Thursday, September 30, 2004

Into The Wild Blue Yonder: My friend Becky is supposed to be updating her SpaceShipOne page with pics and video any moment now.

Wait with us with baited breath . . .

Update: Pics are up! And the link is now updated.

Doc On Life: I'm going to try to go back to school in January, but stories like this just depress me.

My brother, who's finishing up his degree and preparing for law school (Good luck on the LSAT this weekend, bro!) was talking about one of his classes.

The teacher said she was going to bust the myth that hard work leads to success. Just destroy it. And thereby, she felt, destroy the premise of capitalism and America.

Her arguments? The ones that completely proved everything about the philosophy of capitalism wrong?

1. Many women work very hard at home all their lives, and achieve no success.
2. A study once showed that 80% or more of workers got their jobs through a friend.

Ergo, hard work cannot possibly lead to success.

I don't know if this professor ever stuck her head into a logic class down the hall, but there's a few problems with her argument.

First, she doesn't create any definition for "success." She uses some sort of vague, hard-to-pin down arbitrary idea of success. If she'd had to create any solid definition of success at all, the whole argument would break down.

For example, if you were to have to define success in the phrase "Hard work leads to success," the most obvious definition, to me, would be "accomplishment of the thing you're working hard at." Suddenly, the argument that stay-at-home moms can't find any degree of success seems a little condescending.

As for the other argument, I had a friend of mine who used to work with, the network marketing company you used to see plastered across the side of really nice cars all over LA county.

Apparently, the kid who founded this company used to work in real estate. He was sitting in the barbershop one day and struck up a conversation with the guy sitting next to him. Turned out the guy sitting next to him was a foreign multi millionaire here in the US looking for properties for multi-million dollar warehouses.

He struck a deal with the guy. The next few years, he stayed at this guy's side, learned tremendous amounts about business and came away a millionaire. was the first company he founded after that.

So this was all luck, right? Right place, right time? Being there, as the film title suggests?

That's part of it. The other part was that he stepped up to the plate. He took advantage of the opportunity. He wasn't afraid of hard work.

If it had been me in that chair, idiot that I am, I probably would have thought, "Wow. I wish I were the guy doing his deals," and gone home and told my wife about how I'd met a millionaire that day. From there, it would have likely been business as usual.

Opportunity is being in the right place at the right time with the right attitude and the right skills. If you think that's luck, it's luck you have to work really hard to come by.

So yeah, lots of people get jobs from people they know, but it's based on the corollary that you can't get a job you don't know about. Obviously, you have two choices--you either find out about the job from a friend, or you go out and find what jobs are available. The fact that more people choose the former does not take away the validity of the latter.

I actually hired one of each, just yesterday. One heard about the job from a friend, who told her about it because she knew it was right for her. The other was knocking on doors of the places that she had the skills for. Both got the job because of who they were and what they'd done.

Know How To Vote: Watch the debate tonight. See who talks the way you think they should. See if you believe them. Then vote accordingly.

Please, don't just vote based off what friends tell you or what the media tells you or what talk radio tells you.

Except me. If I'm your only source of news, you're fine.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

2am Revelations: I never noticed that in this old Strong Bad email, when Coach Z and Bubs come running in, well, they are Coach B and Zubs.

I just never noticed it before.

Sort of like how I'm just now noticing how pathetic it is that I'm making such discoveries at 2am on a weeknight.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Peterson Girls in Steinbeck Country:

Pet Peeves: You know how everybody hates pop-up ads? You know what I hate? When a regular link pops up in a new window.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not against multiple windows. I myself like to right click and pop up window after window after window so I can keep track of where I was. Sort of like how I used to stick my fingers in the last couple choices I made in Choose Your Own Adventure books, in case I wanted to change my mind. Never mind I could go back and start over and make a different choice the next time--I needed to be ready now.

So it's not that I'm against sixty windows across my taskbar. However, being a rational adult who is capable of working the right mouse button, I am also capable of making the decision myself whether or not your website is worthy of a virtual finger to hold my place.

It also is too complicated for most pop-up blockers to figure out, so you have to go up, turn the thing off, then wait for the page to reload, then click again.

Power to the people, man! Just do normal links.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Musings From the Night: M Night Shyamalan speaks his mind on a bunch of stuff, including the plagiarism allegations.

Kitchen Tech: Fun site on Food Science. (Via the Good Eats Yahoo! group.)

Catch Up: So, to comment on the events of the last few weeks:

The election has become absolutely insane.

Kerry, who has had about twenty positions on Iraq all through the election, has now landed firmly in the camp of those the myopic, "Bush can do no right," crowd, embracing the two simultaneous contradictory positions that:

a. Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism.
b. Bush is currently losing the war in Iraq to terrorists.

This would be like arguing Vietnam by saying, "There was no communist threat in Vietnam, and the communists whooped us anyways."

In order to make this position sound somewhat more logical, they usually qualify it like this:

a. Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th
b. Bush is currently losing the war in Iraq to freedom fighters.

As if this weren't a war on terrorism in general, and as if these freedom fighters were doing anything but fighting against freedom. Isn't freedom what we're trying to offer?

Of course, there's an even more zany alternate:

b. Instead of making Iraq safer, he's turned it into a haven for terrorists.

This one is hilarious, and my favorite of all the anti-Bush arguments. Why? Because it shows me that somebody on the other side has already realized the best argument for Bush, and tried to pre-empt it.

And what's that? That the war on terror is actually going really, really well, and things are going better in Iraq than we could have hoped.

What in the world am I talking about?

A large part of the reason why we're in Iraq is to draw out the terrorists. By giving them a battleground, we've effectively caused the terrorists to divert people, weapons (guns, explosives, etc.), money, and other resources into Iraq that otherwise would be used against civilians in Israel, Europe, and throughout the world.

It's working. As terrible a price as 1,000 deaths are, remember--fewer people died at Pearl Harbor than on September 11th, but over 400,000 Americans gave their lives to resolve that struggle, to bring peace to the lives of Americans and Europeans. Today, our struggle to bring peace to Americans and Middle Easterners is equally noble.

We are fighting an enemy that is genuinely evil. I was shocked by a quote from John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants, who organized the anti-Bush album "Future Soundtrack for America."

"This is a very different moment than a lot of others," he explains, "where moderate people, people with sensible, measured political opinions are more than a little outraged by what's happening. Everyone has to remember the events of the last election. Things have not gotten better since then; they've gotten worse. There's no reason that we cannot affect a basic change.

"It's just not that extreme. How frequently do people have to get beheaded?" he says, referring to recent kidnappings and killings by extremists in the Middle East. "I mean, I just can't take it. I cannot live in this world."

I don't know if I'm reading this right, but is Flansburgh really asserting that extremists beheading civilians is somehow Bush's fault?

Yes, that makes it a terrible world, but voting out Bush won't change that. The fact is that there are people like this in the world, who do things like this and think it is noble, and while they are usually left to fight among themselves, they've managed the resources to bring the fighting to us.

We were left with no choice but to take the battle to them, and to the regimes that support them, or face the constant threat of possible further terrorist acts.

Sorry. I didn't mean for this to become another diatribe on the war. I've stated and re-stated that.

Back to the election.

The same people who were willing to dismiss, at the drop of a hat, eyewitness accounts regarding Kerry's service in Vietnam, are now carefully and thoughtfully pondering the possibility that, perhaps, it could be, there is a slight chance that some memos CBS aired on TV could potentially be less than accurate. Maybe.

There's always the chance.

Oh, come on.

Actually, I think the best think for CBS to do in this situation is just come right out and say they're liberal. They should become the Fox News of the left. Dan Rather should stop making any pretense of objectivism. This would not only save their flagging ratings, it would get them tons and tons of free publicity.

Or, they should just cancel the news altogether, and show CSI reruns. My wife would love that.

Where Have I Been?: Places I've been in the last few weeks:

  • My Apartment
  • Dennis the Menace Park
  • Griffith Park
  • Downtown Disney
  • Disneyland Hotel
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Kansas City Crown Center
  • Dallas Airport
  • Salt Lake Airport
  • Park by the firehouse in La Selva
  • Almost all of Highway 1
  • Laguna Beach
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium
  • Inland Center Mall
  • LDS Stake Center in Rialto
  • AMC 30 in Ontario
  • Used Bookstore in San Luis Obispo
  • My six offices in Riverside County
  • Beach Chalet in San Francisco
  • A Vons in Santa Clarita
  • Hollywood Video in San Bernardino

Friday, September 24, 2004

I'm Back: All, right. Around the world and home again. Sorry if you missed me.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Catch Up: I'm back from my trip around the world.

I have no idea what's going on in the news.

For all I know, Ivan wiped out the whole east coast and we're down to like 30 states, and I have no idea. It's a great feeling.

Oh, and about my Napoleon Dynamite review--some people asked if it was positive or negative. Wow, I'm a bad writer.

It's a positive review. I loved the movie. At times, my stomach hurt from trying not to laugh during the spaces between bits, even though I thought everybody was being really, really funny.

However, don't go in expecting the world's greatest comedy. Again, this is not a big studio comedy with people falling off of roofs or toilet jokes or anything like that.

If you can imagine laughing at a guy waiting for the bus with his hands in his pockets, then check out this movie.

Or better yet, just go to the website, look at the clips or the trailer and see if anything makes you laugh.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Dad the Dork: What do you get when your Dad's a geek? A third birthday hike up to the Bronson film cave.

Okay, okay. We went to the trains and parks, too. Griffith Park's a great place.

Obscure Movie Review of the Day: Napoleon Dynamite

If you haven't heard of this out-of-the-mainstream film, it was all the rage at Sundance last year, and since it found wide distribution, it's been earning more and more money every week, as word of mouth spreads about this indie comedy. It's a revisiting of Peluca, a short film the director made a couple years back.

If you have heard about it, you've probably been told that as long as you don't go in expecting anything, you'll have a good time. By anything, these people meant such normal movie features as conflict and plot. If you really, really think you would miss those, you may want to stay away from this movie.

What's left after those are gone? Characters. To call them "quirky" would be a cliche and a disservice. They are actually very, very real. A big part of the humor comes from knowing that, no matter how inane the screen antics get, you still know that guy, you still have seen people really do that.

Set in a tiny backwater town in Idaho, the film centers around Napoleon Dynamite, a geek-to-the core, obsessed with magic and developing "skills"--skills like (I'm sure you've seen the ad) nunchuck skills, cage-fighting skills . . . He uses phrases like "flippin'" and "Lucky!" and, if he's really angry, "Retarded!" or "Gosh!"

The director captures the true essence of geekiness. From the slap fights that are, in the fighters' mind, really cage-fighting level combat, to the crude drawings that are, in the artist's mind, true works of art, Jared Hess strings together here what feels more like a series of very funny vingettes than a slick Hollywood film.

So don't expect to see the bullies get their come-uppance with pudding dropped down their fronts, or any of the other normal formula teen movie staples. Do expect to laugh. And, I'm sorry to say, probably relate.

And don't forget to stick around after the credits for an additional 5 minute scene added after the film went into wide release. At least in the showing we went to, it looked like it had been spliced onto the end by a five-year-old with some scotch tape, but it was there, and it was funny.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Posing as People: Review of the OSC plays. Also, photos now up at Hatrack.

Vacation: Blogging will be light this week. Doing stuff.

This was this morning.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Speaking of Singularities: Do read Vernor Vinge's Hugo award winning novella "The Cookie Monster." It's a fun look at the type of technology his theory talks about.

I know, I know. More of you are probably interested in the winning Neil Gaiman short "A Study in Emerald." It's up on his website if you haven't read it.

Virtual Disneyland: If you liked the vintage Disneyland site, check out Visions Fantastic, a site with sites and sounds from current Disneyland rides.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Fake or Forgery?: Here's a little shockwave animation explaining the controversy. (Via

Irony Is: . . . watching your two toddlers fight over a talking Care Bear that's saying, "Sharing and caring are cool."

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The 9/11 Report: I said a while back I would read the 9/11 report and report back. I haven't started it until tonight.

I'm sorry. I can't summarize. Not the first chapter. I just can't.

Please read it.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

SF From The Ashes: I like Robert J. Sawyer, but in this article about the demise of Science Fiction, I think he's way off.

. . . readers who do make it through science-fiction books appear to have their faith shaken when the predictions don't come true.

Take the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. When Stanley Kubrick's film was released in 1968, it had a vision of the future that included commercial space stations and widespread cryogenics. By the actual year 2001, however, the movie proved to be light-years ahead of available technology.

"Regrettably, with 2001 having a title that had a year in it, science fiction essentially set itself up in the public's imagination as saying: 'Here's what you get if you wait to that year.' Well, we all waited till that year and we didn't get anything at all like that . . .," said Sawyer. "So part of it is that the readership has bailed."

I hereby invite everyone, everywhere, who stopped reading Science Fiction because you felt let down when 2001 turned out to be a work of literary extrapolation instead of a work of prophesy to email me. I have some equally believable "prophecies" to sell you, and you can invest in the stock market based on them.

You want half-baked oversimplified versions of why the genre's sales are slipping?

Here's mine: The genre isn't doing as well, commercially, because it isn't being commercial enough.

They're trying so hard to be accepted by the literary establishment, who long ago proved they had their heads in the sand, that they aren't looking at where they actually succeeded and emulating that.

Ender's Game would sell as well if it was published today as it did when it came out. The kids who buy it today fall just as in love with it as kids did then.

If a book of Harry Potter's appeal and resonance came out that was science fiction instead of fantasy, people would buy it up just as fast.

The sad fact is, and I include myself in this, that we, as science fiction writers, have not done as good a job of drawing in our readers, of taking them to strange places that they want to go to again and again and again.

Is this film's fault? Have the movies, as special effects gotten wilder and wilder, filled the need our books used to fill?

Is this parents fault? Are they not sufficiently teaching their children to love books, by putting books in the kid's hands not to teach them morals, or preach to them, but, as Roald Dahl used to say, for no more reason than to make children fall madly in love with books, so passionately they cling to them through out their lives?

Is this your fault? Because you haven't heard of Vernor Vinge or Robert J Sawyer, so who knows if their stuff is good?

Maybe that's some of it. But I'm still getting books pushed into my hands by people who are so excited they just have to share. Kids are still devouring Harry Potter and plunging from Hogwarts off into Narnia and Meg and Charles Wallace's house and Redwall Abbey.

So don't buy it when you're told:

"I would not be encouraging a young person today to be entering science fiction as a profession. I do have a fear that the science-fiction novel is as much an artifact of the 20th century as Victorian literature was of the 19th," said Sawyer. "No matter how hard you yell 'clear' and go for the defibrillator paddle, you still can't get that spark of life going again."

People are still hungry for it, crazy for it, and if you can fill that hunger, they'll reward you for it.

Hence the real insane part of the article:

Sawyer hopes science fiction will continue as a form of sociological commentary, but worries that by 2030, the genre may be a thing of the past, even if its trademarks are gradually being co-opted into the mainstream: Witness Margaret Atwood's Booker Prize-nominated Oryx and Crake, for instance, which dealt with a future world suffering from genetic engineering gone virulently wrong.

What the heck?

Isn't this evidence that the public want science fiction so badly, that it's becoming less cubbyholed and more mainstream? Just because Michael Crichton isn't winning Hugos doesn't mean his career isn't proving how hungry the public is for science fiction.

But again, the sci-fi guys run to Atwood, the lit-fic writer, for validation of their mainstream potential, even though Crichton sells far more copies. Further proof that most of them, in their heart of hearts, would rather be accepted by the literati and the intelligencia than by Joe and Jane Public--what the heck do those two know?

Crunching The Numbers: I love this story. I really, really do.

It's about how an Iranian official uses "creative math" to prove his country beat the US in the Olympics. Basically, since the ratio of medals to athletes is higher for his country, his country "beat" the US and a whole slew of other countries.

This system of scoring placed his country in fourth. Behind, I am guessing, a couple of countries who only had two athletes good enough to even compete in the Olympics, both of whom won medals. Therefore, their atheletes are the best in the world and they win.

This is the olympic equivalent of me saying, yeah, your blog gets more hits than mine does, but since I never update mine, that means I'm getting more hits per post, hence my blog is more popular than yours.

You have to love statistics.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

And One More Note: Happy birthday to the light of my life, my one and only, my heart's desire.

Yes, I have a spouse who reads my blog. She's pretty awesome.

L & L Publishing: I don't post nearly enough magic stuff here. But I will say that L&L is having a big sale on VHS stuff, as DVD becomes the format of choice for the magic community.

I don't blame them. DVD is wonderful. No having to fast forward through tapes to find just that one trick you want, no having to rewind and play, rewind and play, when you can use the "Set A B" and "Repeat A B" functions on any DVD player.

But hey, 10 bucks a tape is a great deal.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Yesterland: Cool site that chronicles bygone Disneyland attractions. Remember this one? With the giant eye?

Todaybor Day Is Labor Day: The Grammy-winning "Weird Al" Yankovic has a song about laziness. It's called "Calling In Sick," and it mocks our propensity towards finding recreation in the pointless. One verse proudly declares:

I could shine my pennies or clean my lava lamp
I could spend all day in my underwear
watching Ernest Goes To Camp
I could sit and count my hair
I could burp my Tupperware
I'm not busy now anyway

I'm callin' in sick today

Well, I finally have a day off, first time in forever. And Ernest Goes To Camp is not on the agenda.

And neither is blogging. Have a great holiday, everybody!

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Still The Story of My Life: I posted this before, years ago, but it seems particularly apt this week:

Attention California Readers: Congratulations on surviving the earthquake that hit before today.

Or didn't.

I now have a way to keep California safe. Keep asking these guys to make predictions. That is the only way to insure nothing will happen, ever.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Hugos: This year's Hugo awards have been announced.

And a couple of categories of the retro Hugos proved to be the no-brainers I thought they'd be.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

And One For The Geeks: Ever wonder how big the Millenium Falcon was, compared to the Enterprise? Or how big the Statue of Liberty is compared to the Ghostbusters' Stay Puft Marshmallow man? Or how the Hindenberg compared with the mothership from Close Encounters?

Well, somebody else did, too. And they created this site, where everything is One Pixel Per Meter. And you can drag an item from one part of the screen to another to compare and refrence things side by side.

Ma Mae: Over on the Yahoo! Groups Good Eats forum, Susan posted this old post of Alton Brown's from his website. It's from 2001. I post it here for you.

Last week "the big one" finally caught up with my grandmother. Good Eats fans may remember Ma Mae from a show called "And the Dough Also Rises" wherein she and I staged a biscuit bakeoff which she won.

Ma Mae wasn’t a great cook. Her batterie de cuisine was humble. The highlight of her culinary library was a paperback published by the electric company in 1947. Her oven cooked a hundred degrees hot. She didn’t even own a decent knife. And yet, her food was the epitome of good eats. Her chicken and dumplings, greens and cornbread were without equals. Her cobblers were definitive. Her biscuits…the stuff of legend. She learned to make these from her mother and grandmother. She didn’t tinker with the dishes nor did she dissect them or ponder their inner workings. She just cooked. She thought my own Frankensteinian desire to understand food was a little on the silly side.

The first thing I did when I got to her house was greedily seize the small wooden recipe box that had sat on the counter my entire life. Upon inspection, this ancient codex proved disappointing. There were gobs of recipes written in her smooth hand, but they were all the stuff of gossip…Mary Sues Marshmallow Salad…Gertrude's Oatmeal divinity, etc. The real treasures were nowhere to be found and that made sense. She knew those recipes and had no reason to write them down. It had been my duty to learn them from her and I hadn’t taken the time. In her last years I’d been too busy to visit much, too preoccupied with peeling away the mysteries of egg proteins and figuring out why toast burns. In short, I’d missed the whole stinkin’ point. When I left her house after the funeral I took Ma Mae’s favorite cooking tool, her grandmother’s cast iron skillet. I understand this vessel, the particulars of its metallurgy, how heat moves through its crystalline matrix. But I’ll never be able to coax the old magic from it and for that I am very sorry.

This is a cautionary tale kids, and I hope you’ll take heed. In the end, cooking isn’t about understanding it’s about connecting. Food is the best way to keep those we must lose. So put down that glossy cookbook, put down that fancy gadget and get thee to grandmother’s house. Or go cook with your dad, your aunt, your sister, your mom. Cook and learn and share while you can.

End of lecture.

Lysenko's Tom Foolery: My dear friend Timothy Sandefur (who I have recently become sorely tempted to begin to call simply "The Crackpot") recently posted this fascinating article over on The Pandas Thumb.

Although his contempt for communism has put him direct conflict with many of the bloggers there ("Sandefur is anti-communist? Why, that's right wing talk! Next thing you know he's going to be thumping the bible and vilifying Darwin!"), it's actually an eye-opening article about some situations I, at least, was unaware of in Soviet Russia.

I recommend both the article, for its fascinating story (I hope to be as well-read as Sandefur someday) as well as the ensuing discussion, for its fascinating glimpse into how myopic some people can be.

His article is part of a series on his blog to raise money for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I Don't Want To Hear It: So you've got that picture before, in like a thousand emails. So you've been posting pics in your blog since you had your VIC 20 with a tape recorder instead of a disk drive to upload Facemaker and write programs in basic.

Well, I don't care. Speaking on behalf of my 10 year old self, who once spent several hours copying lines of code from an issue of MAD Magazine that was supposed to make a picture on my computer, and instead didn't do squat, it gives me a wonderful feeling to be able to, ever so nonchalantly, make your computer show this:

Witness The Power of Knowledge: Bow to my superior knowledge, as I demonstrate I will now be able to SHOW PICTURES ON MY BLOG!!!!!

What Planet Are You From: Today's Astronomy Pic Of The Day is not a photo, but rather a conceptual drawing of the planet discovered to orbit the star 55 Cancri.

Astropix is a great site to visit daily. For example, try to guess what yesterday's pic is supposed to be before you read the explanation.