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Archive for the ‘General Musings’ Category

I despise movies that make no sense.

Let me rephrase it. I despise movies that make no internal sense.

As an appetizer before my main course, here’s an example that twists my knickers.

In both Men in Black III and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, there is an implausible image. In each of those cinematic ventures, there is a scene on the Moon. In those movies (and probably more), the camera shows an Apollo-style lunar lander. However, the lander still has the ascent stage attached to it which would be an impossibility because if the ascent stage was still there, the astronauts would not have been able to return home.

(Source: Men in Black III corrections and Transformers: Dark of the Moon corrections)

As a fan of science-fiction, I have no issue with movies that bend the laws of physics, as long as they do it consistently. Spaceships in the universe of Star Trek and Star Wars can travel faster than the speed of light, but they give explanations for it. The Enterprise has warp drive and the Millennium Falcon uses hyperdrive. Even time travel doesn’t bother me that much as long as, again, it is done consistently within the universe of the story. I know there is no way for an object to travel back in time, but that doesn’t diminish my appreciation for the television show Doctor Who.

All this brings me to today’s version of “nerd rage“. Last week, I saw the animated movie Mr. Peabody and Sherman. I could go on and blather about how Hollywood has strip-mined another aspect of my childhood for their gain, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Instead, allow me to ramble about the cinematic implausibility in that movie.

I do not have an issue with a talking (and bow-tie wearing…because bow ties are cool) dog. I do not have an issue with time travel. The genius canine and the WABAC machine are reality-bending items, but they are necessary for the story. So, I am fine with those reality-bending items (just like I am okay with the TARDIS and the Babel Fish).

What made me slap my forehead was the scene in this movie concerning the manhole.

Early in Mr. Peabody and Sherman, the duo are in the era of the French Revolution. During a chase scene that takes places in the sewers outside Versailles, Mr. Peabody causes an explosion that blows the manhole covers into the air.

So far, so good.

However, the explosion was all part of Mr. Peabody’s escape plan because the manhole cover falls through its own hole and lands on the baddie thus allowing the dog and his pet adopted boy to skeedaddle away.

See my issue?

It is a physical impossibility for a manhole cover to fall through its own hole. That’s way manholes covers are round. A round manhole cover is cannot fall through its own opening and that keeps sewer workers safe (see here and here for sample explanations).

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Unless Jamie and Adam over at Mythbusters have busted this idea, I will continue to slap my forehead over this scene (and all others like it).

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Nothing quite like mining the posts of yore when trying to dream up a new thing to ramble on about. Hey, Hollywood does the same thing (see here and here for examples) so I am in good company.

Today’s post harkens back to a 2011 post where I listed off all the books I read in the previous year.

Instead of looking back, I will look forward and tell you what is on tap for me for this year.

ALREADY COMPLETED:
Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed. A Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the events and people that led to the Great Depression.

Redshirts by John Scalzi. A brilliant take on the Star Trek trope of how the security folks on an away team (the eponymous redshirts) always get killed. But, it is so much more than that.

CURRENTLY READING:
Becoming Ray Bradbury by Jonathan Eller. I told you that one day I would get around to this book.

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Instead of sitting through the movie John Carter of Mars, I thought I would go right to the original source about tales of Barsoom.

ON THE SHELF AND WAITING:
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. Yes, I know it deals with zombies, but since I did sit through the movie starring Brad Pitt, I thought I should read the real book (which is always – with one exception – better than the movie).

The War With Mexico by Justin Smith. Another winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Macroscope by Piers Anthony.

Collision 2012 by Dan Balz. A recounting of the 2012 Obama vs. Romney presidential campaign.

The Run to Chaos Keep by Jack Chalker. The sequel to his The Demons at Rainbow Bridge.

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings. I hope to complete this book about the origins of World War I before this anniversary year is out.

Under the Dome by Stephen King. This one has been on the shelf for quite some time. This may be its year…or next year.

It’s Even Worse Than It Looks by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. Because I want to be even more depressed about that state of American politics than I already am.

Wish me luck and we’ll see how many tomes I can drop off the list.

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In these days, we live in times dominated by the now.

There is the twenty-four hours news cycle with its breathless breaking news.

There is the Internet which serves up any and all information at lightning speed.

There is streaming media that allows us to binge on any movie or television show that ever existed.

With that in mind, I came across a trio of stories that reminded me that humans do have the capability to look beyond this moment and take the long view.

Over at Oxford University in England, they have an experiment that has been running nearly continuously since 1840. I first saw the story about the bells over at i09 and there is even an entry over at Wikipedia about it.

There is another experiment – this one has only been going on since 1930 so it’s a baby compared to Oxford’s bells – that is being done at the University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia). This product of a scientific mind is watching pitch drop. Pitch, while looking solid is actually viscous, which just means that it if left to its own devices (and gravity), it will form a drop…just like water, but much, much slower. However, in the years since this experiment started, it has only dripped eight times. What is even wilder (to my mind) is the fact that no one has ever seen the drop of pitch actually drop. Want to be a part of history? Click here to see the live Internet feed of the pitch drop experiment. It makes paint drying look like a demolition derby.

A newcomer to the land of The Long View is the musical piece entitled As Slow As Possible. It is a piece of organ music with no set instructions on how long each note should be played. Somebody (or a group of somebodies) saw that as a challenge and in 2001, an organ in Halberstadt, Germany, began playing the composition. It is scheduled to end in the year 2640. The last time a note changed was in October of 2013 and the next change in notes will not take place until 2020.

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Being the Dog

In 1993, at the dawn of the Internet being widely available, Peter Steiner created a cartoon for The New Yorker magazine with the caption, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

The point of the cartoon was to show that the Net gave a veneer of anonymity to its on-line citizens. Once your computer was booted up and you logged on to your bulletin board system (BBS) of choice, you could be anyone you wanted to be.

Two decades later, I have this question, “Can one still be anonymous on the Internet?”

The answer is increasingly becoming, “No.”

Julia Agwin has come out with a book entitled Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance. One of the assertions she makes is about all the information that data brokers know about your on-line activities and what that says about you. In addition, there is all the information that Google, Facebook, and all the other social websites amass about you (or that you give up willingly).

Then there is this case. Someone had created a humor account on Twitter that poked fun at Goldman Sachs, the investment banking firm. Calling itself @GSElevator, the account dished out gossip supposedly overheard in the elevator at Goldman Sachs. After three years of managing to keep the identity of @GSElevator a secret, the anonymous tweeter was finally unmasked. It’s not that important who the creator of @GSElevator is as it is my purpose in this post to ask, again, if one can still remain anonymous on the Net.

Probably not.

So I guess my shot at being a dog has passed.

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March 7, 2014 Update

To the above list of stories, I would like to add the following article that semi-touches on my theme of remaining anonymous on the Net. The digital currency Bitcoin was said to have been invented by an individual named Satoshi Nakamoto. This person – or perhaps group of people – has never identified himself or herself and has thus remainined anonymous over the years.

Now comes the news that Newsweek magazine has uncovered the identity of Nakamoto.

Here’s my question. Has Newsweek actually proven my point that remaining anonymous on the Web in the 21st century is now impossible or has the magazine shred the privacy of a person who just happened to have the last name of Nakamoto?

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Today as I post this it is Election Day.

Of course, as I currently live in capital city of Thailand, Bangkok, I am twelve hours ahead of my local polling district located in Loudon County, Virginia. The polls open at 6:00am, which will be six in the evening for me here in Bangkok. One of the things I will miss about not being able to vote in my polling place – which is actually a trailer park – is the tradition. When the polls open, an official (whose name I have never learned even after years of casting my ballot) would come out and scream at the top of his lungs, “THE POLLS ARE OPEN!!!”. Because it is 0600 and people in the nearby trailers are still sleeping, this loud oral tradition never ceased to cast a smile on my face right before I cast my ballot.

Instead of listening to the happy loud oratory of an election official and having dedicated citizens cross my name of huge rolls of printer paper, I had to make due with checking my marks on my absentee ballot (with my beautiful wife as witness).

Now the reason I am mentioning this whole election thing is because I wanted to share something. While some of my rants on this blog space (such as here and here and here) may make it appear that I am on the left of the political spectrum, there are also some writings of mine that throw barbs at the current occupant of the White House (such as here and here and here). My point here is that while you may try and guess how I would vote in today’s election as the Old Dominion has a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and state delegate on the ballot, I can tell you without fail that you would be wrong. I am proud to say that I do not cast my precious vote based on the letter (say “D” or “R”) that follows a candidate’s name.

In today’s election, of the four positions I could make my choice for, I selected candidates from three parties.

Ask yourself this, when is the last time you did not vote a straight ticket?

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My heartiest apologies for being away from this blog for the past month. Circumstances beyond my control left me unable to continue my writings. The details are too queasy to delve into, but suffice it to say that I can confirm that the following pair of sentences are undeniably true.

1) When health experts warn expats living in Thailand to wash all of the fruits and vegetables bought in local markets, they really mean it.
2) The hospitals in Bangkok (okay, granted that my dataset consists of one) are Western in quality, cleanliness, and professionalism.

With all that said, I’m glad to be back (and upright).

While I was away, I noticed that the internal workings of the United States government have ground to a halt (almost like my insides…oh, wait, I wasn’t going to go into the details…sorry). This gridlock-slash-shutdown-slash-default seems like the perfect hook to let you in on my latest epiphany.

When I was growing up, I came of age (politically speaking) in the Era of Reagan. Back then, I blamed the Republican president for the budget deficits and national debt that were a hallmark of the 1980s.

In the 1990s, when the red ink turned black, I tipped my hat to President Clinton for his (or at least his advisors) financial acumen.

Now, even in my mid-forties, I am not so bound by ideology that I cannot see new facts and revise what I once knew.

I have now (slowly, but surely) come to learn and appreciate that it is the Congress – and more importantly, the House of Representatives – that controls the budget. The chief of the Executive Branch may be able to offer legislation and a budget plan, but it is still the responsibility of the People’s House to actually allocate the money.

With this new perspective in mind, I belatedly offer my ire to the Democratic-led House of the 1980s for busting the budget and give my appreciation to the Newt Gingrich-led GOP House of the 90s for helping to rein in spending.

What this now means for me in the current situation as the nation I was born in has shuttered most of its windows for the past two weeks and hurtles towards becoming a deadbeat nation is that my contempt is wholeheartedly reserved for the party now controlling the House of Representatives. The current leadership has to know when it has the votes, when legislation will pass and in what form, and what will be able to move through the Senate and make its way to be signed by the President. Any toying with the full faith and credit of the Unites States government simply to achieve a political goal that has been rebuffed over forty times is folly.

I give credit where it is due and blame where it is due. I have been able to change my mind. I hope it doesn’t take the current House leadership decades to do the same.

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Are you happy?

That’s a tough question to answer because it all depends on what your definition of happiness is. Does being happy revolve around family, career, love, creativity, or none (or all) of the above.

If it’s tough to gauge how happy an individual is, it must be mind-boggling nuts to determine how happy a whole country is.

Well, it’s apparent not that bonkers as CNN brings us this story about the 2013 edition of the United Nations (UN) Happiness Index.

For those of you who enjoy reading press releases from international organizations, this is your lucky day as you jump to this link here and read until your heart’s content.

For those who want to jump to the actual number and see where the various countries lie on the Happiness Spectrum, hop on over here.

Here is what I found interesting personally about the UN numbers.

My country of current residence, Thailand, ranks number 36 (with an overall score of 6.371 and with 10 being the highest possible score). This ranking is particularly appropriate given my fascination with the number 36 (see here and here and here for examples).

For comparison, the United States of America, my country of birth, ranks 17 (score = 7.082)

My last country of residence, France, clocks in at #25 (score = 6.764)

Denmark took the top spot with a score of 7.693 while the last spot, down at number 156, was held by the African country of Togo with a score of 2.936.

As for me, I can blog, I can eat, I have a roof over my head, I work, I write, and I have a loving family nine ways to Sunday. That makes me happy.

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