It's getting closer

The 787 is getting closer. Boeing continues to make progress on the aircraft, even though it is about a year late. But I am still looking forward to flying in one.

The 787 is revolutionary for its use of composite materials in the fuselage. No one has done this before on a commercial airplane so a lot of attention is being paid to the testing.

It seems to be working well:

787 fuselage passes crucial stress tests
Next up is fully assembled plane


EVERETT -- A fuselage section of The Boeing Co.'s new 787 jet has passed a series of stress tests that had to be done before the plane can begin flight testing, the company said Thursday.

The company put a composite fuselage barrel through tests that simulated the most extreme conditions the airplane is expected to experience over its lifetime.

Engineers also subjected the fuselage section to 150 percent of its so-called "limit load," then pushed it to the point of destruction.


Must all metaphors have meaning?

My GF had lucky bamboo throughout her apartment. For awhile it even thrived. But I saw this one last night.

I'm sure it's a metaphor for something. I just don't know what.

Did you know that when bamboo dies, it hollows itself out? Or is it by accepting the hollow existence that bamboo dies?


777-300ER buzzes the runway

Sure this stunt was unauthorized, potentially deadly, and got the pilot fired.

It's still pretty cool.

For more information, click here.


Book Review 22: A fun, absurd mystery

Her name was Mary. Mary Mary. And she was from Basingstock, which is nothing to be ashamed of.

"Mary?" said an officer who was carrying a large, potted plant in the manner of someone who thinks it is well outside his job description. "Superintendant Briggs will see you know. How often do you water these things?"

"That one?" replied Mary without emotion. "Never. It's plastic."

"I'm a policeman," he said unhappily. "Not a sodding gardener."

Page 2

I picked up "The Big Over Easy" by Jasper Fforde because I wanted a nice, easy read, that required very little brain power. I mean, it's a book about the murder of a giant egg. How complex could it be?

I was wonderfully, pleasantly disappointed.

Fforde's tale of murder, ambition, conspiracy, mythology, and politics is an amazing and humorous romp through the universe of children's nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

This is book is not a fairy tale, however.

The book is about the murder of alcoholic, and shady business man, Humpty Dumpty. Jack Spratt (who of course eats no fat) , with the Nursery Crimes Division of the Redding police deportment investigates with his trusty sidekick, Mary Mary. Their adventures take them to discussions with Mrs. Hubbard, Willie Winkie, Soloman Grundy, Georgio Porgia, and characters intimately tied to traditional nursery rhymes. It's not limited to the universe of the Brothers Grimm. Prometheus is here as well.

This fantastic world is part of our own universe. The characters interact with humans and are readily accepted. They seem to be just a small part of the populace, however. Jack Spratt's jurisdiction covers all crimes relating to this odd population.

It's not just a romp through the nursery, however. Jack and the NCD compete with his arch rival Friedland Chymes for attention and budget.

Not that NCD was consistently racked with failure -- far from it -- but the fact was that few of his cases attracted much publicity. And in the all-important climate of increased public confidence, budget accountability, and Amazing Crime circulation figures, Friedland's crowd-pleasing antics were strides ahead of Jack's misadventures -- and hugely profitable for the Redding police department, too. But all of this was scant comfort to Mr. Wolff who went to his casket unavenged and parboiled.

Page 15
In addition to this complex background and social commentary, The Big Over Easy has a great whodunit element to the book. The mystery is compelling and never fails to surprise. Each time I though I knew what was going to happen, Fforde changed direction.

The writing style is fun and enjoyable. I particularly enjoyed the way de described Jack's cat and Jack's mother's cats.

"Da-woo!" screamed Stevie [Jack's baby], waving a spoon as he scattered food around the room, much to the pleasure of the cat, with whom, it was generally agreed Stevie had an "understanding." Ripvan -- as in "Winkle," naturally -- was the laziest cat that had ever lived, ever. She would sleep in corridors, roads, paths, puddles, gutters -- anywhere she felt tired. She would rather sit in the cold and have to revived with a hair dryer than trouble herself to use the cat flap. If she hadn't the sense to lie on her back under Stevie's high chair with her mouth open, she would probably have starved.

Page 17

She opened the door within two second of his pressing the doorbell, letting out a stream of cats that ran around with such rapidity, and randomness of motion that they assumed a liquid state of fury purringness. The exact quantity could have been as low as three or as high as one hundred eight; no one could ever tell as they were all so dangerously hyperactive.

Page 30

Some of the humor in the book doesn't come across on a quick scan of the page. Sometimes it helps to read things out load to actually get the joke. Since nursery rhymes were never meant to be read silently, this makes sense.

The other officer was a woman. She was very tall and willowy and had long straight hair made into a single plait. She looked as though she had been heated up at birth and then drawn out like a soft candle. She was over six foot two, and when she ran, it looked as if she were in slow motion, like a giraffe. In the park where she jogged every morning, there were at least two dozen men and two women there for no other reason than to watch her.

"Mary, this is Constable the Baroness Gretel Leibnitz von Kandlestyk-Maker, all the way from Cologne. She doesn't know what she's doing here, and we don't know what she's doing here, but we're glad she is because she's a damn fine officer.

Page 140

To help set the context for what is about to happen, Fforde starts of each chapter with snippets of text from various publications in this universe.

The Reading genetic industry suffered a severe blow last night when the Quatt Foundation for Genetic Research was closed following its owners admission that she conducted morally dubious experiments. "So I kept a monkey brain alive in a jar," said the disgraced Dr. Quatt, "so what? It's only a bit of fun." Once the nation's foremost expert in reptillian genome mapping and skilled at grafting frogs' legs on to whippets, Dr. Quatt has been permanently banned from funded research. The disgraced pariah of the medical establishment has been shunned by every decent hospital in the nation, except St. Cerebellum's, which asked if she could start Monday.

Page 107

There were laughs all around the Redding Central Criminal Court this morning where a comical jury-bribing mix-up brought a moment of levity to otherwise somber proceedings. Sources close the judge tell us that through an administrative error, sharpened-chisel-wielding mobster Giorgio Porgia had been paying off the wrong jury in his celebrated trial for demanding home improvements with menaces. "What a mix-up!"grinned Mr. Justice Trousers after adjournment. "It's hilarious moments like this that make the courts such a fun place to work!" The "bought" jury in a nearby court, who were trying a dangerous dog, found the pooch in question not guilty, and decided, in an unprecedented move, that the postman had bitten the dog. The postman was muzzled for a month and ordered to pay £10,000 in damages.

Page 254

He uses this tool well. He gets to tell us more about the town and its prominent residents, and yet he doesn't have to tell it through the main characters eyes. It's a way of giving more information without actually interrupting the flow of the story, or making Jack and Mary give long expositions.

Fforde doesn’t limit the characters to just the story however. He tackles larger cultural and philosophical issues by letting his characters go off on their own rants. These are often not essential to the plot, but they also don't get in the way of it. They do flesh out the characters and let Fforde comment on the world without making his main character do it.

"Hah!" Lola spat contemptuously. "Being waited on by an army of cosmetic surgeons? No thanks. What you see is what I am. I've not had my boobs done or my arse lifted, no nips, no tucks. No ribs removed, nothing. Those little strumpets we see on the silver screen today are mostly bathroom sealant. They buy their breasts over the counter. 'What would you like, honey, small, medium, or large?' They give us stick insects and tell us it's beauty. If someone of their size went for an audition in my day, she'd have been shown a square meal and told to come back when she was a stone heavier. What's wrong with curves? Anyone over a ten these days is regarded not as an average-sized woman but a marketing opportunity. Cream for this, pills for that, superfluous hair, collagen injection, quick-weight-loss diets. Where's it going to end? We're pressured to spend so much money and effort to be the 'perfect' shape, when that shape is physically attainable by only one woman in a million. It's the cold face of capitalism, boy and girls, preying on misguided expectations. Besides, I've always found perfection an overrated commodity."

Page 239

Prometheus [the Titan from Greek mythology] looked over at her. "Of course not. But you have to look at the big picture. I've seen the alternative. Eternal slavery under the gods. Believe me, this is a bed of roses in comparison. Think of this: if it weren't for greed, intolerance, hate, passion, and murder, you would have no works of art, no great buildings, no medical science, no Mozart, no van Gough, no Muppets, and no Louis Armstrong. The civilization that devises the infrastructure to allow these wonderful things to be created is essentially a product of war -- death and suffering -- and commerce -- deceit and inequality. Even your liberty to discuss the shortcomings of your own species has its foundation in blood and hardship."

Page 259

Some of the references are almost throw aways. They are easy to miss. He take classic tales or songs and expands the picture.

An ancient gray mare stood in a muddy pasture and tossed her head as the allegro approached, but since she was badly myopic, it might have been a lime green elephant for all she knew. She blew out twin blasts of hot breath in the cold morning air and thought about the good old days when she chased across fields with lots of other horses, leaping hedges and galloping after something that her rider wanted her to catch but rarely did. She watched the green elephant drive slowly passed and then leaned sleepily against the gatepost.

Page 326

I'm certain I missed a lot of the subtle references in the book. I may need to brush up on my nursery rhymes and read the book again.

The Big Over Easy is a great mystery novel. The plot is complex and surprising. The characters are fun. The writing style keeps things moving along. The humor is a wonderful mix of dry lines, puns, slapstick situations and entertaining descriptions.

If you are a fan of the absurd or enjoy a good mystery, I highly recommend The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde.

You can find more of my book reviews here.


Carrie Underwood on SNL

I admit it. I like American Idol. It's a fun show. I don't catch every episode, but when I do see it, I get caught up. I like the idea behind it, and I like seeing the talent grow.

The one season I did watch beginning to end was the one where Carrie Underwood competed against Bo Bice in the finals. I was cheering for Bice.

When I watched Underwood's performance tonight on Saturday Night Live, I was hoping she'd grown as a singer and artist, but that hasn't quite happened.

Underwood has an incredible voice, and she has great control over that voice. The tone is beautiful and she hits her notes almost mechanically. It's as though she herself is an instrument.

And that's the problem.

When I see her perform, it's as though her performance is inhuman. It's technically great but completely lacking in passion. There is no soul behind her eyes.

On SNL, like on Idol, she doesn't connect with the music. It like she's not singing words -- she's singing the individual syllables that make those words, but they have no meaning to her. It's shallow. I could just as well be watching a performance by William Gibson's Idoru.

During the top 8 competitions at Idol, Underwood sang MacArthur Park, a heavily symbolic song. When asked about the song after singing on stage, she said she had no idea what it was about and didn't even try to understand the cake in the rain.

Performing a song well isn't just about reciting the lyrics on the right notes. It's about communicating a feeling or an idea. It requires energy and passion. The artist needs to understand what they're saying.

Otherwise it's a shallow activity that doesn't actually require a person.

Judging by Underwood's record sales, I am in the minority on this opinion. She has a beautiful voice and great technical skill.

I'm just waiting for her to actually put Carrie Underwood in the music. If she can bring soul and depth to her music, there will be no stopping her.


Pain is a bug

Last month's issue of Wired featured an article on two pioneers in Artificial Intelligence. They were both working to build thinking machines by first teaching the machines basic things about the world. And them both committed suicide in a similar manner just weeks apart.

The article itself was interesting, but what really caught my attention was this quote from Marvin Minsky:

In The Emotion Machine, Minsky suggests that chronic pain is a kind of "programming bug." He writes that "the cascades that we call Suffering' must have evolved from earlier schemes that helped us to limit our injuries — by providing the goal of escaping from pain. Evolution never had any sense of how a species might evolve next — so it did not anticipate how pain might disrupt our future high-level abilities. We came to evolve a design that protects our bodies but ruins our minds."

It makes sense that pain is a good thing for a creature who can't think through the potential for injury. Pain is an incentive not to do something. Humans still need pain, too, to stop us from being too stupid.

But at some point it is no longer a warning; rather it is a superfluous condition of life that prevents people form living their lives to the fullest. And it does this for no good reason. There seems to be no evolutionary benefit to chronic pain.

Modern science in many ways seems to turn evolution on its ear. Hundred or thousands of years ago, the weak or sick or injured might die out, resulting in a physically stronger gene pool. However we now have the ability to prevent them from dying out. We have become more interested in the survival of the all than in the survival of the fittest.

I don't really have a point here. I am just fascinated by the idea of chronic pain as a programming bug that needs to be fixed in version 2.0.


Air disaster narrowly averted

Tonight as my plane bounced across the gentle waves of turbulance over the Arizona dersert my head bobbed against the fusalage and I slept. Soundly.

The strains of Weird Al's latest opus filled my head as I drifted into dreamland.

And then I woke up when our Embraer 145 touched down on the tarmac in Phoenix. I quickly snapped to attention as I realized I was still listening to music. My head phones and MP3 player WERE TURNED ON BELOW 10,000 FEET.

How we ever survived such a flagrant safety violation is beyond me. I'm sure the FAA will be waiting for me when I get home.


Millennials and professional credentials

I found this article from the Dallas Morning News on Fark today.

Millennials need to get real about work world

Millennials. Can't live with 'em. Can't live without 'em.

That's what many employers tell me about the youngest generation in the workplace.

Advertising executive Owen Hannay, for one, has placed a moratorium on hiring people fresh out of college unless they've done a work-related internship or have an advanced degree.

Despite being one of those crotchety old Gen Xers, I'm not one to complain about "these kids today." It seems that every generation has predicted the complete and utter destruction of civilization will be the fault of the younger generation. This has been going on for thousands of years and isn't going to change anytime soon.

I'm sure there was an older generation talking about how useless the new generation will be because they were raised on affordable movable type, or because now that the New World had been discovered the next generation wouldn't have to do anything, and so on.

But this is my favorite part of the article:

He turned to Dallasite Cathie Looney, a nationally known speaker and generational expert, to help him understand this age group, the oldest of whom are 27 and just entering the workforce.

He's still not hiring them, but she's teaching him and his largely Gen X and late boomer staff how to work better with the younger folks.

"The biggest thing she does is help us understand where these kids are coming from," Mr. Hannay says. "Their orientation is so different from Gen Xers, who were the latchkey kids and are self-starters. These kids are fabulous at building teams, but they're challenged by responsibility and accountability."

All true, says Ms. Looney, a certified reality therapist and retired director of children and family ministry at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church. And many employers are backing away from hiring them because they're so high maintenance.


Ms. Looney holds degrees in elementary and secondary education from the University of Mississippi and a master's degree in counseling from the University of Arkansas. Her certification comes from the William Glasser Institute of Reality in California.

Ms. Looney sees the humor in both her name and her certification. "I chose reality therapy because I'm from Mississippi, and there is no reality in Mississippi. So I thought I might find out a little bit about it."

But she's serious about her mission and her message. "Reality therapy is about taking responsibility for your own actions. You can't change other generations. They are what they are. All you have control of is how you deal with them."

A certified reality therapist? Isn't that just an impatient landlord or those silly clerks at the grocery store who actually expect you to pay for food? I've heard of Wayfinders before, but this just sounds kind of silly.

This raises key questions.

  • What is reality therapy?
  • Is this an Episcopal thing?
  • Was there some great schism in the Reality/Fantasy therapy movements that brought this on?
  • Are there so many lousy reality therapists out there that they needed to create a certification process to professionalize the profession?
  • Does she not care that she just alienated the entire state of Mississippi?
  • If you were creating and Institute for Reality, or seeking one out as a customer, would you really want it in California?
  • Do I not care that I just alienated the entire state of California?
  • If you are going to be a therapist why wouldn't you change your name to something other than Looney?

Maybe this will all make sense after more coffee.


13 Photos That Changed The World

I found Palanthir through Entrecard.

On 2008-02-16, the author posted 13 historical pictures. You've probably seen them before, but it's nice to see them all in one place. I learned a bit from the description, too. It's worth checking out.



The first couple summer during my college years, I went home. I hauled all my dorm room stuff down to the local U-Haul self storage warehouse. It was an industry that I hadn't even heard of up to that point.

Now it seem self storage units are popping up across the country like kudzu as people realize they have too much stuff for their homes.

I have strong pack rat tendencies. I like to save stuff "just in case." Various things might be useful again after several years. After being overwhelmed with stuff that wasn't giving me any enjoyment, I thought about spending the money on a storage unit. I began looking at prices.

Of course, the stuff I'm talking about wasn't exactly gold bars. In some cases it was obsolete computer equipment, apartment hard ware, misceallaneous house hold goods, AV stuff, and assorted random things.

I finally settled on a different type of self storage:
Target. Or Best Buy. Or Costco. Or whomever. It doesn't really matter.

At some point it dawned on me that it would probably be cheaper to just throw stuff out and replace it with something new if it turned out that I did, in fact, need it later on.

This freedom to get rid of stuff has helped me reduce (certainly not eliminate) excess clutter in me life. It's cheaper and less stressful to replace stuff in many cases than to store it.

Buying a replacement for something I threw away is no longer a waste of money. It's simply a form of paying my "storage fee."


When the dreams get weird

I had one of those odd dreams last night.

I was back at a small run down amusement park / zoo that I hadn't been to in years. It was on the side of a hill with plenty of trees providing shade. It was still in passable condition, but not quite the condition I remember from my youth. The seals were still in their smallish pool, but seemed happy. The garage was still closed up and there were people wandering around doing what people do at such places.

Even the house on the property where those people were killed was just like I remember it...

Except none of that ever happened.

There's nothing trippier than remembering something in a dream that never actually happened. So apparently it's not enough for my brain to throw in random scenes while I'm asleep. Now it has to go and make up fake memories and entire back stories for those random scenes.

I should probably watch less Criminal Minds and CSI before bedtime.


Baseball season starting

2000-08-28 Safeco Sign

In October 2006, I was in St. Louis for a business trip. Unfortunately, this happened to be during the World Series.

Mrs. and Mr. LDK picked me up at my hotel and we headed to a wonderful Italian restaurant for dinner. Of course we got stuck in the mass of traffic that was heading for the stadium.

We spoke a little bit about the Cardinals and the games and the Yankees and baseball in general for several minutes. And then I thought it was kind of silly for us to struggle to talk about it like this. I said something to the effect of, "You know, we all have more than enough geek cred that we don't have to talk about sports."

As I recall everyone relaxed a bit and we settled into a series of exciting conversations about science, Star Trek, technology, astronomy, and doctoral dissertations.

(Is that how it went LDK, or have I just twisted things to meet my own personal mythology?)

Spring training is slowly getting started and opening day will sneak up on us before we realize it.

This year I plan to follow the Mariners more closely. I've always been a Yankee fan, but I rarely read the sports pages. After all, by favoring the Yankees, I've already made the right choice so why read further?

But this is business. As a marketing guy in the high tech world, I need to be able to converse with two groups of people -- the techies and the non-techies. When it comes to the work related stuff, that's no problem.

When it comes to the non-work small talk, it gets a little more complicated. I can talk to the geeks with no problem. From a pop culture stand point, they're my peeps. Heck, I own the domain for Shatner-Palooza.com. I can easily discuss the holy trio of geek topics: Star Trek, Star Wars, and LOTR, and have impassioned arguments on them. I'm no longer an expert in the Marvel/DC universes, but I spent enough time there in high school to understand the basic mythology and hold my own in a conversation.

The sports people, on the other hand, are more of a challenge for me. When they find out I live in Seattle, the first thing they ask about is the Mariners. And I have very little to say. Sometimes I can steer the conversation to the ballpark and talk about Safeco Field (an awesome ball park, by the way) but I can't intelligently discuss the line up or player performance.

I have no intention of becoming an expert or memorizing books of stats; that's not me. But I do need to get to the point where my face doesn't go blank when I'm asked about relief pitching.

It's not a question of pretending to be something I'm not. It about having something else to talk about in a conversation and having the tools needed to build those business relationships.

And even if this initiative fails, I will go to a few games this year. There's something relaxing about sitting in Safeco Field with my feet up on the empty seat in front of me and a beer in my hand, while the sun gradually dips below the waters Puget Sound. The beauty of the game is its own reward.


Shatner-Palooza: A Tribute from the UK

I found this link through Fark today.

In honor of the return of Boston Legal (I guess) Sophie Davis pays tribute to the great William Shatner.

Shatner: Actor, Provocateur, Charmer, Singer, Cabaret Act, and Bon Vivant.

The Fark thread is full of Shatner love, too.


Comparison shopping can be a waste of money

2007-02-13 Nikon Coolpix 7600

In January, 2006, I bought a small-ish digital camera. I wanted one that I could geekishly attach to my belt and carry everywhere. In case you haven't guess, I gave up on being "cool" decades ago.

I scoured the product review sites, read all the reviews on Amazon, shopped around for the best deal, and in the end bought a Nikon Coolpix 7600. I paid about $240 for the camera. I am happy with it.

But was the process worth it?

In the March 2008 issue of Money, Jean Chatzky talks about the perils of comparison shopping. When you consider how much time it takes to read all the reviews and find the best deal, does it make sense? How much is your time worth?

Unfortunately, Chatzky's article is not online, but she suggest figuring how much you time is worth, keeping a log of how much time you spend shopping, deciding whether you enjoy the process, and finally determining if there is something else you would rather do with your time.

I probably spent about 8-10 hours looking at cameras. After all, it was a significant purchase. But is all that time really worth it though? If I chose a slightly different camera would it really have made that much difference?

Maybe with my due diligence I saved $20 or $30. I can easily blow that eating out or shopping for CDs at a retail store. In fact, I don't even think about it.

So all those hours shopping for the perfect camera at the best price just get frittered away in other random spending over a weekend.

I guess the question then is did I enjoy the process? Maybe, but not so much to justify that much time.

So the lesson is to be careful about comparison shopping. I may be able to find a lower price and a better product, but it may not be the best deal.

Have you ever spent way too much time shopping for something, just to get "the best deal?"


Cops on camera

Three former Seattle police officers are developing a small video camera that can record interactions between police and the public. It's the size of a pager and can easily be worn on the uniform.
Keeping an eye on cops

As leaders in Seattle and elsewhere call for stronger police accountability, three former Seattle officers hope to cash in on that movement with an action cam for police.


The camera is lightweight, about the size of a pager, and waterproof -- the latter feature being something that officers on Seattle's rainy beat know is paramount, said Chris Myers, who ended his 18-year police career in January to join VIEVU.

The PVR-LE easily clips onto an officer's lapel or belt. The 4-gigabyte hard drive records up to four hours of video.

If someone accuses an officer of wrongdoing, the camera should reveal the truth. Or, maybe it could help bolster a case if it records a drunken driver slurring through obscenities, its developers say.


As patrol car cameras became more common in 2004, the International Association of Chiefs of Police sponsored a study that found 93 percent of police-misconduct cases in which video is available result in the officer's exoneration.

Cameras also serve as a deterrent. Fifty-one percent of residents acknowledged that they would be more watchful of their own behavior if an officer warned them in advance that they were being recorded.

"People act differently on camera. If a police officer comes up to you and says, 'This is being recorded,' you're likely to be much more congenial," Ward said.


This is a great great tool. It should help the public feel more comfortable that their police are acting professionally, make it easier to get rid of the few bad police officers that are out there, and make it easier to resolve questions of excessive force.

The interesting thing about the device is that there is nothing inherently police-y about it. It's a simple 4GB video camera that apparently can run for quite a while. I see no reason why civilians couldn't wear these as well.

And that's where things get really fascinating. Besides the Borg implications (it's not actually part of our biology -- yet) the documentary possibilities are endless.

Right now the decision to put security cameras up around NYC is controversial. Imagine what happens when a significant number of people start sporting their own security cameras as they walk around the town.

All it takes is a simple wireless connection to a cell phone and all of someone's activities can stream live on to the internet.

With this new product, we are not far from that point.


Frayed Wires

In previous years, neighbors complained that I make too much noise. Since I am often up late watching TV, I decided to get some headphones. I can enjoy full clarity of dialog and my overly sensitive neighbors can sleep.

In June of 2005, I switched to a set of wireless headphones so I could still walk around the apartment. There is a wire that connects the base unit to my stereo headphone jack and a power cord that connects it to, well, power. The head phones themselves (Panasonic RP-WF930T) were fairly comfortable and had decent sound quality.

2008-02-12 Headphones

Last night while adjusting something else, I looked at the cord connecting the base unit to my stereo. It had a few issues.

2008-02-12 Frayed HeadPhone Cord (1)

2008-02-12 Frayed HeadPhone Cord (3)

2008-02-12 Frayed HeadPhone Cord (2)

2008-02-12 Frayed HeadPhone Cord

2008-02-12 Frayed HeadPhone Cord (7)

Even in places where it hasn't broken off yet, there are crack in the insulation.

2008-02-12 Frayed HeadPhone Cord (4)

Those of you with a background in electrical engineering are well aware the inside of a wire is not something you are supposed to see during typical household use.

What's weird about it is that the cable wasn't under any stress. There was plenty of slack in it, and it was hanging in the air -- not running across a floor or anything like that. I've seen insulation crumble like this before, but that typically involves wires that are decades old.

Of course the damaged wire is permanently attached to the base unit. The only way I can repair it is to get out that soldering iron. And to do that I first have to purchase a soldering iron.

So now when I move next month, I'll have to take the time to inspect all the cables in my apartment for unusual wear. That should probably also become one of my regular biennial tasks like adjusting my insurance limits or cleaning the bathroom.

So can anyone recommend a good set of wireless headphones that are not likely to burst into flame?


Laser Radiohead

My GF is a huge Radiohead fan, and once she heard there was a Laser Radiohead show in Seattle, we had to go.

The last time I went to a laser show was 1986. As part of a school event, we went to LASER Beatles at the Hayden Planetarium. Way back then we had only red laser light projected on the ceiling with the music. Things have changed since then. The Radiohead show included blue and green lasers and even a fog machine.

Paragraphs like that make me sound old. And show like this make me feel that way, too.

My GF (age 28) and I (age 37) got to the show fairly early. We bought our tickets and waited for the gates to open. Gradually more and more people showed up and bought their tickets for the 10:30 PM show. A few of them may have been college age, but probably 95% of them hadn't yet been born when I went to that Laser Beatles show. So we stood around joking with one another about how old the crowd made us feel, expecting Chris Hansen to show up at any moment.

When they let us in, my GF and I grabbed some seats in the back. Most of the teenagers brought their own pillows and laid on the floor in the middle of the Laser Dome. I thought next time I should bring a pillow because that looks like a good way to watch the show. But a quick look at the piles of teenagers sprawled about the floor quickly reminded me that it would be "creepy."

The sense of depth the laserists created on the dome was impressive, as was the variety of animation. At one point they appeared to create real looking cloud patters in the ceiling. I tried to figure out how they did that with the Lasers, but it turned out they had simply turned on the fog machines and aimed the lasers through the actual clouds.

The mix of animated stories, spirograph patterns, and missile command allusions made for a nice show, and not a bad way to spend an evening. Now if you'll excuse me, I think Lawrence Welk is on.

If you would like to know more about Laser Radiohead, visit the Seattle Laserdome at the Pacific Science Center. If you really like the Seattle Laserdome, you can become its best friend on MySpace.


Iconic Branding

A few simple changes to packaging can highlight the differences between two companies.

What if Microsoft designed the iPod box?


Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles takes the big screen Arnold Schwarzenegger series and translates it to a weekly TV series. I want this series to do well.

In addition to the broadcasts, FOX put together a great website with games, posters, video clips, interviews, and more. You can even watch full episodes on line for free. This trend has been increasing in recent years. Heroes also does well with their website. It's great to see the studios actually taking advantage of new media to more closely involve the fans.

So how is the show?

I watched the pilot last night. Anytime someone makes a TV show about a popular movie franchise they face challenges. They work with smaller budgets and have a lot more time to fill with content. Some shows can manage that.

I don't think this one can.

Granted, I've only seen the pilot, and I do hope the show gets better as the cast and crew get more comfortable with their roles. In this first episode, however, everyone seemed a bit too stiff. The writing was disjointed and the scenes didn't really flow together. It's almost as if each scene was written independently and then dropped into the shell of the show, kind of like the way you fill a containers ship.

If you haven't watched the pilot yet, the rest of this post may contain a spoiler. It's revealed about 20 minutes in, and in other commercials, and on the website, but if you want everything to be a surprise and haven't seen the pilot yet, stop reading now.
Summer Glau, best known for her amazing work on Serenity and Firefly takes on the Arnold Schwarzenegger role in the series. She plays a Terminator, a robot sent back in time to act as a body guard for John Connor.

But there is something shallow about the character, and I think that has more to do with the writing and direction than it does with Glau's performance.

Perhaps it's unfair to compare her two sci-fi characters, but I'm going to do it anyway.

River, her character from Firefly and Serenity, played an exceedingly intelligent and mentally traumatized empath with deadly fighting skills. She was highly sensitive to her environment and prone to breakdowns. When she called on her fighting skills, she was deadly.

Cameron, her Terminator character is basically a robot soldier sent here on a mission. Programmed to complete her mission, she executes well. But the character doesn't really project that cold, calculating side.

Even though Cameron is a robot killing machine, River is actually the scary one. River is the one that seems more dangerous. River is the one that seems to be more of an outside observer of humanity and less of an active participant.

Then again, in a fight, the crazy person is the one I would be most afraid of. The cold, calculating one could, I suppose, be more predictable.

Regardless, this analysis is based on just one episode. I'm not someone who automatically hates sequels or remakes. I hope The Sarah Connor Chronicles gets better in the coming episodes. If it doesn't, though, it won't be around long.

Local blogger on the radio

Last week, I talked about The Rollerblog. Written by Seattle area blogger RollerKaty, it covers all things 70s related.

Big things have been happening over there this week. RollerKaty launched a redesign, and on Wednesday was featured on local radio. Her interview on KUOW's Sound Focus is available here.

It's definitely worth a listen. Congratulations, RollerKaty.


It's good to be the king

Bernie is on the left. Crash is on the right. Who do you think runs the house?

2007-12-24 Crash and Bernie


A Savvy Negotiator

Play Cole just released a new sketch. This one stars Jon Clarke and John Knefel. Jon Clarke and Mike Drucker are the writers.

Aside from having to watch a lot of reruns, Play Cole is not affected by the ongoing writers' strike.

The Bribe

See this and more videos at PlayCole.com


New to Play Cole -- Buffy!

Jon mentioned this a couple weeks ago.

We have another Play Cole Audio Commentary available now. It would have been an audio commentary of an audio commentary, but apparently, those responsible for the film didn't want to come back and talk about it. Watch the movie while you listen to the commentary for the full Play Cole experience. Some language/content may be NSFW.

Jon Clarke, Mike Drucker, and Bill Monroe watch the film "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and try to understand how such a terrible movie spawned such an awesome TV series. Then they give up and talk about Robocop.

You can stream it or download it from the Play Cole site.

There you will also find the Play Cole commentaries from:

  • Jingle All the Way
  • The Last Boy Scout
  • Batman and Robin
  • Star Trek V: The Undiscovered Country
  • Clambake
This year, we also added RSS support for Play Cole Commentaries. You can subscribe here.

And if you have any other awful movies you would like Play Cole to comment on, please let us know.

Book Review 21: A whale of a tale

"You know, I sure wish I could figure out why these guys sing," Nate said, the hummingbird of his mind having tasted all the flowers in the garden to return to that one plastic daisy that would just not give up the nectar.

Page 7

"Fluke: Or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings" is a fun Christopher Moore novel. This time, instead of California, Las Vegas, and the South Pacific, Moore takes us to the Hawaiian islands for his English bending tale of whale songs.

Dr. Nate Quinn is a marine biologist who longs to understand why humpback whales sing. Amy Earnhardt is the young, able, and nubile assistant that Quinn can't get out of his head. Clay Demodocus, Quinn's research partner is less of a scientist and more of a documentarian. While Quinn does the science, Clay manages the operation. Rounding out the main cast is Kona, a white Rastafarian kid from New Jersey who at any given time has more THC than DNA in his body. Joining them is an assortment of neighboring researchers, tourists, interns, military men, sponsors and ex-wives.

The story gets off to a quick start when Quinn, out on the water with Amy, (and feeling terribly guilty for his impure thoughts) spots odd markings on a whale's fin that appear to say, "Bite Me." When they return to base, Quinn and Amy discover their research facility has been trashed, and the mysteries begin.

For a while the story slows to a crawl. The first hundred pages or so have a lot of background and tangents that are entertaining, but Moore spends too much time here. After a rocky start, though, the book and story pick up their pace and the plot starts moving forward again.

Once things start moving, the novel is filled with inventive twists and turns that in unexpected ways are reminiscent of "The Matrix" trilogy. The story moves through some complex mythology, always advancing the plot and finally concludes with a surprisingly satisfying ending.

This is an important point. I am often critical of the way authors wrap up books. It's kind of a pet peeve of mine. I like a story that actually wraps up most of my loose ends, and doesn't leave me asking, "What the hell just happened?"

Moore does a great job of avoiding those pitfalls. The book ends in a way that is logically, creatively, and emotionally satisfying.

One of the great things about a Moore novel is the way he plays with language, and "Fluke" is no different in that regard. He explores the subtle nuance of words and combines them with pedestrian imagery that brings great clarity to some otherwise cloudy concepts. For example:

"Ooo ahe-e, I aya oa a," she said in yawnspeak, a language -- not unlike Hawaiian -- known for its paucity of consonants. (You go ahead, I'm okay she was saying.)

Page 128

Pondering is a little like considering and a little like thinking, but looser. To ponder, one must let the facts roll around the rim of the mind's roulette wheel, coming to settle in whichever slot they feel pulled to. Margaret and Libby were scientists, used to jamming their facts into the appropriate slots as quickly as possible, and Kona, …well, a thought rolling around in his mind was rather like a tennis ball in a coffee can -- it was just a little too fuzzy to make any impact…

Page 200

Moore likes to de-romanticize things. This novel is strong in "Save the Whales" ethos, but he doesn't praise the animals as brilliant, misunderstood creatures to be exalted. They are animals. Fascinating animals for sure, but animals nonetheless. When we get a peek into a whale's thought stream, it rarely goes beyond food. And even when we aren't in the whale's head, we still see it as a simple beast.

Humpbacks, like their other rorqual brothers -- the streamlined blue, fin, sei, minke, and Byrd's whales -- were just too fast to catch in sailing ships and man-powered whaling boats. No, the whalers came to Lahaina to rest and recreate along their way to Japanese waters where they hunted the great sperm whale, who would literally float there like a big, dumb log while you rowed up to it and stuck a harpoon in its head.

Page 12

Male lead characters in Moore novels are often fairly similar. They have above average intelligence, but they are always in slightly over their heads in their everyday lives. Then, when the action of Moore's absurd stories kicks in, the characters are in way over their heads.

Generally, it seems what they could most use is a good nap.

The female characters are often stronger, more self assured, and a bit crazy. They usually intimidate the males.

When talking about his assistant, Quinn thinks:

She's so small, yet she contains so much evil, Quinn thought.

Page 110

He doesn’t think this out of spite. It's more a sense of, "What have I gotten myself into?"

The world of Fluke is absurd, but we accept it.

"…It's seven below Fahrenheit here. I'm out installing bloody sound buoys in a monthlong blizzard to keep right whales from getting run over by supertankers."

"Right, the sound buoys. How are those working out?"

"They're not."

"No? Why not?"

"Well, right whales are stupid as shit, aren't they? It's not like a supertanker is quiet. If sound was going to deter them, then they be bloody well deterred by the engine noise, wouldn't the? They don't make the connection. Stupid shits."

"Oh, sorry to hear that. Uh, why keep doing it then?"

"We have funding."

Page 158 - 159

This is one of my favorite passages. It combines the put upon male character, with an absurd situation, and a simple, beautiful use of the language.

Since his mother had passed away, Clay had taken the bearing of bad news very seriously -- so seriously in fact, that he usually let someone else do the bearing. He'd been in Antarctica on assignment for National Science, snowed in at the naval weather station for six months when his mother, still in Greece, had gone missing. She was seventy-five, and the villagers knew she couldn't have gone far, yet, search as they might, they did not find her for three days. Finally, her location was revealed by her ripening odor. They found her dead in an olive tree, where she had climbed to do some pruning. Clay's older brothers, Hektor and Sidor, would not hold the funeral without Clay, the baby, yet they knew their brother would be completely out of touch for months. "He is the rich American," came their ouzo-besotted lament. "He should take care of Moma. Perhaps he will even fly us to America for the funeral." And so the two brothers, having inherited their mother's weakness for alcohol and their father's bad judgment, packed the remains of Mother Demodocus in an olive barrel, filled the barrel with the preserving brine, and shipped it off to their rich younger brother's house in San Diego. The problem was, in their grief (or perhaps it was their stupor) they forgot to send a letter, leave a message, or, for that matter, put a packing label on the barrel, so months later, when Clay returned to find the barrel on his porch, he broke into it thinking he was about to enjoy a delicious snack of Kalamata olives from home. It was not the way to find out about his mother's death, and it engendered in Clay very strong views about loyalty and the bearing of bad news.

Page 122 - 123

The problem I have with this novel, is in first third of it. Moore takes too long to get into the plot, and, while I enjoyed learning about these people, I was waiting for something to actually happen to our apparently stalked scientists. There is no hint of what direction the book is going in the beginning. Once we get there and the plot really begins, the surprises are exciting, but it require a little too much perseverance to get there.

Also in the first few chapters, More refers to the characters by several different names. Sometimes he uses a first name in his narration, sometimes a last name, sometimes a nickname, etc. Since the characters are still being introduced at this point, it gets a bit confusing, and I found myself flipping back pages at a time to figure out who was who.

Since Moore is telling the story through the eyes of different characters, it makes sense that the way someone is referred to would change, but there must be a more elegant and simple way to do it. Perhaps later in the book it wouldn't matter as much. But early on, it gave me some trouble.

Those issues aside, "Fluke" is an entertaining ride. It has all the trademark weirdness you'd expect from Christopher Moore. The twists in the story are great, and it kept catching me off guard. The language is beautiful, and the characters likable.

If you are willing to push through the first 100 pages of character development and stage setting, you will be well rewarded.

My other Christopher Moore book reviews are here:

Practical Demon Keeping
Coyote Blue

Other book reviews are here.


Subaru on the slopes

My first car was a 1985 Subaru GL sedan with front wheel drive. I paid $2,500 for it in 1991 and it had 83,000 miles on it.

At the time I lived in MT and drove through snow and old logging road that most people wouldn't think about touching. I also drove that car across the country at least 3 times. It finally died with about 180,000 miles on it in 1999 because I let it sit for about 6 months.

The point is Subarus can handle some amazing things. It's why my current car is a Subaru Forester.

And while I know this video is staged, and they probably used multiple vehicles, it's still almost believable.