Friday, December 31, 2010

Winter Dance Party Random 12+1 (sort of)

My Baby Just Cares For Me Nina Simone
Red Red Wine UB40
Strange Overtones David Byrne and Brian Eno
Patricia Perez Prado
Shop Around Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
I Got My Mind Set On You George Harrison
Jackie Wilson (I'm In Heaven When You Smile) Van Morrison
Ranking Full Stop The (English) Beat
This Old Heart of Mine Terri Terrell
Waterloo ABBA
Would I Lie to You? Eurythmics
Bad Romance Lady Gaga

Extra bonus track:
Knock on Wood Eddie Floyd

It's New Year's Eve, so it has to be the right day for this season's Dance Party. I'll admit I edited the list a little and moved things around to make the set a baker's dozen of DYN-O-MITE! The set starts of just playing with you a little, a little slap and tickle, but from Perez Prado on, you've got to get up and the music pushes you on.

It's really hard to top Lady Gaga's hit, but I end with the fantastic first version of Eddie Floyd's masterpiece Knock on Wood. A great piece of trivia about this song is that when Eddie and guitarist Steve Cropper wrote this, they fully expected it to be given to Otis Redding to record. This version was just a demo, but Stax decided to release it "as is" and it went to number one.

A demo and they ripped it up! One of the greatest songs of the rock era.

There's a lesson here for the young people. Always give it your best.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The long and inevitable slide.

My memory is not what it used to be. In all fairness, it used to be pretty damn good. But it's been about twenty five years since I won about twenty five grand on Jeopardy! and the skills are definitely slipping. I can still remember stuff, but instead of things being easily and quickly accessed, I go through a much more laborious process.

Last night, I was talking to a guy at a bar about the movie Watchmen. He said he liked the actress who played the mom of the hot chick. He couldn't recall her name. For about a minute, I couldn't remember her name either, but I knew she was also in Spy Kids. I had to tell myself "Spy Kids starred Antonio... oh, what's his name, he's married to Melanie Griffith... Antonio Banderas and ... Carla Gugino!"

I was right, but I was slow.

Walking home from the bar, I set myself a task. Could I name ten actors from some famous trivia film? At random, I picked one of my old favorites, The Maltese Falcon. Of course, I picked the most famous version, the 1941 film directed by John Huston. It's actually the second remake of the Dashiell Hammett novel, and you might not know about the others because they pretty much suck.

Okay, ten actors. Let's do this.

If you can't name five off the top of your head, don't expect to win many trivia contests. The five people who are in the important scenes at the end when the black bird finally shows up are Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook, Jr.

Okay, that's the easy five, and I remembered them immediately.

The famous walk-on role is Walter Huston, the director's dad, as Captain Jacobi. He brings the Falcon to Sam Spade and dies. How did they dispose of the body? The movie isn't completely clear on this. In any case, that's six.

There's Miles Archer, Spade's partner who gets shot. I know the actor's name is like Jerome Kern, but it's not Jerome Kern.

Jerome Cowan. I couldn't get his name in the ten minute window. First sign of slippage.

There's the good cop/bad cop duo that question Spade early in the film. I'm sure the good cop is Ward Bond. But the bad cop... again, my brain knows his last name starts with Mc, but I get fixated on McFarlane.

It's Barton MacLane. Second sign of slippage.

Okay, who played Effie the secretary? My brain comes up with a full name, Lurlene Tuttle. It's a full name, but it's a wrong name. Lee Patrick played Effie. Same kind of actress, not the same actress.

I didn't get Gladys George, who plays Miles Archer's widow. I never remember her, the role is too forgettable. I also forgot one of those little trivia nuggets. William Hopper has a walk-on role as a reporter. He is better known for work he does nearly twenty years later as Paul Drake on Perry Mason.

Did you know he was Hedda Hopper's son? Think that helped his career?

Yes, hypothetical question asker, I knew that and it probably did help his career. I just didn't remember he was in The Maltese Falcon in the self-imposed ten minute time span.

So, if you want to know five actors from this famous film, I'm your guy. If you want to know ten, you'll be able to get on your cell phone and get to the movie's webpage on long before I dredge the names up out of the dusty old attic inside my head.

So, Matty Boy, do you think the lack of skills have anything to do with you turning 55 today?

Thanks, hypothetical, you're right. It is my birthday.

I almost forgot.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Self-made LOLZ levels...
dangerously low!

It's snowing in Berlin and the elephants in the local zoo were photographed playing around in the cold stuff. It may just be anthropomorphizing on my part, but their mouths look like they are smiling. They showed some of their usual behaviors with the new stuff, both throwing it on their bodies like they do with dirt and putting it in their mouths to drink it like water.

Since they seemed to be having a good time, I thought I'd join them by making a lolz.

Stand aside, everyone!
This looks like a job for...
a professional blogger!

The story so far: One year ago, I got the idea for The Other Blog. It's all about the stories on the covers of the supermarket checkout magazines.

I decided to put ads on the new blog. It's kind of tacky, but the blog is tacky, so it felt like a perfect fit.

Hundreds of people go to the blog, Google puts a few pennies in my account.

Somebody clicks on an ad, Google puts a couple quarters in my account.

The money piles up in the account until the total is more than a hundred bucks at the end of a month, and the next month Google cuts a check for that amount and process starts again.

At the end of November, the account was over one hundred simoleans for the first time.

Yesterday, the first check came.

I have never been so happy to see $148.03 in my entire adult life.

Being all mathy and stuff, I could figure how many hours I sat in front of my computer writing the recaps, how much time I spend each week going to DeLauer's newstand in downtown Oakland to read all the covers in one convenient place each Thursday morning, searching the web to find pictures of the celebrities mentioned, etc. Counting it all up, taking 11 months to make $148.03 is WAY less than minimum wage.

And I'm talking minimum wage in Ghana.

But the goofy smile I had on my face all of yesterday tells a different story. This check feels like free money. This was like my first Christmas bonus at Atari. Just like this blog, I would be writing the Other Blog regardless of whether I got paid or not.

And the news gets better.

When I say the blog made $148.03 in eleven months, it actually made about $85 in ten months and a little over $60 in November alone. In the middle of last month, viewership over at It's News 2 Them™ done blowed up and it has stayed blowed up for about six weeks now. I have no idea what the future will bring, but the "new normal" is between 1,000 to 1,500 people showing up at the blog every day. If that keeps up, that means about a half a million visitors a year.

The mind boggles.

What this means in terms of Money, Money, Money, Milk and Honey is that while it took eleven months to make my first $100 as a professional blogger, it will take only one month to make my second $100.

In conclusion, I'm a blogger, I'm getting paid to blog and I feel so good about it, I've been giggling for next to no reason for about 24 hours now.

From what I've heard, this is much better than working for Arianna Huffington on several different levels.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Comic Venn Diagram.
An Internet meme I don't love as much as I should.

You've seen the allegedly funny Venn diagrams. Other than cats, Lady Gaga, porn and allegedly funny Venn diagrams, I don't know what people use the Internets for. As a mathematician, these should be right up my alley, but most don't quite step up to the mark.

This one, on the other hand, made me smile, so I share it here, part of that whole "viral" concept.

The most useless poem in the world, English division.

I before e
Except after c
Or sounded like "A"
As in neighbor or weigh.

So now we know how to spell words in English! Done and done!

What's for lunch?

Hmmm... not so fast.

Of all the rules I learned in school, this one ranks as one of the most useless. I also remember the rules about "silent e", and the poem

When two vowels go walking
The first one USUALLY does the talking.

At least this poem admits there are no hard and fast rules, though it ruins the meter.

If "silent e" always worked, there would rhyme with here and are would rhyme with bare. If the two vowels rule was any good, bear and ear would rhyme.

To any adults learning English as a second language, you have my deepest heartfelt apologies, but I'm in no position to change it. It is what it is.

Back to "i before e". The extra line about neighbor and weigh makes it better, but not perfect. Weight rhymes with eight. So far so good. So how about height?

Oh, you already know the answer.

Short list of e before i with no c and not sounding like "a": protein, feisty, seize, height, foreign.

I'm sure there are more, and I'm sure they will bite me in the ass when I'm playing Scrabble.

Of course, in German there are rules and ZOSE RULES VILL BE FOLLOWED MITOUT EXCEPTION!

E before i sounds like the long "I" in English, as in Einstein and Heidi.

I before e sounds like the long "E" in English, as in Riemann.

I tease the Germans, but seriously, every language has pronunciation rules that make sense once you learn them.

Except for us. And the French.

Think about how people sneer at the French. You can be pretty sure they feel the same about us, but they do it behind our backs.

And don't think we haven't earned it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Prezzies for everyone, all of them just my size.

Merry Christmas to all my readers.

Of course today, I'm lazy blogging, and regular readers will know what that means.

Melissa Theuriau and her impossibly lovely eyes.

Julie Newmar and her impossibly fantabulous gams, officially measured at ten feet long in my dreamiest dreams.

Indira Varma and her fabulously impossible just about everything.

I got you three prezzies! If you want to return any of them, let me know!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Random 10, 12/24/10

Not Fade Away The Rolling Stones
Hallelujah Patricia O'Callaghan
Pidgin English Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Back Stabbers The O'Jays
Take the K.A.S.H. Wreckless Eric
Sons of the Silent Age David Bowie
There's A Place The Beatles
Diamonds Are Forever Shirley Bassey
Roses Outkast
Be Still Los Lobos

Not a bad 10, though not holiday themed. Only missing one song from The You Tubes, one of my favorites from Imperial Bedroom, still one of my favorite albums by The One True Living Elvis. The Patricia O'Callaghan and Outkast recordings are from this century, while everything else is from the rock and roll era of the second half of the 20th Century.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Common ground with Pat Robertson?

I disagree with Pat Robertson more often than any other person on the national stage in the past thirty years. Here's a guy who wanted to nuke the State Department under the Bush 43 administration. He can get up a hatred for Hindus and Presbyterians that most right-wing whack jobs reserve for the Muslims and nobody else. He has said the Antichrist is probably alive today and is a Jew living in Israel. He was pro-apartheid and he is still pro-assassination.

Think of a crazy person on the national stage and Pat probably has that guy (or gal) beat in spades and trump.

So it definitely counts as news that Pat Robertson has come out in favor of marijuana de-criminalization. I don't know what has changed his mind or made him choose now to make his feelings known, but after countless decades of the war on drugs, Pat has come to the remarkably sane conclusion that it's not working very well. He thinks putting young people through the criminal justice system for a small amount of weed is ruining their lives for no good reason. My best guess is that some of his parishioners or relatives have kids put through the hell of a criminal record following them around, making it harder to get jobs or attend school, and because he thinks of the kids he knows as good people, maybe he realizes they are just representatives of the thousands of people in the same situation.

Agreeing with Pat Robertson feels funny, and not funny in a good way. I almost wonder if I'm missing part of the equation, but no. I've got it right and he's got it right. We just need some politicians to realize it's up to them to stop doing something that isn't working and to try something new.

I guess we should give the baby Jesus some credit for finally knocking some sense into the good Reverend's noggin, because somebody who Robertson thinks is the baby Jesus has been knocking the crazy into his head since the Truman administration, if not earlier.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Is it me or is it them (or him)?

In the spirit of "Ok, I'll give it a try", I got the first DVD of the first season of Modern Family from Netflix because I had heard so many positive reviews.

I made it through five episodes and turned it off.

For good.

This is embarrassment comedy. I hate embarrassment comedy. Characters you are supposed to like are there to embarrass themselves over and over and over until something allegedly funny happens. That is the modus operandi for the fat kid in the family on the left, the dad in the family in the middle and the fat gay guy on the far right.

There are some good comedies in the past that went too far down that road and pulled out of the tailspin. I remember when I used to watch The Odd Couple when I was a kid and for what seems like about half a season, every episode would end with Felix not having a shred of dignity left. Too many George Costanza focused episodes on Seinfeld were that way and I stopped watching when the show originally aired, though I came back to it in re-runs.

I doubt I'm coming back to Modern Family. It's just painful to watch for me, but I will admit it's my prejudices that make it unacceptable.

On the other hand, when dealing with harrassment, the law takes into account the allegedly reasonable hypothetical person.

I believe the allegedly reasonable hypothetical person reading David Mamet's Bambi vs. Godzilla will finish the book in a near suicidal depression.

If the deeply unhappy Mr. Mamet ever commits himself, any competent mental health professional will take away his belt, shoelaces and anything sharper than a plastic pocket comb.

I've known a few writers from Hollywood, and they are an embittered bunch, not without cause. But Mamet turns cynicism and disillusion into an Olympic sport in this book. He's written and directed some of my favorite movies of the past twenty five years, but apparently it is all ashes in his mouth, which he gladly shares with anyone who is fool enough to venture into spitting range.

Let me share with you the best thing in this book. Technically, since it's a cover blurb, it's not in the book, but it's the line that drew me in, and I repeat it here to keep others from making the same mistake.

"David Mamet is supremely talented. He is a gifted writer and observer of society and its characters. I'm sure he will be able to find work somewhere, somehow, just no longer in the movie business."
-Steve Martin

Avoid this book at all costs. Your mental health is too valuable and so is your time.

Monday, December 20, 2010

More about Sriracha!

(photo by Robert Yager, New York Times, 2009)

I had an orientation at a new job this weekend, teaching math at an art school. Two other folks at the orientation will be teaching in the culinary department. I brought up Sriracha and both of them nodded their approval. "Do you use it on everything?" I was asked.

I admitted I hadn't tried it on raisin bran yet.

Searching online, the New York Times did a 2009 story about my favorite brand, manufactured by Huy Fong foods in Rosemead. Here are some fun facts from the story
  • The name Sriracha is a town in Thailand.
  • The folks at Huy Fong foods are ethnic Chinese Vietnamese immigrants, and they readily admit Thais might not even recognize the stuff.
  • They are currently selling 10 million bottles a year of the stuff, mostly to the Asian American market, but that is changing.
  • Wal-Mart carries it, so it is all over the place.
  • The rooster is on the bottle because the originator of the sauce was born in the Year of the Rooster.
  • Several chefs in fancy restaurants around the country use it in recipes. My favorite quote from a chef recognizes that it is not a particularly spicy hot sauce. "It burns your body, not your tongue." says chef Bryan Caswell.
  • It is also being used at chains like P.F. Chang's and Applebee's.
  • The Tran family is both pleased and amazed at the loyalty of the fans of their most popular product. The story documents two Facebook pages devoted to Rooster Sauce (known on this blog as "prison sauce", thank you very much), a guy who had a picture of the bottle tattooed on his leg, and some girls who went to a Halloween party dressed as bottles.
And I close this brief listicle of facts with the aphorism I first heard from my father:

You learn something new every day, if you are not careful.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Credit where credit is due.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, a pathetic joke of a compromise signed into law by Bill Clinton, is now dead. The Republicans, who somehow think they can make political hay saying no to anything and everything, including health aid for the first responders on September 11, did not stand as a monolithic group of assholes on this topic.

Who's the guy who stood up and said, "Yo, I got this."?

Joe Lieberman, despised turncoat and overall whiny weasel.

I kind of hate Joe Lieberman. I looked for quite a while to find a picture of him that didn't make me want to punch the screen. This is the best I could do.

But now, a bad law is history and the guy who talked several Republicans away from the creepy regressive party dogma is old Droopy Dog himself.

A quick note of thanks to Senator Leiberman, even if I can't go a whole post without saying how I really feel about him.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Random 10, 12/18/10

When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful Fats Waller
Monkey's Paw Laurie Anderson
Will Anything Happen? Blondie
Se Tu M'ami (Parisotti) Cecilia Bartoli
Semaphore Signals Wreckless Eric
Valse #3 Opus 34 in F major (Chopin) Claudio Arrau
Heat Wave Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
All This Useless Beauty Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Share What You've Got (But Keep What You Need) William Bell
Anytime Lisa Was (Not Was)

Interesting if not super inspiring Random 10 this week. Only six of ten on The You Tubes, which is ridiculously low for late 2010. Two classical songs, also one from Fats and one from Elvis, two of my favorite songwriters. Nothing from the 21st Century.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Too good to be true, as I should have expected.

The Nigerian government has dropped criminal charges against Halliburton and its then overlord Darth Cheney in the case of bribes totaling about $180 million. Instead, the company has settled and will pay a fine that is "supposed" to be undisclosed, but Nigerian officials are saying will be $250 million.

In other words, they paid for a really expensive meal and got left with a mandatory 140% tip.

If I were them, I wouldn't go to that restaurant anymore.

Larry King, meet Big Ugly Stick. Big Ugly Stick, Larry King.

I've been doing what I can to stay positive on this blog. I get enough negativity and snarkiness on The Other Blog, thanks very much, and since the Other Blog is about gossip magazines, the negativity and snarkiness are intrinsic. Here, I try to talk about stuff I like.

Today, I take The Big Ugly Stick out of its case, do a few stretching exercises and take some well place whacks at the corpse of the career of Larry King.

As much as I believe in education, it can't be denied that you can rise to the very top here in the United States being dumb as a post, untalented and completely unprepared. Take a look at this picture from a 2001 Inaugural party, nicked from a slideshow over at Talking Points Memo.

From left to right: Larry King, Ricky Martin, George W. Bush, Jessica Simpson and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

If I asked you for 800 pounds of no talent or brains and you didn't send me those five, I'd probably ask you to try again. In fairness, Martin and Simpson are at least easy on the eyes.

I used to think Ronald Reagan was the worst thing that happened to American education in the past 50 years, since it showed you could rise to the very top with no preparation or intellectual curiosity. Larry King might have been worse. However you want to rank those two, we have a herd of people we have let into the national conversation every bit as stupid as King and Reagan, due in no small measure to how far those two lowered the bar. Bush is clearly duller than Reagan, and he looks like Bertrand Russell compared to Sarah Palin. Who knows what flatworm we will get that will limbo under her standard of mental competence.

Without any political bias against him, I loathe him with an intensity I usually reserve for people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. He cannot leave the stage a moment too soon, but in truth, the damage is already done.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Somebody at the A.P. obituary desk is sleeping on the job.

Often, the obituary pages are filled with people whose claim to fame requires lotsa 'splainin'. A couple people who died this week do not fall into this category.

Blake Edwards died today. The Pink Panther, 10, Victor/Victoria. The Associated Press thought he was worth a mention.

Bob Feller died yesterday. Hall of Famer, WW II veteran, still a name you have to consider when talking about the nastiest fastball in baseball history. The New York Times gave him a three page tribute.

The A.P. hasn't gotten around to mentioning him yet.

Shame on the A.P.

My two favorite Bob Feller quotes, one about him and one by him.

Bob played long before the designated hitter rule, so the opposing pitcher would have to bat against him. Most were ridiculously outmatched. Lefty Gomez came to the plate one game, never took the bat off his shoulder and sat down after letting three blazing called strikes whiz past him. Before he walked back to the dugout, Gomez told the plate umpire "The last one sounded low to me."

Bob's take on Ted Williams: "Trying to sneak a fastball past Ted Williams is like trying to sneak dawn past a rooster."

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How to piss off nerds.

Hey, I'm a nerd, and I thought it was kinda funny.

Science fun for December 2010:
Carbon and hydrogen, two great tastes that go great together

Hey, Matty Boy! You know what science you almost never talk about?

Well, hypothetical question asker, I guess I'd say chemistry.

Why is that, Matty Boy?

The main reason is that a barely know bupkiss about it.

I do know a thing or two. One thing is carbon and the other is hydrogen, the atoms you put together to form hydrocarbons. Carbon has four bonds and hydrogen only one and while sometimes the atoms are standoffish and like to keep to themselves, often they get together and fill up their entire dance cards, so every bond has two atoms. This picture of a carbon atom linked to four hydrogen atoms would make the chemical compound CH4, known by the name methane, a very common gas, known to be colorless, flammable and stinky, though the super stinky varieties owe that special ability to sulfur hanging around with them, trying to be cool and getting into the gang, even though they are just hangers on.

Another possibility is to have two carbon atoms linked and six hydrogen atoms filling in the rest of the bonds, making the chemical compound ethane, C2H6. The prefixes of hydrocarbons tell you how many carbon atoms are in the picture, where meth- means one, eth- means two, prop- means three and but- means four. The higher numbers of carbon molecules have prefixes that sound more like math prefixes, pent- for five, hex- for six, hept for seven, etc.

The two dimensional diagram as shown here is pretty standard, but the bigger illustration shown for methane is a little more accurate. The four bonds for carbon don't line up like a cross, but instead make a three dimensional shape like the corners of a tetrahedron, the simplest of the platonic solids.

Because carbon has four bonds in a special shape, it is possible for two carbon atoms to double bond, linked to each other using two bonds apiece. Instead of two tetrahedra linked at a single corner, now they would be linked along an edge. This would mean each carbon atom has two free bonds and if all four attract hydrogen atoms, we get C2H4, known by the name ethylene.

Now we are cooking with ethyl!

Because of the geometry of it, it's impossible for two carbon atoms to bond with each other using all four bonds, but a triple bond is possible, just in the same way one face of a tetrahedron can match up with a face of a different tetrahedron. If we get carbon atoms triple bonding, then there are only two open places to bond, and if those are filled with hydrogen we get C2H2, also known as acetylene. I nicked this picture of a model of acetylene from, a company that makes cool looking chemistry models.

As I said before, I don't know much about chemistry, and if I have any spare time and cash in the future, I think I'll take a class and see if I can do something about it. I love this stuff for the mathiness of it, the geometry and graph theory, but it would be interesting to understand the properties of the hydrocarbons better than just simple classification.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Just because it's a cliché doesn't mean it isn't true.

I live frugally. Being a broke-ass mofo will do that to you sometimes, though some people's mileage may vary. I remember reading Calvin Trillin's tribute book to his lovely wife Alice, and she had a phrase about people that was not meant as a compliment.

"He lives like a grad student."

That still applies to me.

So I sometimes have mac and cheese as a meal. Usually, I chop up some celery, put in some frozen peas and add in some form of animal protein, quite often tuna. But this time at the grocery, I thought I'd splurge and try something else as the meaty goodness and bought some Canadian bacon. I looked at the package and though it was more expensive than the cheapest tuna, the amount of calories and fat weren't that different if I cut up just a few slices.

The package said the back bacon needed to be cooked, so I chopped it up and fried it in the pan, poured out some of the fat and put in some milk, butter and prison sauce to mix in the cheese packet, then mixed in the peas and celery.

It was really delicious. I'm sure the deliciousness is not caused by healthy ingredients. My best guess is it's the sugar they use in the curing process, but there's no denying it was tastier than usual.

And to repeat the title of this post, just because it's a cliché doesn't mean it isn't true.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Learning to believe.

I watched Religulous this weekend. Didn't care for it much. Seeing it was a chore to be performed so I can call myself educated. I watched Passion of the Christ for the exact same reason. These movies helped me re-learn things I already knew. The Mel Gibson mess reminded me I don't like torture porn. The Bill Maher mess reminded me I don't like comedy based on embarrassing people.

Maher says he wasn't the best candidate to become a skeptic because he was raised Catholic by his father, with no noted objections from his Jewish mother, until one day his father stopped going to church when Maher was a teen. Actually, when he talks about how much he hated church as a kid, he sounds like an excellent candidate.

In all modesty, I am a better candidate for skepticism, though I tried Christianity for a few years as an adult. My parents were not churchgoers, but they didn't forbid us to attend if friends asked. I tried it a few times, but I didn't like it at all.

And yet I believed in the unseen, in forces greater than myself. They were called dinosaurs, and it took some faith to accept their existence, seeing as they had been extinct for millions of years before humans walked the earth. My parents bought me a bunch of natural science books, including the one pictured here, the cover art by the most famous dinosaur artist of the day Rudolph Zallinger, best known for his Age of Reptiles mural which is still on display at the Peabody museum at Yale. The museum asks folks not to reproduce the enormous painting, and that request makes sense, in large part because no reproduction can convey the sheer size of a painting 110 feet wide.

The quibbler in me can't resist this. The painting above is from a bygone era and our beliefs about the dinosaurs have evolved. We know longer think the Brachiosaurus (not a Brontosaurus, different shaped head) was a swamp dweller and most paintings today of an Allosaurus (like a Tyrannosaurus, but smaller) would make it a lot thinner and not putting any weight on its tail, using it instead as a counterbalance to stay low.

I didn't just love dinosaurs. I loved all kinds of natural history. I learned about the mammals that wandered the earth after the dinosaurs went extinct. Most people would know a few of these species, notably the Mastodon and the Sabretooth Tiger (Smilodon), but I read about many more, sloths the size of bears and massive rhinoceri from Asia who were as tall at the shoulder as the top of the head of a modern day giraffe. Maybe my love for the big girls is an extension of my love for big creatures in general when I was a wee lad, I don't know. The only small critters I can remember from the Age of Mammals were the a prototype species of horse about the size of a small dog and a small pig-sized ancestor of the elephant.

And then there were the creatures who went extinct during the Time of Man, often because of man's hunting or sometimes due to man's heedlessness. Everyone knows the Dodo, a flightless bird about the size of a turkey but related to the pigeon, but only a few will know about the Moa, the Elephant Bird, Steller's Sea Cow, Ivory Billed Woodpecker and the Tasmanian Wolf. Many of these animals were hunted out of existence but others died because their habitats were destroyed. It was just over 100 years ago the species known as the Passenger Pigeon ceased to exist. Humans hunted the creature for food, but there were so many of them there would not have been enough bullets to kill them all. The widely accepted view today is the destruction of their habitat caused by the westward movement of Americans in the 19th Century brought doom to this species.

These creatures were like my own self-made catechism. I gladly committed to memory the particulars of their lives, when they lived, how they died. And they instilled in me a faith that lives to this day, a awesome feeling of both respect and disgust for the power of human heedlessness. Einstein is given credit for the clever quote "There are only two infinite things, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the first one." I think it's wrong to call it stupidity. It's more like a character flaw that the bad things we have seen are not going to happen to us, that we are somehow the exception to the rule we have seen repeated over and over again.

There are some social conservatives who believe that we cannot destroy the earth because God promised us it wouldn't happen again after the Great Flood. My catechism teaches me a different lesson. Human heedlessness is a force greater than a hundred hurricanes a year, and unlike hurricanes, it has no off-season.

It will exist for as long as we do.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Loving Maru

I love Maru. Honestly, who doesn't? Singing Maru's praises on this little blog feels silly. It's akin to writing "There's this edible bird called chicken. Have you tried it? It's really good."

For that rare person on the Internets who knows about my blog and has never of Maru, Mugumogu, the person with whom Maru lives, has a YouTube channel entirely devoted to this cat. (I am hesitiant to call Mugumogu Maru's owner.) The videos run from about a minute long to six minutes long and consist of Maru doing stuff, mostly playing with cat toys or exploring boxes and bags.

Maru does not do "tricks". Maru exhibits behaviors, behaviors almost universal among cats. Cats love chasing little things. Cats love boxes and bags. The camera goes on, Maru plays with stuff, the camera goes off. End.

I do not know if it is more correct to say Maru is a great comic actor or Mugumogu is a brilliant film editor. Both are certainly true. Maru can be very graceful, like all cats, but sometimes Maru is a spectacular klutz. The funny comes from the fact you aren't sure which will happen next.

It doesn't hurt that he has a very handsome face but is a little chubby, or "fluffy" as his most devoted fans will say. It just makes him seem more accessible. Maru is Japanese for "round", so Mugumogu doesn't have any illusions about who Maru is. The cat was born to star in comedies.

More than this, Maru understands the concept of "close-up" at least as well as Martin Scorsese does. There's a short film that shows Maru with two cat toys, one he can take or leave and one that he wants to keep with all his heart. When the off-screen human reaches for the beloved toy, instead of hissing, Maru narrows his eyes. Only when the hand comes on-screen does Maru bat it away.

Acting is about choices and once you see it, you realize there is no better way to play this scene.

Statistically, I would predict there are about 1.5 people who have heard of this blog but not heard of Maru. Go click on the link. You'll thank me later.

For those who have heard of Maru, you should click on the link as well.

What, you have something better to do with the next five minutes of your life? You are reading my blog, for pity's sake. I think we both know what that means.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Random 3, 12/11/10 Padre Mickey rule invoked

God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind) Randy Newman

Pata Pata Myriam Makeba

Raspberry Beret Prince

And there we stop, because it's not going to get any better. I almost closed it off with Myriam's great hit, but the Purple One found the trump card and the hand was over.

I understand Padre Mickey's irritation with himself when his music list doesn't include a song from the 21st Century, but I console myself when listening to a 25 year old Prince song by realizing that nobody wrote or recorded a better song yesterday, and that is true for the vast majority of yesterdays between 1985 and now.

Whatchoo listening to?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Good news and bad about Excel for the Mac

It was back in August that I told people not to buy a Mac if they were looking for a new computer. I said this as someone who bought a Mac in 1984 when it was obviously the best personal computer in the world.

The biggest complaint I had (and still have) is the lack of functionality in a lot of software. I have since found that one of my complaints about Excel for Mac is untrue.

Sort of.

The chart above was made on a Mac. Making a scatterplot on the Mac is easy (as it should be), but I did not see how to add the line of regression, also known as the predictor line or the trendline, and to get the correlation coefficient R², which are very easy to get on the PC version of the software. I want to thank my student from Mills, Lara Barhoum, for finding out how to do this.

The thing is, it's ridiculously hard to do, and of course software designers and account managers at Microsoft are to blame for the difficulty. On the PC, once you've chosen scatterplot, there are several choices for the output and one of them gives you the picture above immediately. On the Mac, you have to control-click on a single dot in the picture and then select the Add Trendline... option and choose the two formulas.

Notice: Control-click one of the dots inside the picture, not control-click anywhere inside the picture.

It's been nearly fifteen years since I wrote software for money, so I readily admit I'm a dinosaur. Regardless of my antique status, I can still smell bad software design a mile off and this flat out sucks and there are grown-ups at Microsoft acting like spoiled children who made this suck.

I hate being a consumer and getting a sub-optimal products specifically because some huge corporations are having a pissing contest. If you are paying attention, you know this happens a lot.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Perfect umbrella weather.

It's raining today in Oakland. It's not a crazy nasty storm like we had a couple weekends ago. Almost all my northern California blog buddies and several people on Facebook I know from the bio-region all said about the same thing a couple weekends back, and that was "Day-am!"

Today it's just raining. It's not very cold and so far there is no wind, so it's perfect umbrella weather. Since I don't have a car, my options when I go outside are bike, walk or public transportation. Today, all my errands were nearby, so walking was the obvious choice. I'm not a complete wuss about getting wet on the bicycle, but the brakes don't work as well in this weather, so walking is much safer.

When it's really a storm, an umbrella keeps my head and maybe my shoulders dry, but if I have to travel any distance, my pants are definitely going to be soaked straight through below the knees and keeping the umbrella from pushing me around becomes aerobic exercise.

Not today. Just a little wet, not too cold. Most people would think I'm crazy to call this a nice day, but this is exactly the kind of weather we should have in December in Oakland.

I like it like this.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Don Meredith, 1938-2010

Don Meredith, the great Dallas Cowboy quarterback who became one of the three guys in the booth during the glory days of Monday Night Football, has died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 72 in Santa Fe.

The original team in the booth was Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell and Meredith, but Jackson was moved back to college football where he was outstanding for decades to come, to be replaced by an ex-jock, Frank Gifford.

Howard was hated for many reasons. He was a know-it-all, he was homely, he was Jewish and he had an irritating voice. But the good old boy Dandy Don made it clear that he actually liked Howard, and the good natured tension between them made it the best broadcast team in football for many years. Personally, I think Frank Gifford is, was and always will be a completely useless idiot, but Don and Howard were broadcasting gold.

He said a lot of funny things in the booth, but my favorite was this about two incredibly successful head coaches of the day: "If Tom Landry and Bud Grant had a personality contest, no one would win."

While I usually end my obituary tributes with best wishes to Don Meredith's family and friends, from a fan, all fans of Dandy Don know how this one has to end, sung by Willie Nelson.

"Turn out the lights, the party's over..."

"You are what your record says you are."
-Bill Parcells

(photo by Denis Poroy, Associated Press)

A few weeks back, the Oakland Raiders were 5-4 and I wrote to say they didn't suck. They then proceeded to lose big to the very tough Pittsburgh Steelers and get whipped on by the not so tough Miami Dolphins. But yesterday, the Raiders did what they have done best this year, beat up a team in their division. At the end of the first half in San Diego yesterday, the Raiders were ahead 21-3, and it wasn't really as close as that. They were not only putting points on the board, they were putting the Chargers on their asses. There was some controversy about the hit in the picture above when Rolando McClain hit Darren Sproles helmet to helmet and knocked the running back out of the game. Watching on TV, it looked like McClain actually lead with his shoulder and when a guy is as small as Sproles (5'6"), it hard not to hit him high.

So now the Raiders are 6-6 with four games left. Their record says they are about average in the league, but that's an improvement over recent years. They have lost some games they should have won, but they have beaten the teams in their division, which is important as a tiebreaker, should it come to that. They swept the Chargers, considered the pre-season favorites in the division, they crushed the Broncos in Denver and beat the Chiefs at home. They still have a game each against Denver and Kansas City, and if the Raiders have any shot at the playoffs, those are must-win games where I would expect them to be favored. Still, they have to win at least three games out of the next four to have a real shot, because Kansas City has a two game lead in the division now.

It is a long shot, but you are what your record says you are. In the past few years, the Raiders' record said they were dead by Thanksgiving. At least the fans have some hope in December, a feeling that hasn't happened for a long time.


Final fantasy football update for the Mutant Mercenaries: This year I sucked. The only good news is that my brother and my nephew are both making it to the playoffs, and my brother's record says he's got the best team in our league. Best wishes to both over the next three weeks.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Random 10, 12/5/10

Join the Navy The Wonders of Science
The Hill Markéta Irglová
No Surprises Radiohead
Mammal They Might Be Giants
New Parchman Mose Allison
Sea Cruise Rico
Spesso Vibra Per Suo Gioco (A. Scarlatti) Cecilia Bartoli
Rock The Casbah The Clash
Smut Tom Lehrer
Ooh Baby Baby Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

Only seven of ten from The You Tubes this week, kinda pathetic for late 2010. Of course, I only have myself to blame for any Wonders of Science songs that aren't on YouTube yet, seeing as the Padre and I founded the band. There's only one song from the 21st Century, but in my defense, there's a song from the 18th Century too, so there!

Whatchoo listening to?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Working on that whole "viral" thing again.

I saw this on the website Talking Points Memo, a very popular progressive website, who pulled it off of The You Tubes, the Internet version of the Library of Congress, only bigger and more global. And now I put it on my much, much tinier blog. That's what makes it "viral".

The guy's name is Hans Rosling and he teaches stats. He's really good.

He explains a data plot of 200 countries over 200 years, correlating average income and life expectancy. Give it a click. It's fascinating.

If you like this, wander over to The You Tubes and watch some more of his stuff. Like I said before, he's really good.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Okay, we're in nerd heaven now.

You may have already heard the news that NASA had a big press conference today announcing an entirely new life form.

With NASA, you'd expect it to be from outer space, but no, it's from the incredibly toxic Mono Lake in California. They found a bacteria that is still carbon based, but everywhere you would usually find phosphorous in the biochemical compound, it has been replaced by arsenic, which my chemistry friends tell me is a pretty good mimic of phosphorous.

Trying to do this in a lab would be pretty tough, what with arsenic being poisonous to 99.9% of life forms, but if you do an outdoor experiment in just how badly you can fuck up a bio-region, darn it if life itself won't try every trick until something works. It's every bit as weird as the creatures that live near the incredibly hot and toxic volcanic rifts under the sea.

Personally, though, I won't believe it until it's been turned into a monster movie on the Syfy channel. They should spare no expense and hire Larry Drake AND F. Murray Abraham AND Lance Hendrickson AND Renee O'Connor. Casper Van Dien is optional.

Knock me down with a feather.

Just when you think you can't be surprised.

The Nigerian government is starting a bribery case against Halliburton and officials say there is a good chance that charges with be brought against Dick Cheney, former president of Halliburton, former Vice President of the United States and currently leader of The Dead Who Walk The Earth. There's talk of an Interpol arrest warrant.
(recent photo from AFP)