The Lamest Carousel Ever?

2007-08-31 Bumbershoot Carousel (2)

2007-08-31 Bumbershoot Carousel (1)

2007-08-31 Bumbershoot Carousel

Hmm. I like carousels, but I wish they made me work harder.

I like riding my bike, but I don't like to go places.

I feel silly on my stationary bike.

If only someone would bolt a bunch of bicycle together to create a carousel that had no motor, then I could solve all three problems at once.


I made a mistake.

I started playing SimCity 4 again. So there goes every spare hour I had.

But, it's okay. Because I have to get ready for the next one -- SimCity Societies.

Based on what I've read so far, I'm not terribly impressed, but I'll give it a shot.

You can read an early review here.


Office Practical Jokes + Time + Drywall

Equals this:


Dawson's Field Hijackings

From Wikipedia:
In the Dawson's Field hijackings (September 6, 1970) four jet aircraft bound for New York City were hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

  • TWA Flight 74 from Frankfurt am Main and Swissair Flight 100 from Zürich-Kloten Airport landed at Zerqa, also known as Dawson's Field, a remote desert airstrip in Jordan formerly used as a British Royal Air Force base.
  • The hijacking of El Al Flight 219 from Amsterdam was foiled; hijacker Patrick Arguello was shot to death and his partner Leila Khaled was subdued and turned over to British authorities in London. Two hijackers prevented from joining the El Al flight instead hijacked Pan Am Flight 93, a Boeing 747, diverting the large plane to Beirut and then Cairo rather than the small Jordanian field.
  • A fifth plane, BOAC Flight 775 from Bahrain, was hijacked on September 9 by a PFLP sympathizer and brought to Dawson's Field in order to pressure the British to free Khaled.

A couple weeks ago, Tivo decided I would like to learn more about one of the most notorious assaults on civilian aviation. It recorded Hijacked, an documentary from the PBS series, The American Experience.

The show follows the story as it evolved, from the initial hijacking, to the trials in the desert, to the harrowing escapes in Cairo, to the high-level political discussions, and even to the street battles in a Jordan teetering on the brink of collapse.

While the passengers survived, Palestinian terrorists destroyed 4 aircraft and thrust middle east tension into the attention of the American people.

What I am still trying to figure out, however, is why I never heard about the hijackings until this month.

Regardless, if you can catch the PBS Documentary, it's worth the viewing time.


Slow Motion Video

This is a slow motion compilation video. The creator used cameras capable of shooting about 1,000 frames per second.

While I found the link on Fazed.net, the creator's site is http://www.lucidmovement.com.


Speed? What speed?

This week in SoCal, I rented a Saturn Ion. It's considered a mid sized car at Budget.

It's not a bad car. It's fairly comfortable. It handles well. And it has acceptable power. I would have liked a little more oomph trying to merge in a construction zone, but I've learned not to expect much from a rental car.

The best thing about it, though, was the AUX jack. I plugged in my new Gigabeat (a Toshiba MP3 player) and listened to netcasts (or podcasts) of NPR program that I missed when they first aired.

It's great to be a able to listen to whatever episode of This American Life, WNYC Radio Labs, or clips from A Prarie Home Compantion whenever I want. I didn't have to learn the radio stations in the area, and I didn't have to worry about faded signals while driving around the hills.

I don't understand why AUX jacks aren't more common in rental cars. A large number of business travelers and families carry music libraries with them. Instead, most rental cars come with a CD player or tape deck.

How many people actually travel with all their CDs these days?

2007-08-22 Saturn Ion Instrument panel

The instrument panel was a little disturbing, though. Instead of putting the speedometer and other gauges behind the wheel, they put them in the middle of the dash. Maybe this is supposed to be cooler. Maybe it makes it easer to build a version with right side steering for sale in Britain and Japan. And it probably doesn't matter once you get used to the car.

But I'm not driving the car long enough to get used to it.

It can be a challenge for night driving. I look down to check my speed or fuel level and just see a black space. My first instinct is that my dash light are not on, and I should check my headlights. When I see that they're on, I wonder what is wrong with the car. Then I look a couple inches to my left and there are the instruments.

Of course, it probably takes less than a second to run through this, but it's certainly disconcerting.

So it's not an exciting car, but it's decent.

And, most importantly, it's not a Taurus.


Where the Streets have old names

This week’s travels took me to Palm Springs. It’s in the Southern California desert. One thing I learned this summer is that 103 degrees in Palm Springs, CA is much nicer than 103 degrees in Richmond, VA.

Most major streets in Palm Spring are named after celebrities. I rolled in to town on Bob Hope Drive and crossed Gerald Ford Drive and Dinah Shore Road. It’s near Fred Waring Drive.

On my way to the airport, I crossed Frank Sinatra drive on CA-111. They airport itself is at the intersection of Gene Autry Trail and Kirk Douglas Way.

But they saved the big names for the airport. The main concourse, with a restaurant, coffee shop, news stand, golf shop and souvenir store is named for Sonny Bono.

Is there a friendlier way to greet travelers than with these teeth? I don’t think so.

2007-08-22 Sonny Bono Teeth at PSP

2007-08-22 Sonny Bono Concourse at PSP

2007-08-22 Sonny Bono Bust at PSP

2007-08-22 Sonny Bono Bust at PSP (1)


Book Review 11: Drugs and Existential Crises

“The most dangerous kind of person,” Arctor said, “is one who is afraid of his own shadow.”

Page 129

“A Scanner Darkly” by Philip K Dick is a weird book. If you want your stories straight forward, with plots that are fairly easy to follow, skip this one. But if you enjoy challenging material that explores the psyche, and where most things are not what they seem, you may enjoy this book.

Fred is an undercover narcotics investigator chasing after the producers of a powerful mind altering drug called Substance D. Undercover work is risky. Fred’s supervisors don’t know his real name, or what he looks like. In meetings, undercover officers wear high-tech scramble suite that completely disguise their appearance. In the course of his undercover work, he also consumes Substance D to blend in. He supervisors assign him to track a major drug dealer. He is on the trail of Bob Arctor.

Bob Arctor is a small time drug dealer trying to survive among the other users, dealers, and prostitutes that populate Southern California. Mysterious things happen in the house he shares with two other guys. His property gets damaged. Someone sabotages his car. And everyone is suspicious of everyone else.

Bob Arctor actually works for the Orange County Sheriff’s department and has infiltrated the drug culture. His plan is to do larger and larger buys from his girlfriend Donna, until she asks him to work directly with her up line dealer. Then he can do the same thing with him to ultimately get to the top and the final, big bust.

And from time to time, Bob Arctor puts on his scramble suit, and becomes Fred, to go meet with his bosses at the Sherriff’s department and report on the activities of Bob Arctor.

After that things get complicated.

As we follow Bob/Fred through the novel, we watch his mind slowing fall apart. He starts to see Bob and Fred as different people. When Fred is reviewing the audio and video surveillance, his has a strange sense of déjà vu, but sees Bob as a different person. Meanwhile, Bob has the vague sense he’s being watched.

Dick is exploring several key things in this novel: the nature of identity, the ways people deal with a major drug epidemic in a fascist police state, and the way drug culture destroys lives.

The collapse of Bob’s/Fred’s mind is the central theme of the book. Early on, he has a good sense of who he is, and what he’s doing. But even then, he is not always comfortable with what’s going on.
I’ll be glad, Bob Arctor thought, when we get in the holoscanners and have them set up all over this house. He touched his gun, felt reassured, then wondered if he should make certain it was still full of shells. But then, he realized, I’ll wonder if the firing pin is gone or if the powder has been removed from the shells and so forth, on and on, obsessively, like a little boy counting cracks in the sidewalk to reduce his fear. Little Bobby Arctor, coming home from the first grade with his little schoolbooks, frightened at the unknown lying ahead.

Page 71

As the drugs exert more influence over him, he has trouble both distinguishing between Fred and Bob and with not distinguishing between Fred and Bob.

And then he thought, What the hell am I talking about? I must be nuts. I know Bob Arctor; he’s a good person. He’s up to nothing. At least nothing unsavory. In fact, he thought, he works for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, covertly. Which is probably why Barris is after him.

But, he thought, that wouldn’t explain why the Orange County Sheriff’s office is a after him – especially to the extent of installing all those holos and assigning a full-time agent to watch and report on him. That wouldn’t account for that.
Page 183

Dick does a great job with prose like this. He puts Bob/Fred into these weird loops of circular logic. Fred/Bob is trying to apply logic and structure to his thoughts, but no matter what path he goes down, he comes back to the same place.

At one point he thinks considers ending surveillance on Bob Arctor so he can begin personal surveillance of Bob Arctor. But he decides against it.

On the other hand, Hank and those guys downtown would not be too happy if Bob Arctor left his house, now that the monitors had been expensively and elaborately installed, and was never seen again: never showed up on any of the tape. He could not therefore take off in order to fulfill his personal surveillance plans at the expense of theirs. After all, it was their money.

Page 134

All of this takes place in the near –future fascist police state in Orange County. Substance D usage is at epidemic levels, and those not on the drugs will put up with anything to not be victimized by the drug, its dealers, or its consumers.

Right up front, Dick emphasizes the importance of identity. Very early in the book, one of Bob/Fred’s roommates explains how to survive in such a climate:

To survive in a fascist police state, he thought, you gotta always be able to come up with a name, your name. At all times. That’s the first sign they look for that you’re wired, not being able to figure out who the hell you are.

Page 9
Once you lose your identity, you lose any advantage you have in dealing with police.

Fascist and dictatorial states in both literature and the real world focus on names. The pharse “Papers, please” in a fake German accent had become cultural shorthand to describe governments that more and more tightly restrict individual rights. Governments set up check points, monitor the movements of their citizens, and require people to identify themselves at any point, as a way of controlling the populace.

This is one of the reasons the Bush Administration’s Real ID program is running into difficulty. The idea of the national ID card is anathema to people around the country. It just feels wrong to millions of American. It seems to run counter to the ideals of freedom and liberty our country was based on.

It was also interesting to see this same issue pop up in the recent Harry Potter book. As the corrupted Ministry of Magic outsources Muggle round-ups to wandering wizards and other creatures, the most important thing a caught wizard can do is come up with a name – quickly.
In a sense it highlights the tension between societal control and individualism. The controlling society demands a name, and citizens must provide it. Ironically, those with the strongest individualistic tendencies are the one who do not want to give a name. They instead value those individual rights so strongly they will not surrender their identity with out a fight. Or if they can’t fight, they’ll come up with a fake name.

One character in the novel tries to break free of the conventional bonds in the society and make himself great. He took various drugs in an effort to make himself smarter. Instead, he reported seeing God.

Donna inhaled from the hash pipe and contemplated the lights spread out below them; she smelled the air and listened. “After he saw God, he felt really good, for around a year. And then he felt really bad. Worse than he ever had before in his life. Because one day it came over him, he began to realize, he was never going to see God again. He was going to live out his whole remaining life, decades, maybe fifty years, and see nothing but what he had always seen. What we see. He was worse off than if he hadn’t seen God. He told me one day he got really mad; he just freaked out and started cursing and smashing things in his apartment. He even smashed his stereo. He realized he was going to have to live on and on like he was, seeing nothing. Without any purpose. Just a lump of flesh grinding along, eating, drinking, sleeping, working, crapping.”

“Like the rest of us.” It was the first thing Bob Arctor had managed to say; each word came with retching difficulty.

Donna said, “That’s what I told him. I pointed that out. We were all in that same boat and it didn’t freak the rest of us.

And he said, ‘You don’t know what I saw. You don’t know what I know.’”

Page 231-232

Despite the ever present drug use in the book, Dick is not defending it. We see the drugs destroying people’s lives and identities. While the characters are sympathetic and we care about them, at no point does Dick excuse their drug use. In an epilogue, he lists 15 friends he lost to drugs in the 60s and 70s. He describes their fates, from deaths to psychotic breaks.

Drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car. You would call that not a disease but an error in judgment. When a bunch of people begin to do it, it is a social error, a life-style. In this particular life-style the motto is, “Be happy now because tomorrow you are dying,” but the dying begins almost at once, and the happiness is a memory. It is, then, only a speeding up, an intensifying, of the ordinary human existence. It is not different form your life-style, it is only faster. It all takes place in days or weeks or months instead of years. “Take the cash and let the credit go,” as Villion said in 1460. But that is a mistake if the cash is a penny and the credit is a whole life time.

Page 277

And while we spend time laughing at the antics of many of the characters, one of the more poignant moments comes as Bob Arctor watches and drug-addled prostitute sleep.

“I don’t care if he stunk,” the girl beside him muttered later on, dreamily, in her sleep. “I still loved him.”

He wondered who she meant. A boyfriend? Her father? A tomcat? A childhood precious stuffed toy? Maybe all of them, he thought. But the words were “I loved,” not “I still love.” Evidently he, whatever or whoever he had been, was gone now.

Maybe, Arctor reflected, they (whoever they were) had made her throw him out, because he stank so bad. Probably so. He wondered how old she had been then, the remembering worn-out junkie girl who dozed beside him.

Page 160

It’s a sad glimpse into the life she had before she gave herself over to Substance D, and became a seemingly empty shell, prostituting herself for more Substance D.
As Fred investigates Bob, he still looks down on what he, himself is becoming.

He recalled a case in which a heroin dealer, out to burn a chick, had planted two packets of heroin in the handle of her iron, then phoned in an anonymous tip on her to WE TIP. Before the tip could be acted on, the chick found the heroin, but instead of flushing it, she had sold it. The police came, found nothing, then made a voiceprint on the phone tip, and arrested the pusher for giving false information to the authorities. While out on bail, the pusher visited the chick late one night and beat her almost to death. When caught and asked why he’d put out one of her eyes and broken both her arms and several ribs, he explained that the chick had come across two packets of high-grade heroin belonging to him, sold them for a good profit, and not cut him in. Such, Arctor reflected, went the pusher mentality.

Page 73-74

Throughout all this darkness, Dick keeps a sense of humor. He walks a fine line between laughing at the thoughts and foibles of the addicts and mocking them. Yet he doesn’t cross over that line. He doesn’t absolve them of the responsibility for their choices, yet he continues to emphasize the little humanity they have left. Like the strung out prostitute of still wistfully defends the object of her love while she sleeps, or Bob Arctor’s roommate who has had enough and tries to kill him self. He tries to purchase the right drugs from a dealer, which, combined with alcohol will give him a quiet, peaceful death. Unfortunately, after he consumes the
cocktail, things don’t work out quite the way he planned.

“Your sins will now be read to you ceaselessly, in shifts, throughout eternity. The list will never end.”

Know your dealer, Charles Freck thought, and wished he could take back the last half-hour of his life.

A thousand years later he was still lying there on his bed…They had gotten up to the first grade, when he was six years old.

Ten thousand years later, they had reached the sixth grade. The year he had discovered masturbation.

Page 188.

“A Scanner Darkly” is an anti-drug novel that’s not preachy.

“A Scanner Darkly” is a fascinating dive into the seas of identity.

“A Scanner Darkly” is a warning light about the dangers of a police state.

But above all, “A Scanner Darkly” is a great book that exercises the brain with a complex plot, sudden twists and turns in the story, and engaging and funny characters. It’s well worth the time.


Sleep 04: What is it?

I've been posting more about sleep these past few months. I suppose that means I should be getting more.

Regardless, WNYC's NPR program, Radio Lab, recently did a show that focused on Sleep.

Radio Lab is a fascinating series. They take a big topic like Morality, Mortality, or Sleep, and spend an hour exploring what it means from a scientific and metaphysical perspective. It's framed with two hosts chatting with one another about what they just learned about the topic. They ask questions and joke, but they do it all in a respectful and profession manner. It comes across as two guys, who love learning about things, having a conversation over a beer.

In Sleep, I found the animals stories fascinating. I learned that dolphins, for example, can put half their brain to sleep, while they other stays awake. This way they don't drown. Ducks can do the same thing. They tell the story of 4 ducks on a log. The two ducks in the middle go completely to sleep, with both eyes closed. The two on the ends, however, keep their outside eye open to watch for predators. When the do this, the half of their brain connected to the closed eye sleeps. After awhile, they get up, turn around, and let the other half sleep.

Somewhere in the evolutionary chain, land based mammals lost the ability to sleep just one hemisphere at a time. I don't know if that's a good thing.

You can download the audio from the entire show here. You can also just stream it. And, if you'd rather, you can download just individual segments.

If you like Radio Lab, you can also subscribe to the free, weekly netcast through iTunes.

It's fascinating stuff.


Feline Memory

Apparently, you can get grants to mess with cats' heads. Just think -- I've been doing it for free for decades.

A new study has measured just low long cats can remember certain kinds of information—10 minutes.

The research was designed primarily to compare cats' working memory of their recent movements with their visual memories, and found that cats remember better with their bodies than their eyes when they have encountered an object placed in their path by say, an annoying owner or experimenter.

... More


Sleep 03: Rip Van Winkle Syndorme

I originally found this link on Fark.com.

Apparently a rare disorder (that may be related to a bacterial or viral infection) can make teen agers sleep for weeks at a time. Medical professionals have reported some people sleeping up to a year.

The disease sounds as if it came straight out of Grimms’ fairy tales. Teens fall into a slumber, dozing weeks or even months at a stretch. Marathon sleeping spells come and go, cropping up intermittently for roughly a decade. Then, symptoms vanish as mysteriously as they first appeared.

Called Kleine-Levin syndrome, the condition is so rare that only a few cases have been reported in the world medical literature. Though the disorder is little known or understood, a flurry of recent research could change that. A few centuries ago, KLS might have been attributed to a witch’s curse. Now the hunt for its cause focuses on genes and infectious agents.


Sleep is a fascinating topic. For as much time as it consumes from everybody's life, we still know shockingly little about it.


Freeway Signs

There is a quiet revolution going on all over the country. Gradually, old freeway direction, information, exit, and other signs are being replaced with signs featuring a new typeface.

Clearview is a replacement for Highway Gothic. Tests have shown it improves readability of signs at night by as much as 40%.

What I saw, Pietrucha knew, was what we all may see soon enough as we rush along America’s 46,871 miles of Interstate highways. What I saw was Clearview, the typeface that is poised to replace Highway Gothic, the standard that has been used on signs across the country for more than a half-century. Looking at a sign in Clearview after reading one in Highway Gothic is like putting on a new pair of reading glasses: there’s a sudden lightness, a noticeable crispness to the letters.

It's a fascinating and geeky story. You can learn more about 10-year development process in this NY Times article.


Life in the Garden 05: Tomatoes

Four months ago I talked about my new aerogarden.

2007-04-14 AeroGarden

Since then, my patience has born fruit.

2007-07-21 Tomatoes (1)

2007-07-31 Tomatoes (2)

2007-07-31 Tomatoes

2007-07-31 Tomatoes (4)

2007-08-11 Bowl of Tomatoes (1)

I've been munching on tomatoes over the past couple of weeks. As the get riper they get softer.

They taste -- like tomatoes. They have strong flavor with an acid bite. When I pierce the tomato skin with me teeth, the juices explode in my mouth. There is more stuff in the tomatoes than can be contained by their surface.

It may seem obvious that tomatoes taste like tomatoes, but they rarely do. Modern grocery store tomatoes are bred for pretty skin, shelf life, and durability on a truck. Flavor is not a part of that formula.

But mine taste like tomatoes.

But mine can't be saved for a special occasion. They are meant to be consumed when they're ready without regard for my schedule. So yesterday, I had a lovely salad.

I cut the tomatoes in half and added them to a bowl with tuna fish and basil.

2007-08-14 Salad (2)

2007-08-14 Salad (1)

It's the perfect warm weather salad.

If you are looking for a different appetizer, take a large basil leaf, add a spoonful of tuna fish, a tomato split in half, fold, and enjoy.

2007-08-14 Packet (1)

Basil and tomatoes are a natural pair -- they go perfectly together. I grew the basil myself, too.

Next year, I'll try growing my own tuna.

Holy Cow! I Think He's Gonna Make it...

On Monday, NYC lost a cultural icon. Phil Rizzuto passed away at the age of 89.

Rizzuto's long career in the public eye began when he played for the Yankees. He more famous broadcasting the games as the voice of the Yankees after he retired from playing.

Growing up in New York in the 70s and 80s I got to know Rizutto as not only the voice of the Yankees, but also the voice of the Money Store.

As a kid, I never really knew what the Money Store was. Going someplace to buy money didn't make a lot of sense. There just seemed to be something shady about it. But that's where we heard Rizzuto, touting release from financial difficulties during commercial breaks in He-Man and Tom and Jerry.

In sophomore year religion class, I got to know Phil Rizzuto as the platinum selling recording artist speaking back up on Meatloaf's legendary Bat Out of Hell album.

Br. Ron Marcellan used popular music form the 60s and 70s to teach us important life lessons. He taught classes based on the Beatles (Elanor Rigby), The Byrds (To Every Season), Bob Dylan (Hurricane) and others.

For a class about the consequences of teen age sex, he brought out Bruce Springsteen (The River) and Meatloaf (Paradise by the Dashboard Light). That class was my introduction to Meatloaf. I went on to pick up his other albums and become a fan of his big, operatic music for life.

Paradise by the Dashboard Light is a song about two teen agers getting hot and heavy in the back of the car. As their passion ratchets up, Meatloaf stops singing, a pounding rythmic bass comes on, and Phil Rizzuto takes over with the play-by-play:

Ok, here we go, we got a real pressure cooker going here,
two down, nobody on, no score, bottom of the ninth,
there's the wind-up and there it is, a line shot up the middle,

look at him go. This boy can really fly!
He's rounding first and really turning it on now,
he's not letting up at all, he's gonna try for second;

the ball is bobbled out in center, and here comes the throw, and what a throw!

He's gonna slide in head first, here he comes, he's out!

No, wait, safe--safe at second base, this kid really makes things happen out there.

Batter steps up to the plate, here's the pitch--
he's going, and what a jump he's got, he's trying
for third, here's the throw, it's in the dirt--
safe at third! Holy cow, stolen base!

He's taking a pretty big lead out there,
almost daring him to try and pick him off.
The pitcher glance over, winds up, and it's bunted, bunted
down the third base line, the suicide squeeze in on!

Here he comes, squeeze play, it's gonna be close,
here's the throw, there's the play at the plate,
Holy Cow! I think he's gonna make it!

The song cuts back to the lyrics of the boy and girl negotiating over eternal love and it doesn't end well for either of them.

Bat Out of Hell is one of the great albums I use to kick off every road trip. The big music of the seven songs runs they full spectrum of emotions. In college I wore out two tapes of the album and today it one of my top played in iTunes.

So good luck to Phil Rizzuto -- athlete, announcer, hall of famer, pitchman, and rock star. I think he made it.


Caffeine Overdose

Overdose drama of girl who had 14 cups of espresso

A teenage waitress overdosed on caffeine after drinking 14 shots of espresso.

Jasmine Willis, 17, could hardly breathe and was taken to hospital with a high temperature and heart palpitations.

She had drunk almost three times the recommended daily amount of caffeine in just four hours.




Movie Reviews 03: Transformers

The nice thing about going to the movies at 10:30 on a Sunday night is that you almost the entire theater to yourself.

The Transformers is a good movie to see on the big screen. Often cartoon adaptations, or game adaptations, or 80s retro stuff, or comic book adaptations just fall flat. The try too hard to hit all the gimmicks or they completely shred the original material. Regardless, they rarely capture the soul of the original story.

Transformers doesn't fall into that trap, though it does trip over it from time to time.

I went into it with low expectaions. I expected to see a big movie, perhaps a bit silly, with awesome special effects.

I wasn't really into the Transformers that much when I was a kid so I didn't have a lot nostalgic emotions invested in the film. I think I was a year or two too old to become obsessed with them. I was more of a Star Wars toys kid.

Transformers did exceed my expectations though. There were some touching moments and some funny lines. Some might criticize the plot for not making complete sense and being a bit weird, but come on -- you're going to a movie about giant alien robots who actually choose to become GM vehicles.

The script is mostly solid. There are a few sub plots that could go (we really don't need the analyst running off to a secret hacker). And first hour of the movie could really use some trimming. Some scenes just go on way too long.

The scene where the Autobots all roll up for the first time is powerful. But it's doesn't happen until an hour into the movie.

A few times, they try too hard to hammer things into the audiences head.

The pharse "more than meets the eye" (the original toy tag line) appears several times in the film, and most of the time it's dropped in an awkward fashion. Sort of like when someone tells a joke and winks and nudges you just before he says the punchline.

Optimus Prime also give the same speech about his willingness to die twice. It comes across as "See how good I am? I'll give up my life for a greater cause." Sure, that's honorable. And it's an important story line. They way it was written though, makes for some eye rolling.

At times the fights were a little tough to follow. Not really knowing the robots, it was sometimes hard to tell which was which in battle. Plus, their robot bodies seemed to run together. But that's also an aspect of the confusion of the battlefield so I'm okay with it.

Still, despite these weakness, the script holds together. Several of the giant robots really do have personality. I would have liked them to give the robots for character development time, so I cared more when they got hurt, but, again -- it's a movie about giant alien robots fighting each other.

The web site for the movie has some nice material availble for down load.

And if you want even more Transformers stuff, check out the Hasbro site. The amount of content there is mind boggling.

Transformers is great summer fun. I doesn't sully the memory of the original comic books and toys. The story and script are surprisingly well writting. So see it on the big screen.

It's worth it.


2004 Subaru In Cabin Airfilter Installation

One available option when buying a new Forester (at least in 2003) is to get one with an in cabin airfilter. The filter minimizes the dust, pollen, and other road contaminates that you breathe in while driving. It keeps the air you breathe a little cleaner.

If you don't get one with a new car though, you can add it your self. The filters can be found on line for $20-$40. To install it, you just take off the glove compartment and put the filer inside.

Here is the what the filer looks like.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (21)

To take off the glove compartment, you need a Phillips screwdriver. The instructions tell you to find and remove 9 screws.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (38)

Three are on in the upper left of the open glove compartment.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (7)

Note that too of the are on the outside frame of the glve compartment, and one is inside on the upper left of the back wall.

Three are in the upper right in similar positions.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (8)

One is in the center behind the latch.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (9)

The final two are harder to see. The are on the bottom of the glove comartment. You may find it easier to look for them by looking for the screw drive tracks.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (2)

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (3)

(The rusty metal piece is my screwdriver.)

With all nine screws removed, the glove compartment should just wiggle out.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (10)

Be careful not to break any of the clips or bits of plastic. They will help you align it when you put it back in later.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (13)

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (14)

Now the instructions tell you to remove the plastic cover from the housing.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (35)

They don't really tell you how, though.

First of all, you are done removing screws. There are two small ones that look like they hold the cover in place, but actually the don't.

Look for the two plastic tabs on the air filter cover. They are parallel to the ground.

One is on the left.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (28)

One is on the right.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (29)

Apply gentle upward pressure to those tabs to release the filer cover. It should come right off.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (17)

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (18)

Now just slip the new filter in. Make sure the up arrow points up. There is no clipping or fastening involved. Just slide it into the hole.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (36)

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (23)

Put the plastic cover back on. Work the righ side into place first, because that can the more challenging side.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (37)

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (25)

Then reinstall the glove comparment and put all nine screws back in.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (38)

And, of course, note it on the door frame.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (39)

And observe Subaru's final cautions.

2007-08-05 Cabin Air Filer Installation (40)

And then you are done. Just turn on the AC and wallow in the wonderful odor of Nothing.

If you do the installation, be careful. There are lots of sharp and pointy things inside the dashboard and you could cut or injure your self.

Also, keep in mind that you are working near and explosive charge. Subaru doesn't mention this in the manual, but you are working just inches from the air bag.

So don't go around just poking things with your screwdriver. Which, come to think of it, is probably a good general life lesson, too.


Making Tech Cute

I didn't know Teddy Bears required much innovation. I thought Gund had pretty much mastered that technology a few decades ago.

Of course our culture did stare into the Frankenstein abyss of Teddy Ruxbin in the 80s, but then we slowly stepped away.

The point of the Teddy Bear is for it to be simple. A complex collection of technology can't come to life the way a nice collection of polyester and cotton can. The Velveteen Rabbit taught us that.

Actually, there is one item in their top ten that might be pretty cool. Speaking as someone who has pinched his earlobes nodding off with headphones on, this could be a decent solution. Of course it is designed for children.

But please don't do this to your computer. You'll embarass it. And you might over heat it if you block the vents or surface of the case.

So just don't do this. Unless, of course, it's to hide your Apple shame.


Corpse Bride -- Eh.

I just watched Tim Burton's Corpse Bride on while I flew back from Atlanta. I hate to say it, but I was disappointed.

The film itself was beautiful. The characters moved gracefully. But even though the graphics may have been better, the movie was no where near as good as The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The film suffered from pacing issues. Most scenes probably could have been about 10% shorter. The initial scene with the dancing skeletons seemed particularly pointless.

The songs were okay, but not terribly interesting. None of them were going to get stuck in my head, and I don't expect to pick up the soundtrack. The songs in The Nightmare Before Christmas are much more engaging.

But the biggest issue maybe a fundamental story issue. There really isn't much of one. The film is about a guy who accidentally marries a corpse while panicking about his own wedding. And then assorted wackiness happens.

There's no depth to it, though. Aside from some cool tricks with the animation and joke about decomposition, it doesn't really go anywhere. The main characters don't really confront their inner demons. There are no great life lessons. They characters don't grow. They don't develop. They don't really question their own existence. They just go along for the ride.

The Nightmare Before Christmas, on the other hand, featured a main character fundamentally questioning his role in society. He let's his hubris take him to some incredible places, and then had to confront and make amends for his mistakes. At the same time, he comes to understand who he is and to appreciate those around him more than ever.

I really wanted to like The Corpse Bride and I was disappointed. Perhaps my expectations were too high going in to it. But it turned out to be little more than a bunch of dead body jokes.

Jon Clarke reviewed the movie when he saw it in the theater in 2005. He came to a different conclusion.


The Vegas Vibe

Nothing sets the mood in a Vegas hotel room quite like a giant soaking tub with a pomotional pciture from the movie "Backdraft" hanging over it.

2007-07-29 Room at Hard Rock in Vegas (8)

2007-07-29 Room at Hard Rock in Vegas (9)


The Singing Bee

Karaoke can be a lot of fun. A group of friends get together, go out to a bar for the evening, and take turns in the spot light singing their favorite songs To a group of people who, for the most part, are supportive and don't want to seen anyone fall on their face. Most performers know they are Grammy material, but are there to have fun. The camaraderie of the experience makes the whole thing a party.

The Singing Bee, NBC's new singing competition, is not that. Hosted by Joey Fatone (of *N'SYNC fame), it is the only singing competition that has nothing to do singing.

Contestants come up on stage and sing along with the music. They are judged simply on whether they get the lyrics right to well known songs. Sounding good is not part of the process. In fact much of the tune carrying skill is only good enough for the American Idol gag reel.

Rather than using actual recordings of the hits, the show has its own house band and performers who sing the songs (marginally well) up to the point where the contestants have to know the next lyric. The house singers/band don't even sound much like the original recording.

Of course, like any new game show, they have their dancers -- The Honybees. You can follow the Honeybees' Blog here.

Much like the Million Dollar Dancers from Shatner's cancelled Show Me the Money, they almost have their choreography right. The difference is that while Show Me the Money may not have been a good show, The Singing Bee is actually a really bad show.

But if you want to be on The Singing Bee, they are still holding auditions.

As for me, I'll stick with singing Jimmy Buffet songs at the bar.

Harry Potter and the American Holiday

I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I am satisfied with how it turned out.

But this is not a review -- that may come later. And there are no spoilers here.

The realease of the final book in the series was greeted with midnight launch parties, wizard celebrations, special events, and long lines. In many ways it was like the iPhone, PS3, or Phantom Menace introduction.

But this was different. It was for a book. And one often called a kids book at that. And yet somehow it has transcended the publicity to become a part of our cultural identity.

A few years ago, the local library began a program called "If all of Seattle read the same book" to promote book groups, public discussion, and reading in general. Now the program is called simply "Seattle Reads".

But now it seems all of America is reading the same book. One each flight I've taken in the past couple weeks, at least a dozen people were reading Harry Potter or had it in their bag. I saw one woman reading it in the gate area, get up to board the plane, hand her boarding pass to the gate agent, and walk down the jetway without ever taking her head out of the book.

Saturday night at Starbucks while I was reading it, I saw three other people all so reading it. Someone else was reading the first book of the series.

Harry Potter is something people are devoting hours to. Millions of people around the country and around the world are pouring tens of millions of hours into this book.

It has become a cultural touchstone on a par with other great american traditions like American Idol or the Superbowl.

But Harry Potter requires more of its readers than most American cultural events do. It wants people to have invested their time in the other six books. It demands they suspend their disbelief and not only accept, but also immerse themselves in a world of magic. It demands the shut out the din of mass media -- give up on the idea of the remote control -- and give themselves over to the text.

And millions of citizens of the country that gave the world the sound bite, the 3 minute pop song, and the short attention span theater of modern media, have gladly accepted JK Rowling's demands and read the book.

And istead of asking each other if any one saw the farting horse beer commercial, people around the country can turn to one another and share their hopes and fears over what will befall Harry, Hermione, Ron.

The new American cultural touchstone is a book. That people actually read.

I never thought I would see it happend here. And it makes me smile.