Sunday, May 30, 2010

The U.S. Military and "Freedom":
Memorial Day 2010

A lot of people I respect repeat the idea that it is our military that makes us free. Let me disagree.

Every government needs an army. For the past few decades, we have been able to fight several wars with an all-volunteer army and a growing number of "military contractors", which used to be called mercenaries when I was growing up in the now quaint 20th Century. This strategy makes wars very expensive and we have the choice of high taxes or high deficits. For the most part, we have been choosing raising the deficit over raising taxes.

When I was growing up there was something called the draft. It existed when my dad was growing up and when his dad was growing up. In fact, until Afghanistan and Iraq, we never had a war that lasted more than a few months without the re-institution of a draft.

It was the most disgusting Orwellian nonsense to say we were "free" when every able-bodied young man could be forced by law to take a job at low pay that had a significant probability of ending his life. Young men who successfully avoided the draft are looked on as cowards after the fact instead of what they truly are, people with a strong sense of self-protection. Republicans mock people like Bill Clinton, Democrats mock Dick Cheney and the guys whose family connections got them into the cushy National Guard service like Dan Quayle and George W. Bush. The fact is the system sucked and it always did, and it stunk of corruption all the way back to the Civil War and even before.

My dad was a draftee. He survived Korea, due in no small part to landing a plane that had a wing shot off by enemy fire. He did everything he could to make sure his sons would not be drafted. He helped my brother Michael get a deferment on medical grounds, since Michael was allergic to penicillin and had injured his leg in a motorcycle accident. The draft became a lottery in the early 1970s, and the last drawing in 1972 concerned men born in 1953. I grew up worrying about it, but I never faced the draft and the war was winding down by the time I was of age, so I faced a very different situation compared to what my dad and older brother had to live through.

Here's to the young men who never had a chance to be free, indentured servants our government treated worse that pack animals. Here's to the draftees cut down at Vicksburg, the poor doughboys sucking poison gas in France, the drafted men who died fighting the Japanese island by island across the Pacific or died fighting the Germans village by village across France and Holland and Belgium. They died in the cold of Korea and the fetid rice fields of Vietnam. They died before they had the right to vote or legally drink a cool beer. They were enslaved boys and never free men, and we did this to them and pretended we were free.

Let us always strive to remember the world as it actually was, not the nonsensical nostalgic neverland the unscrupulous try to sell to us. Here's hoping on this Memorial Day that my nephews and their sons never have to face the situation their older relatives had to endure.

Light blogging schedule ahead.

The spring semester is over now, and I've been assigned to the graveyard shift for census work, 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. I tend to wake up early and be awake for a lot of those hours anyway (it's 2:21 a.m. as I am writing this), so I just have to acclimate myself to a slightly different sleep pattern than the already weird pattern I keep normally.

Until I figure out how this is going to work, my blogging output should shrink some here at the regular blog. Over at It's News 2 Them, it should be business as usual.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Random 10, 5/28/10

Honeysuckle Rose Fats Waller
Shot With His Own Gun Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Gold Interference
Promised Land Spanic Boys
Up A Lazy River Hoagy Carmichael
Hang On St. Christopher Tom Waits
Down On The Riverbed Los Lobos
Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) Beyoncé
Under Your Spell/Standing (Reprise) Amber Benson and Anthony Stewart Head
You Can't Hurry Love Diana Ross & the Supremes

Yet another Random 10 that has songs from my top three singer/songwriter heroes, Fats Waller, Elvis Costello and Tom Waits. The oldest song on the list was recorded before my mom was born (the Hoagy Carmichael tune) and there are three from the 21st Century, with Sasha Fierce, a song from the Buffy musical and Gold from the movie Once. The most obscure song is the only one that doesn't show up on the You Tubes, a song by the father and son rockabilly duo Spanic Boys.

So, whatcha listenin' to?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wednesday Math (one day late), Vol. 119: Why is a negative times a negative a positive?

The technical definition of a number and its negative is that both numbers are the same distance away from zero, but in opposite directions on the number line, which is usually presented as a horizontal line with positive direction moving to the right. So the negative of 4 is -4 and the negative of -4 is 4.

This definition is simple but abstract, with no grounding in experience. Let's instead deal with something people understand where positive and negative movement make sense, our bank accounts.

A credit represents positive movement, money being added to our account, while a debit is negative movement, money being taken away. It is possible to have both negative credits and negative debits. If you put money in the account but the check you tried to cash bounced, the positive movement you thought you had has to be subtracted to reflect the true amount available. You can also have a negative credit, when money was removed from your account when it shouldn't have been. If there was a charge to your account that you didn't authorize or the bank charged your account some fee that you should have been exempt from, a negative debit means money going back into your account. This would be an example of a negative negative being a positive.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

One more candle on the cake for the Gosh Darned Pater Familias!

Best wishes on the anniversary of his birth to Donald Lee Hubbard, the best dad a fellow could ever ask for.

Technically, of course, I didn't ask for him. I just showed up one day and there he was. That was a lucky break, don't you think?

While his number of years is not a prime number, it does have only one prime factor. Given that I have said I am in my mid-fifties and my father is not a character from Genesis, I think the bright math students will be able to figure out his exact age from these clues.

Happy birthday, papa! I'll see you this weekend.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bob Wilkins

Several recent events have made me wax nostalgic. Being a fiftysomething when most of my students are twentysomethings has altered my view of what A Long Time Ago means. I recently taught my algebra students about logarithmic scales, and of course in California the best example is the Richter scale. When I brought up the Loma Prieta quake, the majority of the students had only dim recollections of it. A lot of Laney students were born overseas and weren't here in 1989, and more than a few of them weren't even born then.

I don't think of that as A Long Time Ago, but it's coming up on 21 years. At least it's a history landmark that my students know happened, even if they are hazy on the details.

Here's something young people know next to nothing about. Local programming that people actually watched.

Sometimes in droves.

If you didn't grow up in Northern California in the 1970s, the name Bob Wilkins will likely mean nothing to you. In 1971, he moved away from a station in sleepy Sacramento to the big market San Francisco Bay Area to host a late night double feature of monster movies called Creature Features.

As far as I can tell, there wasn't anybody else anything like him anywhere else.

In the world.

Other horror show hosts camped it up, like Elvira in Los Angeles or Ghoulardi in Cleveland. Count Floyd of Monster Chiller Horror Theater on SCTV is a perfect parody of them. Bob Wilkins was from the fine Midwestern tradition of comedy that includes James Thurber, Bob Newhart and Charles Schulz. All these people looked completely normal, like accountants or regional sales managers or vice-presidents of the local Elks Lodge, but for reasons passing understanding, they were about five to fifteen degrees off from level plumb.

Creature Features was definitely a guy thing, but it wasn't just a nerd thing. For guys my age from the Bay Area, it doesn't matter if you were a nerd or a jock or a stoner, you watched Creature Features. According to the Bob Wilkins page on Wikipedia, there were weekends when more people watched Creature Features than watched Saturday Night Live in its absolute heyday. The thing that was interesting was his comments during the breaks. He actually watched the movies before airing them, and even alone in your house on a Saturday night, you felt like part of a community of people watching these cheesy movies together.

(Note: According to comments here on the blog and on my Facebook link to it, it wasn't just a guy thing. My apologies for my sexist assumption.)

Wilkins passed away last year. All the tributes to him recall a line he said often. "Don't stay up, it's not worth it." This was his way to tell you that the second movie was a turkey, but his fans absolutely didn't care. You might miss something Bob said in the second movie, and you knew your friends at school would know about it and you wouldn't. That was not an option, and since VCRs were still a few years off, you watched the cheesy movie anyway, even against Bob's usually accurate advice.

Between the two movies, he'd have special guests. Before Star Trek conventions were the Big Damn Deal they later became, he would have some actor or actress that played a role on just a couple episodes talk about the Good Old Days. He also interviewed actors and directors from the movies he showed, or people who were serious horror fans. Some of the people were kind of silly, but he interviewed them straight. It was riveting television.

It's hard for me to remember his best lines. These shows weren't repeated over and over, so much of his best material is stuck in the somewhat fading memories of his fans. You can see some clips on The You Tubes. I do recall he would tell you the movies that would be on next week. One introduction sticks in my head to this day. "Next week we will be showing Attack of the Crab Monsters, not to be confused with the Army training film of the same name."

I also remember how his crew would laugh at his best lines. There was no live studio audience, but every once in a while, he'd let go with a perfect gag and the cameramen and sound guys would be laughing their heads off. I remember that with Lon Simmons when he broadcast the Giants games on the radio back in the day as well.

Watchable local TV programming. Must see local programming, in fact! There's no explaining that to young people today. If you weren't there, it's hard to believe it ever existed.

Best wishes to the friends and family of Bob Wilkins, from a fan.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Iron Man 2, Physics 0

I saw Iron Man 2 last night. It was what you expect from a sequel, not quite as good as the original, but not awful. It was a little too long, crammed to overflowing with few too many characters and sub plots, the charming hero of the first film not quite as charming the second time around. But it was a Big Stuff Blowing Up movie, and if that's what you wanted to see, that's what you got.

It was the textbook example of what the young people today call "aight", pronounced like "all right" when you don't have enough energy to pronounce the l or the r.

But my big problem with the movie, nerd that I am, is physics. But trust me, it isn't really nerdy physics that was my problem.

We can ignore the physics of unlimited energy in Iron Man and unlimited ammo in War Machine, the gray Army version of the flying suit. My problem in the movie deals with gravity, stuff that goes up but, for reasons passing understanding, declines the coming down part.

Tony Stark gets loaded and shows up to a party dressed as Iron Man. At least this is in character, as Tony was a fall down drunk in the comic books as well. The rest of the party guests look like they have been shipped in from the best strip clubs in town, and he starts impressing the girls by throwing a champagne bottle in the air and destroying it with his hand mounted repulsor ray. Oooh, that's fun! Girls starting throwing the bottles in the air above the crowd and he shoots those bottles out of the air as well.

Excuse me, where does the broken glass go? I know I'm not supposed to think about as petty a problem as gravity when watching a Big Stuff Blowing Up movie, but the scene ends with one girl (and they aren't women, they're girls, as in the phrase Girls Gone Wild) carrying a huge watermelon she can barely lift, let alone throw two feet above her head, and Iron Man obliges by blowing it to smithereens, covering the assorted bimbos in the splash zone with icky, sticky fun!

The rules in a movie don't have to be the same way the rules in real life, but they do have to be internally consistent. If blowing up a watermelon means people getting hit with watermelon debris, blowing up champagne bottles in the exact same scene should also effect the people in the blast zone. And not in a good way.

Last year, a pleasant time watching the frothy Mamma Mia! was ruined by incessant usage of math and logic. This year, I used physics to break the magical spell of willing suspension of disbelief during Iron Man 2. In my defense, it wasn't the tough part of physics, it was the part that any toddler who knocks something breakable off of a table can understand.

Would that the director and screenwriters had made an effort to reach this level of understanding. Maybe the message was supposed to be "nothing ever happens to innocent bystanders", but it felt like "we the filmmakers don't give a rat's rectum what happens to innocent bystanders, because in this movie they don't count".

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What I've learned about the supermarket rags.

I've been running The Other Blog for about five months now and I have learned to spot the subtle differences among The Only Ten Magazines That Matter. I've also done a little research into the business of supermarket magazines and the truth is... they don't matter. At least not as much as they once did.

The Big Winner. Currently, People magazine sells nearly four million copies a week. No other supermarket rag sells half that much. People is owned by Time Inc., who does not own any other magazine regularly found on the checkout counter. They do have a teen version and a country version of People, but in the supermarkets where I shop, those are in the magazine rack.

People almost always talks to its subjects, so it really doesn't count as gossip. They actually broke the Heidi Montag surgery story with Heidi going on the record. They also had Heidi's mom on the record saying she hated the idea. This is the way they come in on two sides of a "controversy", by talking to people on both sides. So far, they have been on Kate Gosselin's side and haven't talked to Jon at all this year. (No one is even mentioning Jon anymore, but many magazines have decided they hate Kate.) The editors at People don't use anonymous sources, at least not for stories on the cover.

The Big Loser. American Media Inc. (AMI for short) publishes all the supermarket rags on newsprint, National Enquirer, Sun, Globe and National Examiner, and one of the glossy magazines, the Star, which Rupert Murdoch started in 1974 to compete with the Enquirer and sold to AMI in 1990. In its heyday of the 1970s and 1980s, the Enquirer sold about six million copies a week. It now sells about 1.2 million, and the Star about 1.4 million. TV gossip shows stole a lot of the magazine's thunder about thirty years ago, and Internet gossip is picking on the bones today. AMI owns Radar Online, which is significantly less popular than its major rival

British gossip rags have much more market penetration in their smaller market than American tabs today, so AMI brought Brits in to run things in the 1990s and 2000s with disastrous results. The Globe and Examiner are reduced to leaking gossip about people who were famous before I graduated high school, stories I call Hey Old Timer Gossip on The Other Blog. All the supermarket rags that aren't covering old timer gossip have decided that Reality TV is their bread and butter, so much so that major gossip stories in other venues, like the legal troubles of starlet Lindsay Lohan and Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger get no coverage at all. Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor's arrest for rape probably wouldn't have been worth mentioning in the supermarket rags except that he was on Dancing With The Stars last year.

Until I did a little research, I assumed the supermarket rags knew what they were doing covering the stories they covered, but clearly they haven't a clue on how to survive. Publishing only once a week means they can't keep up with TV or Internet sources, and though Murdoch quit the weekly gossip business with his tail between his legs twenty years ago, his New York Post gossip section Page Six often gets stories that go national, usually when they are being denied by the participants.

Still, I'm going to keep my other blog going. After all, without the tabloids, how will I be able to find out when the world will end? Well, I could read The San Francisco Chronicle, but it's pretty much at the level of supermarket rag since the Komodo Dragon Happy Meal Phil Bronstein took the helm.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rand Paul is not a racist!

He's an idiot. They are worse.

In most polite company these days, racists know they can't say what they really think, and so they couch it in code words. Idiots have no such compunctions.

Rand Paul is a special kind of idiot. He's a Libertarian. I should have some sympathy for him because I was a Libertarian.

When I was 20.

Then I met some other Libertarians. These idiots are terrifying. Anyone who does even a tiny amount of maturing has to get away from these stunted adolescents as fast as they can. For example, Dennis Miller considers himself a Libertarian. He was a Ross Perot supporter in 1992 when he was nearly 40.

I had an excuse in 1976. I was a snot-nosed kid. Miller does not have that defense. He's just an idiot.

Rand Paul's position on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the standard propertarian party line. Propertarians are a particularly dull-witted strain of the Libertarian breed. If two people's rights are in conflict, whoever owns more property wins. If some business owner wants to discriminate against me because I'm white or I'm old or I don't attend the right church, the government has no right to interfere according to the propertarian point of view. My money is no good in their store and I can be turned down for a job for which I'm qualified or fired from that same job.

Here's the thing about most propertarians. Most of them think that discrimination is something that happens to other people. More freedom and less government is always the answer. Paul, idiot that he is, is now saying that Obama sounds "un-American" for attacking British Petroleum, the perpetrators of one of the worst environmental disasters of all time that is still an ongoing situation.

Let's review this, shall we? Obama, an American president elected overwhelmingly by the American people is "un-American" for asking for responsibility from a foreign owned corporation legally liable for an environmental nightmare that will disproportionately affect the livelihoods and property of Americans.

As I said. Idiot.

Some people are comparing Rand Paul with Sarah Palin. It's not completely fair. I've heard Rand Paul actually complete a sentence. He not only got through college, he's an ophthalmologist. His problem is that he has steeped in the scum-filled Libertarian gene pool for so long, he doesn't know reality from the weird concoction of paranoid fantasies and unworkable solutions these people openly espouse.

In 2008, Paul was campaigning for his father in Montana, and he spoke of the feared NAFTA superhighway and the "Amero" currency as though they were real. This is what happens when you live in a bubble and everyone you talk to is just as crazy and stupid as you are.

He showed some guts going on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. Guts, but not much brains, as one might expect from an idiot. His comments on civil rights were front page news and Maddow, who is not an idiot, tore him to shreds in a fair and balanced way. He is now backpedaling fast enough to win an Olympic medal. He has canceled an appearance this Sunday on Meet The Press, claiming exhaustion. He is the third such cancellation in the show's sixty three(!) year history. The other people who flaked were Louis Farrakhan and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a.k.a. Bandar Bush because of his close ties to the Bush crime family.

Being an idiot does not disqualify a person from elected office. Rand Paul is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Jim Bunning, who has some strong idiot tendencies himself. But Paul has a long campaign ahead of him and a serious lack of experience at this level, and though he currently has a very big lead, his best strategy may be running out the clock.

Sadly for Dr. Paul, one of the main weaknesses of idiots is that they never use the best strategy.

Young Frankenstein is the favorite comedy horror film

While there is a day remaining on the poll for best comedy horror film, the mercy rule is being invoked. Young Frankenstein was chosen by 83% of the people who stated a preference, while the second place films were only on 27% of the ballots. The people have spoken.

Young Frankenstein is one of my favorite Mel Brooks films, along with The Producers and Blazing Saddles. As a Highlight Reel™, I would say it is my favorite work of Marty Feldman and Cloris Leachman, and the funniest work for Peter Boyle and Gene Hackman, but the rest of the cast have several movies I like at least as much. Both Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn are good in other Mel Brooks' film and in movies by other directors. Teri Garr is good in Tootsie and I like Kenneth Mars' work in The Producers and What's Up, Doc?

I say this more as an observation that a criticism, but Mel Brooks does not always strike when the iron is hot, even in the movies of his I like. Young Frankenstein is a parody made in the 1970s about horror films as they were made in the 1930s. Blazing Saddles makes fun of westerns long after the genre has lost steam. Even Spaceballs came out four years after the last film of the Star Wars trilogy was released.

I voted for more than one movie on the list, including Young Frankenstein, but I would like to put in a good word for Shaun of the Dead, which I misspelled in the list as Sean of the Dead. It is making fun of horror films as the genre exists today, not as a tribute to films decades past. Shaun actually has horror aspects to it, gore and death and the like, and it is also very funny.

I do not think the voters made a mistake favoring Young Frankenstein. I can still remember multiple scenes from the movie that make me laugh. My point here is that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are one of my favorite comedy duos, most especially in Shaun of the Dead and their cop film parody Hot Fuzz.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Random 10, 5/21/10

Bird Dog The Everly Brothers
Po' Lazarus James Carter & The Prisoners
Sweet & Slow Fats Waller
Death Or Glory The Clash
One Love Bob Marley & The Wailers
Here Comes The Flood Peter Gabriel
Snowball Hoagy Carmichael
Just A Girl No Doubt
Old Man Randy Newman
Stranger In The House Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Not a bad list, not the greatest I've ever put up. The oldest song on the list is ironically the most recently released, the prison work song Po' Lazarus from the movie O Brother Where Art Thou? The recording of Here Comes The Flood is from this century, and Peter can still hit the high notes on that song, which is remarkable. There are covers of Randy Newman's Old Man on The You Tubes, but not the original, which is a shame.

So, wadda you listenin' to?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Census Week continues:
A memory from my last office job.

I've done a few interesting things in my life. There is a small number of people who are interested in my time in a synthesizer band in the 1980s. A somewhat larger number of people will happily listen to stories about my four day stint on Jeopardy! Among my students, there is more interest still in my career writing video games, which many young people think is the coolest job in the world.

Students are mystified as to why I would quit such a terrific gig. I explain that it is in general a young man's game, and the allure of working long hours without any extra pay wears thin after a while, and the companies can always find some one else, usually somebody young and less experienced, to do the job a mature person finds onerous.

Working for the census, some of the data entry is kind of like programming in that there are two levels of errors. The simplest level is math errors, like the number of hours worked when entered from start to end times not adding up to the total. Once those errors are fixed, a batch of payroll requests is saved and the next error level is reported on, checking to see if other time sheets from the same people either have overlapping hours worked or demand overtime. There's a whole rigmarole for people asking for overtime.

This reminded me of programming. The first level of errors are like spelling mistakes, but there are also logic mistakes that the compiler will catch. What makes programming more challenging than mere data entry is the next level, where you have to check if the program you have written that now is free from spelling and simple logic mistakes actually does what is says it will do.

To this day, I enjoy programming. Making the computer do stuff is fun and getting it to do it exactly correctly or making the output pretty or useful is a challenge.

I can even enjoy data entry, especially if I can see there is an end to it and I know what the payoff will be. For example, the research I did about the mortality rates for pro football players and pro baseball players compared to the general public was an enjoyable way to spend two weekend afternoons, with the bonus of debunking an unsubstantiated claim from the Internet.

But the work at the census, while not as interesting as programming, reminded me of why I didn't want to write video games any more. When Castle Wolfenstein and its ilk became a major game genre, I lost interest in a big way. They are called first person shooters in the jargon of the biz, and I hate them with a white hot hate. I am in no way exaggerating when I say I prefer data entry to playing games like Grand Theft Auto. I will actually volunteer to do data entry to answer a question that interests me. I won't play GTA for love or money.

I'm not some weird pixel pacifist who won't play a violent video game. I loved Defender and Robotron 2084. I helped write Road Rash II, for pity's sake. But when the first person shooter became the dominant genre, my days in the business were numbered and I'm happy I left to do something I actually consider useful.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Census Week continues:
El Censo de Panamá

Not every country takes their census the same way. Yes, there are other ways besides the good old American way!

Seriously, there have to be.

My close personal bud Padre Mickey and his wife The Lovely Mona were counted in the Panamá census on Sunday May 16. The entire county of a little more than three million people is required by law to be in their homes. You can be fined or arrested for being out on the street. Obviously, Panamá does not have legions of freedom lovin' gun toters, because I think the Tea Partiers would have mass aneurysms if we conducted the Census this way in the States.

Unlike the U.S. Census, which asks about ten questions total, there are ten pages and 54 questions, and they get really specific. They wanna know about your stuff, from toilets to teevees, from cars to computers. If every census taker could ask about 100 people to fill this thing out, and that seems like a high estimate to me, they would still need to hire between 30,000 and 40,000 people for that Sunday to be enumerators.

Then you have all that paperwork to go through, so another small army of clerks have to be hired to get this stuff into usable form. I, of course, now have some experience at massive paper shuffling, but I'm not willing to travel out of the county to take this gig.

Perdón. Lo siento, pero no lo siento mucho.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Um... Cause? Effect? Are you guys talking to each other anymore?

For those of us not keeping track, and that includes me until a few minutes ago, The whole Gulf of Mexico disaster started in late April. This picture is from April 24. It's now May 18 and that means a big old gash in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico has been spewing petroleum like an underwater volcano for about three and a half weeks now. Sure, this is bad news for British Petroleum, it's bad news for the entire Gulf ecosystem. Oil is washing ashore in the Florida keys and this platform is near the Mississippi River delta in Louisiana.

Then we've got the whole "I drink your milkshake" concept popularized in There Will Be Blood. The oil that isn't available to this rig is also not available to other rigs tapping into the same big subterranean pocket of black goo. Moreover, this could easily have a long-term anti-offshore drilling political effect similar to the anti-nuke sentiments triggered by Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. So, short term, there should be less oil available, and long term, it could be harder politically to get to some oil fields.

Supply is shrinking and demand continues to chug along. Prices should therefore go in what direction?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

If you answered "skyrocket", you paid attention in economics class. If you said "plummet", you have been paying attention to the market over the past few weeks. On April 23, the Friday after the disaster started, crude was selling for $85.09 a barrel. Right now, it's under $70 a barrel at $69.16, a loss of about 19% in 25 days and reaching the lowest price this year.

When prices went completely nuts during the end of the Bush administration and hit $140 a barrel, the business press made up some fresh bullshit excuse nearly every day to explain why, with supply and demand not changing all that much relatively, the price could effectively double in eleven months and contract back to where they were in about three months. This bad news should be sending oil prices up, not down.

Are cause and effect not even on speaking terms anymore?

"So, have you had the census dream yet?"

I've been working for the U.S. Census for about a month now. I'm a clerk in the office and several of the people I trained with are working on shifts that overlap with mine. There's a lot of guys named John in the office, including one friendly guy from Alameda who was in the same training class as I was in. This particular John rides his bike to work, as do many others, so he and I have that in common as well.

Last week, John asked me if I had any dreams of working at the Census yet. When he asked, the answer was no, but this weekend, I had my first.

It was a dream about being at work without pants. You know, that dream.

But recently, I have noticed that I am quite the problem solver in dreams. It turns out I have my pants, I just forgot to put them on. So I duck into an empty room for some privacy, put my pants back on and hope as few people as possible saw me.

When I step back out, my supervisor and her supervisor are waiting for me. The room I stepped into to get dressed was a restricted area, and they have no choice but to let me go. "Was the problem that I wasn't wearing pants?" I ask. Oh, no, no, they both agree. Not wearing pants wasn't the problem, it was entering the restricted room. "I didn't know the room was restricted." That didn't matter, the rules are clear, I'd have to be terminated.

Then I woke up.

You know how if you die in your dream you die in real life? Not true. I've had falling dreams where I landed. Ow. So now I've had a dream in which I was fired, but I haven't actually lost my job. Those first few minutes after waking up were a little odd, though. My thoughts, in order were:

Oh, hell, I lost that job. I really need the cash.
Wait! It was just a dream.
I wasn't at work with no pants.
There is no restricted room that will get you fired.
Oh, no! I'm not wearing pants!
Wait, that's okay. I just woke up. I don't wear pants when I'm sleeping.


And so now I have had the census dream. I hope it's just one per customer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Wherein the title of the post is given at the end, for surprise comic effect.

In 1996, during the resurgence of popularity of board and card games, James Ernest released Give Me The Brain, a fast paced card game about zombies working at a fast food restaurant. The idea of the game is to complete all your tasks so you can leave. Some tasks only require one hand, some require two hands or three hands, but the most difficult tasks require not just two hands but the brain. There is only one brain in the entire operation, so you have to win an auction to get the use of the brain.

Many minutes of jovial fun time could be shared by all.

Of course, I am not a zombie working at a fast food restaurant. I am a clerk with the 2010 United States Census. I don't even know why my new job would remind me of this game.

Okay, I'm lying. I know why.

Welcome to Census Week!

Vox Populi: What's the best horror comedy?

One last genre of comedies is on deck for this week, horror comedy. I came up with nine nominees, but I feel like I'm likely missing some. If you have any nominees, please put them in the comments.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
An American Werewolf in London
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Monsters, Inc.
Teen Wolf
Sean of the Dead
Young Frankenstein

Some might say the Twilight series or Interview With A Vampire should count, but I decided to limit the list to intentional comedies. I would argue the funniest thing about both those films are the fans, so they don't really count.

Voting closes next Sunday. You can vote for more than one movie.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Favorite fantasy comedy is...

I could put up a second round of voting, but The Princess Bride is the only movie on the list that showed up on more than 50% of the ballots, so I'm going to give it the nod.

Besides being a good romantic adventure movie, I think it is the Highlight Reel™ for many of the actors involved. You could argue it is the best thing in the careers of Cary Elwes and Robin Wright Penn, and it is also my favorite work of Mandy Patankin, Chris Sarandon, Billy Crystal, Fred Savage and definitely Andre The Giant.

If not for This Is Spinal Tap, it would also be my favorite movie directed by Rob Reiner. It is certainly not the best work in the careers of Peter Falk, Peter Cook, Wallace Shawn or Christopher Guest, but only because they have done better work than the very good work they did here.

Next up: Horror comedy! Oooooh, scary, kids!

Happy Birthday to my little sister.

Happy Birthday to my little sister Karla.

Here she is, inventing the concept now known as photobombing. The less successful photobomber obscured by my mom's drink before she went to a party is the author.

At one time, both my little sisters were blondes, but Karla's hair got darker over the years.

And in a more recent picture, she explains to great nephew Emerson the epic win that is getting Smarties in your Halloween swag.

Love ya, sweetie. Many happy returns.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

One of these teams is not like the others.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are halfway through, and sixteen teams have been whittled down to four. In the East, the Montreal Canadiens will face the Philadelphia Flyers, who just came back from losing the first three games of a best-of-seven series to the Boston Bruins only to win the last four and the whole series. In the West, it's the top-seeded San Jose Sharks versus the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Sharks are the odd team out. You can even see it in their logo, the only one that spells the name out and the only one without a circled r registration. The Sharks lack history. Montreal's history goes back to before World War I was over and Chicago put a team on the ice since before my dad was born. This is the 43rd season the Broad Street Bullies have played in the City of Brotherly Love. Next year, the Sharks will turn twenty.

Here's another way the Sharks aren't like the other teams. Right now, they are the best team in hockey. They are not just the top seed in the West, they won the President's Trophy, the award for having the best record in the league this year. The NHL has been giving out this Trophy since the league's inception, but has always been considered small potatoes in comparison to winning Lord Stanley's Cup.

Here's another way the Sharks are different. They are the only team to have never won the Stanley Cup of the final four in contention. The Canadiens had decades of dominance when the league had only six teams. They won the first of their 24 Stanley Cups in 1916 before the league existed and won their most recent in 1993. The Blackhawks were the sad sack team of the Original Six, and their last Cup was hoisted in 1961. The Flyers have won twice in 1974 and 1975, back when Bobby Clarke was their big star and leading the league in penalty minutes was their most successful tactic.

There's still plenty of hockey to be played, but this could be the Sharks' year. They have been the top seed in the West before, and they have always found ways to disappoint in the playoffs. Given their history, many experts picked them to lose their series with the Detroit Red Wings in the conference semi-final. The Red Wings are the top franchise in the sport over the past two decades, and the smart money said that the Red Wings knew how to win and the Sharks knew how to lose. The smart money was wrong, and the San Jose beat Detroit easily, 4 games to 1.

For Bay Area sports fans, the Sharks have been the only quality professional franchise in the four major sports. The A's have been the best cheap team in baseball, but that means lean years and fat years and the rich kids stealing their lunch money when the A's are lucky enough to make the playoffs. The Giants are doing everything they can to forget that the best home run hitter in history played left field for them for the past two decades. The 49ers are rebuilding and the Warriors and Raiders just plain suck. The Sharks are the only franchise in the bio-region that consistently make the playoffs and get the advantages the high seeds enjoy. If they continue to play as well as they have in the early rounds, the Bay Area will have its first major pro sports champion since the glory days of the San Francisco 49ers ended back in 1995.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Random 10+1, 5/14/10

Doo Wop (That Thing) Lauryn Hill
5ive Gears In Reverse Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Love Shack The B-52s
God's Song Randy Newman
Success Iggy Pop
Under Pressure Queen and David Bowie
Spesso Vibra Per Suo Gioco (A. Scarlatti) Cecilia Bartoli
In Dreams Roy Orbison
Waiting In Vain Bob Marley & the Wailers
99 Problems Jay-Z
Special bonus track:
The Groove Is In The Heart Deee-Lite

Recordings well spread out from the last fifty years or so. 9 out of 11 from The You Tubes, only missing a song from Get Happy!, still one of my favorites albums from The One True Living Elvis, and Cecilia Bartoli's version of the Scarlatti tune which translates to "She Often Quakes In His Game" is also not to be found. The list certainly looks random, though you could say that surrounding the real opera singer are two of the most operatic of rock stars, Roy Orbison and Freddy Mercury.

So, whatcha listening to?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Politics makes me crazy sometimes.

Maybe I should amend the title. Politics makes me crazy most of the time.

I don't care for Meg Whitman, but she has a compelling story that might connect with the voters. She created and ran eBay, which is a real success story, unlike senate candidate Carly Fiorina, who ran multiple existing high tech firms right into the ground. Whitman still has to win the Republican primary next month, but she looks like the favorite to be the GOP standard bearer for governor of California. If you've heard her radio ads, you know she's against welfare. She's also in favor of getting rid of a tax on stock market speculation, though she doesn't tout that as loudly.

Yes, that's the problem with California today. We give too much money to poor people and take too much money away from rich people.

But instead of a discussion of where she stands on the issues, one of Whitman's big problems connecting with some voters on the right because she's a Satanist.

How do we know this? Here's a link to Chris Kelly's piece on the Huffington Post, but the basics are that she worked for Procter & Gamble and the Satanist rumors are still alive, though they have been debunked since I was a teen, that eBay lets people auction Satanist paraphernalia, and she is connected to Hasbro and they sell Ouija boards.

Here's another problem for Meg in 21st Century America. She's a female candidate and she's not pretty enough. Of course, she will likely have the good fortune of running against Jerry Brown, and he looks like the Cryptkeeper's scarier brother now.

Okay, that's California, where our candidates tend to be from the corporate whore wing of the Republican Party and not the "Jesus Gonna Be Here" wing. In Alabama, an underhanded attack ad against gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne alleges that he believes that some parts of the Bible are true and some parts (gasp!)... aren't!

Yes, Mr. Byrne is being accused of believing in natural selection and evolution. Mr. Byrne has issued a press release denying the scurrilous accusation. Heck, he's on the State Board of Education and has a long record of standing by the 100% reliability of the superstitions promulgated by desert addled, pig ignorant dirt farmers from 5,000 years ago. You can read more over at Talking Points Memo.

Seriously. The problems we face as a society are real. Arguing about Ouija boards and talking snakes with legs isn't helping.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Veronica Mars

I'm always on the lookout for new stuff to put on my Netflix list and several people including sfmike of the Civic Center blog recommended Veronica Mars, a show that played on UPN and the CW networks. I rarely watched anything on those channels, so this didn't catch my attention when it first aired.

The premise of the show is the town of Neptune, California has no middle class. There are the rich people and the people who clean the rich people's homes. Veronica Mars has a pass into the rich people's world because her dad is the country sheriff and she is dating a rich kid and is best friends with the rich kid's sister. But the sister, played by Amanda Seyfried in flashback scenes, is murdered, and Sheriff Mars steps on toes investigating the crime and is replaced. He becomes a private investigator and she becomes an outcast.

Kristen Bell plays Veronica, and as we can see in the picture, Ms. Bell is actually cuter than a button. You might think that this is the reason a dirty old man like myself watches the show, but News Flash! TV and movies are filled to capacity with attractive women. The story has to work or I lose interest.

Veronica is a superhero without powers. She is an A student, she is at the Sherlock Holmes level of sleuthing abilities and she always puts together cute outfits and just the right lip gloss on a very modest budget. The show is filled with nods to earlier TV feminist icons. Two actresses from Buffy play recurring roles, Charisma Carpenter and Allison Hannigan. The creator of Buffy, Joss Whedon, showed up for one episode as an annoying car rental employee. In an episode where the FBI is brought in to investigate a kidnapping, the lead FBI agent is played by Lucy Lawless. There was no Veronica vs. Xena climactic battle. Veronica lives on her wits, not on beating people up. Also, Lucy is about six feet tall and Kristen is barely over five feet. I think if she really annoyed Ms. Lawless, she would be found stuck in a locker somewhere.

For me, the weak link on the show is the young male cast. The show is about class war, so there isn't supposed to be much mixing of the different classes. Even inside the different classes, there is strict ethnic separation. The most interesting young male character is Weevil, the leader of a Hispanic gang for whom Veronica has done favors and vice versa. (Everyone is always doing favors for Veronica, usually without pay, and she is almost always taking people's cases, also often without pay.) Weevil is played by Francis Capra, a former child star. He's a good looking young man, but his height is listed at 5'5", which limits his options as a leading man. In any case, I like his work on the show.

One of my favorite aspects of Veronica Mars is her relationship with her dad Keith, played by Enrico Colantoni, who was the lead alien in Galaxy Quest and had a featured role on the sitcom Just Shoot Me. There has been a long and storied tradition of TV dads being clueless idiots, but Keith Mars is shown as being competent at his work and a loving father. At the end of the first season, Veronica is in a damsel in distress situation, not a common theme on the show, and it's her dad who saves the day. I like the actor, I like the role, I'm glad to see Mr. Colantoni continuing to get work.

As for Ms. Bell, she is continuing to get work, but like the post-Buffy career of Sarah Michelle Gellar, I haven't found anything she has done since quite as interesting, though some of the work has been popular, like a brief stint on Heroes, the successful but truly awful comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the narrator on Gossip Girl.

I recommend skipping those and watching Veronica Mars instead. The CW website has seasons 2 and 3 online, so you need to rent the DVDs to catch up on the show from the beginning.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mid season 3 of Breaking Bad:
The Passion of Hank Schrader

What follows is a discussion of the most current three episodes of season 3 of Breaking Bad. Spoilers and plot points will be discussed below the lolz of Hank Schrader, the DEA agent and brother-in-law of the main character of the show, Walter White.

I remain of the opinion that Breaking Bad continues to improve as time goes on. While the actions of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and partner in crime Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) continue to be the engine that moves the plot forward, other characters have their time in the spotlight as well, and for the past three episodes, the story of Hank Schrader, brilliantly portrayed by Dean Norris, has been the main character. Offered a great chance at career advancement by sharing time between the El Paso office and the show's home base of Albuquerque, Hank passes up the promotion to chase the trail of the new producer of crystal meth, the criminal known by the code name Heisenberg. He has no idea that Heisenberg is his brother-in-law Walter White, but he does have Jesse Pinkman in his sights, and he continues the investigation without a partner when the rest of the Albuquerque office thinks the trail has gone cold. In episode 6, he looks to have Jesse cornered in the Winnebago meth lab. Walt is meeting with Jesse inside, unbeknownst to Hank, but the criminals give him the slip by getting someone to call and tell him his wife is in critical condition in the hospital. By the time he figures out it was a ruse, the Winnebago has been destroyed.

At the beginning of Episode 7, Hank beats Jesse senseless, enraged that the criminal used his wife to get to him. The Cousins, two assassins from Mexico intent on killing Walt, are given the okay to kill Hank instead, since he is the one who actually killed their cousin Tuco in a shootout. Whereas the episode begins with Hank beating a defenseless Jesse, it ends with Hank, without his gun while the investigation into his misconduct is held, being set upon by the Cousins, and barely escaping with his life.

In Episode 8, Hank is always there, though Dean Norris is not to be seen on screen. The family holds a vigil in the hospital where Hank has been brought after the shootout. One of the Cousins is dead and the other is also in the hospital trying to recover from the wounds Hank inflicted on him. Ever since The Sopranos, the hospital vigil scene has been done so often that it's very nearly a cliche, but the quality of this episode convinces me that Vince Gilligan and his writers continue to produce the best weekly drama series on TV that doesn't air on HBO.

When the show started several years ago, Hank felt like a plot device, the gregarious jock of the family sent to torture the introspective nerd. But Hank's character has grown so much in the past few years, and we see him as a man with virtues and flaws and goals of his own. The writing has a lot to do with that, and so does the note perfect performance of Dean Norris as Hank. There are echoes of Javert and Jean Valjean in Hank's relentless pursuit of Heisenberg, but two and a half seasons in, we know that Hank really is the good guy and Walter White, for all his good intentions, is not a misunderstood hero but sinking instead into villainy with every bad decision.

Vince Gilligan isn't certain how long the show will last. He has talked about a four to five season arc to tell all of Walt's story. That might change over time, but I do want to see where the trail will end.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Frank Frazetta, 1928-2010

Frank Frazetta, the most influential American illustrator of the late 20th Century after Norman Rockwell, has died at the age of 82. Here is a link to the New York Times obituary .

Frazetta was a remarkable athlete when he was young and hoped to play major league baseball, and had a tryout with the New York Giants. But it was as an illustrator that he excelled even more, and he worked in New York early in his career connected to many famous publications. He was a ghost illustrator for Al Capp for years, and it is his work that define the signature seductive drawings of Daisy Mae and Moonbeam McSwine in the Li'l Abner cartoons of the 1950's. He also worked at MAD magazine during that era, but his greatest successes came in the late 1960's when he began to draw movie posters and paintings that would become the covers for fantasy paperbacks. Most famously, his covers in the 1960's helped introduce a new generation of readers to the work of a writer of pulp fiction from Texas who died young back in the 1930's, Robert E. Howard and his major creation, a barbarian from the fictional land of Cimmeria named Conan. His artwork also helped revive a character of Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter, Warlord of Mars.

Frazetta covers became much in demand, and Frank had the good sense to make sure he owned the rights to the original paintings, many of which have sold for princely sums in recent years. A stroke took his good right hand from him a few years back, and determined athlete that he was, Frazetta learned to paint with his left hand. The later work is virtually indistinguishable from the work of his glory days. As he said, it was the same eye and the same brain doing the work, only the hand had changed.

I have not published much in the way of nude art on this blog, and I don't plan to make a habit of it, but an artist like Frank Frazetta passes this way only once, and in honor of him I put up this illustration of his that appeared in a men's magazine back in the 1950's, his visual interpretation of Charles Baudelaire's poem The Giantess from his book The Flowers of Evil. Longtime readers will recall I did the lolz giantess version of the same work.

Best wishes to the family and friends of the great Frank Frazetta, from a fan.

There will never be another like him.

The favorite sci-fi comedy is...

Galaxy Quest, edging out Back to the Future. Thanks to everyone who voted and please make your opinion known on nominations for the next category, fantasy comedy.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Nominations for best fantasy comedy:
Vote or nominate your own.

People have cast their votes for best science fiction comedy, so I'm going to open up a new poll for best fantasy comedy. Fantasy doesn't just have to be elves and hobbits, but instead I am going to open things up. My definition of fantasy will be anything where there are non-real things in the film but no attempt to explain them scientifically. Back to the Future counts as sci-fi because the time travel is done by a machine. In Groundhog Day, there is no explanation for while Bill Murray is stuck, he just is.

Here are ten nominated movies. You can vote for as many as you like or if you can think of one you like better, add it in the comments.

Being John Malkovich. My blog hero Peteykins recommended this as sci-fi comedy, and it could fit there. But because there is no real attempt to explain why people can be in John Malkovich's head for short periods of time or why they get dumped to a roadside in New Jersey, I'm going to call this one fantasy instead of sci-fi.

Dogma. Any movie where God comes down at the end and fixes everything is going to count as fantasy in my book.

Ghostbusters: They allegedly fight the supernatural with science, but it's much more supernatural than scientific, so I'm going to put it in the fantasy category.

Groundhog Day. I put this in sci-fi comedy because several science fiction writers think of it as SF, but because there is no explanation, I'm going to call it fantasy comedy instead.

The Princess Bride. The shrieking eels, the R.O.U.S. and Miracle Max make this one a fantasy movie for me. It's also one of my favorites on the list.

The Purple Rose of Cairo. The first of two Woody Allen films on the list, and another strong candidate.

Shrek. Okay, this has all the fairy tale elements. Ogres, talking animals, enchantments, you name it. Definitely a fantasy comedy.

Time Bandits. See the rule invoked in the movie Dogma to see why this one is on the list.

Toy Story. Toys are alive when nobody is looking. A great fantasy theme and a very good film.

Zelig. A good film and a good metaphor. No real science, just an odd but well constructed premise.

Nominations will be open until next weekend when the list will be whittled down to five.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Is the Wall Street Journal really superior to the Weekly World News?

At the beginning of the year, I started a new blog to keep track of tabloid headlines called It's News 2 Them™. I wanted to quantify how reliable they are on stories that can be verified, and so far this year, they suck rotten eggs. As of this morning, there are 30 celebrities that have some short amount of time to live according to the supermarket rags, and all 30 of them are currently alive. Over the same time period, several celebrities at about the same level of fame have died without any advance warning from the tabloids. For example, we have been warned about Barbara Billingsley, who is over 90 but still alive, while Dixie Carter died at 70 and her health problems were not tabloid fodder.

In short, not news you can use.

The question I have is this: Is the financial news system any better?

There were people predicting the big crash of 2008 and there were others telling us things were peachy and there was always a way to make the right bet and there was nothing to worry about. Prediction is hard, especially about the future, as either Neils Bohr or Yogi Berra once said. (My money is on Bohr.) But when a thing happens, can the financial news system tell us why after the fact?

This week, the biggest short term glitch of all time took place. In less than an hour, the Dow Jones industrials lost about 10% of its total value, about 1,000 points out of about 10,000, then recovered about 600 points just as quickly. Proctor & Gamble lost about 25% of its value in just a few minutes and for some odd reason began to trade on the NASDAQ market instead on its normal place on the Dow, and within minutes it was making a comeback.

And the financial press still doesn't know why.

The first stories were that the market was worried about Greece. The next was that it was a computer glitch. Another said some trader wanted to make a trade in the millions and instead typed in billions. There is agreement that once certain stocks fell, computerized trading programs clicked in to buy the now much cheaper but by no means worthless commodities, which is the reason for the lightning fast correction.

A lot of people who pay more attention to this stuff than I do, including Stanley Bing, Jim Cramer and Robert Reich, are absolutely convinced that somebody made a fortune in those few minutes. Bing is among those who think it could have been done on purpose. If it was, the next question is whether any laws were broken and if so, will any legal authority do anything about it? Being a Californian, this smells something like what Enron did to game the electrical grid back in the early 2000's. While some Enron officials went to jail for financial misconduct for other acts, the traders who jacked up energy prices to insane levels and joked about grandma Millie got away scot free.

In general, I get along with people well enough. I'm on the extroverted and gregarious end of the hermit spectrum. But I do have serious hermit-like tendencies, fueled by an underlying belief that as a species, we are circling the drain and it's the fate we richly deserve.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Random 10+1, 5/7/10

One Mint Julep Ray Charles
Elevator Operator Little Richard
Getting Mighty Crowded Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Teardrop Sea Tonette
Only Love Can Break Your Heart Neil Young
Semaphore Signals Wreckless Eric
Ain't Too Proud To Beg The Temptations
My Lover's Prayer Otis Redding
Love Train The O'Jays
Sunny Afternoon The Kinks
Special bonus track: 007 (Shanty Town) Desmond Dekker

What does this Random 10 say?

An old person owns this computer.

An old person who likes soul music, some of it slightly obscure.

And Desmond Dekker rocks the reggae right. All the time.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Convenient World.

I don't drive, so I have a small carbon footprint. Depending on what online calculator I use, it is somewhere between petite (50% of the average American) and a delicate flower (15% of the national average).

Obviously, not driving is my great virtue when using these yardsticks. I also get big points for almost never taking a commercial flight.

I'm a broke-ass mofo. Yay, me!

My great sins are that I still eat meat (chicken, usually), I rarely buy organic foods and I happily buy Mexican hot sauce, Italian olive oil, Belgian chocolates and some beers and wines from Australia.

I have not done the numbers, but I have this gnawing feeling that major corporations making sure certain items are always close at hand is sucking up a serious amount of energy, what I call The Convenient World. Consider, for example, my favorite thing from The Convenient World, Diet Pepsi. It's my caffeine delivery system and I am not giving it up, thanks very much for asking.

How many places are there within a mile radius of my home where I can buy a Diet Pepsi? I honestly couldn't tell you, because I would bet I have barely visited half of them. A mile radius is way too big a scale in The Convenient World in a city like Oakland. For example, if I'm on the Laney College campus, there are three hot dog vendors, one on the north side, one on the south, one on the west, all of whom sell Diet Pepsi and there's a machine in the cafeteria. I don't know every inch of the campus, so there may be other choices. If I am one block away from Laney at the Lake Merritt BART, there's a donut shop and a place for lunch inside one of the office buildings where I can get my fix.

Great big trucks driven by great big guys are driving all over hell and gone to make sure I, the humble blogger Matty Boy, am never too far away from a refreshing Diet Pepsi. Of course, The Convenient World doesn't actually know me by name, and Diet Pepsi just one of at least hundreds of products that are always close at hand for the nameless army of people who have decided they cannot do without some subset of the vast array.

In contrast, my favorite Mexican hot sauce El Yucateco is not particularly convenient for me. It's not the most popular Mexican hot sauce brand. That would be Tapatio, I think. If I was keen on Tapatio, I could pick it up at any supermarket and even some convenience stores. It would be in The Somewhat Convenient World. El Yucateco can be found in supermarkets if there is a large enough Hispanic population nearby, but my neighborhood on the lake has more Asian immigrants than Latin Americans, so the Lucky and the Safeway don't carry it. I can tell you exactly how many places in a mile radius of my place carry El Yucateco, and that is zero. It is slightly more than a mile bike ride away from my place to get to the first Mexican market that carries it.

Likewise with my favorite Belgian chocolates, which sell at Trader Joe's. In the East Bay, TJ's is convenient, but I'd only put it in the Somewhat Convenient World. The amount of big trucks stocking the TJs locations pales in comparison to the fleet that supplies vast array of items that are available at every other supermarket chain and at many convenience stores.

A lot of people want to lay the blame for the big oil spill on someone, usually someone else. People with a lick of sense blame BP. Some want to find other villains, like Obama or Halliburton or whoever else they don't much like politically.

Do you want to know who is to blame for the oil spill? How about the war in Iraq? Oppression in Saudi Arabia and Iran, corruption in Nigeria and Mexico? Truckers dying on slushy ice roads in Alaska that lead to nowhere except an oil field? Environmental damage in countless places in a myriad different ways?

You are to blame. So am I, even with my teeny tiny carbon footprint. Everyone who lives in The Convenient World bares some blame for our addiction to energy, especially energy created by petroleum and the nasty collateral damage caused by our suppliers giving us what we want and will not live without.

I know I am doing wrong. I don't want to stop doing wrong completely, but I am trying to do better. My actions are sometimes called "good intentions" and I've heard there's a road somewhere paved with them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wednesday Math, Vol. 118: Polar plot

If you haven't been to Wolfram Alpha yet, there is a lot of fun stuff for math geeks to do. I'm teaching polar coordinates to my trig students now, so I spent some time goofing around with the Polar Plot calculator. You could do the same thing with any graphing calculator, but Wolfram does it prettier and does it for free.

To make an ellipse, type in "polar plot r^2 = 6/(2 + sin(theta)^2)". (Don't include the quotation marks, obvs.) The 6 and the 2 in the fraction can be changed to adjust the size of the ellipse.

You can also draw a cardioid by typing "polar plot r = 1 + sin theta". That sharp point at the origin is called a cusp.

This cardioid with a loop is "polar plot r = .5 + sin theta". It can be interesting to see what changes you can make in a graph by changing the coefficients slightly.

You might also like "polar plot r = sin (3*theta)" or "polar plot r = sin (4*theta)", especially if you played with Spirograph as a kid.