection of voice that doesn't sound much like the way sailors would have done it. The Pumps rarely have that problem; they excel at capturing the ale-sloshing camaraderie of the tavern table or the after-dinner grog ration.

Lineup changes have worked on the group over the course of its several albums and disappointment with 2006's Broadside Buddies kept them out of the studio except for a collection of Christmas-themed songs and sketches in 2010. But over the course of 2011 and into 2012, the current five-member version of the group worked in the studio to bring out The Idiodyssey, certainly the most professional-sounding release of their career and probably one of their best in many ways.

Craig Lutke as "Maroon the Shantyman" has been the constant figure of the band since its beginning, and over the course of their career he's become a stronger and better singer. The better songs from Idiodyssey, like "Bonnie Ship the Diamond," "Nancy Whiskey" and "The Royal Oak" have either him or Nathan Campbell ("Splice the Rigger") as leads, helped out by David Ruffin ("Harvey the Corpsman"). Campbell and guitarist Christopher Dallion ("Sharkbait Simon") team up for a great-sounding "Larry Marr," with the rest of the band providing the chorus. The extra work on production allows Dallion's guitar and the occasional percussion from Lutke to strengthen the songs on which they appear.

Lutke's always been better when he has an equally strong voice to play against, and the current lineup doesn't offer that the way the late Michael Younger ("Kailyn Dammit the Gunner") or R.L. McDorman ("E the Bosun") did during the early part of the last decade, especially on Greatest Hits Vol. VIII. But the better production helps quite a bit and makes it easy to see why the band decided to re-record some earlier numbers they'd been dissatisfied with to see if they could get a mix they preferred, as in the Ruffin-Dallion composed "The Ballad of Sam and Marie."

A quick note -- the Pumps' brand of humor ranges from low to lower and is a fine example of what used to be called "bawdy." They've rewritten several traditional shanties accordingly; the number of confessed crimes and not-illegal-but-still-depraved acts of which they boast might make many wish to keep their distance. The sensitive and easily offended might be better advised to stick to more traditional folk versions of the songs of the tall ships, but those with a little pirate in their souls should have a lot of fun on an Idiodyssey of their own.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Final Finale

With the early morning death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the last of the three great Western leaders of the 1980s who helped dismantle Soviet and Eastern European communism leaves the world stage.

Writer and former Thatcher aide John O'Sullivan argued in a 2008 book that she, with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, helped craft a political and social stance against what Reagan once called the "Evil Empire." Their efforts, O'Sullivan said, played a large role in the end of that system in the late 1980s, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as the most iconic event of the collapse.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, played a role as well, albeit not nearly as willingly. His attempts to loosen the totalitarian character of his system gave the people who wanted to end it room to work against the party and helped bring it down. At 82, Gorbachev is the only one of the major players of the Cold War endgame still living.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Concept Issues

The success of Super Bowl Sunday's "Puppy Bowl" has led the folks at the Hallmark Channel to conceive of the "Kitten Bowl" in order to corner another part of the cute young animal audience.

The only problem I foresee is when the kittens become adolescent cats and seek murderous gory revenge for being humiliated on camera by doing stunts instead of displaying proper feline disinterest in everything that isn't either 1) food, 2) potentially food or 3) something that could bring me food.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Calvin's Echoes

A fun article on The AV Club website highlights some online cartoonists' ideas of where the infamous Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes cartoon fame might be today.

Several folks have offered versions of what the world's most dangerous six-year-old might be like as a dad, married to childhood nemesis Susie Derkins and now a parent. One set of strips calls itself Hobbes and Bacon, continuing the philosophically-themed names by giving Calvin and Susie a daughter named after Francis Bacon, just as Calvin's name comes from John Calvin and Hobbes' from Thomas Hobbes. A couple of artists have followed this strand.

Another is called Calvin and Company, and it also marries Calvin and Susie as adults. But it gives them twins, named after Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir, and it also includes Calvin's unnamed parents, who have morphed from "Mom" and "Dad" to "Grandma" and "Grandpa" and who are decidedly more laid back with their grandchildren than they were with their son. Now an adult, Calvin sees Hobbes as just a stuffed tiger like everyone else in the original strip did. But to his son and daughter, the tiger is a bit more animated...

The Hobbes and Bacon strips are fun, but I thought the Calvin and Company run had more of the feel of the original strip and brought some laugh-out-loud moments of its own. You can find the links for them all at the AV Club story.

All of the artists are clear that the characters and their likenesses are owned by the reclusive Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson. Although Watterson was historically opposed to licensing his work to other artists or for merchandise, here's hoping he'll recognize the spirit of homage, tribute and fun in the online strips. Or, if he's somehow unable to do so, here's hoping he never sees them.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Scientists Seek Wimps

Of course, according to the code of the schoolyard, any kid interested in scientific matters was already a wimp, so some might be surprised by this particular search. Football team captains who read the headline would surely suggest, "Just look in the mirror, pencil-neck!"

But the reality is that 1) scientists are often not wimps, and 2) this particular search is actually for something called Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, called WIMPs for short. WIMPs are candidates for the mysterious "dark matter" that cosmologists propose as one reason galaxies don't fly apart and the universe is expanding more slowly than it ought to be.

Galaxies rotate very fast, which means all the stars in them, especially the ones on the edges, ought to go spinning out on their own. The same centrifugal force that makes all the cookie dough gather at the edge of the bowl when its being spun in a mixer should make stars light on outta here, but it doesn't. Gravity must be keeping them together, but there's not enough matter in the galaxy to have that much gravity. Therefore, one theory goes, there must be some other stuff around someplace that adds to the gravity but which otherwise is difficult to detect. Thus, "dark" matter, because it can't be seen.

An experiment on the International Space Station seems to have offered some evidence of the existence of WIMPs. WIMPs are not like other particles in one important way. They are their own antiparticle. This means that instead of having an opposite anti-matter particle around somewhere waiting to annihilate them, WIMPs are their own worst enemy. Your average electron has no problem with another electron. It won't blow up unless it meets up with an anti-electron. But WIMPs, on the other hand, wipe each other out whenever they meet.

Such destruction emits a new particle, called a positron, and the space station experiment verified positron energies in numbers that match up with what they would expect if dark matter was real. But there are lots of other things that might produce positrons, so some other experiments will be done deep down in the earth to see if WIMP interactions produce positrons like those measured by the space station. By doing the measurements deep underground, the other potential sources for positron emission will be screened out.

The experiments take a long time -- the "WI" in WIMP means the particles interact with other particles weakly, and that means those interactions are rare. Which is kind of like real-world wimps, in a way, because sometimes it's hard to get them to interact with anything else either.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

One Balcony Closes...

Movie critic Roger Ebert, who along with the late Gene Siskel made movie reviewing a pop culture sensation and paved the way for many lesser followers, died today at 70.

Siskel and Ebert, movie writers for rival newspapers The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times, respectively, first showed up on television in the 1970s as co-hosts of the PBS show "Sneak Previews." The pair's willingness to talk intelligently and probe movies that might show at the local theater, along with their quick wits and sometimes contentious disagreement, gave the show a popularity that propelled it first from monthly to weekly, then to two different shows as they moved on.

I've mentioned before that I preferred Siskel to Ebert because Siskel seemed a little more prone to calling trash out as trash. But Ebert's thrashing of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo was a classic smack to the face of its self-important and rarely funny star, Rob Schneider (the Schneidinator! The Schneid-man! Makin' copies of unfunny movies and calling them sequels! for those of you who may not remember Schneider. Sorry if I reminded you). And in recent years, Ebert's politics grabbed hold of more of his movie writing than I liked, and his forays into theology now and again showed him to be an excellent movie critic.

But he faced his battle with cancer with grace, grit and determination, not allowing it to keep him sidelined from his chosen field nor turn him into an invalid. He earns my two thumbs up for that part of his last act and for insisting that movies everyday people might want to see are also worth the time to examine and discuss.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


-- Here's a nice appreciation of the different direction that tough guy movie star Steve McQueen took later in his life.

-- The Rolling Stones continue to mark the 50th anniversary of their lives together as a band by touring. They announced a nine-city, six-week tour. Make whichever age-related joke you wish; either that's all the tour the fellows can still manage or at their ages, they don't dare plan too far ahead. Keith Richards, of course, will outlive us all. Including the cockroaches that are supposed to survive a nuclear holocaust. And including the nuclear holocaust.

-- Some of the detractors of Sylvester Stallone's recent Expendables movies have suggested that the action hero he represents and the 1980s action movies his new ones are meant to evoke are dinosaurs. This writer argues that onscreen dinosaurs played a hand in their extinction.

-- Golf suddenly becomes much more interesting, thanks to Bubba Watson's hovercart.

-- Pixar hopes it can follow the Toy Story rather than Cars lead with a sequel to Finding Nemo called Finding Dory. There could be a problem, however. Nemo was released in 2003, meaning a dozen years have elapsed since Marlin and Dory teamed up to find wayward Nemo, captured by a scuba diver and placed in an office aquarium. Some blue tang fish like Dory have been known to live as long as 20 years in aquariums or other artificial habitats, but their lifespan in the wild is thought to be considerably shorter, even though actual averages are unknown. So Dory might be alive in 2015. Clown fish like Nemo and Marlin, on the other hand, average three to six years in aquariums and somewhat less in the wild. This means that, unless we're talking about Nemo's grandson (or, if you take the shorter lifespan, his great-great grandson), there may not be anyone around to go looking for her (ETA: Ah. According to this story, the new movie will be set a year after Finding Nemo. No piscine Methusalehs required).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Urinary Choices

Although everyone who's owned a cat may differ, it turns out that cats are actually selective about where they urinate.

A study by European scientists showed that a breed of wildcat would, as expected, mark its territory with urine. The scent markers defined that territory and alerted potential interlopers to keep their distance. But rather than just fire away at any old object, it turns out the cats chose specific kinds of trees and plants for their attention.

They were partial to trees with natural oils and surfaces that would intensify the scent and make it last longer. The stronger scent marked the territory more clearly, and naturally the longer-lasting scent would not need renewed as frequently.

Which of course makes sense to cats. The more time you have to spend marking your territory, the less time you can spend napping. And even wildcats are just not the same without their basic 20 hours of sleep each day.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Lingually Serious

One of the things the internet has given us is the ability to find out what our name might be were we in any of a number of alternate situations. There are websites and Facebook memes dedicated to telling us our pirate names, or what we would be called if we were hobbits.

Most of the memes are just assortments of words connected to letters of the alphabet. If you choose one word based on, say, the first letter of your first name and then another word based on the last letter of your last name, voila! You have what your name would be if you were one of whatever the meme is working from. Some of the websites are random name generators that either use letters or maybe even whole words that are parts of your name.

But for the seriously nerdy, both linguistically and in the plain ol' D&D-playing, sci fi-loving comic-book-collecting senses, I present the work of the site Quenya101, where a fellow who has studied J.R.R. Tolkien's elvish language from The Lord of the Rings will actually investigate your name's etymology and try to come up with the closest equivalent in the Quenya language spoken by Tolkien's elves. It's a hobby, so it may be awhile before he gets around to it, but there is a list of already translated names at the site.

What's kind of fun about the site is that it probably falls as closely in line with Tolkien's ideas as anything else on the web relating to LotR. Both the trilogy and The Hobbit came about as the author worked up some backstory for the language he was inventing. Although he was ambivalent about a great deal of modern technology, I imagine Tolkien might have been OK with the work at this particular site and grudgingly admitted a shade of usefulness for the cyberspace that allowed it to come into being.

(H/T Mere Inkling)