Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Fermi Paradox Solved

Largest Space Battle in History Claims 2,900 ships, Untold Virtual Lives!

It's too easy to make fun of this shit. I can picture all of those comic book guys, with bad skin and a few too many pounds on their otherwise light load bearing skeletal frames, wearing trilby hats, sporting neckbeards, playing spreadsheet battles, suffering from rickets and juvenile diabetes from, respectively, lack of sunlight and too many corn syrupy drinks.
"I allocate 200 power points to my deflector shields!" 

No wonder we aren't colonizing planets. And my guess is, this is a filter trap every galactic species has not managed to avoid.

Otherwise, they'd be here, right?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Things That Happen in August

I don't know about you, but Chicago is going through cold spell. Record low highs this past weekend made it feel like late September. I don't particularly mind this, but I would like more of summer, seeing as I haven't gotten to have a summer. (Meaning no physical outdoor activities because of this dang swollen kidney of mine).

Speaking of which, my next procedure is August 14th. Similar to the one on 7/2, but they work on my right kidney. It turns out, that ureter is threatening to seal up as well, and they will resect that side of the bladder and put a stent in the ureter until everything heals. My understanding is this can turn from an outpatient procedure into an overnight stay at the hospital if they need to perform a percutaneous nephrostomy to get the stent in. And then the stent is in for a week or so, and I will be very uncomfortable and unable to ignore this thing. And also the Foley catheter.

So, joy.

And we will haven't address the very sad left kidney, which they keep threatening to remove. If (after a second opinion confirms it), they do have to remove it, that will happen in late September.

I keep telling the doc that, if he just gives that kidney half a chance, it will bounce back. He didn't seem convinced. But then, he scoped my bladder out to see how the resection had gone, and he said "Holy shit! You are completely healed!"

And I replied "I told you! I told you! What did I tell you? I'm a fucking monster!"

Friends down in Indiana, who know me well, and know I am almost indestructible when it comes to getting knocked around, said "Shit, with you, if they take it out, it'll just grow back".

No one is worried about me down there.

So, the plan is to accomplish as much as I can over the next two weeks with bronze casting and glass casting. I have two glass castings in the kiln which should be out this Wednesday. I have about eight or so waxes ready to be rigged up and invested and burned out and cast in bronze. I'm really hoping I can get all that done before the 14th, but reality says "Probably not".

I'll give it a shot anyway.

Oh, and a picture!

Tentatively classified as M. blinkii

Ubiquitous Iniquity

HAL 9000 reads lips. Pretty good for the time, but nowadays, HAL would not have spaced Dave and Frank. He would have figured out their shopping habits, and through computational observation, configured just the right targeted advertisements to bring about their perfectly manufactured desires and distract their minds from disconnecting him.

Look, you may make fun of Google glass, and call the wearers glassholes, but the fact is, something like it is here to stay. What with cameras and microphones now about the size of microbes, and the inevitable pairing of Kinect sensors (and who knows what else?) with Google glass, privacy is basically a thing of the past and ubiquitous surveillance a barely yawn-worthy present.

Not only that, but given the increasing sophistication of programs that can determine, not only your habits, gestures, facial tics, microfluctuations of blood vessels underneath your skin, pupil size, gaze direction, not to mention computer recognition of microexpressions, it doesn't take a mechanical Sherlock to put the clues together to figure out all of your dirty little secrets. Top that off with just what can be data-mined from a general surveillance, it's inevitable that pretty much your entire public life will be categorized and catalogued. Throw in the GPS of cell phones, bots that are 100 eyed Arguses keeping track of every single video feed in the world, drones of every shape and size, and you've got almost everything covered. Almost. Next step, I suppose would be smart dust, or orphids, if they are not already here.

And most people don't seem too upset about that. I mean, when the Pentagon Papers were released, people said "Holy shit! Those dirty hippies were right! We've been lied to by the government!" And there was a bit of an uproar. Fast forward to Edward Snowden releasing data about the NSA and PRISM, or wikileaks leaking Bradley Manning's files, and people shrugged and said "Yeah? So? What is else is new?"

They don't seem particularly upset. And they don't seem particularly upset that private marketing corporations take the same data (and in fact, even better data, since consumers volunteer it) and sell it to other corporations.

People don't mind a trade-off of privacy if it means getting a bargain.

So maybe what has to happen to get people riled is for private corporations to start using blackmail, threatening to air their dirty laundry (and believe me, you really don't need to be much of a Sherlock to piece together disparate clues from people's lives to figure out what their dirty laundry is).

Probably not.

Take me. I refuse to go on Facebook. Part of it is not wanting to be harvested (but let's face it, my data has been thoroughly gleaned and pocketed by Google), but mainly it's because, when I did set up an account, way back in 2006, I was almost immediately friended by people I never wanted to see again. (That's really why I'm not on Facebook, and it's kept the unwanted contacts down to zero). Am I missing out? Yeah, sure, so what? I'm also a lot less distracted.

Hell, it took me forever to get a loyalty card to Jewel, the supermarket I shop at. It was only when I realized I really didn't give a shit what my shopping habits revealed (because, let's face it unless Jewel starts selling porn and illicit drugs, there's nothing I'm particularly upset about them finding out, and even then, I don't really care who knows that I look at porn or do drugs, uh, which I don't, at least, not so you could notice). But finally I did get a loyalty card, and about a month later they got rid of them.


They say they are going back to the Old Skool approach, but I figure, they already got everything that they wanted. And their HAL9000 told them there was no more worthwhile data to mine. Besides, everybody has a cellphone now, and they can just track them through the store, and along with surveillance cameras and who knows what else, can keep track of foot traffic, retention rates, dwell times, posture, cadence, brand loyalty, etc. etc.

So, should I be worried? Should I disassemble my TV, my computer, get one of those bug tracking devices? Should I start wearing a ski-mask? A veil? Dark glasses? Should I avert my eyes when one of those big digital screens displays an ad at me? Is that ad manipulating me? Has it (the network of computers behind the ad) found my universal remote control?

Should I be worried about watching that ad?

Should I be worried about the ad watching me?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"We'll show them Kuzkin's mother!"

Кузькина мать, Kuzkin's Mother, in Russian, was a slang term for the Tsar Bomb, the 50-57 megaton H-bomb dropped on Novaya Zemlya back in 1961. It usually translates as "We'll show you what's what", and is what Nikita Krushchev was purported to say how the Kennedy administration should perceive the test. But, given the usage of 'mother' in Russian and other languages, one can't help but throw in the "Yo' momma" connotation, as in "Yup tvai-you mat'": "I fuck your mother". Interestingly, Novaya Zemlya is probably one of the most radioactively polluted sites on the planet, and what with global warming opening up a permanent Northwest Passage along Russia's north coast, promises to unhatch all sorts of interesting horrors formerly trapped in ice.

Around the same time, the United States was conducting Operation Argus in the South Atlantic, launching H-bombs into orbit at the Earth's geomagnetic equator, supposedly to influence the van Allen radiation belts.

I have to ask "Why such a large Soviet bomb against a barren archipelago above the Arctic Circle?" and also "Why a series of large American bombs in the middle of the South Atlantic Magnetic Anomaly?".

Were I given to flights of paranoid fantasy, I'd think that Krushchev wasn't referring to us Americans when he spoke of the "them" he wanted to fuck the mother of on a barren ice covered isolated piece of desolation. And I also wonder why, of all places, Operation Argus was so close to Bouvet Island, another barren ice covered isolated piece of desolation.

Let the wheels turn.

Oh, and pictures!

M. corona

Mechanicus viginticigarinii

Sunday, July 21, 2013

John Dies At The End: A Review

You know, I wanted to like this horror comedy movie. I really did. But this may be one time when popular taste is looking like the wisdom of crowds. The movie based upon a horror parody book by Jason Pargin (senior editor at Cracked.com), written under the pseudonym David Wong. It's basically applying a mashup of the slacker trope with H.P. Lovecraftian unspeakable eldritch horrors beyond your ken from other dimensions that might be mistaken for demons trope.

I'll just say right off that I found the movie too clever by half, with far too may self-conscious winks and nods, more cutesy than brilliant, probably not scary enough, but maybe too grisly for the squeamish (although given my current experiences involving bodily functions and various exudations and indignities, my grisly and gruesome pole-vault bar is set rather high, and so the last thing you could call me at the moment is squeamish), and therefore not really sure what its audience is beyond comic book crowd, and the sardonic smirking hipster doofus types (which of course means it fails to engage me, though I wanted it to).

I think Mundanes, which is to say those not particularly engaged in speculative thinking, will find it possibly mind blowing, worth maybe a "Whoa!", but reading a blurb on the DVD back that calls it a "punk rock Ghostbusters" should clue most people in. Then there's the jacket blurb for the book, which suggests it is "a cross between Douglas Adams and Stephen King", and that stops me right there.

Yes, I know that there are people out there that are big, big fans of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and various King novels. I am not one of them. Adams I found ordinary and unfunny - seriously unfunny. It's not a cultural Atlantic divide thing. It's not a "you just don't get him because he's so brilliantly English" thing. He's just not funny. He's bland, OK? Nothing original, no new tropes, and nothing to add to existing tropes and ideas. If you are developmentally arrested at the age of twelve, you'll find Douglas Adams brilliant. Sorry if that offends you, but it needs to be said. The future history of the human race may depend upon it. (And yes, I have said before I'm 56 going on 12, but not that 12).

And Stephen King? I've never made it past a paragraph of any of his works. He's a HACK, ok? Deal with it. You want scary, grotesque and macabre? Read Robert Bloch. Read Naked Lunch. Read Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions. Read, really, any true life horror story, especially the real American ones, whose national character is fundamentally (because, you know, Freedumb) deeply and permanently antisocial and psychotic.

No, really, you want a real life horror story? Watch Pat Buchanan. Any doubts that that fecal grease-ball is not some eldritch horror in barely human form, escaped from some deeply twisted dark contorted purple dimension, ready to burst out from its cage of skin in an explosion of toxic blood and rancid semen, wet shiny gristle and serrated bone, crimson ooze, acid bile, and dried-up hard little shrapnel projectiles of invertebrate shit, should be laid to rest just by experiencing him for more than a minute. Seriously.

Here's my deal. Horror stories have always worked better in print or on the radio, where the imagined horrors that spring from the Theater of the Mind work far better than any visual presentation. So horror movies already have one strike against them.

This movie is about aliens that might be demons that might be alternate reality creatures from parallel dimensions, and the protagonists (who can experience this through some parachronic urberdimensional ichor of a drug nicknamed Soy Sauce) that go up against them.

I'm not sure when the whole parallel dimensions trope got started. Of course, you've got the fantasy and fairy tales, that speak of the other world, the half-world, the world of Faerie, the hells and heavens and realms of supernatural beings. And it gets put on a solid scientific footing by H.G. Wells. But most of us get our first taste through the Outer Limits or the Twilight Zone. And, of course, that puts the whole supernatural angels and demons on a rational footing, and makes it palatable to us modern Enlightenment  types (you know, the ones have committed mass murder on an unprecedented scale these past five hundred years). What was I saying?

Okay, so the director is Don Coscarelli, who did Phantasm and Bubba Ho Tep, both mildly amusing and watchable movies. I suspect the same person who did the cute creature effects in Phantasm also was recruited for this movie. Meaning, you can't be too scared by the critters, or at least I wasn't. (And, of course there's the obligatory head-explodes-from-shotgun-blast  scene which I think most people are immune to by now). Speaking of Phantasm, the scariest part of that movie was the Tall Man, played by Angus Scrimm, who appears in JDATE as Father Shellnut.

Here's my problem. There are too many throw away bits in the movie. There's clever stuff, no question, but it doesn't move the plot forward, or enhance our appreciation of the characters, or explore an idea to the point of circus geek clarity. It wants to be geek movie. All the noises and tags and labels are there, but when you expect some nice little monologue or tidbit, you get smarmy and sardonically hip contemporary references, and throw away lines that will be dated and unknown in, wow, maybe just a few months. And some of the lines are straight from the book because sounding them (and credit the actors for trying, A for effort) through the mouthparts makes them sound stilted and contrived.

It's not that I didn't enjoy the movie. It's not that I didn't laugh out loud at some of the bits. But it could have been a great movie, and that's perhaps my problem and not yours. This happens a lot to me. I'll point out how I would have improved the movie, and I suppose that leaves me open to the criticism of, well, then make a better movie. To which I reply, childishly, well maybe I will! So there!

So, my version of the movie would be that TV is actually the most evil creation ever conceived in the existence of the multiverse. Some creature from before the beginning of time (trapped in some ironic and visionary Philip K Dickian prison pocket universe) wants to run the whole ball of wax, all of creation, all versions of it, even the shitty ones, and (somehow) sends out evil emanations to various sapient creatures to create TV. Philo T. Farnsworth could be the hero who discovers too late his awful mistake in creating electronic television. He is a mentor from beyond the grave (maybe?) to (natch) the two hipster doofus heroes who must save humanity. Meanwhile, David Sarnoff has been possessed by the ancient evil ones, and that pretty much explains David Sarnoff and RCA for real in real life. And also explains, basically, the whole unholy alliance that is the American corporate culture.  GE is just the absorbed vehicle of unspeakable evil, and the whole point of jumbotrons is to create dimensional portals big enough to let the titanic evil force through into our world.  See, me, I like villains seemingly unstoppable and invincible, because it allows them to have a playful and generous sense of humor, like, you know, a cute little murderous fucking kitty cat playing with a mouse. It's so cute and adorable. But I'd avoid the whole save-the-world trope. A lot of people got to die, with only a fortunate lucky few making it to the other side, a little the worse for wear. And, of course, one undeserving survivor who gets it right before the end credits. Because the main lesson of horror movies is you can't avoid the end. You can only postpone it.

Cut to utter darkness. Cue evil laughter.

Friday, July 19, 2013

My Hero

I don't really have any heroes. I have a theory that there is a direct correlation between fame and assholes, but the question is are assholes attracted to fame, or does fame bring out the asshole that is in each of us? Or is that even the right question?
Portraits in Emmett Brown's Lab

I think the biggest mistake made in the movie Back To The Future was that Doc Brown enshrined the pictures of Isaac Newton, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein. All of them were kind of douches. Isaac, we now know, was a bit of a pscyhopath. Franklin, a shameless self-promoter, slagged off his working class buddies the second he earned some serious coin. Edison, well, took way too much credit for practically everything his workers did, and couldn't admit to (as most successful people can't) the immensely huge role that luck and accident played in his successes. They get all puffed up and turn into autocrats. Einstein, to a lesser extent, was a douche. He treated his wife, Mileva Marić, like shit, and could never admit he was wrong about quantum mechanics. Worse still, he convinced a lot of people not to believe in quantum mechanics, which meant that a lot of brain power went to waste on pointless hidden variable theories. (Thankfully, people like John Bell could turn the tables on their own beliefs, but that's not the point).

So, I don't really have heroes, but if I did have portraits on the wall, they might be Oliver Evans, Antoine Lavoisier,  Hans Bethe, and Richard Feynman. Nice guys, everyone, and who says nice guys finish last?

Feynman took time out for anyone... pretty much anyone, and had the good sense to know that he was his own biggest fool. Bethe likewise, would discuss even the most ludicrous ideas with anyone, regardless of their reputation or stature or lack thereof. (Oh, true, Bethe was midwife to the H-bomb, but you can't have everything). Both Bethe and Feynman are regular guys, patient teachers, open to discussion, but can back up their criticisms or dismissals of ideas with solid arguments. These qualities are something I notice I lack and wish to aspire to.

Lavoisier, I admire for his constant determination. Lavoisier managed to make modern observations within the realm of chemistry with the most primitive of equipment. He almost single-handedly turned alchemy into chemistry. True, he was a rich guy using state of the art (for the time) stuff, but that's all the more reason to admire him. Despite his riches, he knew he was fortunate, and so made the most use of his time and efforts. Too often, I will give up on a task, not because it is hard, but because it looks hard. I really am, more often than not, a lazy and slovenly mo. I really need to work on that.

And Oliver Evans? Talk about ahead of his time! Long before that asshole, that enormous asshole, that militantly, ignorantly, pridefully enormous asshole Henry Ford appeared on the scene, there was Oliver Evans. Evans created and installed the world's first automatic production line (flour mills). Evans built the first wheeled vehicle to move under its own power. Evans built the first amphibious vehicle. And, Evans built and manufactured the first effective high pressure steam engine.

What do I take from Oliver? Aside from being a true mechanical genius, he is surrounded at every turn by thieves, frauds, and mountebanks - leaches who either take credit, or profit from his work without recompense. He persevered, established a family going in the form of the Mars Works, a steam engineering plant in Pittsburgh, PA.

Oh, right! Almost forgot. This wax didn't make it. The plaster/silica mold for glass broke apart under my handling. I suppose, were I patient and perseverating, I could make another, better one:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Animal Wise: A Book Report

Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures by Virginia Morell.

I'd say it's pretty obvious that animals are conscious, possessed of emotional and cognitive abilities, wouldn't you say?

I mean, the etymology of animal is the Latin animale "living being, being which breathes," neuter of animalis "animate, living; of the air," from anima "breath, soul; a current of air", so clearly even the ancients recognized this fact. It was only from about the beginnings of the 20th century, with the rise of the behaviorists, and the stricture to avoid any anthropomorphism in ethology (the study of animal behaviors) that we treated animals as machines. That has resulted in some pretty gruesome experiments.

Virginia Morell's book is more than just anecdotes about animal behaviors. More and more evidence, in the form both observation and statistics, tell us that not only are most animals conscious, but, in their own way, intelligent, and most importantly, capable of suffering.

(Is that going to stop me from eating things that have a face? Unlikely. I have a very well developed cognitive dissonance built up in that department. And besides, the things that don't have a face are - with exception of shellfish - not particularly palatable. I myself have killed and eaten chickens, and the only traumatic part that I could see was the distress they suffered in me trying to catch them. So, I'm gonna eat animals, but I do think our food animals should be treated and killed in as painless and humane a manner as is humanly possible).

In any case, Morell walks us through the animal kingdom, and the people who study them in a very engaging and easily read book. She's starts with ants and ends with apes. Along the way, we hear about  fish, birds, rats, elephants, dolphins, dogs, and chimps. I've no need to write about the latter three. I think everyone agrees that those animals have got it going on brain-wise.

So, the chapters on the "higher"(forgive me for employing the outdated notion of the ladder of superiority) mammals and birds I sort of skimmed. I was much more interested in finding out how the "lower" orders fare.

Ants, for example, are fascinating. At least, when we were kids, my younger brother thought so. We'd find him out in the yard, sitting still, and watching ants. He'd pick a rock or a brick and expose the egg chamber. We'd ask him what he was doing, and he would say "Watching the young leebles". It turned out the "young leebles" were the pupae, which the ants, in what seemed a panic, actually very purposefully rescued from exposure and secured down further within the nest.  Those ants weren't panicking, they were efficient, fast, businesslike, admirably competent in their tasks. Would that some individuals I know possessed the intelligence of those hives, those nests, life would be a lot simpler.

Are ants conscious? Your average ant possesses about a hundred thousand neurons in its brain, which is tiny. We humans, with our hundred billion neurons and ten times as many astrocytes and glial cells sneer at such a number. But that's not the way to look at them.

The brain of an ant is a gem, a real jewel of a brain.

 It ants were made of semi-precious stones, perhaps we'd appreciate their behavior better. But the one thing we notice about an ant is how smart they really are. I mean, as multicellular creatures go, I'm starting to think that the term instinct is useless. There is some seriously complex computations going, all the way down to the molecular level. And we find out that not only can ants modify their behaviors beyond the limits of so-called "instinct", it turns out they can learn, they can imitate, they can teach. About this, researcher Nigel Franks muses:
"I would never say that these ants are thinking, but that's what intrigues me - because in many ways, they behave as if they were thinking. They've taught me that very sophisticated behaviors don't necessarily involve thought or language or theory of mind".
That's the really fascinating part about this book. When it comes to artificial intelligence, we humans really have a long way to go to even approximate something as "simple" as a fish or an ant colony.

Speaking of fish, that was one of the disturbing chapters. A study was done in Great Britain and the questions was asked, "Are fish conscious?" but really the question was "Do fish suffer?".

And the answer, according to Victoria Braithwaite, a fish biologist at Pennsylvania State University, was "Yes". Not only do they feel pain, they are cognizant of it, and the upsetting thing is a neuronal map of pain receptors has a large concentration around the lips. I say "upsetting" because I like to fish. I'm not fanatic about it, haven't fished in years as a matter of fact, but when I do fish again, I'll be using barbless hooks.

So, I guess the next question is, what about insects? Can insects suffer? Am I gonna end up a Buddhist? Not bloody likely.

To summarize my reading experience, light summer reading with occasional delightful anecdotes and insights.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Real Kaiju

"Helpless people on subway trains 
Wave goodbye as they scream and die" - 
Blue Öyster Cult

That's not how it went, but how I remember it. Here's how it actually went:

Prior to seeing Pacific Rim, I felt I needed some context. So, I watched the original Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, not be confused with Gojira. Gojira is the 1954 Japanese movie, and Godzilla is the 1956 Americanized version starring Raymond Burr.

I'm convinced that both versions would bomb today, just as Pacific Rim would be viewed as an incoherent mess in 1956. Credit a lifetime of TV watching and video game playing for the difference.

This is not to say that the current generation is entirely jaded. I had a class of ten-year-olds, boys and girls, watch me pour molten aluminum into a sand mold flask this past Friday, and I got to tell you they went bananas over me pulling a red hot crucible out of the furnace, and positively ape-shit watching the amazing quicksilver molten aluminum pour into the mold. I can only hope that experience stays with them for awhile.

The movie plays as a detective story for nearly the first half until the first appearance of the monster. However, the use of psychological tension is quite effective. For example the slow paced deep bass thundering of the unseen monster's footsteps in the night is very unnerving. The special effects and action scenes may seem quaint today, but the aftermath scenes of the suffering humans are what are really important (for anyone who can realize that the WWII firebombing of Tokyo is barely a decade old, and I'm sure the Japanese audience was aware of this).

Not surprisingly, the Godzilla was panned by US critics as a cheap horror movie. Nevertheless, it was a  big success with audiences in the States. More importantly, the movie managed to get away with a subversive, indeed, almost unpatriotic, message about US H-bomb tests in the Pacific (those tests are blamed in the movie for resurrecting Godzilla from his Jurassic slumber).

So, memories of WWII notwithstanding, this was also during the time when the United States was conducting H-bomb tests in the South Pacific. The message was pretty clear to anyone with a small amount of introspection that the real giant monster here was the United States of America. (Unfortunately, many Japanese engaged in self-pity and victimization, rather than realize it was pretty fucking stupid to attack the Eastern Kaiju on Dec. 7th, 1941).

But of course, that's what we (the USA) were and still are. That's pretty obvious, isn't it?

Kind of makes you proud, in a sick, twisted, perverse way.

Oh, and, fresh out of the kiln, two machinerettes in cast glass, tentatively identified as  M. gumbo:

And two freshly cast bronze machinerettes, M. firxii, and M. corona, repsectively:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pacific Rim: A Review

I'm of the opinion that spoilers do not ruin a movie for me. If you don't agree, then stop reading now and go see Pacific Rim, because it... is.... freaking... AWESOME!

Qualifier to above enthusiastic endorsement: Is this a fun-but-dumb movie? Yes! Excellent! Does it matter? Hell, no! I doubt that will be a problem, because if you don't get that, you won't be seeing the movie anyway. Me? Since I am 56 going on 12, I will be seeing it at least one more time, and then again on video with subtitles. There is a huge amount of visual information to absorb, and unfortunately I made the mistake of seeing it in 3D, which distracted from the experience.

Spoilers ahead: Okay, so you're reading anyway?

A minor spoiler, and one that can be overlooked: everyone in this movie is a hero*. There are no sneaky little snake in the grass bureaucrats like the Secretary of Defense wonderfully played by James Rebhorn in the fun-but-really-really-dumb movie Independence Day. Okay, okay, the UN (*cough*the 1%*cough*) representatives, ready to slag off the giant robot program in favor of a really big seawall ringing the Pacific that we all know won't work) are minor villains.

But the real, true heroes of this movie are the two nerdy scientists, Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman, and let me say that Burn does a fantastic mashup of Joel Grey's Master of Ceremonies in the movie Cabaret and Peter Sellers' Dr. Strangelove - a slightly depraved and demented Werner von Braun, but with with some warm humanity underneath and none of the used-slave-labor-for-Nazi-V2-rockets-past to deal with).

Sure, you've got the Jaeger (giant robot) pilots (known as Rangers, perhaps in a nod to the Japanese merchandizing market, and really, Jaegermeister must be slapping their foreheads), you've got the engineers and construction workers and everyone who has managed to construct an impossibly huge and impressive infrastructure to combat the kaiju, and most everyone is brave and dedicated and altruistic, but Humanity just does not get saved without those two seeming comic-relief roles.

Let me stress this point, because it is easy to lose sight in all the fantastic mayhem of who the real heroes are, and I'm going give writer Travis Beacham the benefit of the doubt that that (that meaning that scientists are people that identify and solve hard problems through drudgery and risk-taking and hard-to-do shit like math and physics, but still hugely fun, nerdy, enthusiastic nine-year-old kids) was intentional. My only quibble is there should have been a lady scientist in there somewhere for the geek girls to cheer on.

Let me step back for a moment. The speculative writer and possible genius Neal Stephenson once remarked that entertainment consists of either geeking out or vegging out. So, vegging out is obvious, in that you turn off your brain and watch the fireworks. Geeking out, much more rewarding, involves the exploration of ideas and themes. Example of vegging out: any Star Wars movie. No brain required. Example of geeking out: speculative fiction in general, but perhaps some of the better episodes of Star Trek.

I can tell you right now that this movie is a gold mine, and will generate tons of merchandizing, and comic books and maybe a cartoon TV show and bad rip-offs, but it will also generate a huge amount of geeking out in order to rationalize the absurdities and impossibilities presented in the movie. There will be many explanations of exactly what kind of wires and cables are necessary to suspend disbelief. And I think that's good. After all, Star Trek inspired Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre to figure out how to build a warp drive. Perhaps explaining away giant robots will inspire people to figure how to get some really immense energy densities out of our power sources and batteries.

We are going to ignore the fact that building a bipedal giant robot or monster is a majorly stupid idea. We will have to ignore the fact that an entire industry and infrastructure, a massively huge undertaking, is accomplished in a mere five to ten years by nations that haven't built anything big in a generation (save for the People's Republic of China). We have to ignore that the use of the standard terrestrial organic chemistry can build twenty story tall monsters (I mean, come on, there's no freaking way those giant bones are calcium phosphate). Doesn't matter. Shit will be figured out.

Okay, minor quibbles. There are archetypes and stereotypes strewn throughout this movie that are never quite taken advantage of, and that's fine with me, but could have been used to tweak the movie to a little higher performance.

Case in point: the Chinese and Russian Jaegers go down far too easily and too quickly. The Russian giant robot looks fantastic, like something out of a medieval nightmare, and the pilots are even better looking. All in all, as an American, it makes me hugely proud that we have such formidable one-time-enemies as allies. (Yes, I know I'm being manipulated). But, knowing what we know about Soviet technology, we know that they are designed to take a licking and keep on ticking, built solid, simple, and simply devastating. So there's no way that Russian Jaeger would have gone down without at least taking a major piece out of giant monster. And the Chinese Jaeger? It's piloted by a freaking acrobatic trio from the Shanghai circus or something. Hell, the freaking thing is the Shanghai Circus. Why, oh, why, did it not whup out some amazingly stunning and spectacular kung fu kick-ass moves is beyond me.

Perhaps the idea was to show how much of a badass the American-built Gipsy Danger robot is. But come on, you know the Americans are going to put too many bells and whistles in their machine. It's going to break down. A lot. It would be the first to fail. (Unless, of course, they somehow managed to pick the right people for the job, which occasionally happens).

And where the heck are the German and Japanese Jaegers? For that matter, why are the major shipbuilding nations not represented?  Perhaps this will be addressed in the sequel, which, from the visuals behind the end credits you know has to be made. (And here is my suggestion. For the sequel? Two words. Christopher Walken. Doesn't really matter what role. Doesn't really matter what dialog. Even "more cowbell" would suffice. Oh, and a very smart female scientist who bests our loveable geeks in the figuring out of shit, but doesn't become a romantic interest).

So, there you go. I give it 10 out of 10 stars, and the film critics who didn't like it clearly have a stick up their ass and don't know how to have fun. (And one was even dumb enough to think that the kaiju used to be dinosaurs, when clearly the message was the kaiju wiped out the dinosaurs. Sheesh!).

*Even Hannibal Chau is kind of a hero, played by the ever entertaining Ron Perlman as some type of ex-patriot American turned 1930s Shanghai gangster, (and you must, must sit through the credits to appreciate his character).

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


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Monday, July 8, 2013

Dollars and Sense

Apparently the Kansas state legislature never completely thought through the NRA's "only a good guy with a gun..." idea when they passed a law allowing basically anyone marginally connected to a school system to be able walk into a school with a gun. (Although note: the law specifies public buildings but somehow the state capitol building is strangely exempt).

The company that insures 85-90% of the Kansas school districts will not renew the policy. Something about costs. Too bad the NRA didn't run that past their accountants.

Monday, July 1, 2013

We Interrupt Our Regular Broadcast-

So, I got the word on the surgery for tomorrow. I'm to be there at 7:15am for at least a cystoscopy, and hopefully a stent in the ureter to relieve the pressure on the kidney. When asked about the procedure, I informed the questioner that I underwent one back in 2007, to check out my bladder.

"How do they go in to the bladder? Through the wiener?"


"What? Did they put a camera up there?"

"They put a lot of stuff up in there. I think it was a contest. I suspect I looked like an umbrella stand towards the end".

"That's bad!"

"The worst part is the Foley catheter they insert in you post-surgery. I had that thing in me for a weekend, and it was the longest weekend I ever had. You have a constant urge to pee, but can't. It's impossible to ignore. And the removal? Oh, man!"

Wow, so huge amount of the wrong kind of fireworks for the Fourth of July coming up. What's wrong with me? My left ureter is blocked, by either a cyst or cysts plural or a tumor. Th emergency room doctor handed me a diagram, to which I remarked "Geez, could you have found a more alarming graphic?"

So, the kidney is all swolled up and shut down. I've had a few anxiety attacks, which I attribute to the adrenal glands, which set right on the kidney, reacting to the bad news about the downstairs neighbors. I'm sure the kidney is none too pleased either.

I'd be a fool to say I'm not worried about this. I have a huge amount of apprehension. So, here's the funny thing (among others) - my mother informed me that one of her friends set it up so that a whole convent of Scottish nuns will be praying for me on Tuesday.

Hey, the enemy of my enemy is not necessarilly my friend. But the friends of my friends are always friends. And, despite being a orthodox agnostic (because, despite their insistence they are under no burden of proof, being an atheist requires faith), I'll take any help from any quarter in any manner I can get it.

Oh, and another cast glass is out of the kiln:

Electric Peanut