Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas Song Watch 2009 Comes to A Close

Yes, if you're thinking the same thing reading this post, it was a light year for Christmas Song Watch. The biggest part of it is that there's no longer a radio at work blaring out the Christmas songs, so I wasn't exposed to as many this year.

I did, however, threaten to stuff a sock into my five-year-old's mouth today at Wal-Mart (yes, all you folks who love to go to Wally World to watch parents abuse their children, 'twas me) because he kept singing a novelty Christmas song from either "Merry Madagascar" or the other similarly-themed movie featuring the penguins. Aside from the bone I have to pick about these stupid animals being all newyork on us all over the place, the song was just stupid. So stupid, in fact, it's probably on YouTube. Be bac in a sec.

Ugh. It's probably there somewhere, but I'm not going to look for it any more.

Yeah, I'm sure I sang a novelty song or two when I was a kid, but they seem to have proliferated these days. Get off my lawn.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Hermit of Iapetus, Part VI

Read previous bits of the story starting here.

Arthur C. Clarke's spaceman Robert Kleinman is cryptically to have said "Space is small; only the planets are big." In the years I have wandered Iapetus, I have not found ground to dispute him. As A boy, I reveled in reading about Saturn's moons. The giant Titan was the tempting home of liquid seas of methane and other petrochemicals, the human inhabitants of Clarke's Oasis City. The books I read described Iapetus as tiny. Odd, but tiny. Miniscule compared to Titan, to the Galilean moons of Jupiter, to our own moon, Luna -- when I discovered it had a name, it was the Moon to me no longer.

Iapetus is not tiny.

As a boy, I found that magical formula that allows one to determine the surface area of a sphere:

4 pi r2

It was simple, then, and elegant, to determine that Iapetus has a surface area of about 6,583,650 square kilometers depending upon which estimate of the moon's radius one uses in the formula. I always chose the more conservative estimate, a trait I inherited from my mother. That is immense, say, compared to the inside of your average spacer, which might stretch to meet 12,000 cubic meters. But Admunsen explored Antarctica, a continent that covers 13.2 square kilometers, twice that in winter when the sea ice expands.

To Admunsen and his compatriots, Antarctica seemed tractless. Often they traveled on their 99-day voyage in blizzard conditions, feeling their way forward gingerly, so as not to fall into a crevasse or become lost in the jumbles of ice and mountain. Some days, they covered nineteen, twenty miles. Others they sat in their tent with the wind howling through the guy wires. Once they sat for five days in a gale, waiting for it to abate. Finally, they took down their tent, carefully trying not to break its brittle, ice-coated canvas in pieces, and harnessed their dogs to voyage in the wind because they could no longer bear to be idle. "There's nothing so bad as lying weather-bound like this," Admunsen recalls a companion saying, while another added: "IT takes more out of you than going from morning to night." So as they wandered from crevasse to crevasse, bridge to bridge, glacier to glacier, occasionally catching a glimpse of the dome-shaped Mount Helmer Hanssen, "its top as round as the bottom of a bowl, and covered by an extraordinary ice-sheet, which was so broken up and disturbed that the blocks of ice bristles in every direction like the quills of a porcupine," he wrote. "It glittered an burned in the sunlight -- a glorious spectacle. There could only be one such mountain in the world, and as a landmark it was priceless. We knew that we could not mistake that, however the surroundings might appear on the return journey, when possibly the conditions of lighting might be altogether different."

But even Helmer Hanssen was lost in Antarcitca's immensity. A landmark it may be, but when landmarks disappear beneath the horizon, one knows one is walking in an immense land. In space, the landmarks are always there. Yes, the distance between them is in light years, but the guideposts are there to be seen nonetheless, without fretting over erecting spare ski poles in the landscape in order to guide one's return journey, without fretting over leaving a sledge erect against a pile of butchered dog carcasses awaiting human bellies on the return journey. And in space, one rides in a coccoon of aluminum, silicon, and other metals. One is propelled. One voyages when one sleeps, with computers monitoring the journey and the shirt-sleeve weather inside the immensity of cold space. In space, all one has to do is wait. Only on the planets -- and the moon -- does one have to walk.

Space is small; only the planets are big.

This I have tried to explain to Liam, in letters ferried to Mars by obliging couriers. I'm not sure he understands. I have recommended that he read the account of Admunsen, for I know it is available in the testosterone-dripping libraries on the Moon and Mars. I hope he reads it. I hope he takes home the lessons of the Butcher's Shop.

Legacy Issues

For Christmas, I got a new computer (a given since my old one died). This new computer, while I know it will never love me, is nice. But it is presenting some issues with some of our legacy hardware that I'd rather not be dealing with at the moment.

First of all, no parallel port. I know it's old technology, but you know what? We've got a 15-year-old HP LaserJet 4L that still works like a top. Since we were married twelve years ago, we've had to buy only one toner cartridge, while our dumb little inkjet printer eats up the ink cartridges like nobody's business. So it's frustrating that as I sit here with the HP printer over my shoulder, I can't print to it.

I thought we had a solution -- a cable given to us from a friend meant to connect this parallel-connected printer through a USB port. But it's a Centronics cable, and we've got that ancient 25-pin connection going for us. We also thought we had a solution -- convoluted as it was -- through a local computer parts dealer, but no go. It involved a USB adapter coupled with a RS-232 serial port coupled with the parallel port. Did not work. Now I'm trying to order a USB to parallel cable through Wal-Mart, but that's having issues as well.

Part of it is Windows 7, I think. Now, before anyone dumps on Windows, let me say I like it. It's slick. I really enjoyed XP, but I've now had experience with Vista and 7, and I've not had trouble with either one of them. WIndows 7 is new enough, however, that the hardware issues are still playing catch-up.

Why, first of all, sell a computer without a parallel port? Sure, it's extra money. But why make me shell out extra money for a USB-compatible printer just because you're too cheap to put in a PCI card? I don't understand that. And as we don't buy in to the throwaway mentality we have these days, I can't justify dumping this HP printer just because I can't physically connect it to a computer. We'll use the Wal-Mart cable on my wife's XP machine and make do with that. We won't be buying a new printer until we can get a laser printer that doesn't use these ridiculous ink cartridges. And I won't fall into the mentality of buying a new printer every time an ink cartridge runs out. No way is that going to happen, because soon we'd be hip-deep in discarded printers and the planet would suffer untold agony from the extra hardware waste. Won't do it.

I applaud that technology marches on. I just don't think it ought to leave serviceable technology behind.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

You Want How Much? Or, is Free TV Going to Die?

Wow. Just read this article sent to me by my good friend Alan, about how our free braodcast television services may be marching towards a pay model like cable television. Not that such things matter to me; we don't watch broadcast TV or have cable TV in the home, so it doesn't really matter how much they make people pay for it. But when they start charging for the crud we watch on the Internet, that's when we'll stand up and take notice.

It's all going to come to this: The traditional models for distributing and paying for content is fundamentally changing, thanks to the Internet. But, thanks to the Internet, the "everything is free" mentality is the one that reigns, even though we pay ISPs for access. Outfits such as the cable companies are lucky in that, from the beginning, they've trained us to expect to have to pay. One of the models proposed for fixing what ails traditional media is to make ISPs pay for content, thus making Internet surfers pay much more for access. We may see the time when the cost of our Internet service is not based on bandwidth, but on the types of content we want to gain from our Internet access. Is that any better than the trickle-torture proposed by making us pay for each and every site we want to visit? I don't know. It kinda works for cable -- they charge extra for premium channels.

It's a sticky situation. One I see working now on the net is a certain level of free access, followed by an expanded level of access for which people pay. That's the model being explored by the likes of YouTube and Hulu, and Murdoch's NewsCorp, and is already being used to some extent by a wide variety of entities from (where I go daily to read my funnies) to Both allow free access, but for other features -- and I'm not sure what they are because for now I'm content with the free stuff being offered -- folks have to pony up a small monthly or yearly charge for access.

But that route is fraught with peril as well. How do you determine how much to make people pay? Try to squeeze too much and you chase away the people you want coming to your site to build up your eyeball numbers. And maybe that's an old-fashioned way of thinking. I'd really love to see companies like Flickr and such, who are using this tiered approach, open up and talk about how much the services are really costing, and how much they're able to pay their expenses with the fees they're charging. So many other things on the Internet are open-source, it's too bad a good financial model seems to be behind that knowledge wall.

Another route -- do like the BBC, and don't charge for access. But levy a tax on every television set a family owns, and use that revenue to pay for broadcasting, programming and such. I don't see that one going over all that well on this side of the Atlantic. I know it would seriously cause us to chuck some of the many, many TVs we have in the house, and, if they did the same thing for computers, make us reconsider how they're used in the home as well. And since that kind of taxation stomples on Freedom, Mother, Apple Pie and the American way, I think the vast majority of folks here would take a "you can tax my TV set when you can pry it out of my cold, dead hands" kind of attitude. But we might be willing -- and in fact, are willing -- to pay already ridiculous fees for services such as cable TV or cell phones. I used to work for a Baby Bell, and I can tell you, one of the biggest money sinks out there that people just roll over and pay for the most part is the cell phone. I'm stoggered at remembering handling bills for $300, $500 a month, consistently, from families who just paid it. Five hundred a month is almost what I pay for my house, folks. No way you'll get that out of me for a stinking cell phone service.

My hands smell like turkey. I've been making enchiladas from Boxing Day leftovers. I should go wash my hands.

How much would people pay for that non sequitur? Probably not much, eh?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Opa

When I look at this photo -- taken of my Uncle Sjaak (on the left) and my father, Marinus, in 1937 in front of their Dutch Reformed Church elementary school, I have to think I really, really know where I got my fashion sense. They've both got that funky tie thing going, with my uncle's tie showing my trademark tie of the trailing end being longer than the leading end. Also, neither shirt really calls for a tie, but the fact that a tie is worn is a sign of knowing and striving towards a more upper-crust look.

Dad would have been 81 years old today, were he still alive. It's still hard to believe it's been nearly ten years since he died. We still say things like "Hello, Opa," or "Howya doin' Fritz," as we pass by the Lincoln Cemetery. We know he's not there, of course.

A few weeks ago, as i was tucking my seven-year-old girl in bed, she started crying. We'd been talking about going to see her Oma, and she was sad that she didn't get to meet Opa before he died. I told her I was sure that after he died but before she was born, he was with her in Heaven, giving her a few hints on how to deal with her parents. A few days ago, I taught her how to say my favorite Dutch word -- wortle, meaning carrot -- and she took to it immediately. I'm sure it's because of the Dutch lessons she got from her Opa before she came to us.

Like my daughter, I did not get to meet all of my grandparents. In fact, only my maternal grandmother was alive when I was born. My daughter's lucky in that she gets three out of four. So we try to spend as much time with them as we can, though I know I'm guilty of not spending enough time. So once and a while we get out the family albums and look at the pictures. I share stories about what it was like to live with Dad. And sometimes I'm shocked as to how little I remember. I'm going to start using this blog to write a few memories down before they fade completely.

So today's memory: They're often centered around work because in many ways that's how we interacted with Dad, through work. He was a bricklayer, and as young as I can remember -- probably eight or nine years old -- we went to work with him, increasingly more frequent as we got older. I can recall one day in my teenage years when I had the privilege of sleeping in the room Albert built out in the garage. As the work week wore on, I was getting more and more weary of getting up to go. So I began playing possum. Each morning Dad came to wake me up, and each morning I was more and more reluctant to get out of bed. One morning I heard the old 1948 Ford roar to life and leave the driveway without me. I was free. Free to do what I wanted. Free to stay home all day. I spent the day, well, doing what I wanted, but dreading the time Dad came home and I had to look in his eyes. He wanted his boys -- and girls -- to gain a good work ethic, and I was disappointing him. So I'm taking this lesson to heart with my own kids. I don't have a job where they can come and help, so when I'm at home doing whatever -- puttering in the shed or working on something at the computer -- I have to remember that those little shadows I have lurking behind me or looking over my shoulder want to be involved in what their Daddy is doing. So I try to get them involved, though some times all I do is fail in that by shooing them away.

This second photo, by the way, is also of my Dad and his brother. His brother's real name is Salomon. We've given that name as a middle name to our youngest boy. He worked in cement, building foundations and driveways. Shortly after he and Dad came to the United States, they got jobs as construction workers, building Idaho Falls High School. Dad and another fellow loaded Sjaak up in the trunk of a car with a wheelbarrow of cement, and then started across the rutted farmer's field with their load. The trunk lid started flapping, hitting Sjaak in the head. Of course he started cursing -- a good one for cursing was Sjaak. All Dad and the other guy could do was laugh. That sounds like something that would happen to me.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pink Bunny Sings

I almost typed that this is being presented here by popular request, but nobody really knows about it yet. I apologize to those of you with good singing voices. And the images here, well, they're not for the fainthearted.

Christmas, in a Seven-Year-Old's Photos

I do apologize for my absence here over the last few days. Christmas is here and blogger discipline went up the chimney with Santa Claus. But I will share a few photos of the past few days -- all taken by our seven-year-old daughter with the digital camera Grampa Griffin got her for Christmas. The first one here is of Mom taking a nap.

Next comes a photo of an uncooked roll, waiting for the oven for our Boxing Day feast.

Next a self-portrait. Yes, all the photos are a bit blurry. She's learning how to run her camera. I anticipate before too long she'll be taking photos better than her mother and I. Of course with the quality of my photos to consider, she doesn't have much improvement to make before I'm overtaken.

Now a portrait of her Daddy, shivering a bit in the Pilot just after pumping a bit of gas to get us home Christmas Day from the grandparents'. It's a rather good photo, considering the poor lighting. I may indeed use it as my Facebook photo, until, of course, that the photos of me in the pink bunny suit come through. (Sorry they've been delayed; we've just had a busy time of it.)

Last, a photo she took of Christmas decorations in Rigby. Blurry, yes, but timid, no. She'll be a good photographer once she learns the ropes.

A Christmas Rule

If you want sanity after Christmas, do NOT get a new computer, two iPod Touches and two digital cameras for Christmas. I'm still setting things up and the study looks like an explosion in a spaghetti factory.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Luke, Chapter 2

  1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all athe world should be btaxed.

  2 (And this ataxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

  3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

  4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called aBethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

  5 To be taxed with Mary his aespoused wife, being great with child.

  6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

  7 And she brought forth her afirstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the binn.

  8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

  9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the aglory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

  10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you agood tidings of great bjoy, which shall be to all people.

  11 For unto you is aborn this day in the city of David a bSaviour, which is Christ the cLord.

  12 And this shall be a asign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

  13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

  14 aGlory to God in the highest, and on earth bpeace, good will toward men.

  15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

  16 And they came with ahaste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

  17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

  18 And all they that heard it awondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

  19 But Mary kept all these things, and apondered them in her heart.

Tracking Santa

I have the kids sitting here, wide-eyed. Finally remembered before Christmas that NORAD tracks Santa Claus for all to see, them being the government spooks that they are; even Santa Claus gets no privacy. But for the last half hour, the kids have run down to the computer every few minutes to see where ol' Saint Nick is. The 15 minutes between his visits to Vik, Iceland, and Shannon, Ireland, is just killing them.

Somehow, I like that the U.S. government is spending money like this. Kinda makes them a little less sinister, though my five-year-old insists that the fighter jets in this video are actually trying to shoot Santa Claus down. I don't know where he gets his ideas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What Grievances?

OK, a bit of the wind just got taken out of my Festivus sails.

My boss' boss came over today to deliver his standard Christmas gift -- A Hersheys Symphony bar. Accompanied by the standard card. Stuffed with not-so-standard stuff, including cash and a restaurant gift certificate. So my grievance of this morning is sounding a bit hollow at the moment.

Thanks, Greg.

Festivus for the Rest of Us

Okay. I have my Festivus pole. Let the airing of grievances begin:

I did not get a bonus this year because I'm a subcontracted employee. Regular employees of the company I work for got a bonus. Subs did not, even though we worked just as hard as the regular employees to contribute to the company's success this year. What makes it most galling is that through the whole process, the company's announcements about the bonuses kept saying "we get this," because "we" did such a great job. "Everybody" gets a bonus, the pronouncements said. Feh. Each time I saw or heard the words "we" or "everybody," I decided I wanted to put an asterisk in the announcement saying "Does not apply to subcontractors." I'm trying not to be bitter, but obviously it bugs me.

Another grievance: When asked why the company can't give the bonus to subs, the response is "well, we'd run into legal difficulties giving bonuses to people who don't work for us." Then why have subs in the first place? Obviously, you need the people here to do the work we're doing. And with the high-priced lawyers the company has, surely somebody could figure out a legal way to accomplish such a thing. Losers. I'm glad for the job and all, but still it's galling.

Now, a feat of strength. I will watch this painful "virtual movie" of John Steinbeck, complete with weird lips, facial indentations and otherwise crappy CGI.

Ow. Ow. Ow. This hurts my brain. I swear it looks like he's having a stroke through this. And if you watch closely, you'll watch how the books behind his head tilt with his head when he tilts it. It's like M.C. Escher designed and built a video camera or something.

Uncharted: Year One

Yes, that's right. Uncharted is a year old. This week. Technically, a year old in its current iteration on Dec. 17, but who's really counting?

I can't believe we've been doing this for a year. Because wve' been doing it for a lot longer. I'm just pleased we're past the Joomla "it says WYSIWYG but it's really not" stage that made the updates really, really painful to do. We've made a very easy to maintain website, where our Explorers can come post without us having to vet anything. That's good.

If you haven't been over to Uncharted at all -- or haven't been recently -- read our anniversary story here. (Eye candy, strictly, here.) Then come join the fun.

You can read Executive Director Alan Murray's thoughts on our milestone here, at the Uncharted blog.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I LOVE Being A Fossil

Isn't it funny how you can remember a show like this -- The Last Unicorn -- from your childhood and then revisit it as an adult and realize how much talent and effort went into making it? And how much of a fossil you are because when you spool up the opening song, you recognize that it's America singing it and you wish you had one of their albums on CD?

That's me. I'm a fossil. Ancient history. But it's kind of sad to think that maybe these kids these days -- stay off my lawn when I'm talking to you -- have no idea why a silly little video like this evokes such memory. How can it not, with Rene Auberjonois and Christopher Lee and Angela Lansbury and America in it? Staples of my childhood. How many times did  I listen to America on the radio -- KID 590 AM -- while eating breakfast before the school bus came? Too often to count, let me tell you.

Fossil I am, and proud to be so.

The Hermit of Iapetus, Part V

Older parts can be tracked here.

I tell him to bring soap.

Soap is one of the few things I use in bulk as I wander Iapetus. The moon, of course, is famed for its darkened leading edge, its white trailing edge. Few know that the dark matter plunging to the planet from space is sticky. It’s a mixture of hydrogen cyanide and an odd batch of hydrocarbons, which seem to abound in this region of the solar system. I have a theory most of it comes from Jupiter, pumped out by the hundreds of thousands of gallons from the giant’s atmosphere, spewed by convection currents and blown to Saturn by the solar wind. It gets everywhere. Day to day, week to week, the layer isn’t thick, but it builds. Every six months or so, I enter a refuge and thoroughly clean my space suit. Keeping the helmet clear is essential, as there’s nothing worse than claustrophobia while wandering an airless plain. The stuff does mean I don’t have to import grease or lubricants; the stuff that falls out of space onto the planet is sufficient for greasing what little bit of machinery I have.

I also tell him not to come.

Iapetus is a dangerous place. Sixteen times, by my count, I’ve nearly died, either by oxygen starvation, landslide, falls, cave-ins, decompressions and once – I swear – by meteor. I’ve set my own bones.

And the silence. Which is never quite silent. Even on the most quiet nights, when I lay asleep or dozing, staring up at the stars or at the grey of a refuge ceiling, I can hear the voices. The ears become attuned. Saturn calls, scratching and squealing on the upper radio band like a needle on a worn vinyl record. Records are not anachronistic; I have hundreds of them here, accompanied by ten turntables and ten thousand needles. My electronic recordings are constantly rearranged or erased by radiation storms or errant cosmic rays.

Saturn sings in bleeps and bloops and thrums. Sometimes I swear I only imagine it.

Soap. I tell him to bring soap.

I have in my wallet a photo of Liam. He sits in his smiling mother’s lap, one hand to the side, the other clenched between his legs. His chin is tilted downward so his head appears big with blond hair. His eyes are narrow like mine always are. He grins so hard he has dimples.

I smile like a bloated Muppet, mouth agape.

Sometimes I look at that photo and the bleeps and thrums of Saturn seem to come out of that gaping mouth, an inhuman screech, something Donald Sutherland would emit. Something others should fear.

Soap. Bring lots of soap.

The avalanche that nearly killed me returns in my dreams. I’m much more frightened of being buried alive than dying of a decompression. Admunsen feared suffocation. And the image of the helpless woman, living in the shack on the edge of Death Valley in Zane Grey’s Wanderer of the Wasteland; that image returns. With the madman who married her and brought her to the desert to kill her launching rocks from the cliff above, trying to crush the shack. He couldn’t just leave. He couldn’t leave.


Water, I can make. With hydrogen and oxygen, the synthesizer makes the water. I could swim in the water I make. A pool. An Olympic pool, with just a little cyanide, not chlorine, to kill the germs, if there were any on Iapetus. I’m sure my tolerance of cyanide is quite high. I’m exposed to it every day, probably with every breath; I’m not sure I trust my equipment’s purifiers.

Soap. Bring soap. Lots of soap.

The time will pass in a flash, I think. I’ve been there thirteen years already.


Say a word too often, it sounds ridiculous. It loses meaning. I’ve done that now with soap. It reminds me of the garbled Christmas carol I thought I heard from the radio, long ago:

Soup on the rooftop, drip, drip, drip . . . down through the chimney comes ol’ Saint Nick.

The voice asks, “Isn’t Nick also a name for the Devil?”

I reply: “Yeah. So?”

Saint Nick.

Saint Nick.

Saint Nick.

Maybe he’ll bring soap.

It’s at times like this I have to wander. Staying in a refuge when the voices are talking loudly is not a good idea. You never put the suit back on, and pretty soon you think you can open the door and walk out onto the back porch of the house you grew up in and go off to smell the marigolds, or chase the dog who has stolen the socks off your feet. So I put the suit on. I double- and triple-check the seals, the joints, the connections. The oxygen packs. When all is right, I leave. I dig up more raw material for the synthesizers. I make sure the high-gain antennas aren’t corroding. I find a hundred chores that need doing. No idleness.

Admunsen at Framheim kept busy. He kept his men busy, digging new workshops and offices out of the drifts of snow that snuggled against their tents and shacks. They built sleds and dog harnesses, shovels and radio equipment and filled entire rooms with slaughtered seals.

I’m sure they had soap somewhere in their warren of rooms and tunnels.

And I set myself to pondering some problems.

Saturn’s Hexagon, for one. Long ago, some orbiter spotted the Hexagon, a cloud formation, spiraling around the planet’s northern pole. People made much of it, saying since nature does not work in straight lines, it had to be a sign of intelligent life. Hoagland went further, looking at photographs of Iapetus itself, spotting what he thought was not a circular limb, but rather a limb bent and contorted into the angular fullerene. Shapes, shapes, shapes, not natural. Forgetting, of course, that trees have straight lines, rings. That snowflakes display startling angular geometry. Crystals.

I don’t mind that people search for extraterrestrial intelligence. I just wish they’d look into the universes inside their heads a bit more.

Liam wrote again. Said he definitely had the Moon-to-Mars job. And that with the extra money he could squirrel away, he’d buy soap.


George: I was free and clear. I was living the dream. I was stripped to the waist eating a block of cheese the size of a car battery.

Jerry: Before we go any further, I'd just like to point out how disturbing it is that you equate eating a block of cheese with some sort of bachelor paradise.

That could have been me. We visited the Tillamook Cheese Factory this summer, and I had my chance to hide away inside the factory and found my own primitive society based around the eating of cheese, but no, traditional domestic bliss called me home. Read about my adventures here. Look at my photos here. Next time, I stay.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Hermit of Iapetus, Part IV

NOTE: Earlier installations are here.

“Iapetus, this is Saturn Seven. Iapetus, this is Saturn Seven.”

It’s Steve on the radio. He’s a flight officer for one of the regular shuttles from Mars to Saturn. I use him often as a courier. He drops supplies, relays messages, sometimes just calls to chat.

People have the wrong idea about hermits. We like humanity plenty. When Steve calls, it’s a rarity for me to make him wait. If he calls me more than three times and I don’t answer, he says, he’s ready to jump ship and descend to find out what’s the matter. I don’t know why he likes me. He says he’s envious, but I don’t believe it. I live on Iapetus, and I’m not envious of myself. But I’m not envious of Steve, either.

“Steve,” I say when he calls – it rankles his superiors to hear him talking with someone who won’t follow normal comm. Protocols, but I am a hermit, after all – “this is Iapetus. What ya got?”

“Just wanted to warn you,” he says most often. “We’re getting ready to do a waste water dump and thought you might want to get outside where you can see the rainbow.”

Code, of course. Officially, they’re not allowed to drop stuff to me. Although sometimes the spacers do perform their dumps over Iapetus or Persephone when they pass nearby, just so gravity can take care of an errant hunk of ice that otherwise they’d have to report to ships that follow. He’s getting ready to drop something for me. Electronics I can’t manufacture here. Orange juice. Spares from socks to sprockets.

This time, a letter in the jumble:


I still call you Dad, even though Mom doesn’t want me to. I’m supposed to call Dennis ‘Dad,’ but it doesn’t feel right. I call him Daddy Dennis when Mom is around. It pisses him off, but it makes Mom happy. He’s Dum-Dum Dennis when Mom’s out of earshot. At least that makes him laugh.

I want to tell you I’m coming. I’ll be eighteen in a month and there’s no way Mom can stop me. I told her I’m joining the Marines, so she doesn’t know. I’m actually signed up as a propulsion trainee on one of the Moon to Mars milk runs. I figure six months there, if I do my work right, I’ll get my certificate. Arthur – he’s the guy I signed with at Mars Missions – says they’re always looking for propulsion operators on the runs to Jupiter and Saturn. He thinks after a year or two with him, I can get out there. Tell me what you want me to bring, although I’ll bet you don’t need much. Better yet, tell me what I need, because I’m coming. And if Mom can’t stop me, neither can you.

Your son,

Company coming after thirteen years. And I don’t have a thing to wear.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Elves . . . The Elves

I believe in Santa Claus. Even if he's a grumpy guy like the Santa in A Christmas Story. Because to me, Santa is a lot more real than a lot of the real folks reality wants to foist upon me. I even like the grumpy elf, because he's more real.

But it's not just the grumpiness. It's the humanity. Santa Claus shows a lot more humanity than any politician, any pundit, and jabber-grabber on the television can ever show. And yeah, sometimes Santa lets us down. He tells us we're going to shoot our eye out. And he's probably right. Does it matter that he's right? Yes, it does. In that grumpy kind a way, it really does matter that he's right. He's right not because he's self-righteous about it, not right because he's angry that we believe contrariwise to how he perceives the world, or right because miffed that we're not listening to reason. He's right because he's right. Santa Claus, being a fictional character that has crossed into reality, knows truth from falsehood, and even truth from truthiness.

So I believe.

Because underneath all that grumpiness, there's justice. Good kids get what they ask for. Bad kids get punished with coal, or with kindling, or with rotten potatoes (I'm an Idahoan; the latter has happened.) But even with the bad kids, there's leniency. There's hope. Only with Santa Claus can we believe in deathbed repentance.

Aside from all that, a belief in Santa Claus lets us believe, by proxy, in the good that remains in humanity. There are people who do kindness every day of the year, though it may only be remarked as the calendar approaches the 25th of December. People do good things all year round. They love each other. They do service. They laugh and cry with other people. They work for others. They sit and chat with others. They give, and give, and give. But the cynics look at their all-round cheerfulness in context of Christmas and Santa Claus and say, well, they're doing it because of some outmoded judeo-Christian belief system that they've transplanted upon a former pagan tree-worshipping ritual. But the cynics are wrong. Christmas is beautiful. And believing in Santa Claus is the right thing to do.

My kids will hear Santa's sleigh bells this year. And so will their Dad, for a long time to come.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Shelves . . . The Shelves

As Christmas Break home improvement projects go, this one isn't all that bad. Of course, it's not Christmas Break yet. And I'm not done with the project.

I have to offer a little background first. A few months ago, we were gifted with a rather large sectional sofa from Michelle's folks, because they bought new furniture. We decided to take the sofa because we've always said we wanted more places to sit in the living room. But this is a rather large sectional sofa, so to get it in we had to get rid of the love seat from downstairs and a chair from upstairs to make room for the recliner from downstairs to go up so the couch would fit downstairs. We also had to move the TV and such to fit everything in. We basically have a wood stove, the couch, and the TV in the basement now. That meant, of course, that I had to move the shelves we had the DVDs and CDs on, otherwise we couldn't reach it because it was hung on a wall now buried behind the couch.

I moved the shelf and modified it, so we'd have more room for the DVDs. That left the CDs without a home. So today I began building shelves for the CDs. Got a good head of steam up until I ran out of wood, which was unfortunate. So the project is on hiatus until we get more wood, a bit later this week. Isn't that exciting?

As a bonus, I also put up another shelf for some of Michelle's knickknacks. It looks loverly.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Titan's Lake Shines

The picture's not spectacular, but what that little shine at the top means is pretty significant. It's sunlight glinting off what's likely a lake of liquid methane or ethane on the surface of Titan. You can read more about it here.
"This is the first time outside Earth we've seen specular reflection from another liquid from another body," said Ralf Jaumann, a scientist analyzing data from the Cassini unmanned space probe.

Jaumann said he was surprised when he first saw the photos transmitting from Cassini, orbiting Saturn about a billion miles from Earth.

"It was great because if you look at photos of planets, you mostly see nothing is happening. But in two hours we saw a glint of light getting brighter."
What's cool about this is not that Titan is suddenly a little bit more earth-like -- because it isn't; it may have an atmosphere and liquid on the surface, but that's where the major similarities end. What's cool about this is that Arthur C. Clarke may be proved right, as he wrote about liquid lakes of methane or ethane, featuring fantastic icebergs of ammonia and other substances, on the moon. I like it when nature imitates art.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Real Snow Crash

Could Snow Crash lead to a plane crash?

That was the principal thought on my mind this morning as I read this piece at about Northwest Flight 188, which overshot its destination airport by a hundred miles or so earlier this year because both pilot and co-pilot were absorbed in their laptop, teaching and learning about the airline's online employee scheduling system.

We've all done it -- driven deistracted. My weakness is the iPod and my insistence that I have to manually shuffle through the good songs on my way home from the bus. A handful of times I've caught myself so engrossed in trying to find TMBG's "Dr. Worm" that I'm not paying attention to the road, which is scrolling right along under my tires at 55 miles per hour. So I put the iPod away.

William Saletan, in his Slate piece, however, brings up an interesting point:

In his interview with investigators, the captain profusely apologized. He said he had "let another force come from the outside and distract me." But that isn't what happened on Flight 188. The force didn't come from outside. It came from inside. It enveloped the pilots' minds and shut down their senses. They lost touch with everything outside: their displays, the world beyond their windshield, the passengers behind the cockpit door.

We're all doing the same thing, zoning out at home, at work, on the road. Maybe all these nifty little devices are great for connecting us to the Internet, but we shouldn't let them disconnect us from the world.

So enters Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. I read this book a few years ago and recommend it for its philosophical implications, not necessarily for the story. Do we want virtual realities so real they take us away from the true reality? Are we so dedicated to the universes squeezed between our ears that we forget about the universe we can see through our eyes and hear through our ears? I hope not. But it's a tempting trap. I'm in front of the computer for about ten hours straight each work day. Then i go home, watch television during dinner most nights, then after the kids are to bed (and most of the time I'm too tired or distracted to read to them) I'm sitting in front of my laptop. Something's gotta stop, folks. Maybe rolling blackouts aren't such a bad idea after all.

Rich With Television

The Intertubes are abuzz this morning with news that Google – which, in some eyes, is quickly turning into the Wal-Mart/Microsoft/McDonalds/McDonnell-Douglas of the Internet Bad Boys – is exploring whether to charge a fee to we ordinary folks who want to watch “premium content” (meaning not stuff like this).

Or this.

So all of you who can’t go through the day without your portion of LOLcats can relax.

But what about folks who, say, watch other stuff, such as Air Crash Investigation, a show I was introduced to by YouTube and watch exclusively on YouTube now? We may be out of luck. There are three options here. National Geographic may opt to leave things as they are – the episodes I watch are still available more than a year after I watched them, so I have to assume NG is either unaware or doesn’t care that their stuff is on YouTube. NG may opt to have the episodes canned and replaced by their own for a fee, or NG could simply tack a fee on to the videos already posted. Either way, I’d have to say I’m not really willing to pay per episode, nor per month, to watch this stuff, because I don’t pay for cable TV either. What will I do if what I watch becomes premium content? I won’t watch it any more.

But does that mean they shouldn’t charge for it? No. That just means I’m cheap. A lot of time, money and talent goes into making these shows, and those who make it ought to be recompensed. What Lucille Ball started with videotaping shows for later re-broadcast – the birth of the re-run – was great for us. We got lots of TV. Sure, most of it is bad TV, but there’s still a lot of content out there. We got it free on broadcast television because advertising worked. Today, not so much. Cable introduced subscription TV along with ads, and we lined up for it around the block. Then the Internet came along and tried to give it all to us for free again. Free may be nice, but free doesn’t pay the bills. And maybe free has opened the floodgates for the boatloads of crap we introduce into our lives. Watching too much television or listening to too much music because it’s so cheap to consume is just as bad, in my view, as buying a lot of cheap made in China crap from Wal-Mart. I don’t look back on my life and say, like Jack Handey, that I’m rich in television.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hermit of Iapetus, Part III

Still babbling along. Read Part II here, with a link to Part I once you get there.

I miss the marigolds. My wife didn’t like them, said they smelled bad. But I grew up in a house where the marigolds spilled out of the flower beds and grew in the grass and grew in the gravel. I used to scoot the gravel aside with my hands and make roads for my tiny cars through the marigold forest, with that smell of marigold constantly in my nostrils.

Iapetus smells like almonds, when I get a whiff of dust entering a safe house. Space is not empty, I tell some of the people who call me. It’s full of poison. The universe is intensely hostile towards life, pelting planets with meteors, filling the interstellar void with cyanide, killing satellites and mitochondria with cosmic rays. I do not doubt life exists on other planets, I say. Life is not an aberration. But the universe, I say, is not as densely packed as is Manhattan, as is Singapore, as is Tokyo, as is Mexico City. Look at Earth. Life exists there in a million varieties, yet there are places on Earth no living thing can survive for long. Admunsen discovered that as he trekked towards the South Pole. I am reminded of it daily as I walk the wastelands of Iapetus.

In my cargo, I brought three hatchets. Three hatchets. I expected to find trees, I suppose. But I used them. Wore two out digging my first safe house on the sunny side of Engelier Crater. Later I improvised lasers to melt the underground caverns I’ve scattered about the surface. I’ve got ten or twelve of them now that I maintain and use occasionally, maybe another eight I built but abandoned. With a scarcity of convenience stores on this lonely rock, a man has to have a few places he can go to hide when he need to be hidden. And replenished. I power my scooters and safe houses with the hydrogen extracted from the cyanide, extract oxygen from the rocks and ice and generally live fairly well for a man whose nearest neighbors are on Titan, millions of miles further into Saturn’s gravity hole.

Yes, I’ve been involved in mapping this tiny moon. Not that the International Astronomical Union has been pleased with most of my activity. Oh, they didn’t mind my naming craters for Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, Stanley Kubrick, and others eminent in the arts and sciences. But Hoagland’s Ridge, they didn’t much appreciate, especially when I told them, jokingly, that one of the reasons I came to Iapetus in the first place was to find Hoagland’s massive buckminsterfullerene and probe the deep secrets within. I’m not sure about his science, but that he’s intensely interested in Iapetus, there is no doubt.

Where do I get my supplies, they ask. They always ask that. What do I eat, and where do I poop? I eat what I can. Some things, like the cans of refried beans, I have gravity-dropped from the federal spacers going to and from Titan. Orbits and trajectories, of course, make these drops infrequent and the captains – and in some case only the cargo stewards – do it for me out of charity, because aside from the IAU, no official agency really wants to acknowledge my existence. Officially, Iapetus is uninhabited, and is part of the Saturnian Wilderness, consisting of the tiniest and outermost moons where, technically, the footprints of man aren’t supposed to appear. At best they call me a squatter. I once got a nastygram from Greypeace, upset that my digging and walking were scarring the surface of this otherwise virgin world. But no one comes to get me. As if I’d leave if they did.

I’m sorry that I ramble. You have to understand that hermits aren’t hermits because they hate talking. I’ve known some rather talkative people in my lifetime, and though they lived in populated areas, they all talked like hermits. We never meet. Successful, friendly hermits get together to shun each other.

Us V. Them, In Perpetuity

NOTE: I wanted to preserve this somehow on my blog, but keeping it onthe sidebar is just making the site look even uglier than it has to be. So I make it a post and hope for the best.

From "Making of the President 1968," by Theodore H. White.

Somewhere out beyond the Alleghenies the old culture of America still persists -- people who think Boy Scouts are good, who believe that divorce is bad, who teach Bible classes on Sunday, enjoy church suppers, wash their children's mouths with soap to purge dirty words, who regard homosexuals as wicked, whose throat chokes up when the American flag is marched by on the Fourth of July. In its extravagant and hyperbolic form -- as in Barry Goldwater's cosmology of demons -- the old culture sees the Atlantic Seaboard, particularly the Boston-New York-Washington belt, as the locus of a vast and sinister intellectual conspiracy, a combination of capital and decadence, corrupting the moral fiber and legendary decencies of an earlier America.

The new culture, of which we shall talk later, is the child of prosperity and the past decade. Characterized by an exuberance of color, style, fashion, art and expression flowing from the enormous excess energies of American life, it defines itself best not by what it seeks but by its contempt and scorn of what the past has taught. Its thrust lies in the direction of liberties and freedom, but with an exaggerated quality of aggressive infantilism. In its exploration of the limits of sensibility, all laws, manners, more, institutions which restrict such areas of individual expression as drugs, sex, obscenities, and mob violence are generally held to be oppressive; and the greatest agent of oppression in the twentieth century is generally held to be the United States government. As parochial as the old culture, the new expressionist culture is as sure of its own moral superiority over the old as the old culture of its superiority over the new; and in its extreme and paranoid form the new culture is convinced of the conspiracy of a military-industrial complex pushing America to war and ruin as, say, the John Birch Society is convinced of a Communist conspiracy pushing America to slavery.
In the operational climate of American politics, the critical difference between the two cultures is that the new culture dominates the heights of national communications, subtly but profoundly influences those who sit astride the daily news flow in New York and Washington, and thus stains, increasingly, the prisms of reporting through which the nation as a whole must see itself.

Much of what White writes here holds true today, except that the new culture, instead of regarding the United States government as an agent of oppression, now looks to it as an aider and abetter in battles against the new perceived oppressors, those who still hold to the old culture. That the new culture should be shocked and dismayed that the old culture would want to protect its perceived rights in this day and age is odd; they cannot expect the old culture to roll over and die simply because of its age. Youth's insistence that what it believes is right merely because it believes it is as shallow as the same insistence they see in the old.

Plume is Bigger, We Still All Gonna Die

Geologists at the Unviersity of Utah have created one of the most elaborate models of the magma plume underlying Yellowstone National Park, concluding after studying data from hundreds of recorded earthquakes and other phenomena that the plume is wider than previously thought and goes a lot deeper than other predicitons -- as deep as 410 miles below the surface of the Earth.

They also surmise, from their findings, the following:
The study also shows warm rock - not as hot as the plume - stretching from Yellowstone southwest under the Snake River Plain, at depths of 20 miles to 60 miles. The rock is still warm from eruptions before the hotspot reached Yellowstone.
In other words, there's "warm rock" beneath my feet right now, as I live on the Snake River Plain in eastern Idaho. That's no real surprise. We've got enough geothermal features scattered about this end of the state that to hear this is no shock. We go swimming every year in a pool at Green Canyon that's fed by a hot spring warmed by this warm rock. I hike every year at Cress Creek, whose water is heated by the same warm rock. And down in Soda Springs is a man-made geyser that also gets warmed by this same plume -- and has to be regulated because if left to its own devices, Old Faithful up at Yellowstone, hundreds of miles away, erupts with decreased frequency. This is the place I live, and it could blow at any minute. Whee.

Amazing stuff, this. Yes, some are using this as fuel to say that the next "Supereruption" of the Yellowstone Caldera will now be even more devastating than previously thought. And that's fine, because if it does blow up, I'll be right underneath it and probably won't feel a thing.

(Best part of this movie comes when they describe traffic on U.S. highway 20 being backed up from Yellowstone all the way to Idaho Falls. They show a very busy, multi-lane highway that in no way resembles the much skinner, much less urban road that really exists. Oh well, it's the BBC after all.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


So, nobdy's learning nothin' over there in Copenhagen. You do not gain support by refusing to answer questions -- as opponents to Sarah Palin's run for the vice-presidency will no doubt gleefully point out*. By refusing to answer questions -- as Al Gore did today in Copenhagen concerning the ClimateGate e-mails -- only shows you're dogmatically blind to anything that threatens to shake your firm beliefs. It's kind of fun to see this turned around on those who've used it gainst conservatives (rightly) for so many years.

*Once again, I'm not a Palin fan. But the hypocrisy of the situation just brought her to mind.

The Hermit of Iapetus, Part II

NOTE: I don't know why my stories migrate towards isolated, lonely men. I'm neither isolated nor lonely myself. Oh well. Read the first part of this story here.

I’ve forgotten why I came here originally, so don’t ask. Vaguely, I think originally it had to do with a wild idea I had of prospecting the moons of Saturn, looking for exotic, low-gravity crystals to sell. I’d sell them as star seed crystals to the crusty mystics and faith healers who have found the power in their Earth-borne gems diminishing. “Stones are to the earth as the heart is to the man,” or so said Louisa Poole, their prophet. What is prophet to one is profit to me, I decided. So I came. But my memory may be faulty. It’s quite possible I came here to get away from everyone else. Or because no one else was here. Or because I had the money and after planning and planning and planning that trip to Malta, Malta suddenly sounded very, very boring. Or maybe the star seeds told me to come here. Any reason is just as likely.

Some of the people who talk to me – tourists scuttling to or from Saturn’s rings, bored school kids or engineers with high-grain antennas on the Moon or Mars – ask what I miss the most. I tell them all sorts of odd, random things, many of which they send me, at great expense even at base freight rates. Nutter Butters. Cacti. The color blue – a female ring tourist from Florida sent me a pair of blue patent-leather shoes which I store in my safe house at Carcassonne. I tell them not to send anything. Sometimes I refuse to answer the question. I am a hermit. That is my right.

Mostly I miss other people. That sounds odd coming from a hermit, but it is true. It’s no good being a hermit if there aren’t other people around to shun and avoid. I told that to one contactee once. That’s how I got Gloria. Gloria now inhabits one of my worn space suits in a jumble of rocks in Cassini Regio, one mannequin arm held up to the sky, catching the perpetual rain of dust that falls from Saturn’s enormous, invisible ring. A lovely woman Gloria is, he suit besmirched by the rain of hydrogen cyanide; she holds poison in her outstretched hand, offering it to the universe. A fitting monument for a hermit, offering poison to those who might come to break my solitude. I put her in Cassini so I have an excuse to stay away from there.

Only one man – an engineer working on Phobos – asked the one question I relish answering: What is my last memory of Earth?

I tell him this story:

It was on a Sunday. I was scrubbing the basement toilet, working hard with a pumice stone to scrape away the hard water stains. I went to flush the toilet and the flushing lever broke. I went to the hardware store for a new lever. As I stood there in the plumbing section, trying to decide between white plastic and chrome-plated metal, flush-mounted or extended mount, I realized this was the most monumental decision I’d been called on to make that week. Further contemplation cause me to realize it was the most monumental decision I’d been called on to make that month. That year. Next thing I remember, I was on a Saturn-bound spaceliner with two and a half tons of gear in the cargo hold. The captain called on his passengers to look out the portside observation window for one last glimpse of earth, a blue jewel hanging in the black sky, escorted by the Moon, a dazzling white star. I stayed in my steerage cabin, swinging the replacement flush lever in my hand.

I did indeed pull a Roy Neary on my family. I’m fairly sure I did them a favor doing so. No one loves a hermit, even one who lives in the basement, goes to work four days a week, mows the lawn, shovels snow, skulks like a cipher. For the first two years, I sent them birthday greetings, Christmas cards – I brought a box of them for some reason and had no one else to send them to. My youngest son sent the only reply I ever got: a drawing of me, in a space suit, exploring the mountains of Iapetus. He would have come with me. In an instant. I loved that boy. He must be fourteen, sixteen years old now. Sometimes I dream of playing catch with him, hiking up the extinct volcano near our old home with him. Walking through the woods with him, calling to him, watching his round, bright face turn around to smile at his father, laughing at his cautions and warnings.

The picture lies folded with the envelope that bore it in one of Gloria’s pockets. I could not bear to look at that drawing; it broke my heart. I was glad when Gloria came so I could place that burden on her and have an excellent reason to shun the terra she calls home.

ISP Mystery Thickens

A while back, I was here complaining about my internet service provider.

As is the case with most Weird Tales of customer service, what appears on the surface isn't really the reality. So here's what happened. And I must give credit where credit is due, we found all this out after Michelle called them and asked the questions; she's much more aggressive about finding out this kind of stuff than I am.

First, a little background. Our ISP suddenly goosed our internet service up $10 a month. We got some shrugs from one guy, a "your promotion expired" response from another guy, but no real explanation of what really happened until Michelle called them yesterday, out of frustration because I didn't want to.

And frankly, the guy she talked with isn't quite sure how it happened, but this is what did happen: We were on a promotional program that was meant to give us service for $25 a month for the first six months, then step us up to the $30 a month we were suddenly charged starting two months ago. A glitch in the system, however, caused our price to step down by $5 a month to $20, a price which we enjoyed for a year. Now, when the bills came, we never paid much attention  to them utnil, of course, the price went up to $30 a month. Nobody seems to know why this happened.

So we got a slightly better promotional rate of $29 a month -- not much of a discount from the $30 they were charging, but we get three months free on a two-year contract. Just an odd little situation. I'm hoping by the time we renew that prices will have gone down. But I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Truthiness Dodges the Question

I'm still befuddled -- but more bemused than anything else.

Last week, I asked for help in sorting truth from truthiness in the climate change debate, particularly in light of ClimateGate. I was hoping there was someone out there who can provide rational information, data, context, whatever, on what's really going on. Surely there is someone out there somewhere who wants people like me to have accurate information accompanied by a reasonable amount of confidence that what they say is backed up by their willingness to calmly answer critics.

So it won't be this guy:

Don't want to answer a question? That's okay. But to call security on a journalist and demand he be expelled from a press conference because he dared ask a question you don't want to answer? That's foolish. Never piss off people who buy ink by the barrel is the old newsroom aphorism, and that goes double for people who have two cameras on you and access to YouTube.

If you're going to espouse any theory, you have to be willing to answer the tough questions. You ought to know your stuff enough to respons calmly and logically. But a response that basically says "I refuse to answer your question, with malice," does only one thing: It feeds the opposition, and let me tell you, the opposition to stances on climate change are very hungry, especially since they've had the ClimateGate e-mails and programming code tossed into their yard.

Those who espouse climate change are often chagrined at those who do not. I have to wonder why, as those who do the espousing appear to be just as arrogant as those who hold opposing views. Everybody's in the same room, but nobody's really talking about things. They're hurling insults, refusing to intermingle, refusing to answer questions.

Professor Schneider, let me tell you the result of not answering journalist Phelim McAleer's rather innocent question on ClimateGate, at least as far as my search for truth vs. truthiness is concerned. It's introduced me to Mr. McAleer's film Not Evil, Just Wrong, which, inexplicably from a national media completely in the climate change camp, i've never heard of, though they've trumpeted Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth quite loudly.
I'll tell you what. I'm going to watch both films this weekend, and try to sort the truth from the truthiness. In exchange, professor Schneider, I'd just appreciate it if you could answer questions with something other than armed security guards.

Another question: Given the developing countries' reaction to the Denmark Document at the current climate talks in Copenhagen, I have to ask if they're going to be shown the door by security as well. This kind of behavior (shunning the less influential or balking at answering legitimate questions) does not bode well, folks.

This doesn't do your cause any good, either, folks.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Miracle Meets Sandwich Maker

Part of me knows I'm witnessing a miracle. I'm sitting at my desk, laptop a-working, uploading photos to Uncharted with only a "wireless" connection between my laptop and the outside world. Little microwaves, or radio waves, or photons, or Klingons, or what have you -- I don't precisely know how all of this works -- are zinging from my computer to the router, which is then shooting the information up a wire to the antenna on the roof, which is shooting the information with invisible waves to some other tower, which is in turn shooting it to some other kind of object -- most of the time my computer says it's communicating either with another computer in Orem, Utah, or in Cheyenne, Wyoming (I prefer Orem; they're all business down there. Cheyenne tends to take the cowboy way with my data and make it take longer to upload, for some reason). And at the same time it's allowing me to construct ridiculously complex sentences like the preceding one.

Part of me knows how Arthur Dent felt. He made sandwiches. He was the best sandwich maker on the planet, sharing his lore with the knife-maker and the bread-baker so as to find perfection with the other tools of his trade. Sandwiches were his trade because even though he came from a planet with wireless technology, computers, 767s and such, he only knew how to make sandwiches.

I'm getting a little better with technology. I dare dabble in a primitive way with basic HTML. I know how to open a computer to stare at all the wires inside, perhaps install some more memory, take out the working parts and chuck the rest. I can build things and hook them up, but if you handed me a pound of raw silicon, some soldier, and bits of plastic, the best I could do with it would be a lousy free-form sculpture I'd call "Raw Materials For Something I Cannot Make, Version 2.0," which isn't bad, until you realize it's going to be slow enough you won't even be able to play Minesweeper on it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fatty Visits Lewis and Clark Caverns

I hope this photo isn't too frightening. I know when you go into a cave, you risk seeing some unsightly blemishes, but I had no idea Michelle was going to take a picture of this one. I do apologize. If it's any consolation, I think the sweat shows I had a fun time, exploring Montana's Lewis and Clark Caverns. Read more about it and see more pictures over at Uncharted.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Truthiness is Taking Over

There are some things the Internet is worthless for -- and finding the truth is one of them.

Truthiness -- the word and concept popularized by Stephen Colbert -- is easy to find, of course. Truthiness defined:
Truthiness is tearing apart our country, and I don't mean the argument over who came up with the word…

It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It's certainty. People love the President because he's certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don't seem to exist. It's the fact that he's certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?…

Truthiness is 'What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true.' It's not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There's not only an emotional quality, but there's a selfish quality.
This is why things like ClimateGate are critical for the news media to report on, and to report on honestly. Because for people like me, who want to know the truth -- is the Arctic icecap melting, is Antarctica melting, is this happening, or is that happening -- have nowhere to go now. To find climate change scientists saying they've used a "trick" to "hide the decline" leaves me to wonder where the truth can be found.
Unfortunately, what we're getting is more truthiness. offers me truthiness from the side that believes climate change is a hoax. Some of what they say rings true, but the truthiness rings louders. Places like, well, their truth is sounding a lot more like truthiness these days. I want to know what's going on in the world and what I can do to support the long-term livability of our planet, but when it comes to a neophyte like me trying to find truth in the era of truthiness. it comes down to trust. Whom can i trust? I don't trust the deniers. And I'm finding it hard to trust the folks who appear to be cooking the books, using data that suits their purposes, or whatever is going on out there.
See, I'm not a climatologist. At best, I'm a guy who understands a bit of science -- I'm gaining more insight into physics given my place of employment -- but to say I understand enough to filter truth from fiction or truth from truthiness on climate change, I do not. I thought the media was supposed to help. But if all they can do on ClimateGate is tell me it's a no nevermind when by own bullshit meter is going off, I can't trust an appeal to the media to help me out on this. Because I've been a member of the media and know that when it comes to science reporting, most of what's out there in the professional media is parroted from the people offering the information in the first place. They can strive for truth and balance but at best can provide only the truth and balance taht other experts offer them. There are few in the professional media -- or int he blogosphere or on the wider Internet -- who have the necessary education to filter the signal from the noise. So an appeal to the mainstream media is laughable at best.
Then you go to the experts, and your Weird Shit-o-Meter goes off, becausehow much spin are they giving you? How do you sort the truth from the fiction among those to whom climate science is either a religion with dogma not to be questioned or junk science not to be regarded at all? Looking at the source used to help -- climate change science coming from someone connected to the coal industry, for example, you have to wonder about it. It's a shame ClimateGate is now making me wonder about the science that's coming from the other side of the coin.
I don't want truthiness. I want the truth. Can anyone tell me where to find it? I know how Charlie Brown felt when he demanded, "Is there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?" I need a Linus. I need someone to quote me the Bible, chapter and verse.

Come on, folks. Here's your chance. Save me from climate change truthiness. Point me towards the truth.

Tiny Bites

Today's blog, just a collection of odd little thoughts.

1) The Hermit of Iapetus really, really misses marigolds. They remind him of home and of his wife, who hated the smell of them but let him plant them anyway.

2) Earlier this week, we got a Christmas card from the big boss at work that's very fitting for individuals working in the nuclear waste repackagning industry. The card features gold glitter that flakes off and gets everywhere. It's all over the book I'm reading. It's all over my gloves. It's all over my bus pillow. I've probably swallowed some without knowing it. If it were polonium, I'd be dead now.

3)It's 18 below zero outside right now.

4) Suddenly something about the premise for the movie "The Day After Tomorrow" bugs me: If the villain in the film is global warming, why does New York City turn into a deep-sea popsicle, rather than just quietly slipping under the Atlantic, thus increasing that ocaen's pollution a thousandfold?

5) I think my left foot is dead. It fell alseep on the bus this morning and got really cold. If it's not warmed up and functioning in another hour, I'm going to have to go to the hospital. I don't want to be known as Stumpy.

6) Part of me wishes Barack Obama wasn't as slick a public speaker as he is. His intonations . . . and pacing . . . kinda remind me . . . of a talking robot, who is -- to tell the truth -- getting his lines . . . from a TelePrompTer. Maybe the back of his suit coat doesn't bulge like George W. Bush's did, but at least Bush sounded, well, human.

7) If you compare climate change to religion, there's not a lot of difference. There's evidence on both sides that what each sides holds as tangible truths exist, but the other side, in general, doesn't believe that the believers' evidence is all that credible, tangible, or reproduceable by the other side, so the other side generally dismisses what is believed, and considers the believers to be delusional, illogical, or immune to "the facts." Not that religion and climate change are on opposise ends of the same pole, mind you.

8) I think what bugs me the most about Terry Pratchett's latest book, Unseen Academicals, is that he's dumped so many characters. Gone are the Bursar and the Dean at Unseen University, leaving poor Ridcully with only Ponder Stibbons to bully. And with Ponder taking on the Bursar's duties and getting really, really self-righteous about it all, the university as a den of interesting characters is a lot less interesting.
9) Why are some authors obsessed with sex? Sex, sex, sex, must get sex into it. Sex is boring, if you ask me. It's an author's cop-out. Cant't hink of anything else to write. So must put sex into it. I begin to know how Opus felt. Milo: Any sex in there (the book Opus wrote)? Opus: Barring any copulating bugs in the binding, no.
10) I still hate lists that end on even, round numbers.

11) I'm trying to get ahead on my posts for The Cokesbury Party Blog, so blogging there can be light over Christmas. I may also break tradition and skip a few chapters in order to feature Cokesbury's Christmas party a few months earlier than it would fall normally, just to get in time with the season. Not that anyone cares. Since I built the site in May, it's had fewer than 350 visitors. No comments. It's like I'm shouting into the darkness. It's like Twitter, but even lonlier.