Sunday, January 31, 2010

Meet David Morris and his backyard observatory

David Morris (left) is someone I've been honored to have as a friend for many years now so I know of what I speak when I say this: David Morris is like the Chuck Norris of renaissance men! This guy does everything, including competition roller skating and (along with his wonderful wife Gretchen) being active in the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County.

David and I first met because of our mutual love for astronomy. But David, being David, took his passion to the max and pulled off what most amateur astronomers only dream of: his very own observatory! Here's an excellent write-up in today's News & Record about David and his homebrewed facility, which he has christened Smithstone Observatory.

LOST Season 6 DVD/Blu-ray details!

DocArzt's LOST Blog passes along info about the DVD and Blu-ray release of Lost Season 6. The really good news is that we won't have to wait hardly long at all to buy it! Whereas there's been a seven-month gap between the season finale in May and the DVD/Blu-ray sets, Lost's sixth and final season is scheduled to drop for retail on August 24th!

Also arriving that day will be Lost: The Complete Collection ($229.99 for the DVD and $279.99 for Blu-ray) containing all of the season sets and bonus material, plus an extra disc of exclusive content. Maybe a good buy if you don't have any of the sets yet, but I'll prolly pass and just get the regular Season 6 Blu-ray set, since I'm already well on my way to building up my Lost Blu-ray collection :-)

Scott Brown, the Republican Senator-elect, favors abortion "rights"

Read about it here.

How the hell is this going to make him any different than Ted Kennedy?

"But Chris, he couldn't get elected in Massachusetts if he were pro-life!"

There are more important things in this world than "getting elected".

I have said it before and I will say it again: the vast majority of the Republican party's leadership and elected officials do not care one iota about the abortion issue. And if they do, it's only because it never ceases to provide a carrot that gets to be dangled in front of "the faithful" to keep them voting GOP in elections.

It just so happened that this time the carrot was "health care reform", and that to many people that is more important than the abortion issue. Rather telling also, that Brown has publicly said he doesn't want the Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade... and that alone tells me how much regard Brown has for the Constitution. A wiser person would have said that Roe v. Wade is the worst "legislation from the bench" ever and that abortion must be decided by the states for themselves and not the federal judiciary.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Prepare to have your mind blown

From the shortest possible distance (the Planck Length) to the edge of the observable universe (93 billion light years) and everything in between, this incredible Flash presentation puts it all into perspective...

Thanks to Shane Thacker for such a humbling and breathtaking find.

Want to see the first four minutes of LOST Season 6?

No, really... do you?

Mash here for the first four minutes of "LA X", the premiere episode of Lost's sixth and final season. I'm not embedding it though 'cuz even the still from the YouTube video might be considered a major spoiler. But as with every other season, it starts off with a healthy dose of "What the...?!"

Lost returns this coming Tuesday night on ABC.

"Thank you, Lord!"

Those were the very first words out of my mouth this morning, when I woke up and looked outside at the beautiful snow-covered landscape.

About 8 inches so far. The snow is still coming down and will do so until this evening when it's supposed to become snow and freezing rain mix.

I'm not going anywhere today. And if you have to in these conditions, please be careful out there. But I'm gonna be more than content to stay inside and gaze in wonder at the pristine white countryside.

(Well, I'm gonna do other stuff too, like reading some books etc. And I might blog a bit too :-)

But in the meantime, it's worth saying again: Thank you, Lord!

Friday, January 29, 2010

New vocabulary term: "Update Creep"

Longtime readers of this blog (all two of them) know that from time to time I come up with new terminology for things that don't yet have a name. Like two years ago when I defined "Hell Époque". Sorta like Rich Hall's "Snigglets" of HBO's Not Necessarily the News years ago... 'cept mine aren't for humor's sake.

Add another one tonight: "Update Creep".

I hit upon it after finishing an update of the security suite software on my computer. The update completed at 6 p.m. tonight... and it's taken me almost four hours to get everything back working on my 'puter the way I'm used to!

So what is update creep?

Update Creep: (noun) The long-term tendency of computer software to gradually evolve into a radically different product through a process of consistent updates and professed "improvements".
I guess Microsoft Windows could be the best example that one could cite of update creep, but it could happen to any software package. Even video games. The Super Mario Bros. series comes to mind but that's one instance where the update creep has still maintained the spirit of the original game.

At least now I can visit my own blog without my security suite asking if it's safe for children (Good Lord, I hope it is! :-P)

The snow is here

Has been for about an hour or so. Ground is covered. 18 inches is now said to be a strong possibility.

I'll try to post some pics on the morrow :-)

15 inches of snow coming our way

I'm holed-up in my Sanctum Sanctorum with all the essentials: lots of food, toilet paper, reading material, video games, and a bunch of Orks to paint up for Warhammer 40,000. Not to mention plenty of movies (including my blizzard tradition, John Carpenter's The Thing).

The storm headed straight toward here. May not get to dig out 'til Tuesday, if we get the temps they're calling for.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Geoff Gentry's thoughts on the iPad

It's been my favorite joke to tell during the past 24 hours...
"Lots of people are upset about the 4:3 aspect ratio of the iPad so Apple is rolling out one with a 16:9 screen in a few months. They're calling it the Max-iPad."
rimshot

Okay, giggles at its horrible name aside, plenty of people are wondering if the iPad is already set to be a bomb for the House of Jobs. Putting it all into perspective is Geoff Gentry: good friend and techno-ubergeek whose opinion on all matters gadget I have long held in great esteem.

Some of Geoff's points about the iPad...

First of all as "magical" and "revolutionary" as the iPad is, it is 1st generation technology. With Apple that means it will get better quickly. Here are my thoughts on the new product.

The Name: Yes the word pod was out there before Apple added the "i" and made it a household word. But pad on the other hand is used for so many things and is hard to add a new definition. Did the naming folks at Apple not do any research with people or online? People automatically started making feminine hygiene jokes about it. While the name is direct, simple (two syllables) and close to the iPod it is lacking. I personally think iSlate would have been a better choice.

The Hardware: The size and astetic design are good but it is lacking in several ways. First, I know they were trying to keep the ports down to a minimum, but having to use an adapter for USB or one for SD is clunky. I look at it and I think large iPod Touch. It lacks a camera (or even better 2). It needs work on the hardware side that I hope will be addressed.

Hit here for more of Geoff's take on Apple's latest igizmo.

J.D. Salinger, Pernell Roberts, and Zelda Rubinstein have passed away

Not for the first time unfortunately, a trio of talent has left us.

Pernell Roberts, who is perhaps best known for playing Adam Cartwright on Bonanza and later had the title role in Trapper John, M.D. (playing an older version of Elliot Gould's character from the movie M*A*S*H) has passed away at the age of 81.

The sad news is also breaking this afternoon that J.D. Salinger, the author of The Catcher in the Rye, has died at 91.

And Zelda Rubinstein, the diminutive actress who made such an impression on screen but most especially as Tangina in 1982's Poltergeist, has passed away at the age of 76.

Go into the light...

Didn't watch Obama's State of the Union speech last night...

...because I already knew what the REAL state of the union is.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What's wrong with you people?!?

I'm talking about those of you who are good friends who have blogs too. Too many of y'all have gotten more than a bit slack of late. What, you think I like reading my own all the time?! I go to you guys' blogs too... and it's absolutely heartbreaking that too many of you have seemingly abandoned your poor blogs!

At least Jenna St. Hilaire is still busy with hers. Not only that but she also just finished writing an entire novel. What do the rest of you have to say for yourselves?!?

Chad, what gives man? Two years we've been looking at that post about the Krispy Kreme Challenge that you ran in Raleigh. Time to re-brand yourself or something bro. And Brian... where are you?! Not an update in more than a year!

Don't even get me started on the two Erics.

C'mon back to the blogosphere y'all. This place is so much more entertaining with your company :-)

Lots of Christians weighing in on THE BOOK OF ELI

When I saw The Book of Eli last week, I figured this movie would cause a lot of discussion in the Christian community. And I've no doubt that this is just the beginning as more people see the film...

CJ Thomas posts his take on the movie and particularly about star Denzel Washington's opinion about what some might consider to be The Book of Eli's inherent "controversy". Meanwhile on the same site Mike Parker ponders whether The Book of Eli is a Christian movie at all (and his perspective is one that I think all of us who profess to follow Christ and also create media content should ponder greatly). Christian romance author MaryLu Tyndall has a GREAT review up on her blog Cross and Cutlass, and she also encourages fellow Christians to see this movie in spite of its violent content and occasional profanity. Randy Thomas echoes a similar sentiment in his review. Some of these write-ups might have spoilers for the movie, so consider yourself forewarned if you haven't seen it yet.

(And for what it's worth, here's my own review of The Book of Eli, humbly submitted for your approval :-)

Found any more Christians talking on the Intertubes about The Book of Eli? Feel free to post the links in the comments!

So thankful that our collective priorities are in order

Tonight is the State of the Union address (which doesn't have to be a speech anyway, or even an annual event, just look it up) and as his predecessors have never failed to do, President Barack Obama is certainly poised to waste even more of our money.

But never mind that! The entire western world is anxiously holding its breath over the announcement of Apple's new tablet!

(No, sarcasm is not my usual forte...)

Funny - and true - commentary on this season's college basketball

A friend named Ray Crompton has said it best...
"It's sad that the best basketball team in NC is the Bobcats."
This is the wonkiest year I've seen for college basketball in this state in Lord knows how long.

I haven't checked though: how are the Western Carolina Catamounts doing? :-)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Prison inmates banned from playing Dungeons & Dragons

The inmates of a prison in Wisconsin have so far failed to mount a successful legal challenge against their being banned from playing Dungeons & Dragons. According to the article, the staff of the prison deemed Dungeons & Dragons inappropriate because "one player is denoted the Dungeon Master... [who] is tasked with giving directions to other players... [which] mimics the organization of a gang."

Seems pretty silly to me. The prison banning Dungeons & Dragons, that is. I just can't see how a game like this is going to encourage gang activity. If anything, Dungeons & Dragons might be quite a productive use of the inmates' free time, since it constantly engages skills such as creative thought and mathematics.

Or maybe the guards are simply afraid that the prisoners are going to use Dungeons & Dragons as a "gateway" to some legit black magick!

Worth noting again that Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons & Dragons, was a devout Christian. Bet he wouldn't have any problem with his game being used like this.

Fifteen gadgets that were WAY ahead of their time

Think your iPhone or BlackBerry is the wave of the future? Feh! Behold the marvelous technology of 1913, represented by E.C. Hanson's "automobile wireless telephone". With his buggy outfitted with two telephone poles and various high-voltage insulators, Hanson could make calls from the road up to 35 miles away.

Technologizer has a fun lil' read up on their site about Hanson's "cell phone" and fourteen other innovations that were decades ahead of the curve. Like Thomas Edison's idea to print a 40,000 page book that would be only two inches thick, using ultra-thin metal plates instead of paper.

(Thankfully that one didn't see production. Lord knows that I have enough trouble with papercuts :-P )

Pathetic!

I know of no other way to describe it when a person arrives at this blog via a Google search for, and I quote, "scarlett johansson seks".

(I hope the person found what they were looking for on this post that I made over three years ago.)

What kind of a world is this coming to when even "sex" is getting misspelled?!?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Chris says that THE BOOK OF ELI should be seen by EVERYBODY professing to be Christian... and everyone else too!

(Proprietor's note: Before starting the review proper, I just gotta get this out of my system: The Book of Eli is the movie where Denzel Washington kicks the butt of local cult leader Johnny Robertson. Because Johnny Robertson is exactly the character that Gary Oldman is playing in this movie. I'm not the only one who's thinking this either. Okay, 'nuff with that. Back to the review...)

In some ways this is one of the harder movie reviews I've had to write, because The Book of Eli is a film that plays on two different levels and depending on where you're coming from it's either going to be just "pretty good" or "absolutely outstanding!"

Me? This was the second consecutive movie that I've seen with a post-apocalyptic setting. The first was The Road. Now, I loved The Road. But in terms of solid entertainment I thought that The Book of Eli was far better. And I will even say that as a story engendering thoughtfulness along with heaps of action, that I found The Book of Eli to be an even better film than Avatar.

Not only that: I would declare that The Book of Eli is the best R-rated Christian movie since The Passion of the Christ came out six years ago. But more about that later...

First I'm gonna talk about The Book of Eli as most people are probably approaching it and the way it's being billed: as an action flick. You can not think of a movie with Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman without considering the bloodfests and body counts (and there are plenty). People don't just die in pretty heinous ways in The Book of Eli: they're also left horribly wounded and with festering, gangrenous sores. This is the same type of world that The Road portrayed: with things like cannibalism run amok and a harsh deficit of goods left on the day after. But whereas we're never told what it was that destroyed civilization in The Road, it's clearly stated in The Book of Eli that this story takes place after a nuclear war punched a "hole in the sky". It's a wonderfully violent canvas and brother directors Albert and Allen Hughes play it to the hilt (mostly of Eli's very wicked knife).

Into this landscape strides Eli (Denzel Washington). He's a man on a mission: carrying something across the wasteland. The object in question happens to be a Bible: the last one known to exist. Seems that after the war a lot of people blamed the turmoil on religion, so Bibles and other sacred texts were rounded up and burned. Eli is "walking by faith" toward a destination even he isn't clear of, only that it's "west". But regardless of his own lack of understanding, he can and will kill to protect his charge.

Not long into the movie and Eli winds up in a ramshackle town (think Megaton from Fallout 3) run by obsessed bibliophile Carnegie (Gary Oldman). In exchange for providing clean water and other necessities of life, Carnegie has his people out looking for books. Problem is, by this point in history there is barely anyone left who's old enough to know how to read. Carnegie's gang of bikers keeps bringing him trash like The Da Vinci Code when what he really wants is... yup, you guessed it... a copy of the Bible. In due time Carnegie discovers that Eli – who only came to town because he needed a recharge of his iPod's battery (don't laugh, it makes sense) – is in possession of that what he seeks most, and the chase is on.

If I could possibly do it, I would gladly buy a ticket for every preacher, pastor and evangelist in America to see The Book of Eli while it's playing in theaters. And if they didn’t want to see it, I would tie them to the seat and force them to watch it like that that guy in A Clockwork Orange played by Malcolm McDowell (who also appears in The Book of Eli). As a follower of Christ, what I appreciated most about this movie is that better than any other film that I can think of, The Book of Eli is a narrative examination of the Holy Bible and how those who call themselves "Christian" invariably choose to either understand it or exploit it.

Two men. Each with their own desire for the Bible. For Carnegie, it's all about the power. He lusts for the Bible because within its pages he knows there are words to drive and motivate his people toward something bigger and mightier than what he has now. Out of all the hundreds in his town, Carnegie is the only one who can read the printed word. Were he to acquire the Bible, it will be entirely at his discretion what his people will hear from within it. They will cling upon his every spoken utterance because no doubt they will believe that he has been chosen of God. That just as Carnegie brings them water to drink, so too will he and he alone bring them the water of the Word.

Sounds like damn too many people in our real world, doesn't it?

And then there is Eli. The one who has the Bible. He has read from its pages each day for more than thirty years. Of all the people left in what was once the world, Eli is perhaps the only one who begins each meal with a prayer. That alone screams volumes about the fundamental difference between Carnegie and Eli. Oh, Carnegie certainly knows what a mealtime prayer of thankfulness is... but he doesn't care for what it signifies. Carnegie is the man who has and wants more, while Eli is thankful for what meager blessings he has been given. Eli is not motivated by the power he carries toward any selfish end, but that doesn't mean he can't understand its true potential. He knows that what he carries is not meant for one person, but for all people.

I'll let you decide in the end which one comes out the better. But while watching this movie, I couldn't help but think of the words of Jesus as recorded in Luke 8:18...

"...Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him."
That is the ultimate parable of The Book of Eli, in my mind. That one can choose to cling as hard as one can to worldly power and affluence. Or one can choose to live "not by sight but by faith". One may lead to comfort, but it is only for a season. The one who can overcome the ways of the world and can even sacrifice self stands to gain something far greater...

...and no amount of claiming the Bible can change any of that. One can choose to wield the Word of God as a weapon, or one can choose to use the Word of God for His sake.

The references to scripture comes fast and hard in The Book of Eli, but never does the film seem to demand having a Bible or concordance handy in order to appreciate it. I'm not sure what kind of background scribe Gary Whitta is coming from, but the dude has crafted a story that, in my mind anyway, stands as an amazing testimony of what Paul wrote about in 1st Corinthians 9:22: "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some."

That's what The Book of Eli represents to me: a witness for God in a language that a lot of people will enjoy being tuned into as opposed to listening to tired old sermons or being accosted on the street or at their own homes by "the faithful". It's a very Christian movie with a bad-ass 'tude... and I can't really see anything necessarily wrong with that.

Mila Kunis turns in a great performance as Solara, the daughter of Carnegie's blind wife Claudia (played by Jennifer Beals). Also look for Tom Waits, Ray Stevenson (who won wide acclaim for his portrayal of Titus Pullo in HBO's Rome) and a particularly eccentric couple played by Frances de la Tour and Michael Gambon (who is most recently known for playing Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies). In addition to the performances, I also have to praise the gorgeous cinematography of Don Burgess (who, I am told, shot The Book of Eli with the RED ONE digital camera). Atticus Ross composed a fine score for the film: I'm gonna be looking for it at the local big-box entertainment store or on iTunes.

I'll give The Book of Eli my highest recommendation for a film. There's something here for just about everyone, including a jaw-dropper of a plot twist that I dare not intimate about at all. Can't wait to buy this on Blu-ray when it comes out!

Finale of Marco van Bergen's new film NORMALSVILLE

Fellow filmmaker and good friend of this blog Marco van Bergen want's y'all to know that he's put the final scene of his new film Normalsville up for your viewing pleasure. Here 'tis!

For more of the wonderfully wacked work of Marco and his crew, visit the website of Route 64 Vintage!

High-class Hobbit hole

This subterranean house in Vals, Switzerland is just the sort of place that Bilbo Baggins would have loved had he been able to blow his loot on such conveniences as digital satellite television and outside lights...

The house, designed by SeARCH and Christian Muller Architects, includes "all the facilities a common house has, such as a guest room, an entertainment area, but also 'specialized' interiors like an underground pathway. The entrance is a wide oval opening that you are driven to by some traditional stairs made in stone. Large windows make it noticeable and draw attention to the inside décors- that is when the people living there are up for some company."

Dig down here for more photos of this amazing house!

Practical fusion energy takes step forward with levitaging magnet

Previous attempts at harnessing the power of fusion reactions have involved containing plasma within a magnetic bottle. Now comes word of a radical new approach thunked-up by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The new method takes a massive levitating magnet and causing the plasma to flow around it.

If further experiments continue to bear good results, it could prove to be a much-needed breakthrough in the longstanding effort to produce cheap, clean fusion energy.

From the article...

A new experiment that reproduces the magnetic fields of the Earth and other planets has yielded its first significant results. The findings confirm that its unique approach has some potential to be developed as a new way of creating a power-producing plant based on nuclear fusion — the process that generates the sun's prodigious output of energy.

Fusion has been a cherished goal of physicists and energy researchers for more than 50 years. That's because it offers the possibility of nearly endless supplies of energy with no carbon emissions and far less radioactive waste than that produced by today's nuclear plants, which are based on fission, the splitting of atoms (the opposite of fusion, which involves fusing two atoms together). But developing a fusion reactor that produces a net output of energy has proved to be more challenging than initially thought.

The new results come from an experimental device on the MIT campus, inspired by observations from space made by satellites. Called the Levitated Dipole Experiment, or LDX, a joint project of MIT and Columbia University, it uses a half-ton donut-shaped magnet about the size and shape of a large truck tire, made of superconducting wire coiled inside a stainless steel vessel. This magnet is suspended by a powerful electromagnetic field, and is used to control the motion of the 10-million-degree-hot electrically charged gas, or plasma, contained within its 16-foot-diameter outer chamber.

The results, published this week in the journal Nature Physics, confirm the counter-intuitive prediction that inside the device's magnetic chamber, random turbulence causes the plasma to become more densely concentrated — a crucial step to getting atoms to fuse together — instead of becoming more spread out, as usually happens with turbulence. This "turbulent pinching" of the plasma has been observed in the way plasmas in space interact with the Earth's and Jupiter's magnetic fields, but has never before been recreated in the laboratory.

Most experiments in fusion around the world use one of two methods: tokamaks, which use a collection of coiled magnets surrounding a donut-shaped chamber to confine the plasma, or inertial fusion, using high-powered lasers to blast a tiny pellet of fuel at the device's center. But LDX takes a different approach. "It's the first experiment of its kind," says MIT senior scientist Jay Kesner, MIT's physics research group leader for LDX, who co-directs the project with Michael E. Mauel, professor of applied physics at Columbia University's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The results of the experiment show that this approach "could produce an alternative path to fusion," Kesner says, though more research will be needed to determine whether it would be practical. For example, though the researchers have measured the plasma's high density, new equipment still needs to be installed to measure its temperature, and ultimately a much larger version would have to be built and tested.

Kesner cautions that the kind of fuel cycle planned for other types of fusion reactors such as tokamaks, which use a mixture of two forms of "heavy" hydrogen called deuterium and tritium, should be easier to achieve and will likely be the first to go into operation. The deuterium-deuterium fusion planned for devices based on the LDX design, if they ever become practical, would likely make this "a second-generation approach," he says.

When operating, the huge LDX magnet is supported by the magnetic field from an electromagnet overhead, which is controlled continuously by a computer based on precision monitoring of its position using eight laser beams and detectors. The position of the half-ton magnet, which carries a current of one million amperes (compared to a typical home's total capacity of 200 amperes) can be maintained this way to within half a millimeter. A cone-shaped support with springs is positioned under the magnet to catch it safely if anything goes wrong with the control system.

Levitation is crucial because the magnetic field used to confine the plasma would be disturbed by any objects in its way, such as any supports used to hold the magnet in place. In the experimental runs, they recreated the same conditions with and without the support system in place, and confirmed that the confinement of the plasma was dramatically increased in the levitated mode, with the supports removed. With the magnet levitated, the central peak of plasma density developed within a few hundredths of a second, and closely resembled those observed in planetary magnetospheres (such as the magnetic fields surrounding Earth and Jupiter).

This will be a helluva awesome development, folks. Fusion is darn nearly the most ideal form of energy that's possible for mass power needs. And wouldn't it be fun to have a real Mr. Fusion producing electricity for our homes? :-)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hey, Congressman Brad Miller: IT'S NOT YOUR MONEY TO GIVE!!!

Look folks: I, for one, do want to see the proposed McMichael Civic Center for Wentworth (the county seat of Rockingham County, North Carolina) become a reality. As an active member of the Theatre Guild of Rockingham County and participant in several past productions, I can certainly vouch that a dedicated stage and associated facilities will absolutely be appreciated, for reasons too numerous to list.

But what Brad Miller, our representative in Congress, is doing to "help" make that happen is horribly wrong.

Miller has made a House Appropriations Request for this fiscal year that would allocate more than two and a half million dollars for the McMichael Civic Center. Here's a link to the PDF file of the request. I also took the liberty of converting it into a JPEG...


Can anyone tell me where in this request has Rep. Miller pointed to the place in the Constitution that allows for this sort of expenditure from the public treasury? 'Cuz I sure as hell can't find it.

Word on the street is that Brad Miller himself will be in Rockingham County in a few weeks to announce this misappropriation in person. I'll let you decide, friends and neighbors, if this smacks too much of election year pork-barrelin'.

Well, I for one believe that the people of this county should tell our congress-critter to take the money back to Washington... 'cuz we can and should be able to fund the McMichael Civic Center on our own! Yeah it might take a bit longer to see it come to fruition. But we'll be able to say that we did it ourselves. And that will do a helluva lot more good about this county's image and commercial viability than if we had sucked up to the tit that Miller is offering.

Congressman Brad Miller, heed the wisdom that Davey Crockett learned from Horatio Bunce: It is NOT yours to give!!

(Special thanks to Jeffrey Sykes for the heads-up.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

See Dawn Swartz channel Gollum in BEN PICKLE!

I've written about Dawn Swartz a few times before on this blog: about how she's a very sweet friend and terrific actress! She had one of the leads in our film Schrodinger's Bedroom a few years ago, and recently she was seen briefly alongside Richard Gere in Nights in Rodanthe.

But look at Dawn now, in this screen cap from the short film Ben Pickle...

Dawn, girl... what did they do to you?! It's like Rick Baker and WETA teamed up to do the makeup on this movie.

Okay, I've got to see Ben Pickle now. I've also got a strange pic of Dawn with glowing eyes. This kind of wild material is screaming for context of some sort :-)

My commentary on Obama's first full year in the White House

We've gone from eight years of a drunk at the controls, to one year (and counting) of the plane on autopilot.

I'm not seeing how one is any better than the other.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

James Oldfield is FULL of crap tonight!

How long has it been since I've posted about those lunatics from the local "Church of Christ" cult? Awhile, at least.

Time to have some fun with them again...

Earlier tonight it was Micah Robertson talking about satanic sex (bear in mind that this is the same young man who recently went on a weeks-long spate obsessing about Abraham's libido) and Mark McMinnis, who for once didn't do his whiny act about "...those Baptists made me lose my job in Danville schools!"

But it was the 9 p.m. show with James Oldfield that was so rife with hypocrisy that I literally laughed out loud too many times to count.

James Oldfield - the second banana and second cousin of cult leader Johnny Robertson - ranted for the entire hour about... some caller last week, apparently... who was insisting that Jesus had to be referred to by a specific name in order to be saved. Oldfield actually condemned this man's insistence upon ritualistic salvation demanding the following "right" methods as being "twisted" and perverted.

For James Oldfield or anyone from this cult to damn anyone for believing in doing a certain thing to be saved... is like King Kong condemning Curious George for being a monkey.

James Oldfield, Johnny Robertson, Mark McMinnis, and Robertson the Lesser don't do anything BUT damn EVERYONE ELSE for not following Christ as "they" think is proper. Funny thing: for all the airtime they have on WGSR, they have never done anything to show that they follow Christ. They can't even prove that they're in a real church anyway: they spend all their time knocking others.

Oldfield and his droogs don't want salvation by grace. They want salvation by religion: their religion. They are enslaved to their own works and their fallen nature demands that they enslave others even more cruelly.

It was almost hilarious to behold. But I was also reminded of what another James - namely James, the brother of our Lord - would have to say about James Oldfield of the Eden Church of Christ...

"...he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."

-- James 1:8

'Course, that could be said of everyone in the evil cult that is Johnny Robertson's "Church of Christ".

(And why is Johnny condemning Martinsville cable channel BTW when he himself is doing business with a s***** d******? B******* perhaps?)

The Supreme Court overturned parts of McCain-Feingold today

Read about it here.

Y'know, I've always thought that McCain-Feingold was horrible, horrible legislation...

...but I'm also rather troubled by the idea that corporations, labor unions etc. as artificial organisms en masse should have the same rights as actual, living citizens.

TSA screener plants white powder on passenger as a "joke"

My loathing for the Transportation Security Administration just soared to new depths.

The story from Philly.com...

In the tense new world of air travel, we're stripped of shoes, told not to take too much shampoo on board, frowned on if we crack a smile.

The last thing we expect is a joke from a Transportation Security Administration screener - particularly one this stupid.

Rebecca Solomon is 22 and a student at the University of Michigan, and on Jan. 5 she was flying back to school after holiday break. She made sure she arrived at Philadelphia International Airport 90 minutes before takeoff, given the new regulations.

She would be flying into Detroit on Northwest Airlines, the same city and carrier involved in the attempted bombing on Christmas, just 10 days before. She was tense.

What happened to her lasted only 20 seconds, but she says they were the longest 20 seconds of her life.

After pulling her laptop out of her carry-on bag, sliding the items through the scanning machines, and walking through a detector, she went to collect her things.

A TSA worker was staring at her. He motioned her toward him.

Then he pulled a small, clear plastic bag from her carry-on - the sort of baggie that a pair of earrings might come in. Inside the bag was fine, white powder.

She remembers his words: "Where did you get it?"

Two thoughts came to her in a jumble: A terrorist was using her to sneak bomb-detonating materials on the plane. Or a drug dealer had made her an unwitting mule, planting coke or some other trouble in her bag while she wasn't looking.

She'd left her carry-on by her feet as she handed her license and boarding pass to a security agent at the beginning of the line.

Answer truthfully, the TSA worker informed her, and everything will be OK.

Solomon, 5-foot-3 and traveling alone, looked up at the man in the black shirt and fought back tears.

Put yourself in her place and count out 20 seconds. Her heart pounded. She started to sweat. She panicked at having to explain something she couldn't.

Now picture her expression as the TSA employee started to smile.

Just kidding, he said. He waved the baggie. It was his.

And so she collected her things, stunned, and the tears began to fall.

Plenty more of the article at the link above.

This TSA screener is a total bastard. I cannot put it any plainer than that. And there are far too many of them in the TSA's employ.

"Chuck Norris" was Facebook master password

And that's just for starters, dear readers! The Rumpus.net has an interview with a Facebook employee (whose identity is withheld to safeguard continued employment) about the real state of privacy on the popular social site. Bottom line: if you write something on Facebook, it's always gonna be there for Facebook employees to find (and even though the company has a policy about intruding on users' accounts, it's apparently rarely followed). And at one time the password that let any Facebook staffer log into any account was "Chuck Norris".

(Feel free to post the inevitable Chuck Norris jokes in the comments.)

Aurochs: It's what's for dinner! (Maybe...)

The aurochs - a species of wild cattle a little less than the size of an elephant and the ancestor of modern breeding cattle - has been extinct since 1624.

And now a group of Italian scientists are planning to "breed back" the aurochs.

I wonder how well-done aurochs tastes with A1 Steak Sauce.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Senate election in Massachusetts cries out for 17th Amendment repeal

I don't live in Massachusetts so yesterday's special election that saw Scott Brown win the seat vacated by the death of Ted Kennedy didn't hold any interest for me. But I'd be deaf and blind not to know about the ridiculous amount of passion that's built up over this election in the past few weeks and months.

Some are saying that Brown won because "the independents are angry". Which in my mind begs the question: was Ted Kennedy only winning those unconscionably numerous terms of office because he benefited from straight-ticket voting: something that, to the best of my knowledge, wasn't an option in yesterday's election? Seems to me that's an insult to ol' Teddy's memory: as if openly admitting that he couldn't win election on his own merit but rather had to ride the coattails of the Democrat Party.

I've never been in favor of allowing straight-ticket voting anyway. If you're going to the polls to cast a ballot, you should be compelled to think long and hard about who exactly you're voting for. Voting is a right, but it's one bought with too much precious blood to be an overly convenient one.

Anyhoo, the real reason why I'm not really feelin' anything one way or the other about this election is because in the saner world of another time, this election wouldn't have happened and Ted Kennedy likely would never have gotten close to a Senate seat anyway. Because before the Seventeenth Amendment was passed, senators were elected by the state legislatures! The Founders meant for the House to represent the people and for the Senate to represent the states. It's the way it was until 1912 when the Seventeenth was ratified and senators were elected by popular vote.

Sure, there were problems with the previous method of electing senators. But you tell me: could it possibly have been any worse than the dirty, corrupt slugfest that modern Senate campaigns have become?

Consider this also: would something like "health care reform" stand even a remote chance of becoming an inssue in a Senate made up of members who were sent their by their respective states, rather than be installed (for lack of a better word) by political parties?

The Seventeenth Amendment has proven to be a failure more spectacular than Prohibition. It should be repealed and the election of senators returned to the individual state legislatures.

I wish Scott Brown all the best as he begins serving the people of Massachusetts in the United States Senate. But the fact of the matter remains: those of his caliber deserve a more dignified way of coming to the Senate.

And we the people deserve that as well.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Has the Poe Toaster gone "Nevermore"?

Very unusual and perplexing news coming out of Baltimore this morning: the Poe Toaster did NOT show up to make his/her annual tribute to Edgar Allan Poe! For the first time since the ritual has been recorded - at least since 1949 - it simply didn't happen.

Every year on Poe's birthday of January 19th, in the very early morning hours, a mysterious figure has come out of the darkness to visit the original burial site of Poe. The Poe Toaster leaves roses and a bottle of cognac, and then disappears just as quickly as he (or she) arrived? Nobody knows who this person is. And thankfullly the Poe Toaster has been left un-harassed during the course of the tradition: there should be some mystery still left in this world, yes?

But this year, for the first time ever, the Poe Toaster failed to come.

Jeff Jerome, the curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House, said this morning that he'll give the Poe Toaster two more years to come again before declaring that the tradition has apparently been concluded.

Here's hoping that the Poe Toaster, wherever he or she is, is well and that the commemoration of Edgar Allan Poe will continue for years still to come.

The latest of Dad's knife handiwork

Damascus steel blade for a commission job. And yes, Dad even made the sheath...


Lord willing, I'll wind up even half as good as Dad is at this craft :-)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Alternate ending for DOCTOR WHO "The End of Time"

Apparently, in case David Tennant had a last-moment change of mind and decided that he wanted to keep playing the Doctor on Doctor Who, Russell T Davies filmed another ending for "The End of Time".

Here it is!

Poor Wilfred :-P

(And thanks to Lee Shelton for passing this along!)

AVATAR tech could let Clint Eastwood play 70s-era Dirty Harry again

With Avatar still breaking box office records (it was #1 in theaters for the fifth straight weekend) and now starting to garner prizes (like at last night's Golden Globes) James Cameron is talking about the practical application of the technology that he and his team came up with for the movie...
Sure, it's terrific for turning human actors into big blue alien Na'vis. But the photorealistic CGI technology James Cameron perfected for Avatar could easily be used for other, even more mind-blowing purposes—like, say, bringing Humphrey Bogart back to life, or making Clint Eastwood look 35 again. "How about another Dirty Harry movie where Clint looks the way he looked in 1975?" Cameron suggests. "Or a James Bond movie where Sean Connery looks the way he did in Doctor No? How cool would that be?"

In a way, Cameron has already pulled off this trick: Sigourney Weaver appears to drop 20 years whenever she slips her consciousness into an alien body in Avatar. But Cameron's facial scanning process is so precise—zeroing in to the very pores of an actor's skin—that virtually any manipulation is possible. You may not be able to totally replace an actor—"There’s no way to scan what's underneath the surface to what the actor is feeling," the director notes—but it is now theoretically possible to extend careers by digitally keeping stars young pretty much forever.

In the article at EW.com Cameron also talks about the ethical line that has to be respected in regards to this sort of thing, like how it can't be billed as the real Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart if they were put into a movie together with the advanced CGI.

But hey: a 1970s-era Dirty Harry movie with Clint Eastwood back as Harry Callahan and looking exactly as he did in his thirties/forties? Or... how about an Indiana Jones movie where Harrison Ford really does get to fight during the World War II years against the Nazis (bet Lucas and Spielberg are already thinking about it)? Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro can now have Ian Holm play a younger Bilbo Baggins for their upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit...

...and I guess Johnny Depp really can get his chance to play Captain Jack Sparrow for the rest of his life :-)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Happy LeePoeKing Day Weekend from The Knight Shift!

This is the weekend here in the United States where we have an extra day off to commemorate the lives and contributions of three great Americans...

First, born on January 19th in 1807, there is Robert E. Lee: to this day one of the most revered and beloved generals in American history. And in this blogger's mind, also one of the greatest examples of Christian virtue and service. Eventually Lee had to make the hardest choice of his career: to lead the Union army or to throw his lot in with the Confederacy. As we all know Lee became the general of the Army of Northern Virginia. But what choice did he have? Lee was morally unable to take up arms against what he considered to be his countrymen. His role in the war and even his personal character have been debated for years... but in my mind there is no grounds for debate. Robert E. Lee simply sought out to do what God would have him do, as best he could understand Him. How many of us say the same about ourselves?

Born on the same day two years later was Edgar Allan Poe: the father of the detective story and the one most credited for developing what became the modern horror genre. Poe's influence is still considerable today, especially in literature and film. Unfortunately his later literary success did not reflect his life: Poe's years were wracked with personal tragedy, including the early death of his young wife. He died in Balimore, Maryland at the age of forty, leaving behind such works as "The Raven", "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Masque of the Red Death".

And on January 15th, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia was born Martin Luther King, Jr.. Interesting historical note: King was originally born "Michael King Jr." until his family visited Germany in 1934. So inspired by the life of Martin Luther was the elder King that he legally changed both his name and that of his son. Martin Luther King Jr. was in the church choir that sang at the Atlanta premiere of Gone With The Wind in 1939. He entered college at the age of 15, became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church when he was 25, and earned his doctorate the following year. The rest of his life, of course, was devoted to the civil rights movement and the dream of a nation whose people "...will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

So wherever you are, and whoever you might be, HAPPY LEEPOEKING DAY!

Would YOU notice a clown on a unicycle?

The New York Times has an eye-opening article about how merely walking with a cellphone can become a huge distraction from one's surrounding environment. Cited in the write-up is a rather hilarious study at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington involving a unicycling student and a psychology professor who owns a clown suit, researching what is being called "inattentional blindness"...
"I was trying to think about what kind of distraction we could put out there, and I talked to this student who had a unicycle," said Ira E. Hyman Jr., a professor in the university's psychology department. "He said, 'What's more, I own a clown suit.' You don’t have a student who unicycles in a clown suit every day, so you have to take advantage of these things."

The result is a fascinating study that suggests pedestrians who talk on cellphones are oblivious to the events around them.

In two studies, Dr. Hyman and his students monitored pedestrian traffic across a popular campus square. They tracked a total of 347 pedestrians, noting whether they were walking without distraction, listening to music, talking with a friend or talking on the phone. In the first study, they noticed that people talking on the cellphone walked more slowly, changed directions more frequently and were often weaving off course. They were also less likely to acknowledge other people with a head nod or a wave.

Now, enter the unicycling clown. The student, Dustin Randall, donned a purple-and-yellow clown costume with polka dot sleeves, red shoes and bulbous red nose. And then Mr. Randall hopped on a unicycle and began pedaling around the square for an hour.

After pedestrians crossed the square, the researchers stopped the walkers and asked, "Did you see anything unusual?"

Among pedestrians who were listening to music or walking alone, one in three mentioned that they had just seen a clown on a unicycle. Nearly 60 percent of people who were walking with a friend mentioned the clown. But among people who had been talking on the cellphone, only 8 percent spontaneously remembered the clown.

Then the researchers followed up with a second question: "Did you see the unicycling clown?" With prompting, 71 percent of the people walking with a friend remembered the clown. The numbers were also higher for people listening to music (61 percent) and those who were walking alone (51 percent).

But among those who had been talking on a cellphone, the ability to recall seeing the clown still was startlingly low. Only 25 percent of cellphone talkers remembered seeing a clown on a unicycle, according to the report in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology. (emphasis mine)

"It's a huge dropoff of awareness of the environment around them," Dr. Hyman said. "It shows that even during as simple a task as walking, performance drops off when talking on the cellphone. They're slower, less aware of their surroundings and weaving around more. It shows how much worse it would be if they were driving a car, which is a more complex task to manage."

That does it: I'm never taking my cellphone to the circus again! :-)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Some things aren't meant to be messed with

Today's Blondie comic strip...

Just for fun I went into Photoshop and gave Dagwood a "haircut", removing his trademark cowlicks. Didn't look good at all. I'm not gonna post it here. 'Twould be too sacrilegious.

Saturday evening theological rumination...

Sharing one's beliefs is fine. One sharing Christ is far better.

Some guy made a REAL working Star Trek phaser!

Jay Rob took an old-school Star Trek phaser gun toy, cannibalized the innards of a Blu-ray player to get at the laser diode, and pulled off one of the kewlest hardhacks I've ever seen. The result: a phaser that seriously works!

Okay, it doesn't actually disintegrate anything and there's no "stun" setting... but Jay's phaser is powerful enough to pop balloons from across the room.

Watch it in action...

And if you're of the tinkerin' sort, Jay has posted detailed instructions on how you can build your own "phaser".

Great job Jay! Now, can you get to work on constructing a real working lightsaber? :-)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Want to help those in Haiti? Consider giving to New Directions International

All two of this blog's regular readers know: I never endorse anything here unless I can sincerely trust a person or organization to the utmost. Well, in light of what's going on down in Haiti right now in the aftermath of this week's earthquake, many folks are wondering what they can do to help out the people of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area.

So if your heart is leading you to make a contribution toward the relief efforts there but you may not have known where exactly to lend your resources to, I would like to recommend that you consider giving to New Directions International.

Based in Graham, North Carolina, New Directions is a Christian outreach ministry that, among many other things, sends food and supplies to South America, Africa and plenty of other regions around the world. They are also quite active in helping to construct buildings for local congregations in those same areas. Being familiar with a number of people involved at New Directions International, I can absolutely and completely vouch for their commitment, their integrity and their Christ-like love toward others.

Nobody's asked me to make this post. I'm doing it because the local Fox affiliate this evening aired a story about New Directions and its operations in Haiti. The ministry had planned for two mission trips there in the coming weeks: missions that are obviously now hanging in limbo. Several Haitian colleagues of New Directions are being reported missing or dead. There's also a story in Burlington's Times-News about what's happening at the ministry following the earthquake.

New Directions is currently raising money for food and other aid to the victims of this week's earthquake. You can visit their website at www.newdirections.org. The phone number is 336-227-1273.

If you cannot donate funds, please keep the people at New Directions International in your thoughts and prayers. This blogger, for one, will be very thankful if you do.

YouTube called: I beat Comcast

Okay, YouTube didn't really call me, but you know...

Last month I reported that Comcast was giving me grief about how I posted a clip from E!'s show The Soup where they used MY commercial from the school board campaign in 2006... without asking me, but I was fine with that. I just expected the same courtesy from E! and its ownership that I have given them. That's not too much to ask, in my mind.

And of course, this whole thing is too much like that crazy situation with Viacom a little over two years ago. And just as I did with Viacom then I filed a counterclaim with YouTube, per the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

A short while ago I received the following e-mail from YouTube:

Re: [#561937480] YouTube Support

Copyright Service to me

Hi there,
In accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we've completed
processing your counter-notification regarding your video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51FpFrMVWOo

This content has been restored and your account will not be penalized.

Sincerely,
The YouTube Team

So for the third time now (first Viacom, then NBC which quickly acquiesced and retracted their claim against me for posting a clip of The Jay Leno Show that also used my commercial, and now with Comcast) my filing the DMCA counterclaim has been successful. And that's why I'm compelled again to discuss this. Because if an independent content producer like me can take on three multi-billion dollar corporations over DMCA abuse and win each time, then any small-time content producer can do likewise and come out on top.

None of us are without some pretty potent weapons. We just have to know how to use them... and use them properly.

So here it is again: E! Television's The Soup featuring my school board campaign commercial :-)

Glad that this got resolved. And I hope that it never has to happen again!

Best idea I've read in a LONG time about reforming government

Good friend of this blog J.R. Hafer has posted some excellent thoughts on his own site this afternoon. The subject? The apathy of the American people about their government, and J.R. goes into a lot of what's causing it.

The entire thing is an excellent read, but I wanna focus y'all's attention on something that J.R. suggests in his essay. An idea that I've never thought of before but is instantly the very BEST suggestion that I've found in a long time and one of the greatest ever...

Politicians should be paid by their constituency and not the federal government. Their housing and benefits should be determined by the people they represent, and not the federal government.
Not just yes but HELL YES to this!

My mind is literally at a loss to come up with all of the crap that this would put an end to. Can I get an "amen"? :-)

Danny Glover blames global warming for Haiti earthquake

This is an even dumber thing to say than Pat Robertson's sick statement two days ago.

Here's what Danny Glover has declared about the earthquake in Haiti...

"When we see what we did at the climate summit in Copenhagen, this is the response, this is what happens, you know what I'm sayin'?"
So Haiti got hit because the "climate change" conference in Copenhagen last month didn't go like Glover wanted it to?

Either Glover is horribly ignorant/uneducated about the subjects of climate and plate tectonics, or he's ascribing god-like sentience and powers to the Earth itself.

Once upon a time, actors were held in such ill repute that they weren't allowed burial in a town's cemetery: they were interred without Christian rite at a more remote site from civilization. Today, merely being a celebrity is grounds to celebrate one's grasp of science and philosophy, however misguided.

"And nothing of value was lost..." ... or gained

Feelin' extra cynical and disgusted about some things this morning...

So the Republican party thinks it can "win back" control of Congress from the Democrats in this year's election.

How does that matter? Really... how does that matter?

I have been observing politics for most of my life. I'll admit that once upon a time I did believe that there were fundamental differences between the Democrats and Republicans and that those were "the only" parties that seriously existed. So I was in the same mindset as the vast majority of Americans.

Then I grew out of it. Woke up. Came to my senses. Saw things for how they really are...

Saw too much of what's running this country as one big damned fabrication. Not a government of enlightened individuals but a glorified puppet show entertaining the masses with smoke and mirrors.

And now, now... it doesn't bother me one whit about which party is "in control" in Washington.

Because, let's get real folks: do things ever honestly change for the better depending on whether it's the Democrats or Republicans that are in power?

This country endured sixteen consecutive years of the worst Presidents in its 200-plus year history. One was a Democrat and the other was a Republican. Neither left this nation in a better state than how they found it (the Republican one was hands-down the most destructive "President" yet).

But still, too many people in this country are entranced by the projected allure of these mere mortals. They look for the quick fix of "someone else" and ignore the wisdom that God has not only given us, but expects us to use on our own.

I don't see how this country will prosper for much longer when most of us refuse to think for ourselves and instead let the Republicans, or the Democrats, or Barack Obama, or Sarah Palin, or Glenn Beck, or anyone else but God carry our hopes for something better.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A thought before signing off for the night...

Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet Him in person.

British government finally apologizes for Thalidomide

Fifty years after Thalidomide was taken off the market in Great Britain, that country's government is finally owning up to its role in one of the most horrific disasters of modern medicine.

Thalidomide was a drug approved to combat the symptoms of morning sickness in pregnant women. And when I say "approved" I mean that the British government didn't perform proper tests on the drug to determine if it was, y'know, safe for both mothers and children. Thalidomide caused hundreds of birth defects throughout Great Britain because it hampered blood vessels from fully developing in the fetuses. Many children were born with vestigial limbs... or no limbs at all. A few had no eyes, among other severe problems.

In addition to the apology, the British government is allocating £20 million to help the hundreds of Thalidomide survivors living in the United Kingdom today.

By the way, although it's not used in cases of pregnancy, Thalidomide has begun to see renewed application in certain kinds of cancer.

(Thanks to Simon of Si-Napses for alerting readers on this side of the pond to this story.)

8-year old Cub Scout is on TSA's terrorist watch list

In today's performance of "Security Theatre", it's 8-year old Mikey Hicks of New Jersey: a Cub Scout who is on the Transportation Security Administration's terrorism watch list.

Mikey has been on the list since the age of 2, when he was first examined by TSA goons to see if he was carrying any explosives, guns or stabbing weapons. And Mikey doesn't appreciate his constant treatment by Homeland Security one bit: "I don't like being touched in certain spots. They go like, (pat down on the side), and go like that way."

Just more proof that our own federal government is a bigger menace than "the terrists" have ever been.

General Larry Platt sings "Pants on the Ground"

I've given up on American Idol, and not because this is Simon Cowell's final season (and if you ask me, Simon is among the most brilliant minds working in entertainment today). So I didn't see "Pants on the Ground", the original song performed on last night's show by 62-year old civil rights activist General Larry Platt of Atlanta.

But having seen it now... I can't get it out of my head!!

Here it is: "Pants on the Ground"!

If American Idol had allowed more stuff like this (and bumped up the age limit of contestants) a lot of people would probably still be watching it. Anyways, hat's off to Larry Platt for a great performance!

Obama sending $100 million to Haiti... and why he's very wrong to do so

Haiti is still reeling from a 7.3 earthquake two days ago that destroyed Port-au-Prince. A half-million people there or more might be dead in the rubble. The tiny island nation was already one of the world's poorest economies and even that has been shattered beyond belief.

This is very much one of the worst natural disasters of modern memory. Some are saying that the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami pales in comparison.

As I wrote here yesterday, our thoughts and prayers should be with the people of Haiti. I have certainly held them up in my own time with God.

Just wanted to make it clear that I do have sympathy for what the Haitian people are going through. I can't say that I have understanding though, 'cuz honestly I've never been through something on this vast a scale. But does my heart break for the people there? Absolutely.

And I can understand why a lot of folks are going to think that it's mighty good of President Barack Obama to pledge $100 million from the United States government to aid in the recovery of Haiti.

So I can hear it now: "Chris you're a heartless bastard!" when I write that Obama should not be using our tax money to help out Haiti.

Longtime readers of this blog might know where I'm coming from. I can't think of a better way to articulate it than the story of Horatio Bunce, as shared by Davey Crockett. But if you want a synopsis: Crockett and some other well-meaning members of the House of Representatives voted $20,000 (a huge sum in those days) for relief for victims of a fire in Georgetown. When Crockett went back to his district in Kentucky to campaign for re-election, a well-respected local sage named Horatio Bunce harshly reprimanded Crockett for his "act of charity". Using the money of the public treasury in such a fashion was a violation of the citizens' trust, Bunce told Crockett: it was "not yours to give"! And as a result, Bunce told Crockett that he could not vote for him again.

Davey Crockett realized that Bunce was correct, and he never again voted for funds from the taxpayers to be used for anything other than what is called for in the Constitution. As for Horatio Bunce: he was satisfied that Crockett had learned his lesson, and promised to throw Crockett a fine barbecue and fundraiser the following week.

If only more of our politicians today had the wisdom of Horatio Bunce... or the humility to acknowledge that they are in the wrong, as Davey Crockett had.

I've never been comfortable with our elected officials sending our money abroad in the name of "humanitarian aid". For one thing, it's not a power given them in the Constitution of the United States. For another and far more practical reason: there is no accounting of how the money is being spent. Does anyone seriously believe that $100 million of American taxpayers money is going to all be used for disaster relief down in Haiti? If past history is an indicator, most of it will be wasted sloppily at best, and no doubt much will be outright stolen. Money that we barely have, that isn't our government's to give to begin with.

Now if you want to really help out the folks in Haiti, there are many worthwhile organizations that you can contribute to, if you choose to. The Salvation Army is one that comes to mind. These are agencies that have a tremendous interest in being accountable to the public. That is something that can not be said of the federal government. Indeed, I would dare say that $10 million of privately raised funds by the Salvation Army would go much further to sincerely helping the people of Haiti than $100 million from the United States government.

It's astounding that the United States still leads the world in providing disaster relief, in spite of ourselves (or our government anyway).

Kinda makes you wonder: if politicians like Barack Obama would not waste the citizens' money on "charitable" but unlawful expenditures, how much more could this country's people be able to give aid to those who need it most?

Steve Ballmer celebrates 10 years as Microsoft CEO

It was ten years ago yesterday that Steve Ballmer succeeded Bill Gates as the CEO of Microsoft.

Mash down here for the story at Slashdot.

In honor of the occasion, software developers around the world will be throwing chairs across the rooms of their workplaces.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

CIVIL WAR-style Leno/Conan banners!

Inspired by Marvel Comics' "Civil War" storyline from a few years ago, I made these banners that you can put on your own blog or website or whatever declaring whose side you are on!

 

Yes, it has come to this: the entire western world dividing up into Team Leno and Team Conan. There are natural disasters across the globe and corrupt politicians taking us for a ride... but thank God we have our priorities in order!

/sarcasm

Same chemical composition... but different structure

How the heck is the chemical notation for a formula like this thing gonna wind up?!


From the abstract at the Royal Society of Chemistry's website...

Usually, you'd expect two compounds with the same composition, atom-to-atom connectivity and symmetry to be chemically identical too. But scientists investigating metal-organic frameworks have discovered a surprising exception to this rule by identifying two isomers with the same symmetry and bonding but different gas storage properties.

A team led by Shengqian Ma at the Argonne National Laboratory, Illinois, US, investigated a rod-like tetracarboxylate molecule (ebdc) which can bind to a metal atom from any one of four binding points, one at each corner of a rectangle. When it was heated with a copper salt at 75 °C, a crystal phase formed (the alpha-phase) and at 65 °C a phase with different properties (the beta-phase) formed. So far, so normal. But when Ma carried out crystal analysis on these two compounds, he found that they had the same composition, the same atom-to-atom connectivity and the same symmetry. 'This type of symmetry-preserving isomerism has never been observed before in metal-organic frameworks,' says Ma.

In layman's terms, by changing the environment the researchers also changed how the substances bonded to each other. It's not uniform symmetry, as generations of chemistry books have taught.

So right there, before our eyes, a fundamental understanding of science has been drastically altered. And there ain't no telling yet what kind of neat-o applied technologies could eventually be developed from this.

Pat Robertson says Haiti suffered earthquake because its people "swore a pact with the devil"

Oh crap. That demented fool is again engaging his mouth before using his mind (or what little is left of it anyway). This time Pat Robertson of The 700 Club is blaming Haiti's earthquake on how that country's citizens "swore a pact with the devil" to get free from the French.

I've said this from darn nearly the very beginning of this blog, and I'll say it again: Pat Robertson is, according to the strictest biblical definition, a false prophet. And if Pat Robertson seriously wants America and any other country to "turn to God" in the way that he espouses, then Robertson must be stoned to death. Literally.

That said, I am once again aghast at how a fellow "Christian" will use the name of God to exploit - in however minor a fashion - such a horrific tragedy.

The trees of Mars

Not really trees, but an optical illusion captured by NASA's HiRISE camera in orbit around the red planet. What appears to be a scattering of pine trees is actually several trails of debris near Mars's north pole, left behind as the ice cap goes on its seasonal retreat.

Mash down here for more about the "trees" of Mars!

Freaky news: Human-faced lamb born in turkey

Click here if you want to see the photo of it. I'm too wigged-out by it to post here. Consider yourself duly warned.

The story also cites a human-faced goat that was born in Zimbabwe a few months ago. The goat lived for a few hours before frightened villagers killed it (and the governor of the province it was born in insists that it was the result of a human man having sex with a female goat).

Crazy stuff, no doubt. But it does make me consider that perhaps all those stories we've heard about in classic mythology, like the Minotaur etc., might have been inspired by real-life examples of mutation.

Please keep Haiti in your prayers y'all

Yesterday's 7.3 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti is fast shaping up to be one of the worst natural disasters of recent memory. I'm hearing that this is the biggest tremblor in two centuries to hit the area.

Here's asking this blog's readers to please hold the Haitian people up in your thoughts and prayers in the days and weeks to come. Lord knows, they're gonna need it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Most disturbing SESAME STREET clip I've posted yet

The innuendo in this song is so horribly bad. I have to feel sorry for whoever it was that wrote it. What was Sesame Workshop thinking??

Here is Baby Elmo's dad serenading his son about "Potty Time"...

"So here is your new potty!
When you have to pee or poo
It's where you sit to do whatcha gotta do-do!"
You've got to wonder: How does Elmo - or any Muppet for that matter - use the potty when someone's hand is shoved hard up their intestinal tract?

Clint Eastwood as Batman... in a movie version of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS?!

It nearly happened, folks! While talking about their new movie The Book of Eli with MTV News, Albert and Allen Hughes revealed that years ago Warner Bros. offered them the chance to direct a film adaptation of Frank Miller's acclaimed graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns: the work most often praised for establishing the modern, grim take on Batman.

In case you've never treated yourself to it, The Dark Knight Returns depicts a 55-year old decrepit Bruce Wayne, ten years past his prime, taking up the cowl once again to fight crime in Gotham City.

And the Hughes Brothers' choice to play the older, "decrepit" Batman? It would have been Clint Eastwood.

I think everyone who's read The Dark Knight Returns has at one point or another envisioned Eastwood playing Batman. Especially with the latter part of the book when Batman and his retinue are on horseback, riding hard through the streets of Gotham: now sitting dark and helpless following the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear weapon knocking out all the electrical power.

And from the sound of it, we almost got it! Just... wow.

Personally, as much as I would enjoy seeing The Dark Knight Returns get the big screen treatment, I'd much more love to see somebody take up the challenge of adapting Kingdom Come (and I'm thinking animated particularly). That is hands-down my favorite version of Batman ever.

STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC dated for spring 2011

What is perhaps the most anticipated computer game is going to be a bit longer in finally arriving. BioWare confirmed today that Star Wars: The Old Republic will be released sometime in the spring of 2011. It was fall of 2008 when BioWare announced that it was developing the massively-multiplayer online RPG.

Some people are saying this is too long a time to wait for this game. But I remember the winter of 2000 when LucasArts told us that we'd be getting Star Wars Galaxies, and that didn't come until the summer of 2003. And we all know how that turned out to be (okay, to be fair it was a great game at first before Sony Online Entertainment messed it up with "New Game Enhancements"). But this is BioWare we're talking about: the company that gave us Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to begin with. If I have to wait a little longer to play this game, I can do that 'cuz I've got faith that it's just gonna make Star Wars: The Old Republic even better.

So be of good cheer y'all: soon we'll get to be play Jedi and Sith and smugglers (with - gasp - actual smuggling!) like never before :-)

Miep Gies, protector of Anne Frank's family, has passed away

The second bestselling nonfiction book of all time - surpassed only by the Bible - owes its publication to this fine lady...

Miep Gies and her husband Jan were the Dutch couple who hid Otto Frank and his family in an Amsterdam office building's secluded annex from 1942 to 1944. For more than two years, Miep and Jan Gies smuggled food and other provisions to the Franks and other Jews, protecting them as they could from the Nazi regime that was controlling the Netherlands.

In August of 1944 (not long after the invasion of Normandy) the Gestapo discovered the hiding place and captured everyone. Not long afterward Miep Gies was allowed to return and while there she gathered up numerous personal belongings in hopes of returning them. Scattered on the floor were pages of Anne Frank's diary. In 1947 it was published and became a worldwide sensation for all time.

For her heroism, Miep Gies was decorated by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and declared a "Righteous Gentile" by the Israeli government.

Miep Gies, last surviving protector of Anne Frank and her family, passed away yesterday at the age of 100.

If only more people had the courage of this woman, this would be a far better world.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Federal health care will violate First Amendment on religious grounds

Old Order Mennonites - more popularly known as the Amish - will be exempted from being required to have health insurance if the so-called "health care reform" going through the House and Senate passes. According to the above-linked story in the Watertown Daily Times out of New York state, there's a "religious conscience" clause that allows Amish and other religious groups to opt-out of the mandated insurance.

How does this not run afoul of the First Amendment, which clearly dictates that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"?!?

If one group of people is allowed to get out of federal health care because of sincere convictions against such a thing, then all people who object to federalized health care have the moral right to reject it.

I am a follower of Christ who belongs to no particular denomination. And I say from the bottom of my heart that federal government-run health care sucks donkeys balls to no end.

I'm gonna be exempt too. And if Obama and Hillary want to fine me for not playing with them, then I'll kindly tell them that they can go to hell.

Needed: Humble leaders, not confident ones

Michael Hyatt has written an intriguing essay on leadership over at his blog. As Hyatt puts it, we are wrong to seek leaders who are confident in their own abilities and knowledge, when instead we should find leaders who can and will admit that they don't have complete understanding and are far more humble because of it. Hyatt cites the example of Joseph Hooker during the American Civil War...
"Fighting Joe Hooker" was a major general in the Union army. He was exceedingly smart. He set up an elaborate spy network and knew more about the Confederate army than the Confederates did themselves.

Hooker found himself squared off against General Robert E. Lee in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, near the village of Chancellorsville. Because of the detailed intelligence he was able to gather, he positioned his troops in such a way that he had Lee surrounded on three sides. In addition, his troops outnumbered Lee's two-to-one.

Hooker was absolutely confident that he would destroy Lee's army. Lee's only choice was to retreat to Richmond. The night before the battle, Hooker told his troops, "God Almighty could not prevent us from victory tomorrow." He was bold, audacious, and (as it turned out) overly confident.

According to Gladwell, more information does not guarantee better decisions. In fact, we tend to overestimate the value of additional information. He cited the work of Dr. Stuart Hopkins, who did extensive research on this topic. What he discovered is that when people are given more information, they grow more confident in their ability to solve the problem. However, their actual results are not better. Sometimes, they are worse.

Overconfidence is "the disease of experts." They think think they know more than they actually do know. In fact, they make mistakes precisely because they have knowledge. This is what happened on Wall Street. This is what also happened with Hooker.

When Lee realized he was surrounded on three sides, he began moving his troops south. Hooker assumed Lee was retreating to Richmond. His men relaxed. Some of them started celebrating. What they didn't realize was that Lee was flanking their position.

Hooker was arrogant and over-confident. He didn't prepare for this possibility. Even though Lee was surrounded on three sides and outnumbered two-to-one, he was able to defeat Hooker. It was a stunning and demoralizing defeat for the Union army.

The lesson is this: In times of crisis, we think we need leaders who are bold and confident. This is completely wrong-headed. What we really need are leaders who are humble and willing to listen.

I have been thinking much the same for quite some time now. It seems that every aspect of our culture, from government to business to even the realm of religious worship, is plagued with people demanding that we give them extra heed because "we know better". And far more often than not, we take them at their word.

All we get are "leaders" too proud to admit that they've made mistakes... and we keep giving them more power because we're too proud to admit that we were wrong to install them in leadership positions in the first place.