May 29, 2006


The irrepressible Ted Postol (from whom I was once privileged to learn a teensy bit about weapons system analysis) is still at it, and has produced a simple diagram explaining why putting medium-range missile interceptors in Poland to defend against Iranian missiles is a bad idea not only for geopolitical reasons but (as is his specialty) for simple technical ones. Namely, it's an easily defeatable 'defense', and to make matters worse, it's defeatable by the target (Iran) launching weapons at Poland (where the interceptors are) because the proposed U.K. based radar has too high a horizon to see them if they take this (lower) trajectory - unless you put complete radar systems and the like at the Poland site, which in turn causes yet more trouble with the proposal (and produces yet more hit-it-first motivation).

Dr. Postol has a knack for taking complex strategic and policy arguments and finding problems with them based on strict physics which cut across party lines. Of course, this tends to make various people very irritated with him an awful lot of the time. On the other hand, it also (in my opinion) means that issues he investigates tend to have more of their fights center around actual fact-based problems, which is (again in my opinion) a plus.

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May 26, 2006

Amir Massoud Tofangsazan the internetz.

True or not, this is funny. I feel like working to boost Amir's Google ranking at this URL.

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12:00 12:00 12:00

...then 12:01, and time for X-Men: The Last Stand. It seems the Thing To Do when discussing this movie is to stake out one's ground first, so let me do that. I like comic books. I like the X-Men. I in no way have read even a meaningful fraction of the X-Men series, much less its multiple spin-offs. Ergo, I have a tenuous at best grip on what can laughingly be called its 'continuity.' I liked the first X-Men movie, and wasn't so thrilled with X2. I think Bryan Singer is overrated by those who discuss his directing.

I'll try to hold any spoilers until later, and label 'em clearly.

Okay? Okay.

Cheap escape: I liked the flick. Highly entertaining.

More depth: From what little I know, this movie takes the notion of continuity from the comic sense and laughs while wiping its ass with it. There's even holes when considered strictly as the third of three movies in a vacuum. But like a magnificent drunk, the movie just stumbles with divine grace across these holes and somehow stays upright through momentum. It's a summer movie, for Gawd's sake, it's not supposed to make sense. There's actually a story of sorts in there; one that connects with the prior two movies, so in that we are lucky. Looked at with one eye closed and the other squinting, it looks almost like it was planned as the third movie in an arc trilogy. Almost.

There are noticeably more explosions, effects, asskickings, and general mayhem moments than in the first two. Part of that no doubt reflects a higher budget, but part of it also reflects much less of a tendency to get angsty about the personal stressors of mutantdom. The stress is there and still plays a significant role in the story (if not the most critical!) but much less time is spent trying to coach marginal actors into producing believable expressions of personal conflict underneath DRAMATIC MUSIC to display INNER TENSION. More time is spent having said characters display their Issues by blowing the ever-loving shit out of some piece of scenery or even (in this flick) some hapless homo sapiens or even mutant who happens to be in the way - which, really, is what it's all about.

All hail the pyrotechnics teams.

Okay, some minor spoilers below. Nothing you wouldn't get from a close examination of the trailer, I promise.


Still with me? Okay. Some pluses and minuses. Here's one of my biggest peeves - Nightcrawler does not appear anywhere in this film. Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot. He was perhaps my favorite mutant; I was ecstatic when he showed up in X2, and they even did it right, making him one of that movie's high points. For God's sake (heh) he even bamfed properly! Give those people cigars! And then...what? He's just not there. We don't even get a throwaway line explanation of what the hell happened to him. We even have a scene in an abandoned church for God's sake! His stomping grounds! But nope. No Nightcrawler. POINTS DEDUCTED.

We get a completely nude Rebecca Romijn. This is never bad. :-)

Ian McKellen is a splendid bastard. Truly he is. Despite wearing what looks like a padded vise around his head, his eyebrows manage to perform some 47 percent of the acting duties of the entire cast. Watching him tailor his physical gestures (degree of exertion, type of motion) to his various Magneto exploits is a treat to behold. Finally, we get not one but at least two Magneto-vs.-Xavier debates-with-pointy-words-and-tone, and just being able to pull two actors of Stewart and McKellen's caliber into the project speaks well of this flick. They rock.

There were a great number of Inexcusable Movie Cliches, even for a comic book flick. Honestly. Helpless-housewife-locks-car-door-in-the-face-of-unimaginable-power. R. Lee Ermey's Drill Sergeant Voice. Jack-Ryan-Style Fake-IR-Satellite-Realtime-Video Taken-From-Ten-Feet-Up Live-In-The-White-House. A President who can only speak in four-word-cliches. Sometimes the cliches even overrode the movie's sensibilities - for example, Magneto's army. Because the army is Bad Mutants, there's some reason that 95% of them have to look like Biker Gang rejects and be wearing clothes straight out of Deliverance. Uh, I call bullshit on this one. Eric Lensharr would not be delivering his speeches of self-defense and actualization to a bunch of intensely racist backwoods types. He'd be able to find a bunch of self-interested as well as urbane types who had a better place to hang out than behind Cousin Bob's Trailer.

More good-natured jokes about the outfits, which is good. Hank McCoy wearing his 'old' outfit and bitching about how it used to fit him was a good follow-on to 'You'd prefer yellow spandex?'

On the plus side as well, the storyline they chose fit in extremely well with Magneto's character and backstory; his motivations were COMPLETELY believable, and his actions throughout were (mostly) self-consistent and understandable. The 'with us or against us' meme was developed well, and they didn't spend too much time (as I feel sure Singer would have) 'exploring the issues this would have raised among the Xavier community.' Nope, too busy with the asskicking and general Armageddon.

Technically, the movie was midrange. There were a lot of effects, but the CGI got fairly sloppy at times, especially at the end battle. Almost Lawnmower Man-ish, which made me shudder, for certain things. It was inconsistent, though; some of it (Magneto and the Golden Gate) was awesome - I don't know if it reflected a budget disparity or just rushing in some parts to get it done. Jean Grey's dynamic makeup (CGI as well?) was good. We didn't see nearly as much of the Mansion this time, making it seem like less of a 'special place' - we saw some of the school part, but not a lot - and in fact the sets weren't all that great. They were fairly generic. I can't think of any that stand out.

One thing that would have tickled me is for one of the young 'uns to have poked a button in the X-Jet during our pan past them in the passenger section, causing a 'call' light to bong at Storm's station resulting in guilty embarrassment. That would have been funny.

Final kvetch: there sure are an awful lot of mutants out there. Makes you wonder how Charles kept everything so quiet and why he even needed the Machine to find them if there were that many - even if they were mainly 'pawns' as Magneto put it.

Okay, done rambling. I enjoyed the flick, and will probably see it again. I liked the final scene; I thought it was the right 'comic book series' ending. Oh, and advice: stay after the credits.

Posted by jbz at 11:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 25, 2006

Sea Swap and the SSN fleet

Some time back I wrote a paper on sizing the U.S. Attack Submarine (SSN) fleet, in which I attempted to come up with a mission-based methodology for producing a fleet size. This was pre-9/11 but post Cold War. One of the largest factors of the final size was the deployment ratio, or the number of boats required total in order to maintain a certain number on station at sea. The deployment ratio that could be attained made a huge difference in the total number of hulls required, obviously, as a multiplier. A question that I asked but wasn't able to satisfactorily answer was "Why can't the Navy dual-crew SSNs the way they dual-crew SSBNs?"

Well, an answer is closer, if not settled. They can, really, which is what I sort of thought at the time too. While there may be technical issues with current subs which make this more difficult - notably, systems which require maintenance on regular cycle which can't be removed from the submarine for depot maintenance due to limited access port sizes on the boat (SSBNs have larger accessways specifically to allow depot maintenance of critical system components to maximize at-sea times) this is something that could certainly be solved in a new-design SSN, of which we've had at least one since I wrote that paper.

It's nice to know I at least managed to get something close to right - i.e. yes, that number was important; yes, the Navy thought so too, enough that they experimented, and yep, it makes a big difference.

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How To Make High School Suck Worse Than Ever

React like the idiots in this article. Look, get fucking real. Guns are tools. That's all. They are dangerous, lethal objects that perform a mechanical task. The demonstration that this guy is performing is in fact done every day by people doing a job - forensic ballistic experts, for example, or people designing both weapons and protective armor. They use guns to do this too. They use the same physics he's teaching those kids. The kids are eager to learn the physics because he's showing them that 'things that are scary and cool' are connected to those equations.

Why are guns a problem? Not because someone who knows how to use them shows you what they do in a controlled environment with proper appreciation for it. Guns are a problem when they are treated as a 'magical object' that is 'forbidden' and hence represents 'mystical power' - i.e. when they are something that is never seen, never seen operating, never touched - and then become something that if only the kid can get hold of, they will be magically powerful and can fix all the problems with their life.

Pretending they don't exist, or that they can't be acquired by the kids if they try hard enough, is the way to make them mystic objects of fascination. Making them understandable and dangerous objects, like bandsaws or jackhammers, is the way to make their use something not 'cool' and 'powerful' but stupid and weak.

Plus, maybe your kids will want to go to Physics class. That's rare enough already. If there is an actual law against doing this demonstration in the classroom, then okay, understandable - perhaps he needs to set up a field trip to a range to do it. But if no-one's been hurt, and he's taking appropriate safety precautions, and knows what he's doing - SHUT UP! Jesus, it's no wonder the good teachers quit.

Fucking learn that.

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Bastard bastard bastard bastard.

I beat it. Then I tipped him $5.

Bob beat it before me though, so he got to taunt me.

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May 24, 2006

Tunes, Unloq'd

eMusic offers straight MP3 downloads from indy labels for a monthly subscription, at various levels. Cheapest is $10 for 40 tracks. No DRM. VBR MP3 tracks, playable on whatever wherever whenever. The catalog is good. I like the 'formal connections' and 'related artists' linklists; they seem much more useful than recommendations from, say, Amazon.

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May 23, 2006

Me? I'm an Emo Memewhore

...say that ten times fast.

But I like this. Gettin' blazed involves buttons, man...plushies...buttons...yeah...

o/~...I am a one-man wrecking machine...o/~

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The Unexplained Rez Event Part II

The Unexplained Rez Event took a step towards gelreality.

SoundBombs. Rock.

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Play as work

Hm. I used to play TRACON all the time on my Mac II. I miss it. If there was a Mac OS X client for this, I think I'd be in real trouble...

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May 18, 2006

In other news, the Earth goes around the Sun.

If this is actual news to anyone, I have some really excellent physics papers I just wrote they can publish for me. I'm not saying it doesn't need to be said, because it does, and as often as possible; the actual acquisition of names to back up the stories is valuable as hell. The more respectable the voices saying it, the sooner and more likely we can get the problem fixed.

But if there's anyone out there that can honestly tell themselves that they didn't think this was going on, please, if you're in a position of authority over United States policy or please tell me no! civil rights, resign now.

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Mechs & Gravs & Plasma Guns, woo hoo!

Battlefield 2142 looks like it's gonna crush any attempt to run it on my iMac. :-)

Mechs. Wheeeeeeeeee!

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May 15, 2006

They Might Be Giants produces the best ringtone ever

No, really, they did.

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May 11, 2006

Vote with your wallet

I wonder if I can sign up for Qwest as my carrier...

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May 10, 2006

The Proposition

The Proposition (2005) is an Australian film, set in the Outback in what appears to be the late nineteenth or very early twentieth century - my Australian history is, well, nonexistent (sorry J). If I had to commit the cardinal sin of review-by-comparison-and-modifier, I'd say that this movie comes closest to Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven but with a greater historical relevance and even greater moral ambiguity.

The imagery is savage - not only the violence, which is graphic and meticulous, but not casual (never that), but the landscape. The Outback is shown as a vast, gloriously wild and unforgiving place, with Europeans struggling to eke out a life there by imposing their civilization's habits upon the land. As they place frame houses on ground flat for hundreds of miles in every direction, their customs too sit perched awkwardly atop the dusty soil, unable to put down roots. The faint traces of life in the Outback, to which one might attach oneself, are visible; there are Aborigines living there who have been there, we can tell, since time began. However, the constant presence of racial contempt that the European society brings with it prevents it from truly putting down roots in this place.

This latter point is made most poignantly when one character dismisses his native houseman in order to prevent the latter's being caught up in the cycle of violence that is approaching. As he approaches the gate, the settler calls to him to only half-ironically wish him merry Christmas. Turning, he removes his shoes and drops his pocket handkerchief next to them, replies "Merry Christmas, Cap'n," and trudges through the gate - clearly commenting that these trappings of Europe will be more of a hindrance than a help outside the garden fence.

The acting is really quite good. Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, John Hurt and Emily Watson all shine, but everyone in it holds up their end. As has been noted by other reviewers, the costuming and makeup is so total (in terms of grittiness and filth, at times) that it can be difficult to identify actors - which ends up making their performances all the more powerful.

I recommend it highly. Be warned that the violence is not cartoony, is highly bloody, not only bloody, and very effective - but also absolutely necessary.

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Microsoft: The Old Soft Sell

Why Microsoft should be referred straight to your attorney. Especially their sales force. The money quote, in my opinion, is when the customer responds to the 'Engagement Manager's concerns about licensing compliance by offering to forward their licensing purchase receipts, the response (from a salesperson, no less is:
"Thank you for your offer to send your purchase records to me," she wrote, "however our Software Asset Management (SAM) program is the only unbiased way to create an accurate baseline and resolve this matter."
"Unbiased." Yes. What a...oh, never mind, insert pejorative here.

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May 9, 2006

It's starting to drizzle Other Shoes.

So. Larua Rozen at War and Piece and TPM Muckraker have pointers to another connection between Porter Goss and Mr. Wilkes-of-lining-Randy-Cunningham's-Pockets fame: apparently, just before going from the CIA originally to work for Goss as a staffer - Goss was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee at the time, in 2000 - Brent Bassett (known as "Nine Fingers" in this whole daytime TV soap of a government) got a $5,000 check from Wilkes, which on his disclosure forms he's not even really sure what to call.

More popcorn, please.

Someone is going to have to draw us a cool chart with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one is so we can keep track of the players of poker, poke her and Tax Dollar Bingo here.

Update: Other shoes, other shoes...

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May 8, 2006

CNN Blows Whatever Credibility They Might Have Left

...right here. Note that in the same story where they tell you that the No. 3 CIA man quitting was a 'childhood friend' of the central figure in the current sex-and-money-for-contracts scandal that only began with taking down Randy 'Duke' Cunningham, they tell you that the abrupt and surprise resignation of his boss is in fact the cause of this, not an outcome.

Sure. And pigs have antigrav trotters.

Let's have a small thought experiment. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the Head of the CIA appointed by, say, a Democratic president, who was wildly unpopular with the long-time professional cadre of employees there, brought with him a long-time associate from essentially out of nowhere. Let us also say that this DCI had a highly publicized, stormy tenure in which allegations of political housecleaning during a much harped upon 'war' were bandied about.

Now let's imagine that this DCI, who to date has had no personal allegations of impropriety involving a sex or bribery scandal, abruptly resigns. Then two days later, his personal appointee, who it turns out is involved to the point of being the target of an FBI investigation and possible indictment, resigns.

CNN says 'gee, he only resigned because his boss left.'

Now crank in multiple hints, rounded up by Laura Rozen at War and Piece, that this no. 3 has been considering resigning since before the Big Cheese's suprise Friday funhouse announcement.

And still, CNN sucks wind for the White House spin cycle.


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A Word Of Thanks to a Tow Truck Driver

This morning, I was awakened from a sound oversleep by the sound of a car alarm. Which, when I stumbled to the living room window in the grip of an unconscious impulse, turned out to be my car alarm. Darth was protesting his ass end being unceremoniously hoisted upwards. Adrenaline kicked me fully awake, and I managed to bolt out of the house just as the tow truck was pulling away. I ran up to the door in my briefs (to the general hilarity of the two Cambridge cops and four other tow drivers on my block) and gasp/wheezed "...drop fee?"

The driver looked at me and grinned (not actually cruelly) and said "Seventy-five. You have it inside?" I nodded, and he said "Okay, I have to keep moving, but I'll pull over across the street, okay?" He pointed. I moved away, and he pulled past the cross-street and up to the curb, waiting. I went back inside for pants and cash.

Which was a problem. I came back out and trudged over to meet him, shaking my head.

"You got it?"

"No, man, I think you still got me. I only have $17." Which was totally true, it was all the cash I had in the house.

He looked at me for a second, then laughed and said "Nah, I'll take your $17." Which he did, then dropped the car carefully and shook my hand. "You still have the ticket, though, I can't do anything about that."

"'Course not, man, thanks, thanks a lot."

I drove Darth back into my driveway. Hell, if running out of my house in tighty-whities to get a laugh saves me from having to go to the tow yard, that alone would've been worth it. The ticket was $20. I can't really complain at all about the tow, since yep, I was on the wrong side of the street (they switched the street sides a year ago when they repaved and put the signs back, and I still get them wrong...first Friday and second Monday, which side?) and they didn't get to my car until 10:20am instead of the 8:00am they normally do (which I would've slept through) and he was cool about it and made my Monday not suck.

Whew. So here's to human, good-natured tow guys. Thank you, sir.

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A Moment of Changing the World for the Better? Screw that.

That's not what George Bush considers to have been the best moment of his presidency to date.

Why is this assclown bothering being in Washington, again?

Oh, right, I forgot, he's not.

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May 5, 2006

It's Friday! That means...

Entertainment! That's right, pull out the popcorn and let's play scandal du semaine! It's fun! It's fresh! And it's brought to you by the Republican Party and your Presidential Administration!

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May 4, 2006

Where the hell is my future?

So. Here we have a list of upcoming MMO games. I have a serious issue with this. WHERE THE HELL IS MY SCI-FI, damn it? Of the umpteen games discussed there, there are maybe three which can be called sci-fi. One is 'post-apocalyptic', which is always code for 'haha you get crappy melee weapons and maybe if you're really lucky you find present-day tech and if you are INCREDIBLY FORTUNATE you find something that might be a computer but there's no electricity so you're screwed.' Bzzzzt. One is a Star Trek MMO, which might be good, so I'll reserve judgement, but it has no announced release date - and given the hole into which the Star Trek franchise has been driven by Berman and Company, I'll believe it when I see it. The last is a Warhammer Online game, which, okay, is science fiction - but is really more of a Total War game dressed up in sci-fi. It's not so much a plot-driven or even exploration-driven game. I suppose there's content there, but really, the game is derived from a miniatures-based tactics tabletop game. Release date, "maybe 2007." Sigh.

Up against this field there are no fewer than around *ten* pirate, barbarian, generic-fantasy-medieval-magic crapola games. What the hell? When did imagination and computers come to mean 'elves and unicorns and magic' to the exclusion of all that's fucking holy to a man raised on blaster pistols and starships?

Speak not to me of EVE Online or Space Cowboy. If you can't get out of your spaceship and walk around and moon somebody, forget it. It's just a big flight sim. Damn it.

I miss Anarchy Online. It was a grand fucking attempt. It just didn't have the tech to produce enough content to fill the space it had, or make the world fungible enough - and it got boring fast. But God, if it could have fulfilled its promise, it would have fucking ruled. And it *did* hold me for around a year, exploring if nothing else - WoW is prettier, but the thrill of managing to get somewhere new in AO is something WoW just doesn't have for me. Making it into a new zone, finding a pointless-and-non-interactive-but-pretty crashed starship way the hell out in the middle of nowhere on Rubi-Ka - that showed me that the game designers thought like me - they wanted a world, not just a vessel for an adventure module. Those crash sites and random encampments were a hopeful investment for the future, as well as easter eggs for those of us who would spend time just flying around the planet in our Yalms, sightseeing.

Damn, I miss it. But not enough to go back and realize that there really wasn't enough interaction to make me stick around. If only AO's content was sitting on top of WoW's platform...oh, man. The weeks I would lose inside.

Update: I'm wrong. Warhammer Online is not Warhammer 40,000 online, which would be sci-fi. Nope. It's a big-tusked-orc-type fantasy war MMO which looks a lot't be...sigh.

Posted by jbz at 11:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dear President Bush

While I understand that you may not have been amused by Mr. Colbert's performance this past weekend, please try to understand the following: the discomfort you felt as you were forced to listen to him in front of an audience is but a small part, for an infinitismally small period, of what some of us feel when we listen to you and yours make or propose policy in front of the rest of the planet.

And none of you have the excuse that no-one will take what you say seriously.

Deal with it.

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May 3, 2006

I Weep for the Future. And the Present.

Fox, BBC, Al Jazeera most trusted: poll

At least the Beeb is in there. But Fox? OMFGWTF.

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