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Archive for March, 2014

I wish I had a picture of the singer, Pink, because that would have been unique.

Instead, I will have to make do with the actual color of pink. The reason I have this color on the brain is that it is the weekly theme from the website WheresMyBackpack.com.

I dove into my archives of digital photographs and came up with this item from 2009. This is a close-up of an Air Nippon plane. The only item that satisfies the theme are the letters, but I’m tickled by this picture by the bit of whimsy the designers placed on the plane.

IMG_0464

Hold on, little panda, hold on.

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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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TIME to Navel Gaze

It is sometimes difficult to come up with new things to post about when my past themes provide so much material also.

Back in September, I wrote about the differences between the covers of TIME magazine that Americans see and what citizens in the rest of the world see.

Last week saw yet another wonderful example of my previous thesis that the editors of TIME “think the State-side readers are morons.” I can only again surmise that the powers that be at TIME who decide what graces the cover of that magazine think that Americans are not interested in the world at large and only care about what happens in their land between the “sea to shining sea.”

Last week, the covers that appeared on the magazine that people in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the South Pacific could see looked like this…

Time_LastWeek_International

The cover shows the aftermath of the central square (called the Maidan) in Kiev, Ukraine, after the president of that country, Viktor Yanukovych, fled. This flight was due in part to the mass of protesters who had camped in the Maidan demanded a more pro-Western lean to the country. Yanukovych titled towards Russia and so there was conflict.

The popular uprising of a European country on the doorstep of Russia that includes the overthrow of its elected President is (and rightfully so) big news. The cover of TIME even admits that the drama is not yet over.

So do what those living in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City see on their covers of TIME? This…

Time_LastWeek_USA

They see a cover about an event that happened in October of 2013. Granted, Stephen Brill’s article about how a group of people rescued the technical failure that was heathcare.gov (the on-line portal that allowed people to sign up for President Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act) is a wonderful read, but it’s an event that happened a full five months ago.

To sum up, international readers of TIME see what is happening now in the larger world and which poses questions about the future.

State-side readers of TIME see themselves…in the past.

I have a feeling this trend of TIME will only continue.

As a final thought, I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who sees this habit from TIME.

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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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I had always wanted to make this a recurring blog theme, but it always seems to slip my mind to actually do it. Well, regardless of my excuses, here is my latest blathering based on what I have found while tripping through the websites of the Cabinet departments of the United States government.

(Aside: Previous entries have focused on the Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, and Department of Agriculture.)

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the 38th (there’s your number for the day) country that became part of the government’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP is a government program that allows visitors from participating countries to enter the United States without a visa and stay for ninety days. There are a few more requirements, but the VWP means that a citizen from a participating country who wants to visit the Big Apple (or the Windy City or the Emerald City) does not have to go through the process (which usually involves a great deal of waiting) of obtaining a visa.

Before the latest announcement, there were thirty-seven countries that participated in the VWP. Of those 37, 30 were from Europe and 7 were from Asia.

From the above listing, you will have perhaps noticed two missing continents. One of them is South America. Of that continent’s thirteen countries, none were members of the VWP.

Until now.

Starting in May, the citizens of Chile can now enter the United States without a visa (so sayeth this press release from DHS).

Bienvenidos to the VWP, citizens of Chile! Enjoy the chili of Texas, the Chili’s found everywhere, the chiles found in most supermarkets, and the chilly weather that hits parts of the northeastern part of the United States every winter.

Chile’s admission into the VWP means that the only continent without a participating member is Africa.

From laughs, I should research how many countries require American tourists to possess a visa and how many do not.

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Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post about a press release I found concerning the Presidential Commission on Electoral Administration (PCEA).

The PCEA was a commission asked for by the President to come up with recommendations on how to better run elections.

Yes, I realize I am late to the party but allow me to post on the final report put out by the PCEA which came out in January of this year.

In its report (PDF version here), the PCEA has six key recommendations. In order, they are…

Online registration: The PCEA says the trend towards online voter registration should continue and that states should allow eligible voters to vote and update their registration via the Internet.

Interstate exchange of voter lists: The PCEA recommends that states check their voter registration lists against each other to ensure accuracy.

Expand Election Day: To reduce congestion on Election Day, the PCEA suggests that states expand alternative modes of voting (e.g., vote-by-mail, in-person early voting)

Use Schools as Polling Places: The PCEA recommends that states encourage the use of schools as polling places as those locations can provide the best facilities to conduct elections.

Adopt Resource Allocations Tools: The PCEA links to their own website and to a resource allocation calculator which election officials can use to determine how voting machines and staff that might be needed.

Upcoming Crisis: The PCEA says that within the next decade, many voting machines will have reached their end-of-life and will need to be replaced. The PCEA recommends that the standards and certification process for new voting technology be reformed.

With those six recommendations in mind, my follow-up question is this: Will my home state of Virginia adopt any of these recommendations or is this PCEA report yet another federally created doorstop?

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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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