Friday, October 30, 2009

Listen To These Podcasts, Damnit!

I haven't had an mp3 player since college and it's one of those luxuries that's starting to gnaw at me now. If I weren't so prone to breaking them or having them stolen I'd be on that bandwagon quicker than a drunk Ewok on Al Roker's leg. But these days it's not music I want to fill my ears, it's the overwhelming podcast schedule I've set that demands their services. These aren't your average throwaway programs highlighting the hottest consumer technology or celebrity gossip though--these programs will make you smarter. Guaranteed.

Presented by the New England Skeptical Society, SGU promotes critical thinking on many of society's hot-button issues. Magnetic bracelets, the links between autism and vaccines, psychic mediums and so forth are all in the crosshairs of this panel of scientists and professional cranks. They also discuss science in an easily accessible way, so you don't have to be a massive nerd to grok (though it helps).

This is the Oxford-style debate show from NPR that, unlike Fox News, truly gives both sides of an issue a fair and balanced forum to argue their points then lets the audience discuss which side "won" the debate. Pretty good stuff, though sometimes the audience votes with their hearts rather than their minds and the obviously superior-yet-perhaps-socially-contentious argument loses out. Whatever, still a good source of info.

A science program from the BBC that covers a lot of ground--all told in funny British accents. Haha! No really, a good listen.

Another science podcast, these guys have a primary weekly theme and dive into it pretty deep before tackling smaller topics and news from the various scientific disciplines.

Last, but certainly not least, my favorite podcast and definitely my favorite NPR offering is Ira Glass' wonderful weekly broadcast from Chicago Public Radio, This American Life. This show is all over the place, but excelling wherever it goes, being just at home exploring social issues as it is just telling fascinating stories about people who call this country home. They ran two incredibly informative programs about the financial meltdown and, recently, about the healthcare costs that everybody should listen to now. NOW!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Just When You Think He Can't Be Any More Amazing, Sagan Pulls You In Again

I have no clue what impetus lay behind the current Carl Sagan push on the net, but I like it and am glad to see this extraordinary man and his efforts to popularize science receiving renewed attention over a decade after his death. Actually, for me, it dredges up some bittersweet emotions. I realize now that perhaps I'd be a happier person had I applied myself to mathematics in high school and pursued a career in the sciences.

So then this morning along comes the following clip of an interview with Niel DeGrasse Tyson talking about how Carl Sagan showed his young self a smidgen of care and encouragement, which lead to him becoming a physicist. Wow. Sagan rocks.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Playing Telephone

I was just listening to an old 2002 podcast (episode #90) of Chicago Public Radio's This American Life--definitely one of the more worthwhile bits of broadcast out there--and the week's theme was telephones. However, as always, Ira Glass and his crack team of producers took that innocuous everyday item and wove a compelling tale about it and the power it has. This time the main story concerned a Beverly Hills father and son's strained relationship: son's using drugs in an increasingly big way and letting everything else fall to the wayside while father stands by supporting him, seemingly impotent to stop it. Or was he? In a gutsy move that would almost certainly see the FCC knocking on his door, dad wiretapped his son's phone with a voice-activated tape recorder and listened to all the drug talk and party plans, the increasing loss of empathy and subsequent rise in arrogance. He had intended only to use the recordings to intercept his son before the little bastard could get into any real trouble, but the tapes ended up really saving the kid's life after a windstorm revealed the eavesdropping apparatus and he was able to listen to what he really sounded like.

Heavy stuff, actually. It got me thinking, what if my parents were taping my phone conversations? Would they have been worried for me? Probably not, I hope. I mean, most of my phone calls concerned lost Japanese gold on Manila's Corregidor Island, RPG characters for our Friday night dungeon crawls, what twist this week's episode of Babylon 5 was going to take and whether or not my friend Justin's stepfather was the Unibomber. The only drugs talk we ever had was about rare, ridiculous, questionably effective Native American drugs we were going to order out of this or that catalog, but never got around to doing.

There, I've come clean. That's all the sordid business I ever got up to on the phone in high school. I never used the phone to call in any orders for fine Venezuelan cocaine. Never used it to plan any purse snatching sprees. Never used it to ask a girl on a date. Though, thinking about it now, had I done even one of those things, maybe high school wouldn't have sucked quite so badly.


Roll D20 For Saving Throw: Geeky Coolness...SUCCESS!

Last Saturday's D&D event on Market St. in SF orchestrated by my former coworker and assisted by yours truly was a smashing success by our meager standards. Heck, we got a nod from Laughing Squid. That's something. Considering that we were, in our minds, sure the cops would put the kabosh on our little stunt before the dungeon crawling got started, yeah, going four hours straight sans any fuzz-related interference, hobo fights, ex-con chess jockey brawls or being hit by the frequent MUNI buses that whizzed by inches from Jason's DM stand was damn impressive.

Since the dawn of time man has wondered whether or not one can actually get away with anything on Market Street in broad daylight. The answer: A resounding YES!

We started about an hour later than planned, owing to problems getting tables, chairs and Jason's vast--VAST--array of D&D paraphernalia from Hayes Valley to the Powell-Market intersection. Our rescuer was City CarShare and their no-fuss, affordable brand of short-term auto rentals, from whom we snagged a pickup truck for thirty-minutes. After dropping Jason and the stuff off then returning the truck I walked back to the scene of the crime and found our three invited players had come--plants who pretended not to know Jason and made it look like we'd genuinely snagged some members of the public to sit and roll the dice. That little gambit worked, actually, and before long we had two homeless guys come sit down to play...with mixed results.

This was pretty much the player group, minus the unhinged homeless dude who came by to backstab the others.

The first man, a middle-aged Chinese dude, had been involved in a fistfight with a clearly mentally unstable gentleman not thirty minutes before taking a seat. Although he'd never played the game before, the man was a natural role player and ended up being more effective a participant than even the three plants. His friend who came about an hour later was another matter altogether. This guy sat down and started to play, but from the outset made it very clear he would be working for the enemy, promptly attacking the four other players in the middle of an encounter. I suppose he was role playing--the role of the contemptuous jackass. No matter though, the Chinese guy annihilated him and pretty much every other combatant to boot.

The playing field and Jason, in all his "SM" glory.

Did I mention Jason was wearing what essentially looked like a stylized burka? Yup, straight out of a Spirit Halloween store and adorned with this persona's initials on his cape, for one day he was not a dungeon master, but a "Street Master."

Me and a proper filmmaker got footage of the whole thing, my role focusing mostly on getting crowd reactions and conducting interviews. Look for an edited video on YouTube someday soon.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Uh, Am I the Only Person Who Thinks This Isn't a Hot Idea?

Any post that begins with a disclaimer can't be kosher, but here goes: I am not a racist. Now, having said that, and with nothing to back up the statement, let's get down to the brass tacks.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the governing body of IP addresses and domain names, has announced it is ready to implement web addresses utilizing non-roman characters. In other words, if you want an address using Farsi, Chinese, Cyrillic, etc. then hooray, now you can. ICANN argues that since half the world's internet users speak and read languages that aren't roman character-based it makes sense, but I have to wonder if it was ever a problem that needed fixing. During my entire cumulative three years in Japan I never once heard anybody complain or express confusion at roman character URLs. Of course, that was only one country, but I believe virtually anybody with the resources and savvy to really utilize the internet at least know the roman alphabet enough to enter an address. Again, I can't really say for sure and the article doesn't explicitly say or link to any info on just how squeaky this wheel really is.

I don't think this is a particularly good idea. With this change I believe the internet will begin to fragment along ethnic lines and effectively lock out massive segments of the web to anybody without the foreign language input plug-ins to access sites of a specific address language. If, for some reason, you think it's no big deal to switch to another language input (using the language bar you probably don't have activated) I suggest checking the international settings in your control panel. There are a hell of a lot of foreign input types. This move will expand the internet by creating mirrors using separate foreign language addresses, and these alternate versions of the Unicode address pages may even contain different info. But you'll never know.

Welcome to the age of internet ghettos.


Guantanamo Guards Give New Meaning to AC/DC's "Shook Me All Night Long"

I've been meaning to post about this for almost a week now, but, like a lot of things last week, it got backlogged....

Breaking News: I'm in a cafe now typing this and a black woman who looks to be in, at most, her late twenties came in pleading to use the phone. She called 911 saying that a man was dragging her up and down the street beating her. I don't want to say right away I don't believe her, however, she looks surprisingly unscathed for a woman who just went through that. Her daughter, a girl of eleven or twelve, is with her now. If that actually just happened...damn. The human species is such a savage creature. I'm practically ashamed to be one. Matt Lopez: documenting the atrocities.

Right, back to the matter at hand. The piece I wanted to comment on comes from the Think Progress political blog and concerns the music that Guantanamo torturers used to deprive captives of sleep and generally drive them nuts. Considering that the guards were blasting Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Rosanne Cash and "rap music" at ear-splitting volumes inside the detainee cells, it's a pretty open-and-shut case of human rights violation. I mean, Rage Against the Machine...'nuff said.

Naturally, these and many more artists are pissed that guards are using the fruits of their creative loins to cause pain unto others and have filed a freedom of information act suit to declassify the exact soundtrack of despair being used against detainees. Good for them! Man, if any of my creations were used to hurt anybody I'd track down the perpetrators and unleash hell on them with extreme prejudice. Just how anybody could hurt another human with my Animerica articles or paintings is beyond me--vicious papercuts, perhaps?--but if they did, ho boy. Doom.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not a Current Affair

Today marks the 130th birthday of the Edison light bulb--break out the cake and candles--and I was just over at the NY Times archive site checking out the actual article they ran in 1879 to announce the invention. Or was it his invention? Well, actually, no. There were several incandescent bulbs before Edison came along, he merely purchased the patent from Henry Woodward and changed the filament material to produce a longer-lasting commercial model. It's the 19th century version of taking a toaster and slapping an alarm clock on its face.

I'm going to try not to get too up in arms about this, but then again, when have I ever restrained myself: Thomas Edison is a dick, his career was built on the shoulders of other, more creative men, and he doesn't deserve the reverence this society gives him. Too harsh? Perhaps it is, however, from what I've been reading and what I recall from history class the man is, in my eyes, in the same boat as Columbus--being held aloft as an Ameican hero--minus the Native American slavery, rape and genocide. Really, Edison was a cunning businessman first and mediocre inventor second.

Now, you're probably thinking now that anybody with 1,093 patents in their name can't be that dull. But have you looked at his list of patents? The only really unique--and "unique" is the key here--inventions of his that ever had a lasting effect on the world were the first phonograph, the carbon microphone (the mouthpiece on phones until the 80s) and the...the...ummm. Holy monkey balls, I think those are the only things he ever really invented that weren't bought patents, improvements on existing designs or were invented by one of his Menlo Park employees for which he took the credit!

On the other hand, the man also bankrupted filmmaker Georges Méliès by bribing a London theater owner to procure a reel of his film A Trip to the Moon, the first sci-fi film in history, copy it, then run screenings in America. Yes, folks, Thomas Edison is the world's first film pirate. I think the RIAA would like to speak with you, Mr. Edison. Next, Nikola Tesla, Croatian genius and inventor of our current power grid run on AC, once worked for Edison, who promised him $50,000 to perfect his DC generation plants. Upon completing the project and asking for his money Edison told Tesla it was all just a joke and there would be no money at all. In fact, he wouldn't even give him a raise from $18/week to $25/week. Hahaha! That is such a fucking knee-slapper, Edison! Then, of course, there's the famous War of the Currents where Edison put his pitiful DC power grid up against the Tesla/Westinghouse AC grid and lost spectacularly, but not before doing some batshit crazy stuff to try and prove his point. How nuts? He electrocuted cats, dogs and a Coney Island circus elephant to show that AC was more dangerous!

Why do we always do this in America? Are we so desperate for heroes that dicks like this have to be hoisted high and whitewashed? I'm absolutely loving what Tesla had to say upon Edison's passing:

"He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene...His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90% of the labour. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor's instinct and practical American sense."

Take that, Edison!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Better Than the Real Thing

Is there anything in the world that can put into perspective both one's childhood love of Legos and their architectural inadequacies with them better than this demonstration? Watch:

I'm...I'm floored. There are no words for this. Kyoto's Kinkakuji is one of the most viewed sights in Japan and is, in my opinion--along with plenty of other landmarks there--highly overrated. But this is something else. The real article is testament to opulence and the gross disparity between classes in feudal Japan, whereas this is a shrine to ingenuity and science.

Such a thing of beauty!


Monday, October 19, 2009

As John Ashcroft Might Croon, "Let the Eagle Soar..."

Back in Kusu, the symbol of our town was the 600 meter-tall forested mesa, Kirikabu, that dominated the southern vista and was the launching point for a group of paragliding enthusiasts who could be seen riding the thermals whenever conditions allowed for it. I never got up the gumption to give it a try, partly because I'm a soloist who doesn't like tandem anything, particularly when I'm not in control, but mostly just because it cost a hundred bucks a pop and you never knew if the thermals were going to keep you up for twenty minutes or two hours. Now that I think of it, I'm not sure which is worse, twenty minutes followed by a landing and disappointment, or being strapped to a Japanese dude for two hours going in circles hundreds of meters in the air.

While I'm sure the sensation of quietly swooping through the realm of birds and low-flying airplanes is nothing short of sublime, really, how can you have any satisfaction jumping from Kirikabu after you've seen this:

This is the sport of "parahawking", a new and ridiculously beautiful practice started up not even a decade ago in Nepal. I'll let the folks who run parahawking expeditions do the talking on this one:
"Parahawking is the art of training birds of prey to fly with Paragliders. It was developed and pioneered in 2001 in Pokhara, Nepal by Scott Mason and two friends, Adam Hill and Graham Sunders-Griffiths. Two months into a world tour Scott Mason met Adam, the owner of Frontiers Paragliding and had his first paragliding tandem flight. Having trained birds of prey since he was 11 years old the experience of flying with wild birds of prey in their natural environment was simply awe-inspiring, and thus the idea of Parahawking was born.

"This may sound simple enough but it has been a labour of love involving an incredible number of hours and too many trials and tribulations to mention here. What started out as an experiment has now slowly grown into somewhat of a successful commercial venture. Yet Parahawking is more than just having a bird take food from your gloved hand during flight, although impressive enough in itself. Parahawking gives you the opportunity to get up close and personal with raptors and study them in their own environment like never before. We can now take you on a parahawking tandem flight where you can experience the raptors incredibly agile flight for yourself.

"Eagles, Kites and Vultures are natural soaring birds, together with Paragliders they use thermals to fly long distances whilst conserving energy. Our trained birds are no different, they will utilise the thermals and guide us to them, then be rewarded in the air for their efforts. The ultimate flying companions!
All of the birds used for Parahawking are rescue birds unable to be returned to the wild."
I'm wildly interested in Nepal and the Himalayas anyways so I think this may just be my ultimate vacation wish.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Night at the Movies!

This weekend was the kickoff of the 8th Annual S.F. Documentary Film Festival held at the Mission's Roxie Cinema and Maia and I pulled a double-header tonight and caught Cat Ladies and What's the Matter With Kansas?. Though both were clearly documentaries they also could fall under the sub-genre of "tragic documentary", as both made me want to curl up and bawl in an alley. I don't need a filmmaker to remind me that we live in an enormously F'd up world.

Cat Ladies is exactly what you might expect of a movie with that title: a biographical look into the lives of women who horde cats. Normal people (yes, I realize "normality" is subjective and I'm only using it here to make a point) don't horde cats, as you'd imagine, and each of the subjects had some trauma or another in their pasts to usher them into that lifestyle. One thing they all have in common is crushing loneliness, but it's difficult to feel too sorry for them when they're blind to the fact that their hording is mostly what repels people, thus injecting them into a perpetual cycle of isolation. Meow.

What's the Matter With Kansas? is based off of Thomas Frank's book by the same name that explores how Kansas went from being one of the most radically liberal states in the Union in the 19th century to becoming the volatile cauldron of working-class, right-wing, evangelical Christian, Republican voters it was at the end of the 20th century. Well, that's what the movie would be doing if it hewed closely to the book, as I thought it would. However, the documentary version doesn't do a sufficient job linking Kansas's economic and agricultural stagnation with the rise of the evangelical right, as Frank did well in his book. Instead, What's the Matter becomes just another look inside dysfunctional right wing families at the caricatures of reasoning human beings that are created in such a crucible. On a positive note, if you ever want to see the hilarious insides of Petersburg, Kentucky's Creation Museum, but don't want to actually ever get within a thousand miles of the place, this film allows you to live vicariously through the eyes of a vacuous gaggle of home schooled future Jerry Falwell wannabes and listen as a man with a Ph.D. in astrophysics explains just why the widely supported model for how stars and planets form is wrong and God is the answer for everything, all with his head lodged deeply in his ass.


Friday, October 16, 2009

A Japanese Man's Sick Wet Dream?

Japan's national obsession with panties is baffling. Even after having lived there it leaves one scratching their heads. They don't supplant any other type of sexually fetishistic object like breasts or a juicy badonkadonk and they're almost always very white bread in design compared to American or European design. Victoria's Secret is practically lingerie there. People risk serious jail time and injury to steal drying panties hanging on apartment balconies. Why?

Faster than an SR-71? Really? C'mon, that shit's not even realistic!


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Don't Even THINK About Ever Doing This to Me

I swear to Jeebus that Japanese TV is the worst "entertainment" outlet this world has ever seen. When it's not just downright dull, vapid celebrity variety shows and uninformative news programming it's very very evil prank shows that boil my blood. Here's today's dose of horrible sadism...

Had I been targeted for this sort of prank show while in Japan they had better hope Godzilla or Gamera was around to stop my Tokyo-destroying rampage. I would burn that place down.


The combination of, well, a lot of things, but not limited to the above video and yesterday's heated post, has sent me into a funky spiral of gloom. The focus is, of course, my current employment status. It's not so much that I don't have a job, it's that my forward movement--that laddering up from one job to a better one, even if only slightly--has, at best, stalled if not gone entirely into regression.

I started working before I was even sixteen, my first job being in food services at Noah's Bagels. Went from there to errand boy at an auto body shop, then onto mall retail (twice), then banking, then marketing associate at VIZ, then assistant editor for Animerica, then took a step backwards for survival with the art delivery driver gig during college. My overseas adventure as an English teacher came, went and seems like the peak because guess what my only paying job lead is at the moment. Go on, guess.

Coffee shop barista. And that's not even a sure thing, nor would it start for at least another month. Seriously, I have gone from contributing to the production of a national-level magazine and teaching children English in Japan to maybe--MAYBE--slinging coffee to Oakland Temescal hipsters. Back to the beginning.

This is what a bachelor's degree and over a decade of work experience gets ya, eh?

Fuck me, I'm going for a bike ride.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Japan: Haven for Child Snatchers

Proving once again that Japan is a black hole from which virtually nothing escapes comes this latest article on a recent thread of events occurring in Kyushu that I've been following. This article doesn't describe the details or gravity of the case properly and, I suspect, as time goes on articles about this from Japanese news sources will become progressively more favorable of the Japanese wife's position. So the story in a nutshell is this: Tennessee man, Christopher Savoie (CEO of an electronics company), marries a Japanese woman, Noriko Savoie, they have two children several years ago, but this past January divorce and are granted joint equal time custody rights of the kids by the state's courts. Noriko is being difficult-yet-compliant with the custody rules, but other than that the agreement is working...until August. One day, ostensibly while out with them for back to school shopping, Noriko takes the kids, hops a plane and flees to Fukuoka. The next day Christopher receives a call from the kids' school asking where the heck they are and this is when the father realizes his ex has jumped town with the children. The technical term for this is "kidnapping."

Flash-forward to the end of September when, in a gutsy and desperate attempt to retrieve his children, Christopher flew to Fukuoka, rented a car and tried a reverse-kidnap on them, making it as far as the U.S. Consulate General in Fukuoka City before being arrested at the gate. He's currently being held in Japan and may face up to ten years behind bars there for his gambit. Damn.

Critics of Christopher's actions argue that two wrongs (the original kidnap and subsequent counter-kidnap) don't make a right, but that misses entirely the simple truth that shit should never--NEVER--have been allowed to get this far and, in fact, the entire affair preceding his Japan escapade had been a travesty of justice. Fact: ex-wife Noriko was under court order to stay in Tennessee where both parents could enjoy easy visitation with their children. Fact: by taking the children Noriko is a kidnapper. Fact: Noriko is an international fugitive now and if she ever leaves Japan for a nation having an extradition treaty with America she will be arrested.

Why did this horrible woman kidnap her kids and flee to Japan in the first place? Was Christopher an abusive father or ex-husband? Was she in physical danger from something or somebody? Neither. It turns out she just thought the kids were losing touch with their Japanese identity. What. The. Fuck? I'm so tired of this nationalistic bullshit! I want to throttle this woman and shake her violently while laying out the crystal clear fact that the kids are ethnically half-Japanese and half-American. Not one more than the other. Equal. Still, it's that half-Japanese part that gave this woman the idea that she had the right to abscond with them away from their father and home.

The saddest chapter in this is yet to come, I think. Christopher is facing some serious jail time, and since Japan has a ridiculous 98% conviction rate when a criminal case reaches the trial stage--which it likely will--he could be spending the next decade behind, uh, probably bars, but maybe some shōji screens too. Even if he does get off there's nothing short of an act of divine miracle that could get the Japanese courts to send his children back to the U.S., away from their amoral mother, nor even allow him visitation privileges. This is by no means an unprecedented event. Indeed, this is the 125th time a psycho-bitch Japanese mother has kidnapped her kid(s) from American soil and stolen them away from their biological fathers! Nor is it only a problem with American fathers, the French, Canadian and British governments have also experienced this problem in the past (and probably still currently do). It's safe to say that Christopher did what he did because a massive body of evidence shows how wrangling with Japanese courts only leads in circles and then to bankruptcy.

These problems stem from several factors--the mothers being off their rockers among them, but unfortunately one that can't be easily mitigated--but primarily grow from two major issues. First is that culturally the Japanese view the mother as the more important parent in a child's life since it's she that typically stays at home to rear the children and tend the home while father works the day away and spends the nights drinking himself to a stupor. This concept is flawed in that is supposes that all family configurations are uniform and perpetual. Why can't the mother be the breadwinner and father be the homemaker, or both parents be workers and raising a latchkey kid? Both, and more configurations, happen in Japan, trust me.

The next factor, and potentially the greater of the two, is the fact that Japan has not signed the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspect of International Child Abduction, an international treaty designed to protect children and parents from this kind of bonkers thing in the first place. Japan's refusal to sign the treaty is as baffling as it is insulting, their diplomats stating that subjecting themselves to its statutes would prevent them from protecting Japanese women fleeing abusive foreign husbands. That reasoning makes little sense since abusive fathers could not easily be granted custody of children in any nation's jurisdiction and thus would have no right to pull the kids back if mom up and left with them. Most of all it's just deeply, deeply offensive to me to think that here is the Japanese government blatantly admitting that they believe all foreign men to be devilish, violent husbands and fathers and only the pure and good Japanese can be relied on to raise a kid or treat a woman right. It's like that cover from that March 1976 issue of The New Yorker, only instead of the world as seen from 9th Ave. it's the world as seen from Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo: Kabuki-cho and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in the foreground, followed by Kyoto and Osaka, Fukuoka in the distance and across the Sea of Japan just an indistinct landscape of inhuman barbarian hordes.

Jesus. FML, I lived for three years there.


"That Seagull Looks an Awful Lot Like Columbo."

That's what I said today while sitting with Maia on the SF Ferry Building's dockside benches and staring at a very Peter Falk-ish seagull. Just about the only thing it has in common with what I want to write about today is how batshit it is.

There's only one thing more surrealistic than that in the news at the moment (that I know of, at least) and it's the recent release of jointly published essays by Holger Bech Nielsen of the Neils Bohr Institute and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics that are causing equal parts head scratching, serious contemplation and laughter from the physics community. It concerns the Large Hadron Collider at CERN--you know, that giant high energy torus buried under the Franco-Swiss border that's supposed to destroy all life on Earth?--as well as other devices that may have had the potential to find the elusive Higgs boson and can be reduced to this hypothesis: the Higgs boson, or discovery of it, is so abhorrent to the universe that it will cause ripples backwards in time to strike any device capable of finding it with extreme back luck. Reverse bad luck time travel. Spicy!

Personally, my first reaction was to do a slow face palm and softly weep for the field of theoretical physics, which seems to be getting its theories from Stan Lee. After reading a bit more about their strange theory though the WTF-factor steadily decreased to the point where I can at least see what they're stabbing at, even if it remains the stuff of sci-fi. One can't help notice how the all efforts to spot the Higgs have been met with resistance: the Superconducting Super Collider planned for the Dallas-Ft. Worth area was cancelled after billions were spent on it; the LHC itself was placed offline after an equipment failure sidelined it for a year; and again at the LHC an employee's supposed connection with Al Qaeda may further delay the program. One might say the factor linking all three, plus any other efforts to catch a glimpse of the Higgs, is bad luck.

Still, I don't buy it. It's all circumstantial for one, but also too much like anthropomorphizing the universe, insinuating that it's got the brains enough to sabotage very specific pieces of equipment or place suspicious persons in sensitive positions. What's more likely is that the SSC was cancelled because it was projected to be massively overbudget, and that the LHC is just going through some quirks because it is the most complex and powerful machine ever built by mankind. It would be more amazing if something that intricate didn't go wrong somewhere.

It stands to reason that someday the boffins will get the LHC up and running, but until then I have more important things to concern myself with other than time travelling forces of bad luck. After all, there are plenty of seagulls out there, maybe ones that resemble Angela Lansbury or even Andy Griffith. Hot diggidy damn!


Monday, October 12, 2009

Not Coming Up On Oprah's Book Club

My current reading of A.J. Jacob's The Year of Living Biblically, where the author tries with dogged determination to faithfully adhere to the letter of biblical scripture in his modern lifestyle, will dovetail nicely into what will almost certainly be the next non-fiction title I read, Phil Zuckerman's Society Without God. While I'm not entirely committed to the camp that feels monotheism is the worst invention of mankind, I certainly don't think it, or any kind of theism, for that matter, is a remotely necessary concept in this day and age of reason.

The Christian right, pious Muslims, Orthodox Jews and likely many more not-so-zealous religious types would probably say that a moral, safe and prosperous nation can not exist without some type of spiritual underpinning. Now, I don't go around picking fights with the faithful over issues like this, but if the point did come up during heated discussion I didn't think there was much ground to stand on for my position other than to use my life as a case study of sorts (been a secular humanist more or less since the age of thirteen, but this doesn't make a for a compelling argument) and state that if it were true that godlessness led to violent, psychopathic, utterly immoral behavior then logic dictates most crimes would be committed by a legion of sociopathic, claw hammer-wielding atheists and agnostics. Obviously they're not. Zuckerman's book, supposedly, offers solid support for our minority who want to imagine along with John Lennon a world with no religion...or as close as has ever been historically observed.

Zuckerman's prime examples are Denmark and Sweden, two nations that, though not completely devoid of religion, have seen support of, participation in and adherence to the church dwindle down to (delightfully) low levels. Yes, some still do attend mass and pray, but it seems like more of an activity one performs as if going through the motions for the sake of ritual. In other words, empty traditionalism. Has this made these two countries a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah? Hell no: both Sweden and Denmark have some of the longest living, healthiest, most prosperous and happiest citizens on the planet. So up yours, Christian rightists.

I'd study Danish and move to Copenhagen ASAP, but holy crap, have you seen their annual weather patterns? Summer temperatures never break what we'd see in SF at the height of spring!


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Not Another Post About Space...

This space kick should end soon, rest assured, but before it checks out I have a Craigslist ad as mysterious as dark energy: somebody in Canada is looking to hire a suicidal astronaut. A trip to Titan, one of Saturn's many moons, sounds hot beyond all belief...right up until one gets to the bit about it being a one-way trip. Damnit, man, you have all the technical knowhow to get a man to Titan in a fantastic magical space capsule and not back? What kind of reclusive mad genius are you? The lazy, maple syrup-eating kind, that's what.

The gig pays $25,000, which is more than my current $0 annual salary. Sounds like a solid career path.


Friday, October 9, 2009

When High-Fives Go South

Last night must have been the worst sleep of my month-and-a-week here in the Oakland Bunker. With the alarm set for 4:15AM to view the LCROSS impact I signed the death warrant on my rest. Really, I should have got up at 3:30 and ridden up to the Chabot Space and Science Center to view the impact through their telescopes and get some human interaction, because the NASA TV coverage was abysmal. Even the NASA commentator was nonplussed by the low resolution, juddering camera on the instrumentation vehicle, saying at the end something like "I don't know what we just saw." Coming off this Apollo Program behind-the-scenes history book I just finished last week the expectation was to view a grand, explosive finale of sorts from that cathedral of science and human ingenuity that was mission control in the 60s and 70s. Instead, Gene Krantz and Glynn Lunney were replaced by some balding guy in a red polo shirt, and the MOCR was just some side room at Ames Research Center a tad larger than our living room.

Of course it's the science and not the spectacle that counts on these kinds of things (though if NASA doesn't step up their show game they may feel further budget cuts) and even if I didn't see the ejecta plume there's still the furthering of human knowledge to keep me warm at night. That and the mirth from watching one of the flight officers totally being left hanging on a high-five with his colleague...

That was a priceless bit of hilarity at 4:40AM or thereabouts.


I think the joblessness is starting to make Maia crack. We just came back from the post office to mail off some volunteer applications to the Academy of Sciences and she slumped down on the couch with a depressed sigh. "What's wrong?" I ask. She replied, "I thought that trip to the post office would give some excitement to the day." Wow, a new low. When it's come to walking to the P.O. to get your kicks then you know something's screwy.

Join us tomorrow when we skateboard to the DMV!


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bumper Cars!

Whatcha up to Friday morning, sometime around 4:30AM? Probably sleeping, sure, but I just found out about a much cooler thing to do: watch as NASA rams two spacecraft, one after the other, into the moon's south pole. Why NASA wants to do a crash dummy test on the moon--other than the fact that our space administration is largely staffed by boy-men with gigantic IQs--has to do with uncovering evidence of water on the surface of the moon. The vehicles doing the smashing will be the LCROSS probe and its Centaur rocket booster, the latter performing the first drop kick on the moon, followed by the mothership using spectrometers to analyze an estimated ten kilometer-tall plume before it too becomes street pizza.

Don't worry if you're lacking a high-powered telescope. I know two cases of beer and the Red Dwarf complete DVD boxed set was more important. NASA saves you the trouble by broadcasting the entire spectacle live on NASA TV, which I think is available here online. However, if you do have the telescope option available to you maybe it'd be better to see it with your own eyes simply by focusing on the moon's south pole. I think it'll be pretty obvious when a huge billowing tower of lunar matter gets ejected into space. Just a guess.

I'm seriously thinking about taking a trip up to the Chabot Space and Science Center at 3:30 or so to see the fireworks. Anybody game?


For all you science lovers, geeks, atheists/agnostics and anybody else who doesn't accept the general worldview as delivered by corporate news there's a podcast for you too. The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe is a weekly podcast that comes courtesy of a panel of professional and amateur skeptics who've taken it upon themselves to challenge not only the grievous falsities making their rounds, but the subtle ones as well, plus anything in between. I've been listening for only two weeks now and already am impressed by their intelligence, wit and dedication to setting records straight. Great stuff.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!

Had a bit of a birthday get-together/housewarming party last night at the Oakland Lair where we enjoyed vegan pizza, drank some hobo-grade Trader Joe's "Simpler Times Lager", and watched the Bollywood remake of the film Death at a Funeral, Daddy Cool. Don't ask me why the name is so divergent or even what it means, only the movie can make you understand.

After we'd all had our fill of dirt-cheap beer, manly "meat" pizzas and Bollywood shlock it was off to Concord where Nick, a former colleague of Pat and Brendan's, plus Claire's drum coach, was playing a downtown bar & grill with his band "The New Originals". This establishment, Vinnie's, was something else: the decor was a clashing mixture of exposed wood, cheap carpeting, pool tables, hanging mirrorballs and old records and a long, classic bar that did its best to tie it all together. It was the stereotypical Wild West saloon meets American Bandstand--what a mess. It wasn't until the music got going and the crowd's gas tanks were filled with generous amounts of hooch and subsequent poor judgement that the fun really started. Vinnie's is, in fact, just one massive Saturday night middle-age person's meat market. Watch:

Oddly enough, virtually no alcohol (on my part) was involved in the making of this video.