29 December 2007

Your branches green delight us!

    They're green when summer days are bright.
    They're green when winter snow is white.
      O Tannenbaum (English Translation)

Friend sent me one more Christmas tree:

Now that's delightful.

26 December 2007

Tannenbaum

    O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
    Wie treu sind deine Blätter.
    Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
    Nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
    O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
    Wie treu sind deine Blätter.
      Ernst Anschütz

I haven't posted for awhile, but in the spirit of the season, here are a few Christmas trees:

Longwood Gardens (one of many)

Grandma and Grandpa's

Ours (two views)

The Christmas ball tree that Sharon loves

17 December 2007

My wife on Dave Barry

    I am not making this up.
      Dave Barry

There is nothing quite like listening to my wife read Dave Barry. I wish you could hear the non-stop fits of laughter. I have no idea what exactly she's laughing at, but I'm giggling just listening to her. Oh, she's just woken the children....

14 December 2007

New Jersey to Abolish the Death Penalty

    Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.
      Gandalf the Grey
      The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

I have just begun reading The Lord of the Rings with my oldest. In a coincidence of timing, I read aloud these words a day after the State Senate voted to abolish the death penalty and a day before the Assembly followed suit. This is the most eloquent yet succinct argument against the death penalty I can think of.

One to talk

    Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
      Luke 6:41 (NIV)

Today President Bush declared of baseball that "steroids have sullied the game." Honestly! He's one to one to talk! As a former baseball owner, he was a direct involved. Does he expect us to believe that the use of performance enhancing drugs began when he was no longer owner of the Texas Rangers? Now, in imitation of Captain Renault, he tells us he is shocked, shocked to learn there is steroid use in baseball. Please.

What's more, he has the gall to make such statements amid a flurry of scandals wherein his administration used lies, deception, and worse to further their personal and political agendas. What steroids has done to the reputation of baseball is nothing to what he has done to the reputation of the United States.

12 December 2007

Clean dishes and no bare bulbs

    Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
      Proverb

It is certainly true of people that separation makes you appreciate them all the more when together again. Sometimes it's like that inanimate objects. If you're without something for awhile, it almost feels new when you get it back. Two recent examples follow.

For several months, our dishwasher has been doing a progressively worse job of cleaning the dishes. What began with specks on glasses turned into routinely dirty bowls and pots. A couple weeks ago, I took apart and cleaned everything that did not require tools. Unfortunately there was no improvement. This past weekend I finally undertook a deeper examination and started taking everything apart. It's good to have a advance knowledge, though, and for that I am indebted to Samurai Appliance Repair Man and this illustrative slide show. In no time had exposed the mascerator assembly (pictured), which was clogged. I removed a ton of crud, mostly cardboard and toothpicks. Now we take extra pleasure when the dishwasher cleans dishes, even though that's what it's supposed to do all the time.

A similar nagging item was a broken glass lampshade to the lamp on the left. We didn't want to replace the whole lamp just because the shade broke, but I wasn't finding anywhere I could get it. After much googling of part numbers, I finally found a company selling replacement shades. However, it too forever for them to get it from their distributor and sent it to us. I placed the order in September and it arrived yesterday. With it back, though, there is no longer the harsh glare of bare bulbs illuminating our family room. Normally this is nothing special, but in this case it is.

10 December 2007

Spook Country

    Getting there is half the fun.
      popular idiom

I really like author William Gibson, and I was excited when Amazon told me about his latest novel. (Amazon knows how much I like Gibson.) Titled Spook Country, it follows in the footsteps of his previous novel, Pattern Recognition. Unlike Gibson's earlier work, which is set in the future, these novels are set in the present. Spook Country is not really a sequel, although some characters do recur. Rather it is more like a second story occurring in the same universe. I finished it just last week, and I was not disappointed.

My wife Sharon observed that Gibson is not out to write page-turners. Reading one of his novels is less like watching a movie and more like watching someone paint a picture. His plots are often devoid of the cliffhangers and surprise twists you often find. He takes his time with the narrative. Instead of propelling you forward, he reveals the story carefully. There is no problem stopping along the way to admire the view or smell the flowers. It is as much, if not more, about the journey than about the destination.

In recalling another Gibson novel, All Tomorrow's Parties, Sharon noted she might not remember exactly how the action unfolded, but she will never forget the cardboard box in a Tokyo train station that one of the characters lived in. Gibson's settings have always been memorable, and Spook Country continues that trend. Recalling it now, I cannot think of a location that was in any way mundane. He creates exotic places, like an impossibly priced flat in Vancouver with a magnetic levitation bed. Yet even locations as unexceptional as a Best Western motel room become noteworthy through the eyes of his characters.

And characters come to life in equal measure. The story is told from three points of view. First is Hollis Henry, an indie-rock star turned journalist (a little reminiscent of Cayce Pollard, the main character in Pattern Recognition, but only a little). Next is Tito, the young member of an underground family of spies-for-hire, and one of the more inventive characters I've encountered. Finally there is Milgrim, a drug addict held captive by a quasi-government operative; his observations and musings throughout the book made him my favorite. Like the book itself, each character is a portrait that reveals itself carefully as the story progresses. I don't want to say much more about them, lest I spoil the experience.

Gibson's stories always delve into new and intriguing concepts. A common theme is the impact of technology on our culture. This book explores the confluence of technology and art in the form of locative art. It also contains astute commentary on the Bush administration's policies and execution of the Iraq war. However, these insights are never presented overtly; they lurk below the surface and quietly filter up through the story. Thus it never feels like Gibson is preaching. I found this to be one of the most impressive aspects of this novel.

Suffice it to say, I really enjoyed this book. It was a pleasure from start to finish, and I was disappointed when I was done. If you get a chance, I recommend it highly.

05 December 2007

What's in the box?

    Mama always said life was like a box a chocolates, never know what you're gonna get.
      Forrest Gump

There's a box in my office. It's been left on my chair. I can see it from my web cam. It looks like it's from HP. I have no idea what it is.

I wonder what it could be. I won't be in the office until Friday or next week. In my mine I'm accumulating book and movie references with boxes....


  • Forrest Gump - as quoted above.
  • Se7en - you knew what was in that box.
  • Pulp Fiction - Briefcase instead of a box, but close.
  • Spook Country (by William Gibson) - just finished that, and it has a box.

There's got to be more....

Update: Turns out the box wasn't addressed to me! I'll never know what's in it!

Meat Locker

    It's cold enough to hang meat in here!
      David Letterman

I'm in a meeting in a hotel conference room. It is freezing. The room was 58° when we came in. Man my toes are cold. I am warming my fingers over the cooling vent on my laptop. The thermostat has one of those plexi-glass covers locked over it. The best part is the sign on the cover. It reads*:

The Temperature is Permanently set for your comfort and convenience.

Wow, thanks!

* The capitalization is theirs, not mine.

30 November 2007

A seasonal dilemma

    While the merry bells keep ringing, may your every wish come true.
      Irving Berlin
    No bells in Hell.
      Spinal Tap

I posted a few days ago about a guy who won't donate to the Salvation Army because they didn't put the word "Christmas" on their sign. If it doesn't say "Christmas," he wants nothing to do with it. That made me wonder....

If forced to choose, which would this guy pick:

"Happy Holiday""Christmas with the Devil"
or
The classic Irving Berlin song made famous by Bing Crosby.The classic Spinal Tap song about Hell's Yuletide celebrations.

It's a toughie.

29 November 2007

Book to the future

    "Do you ever read any of the books you burn?"
    He laughed. "That’s against the law!"
      Fahrenheit 451
      by Ray Bradbury

It occurs to me just now that Kindle is a pretty ironic name. You normally don't want to evoke fire imagery when dealing with books. Nonetheless, that's what Amazon.com is calling its new electronic book reader. Maybe somewhere deep in their product design offices, someone really does see the death of paper books.

Last week I read Newsweek's article on the Kindle, and I've been trading long argumentative comments with Rob on his post about the Kindle. You should read his post, but I'll go so far as to say he thinks the Kindle is not the right product for reading books electronically. I'm not certain that it is the device, but I think it's a lot closer to the mark than Rob. I find the whole prospect interesting on several levels.

First, I think the E-ink or digital ink technology is really cool. It's very efficient, requires no back lighting, and once the image is rendered, it no longer needs power. That last feature is particularly intriguing. Currently graphics processors everywhere spend countless cycles painting and repainting a screen thousands of times each second. A digital ink display opens whole new windows of possibility.

Second, I like the some of the ideas brought forth in the Newsweek article about the paradigm shift that can occur with eBooks (regardless of what device they're on). Possibilities like the automatic distribution of corrections and additions is cool. Imagine a new appendix suddenly appearing in your book. Also, books are never truly out of print. Bits take up a lot less space than books in a warehouse. I also imagine stuff like the newspaper you see in Minority Report, the one that changes on the fly with breaking news.

Finally, it will be interesting to watch the continuing evolution of our everyday electronic devices. I remember when a phone was not a ubiquitous handheld device. I remember when a personal music player held one and only one album at a time. I remember when calling up satellite imagery in the palm of my hand in the middle of New Hampshire was the stuff of science fiction. I wonder if I can even imagine what will be commonplace to my children.

Anyway, I'm interested in what other people think of this latest attempt to digitize one of the last mechanical mediums left....

28 November 2007

A little '80s romance

    Jack Colton: Wait a minute, he's after you. Who the hell are you?
    Joan Wilder: Well, I'm a romance novelist.
      Romancing the Stone

Last night after dinner I spent a couple hours bringing our aging home computer back to life. (I suspect the iTunes upgrade trashed the Winsock registry keys, but I can't be sure.) At the same time, Sharon was watching that classic of '80s action/adventure, Romancing the Stone.

Most of us probably have movies that can be classified as "cable overkill" (a term I learned from my wife). These are the movies that were constantly on cable, particularly right after you first got cable and watched everything. Romancing the Stone is one of my cable overkill movies, though I do remember seeing it in the theater when it came out. I found myself reciting lines often.

I thought it was great then, and it mostly stands up to the test of time. Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas played well off each other, and Danny DeVito stole every scene he was in. The soundtrack suffers the most over time. It probably sounded fresh and cool in 1984, but it sounds really cheesy now. A contemporary pop film score just doesn't age well.

I cannot mention the music of Romancing the Stone without mentioning Eddy Grant's song of the same name. The song was commissioned for the film, but they decided not to use it. Apparently you can hear the guitar solo in one scene (in villa of Juan, the fan of Joans novels), but that's it. Luckily for all of us, Grant released it on its own, along with a video.

Not that's classic '80s romance.

26 November 2007

Local Turkey

    Gobble Gobble Goo and Gobble Gobble Giggle
    I wish Turkey only cost a nickel.
      Adam Sandler

Almost forgot to throw up a post about this. For the first time we got our turkey locally at Lee Turkey Farm in East Windsor, NJ. It was dee-lish. Picking up the turkey was kind of fun. The sixth-generation owner Ronny Lee was greeting people as he ran back and forth getting pies from the freezer. There were fresh stalks of brussel sprouts also, two of which supplied our vegetables. We will definitely getting our Turkey there next year!

Happy happy

    This is a song about a whale. No! This is a song about being happy.
      Stinky Wizzleteats

Rob tagged me a while back with the Happiness Meme. Jeri didn't tag me specifically, rather she employed the tagging equivalent of Explosive Runes. The rules are:

The rules are simple. Just create a post about any number of things that have
made you happy recently. Then tag any number of people and have them post this
meme on their blogs.

Easy enough. Here's my list:

  1. Sharon. She makes me happy all the time, so it's a fair bet she's done so in the last week.
  2. Our children. It was great being home from work over the Thanksgiving break. Watching my oldest stand up for my youngest was something special.
  3. Thanksgiving. Mmmmmmm. In particular the locally raised turkey and Sharon's sausage stuffing. Oh, and the bourbon sweet potato mash. Mmmmmm.
  4. The annual day-after-Thanksgiving parade when Santa arrives on a fire truck. We always follow it into town where they turn on all the lights.
  5. The end of a really frustrating and annoying project at work. Got a monkey off my back! Got a m-m-m-monkey off my back back back!
  6. The bubbling of beer in the fermenter and enjoying it later when it's ready. We've recently started really digging into the A-Steam, and it's awesome.
  7. A truly kick-ass D&D game and the promise of another one this Friday. I am having a blast playing this game.
  8. Comments from people reading my blog.

That's what I could come up with. I'll tag Brenda because I know I'll enjoy reading her list.

24 November 2007

'Tis the season

    Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.
      Colossians 2:16

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it's time once again for "The War on Christmas," when the evil secularists seek to destroy Christmas by using any other word to refer to the events that occur between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. The most sinister example is the term "holiday." To suggest that any other celebration occurs in the month of December is to spit in the face of Christians everywhere. Luckliy there is no shortage of right-wing pundits and nut-job letter writers to expose this evil.

A letter on page A10 of the Saturday, November 24 edition of The Times of Trenton is a perfect example. Titled "'Christmas' ought to right a bell," the letter decries the Salvation Army succumbing to the "scourge of political correctness with this year's 'Sharing is Caring' holiday campaign." At issue is a picture on page A3 of the Thanksgiving Day edition. The author's complaint? It's not Santa ringing the bell, but an "everyday person" wearing a red apron. Titled "A familiar red kettle," this picture "shows what is an insult to all of us who continue to believe in the true meaning of the Christmas season."

I wish you could see this picture. It's a picture of a Salvation Army worker in the red apron next to the kettle. Above the kettle is a sign that says "Sharing is Caring." It bears the Salvation Army logo, and says at the bottom, "Need Knows no Season." Oh yeah, almost forgot this. Right across the top is says, "God Bless You." Sadly, this just isn't enough for our letter writer. He goes on to say that he will not be donating to the Red Kettle Campaign this year. Instead he'll donate his time to "those charitable causes that continue to celebrate the true meaning of the Christmas season."

His complaint is so absurd, I don't know where to begin. He said standing in a mall all day collecting money for the needy does not celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. He's withholding his money because of no Santa Suit and a sign reading "God Bless You" not "Merry Christmas." I suspect he's been itching to find something, anything, to write a "war on Christmas" letter about, and this was the best he could do.

I think he needs to think long and hard about what the true meaning of Christmas is. Maybe he should watch A Charlie Brown Christmas when Linus explains the true meaning of Christmas:

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

All people. How 'bout that.

Happy Thanksgiving

    They who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing.
      Hindu proverb

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving. I know we did.

I didn't get to post anything earlier about the The Crisis Ministry of Princeton and Trenton. My fourth grade religious education class joined the class from the late service to deliver enough groceries to fill four wagons and two minivans that were collected that morning. They did an awesome job sorting and stocking, and it was great to see them work so well and so hard.

Thanksgiving is a big week for the Crisis Ministry, but they need food all year round!

19 November 2007

Rollin', rollin', rollin'

    Okay, since you're so smart, why don't you try doing it in Roman numerals?
      Trout Fishing in America

Last night found me at a Girl Scout sing-a-long. One of the songs that went on for quite awhile was "18 Wheels on a Big Rig." The song is written by Heywood Banks, though I'm more familiar with the version by Trout Fishing In America. For those unfamiliar, the song is different ways of counting the big rig's wheels:

Oh there's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 wheels on a big rig,
And they're rollin' rollin' rollin', rollin' rollin' rollin'.

And so on, counting backwards (18, 17, 16, ...), the even wheels (2, 4, 6, ...), etc. TFIA has a funny bit where he counts in Roman numerals with impressive speed. The Girl Scouts couldn't quite match that, but they got through it. They also sang Spanish, then opened the microphone to audience members who could count in other languages. We heard French, German, Dutch, Japanese, Italian, Hebrew, and Gaelic. An impressive list that left me thinking of more geeky obscure options....

Binary:
Oh there's 1, 10, 11, 100, 101, 110, 111, 1000, 1001, 1010, 1011, 1100, 1101, 1110, 1111, 10000, 10001, 10010 wheels on a big rig.

Klingon:
Oh there's wa', cha', wej, loS, vagh, jav, Soch, chorgh, Hut, wa'maH, wa'maH wa', wa'maH cha', wa'maH wej, wa'maH loS, wa'maH vagh, wa'maH jav, wa'maH Soch, wa'maH chorgh wheels on the big rig.

Hexadecimal:
Oh there's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, 10, 11, 12 wheels on the big rig.

Prime numbers:
Oh there's 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17 wheels on the big rig.

Wheels divided by zero:
Oh there's infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity, infinity wheels on the big rig.

And they're rollin' rollin' rollin', rollin' rollin' rollin'.

16 November 2007

Pasta is serious religion.

    Accept His Noodly Magnificence into your heart, into your soul, and ye shall forever be free. R'Amen.
      Ragu on Pastafarianism

My Pastafarian friend (no, saying that does not make me prejudiced) doesn't have a blog, so I wanted to share this story about the Flying Spaghetti Monster's appearance on the agenda of the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting.

P.S. A week ago Sharon got a $20 bill on which someone scratch out "God" and replaced it with "FSM" so that it said "In FSM We Trust." We sure do.

15 November 2007

Atari, Adventure, and when to ignore your boss

    Somebody get this freakin' duck away from me!
      Strong Bad

Last week Brenda Tremblay reported that the Atari 2600 game console was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. As a "Nationally Ranked Kaboom Champion," she was pulling for the Atari. It was my first choice as well, but not because of Kaboom. My preferred game is Adventure.

I love Adventure. I played it constantly, searching for and recovering the Chalice too many times to count. To this day I know my way around the various castles, rooms, mazes, and catacombs. I never cared that the dragons looked more like ducks and the sword was just an arrow. It was fun and addictive.

The game was created by Warren Robinett, and it is groundbreaking in many ways. Game elements we take for granted now, like a multi-screen world and objects you can pick up, were unprecedented back then. It is also the first example of truly autonomous entities moving throughout the game on their own, regardless of what you are doing. Left unattended, the bat will fly through the game moving stuff around forever. That Robinett could fit this on 4096 bytes of ROM and run it with only 128 bytes of RAM is a programming achievement in and of itself. (To put it in perspective, that's about 0.0004% of what the cheapest Dell comes with by default.)

There is great story behind its inception. Here's how Robinett tells it in one of several interviews:

I started in May 1978 and worked like a madman for a month. My boss, George Simcock, heard what I was working on and didn't think I could do it within the 2600 resources and told me not to do it. However I ignored him and had a prototype with screen to screen movement and dragons chasing you after a month of hacking.

There is another great story that lead to what is considered the first "easter egg." Although each game was typically written by one person, Atari did not give the creator any credit. Robinett decided he wanted to sign his work, so he found a way to sneak his signature in. He added a hidden object to the game, a 1x1 pixel dot that gives the player access to a secret room. In the room is the following text: "Created by Warren Robinett." This remained a secret long after the game's release. By the time Atari found out what he did, it was too late to change the game and he had already quit.

I have an original Atari 2600 "heavy sixer" with the six switches on the front, but the last time I tried it didn't work. Maybe I should get it out and see if I can get it working again. Then I'll be back searching once more for the elusive Chalice.

13 November 2007

Piping hot!

    If it's not Scottish, it's crap!
      Mike Myers

They're the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. No, that's not a typo, and yes, they're Scots. Check them out:

They gave an impromptu performance in the crowd on the Today Show this morning. I just had to google them.

12 November 2007

You can bet on it

    Well, I lost five thousand dollars in Rock Scissors Paper last weekend.
      Phil Gordon

When you're in a place like Vegas with a group, you go out and do stuff. You gamble, go drinking, go to clubs, etc. When you're by yourself, well, not so much. Getting drunk with a bunch of friends in a bar is a blast. Doing it by yourself is sad and somewhat pathetic. So, when I was in Vegas, I mostly just walked around. I might end up chatting with a fellow conference attendee who happened to be eating at the same restaurant, but that was it. I spent the rest of my time walking around the casinos and hotels sightseeing.

One thing I was amazed by was the volume and variety of gambling options. I knew Vegas offers almost limitless gambling options, but I was still unprepared for the scope and scale as seen firsthand. I was once in the AT&T Global Network Operations Center. It had a huge wall lined with screens showing the status of networks and servers all over the globe. It had nothing on the sports betting room in every casino I saw. They were bigger, had more screens, and were more impressive. I stood looking at those walls unable to comprehend all the numbers and stats, each of which represented a bet someone could place. People will bet on anything.

Which brings me to an episode of This American Life I heard back in September, though it was originally broadcast in 2001. Meet the Pros does just that, including professional gamblers in Act Two, where Phil Gordon explains how Rock Scissors Paper is in essence the same as Texas Hold 'Em. Check it out, it's a good one.

Scary scarcity

    perfect storm (noun) : a critical or disastrous situation created by a powerful concurrence of factors
      Merriam-Webster

As friends and family have reported, there is a shortage of beer ingredients.

This report has been re-posted around the web, and details the causes of the hop shortage. Here's the bottom line:

Certain varieties are getting a lot more expensive. A few varieties will run out faster than ever. Brewers have to be willing to try other varieties. Brewmasters, brewery owners, and marketing and sales managers must prepare for the potential need to substitute different hops, to replace varieties that currently give your beers their "signature" flavor. That's what we'll have to get used to, the fact that there may be slight flavor variations over the next several years, as the hop industry works to correct this situation.

As if that is not bad enough, this article notes that hops are not the only ingredient that is in short supply:

Barley prices, and those of wheat, also used in some beer, have hit all-time highs, said Mary Palmer Sullivan, program director for the Washington Grain Alliance in Spokane.

The barley shortage is due in part to drought, and also to the rise in demand for corn-based biofuels, as this NPR story notes. We may have seen the high water mark for barley, though, as prices seem to be declining somewhat.

No such luck for hops, however. As the hop supply report notes:

It's not going to get better soon, but will be likely just as bad, or worse, for the crops from 2008 and 2009, in other words, for beers brewed from now through 2010.

This was confirmed at our local homebrew supply shop, where hop prices jumped and availabilty is limited. So drink those hoppy beers while there's still time.

09 November 2007

Adios Vegas

    Viva Las Vegas turnin' day into nighttime
    Turnin' night into daytime
    If you see it once
    You'll never be the same again
      "Viva Las Vegas"
      (words and music by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman)

I just finished stuffing all my stuff into my bags. I fly out tomorrow at 12:15.

Tonight was the Latin Grammy Awards at the Mandalay Bay. When the conference let out, it basically dumped this mass of geeks into the crowds watching the stars arrive. We departed to cheers, but not for us. It was kind of funny.

I had some time so I took the monorail around to see what there was to see. I finished up a the Bellagio fountains, which are truly cool. I came in late to the first show, which had ballet music, so I waited for the next one. The next show's music was "Viva Las Vegas." There's my send-off.

Here two quick parting photos: me in the mirror of the Bally's escalator, and the best slot machine name I've seen all week.

08 November 2007

Out damned Carrot Top!

    I can't go to work this morning, you know it haunts me. It haunts me!
      Neo Pseudo

I am staying at Luxor, and Carrot Top is everywhere! He's on signs by the elevator. He's on walls in the casino. He's on the little TV screen in the tram. He's on the big TV screen in the lobby. He's on my Do Not Disturb sign. He's on my room key! Everywhere I look I see that face.


Sometimes, I see him with my eyes closed....

07 November 2007

Vegas

    Life springs eternal on a gaudy neon street.
      Sheryl Crow

So I'm in Vegas, defying Luxor their $13 a night by using my phone for internet access. I'm here for a the DevConnections conference at Mandalay Bay. I'm not staying at the Mandalay Bay, I'm next door in Luxor because the Mandalay Bay was booked. (How many times can I type Mandalay bay?) Many people are even further away in MGM Grand.

I've been sending photo dispatches home. Here are some highlights:

The Sphinx at Luxor and a headless Lenin statue in Mandalay Bay:

The roller coaster at New York New York and some guy sitting with live lions at MGM Grand:


By the way, the coaster is way cool. I had some time to took around on Monday and see all this. Today was more conference stuff - all day in fact. But I did get free food that should offset the awesome sushi at Jpop Sushi at (one more time) Mandalay Bay.

Oh yeah, here is the really big tub in my room:

For some reason my youngest wondered if I sing in it.

No, not yet. But there's still time.

02 November 2007

Nice work

    This ain't no disco
    It ain't no country club either
    This is LA!
      Sheryl Crow

This is funny:

You may notice a familiar face....

You've still got mail

    Mail your packages early so the post office can lose them in time for Christmas.
      Johnny Carson

It would seem I haven't been checking my office mailbox as often as I should. I learned this yesterday when its contents were brought to my office. Amongst the junk mail was this:


Yes, the date in the picture is accurate. No, the card did not arrive extra early. I haven't checked my mailbox in almost a year.

01 November 2007

On the passing of Richard Jewell

    All I did was my job. I did what I was trained to do.
      Richard Jewell
      23 July 2006

Ten years later, Richard Jewell remained reluctant to take credit for the lives he undoubtedly saved when he spotted an unattended backpack that contained a bomb. He was more worried about how the ensuing investigation affected his mother than himself. His complaint about the intense media focus on him was that it detracted from coverage athletes who dedicated their lives to competing for their homeland in the Olympics. His only regret was there were not five more minutes in which the life of victim Alice Hawthorne might have been saved.

In the months and years that followed the Atlanta Olympics bombing, Richard Jewell wasn't in in the news very much. I thought we might hear about him when Eric Rudolf was identified as the the bomber in 2005. I posted what little I found in these two posts. In July 2006, the ten year anniversary of the bombing did prompt several stories and the AP interview I've linked to. Finally, in August 2006, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue presented Jewell with a commendation for his actions that day. "He didn't seek this today," the Governor said, "we sought him out because I think it’s the right thing to do." It was, and it was ten years overdue.

Richard Jewell died in August. I was on vacation, and I missed the stories in the news. I first heard about it from a comment on one of my 2005 posts. News reports of his passing came with headlines like: Vindicated Olympic Park bombing suspect Richard Jewell dies (CNN) and Olympics bombing figure Richard Jewell dies (AP). Jewell said in the AP interview, "I dare say more people know I was called a suspect than know I was the one who found the package," and headlines like these bear that out. They speak more to his status as suspect, and not the lives he saved that day.

Only one headline I saw, (New York Times) got it right:

Richard Jewell, 44, Hero of Atlanta Attack, Dies

When he died, Richard Jewell was Meriwether County sheriff’s deputy, and is survived by his wife and by his mother.

30 October 2007

Comet Holmes!

    When beggars die there are no comets seen;
    The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
      William Shakespeare

Comet Holmes unexpectedly brightened last week, but I've only just heard about it. Thanks to Heavens Above, I was able to locate it. To the naked eye, it appears as a slightly fuzzy star in the constellation Perseus.

Cosmic messages

    Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.
      Dr. Carl Sagan

This week's Radio Lab episode was a rebroadcast of a 2006 episode. The topic is space.

It includes a segment about the famous Golden Records placed aboard the Voyager spacecraft. I features an interview with Ann Druyan, who helped create the record and married Carl Sagan soon after the Voyager probes launched. Their love story alone is worth hearing.

The episode uses the record to ask the question, "What would you send into space?" Composer Phillip Glass gives his answer in the episode, but they also asked chef Alice Waters, author Neil Gaiman, comedian Margaret Cho, and author Michael Cunningham. You can listen to these online via links on the Space episode page. (Unfortunately, you Real Player for the clips.)

If I had to construct a message for extraterrestrials that explains the human race, I'm not sure what I would send. These days we can probably send a Gold DVD with a lot more information on it.

I would likely choose some of the same sounds on the record: children laughing, babies, voices in different languages. They couldn't manage motion pictures on Voyager, but if I could, there would be time-lapse movies flower growing, trees budding, and something decomposing. 360-degree panoramas would be nice, from places like NYC, the Sahara desert, and the Amazon rain forest. As for books an poetry, I'm at a loss to choose authors. Shakespeare, Homer, and Steinbeck come to mind. Seeing Homer makes me think the Simpsons should be on there. And there should be Pink Floyd music on there somewhere....

What would you send?

29 October 2007

Do you like corn?

    And He Who Walks Behind the Rows did say, "I will send outlanders among you...."
      Children of the Corn

Outlanders are welcome to "walk behind the rows" at Howell Living History Farm's 11th annual Corn Maze, but you'll need to get there soon. The final three days are 11/3, 11/4, and 11/10.

I went looking for an aerial shot of a past maze. Google and MapQuest imagery is from the wrong time of year, but Microsoft Virtual Earth has a great shot of last year's windmill maze.

We were there two weeks ago, and we had a great time. We also set a new family record of 1 1/2 hours! Beat that!

Update: I was wrong. Our maze time was 1:05, not 1:30. Sorry to have sold my family short!

26 October 2007

The Lord of the Rings Soundtracks


    I am going to blow the horn of Rohan, and give them all some music they have never heard before.

      Merry
      The Return of the King
      by J.R.R. Tolkien

I've been saying for years that I wanted to get the soundtracks to the Lord of the Rings films. I finally borrowed the first two from the library. I'm not an expert on classical music or film scores, but I think Howard Shores compositions stand as great works in their own right. I haven't stopped listening to them.

The soundtrack to The Fellowship of the Ring won the Original Score Oscar. I remember a 2002 NPR segment calling Shore the "dark horse" nominee, in part because he was up against not one but two works of Oscar juggernaut John Williams (Jaws, Star Wars), including the Harry Potter score. The Two Towers was overlooked entirely, robbed if you ask me, but The Return of the King won both Original Score and Original Song.

I don't know what I like about this music. I love films, that's definitely part of it, but not all of it. It certainly has great themes stick in your head. The Rohan theme, usually played on a violin, and the Hobbit theme, often on recorder, are examples. There is also the main theme you hear during those sweeping panoramic shots of the Fellowship heading south. There are also haunting elements that capture mystery of the elves and the melancholy of Frodo's self-sacrifice so well.

I guess what I'm saying is that the music conveys the emotions of the story so well, even on its own. That is what has me hooked on them. I don't know where you stand on film scores, but you should give these a listen (if you haven't already).

24 October 2007

Seven clues that Dumbledore was gay


    You know, Minister, I disagree with Dumbledore on many counts... but you cannot deny he's got style.
      Phineas Nigellus Black
      Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

From the L.A. Times comes the best analysis of the Dumbledore revelation. Apparently all the clues were there.

I like #2 best.

23 October 2007

Radio Lab

    A scientist in his laboratory is not a mere technician: he is also a child confronting natural phenomena that impress him as though they were fairy tales.
      Marie Curie

That's not a bad description of the approach taken by the WNYC show Radio Lab. Each show explores a broad topic like morality, time, music, or even zoos by interviewing exports and telling stories. They're really interesting, informative, and fun.

All shows are available online and podcasted. Check it out!

22 October 2007

Celery and all!

    I'm definitely not the man I was... thank goodness!
      The Doctor

Rob reports that one of my favorite Doctors (and his celery) will be back!



Advertising Unitarian Universalism

    Stephen Colbert: So do you celebrate Christmas of Chanuka?
    Bobby (a Unitarian): Sure.
      The Colbert Report

A Unitarian Universalist "elevator pitch" was subject of recent thread on my church's e-mail list. It speaks to the difficulty UUs have in explaining their religion, as illustrated about halfway through this segment of The Colbert Report. But a new national ad campaign could change that:

Not bad for a 30 second pitch. It's part of an ad campaign that includes these ads in Time and a 10 minute video available on DVD and online.

Slacker

    Andrew, you are completely slacking off.
      (Source: You know who you are)

Yes, it's been twenty-one days since I've posted anything. I will try to remedy this.

02 October 2007

In the future

    Exterminate!
      Dalek

In the future, advances in nanotechnology will create tiny robots that fly around my house and kill all those frickin' moths.

We will be unprepared for the long term consequences of this technology.

Eventually they will become a threat to humankind.

It will still be worth it.

28 September 2007

Is Net Radio the Future?

    Transmitter!
    Oh! picking up something good
    Hey, radio head!
    The sound...of a brand-new world.
      Talking Heads

Awhile ago I mentioned that I've been listening to YRock on XPN. I still am, and recently I found something pretty cool. I have a Windows Mobile phone with Internet access. Out of curiosity I the listening YRock, and I was able to play the high speed stream reliably. What's more, it sounded great on the little ear buds that come with the phone. It's like a little Net Radio walkman I can use almost anywhere. This gets me thinking, is Net Radio the real future of radio?

The obvious alternatives are satellite and HD. However neither format's future seems secure. Broadcasters are really pushing HD as the successor to FM. Despite the big push, I think the jury is still way out. As for satellite radio, clearly people are buying it, but Sirius and XM are still losing money. They justify their proposed merger, in part, with the assertion that a satellite radio monopoly is the only way to keep the format alive. That's not a ringing endorsement of the technology.

Net Radio has a lot of pluses. It doesn't lock the consumer into a single provider like satellite does. It's more like traditional FM and HD in that respect, which is would seem to be a plus for broadcasters - they don't need to negotiate with provider holding a monopoly. Unlike FM/HD, they have virtually unlimited range. If you have broadband Internet, you can receive their signal. Therein lies the rub. Net Radio requires broadband access, and most of us need to pay for broadband. It will cost you even more if you want it on a mobile device like a phone.

Nonetheless, the broadband market penetration continues to rise even as the price of bandwidth decreases. Even the price of mobile broadband has gone down, and coverage steadily improves. At this rate, it won't be long before incremental cost mobile broadband will be less than the monthly cost of satellite radio (if not already). Other services like telephone and video are also moving online. There has to be a tipping point where broadband will be like cable TV or even telephone, and everyone will have it. At that point, what chance to other formats have against Net Radio?

No Internet media discussion is complete without mentioning podcasts. Personally, I don't see podcasts as a threat to the live radio format. Podcasting is great for downloading new/talk shows (e.g. Fresh Air, This American Life, Marketplace, etc.) and music shows (e.g. World Cafe or Echoes). It's not a great format to replace on-air or satellite radio, because most people don't want to pre-download that material for later playback and the recording industry would be too fearful. Assuming you can access the online stream, Net Radio is a much better fit.

Satellite radio scares broadcasters because it threatens to render local stations obsolete. Net Radio, however, does the opposite. Radio stations will no longer be bound by the size of their transmitter or the geography of their location. Local stations can reach their listeners even when they're travelling. Of course some stations will probably fail when faced with so many competitors. Still, a wider audience means you can find success by specializing. Niche market stations would become more viable because they can find enough subscribers among a worldwide audience.

This should bode well for broadcasters and listeners alike.

Update: I mistakenly typed XD instead of HD. I've fixed it. Thanks to Rob for spotting my mistake.

11 September 2007

Remembrance

    The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
      Abraham Lincoln
      The Gettysburg Address

I't funny the things you remember. I was on my way to work. I had to redial my cell phone because the lines were tied up. Every news site was down from traffic overload. There was road work, and I wondered if the flagman knew yet. A co-worker was reporting every rumor he heard in some chat room. All these little snippets of time so insignificant in comparison to the events that unfolded.

One of the more vivid memories I have is a co-worker's reaction when the first tower fell. He's a firefighter and EMT, and he was visibly stunned. He said something about the number of rescue personel in that building. I don't remember what I said, if anything, nor how long I stood there.

I didn't know if I should even put up post for 9/11. There is little I can say that has not been said, and few if any who will take note. Still, I think it's important to remember that day for what it really was, not the hollow catch-phrase our leaders have made of it. To that end, I guess there is value in even the smallest story, so here it is.

10 September 2007

Shortest DMV Visit Ever

    Contrary to what you may have heard, the Internet does not operate at the speed of light; it operates at the speed of the DMV.
      Dave Barry

I guess that means the Somerville office must be the DMV* equivalent of broadband, because I renewed my registration in minutes. I waited barely a minute in the receptionist line and was given the necessary form highlighted to show exactly what I should fill in. There was no line at the counter where I handed in the form, and it was processed in less time than it took me to fill it out. I could not believe how fast it was. Somerville rules!

*In the interest of accuracy, it's not actually the DMV. It's the MVC (Motor Vehicle Comission).

05 September 2007

Bourdainalyzing Top Chef

    First rule of Chef's Club is:
    Shit Happens.
      Anthony Bourdain

I think I've blogged about all of Bourdain's blog posts on Bravo. It's hard not to, and this week's was the perfect analysis of an untimely departure. One of the top contenders crashed and burned in a really big way. No doubt there is plenty of viewer anger, but Bourdain provides a compelling defense of the decision. He also serves up his usual scathing critiques of the various cheftestents.

So this is the level I've descended to: blogging about reality TV. Actually, blogging about reality TV bloggers. Top Chef and astronomy. Is that all I'm good for? We'll see....

23 August 2007

Close to Mars

    I'm moving to Mars next week, so if you have any boxes...
      Stephen Wright

In the time it took to read that quote, we all moved about 25 miles closer to Mars. That's according to NASA calculations and this article from Space.com. Mars and Earth are closing the gap between them at a rate of 22,000 mph.

By December, Mars will outshine every star in the sky. It will not, of course, be anywhere near the size of the moon, regardless of chain mail that suggests otherwise. Even at its brightest Mars is still a dot of light to the naked eye.

However, it will be very accessible to backyard astronomers. A good pair of binoculars or an amateur telescope will let you see it's disk shape and maybe even some surface details. During its last approach, I was able to spot one of the polar ice caps. I'll be out again this time around.

If you have a telescope you haven't used yet (you know who you are), this is a great time to try it out.

22 August 2007

Sky coming Google Earth

    A galaxy is composed of gas and dust and stars - billions upon billions of stars.
      Carl Sagan

Google Earth is adding a new feature that will allow users to see the heavens. If this new feature, called Sky, is any bit as cool as Google Earth, it will be awesome. I can't wait. The story here.

15 August 2007

Who let the Macarena in the house?

    Girls just want to have fun.
      Cyndi Lauper

I was making dinner last night, and the children put on some music. Not only was it Cyndi Lauper, but my oldest was singing along. She knew all the words. This was a surprise for me, since I didn't know we even owned anything by Cyndi Lauper*.

Turns out this was a mix-CD someone gave us, a collection of "slumber party songs," or something like that. Mostly it's what you'd expect. Glora Estefan's "Conga" and "The Rhythm is Gonna Get You," for example, and "Walkin' on Sunshine" (not the Katrina and the Waves version, unfortunately**). There were some hip selections, like REM's "Stand," and a few unexpected choices, most notably the Frankie Goes to Hollywood standard, "Relax" (maybe it's the song's inclusion in Body Double, but I just never saw this a slumber party material).

Then there was the song I knew must be coming but hoped against. Even with the tell-tale opening riff, there was the faint hope that this would be a parody version or maybe the one from Sesame Street. Alas, no, it was Los del Río's original "Macarena." Luckily it was not the Bayside Boys remix with added English lyrics. My kids don't need to sing along with her cheating on her boyfriend because he was "out of town and his two friends were sooo fine." No thanks.

Wow, don't I sound like the grumpy parent? "Don't want my child listening to that music! Stuff kids listen to these days!" Oh well. Some things can't be helped.

For the record, I didn't make them turn it off or even down. Even when the Rednex dance remix of "Cotton Eyed Joe" came on, though an ice pick in the forehead was sounding pretty good right about then....

*For the record, I don't have anything against her. "True Colors" and "Time After Time" are great songs that I enjoy listening to - just not enough to go out and buy them.

**I always liked this song. There, I've said it.

14 August 2007

Lies and really big fonts

    A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.
      Mark Twain

I got one of those e-mails today. You know the ones. The text of the message indented several levels due to incessant forwarding. "FW:" prefaces the subject which, in this instance, is "9/11." You can tell where this is going immediately. It starts out subtly:

It was 1987! At a lecture the other day they were playing an old news video of Lt.Col. Oliver North testifying at the Iran-Contra hearings during the Reagan Administration.

There was Ollie in front of God and country getting the third degree, but what he said was stunning.

DUN DUUNN!! Prepare to awestruck! I'm surprised it didn't say "There was poor Ollie...," but score points for getting "Got and country" in their early. It's important to set the tone. I am reproducing most of the original format of centered italics, but I'll skip the 18 pt. Arial. I think they showed admirable restraint in avoiding bold and underlined. It continues:

He was being drilled by a senator; "Did you not recently spend close to $60,000 for a home security system?"

Ollie replied, "Yes, I did, Sir."

The senator continued, trying to get a laugh out of the audience, "Isn't that just a little excessive?"

"No, sir," continued Ollie.

"No? And why not?" the senator asked.

"Because the lives of my family and I were threatened, sir."

"Threatened? By whom?" the senator questioned.

"By a terrorist, sir" Ollie answered.

"Terrorist? What terrorist could possibly scare you that much?"

Chuckle. What terrorist, indeed? Okay, you know what the answer is going to be. Hung's trained monkey knows what the answer is going to be. The sender, however, wants to make sure you understand that this is big revelation, so they pull out all the stops and reveal in 27 pt.:

"His name is Osama bin Laden, sir" Ollie replied.

Oh. My. God. Are you dumbstruck? Well wait, there's more. After such an earth shattering revelation, you need a little comic relief:

At this point the senator tried to repeat the name, but couldn't pronounce it, which most people back then probably couldn't. A couple of people laughed at the attempt. Then the senator continued. Why are you so afraid of this man?" the senator asked.

"Because, sir, he is the most evil person alive that I know of", Ollie answered.

Hehe. That dumb senator couldn't even pronounce the name. Funny stuff. Heck, most people couldn't pronounce it back then. It's such a tongue twister. Say it three times fast. See how hard that is? But now, the tone becomes grave again. In an interesting stylistic departure, the author chooses this moment to switch Comic Sans MS, but those trusty italics are not abandoned.

"And what do you recommend we do about him?" asked the senator.

"Well, sir, if it was up to me, I would recommend that an assassin team be formed to eliminate him and his men from the face of the earth."

The senator disagreed with this approach, and that was all that was shown of the clip.

Okay, did you get that? Oliver North wanted to assassinate Osama bin Laden in 1987, and was ridiculed for it by the senator questioning him at the time. Hmmm. I wonder if the senator was a democrat or republican.... Well, have no fear, that question will be answered:

By the way, that senator was Al Gore!

Al Gore, ladies and gentlemen! To drive this point home, the color changes to maroon. (I use maroon Comic Sans MS for e-mail - don't know that says about me.) For good measure, Al Gore's name is in 27 pt. I guess that's because it's also hard to pronounce. So there it is: Gore laughed away the threat of bin Laden back in 1987.

I probably don't have to tell you that this is all a load of crap, and Snopes explains in detail how completely false it is. Still, one fabrication just isn't enough for our sender. Hot on the heals of the Al Gore bombshell, we get more:

Terrorist pilot Mohammad Atta blew up a bus in Israel in 1986. The Israelis captured, tried and imprisoned him. As part of the Oslo agreement with the Palestinians in 1993, Israel had to agree to release so-called "political prisoners."

However, the Israelis would not release any with blood on their
hands. The American President at the time, Bill Clinton, and his Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, "insisted" that all prisoners be released.

Thus Mohammad Atta was freed and eventually thanked the US by flying an airplane into Tower One of the World Trade Center.

Here we go. More centered italics. More 18 and 27 pt. fonts. More democrats turning a blind eye to terrorists. I like the little, "Thus..." part at the end. Almost biblical. One would wonder why such a bombshell would go unnoticed. Don't you worry. All the answers are right here:

This was reported by many of the American TV networks at the time that the terrorists were first identified.

It was censored in the US from all later reports.

If you agree that the American public should be made aware of this fact, pass this on.

There it is. The cover-up. The conspiracy. The information you were not meant to know. It's 27 pt. It's maroon. It's italicised. It's bold. It's underlined.

And it's still bullshit. No matter which font you use.

Why the big post? It's not like this is the first e-mail like this I've seen. It's clearly fake, and Snopes is full of similar fabrications. Yet as laughable as it is to me, it wasn't forwarded as a joke. It was forwarded by someone who thinks it's true and sought to tell others. It's bad enough when someone cooks up this garbage, but it's even worse when people receive it with no critical scrutiny whatsoever.

And there's one more thing. Besides scaling down the fonts, I left off the pictures. We've all seen photos of the planes striking and the towers collapsing. I didn't need them here. But I will include this one, from the end of the message:

There's the final insult. The memory of those lost with symbols of peace and love invoked in service of some little jerk's political slimefest.

09 August 2007

Bravo Bourdain

    Colicchio, leave the Bourdaining to the master.
      Stephanie Vander Weide
      a.k.a. Keckler

Bravo decided Bourdain's stand-in blogging for Colicchio was so good, he needed a blog of his own. The combination of his blog and Keckler's TVwoP recaps might be better than the show itself.

No party

    It's going to be a trap. It's not going to be a party... at all. It‘s never a fucking party.
      Jeffrey Sebelia
      Project Runway Season 3 winner

Comments to my last Top Chef post included Rob's opinion that Top Chef is more civilized than Hell's Kitchen. That may be, but last night they were pretty damned evil. The cheftestants are told they'll be getting a night out at a hot Miami club. They spend time getting dressed up, then hop in the awaiting limo that takes them to... an elimination challenge. Cook outside in catering wagons, and serve food to clubgoers after closing time.

Had they Jeffrey Sebelia's wisdom, they'd have known this was coming. As it is, they are stunned. What's worse, in a move reminiscent of POW camp mind games, the Quickfire winner is whisked away in the limo for a one-on-one dinner with guest judge Govind Armstrong at one of his restaurants. Even the nicest of those remaining confess hatred of their fellow cheftestant for this lucky break.

Ah well, what did they expect? After all, it's reality TV. It's never a party.

04 August 2007

Senate caves to Bush. Again.

    One thing I have learned in my time in politics is that if one of the parties is shameless, the other party cannot afford to be spineless.
      Sen. Frank Lautenberg*

What the hell? Recent Senate hearings sought to determine whether the Bush administration strong-armed then Attorney General Ashcroft into authorizing illegal domestic surveilance. One would think they didn't like Bush/Cheney spying on Americans.

So, when Bush demands they vote to expand his powers before going on vacation, what do they do? They give him exactly what he demanded. Wow. That's showing them. You really dealt a decisive blow with that one. Geez!

* Because the vote was last night, it looks like we won't know the roll-call until Monday. I've heard that Lautenberg and Menendez both voted against, but nothing official.
UPDATE: Lautenberg and Menendez both voted Nay.

02 August 2007

On the White Stripes bandwagon

    Everyone knows about it
    From the Queen of England to the hounds of hell
      The White Stripes

Okay, I know I'm arriving late for this party. The White Stripes grammy-winning album Elephant came out in 2003, and I've only just gotten it. Unfortunately, most music I purchase these days is new material by artists already in my collection. That can get kind of stale, so I do try to branch out.

I told Sharon a while back that I've thought about getting something by the White Stripes - I always the songs I hear by them. She oblidged by giving me Elephant and Get Behind Me Satan for my birthday. I totally dig both of them. It's a good thing I have them at work because Sharon would be getting sick of them right about now. That's how much I've been playing them. I am bopping my head at this moment to the "My Doorbell." I see more White Stripes purchases in my future.

Oh yeah, I looked up the video for "The Hardest Button to Button" and now I get the reference in this Simpsons clip:

26 July 2007

Bourdain in for Colicchio

    The ability to make a brilliant, creatively-dazzling and delicious plate of food is near worthless if you can’t do it again and again--exactly the same way--at high speed, under the gun, hung over, after a night of fierce Negroni drinking...while listening to Mexican thrash metal.
      Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain is guest blogging for on Tom Colicchio's "Top Chef" blog. There are two posts so far. Classic Bourdain, but you'll probably need to have seen the show for context.

P.S. I have to admit, I didn't know what a Negroni was before I looked it up.

21 July 2007

Impromptu summer sky tour

    The moving moon went up the sky,
    And nowhere did abide:
    Softly she was going up,
    And a star or two beside.
      Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Yesterday evening was absolutely perfect night for observing the sky. It was cool, dry, and, but for a few wisps of cloud, crystal clear. The sun was barely below the horizen when Venus was out, low in the western sky. The moon was higher in the west, half full. Jupiter was high in southern sky.

I got out the telescope and the whole family spent the next hour looking at everything. We started with Venus, now down to a thin crecent. Normally one associates that shape with the moon, and we had to remind my youngest that this was a crescent Venus.

Next we turn to Jupiter. I wasn't sure the bright object was Jupiter until I looked in the eyepiece. There is no mistaking Jupiter. You can see the stripes if the cloud bands, and the four pinpricks of light that are the Galilean moons.

We moved on to our own moon. This brought wows form the children. The moon more than filled the eyepiece, and we scanned the edge of the shadow where the surface features were in strongest relief.

Finally, so as not to limit our sky tour to the solar system, we aimed the telescope at Mizar, the second star from the end in the Big Dipper's handle. Mizar is actually a binary star - through the telescope you can clearly see that is made up of two stars very close to one another. It is probably the easiest binary star to observe.

It's been too long since we had the telescope out. We need to do this more often.

19 July 2007

To catch Bill O'Reilly

    Every once in awhile he becomes transcendent, perfectly merging the creepy with the unintentionally self-revelatory and the utterly hilarious.
      Keith Olbermann

When Bill O'Reilly interviewed Miss New Jersey Amy Polumbo, he really wanted to know what the blackmail photos were like. Joel McHale's The Soup on E! first featured this clip, but here is Keith Olbermann's take (with obligatory shout-out to McHale).

One more Olbermann quote, from his "Worst Person in the World" for July 19:

His stupidity is effervescent. It glows. It fairly undulates and
vibrates. I'll stop now. I'm getting Bill-O exited.

Guess who won.

16 July 2007

Venus making an exit

    If you gotta go, go with a smile.
      The Joker
      Batman

    This past Friday, my youngest daughter and I sat on the deck watching the stars come out. The first thing we saw, of course, was Venus. The "Evening Star" is shining its brightest right now, with a magnitude of -4.5. My daughter's eyes are better than mine, so she spotted the first actual star - Sirius. The "Dog Star" is the brightest star in the sky, but it couldn't compete with Venus. We looked at Venus through binoculars, and spotted Regulus just above it.

    Venus is about to make a dramatic exit from the evening sky. Tonight it will be close to the moon and Saturn. I hope it's clear. Then each day, as it lowers in the western sky, it will become an upturned crescent. It will leave with a smile.

    P.S. This was a welcome bright spot in an otherwise awful weekend. Here's why....

    12 July 2007

    Eastern Organic - One year later

      Look what's going on inside you
      Ooooh that smell
        Lynyrd Skynyrd

    Over a year ago I began following the story of Eastern Organic Resources' Woodhue facility in Wrightstown. The company seeking regulatory permission a composting facility that recycled organic waste to produce soil and fuel a methane powered generation plan. To me, this sounded like a great idea. How could you not love a company whose business combined recycling and renewable energy?

    If you've read the lead-in quote, you can guess the answer: that smell. Composting smells bad, and Eastern Organic found themselves in constant struggle with the local government and NJ DEP over air quality. Ironically, the project they sought approval for (the methane generation) could have alleviated the air quality. To collect the methane, they needed to enclose the composter, which would have eliminated most of the odor problem. (I covered most of this my first post).

    Unfortunately, they couldn't work things out. Last July I posted that the DEP had begun proceedings to shut down the facility. I didn't hear much after that. Every now and then I'll google Eastern Organic Resources, finding nothing new.

    Looks like I missed this story in June, though. The full article isn't available for free, but the snippet suggests someone may be interested in buying the company. I guess that means they're still operating. They still have a web site, but it's not clear how current it is. I'll have to keep an eye out and see.

    11 July 2007

    Blenderific!

      Me: They're not. No way
      Friend: Way. Way way.

    A friend sent a link to this:

    There is a "Will it Blend" website with many more videos, including one with a can of EZ Cheese. The site was created by Blendtec to show off their blender. Now that's advertising!

    10 July 2007

    More lies

      Your tongue should be embarrassed, you're a threat to mankind.
        L.L. Cool J
        "That's A Lie"

    Six days after receiving a report that FBI agents obtained personal information they were not entitled to have, Alberto Gonzales assured the Senate intelligence committee that the FBI had not abused its Patriot act powers. It wasn't the first report either - it was one of maybe half a dozen such he received in the three months preceding his testimony. I predict neither shock nor outrage at this revelation because no one will be the least bit surprised.

    Check out the full story.

    07 July 2007

    Net radio in danger

      Lights out guerilla Radio
      Turn that shit up
      It has to start somewhere
      It has to start sometime
      What better place than here
      What better time than now
        Rage Against the Machine

    I've started listenning to YRock on XPN at work. Whenever you first launch the stream, you get a message encouraging you to visit SaveNetRadio.org. Here's the deal: the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), which oversees sound recording royalties paid by Internet radio services, increased Internet radio's royalty burden by 300 to 1200. Most Internet radio stations won't be able to afford this and will either go offline, or be forced into deals with record companies giving them control of programming content. Particularly unfair is that Internet radio royalties are already twice that of sattelite radio.

    I have to admit, I was totally oblivious to this issue until now. I even missed the day of silence when all Internet radio stations went intentionally dark. *Rob did put up a post about this issue as it pertains to podsafe music. Check it out.

    Also, check out SaveNetRadio to learn more.

    06 July 2007

    Shivved

      We enveloped our President in 2001. And those who did not believe he should have been elected—indeed those who did not believe he had been elected—willingly lowered their voices and assented to the sacred oath of non-partisanship.

      And George W. Bush took our assent, and re-configured it, and honed it, and shaped it to a razor-sharp point and stabbed this nation in the back with it.
        Keith Olbermann

    Sharon and Rob both posted this. Still, I wanted to highlight this quote that so accurately and succinctly illustrates what this administration has done to the American people.

    Meat Cake!

      Kick ass!
        Eric Cartman

    Sharon's Food Blog posted a link to the Television Without Pity recaps of Top Chef.* Yesterday I was there reading the recap of Season 3 Episode 3. Meatloaf played an important role in the episode, and Keckler included a most wonderful link in her recap. What link?

    Two words: MEAT CAKE. Check it out.

    * BTW, I take credit (or responsibility) for sending her there.

    03 July 2007

    Advair has some competition

      We know that Symbicort delivers improved control as soon as the first day of use. And it has a fairly rapid onset of action, within 15 minutes. We believe that will be a point of differentiation for us.
        Tony Zook, president and chief executive of AstraZeneca

    It's been over a year since I've wrote this post about Advair and a sensationalist article about it in Forbes magazine, and I am still getting comments. It's possibly my most visited post ever. Most comments are from people like me, who found Advair to be almost life-changing, our Asthma under control for the first time ever. Some comments focused on issues with the Serevent component of Advair, and there are some good points to consider there. Read the post and comments for the details.

    Anyway, I decided today to see what came up in Google News about Advair, and it looks like AstraZeneca's bringing in some competition. They are about to release Symbicort which, like Advair, contains corticosteroid and a long-acting beta agonist. It will be tough to compete with Advair, though, especially since Symbicort is only approved for adults with asthma, while Advair is also approved for children with asthma and adults with CPOD.

    Judging by the quote I've included at top, AstraZeneca may try to highlight the speed with which their beta agonist takes effect. This is a concern, since neither Advair nor Symbicort is meant for acute asthma attacks. That's what rescue inhalers like albuterol are for. This type of marketing could lead to a lot of confusion and health risks.

    Anyway, we'll see how it goes. Here's the WSJ article about Symbicort. Happy breathing.

    Do you have what it takes to become a citizen?

      Hey, do you know about the U.S.A.?
      Do you know about the government?
      Can you tell me about the Constitution?
      Hey, learn about the U.S.A.
        Schoolhouse Rock
        "Preamble"

    MSNBC has a July 4th Special Quiz with selected questions from the civics test given to prospective citizens. The quiz is supposed to have some of the more difficult questions, but the multiple choice format makes it easier, especially given some of the incorrect choices they offer.

    See how you do. I scored 95%, as I didn't know the INS form is used to apply for citizenship.

    08 June 2007

    What fore?

      For me, the worst part of playing golf, by far, has always been hitting the ball.
        Dave Barry

    It's over a week ago now, as I was on vacation in New Hampshire (more on that, maybe later). Still, I figured I throw out my this little story of a rare event that happens now and then: me playing golf. My company has an annual customer shmooze-fest of a golf outing at an exclusive golf club in northwest NJ. Every now and then I get to go, usually because there's a customer I've been working with who's playing.

    So this year I was out again, on a beautiful day in June, golfing. Or, at least something that remotely resembles golfing. I am not good. When I signed up for the outing, I was asked for my handicap. I have no idea what it is, but I'll bet it's a big number.

    I do own clubs (the cheapest used clubs eBay had to offer), and a pair golf shoes, so I was marginally equipped. I managed to run afoul of the country club dress code because my shorts have pockets on the sides (e.g. cargo shorts). Mind you even shorts are a recent concession of the country club's owners. Luckily I ran into someone with a company card in the pro-shop, so I was able to score a free pair of compliant shorts.

    I have to admit I had a lot of fun. Maybe it's the Scot in me. It helped that the game was low-key. The format of the tournament was a "scramble" where the foursome plays as one and uses the best shot from the team on each leg. I played with an easy-going group willing to offer helpful tips that actually improved my game. By the end, I managed to contribute a few good shots.

    I'd prefer a course less saturated with lawn chemicals (after all, they didn't need them when the game was created). And is denim really so awful? I guess a private club means lots Judge Smails types (and there were plenty). You probably see less of that on public courses. However, I probably won't be playing again until the next company freebie. That, in itself, is a good thing, as golf balls aren't cheap (even the bottom-of-the-barrel ones I bought at Target), and I lost plenty of them....