November 29, 2006

Sometimes the Good Guys Win One

...and when they do, sometimes it's heartening to be reminded how many of them there are.

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November 28, 2006

I've spent a lot of time there, yes.

I write a lot for this other website that I sometimes talk about. It's either in its death throes, or thriving; quality is either in the crapper or stellar; we can't agree, those of us who hang out there. Some of us are obsessed with numbers, despite exhortations to the contrary. This, for example, is an image of the stuff I've written for that site:


Each colored pixel is an article; time is along the X axis, the most recent contributions farthest to the right. The 'reputation' (or 'score' or whatever) of the writeup, as judged by other denizens of the site, is the Y axis. If the writeup has been 'cooled' – given extra-special-useless Gold Star awards by fellow users, which mostly serves to emphasize the writeup for a time by placing it in a 'cool list' on the front page – it's in red, with the size of the halo indexed to the number of times it's been so awarded. If it hasn't, it's blue. Daylogs (entries written under the current date, treated as diary entries and usually subject to less harsh voting) are in green.

What this graph tells me, most of all, is that I've written nearly 1500 articles for the thing, creative writing and 'factuals' and stupid in-jokes and games alike. While it's kept me saner than I otherwise would have been, just imagine what I could have done with that time and effort had I turned it to, I don't know, selfish ends. Of course, then I probably wouldn't have been able to do it.

Ah well.

For those of you who hang out there yourselves and are curious, this was generated from here. More E2 trivia: according to Those Who Know, that little blue pixel high up on the left is AFAIK currently the highest-rated article on there without a C!. Heh.

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Important Tip for Cambridge/Somerville Residents

...Rosie's Bakery in Inman Square is selling fullsize pies left over from Thanksgiving for $5. Er, as of Tues. morning, they were down to the small-sized pumpkins and the pumpkin cheesecakes. Whoo! I got an apple, and it's tasty.

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November 22, 2006

No matter how you dress it up...

...a perpetual motion machine is still a McGuffin. I love watching these starry-eyed people talk about things like this in these movies, with titles like 'Research Consultant.' Then they throw in some NASA people to talk! What a shock! Nothing at all about the bullshit in question! Then back to the shill to talk about how wonderful for NASA it would be if this crap existed, and...voila.

Let's count the ways this thing wouldn't be wonderful if it existed, shall we? Think of it as an exercise in bullshitometry.

So Mcallister McWetpants or whatever his name is has found a way to crack water into H2 and O2 using, as far as I can understand the claim, less power than you can derive from combusting the two of them. Um. Okay. The problem with this is that the chemical residue of that combustion, as he admits, is...yep, water. So if you have enough energy to drive your mechanism and still get water out of it, you're getting energy for nothing. Thermodynamics, pshaw, who needs it? So why is this bad?

Leaving aside the actual SCIENCE for the moment, imagine it. Now we have a world where you can build a WMD out of tap water and something the size of a sparkplug. All you have to do is hide a closed-cycle MagicDevice long enough, and it'll happily sit there storing up energy as it runs a cup or so of water through this magic cycle, right? All you have to do is find a way to store that energy. Capacitor, fusor, who the hell cares - eventually, pow. Hell, start with hydrogen and fuse it up to plutonium if you want.

Global warming! You think it's bad now? When the problem is simply that we're releasing energy that's already stored down here? Wait until we're pulling it out of thin air for free!

Jesus. I just wish I knew what the game was with these morons. I wonder if the original cut of this movie asked you to send A Needed Donation Now.

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November 21, 2006

I Think This Speaks To My Inner Maniac.

...the one who wants to spend roughly a dollar a second on paintballs. But so worth it for the looks on their faces just before they vanish under a hail of paint and biodegradable capsule.

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November 20, 2006

Clarkson and May, on Hammond

Jeremy Clarkson and James May discuss their colleague Richard's accident in the Vampire Jet Car whilst filming for Top Gear, as well as the public reaction to it in Britain. These gentlemen are writers, damn it, which is why that show is so bloody good.

(hat tip jyeo for the pointer)

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November 18, 2006

Survey Team

Another story written for a creative writing challenge over at E2...

Sitting on the bench, Alwyn clutched the flask in both hands convulsively and watched his ex-classmates spill out the gates of Survey's groundside campus in twos and threes, laughing. Graduation would have just finished. His class— his ex-class, now members of Survey in their own right, off to the field to meet up with shuttles up to various Outpoint stations. There to lay on colossal drunks after stowing their gear aboard assigned Survey ships, and to begin their careers Going, Seeing, Surviving and Reporting. And, had he not chosen to begin that drinking a wee bit early, there too would he have gone.

He took a convulsive drink. Fuckers. The jetjuice made him shudder and drew tears. Which was why he was crying.

It took a moment to register that someone had chosen that moment to sit down next to him on the bench. Alywn counted to five in his head, then turned to snarl at the newcomer, but before he could open his mouth, the other spoke. "Alwyn Regerson?"

His anger forgotten in his surprise, Alwyn gaped. "Uh?"

"You are Survey Cadet Regerson, aren't you? Second in your class?"

Bitterness rose in his gorge. "Not any fucking more, whoever you are, and thank you so very much for reminding me." He turned back and drank.

"Oh, I know that, Mr. Regerson. I know. I was sorry to hear about that. Well, not sorry, really. You see, your...running afoul, shall we say, of the more puritanical bent of Survey might be to both our benefit."

Alwyn spat out the mouthful of jetjuice deliberately and turned to face the other. The man was graying, wearing a sleek black topcoat with a discreet sigil on the breast. Looking more closely, he could see a linked trio of letters, M-S-R. Mill-Surat-Roe. That didn't make sense; MSR was one of the largest (and most ruthless) starflight combines in existence, accorded the half-fearful, half-hateful sobriquet of 'The Company.' "How so?"

"My name is Haarlan. Shall we go somewhere and have a drink?" He indicated the flask. "Might as well save that for leaner times, eh?"

The bar was quiet, and that quiet along with the quality of the decor marked it as one of those places Alwyn would never consider drinking unless he'd just won a lottery. Haarlan merely nodded with a smile when he looked challengingly at the company man in response to the (human!) waitress' query, and ordered an (actual!) Scotch. When they had both been served, drinks that represented a week of his Cadet stipend, Haarlan continued. "Mr. Regerson, let me be frank. I'm here because you are – were – an outstanding Survey cadet, and we'd like to hire you. The work is dangerous, but no more dangerous than Survey work, and in fact is quite similar, with one or two small differences."

"You do realize I was kicked out for cause?"

"Of course. You were kicked out for illicit use of resources on your final practical survival exercise, correct?"

"Well, yes."

"To be blunt, you raided your group's stores and built a still, from which you produced an admirably pure ethanol base product. Adulturating it with additional supplies from the emergency survival and decontamination kits, you apparently managed to create a passable imitation of a recently-popular energy drink cocktail, which you then sold to your fellow recruits on a most ingenious credit chit system, redeemed on your return to the Academy grounds."

"You're quite well informed."

"You'd be surprised. What impressed us the most, Mr. Regerson, was that despite extracurricular schedule and entrepreneurial bent, none of your teammates complained about you slacking on your workload; none of your teammates nor any of the units whose stores you raided noticed or complained of missing stores, and no one suffered any privation or even inconvenience."

Alwyn drank reflexively. "I told the Board that, that I'd replaced everything before anything could have happened, I just needed to seed the cycle...but they didn't care. They didn't care. I broke the rules."

Haarlan leaned forward and clasped his hands in front of his dewy glass. His grin was somewhat sharklike. "Mr. Regerson. All I care is that you survived, and so did your teammates, unharmed and without inconvenience - and that despite your own sampling of your work, you were never unfit for duty. Not once."

"I'm not an alcoholic. I just appreciate the stuff."

"I believe that's what I said. Well, Mr. Regerson, here's the meat of it. Mill-Surat-Roe maintains a private Survey division, since, as you know, we open many mining and other resource exploitation planetary claims. Would you like a job?"

* * *

"Drop in five, repeat, drop in five. All I-team personnel man the drop shuttle. All I-team personnel man the drop shuttle."

The Vasco da Gama shuddered slightly. Auxdrive was burning to bend her approach vector away from a terminal drop into the gravity well of S45j/PB986, where Jump had left her. Alwyn stubbed out his cigarette on the frictionplate deck beside his leg and leaned back against the bulkhead for a last moment's peace. Around him, the relaxed activity of the team continued, gear moving into packframes and hands checking cargo pockets with the ease of long practice. Above and beyond them, the vaguely insectile bulk of the drop shuttle waited, slung in its cradle.

"Up and at it, little man." Kesh offered an arm, and Alwyn reached up to clasp it. Kesh swung him to his feet effortlessly. Alwyn wasn't large, but Kesh was – black as night and about the size of a house, Kesh was Survival on the I-Team. He was already festooned with equipment, and his packframe was settled beneath his shoulderblades. Ensuring Alwyn was standing on his own, Kesh moved on to rouse the others.

Alwyn shook his head, grabbed his pack from the deck, and jogged towards the waiting shuttle.

"I-team, this is da Gama, separation in thirty seconds, confirm please." da Gama's voice was calm and even as only an AI Monitor's could be. Kesh was buckling in; Pharris was actually already asleep in his shock couch, and Winra was looking out the port while tapping a nervous tattoo on her knees to some forgotten popular music piped over her headset. Sebastian was doing isometrics in his own couch at the back. Alwyn kicked his headset over to command mode, watching the flight controls before him come alive in a splash of holographics and simple backlighting.

"da Gama, this is Alwyn Regerson confirming separation at thirty from mark." Alwyn watched the shuttle's simple AI coming up as he spoke with da Gama, watched it checking the entry plot and nodding its electronic head, satisfied. He checked it too, as best he could in the seconds he had available, before switching back over to intercom. "Kesh, are you in?"

"Yeh, man, I'm in."

"Rock and roll." That was Winra, still drumming.

da Gama broke in at the five second mark, offering a countdown, then slapped them with a sledgehammer and tossed them out into the black.

* * *

"Team, this is Survival, Day two check-in." Kesh's voice was just as bassy as he looked, even through a headset link. Alwyn sat back on his haunches and wiped his brow, dropping the armfuls of fronded stalks he was busy scraping clean.

Pharris' voice responded first, coupled with a violet locater icon on Alwyn's HUD. "Team, this is Rations, checking in, clear."

"Team, Substance, checking in, clear." Winra's voice, this early in the insertion, was thoughtful and absentminded as she worked.

"Team, Rec, checking in, clear." Sebastian sounded as if he was running a marathon, which was somewhat appropriate.

Alwyn kicked his beacon. "Team, Shine, checking in, clear." All five locater icons flashed twice to confirm their status, and he returned his attention to the bundle of stalked plants. The sample was almost entirely clear of its budded stems and outer hard layers, leaving a pale bluish rod of material perhaps a meter and a half in length. It was damp with sap. The chemalyzer was still sniffing at it, but so far everything looked good - it was composed of dextrorotaries, and the pith of the stem looked like it was almost pure longchain starches. He left the armload of stems on the ground and moved to the next pile in his small clearing.

It had taken him a day to collect his various sample loads, but it was worth it. This was why he was here. Unlike some planetary bodies the I-team had worked, this one had a multitude of possibilities within easy range of the dropsite. The second pile was a sampling of a whitish lichen that he'd found covering the north faces of nearly all the rocky outcroppings he'd passed, to a depth of perhaps three inches. It was spongy but dry despite the damp air. The chemalyzer he'd dropped on top of this pile had already finished, indicating a relatively simple composition. Alwyn accessed the dump from his helmet HUD and frowned. There was a load of sugars, but there were also some strange looking alkaloids in there and a load of basic minerals no doubt leached out of the stone - calcium, some iron, a host of other metal traces. Not suitable, although he tagged an image of the stuff for Winra.

"Hey, Alwyn."

"Yeah, Pharris, how goes it."

"Not too bad. Hey, can I ask you to test something for me?"

Alwyn looked around. His final three sample piles had chemalyzers still winking amber, indicating they hadn't finished their runs. "Sure. I'll be there in five minutes."


Pharris' 'tests' were not only the least likely to kill him, but the most likely to improve his day. Alwyn trudged across the few hundred meters of low vegetation separating him from the team camp, carrying his sidearm drawn. They hadn't seen any creatures larger than a Terran rabbit since arriving, but caution had kept them all alive this long - and seventeen worlds was longer than any other survey team without a casualty. Their credit balances reflected that experience. Twice, motion in the ankle-high blue leafy plants caused him to stop, but both times the disturbance turned out to be caused by one of the hand-sized hoppers that Kesh had named 'panfrogs' on first look.

The panfrogs, which did in fact look like small buttered pancake stacks with two pairs of back froglegs, were more interested in getting out of his way than causing him any grief. As he drew close to the camp, he could see Pharris puttering around the outdoor work area he'd staked out as soon as they had finished expanding the domehuts and setting up the layered survey fencing. Three worktables were cluttered with implements and offal; two variable pads held pots, and five of them steamed gently. Pharris waved genially as Alwyn drew up and holstered his maser.

"Hello there, my esteemed colleague. Try a bit of this." Pharris offered a ladle, handle first, full of a purplish concoction. Since Alwyn had heard this greeting from him more times than he could count, and hadn't died yet from accepting it (and had only become really incapacitated less than a handful of times he could remember) he shrugged and took the ladle. Testing the heat, he sipped the stuff in it.

It was a ragout of some form. Pharris was still in the early phases of exploration, and there wasn't much subtlety; he was apparently still attempting to determine both the mechanical and colloidal properties of the local fare. As a result, the ragout (in addition to being purple) was slightly slimy, as well as containing a powdery substance that apparently was resisting water - almost like pockets of corn starch.

As usual, however, it was damn tasty.

"Shit, P, that's good. What is it?" The old joke.

"Ah, that would be telling."

"Aw, come on, man, what's in it?"

"My dear fellow, you haven't paid to see those cards!" Pharris beamed at him, reclaimed the ladle and sipped himself. Letting his eyes defocus a bit, he muttered "More simmering..." and returned the ladle to one of the pots. Alwyn poked his nose into a couple of the other pots, managing to sneak looks into two of them before Pharris slapped at him and growled menacingly. "No! One more look and I bill you!"

"Okay, okay! I just work here, I can't pay a Survey bill, Christ." Laughing, Alwyn desisted. He ran his tongue around his mouth. "You know, there's a little bit of an aftertaste to that one..."

"Really? What sort?"

"Hm...not great, kind of bitter."

Pharris whipped out a notepad and stylus and scribbled in it for a moment. "Thanks. Wouldn't have noticed that."

"No problem."

"How's it going on your end?"

"Oh, several promising avenues. I meant to ask you if you saw anything I should look at, by the way."

"Yes, in fact. Here, try these." This ladle contained a gruel of sorts. Alwyn looked carefully at it; since he was being offered a referral, this couldn't be considered insulting. The gruel appeared to be made up of small regular shapes. Grain? No...he picked one out and looked at it closely. It looked familiar, but had been softened by boiling. He tasted the gruel, and found it bland but with the characteristic slight sweetness of starch breaking down into sugars.

"Hey, that's perfect! What are these?"

"Beetles of some kind."

"Damn. How hard to collect?"

"If you find one of those large green domes around the field, break it open. It's a chitin habitat. There's thousands of beetles under each one. You have to be quick, though, they run when light hits 'em. Bring a sampling vac."

"Ah, okay. Specialty item. Where's the starch?"

"I'm not sure of the mechanism." Pharris reached over to the bench and pulled a sample case off it, handed it to Alwyn who took it and peered through the magnifying lid. "It looks like they sequester starchy food base underneath their shells for lean times. If you boil 'em, the legs fall off, and there doesn't appear to be anything toxic in them anyway. They don't taste very good for a few hours - you have to break down some nasty-tasting aromatics, but after that, it's just like having parched corn, sorta."

"Can I keep this one?"


"Thanks. When's dinner?"

"Couple of days. You bringing anything?"

"Maybe." Alwyn grinned at him and moved back off across the plain.

* * *

Even the domehuts looked welcoming in reflected firelight. Kesh had built a large firepit, with a ramp next to it for Pharris to work in, and slabbed several boulders to rough benches with his variable maser. The stones were warm by now. Alwyn wasn't sure precisely what was burning in the firepit, but it wasn't wood. There was a stack of what looked like pieces of enormous broken eggshell next to the pit. The fire was extremely hot, with an orange-red cast to it. The bottom was whitish.

Kesh came back into the circle of light, dropping a final load of shell before sitting down to join the rest of the team. Alwyn nodded at the fire. "Calcium?"

"Seems to be. Calcium and polysaccharides, straight calories. It reduces to calcium carbonate, and that's the white at the bottom. Don't get close, it's fucking hot. I have accelerant down there."

"What is it?"

"The shells of Pharris' beetle habitats. They abandon them sometimes, for whatever reason, and the older ones are dry. I tried the living shells; they burn as well, but there's a waxy coating on the inside that smokes badly and has all kinds of nasty crap in it. You wouldn't want to cook directly with it."

Winra wandered into the firelight and sat down, dropping her sample bag at her feet. She rummaged in it, came up with a chemalyzer and a handful of twig-shaped objects. Checking them, she threw one to each of the others and grinned. Alwyn looked down at his, unsurprised to feel shipfiber and see the small logo stamped onto the covering. Despite the stubborn coarseness of the basic fiber sheet used by the da Gama's laundry and paper synthesizer, the cylinder was neatly rolled with Winra's typical finicky care. He stuck one end in his mouth and fished a lighter out of a cargo pocket, ignited the other end, and took a cautious drag.

The blunt was startlingly smooth. There was a prickly pepper taste, but very little of the normal harshness of uncured weed. "Hey, this is nice."

"Yeah. I found it in a gully about three klicks that way." Winra waved vaguely to the southeast. "It looks like it likes damp and shade. If we believe Snorter here- " she patted the chemalyzer- "it should offer no toxic effects, but several unknown trace longchains which will produce unpredictable effects on the CNS and visual cortex."

There was a general laugh from the team. The chemalyzers were extremely good at detecting toxins, and famously terrible at predicting non-lethal effects of substances on humans. Sebastian raised his eyebrows at Winra, still holding his. "I presume...?"

"Yeah. It's nice."

That was a high recommendation. Winra had used her metabolism and gray matter to filter and sample more exotic chemical compounds than most organic chemistry textbooks had index entries. Alwyn sucked in a less tentative lungful of smoke, coughed once at the unfamiliar tingle, and slid forward off the stone bench to put his back against the warm shape as Pharris began serving various stews and two different roast creatures on smarttrays.

"Can you believe we get paid for this shit?" The daily prayer drew the daily laugh, which unlike most regular jokes never really lost its luster.

Alwyn's wristcomp beeped after a few minutes. He stood up, put his tray on the bench, and jogged back behind his hut. Grabbing the jerrycan whose ready light was glowing green, he returned. Everyone perked up, including Kesh, who had stuck his blunt in a shirt pocket. Survival duties outranked Winra's skullwhack of the week, but Alwyn usually got to be his favorite person around dinnertime.

Handing cups around, Alwyn unsealed the jerrycan and sloshed a few ounces of fluid into each cup before resealing the can and retaking his seat. He raised his own cup in a toast, then sipped. Everyone watched, only half jokingly.

The fluid went down easily, but a moment later the back of his skull lifted three inches, turned completely around, and dropped back roughly onto his head. He felt his eyes water as a greenish, herbal but not overly cloying taste filled his mouth, and he lowered the cup. "Wow."

That was all the others needed. A few minutes later, they were all sitting around the fire, grinning at each other. Even Kesh.

"Sebastian, you find a nubile chieftain's daughter yet?"


"Nah. Nothing. Zip. Zero. Even those things Phar's cooking aren't any fun. Really. I dunno how they reproduce at all, man, but it sure isn't any way I know."

"You mean, no way you can jimmy yourself into the middle of, you sick fuck." Alwyn nudged the jerrican towards Sebastian to take the sting out, and the other grinned dazzlingly through perfect teeth.

"Damn right. I mean, okay, I'm a guy tonight, and there's rocks...flat surfaces, you know. And I'd have a right hand, if it wasn't for Win's wonderweed. But if I flip tomorrow, I'm in real trouble, damn it, nothing on this rock even grows in cucumber shape!"

"Yeh, that sorta sucks. They'll have to ship it all in for the grunts, then."

Kesh snorted and threw another few shells on the fire. "Big deal. So they lose the perv tourist trade."

Sebastian leaned back lazily and grinned at Kesh. "Big deal, indeed. You know how much those fuckers pay? You know what the local concession on the Cteithon Vacmouth booths is on -378w?"

More laughter.

Alwyn finished his cup and cleared his throat. "Okay, okay. So are we cool with reporting, then?" Nods answered him. "All right. I'll call it in. We have a Four, then - Rations, Shine, Substance and Survival all concur, and Rec is just bored."

Sebastian waved a hand. "Not a total loss. I did a quick terrain survey. There's some really, really impressive mountain faces, but they're all concentrated around a single faultline on the other main continent. Still, there's a few multi-klick straight faces. Scenery, climbing, yadda. Dunno about snow, but straight base you should be OK. Might be worth a location survey over there."

Alwyn nodded. "Okay. So there you have it. I'll call it in. Now if only we could rig Personnel and get commissions on the bribes people are gonna pay to get posted to the mines here."

Laughter indicated agreement, and the Mill-Surat-Roe Staff Canteen Survey Insertion Team went to bed.

Posted by jbz at 5:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Okay, this rules.

Posted by jbz at 5:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 16, 2006

Contrary to what the 'Law and Order' addicts think...

...police systems work because those they are policing consent to be governed. Incidents like this make the populace less, not more, content with police governance; as a result, the effectiveness of police goes down, not up. This is how police forces lose their ability to police through direction rather than force, and this is how law and order give way to repression and violence.

Because if, for example, I was there, the only thing keeping me from beating one of those cops' fucking head in would be the threat of immediate force. It sure wouldn't be respect for the fucking law.

Is that what those cops want to face every time they look at one of the civilians they're supposed to 'serve and protect'?

Here's a hint. If someone asks you for your name and badge number, and the thought makes you angry/ashamed/frightened - maybe you shouldn't be doing what you're doing. If it just makes you resentful, that's one thing - but if you find yourself threatening them with force for doing so, you've crossed the line into not just part of the problem, but the fucking source.

Posted by jbz at 1:42 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Time Travel Creates Potential Freakiness

I'm having a moment of Strange Freakiness. Last night I was in a writing mood; E2 is having a Science Fiction Story quest at the moment, and I was noodling for something to whip up. I had a couple of scotches and bang, something started to flow. I finished the basic story around 2 a.m. Eastern time, polished it, and posted it to E2. The basic plot involved an experiment in quantum physics gone slightly wrong; the experiment was an attempt to send information backwards in time using a high energy beam to perturb a diamond in a particular fashion as to resonate entangled photons. The side effects of the experiment going wrong were pure silly sci-fi, of course.

This morning, I fire up Slashdot over coffee as usual. Almost immediately, bam, I see a story:Physicist Trying to Send a Signal Back in Time. Unnerved slightly, I had a read. Turns out it's an experiment in sending information slightly into the "We're going to shoot an ultraviolet laser into a (special type of) crystal..."

Okay, I'm a little freaked out right now. I swear to Gravity, the strong force and the indefinite number of planets that I'd never heard of this experiment, nor read this story.

If you guys up the timestream are sending me this crap, WHEN THE HELL AM I GETTING FLYING CARS?

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November 10, 2006

He *is* a five-year-old.

Let me get this straight. The military is driven after six years to offer feedback to its lawful civilian superior that his subordinate is, in the military's expert opinion, doing a suboptimal job, and that civilian's response is to 'dig in' at this 'revolt against civilian control of the military'?

In my experience, this is the reaction of a five year old who has been told he can't have ice cream for dinner. But in this case, the damage done is incalculable, and is done directly to that same tradition of civilian control. Civilian control of the military works not only because a piece of paper says it will be true; it works because the members of the military establishment trust the civilian leadership (or at least the system) to helm the ship. Tantrums like this don't help.

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November 9, 2006

Senator Lincoln Chafee, R-RI.

While I'm happy the Dems took the Senate, I'm somewhat sorry Senator Chafee is one of the seats they nailed in doing so. Why? The quote from him in this story, especially considering he just lost an election at the hands of those same American People. This man may be one of those Republicans I miss.

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CNN is pathetic. The Earth is cool.

Why is this 'Offbeat News'??!?! New landmass on the planet as the result of vulcanism is...well...not only scientifically and geographically interesting, but damn cool. Plus legitimately important to commerce (navigation and local environmental disruption, etc.)

Plus, any chance to legitimately use the name 'Tonga' in conversation is noteworthy in and of itself.

Update: Here are some photos of the new island and the pumice rafts resulting from its creation. Coolness.

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zOMG wtf zune?!?!?

So...I'm all confused now. Up to this point, every crackaddled 'feature' or deconvenience of the Zune that I heard about I could explain to myself by putting on a sufficiently 'stereotypical + hyperbolic Microsoft hat'. DRM that wraps your own content in crap? Sure, we need it to get content providers on board. WiFi that will only connect to other Zunes? Um, yeah, we don't want to provide an avenue to get content off the Zune device. Arbitrary 'MS Points' pricing that's sort of deceptive ('79 MS points per track' = 99 cents, but you can only buy them in minimum $5.00 blocks, leaving a $0.05 'bonus' for MS until you buy your 101st song with the rounding cents)? Sure!

Then I read about some of the old stuff again, and in this one...wait, you're telling me I'm to carry around a 30GB storage device that's heavier and larger than an iPod but I can't use it as a hard drive?

Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot.

Nope. Can't figure that one.

Closest I can get? Either "It's more secure in corporate environments!" - Bullshit, USB keys are smaller, much cheaper, disposable and easily hidden. Or maybe "If people can't mount the device, they can't hack the filesystem and hence hack the device like some of the iPod hacks." Er, but *your* software has to talk to it, so *other* software will be able to eventually. Count on it. So why yank perfectly useful functionality that already exists by nature of its physical factor?

Nope. No clue.

Posted by jbz at 3:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Barefaced drivel.

From "The Democrats will surrender to terrorists and raise your taxes" to "The American people expect us to rise above partisan differences, and my administration will do its part."

Sure it will, Shrub. Sure it will. But only at the point of a legislative gun, apparently. And a promise extracted under duress...well.

Update: How, precisely, will his administration 'do its part'? Well, let's see...apparently by pushing to have Bolton confirmed before the Democrats take over and by pressing to have NSA surveillance officially approved. Because it's not like even some Republicans were against those. Remember, until January, we're in Bush Fantasyland.

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November 8, 2006

Robert Gates and Iran/Contra

The Walsh Report on the Iran Contra Affair has this to say at the close of Chapter 16 about President Bush's nominee for our new SecDef:

Independent Counsel found insufficient evidence to warrant charging Robert Gates with a crime for his role in the Iran/contra affair. Like those of many other Iran/contra figures, the statements of Gates often seemed scripted and less than candid. Nevertheless, given the complex nature of the activities and Gates's apparent lack of direct participation, a jury could find the evidence left a reasonable doubt that Gates either obstructed official inquiries or that his two demonstrably incorrect statements were deliberate lies.

As Borat would say, Niiiiice!

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November 7, 2006

All I Have To Say About Election Night this: especially if the Democrats win control of either or both houses, those of us who have bitched/preached/called for change, accountability, and protection of civil liberties will not see a lessening of our responsibility to hold Congress' feet to the fire. On the contrary, we will have an even greater responsibility to keep a weather eye on the actions of our representatives, and to be as strident or more so when they stray; for our dedication should be to the Republic, not the Party, and we will no longer have the excuse of being marginalized.

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November 6, 2006

Suspension of Model Train Disbelief

The inimitable Jacob Berkman has a link on his blog to a video which did two things for me. One, it made me instantly and burningly nostalgic for the Lionel Train sets my father gave my brother and I, which there's no way I could afford to buy now what with Lionel being worth more than gold these days or some such crap. Two, it made me realize what it was about model trains that always broke the illusion for me, no matter how much backdrop, scenery, squinting and low-light I applied. Yes, I realize that every model railroader (of which I am not) probably knows this, but I hadn't. See, even when you get the scale speed correct (which isn't hard) the problem is always the turns. While real trains can go around turns as sharp as you find in a model train set, they never, ever do so at any speed higher than a crawl. Hence, seeing the model stock zipping around the corners is what breaks the illusion for me.

Update: My pedantic-because-he's-correct brother informs me that one reason for the 'strangeness' is the ratio of gauge to car length, reflected in Lionel trains by the 'O' rating. The O rating determines the minimum radius of a full turn of track in inches; most Lionel O gauge stock is O27, which (as my bro points out) is waaaay shorter w.r.t gauge than reality. This is true. Lionel makes other engines, though, some of which go all the way up to O72 (mostly the more insanely detailed and hence expensive steam replicas) - these, by nature, would be unable to make those sharp turns I described above and hence would be restricted to curves that would ameliorate that sense of wrongness.

Also, Jacob tells me that of course one can set up a train set to slow down in the curves. He said it with a great deal more disdain for my ignorance than I can convey here, all of which, I'm sad to say, was warranted.

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Ever wanted to waterboard FOX News?

No worries, they'll do it to themselves for ya. Have fun. Remember, it's not torture!

hat tip Wonkette

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