Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Mother and juvenile Pacific Walrus from
I like walruses. They evolved from land animals to deep diving marine mammals and then back to shallow water creatures again. Their eyes and ears and lungs evolved to withstand pressures of the deep then adapted back to a shallow water life. I'm curious how they hear in the water and on land. Can they detect predators very well on the land by hearing? I bet they can't because they have no external ear. That evolved away as an adaptation to cold.

It's about to be pretty important because the sea ice where they rest between trips to feed doesn't last into the summer anymore. I spent some time today perusing USGS data online about walruses on the coast of Alaska and Russia in the Bering Sea. Here's the sort of introductory article.

Females and babies used to hang out on the ice during the summer while the offensively equipped males spent more time on land. The hotter summers now mean they all have to go to shore. I imagine there are other implications, from vulnerability to predation to increased spread of disease (I'm totally brainstorming. No data on this. I'm just figuring ice washes itself.) I don't even know how they might interfere with humans directly. It's not like there are a lot of hotels on that shoreline so maybe it's fine for now. After all Alaska is not Florida. If some smelly mammals set up house on the beach in Destin there would be some kind of uproar for sure. People hate smelly animals on their beach. And I am assured that marine mammals on the land are something you want to observe from upwind.

Walrus with a radio tag
So there are scientists up in those cold oceans doing field work to find out how the walruses are going to cope with these changes. I think it's wonderful that I can look at their data on the internet. The Department of the Interior, that logo-challenged entity, has offered an offshore lease sale that encompasses basically the entire summer feeding ground of the female and young walruses. The conditions of this lease require these studies.

So basically the oil companies have to pay biologists to quantify the current situation so that when they wreck it they know how much to pay for it. It's a pretty warped system. I used to be part of it back in Florida. Big developer would be required by the Department of Environmental Protection to have water testing done to be sure they weren't making things worse in the wetlands by building a resort. Of course the level of testing required to get a before and after comparison that is remotely valid is a full time job for three people. So instead they have three people work on it once every three months for a single day, just some joke of a thing that was the equivalent of a feeble jobs program for people in the private science and engineering business. The price of the permit wasn't nearly enough to pay the salary of the people who had to process the paperwork and the developer was probably exempt of all taxes. I pretty heartily disapproved of the whole thing actually.

Just the same I think it's totally cool that there's a guy on a research vessel with a crossbow shooting radio transmitters into the tough old skin on the back of a walrus. Radio transmitters picked up by the polar orbiting Argos satellite, courtesy of France. Then he has to analyze data with error bars so big they have to throw some away because it's physically implausible. And I think it's cool that there are people designing those radio transmitters.

But I know the transmitter designer was probably just a consultant hired for a month or so of work and then they didn't need them anymore. And it probably is less than 20 people total that work with this walrus data every day. I'm just guessing there are more oil company lawyers involved in trying to get this lease deal through than there are scientists up there quantifying the territory of the walruses. That makes me anxious. Walruses are way more interesting to me than oil.

Walruses feed in a unique way for marine mammals. They like to stay on the continental shelf and dive down to the bottom and feel around with their whiskers for shellfish then they suck the meat out. Just suck it right out. I can't find it online but I read in a book that when Alaska native hunters kill a walrus the first thing they do is get the stomach out and wash off all the clams in there and eat those first. They can get 1500 perfectly shucked clams out of one walrus. I guess walruses don't chew their food. I imagine they just shoot straight down their gullet.

The biologists haven't quantified what overall effect the walrus have on the ecosystem of the ocean floor. They imagine that stirring and digging with their tusks isn't trivial. It's a hard thing to do, quantifying those effects. Very hard. I bet the walrus guy that shoots them with the radio transmitter crossbow has a feeling about it. If he's lucky he'll get some money and equipment to collect core samples so he can compare them with new ones after everything is different in a few years. Before and after comparisons are about the best we get when there is no money for science. I hope they do all of it. Record the sounds, pictures, chemistry, and the smell if they can figure out how. Mainly I hope that same guy can keep a job in walrus science because if all those people get unemployed that remember what it was like before the summer ice was gone then there will be nobody to see the difference. Nobody to make a judgement call when there isn't anything compelling for bureaucrats to go by. Apparently the walrus guy is Chad Jay, employed by the USGS. Please, USA, collect enough taxes to keep him employed. And if you can scare up a few extra dollars I could edit his abtracts for him. This is unneccessarily hard to read: "From the current observation period to the end of century, the greatest change in walrus outcome probabilities was a progressive decrease in the outcome state of robust and a concomitant increase in the outcome state of vulnerable." I'm not crazy about his mathematical-model based conclusion. He says the model isn't very good because there are so many mechanisms affecting the walruses that they haven't quantified. I don't know what I want instead. I just think there needs to to be something between models based on poorly understood mechanisms affecting walruses survival and stuff like this highly anthropomorphized National Geographic video. Maybe some kind of fuzzy logic that can combine the data they have with some biofeedback machine that measures the level of anxiety in the walrus experts.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bio vs the death!

I took a few sniffs of this bait today. I think I'll just go ahead and swallow the hook.

The bait: This exchange between PZ Myers, and Tim Minchin on Twitter
(glossary: DBAD is Don't Be a Dick, aka Wheaton's Law, origin 2007. Phil Plait applied it to skeptics in 2010. TAM is The Amazing Meeting, a science, skeptical, and critical thinking conference coming up in Las Vegas in July.)

PZ Myers: Oh, christ. Waffling apologetics. RT @Daniel_Loxton I look back at scientific skepticism's history of DBAD-like appeals:…

PZ Myers: A history of skeptic whining & hesitation isn't even interesting.

Tim Minchin: @pzmyers Oh God, I can't believe I'm going to do this, but: I think the final paragraph - the 1838 quote - is interesting & concise.

PZ Myers: Yes, it shows skeptics have been crying uncle for 173 years. RT @timminchin: I think final para - the 1838 quote - is interesting & concise.

Tim Minchin: @pzmyers Surely the observation that faith / erroneous belief is often bolstered - even defined by - appeals to persecution is a truism.

Tim Minchin: @pzmyers Which isn't to say that you (or I) shouldn't continue with confrontation. Just that it needn't be the only mode.

PZ Myers: waht i've said all along. RT @timminchin: Which isn't 2 say that U (or I) shouldn't cont w/ confrontation. Just it needn't B the only mode.

PZ Myers: If this turns into a battle at TAM, it won't look pretty when they show up with cookies & tea, & we have brass knucks and knives.

PZ Myers: I won't be talking about dicks at TAM -- I plan to antagonize the astronomers instead. Bio vs the death!

I'm assuming "the astronomers" PZ refers to would be Phil Plait, the beginning point of the very long article in the original tweet, and perhaps astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson who will also be at TAM 2011 and some others who are astronomers. So basically PZ is taking a swing at my friend, Phil, and people I admire enough to drive a long way to see them, and at me as a physicist? That is some crappie nibbles right there. Power Bait. It does tend to make me want to bite down on that hook and pull that spinning reel right out of PZ Myers pudgy hands. (Atheists are all fat is another topic.)

I've noticed PZ Myers's petulance towards physicists for a long time. It's pathological. I feel sort of bad for him. It's like he had some early childhood experience where he was rejected by a physicist and he took it really personally, as evidenced in this opposition to physicists on greeting cards.

So when I saw all this going down I wanted to express congratulations and support to Phil Plait -- Tim Minchin is taking his side! And there appears to be some kind of upcoming showdown. So I sent him an email.
Just so you know, I'm rooting for you. I met a biologist like PZ Myers at FSU. They can't stand that physics is a solid, hard science and they are just making shit up and rounding it off to try to make it mathematical. You think physicists have some questionable boundary conditions, you should hear some of the shit community ecologists make up -- assume the deer population increases until they consume all the grass in the area of the study. What? They BROWSE! They don't EAT EVERYTHING. They aren't locusts?! They eat a little of this and wander off. To say otherwise is idiotic. Anyway, they get REALLY mad when you point this out to them :) It reminds me of how PZ Myers flies off the handle at physicists for the dumbest things, like holiday greeting cards. Do you remember that? He said physicists had no business being on Valentine cards because they don't know about love.
I became aware of potential for inanity in biology one day in 2006 in Oceanography grad school when I was doing my biology homework and there was a formula for calculating something called the Shannon-Weiner Diversity Index. In the paper we were assigned the formula used the natural log. But in another paper it was log base 10. I looked online and found it with log base 2. I did a spreadsheet using all three choices and went to the professor to see which was right. He said it didn't matter, they use whatever they want. Say WHAT?!
The breaking point for me was when a biologist tried to use hysteresis curves to explain populations of animals and plants. OK, that works for electrons, man. Nobody said you can use that for rabbits and foxes. Step away from the white board!
I don't know why they try so hard to make it numerical. You use math for astrophysics because you don't have any other choice. You can't touch it and smell it and taste it. You have to do transforms on it before you can even hear it and see it. But plants and animals they can tell with their five senses that the system is more complicated than the few items they are quantifying. I can see why they're frustrated to try to describe it using the same language of math. Still, that's no reason for them to be such assholes about it. Some people are just gonna be assholes no matter what. PZ Meyers apparently has some buttons you can push to engage turbo-asshole. That's kind of scary.
So that's my pep-talk for you as you go up against a biologist. He is raging against physics like a frustrated child who isn't allowed to use his dad's power tools. I have no idea how you argue with somebody who is essentially jealous of you. I clearly don't know how -- I got a C in that class. A year later another professor at FSU published a book about fire ants with new data and a paradigm shift that essentially said I was absolutely correct and my professor had been wrong. I kind of enjoyed that :) But I guess you don't have that kind of time.
Good luck!
As I do a bit more research into my jealousy theory I find more and more I'm totally right on the money with this one. I searched PZ Myers's blog for "physicist" and found a lot of rants. Here's damning evidence in a blog complaining that biologists aren't consulted on Sci-Fi movies.
But of course it's all because biology is easy, it isn't a hard science, it doesn't have any math … all ideas that are completely false, but perpetrated on science-fiction convention panels as willfully and as routinely as you'll find in creationist tent revivals.
Aww! That's not right! It's exactly what I said, but it doesn't HAVE to be! I have immense respect for biology and ecology and their respective ists when they have a proper grasp of what they're doing. Biology is NOT easy. If some biologists went into it because they weren't smart enough for physics then they are just doomed. I think biologists do themselves a disservice to try to copy physics teaching methods. They should come up with their own way of explaining things. My friend Dr. Means doesn't get all worked up trying to make up equations to describe what he observes. He goes out and does his field research and observes the big picture and sets up experiments to find out answers to specific questions. Will water moccasins chase you? People say they will. So he went out and got some to chase him. But they only came towards him when he was between them and the place they wanted to go -- the water. They would go right between his legs to get to the water. If he had run in that direction it would appear they were chasing him. But if he was on the landward side they would go away from him. He had his wife film it. I trust that he did this enough times to really convince himself in an objective fashion. Because he is, after all, an objective scientist. I don't really have to see a spreadsheet with distances and number of occurrences and a chart to prove it. I'm sure he took field notes describing each incident. That's good for me.

Another friend of mine, Joe Hutto, wrote a wonderful book about ecology in the context of raising a flock of wild turkeys. His book had hand-drawn illustrations in it, not charts, but it taught me more about the woods where I lived than anything we did in that stupid community ecology class. I thought a lot about my own observations while I was editing Dr. Means book about rattlesnakes. Since I moved back to Beachton in 2004 I had only seen one rattlesnake. When I was a kid we saw them all the time. I had proof in Dr. Means data -- back in the 1970s when we saw a rattlesnake we'd kill it and take it to him to dissect. Dr. Means did a recent paper showing the decline of rattlesnakes due to rattlesnake round-ups. Did ours go away too? We don't let people hunt them on our place though. And there are so many more gophers than when I was little. There should be more rattlesnakes too. But after reading Joe's book about the turkeys I realized the big difference was that when I was a kid I had a dog. I didn't find rattlesnakes, the dog did. Joe was astonished by how many rattlesnakes those turkeys found. My casual observation is no way to judge the population of snakes on my place when they evolved to hide very effectively. When it comes to natural things you can't just do dimensional analysis and get the answer. If I want to know something about biology I have to work a lot harder.

I used to take biology for granted because of the way I grew up. I assumed everybody who grew up in the woods understood how vastly complicated and interconnected everything is. One day I went to a lecture Dr. Means gave in Tallahassee about discovering a new kind of frog in the cloud forests of Guyana. The native people there seem to be destroying their own environment. I asked him why they don't realize they are upsetting the balance. He looked at me with this "oh you poor thing" expression and explained. "Barbara, you don't even realize how educated you are. Not everybody has your grandmother. She had to make a deliberate study of science to learn the things she taught you. Science is not obvious to people, they have to be taught to think the way you do."

Well however my grandmother managed to teach me about biology without me realizing it, she did a good job of making it clear that there is always more to be learned especially since nature is constantly changing. She never once implied there was anything easy about the squishy sciences. I think I probably steered clear of it in college because I did find it so endless. How would you know when you were finished? With physics you design a circuit, you solder it together, and it works. You're done. That seemed like something I could do in four years. I feel sorry for PZ Myers and my biology teacher at FSU who feel like they are held in lower esteem than people in the hard sciences. It kind of makes sense why PZ Myers has so much fun attacking other people that he holds in low esteem, like Deepak Chopra. I'm not sure if he really wants to attack Phil Plait like he does Deepak Chopra, but if he does then I assume it's for a different reason. Of course I could be totally wrong and it could be the exact same reason, but my own self-esteem keeps me from wrapping my head around that.

Phil assures me that PZ said "Bio vs the death!" in jest. Well sure, I think he's going for laughs all the time, he says so.

PZ Myers: They're funny. You're not, gloomy gus. RT @Sk1mble: I can't help but notice you give more RT to woo-meisters than to rationalists. Sadface.

I realize he thinks he's being funny. That's why I cut him slack and keep reading his stuff from time to time to stay aware of his activities. I also realize Michio Kaku doesn't mean to sound like a total douchebag on Twitter so I keep following him too. As a person with terrible social skills I'm prepared to be liberal with people who have evidence of intelligence. I wouldn't get far in engineering without being friends with assholes.

That kind of makes me wonder, how do the people mentioned in this blog stack up based on Twitter popularity? A physicist, a biologist, an astronomer,  an astrophysicist, and a comic musician?
I think the Don't Be a Dick and genuinely funny contingent is well represented. That's comforting.

Update: After I posted this I realized I left off the originator of Don't Be a Dick. It's good contrast to see the two charts together to grasp the order of magnitude situation. Yeah, I think Phil Plait picked the right team in this contest.

If I included another person nagged by the religious nuts for being a fat atheist I could really make this look bad. Stephen Fry has 2,749,955 followers on Twitter.  

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Orion Test Capsule Heading East

Barbara and Cheryl and the Orion test
capsule parked on its trailer
 at the Texas History Museum in Austin.
Cheryl and I went to check out the Orion test capsule today. They're trucking it from California to Florida with stops in Tuscon, Austin, and Tallahassee on the way. The actual name of the thing is the Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV). They've removed one side panel and replaced it with Lexan so you can see inside. It's fully wired up with those same old round Amphenol connectors on the Saturn V. I couldn't get a picture of the inside but Cheryl may have some I can add later. It's small in there. There's room for six people in an emergency evacuation but the typical crew is four, two teams of two. It will be a tight fit for six. Still, compared to the Soyuz it's roomy.

They'd already started a presentation in the theater in the museum when we got there. They were showing the video below. Afterwards they answered questions. I didn't catch the names of the two men who were answering questions. I'm assuming they were both engineers based on the way they spoke. One was an Ops guy from Edwards Air Force Base and the other one must've been on the design side of the project.

There were a lot of people there with very restless children. Some kids asked questions that make me think they are way more into the big picture than the tedious details. It kind of threw off the men with microphones. "Are we going to be able to ride in this to another galaxy?" asked a shrill voice behind me.

Blank stare. "No." Pause to analyze if he should keep talking. Decides to dive in and try to explain distance and fuel capacity and finally gives up and talks about telescopes.

They just parked the trailer in the street and put a tent over it. There's a ladder so you can go peek in.
There appear to be no windows in this thing at all. You know what else doesn't have windows? The Tardis.
I was more interested in the tedious details. They've actually shot this thing up into the air. How'd it work? Was it a smooth flight, like a Soyuz, or rough, like the shuttle? What determines this anyway? The capsule shape? The rockets? The interconnections? They didn't even have a booster on it, they were just testing the Launch Abort System. Do they get any useful acoustic and vibration data from that test for how the capsule will perform in an actual launch? They don't know which rocket they'll even put this on. Won't they have to retest it with a Delta Heavy or whatever they decide to use? How does the connection between the parts affect the system vibrations? I said the magic words "Tacoma Narrows Bridge" and the speaker's eyes lit up. He told a lovely story about the origins of flying buttresses and the problems with making things lighter when you put them in the wind. I could tell he was excited to talk about the acoustics. The Launch Abort system PULLS the capsule off the pad. Rockets fire right down at the crew module. Will they all be deaf afterwards? He didn't give details, but he said it was a successful test. He said something about not needing all the functions of the module once it aborts. It's not going to space anymore. Only has to keep them alive for 20 minutes or so. What? So you're saying the Launch Abort really tears stuff all to hell? I would have liked to find out what he meant but time was up.

I also never got to ask what happens to the space suits. Surely they aren't going to have the suits in the part of the vehicle that they jettison to burn up on reentry. Is there room in there to stow four suits and power to keep the batteries charged and everything? And there's room to get into them? Who will help the last guy? I've never seen anybody put one of those on without somebody not wearing gloves to help them. Somebody asked about doing EVA from this capsule. They said there is no airlock so basically everybody suits up then they depressurize the whole thing. They used to suit up on earth and wear that thing the whole time. They can't be doing that. Surely not. Anyway, I guess it doesn't matter for quite some time.

A woman in the audience asked if they were moving NASA to California now that the shuttle program was over and they were shutting down Texas and Florida. The speaker looked more flummoxed than he did about going to another galaxy. Huh? They just bring this one thing from assembly in California and now you think they're shutting down Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers? No! He didn't really explain it to her, but I think what she didn't understand is that they're laying off a bunch of people from the shuttle program, but they still need the facilities and expertise of SOMEBODY. They CAN'T close down. I guess considering what the NASA budget is some people have a hard time imagining how they can even keep the air conditioning on.

The whole thing leaves me feeling sort of uncomfortable. People are worried about the wrong thing. They think it's too expensive to send people to Mars. OK, but we still have to do all this other stuff. It's barely costing anything. To hook some rockets to a crew module boilerplate and shoot it a mile in the air to collect acoustics data and test the parachutes is a useful thing to do even if you don't ever go to Mars in it. We have to keep these people employed. We need to keep the instrumentation calibrated and be sure there are people around who know how to use it. They have to keep making things and testing them. They're designing this crew module to have a 30 year useful life. Well that doesn't mean you just don't design anything else until 2030. I hope that's not what it means. Please don't let it mean that.

Here's one of Cheryl's pictures. I may be pointing to a window.
They would have taped over it for transport. I couldn't see it from where I was.
No, I decided that's not a window. That might be in the section they replaced with the Lexan, based on this cutaway view picture in the gallery on the Lockheed Martin website. (I'm not sure if I'm allowed to embed their stuff here. If I'm not somebody tell me and I'll delete everything but the link.) There are also thrusters that they would have to tape over.

Here's another image showing windows. They go all out on the resolution on these renderings!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Casual vs Serious

I'm not a serious gamer. I don't even have a couch or a TV, let alone a Playstation or XBox. I don't play games on my computer. But at least I respect people who take these things seriously. CNN came out with an article today that frankly irked me. I'm actually suspicious that Doug Cross wrote it this way on purpose to make people angry just to make his point.

He sounds like a total n00b. Do your research. Spend 10 minutes perusing ThinkGeek. I don't care if you put it in quotes, I don't believe your interviewee really said she "never picked up a console until well after college." The hell? You don't PICK UP consoles. That's like saying, "I never picked up a car until I moved to the suburbs." And nobody says "X-box joystick." They were done with joysticks before the X-box was invented. Furthermore you lost your argument that she isn't your stereotypical gamer when you said she works at Georgia Tech. Where nobody would be "grinding out hours on his console or PC." They might grind out a 10 problem homework set for Emag, but then they actually still PLAY games, I'm pretty sure. You should spend 5 minutes on after you finish on Think Geek and learn a lot, CNN dude.
Photo from Only At Tech, where they chalk for LAN parties.
That's Local Area Network for the CNN n00b, where you bring
your PCs and hook them all together and play games
against each other.

Maybe he's just not a very good writer. What it the deal with the photo caption? "A woman plays games at the Sony PlayStation booth at last week's Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles." "A woman"? I think that might actually be Rileah Vanderbilt. And if it's not maybe you should have scrounged up a picture of her or Clare Grant or Felicia Day or any other famous woman gamer.
"I think sometimes, a lot of the people who are in the old-school mentality of hardcore gaming feel a little threatened with what's been happening over the past two or three years because it was, to them, almost this secret world," IGN's Blevins said. "It's like a 'We don't want you in our clubhouse' mentality."
Yes, they don't want you in our clubhouse if you're going to insult them with your lack of effort to grok the vocabulary. Gamers deserve to be just as snooty as French people when Americans wear a University of Tennessee t-shirt to a white tablecloth restaurant.

I played through Angry Birds, sure. I have played many games of Words With Friends. I've downloaded lots of other games to my iPhone just to try them out, like Medieval. Frankly I just don't like shooting men and horses with a crossbow when they're going to make that realistic "I've just been shot!" noise. It freaks me out a little bit. It's just not my thing. I'm more of a creator than a player. But I don't feel like theres any TENSION between me and my hardcore gamer friends. I like to watch them play games, like a movie I can talk back to. I have often PICKED UP an Xbox controller, mainly so I don't sit down on it, but still.

I think bridging this perceived divide between casual and hardcore gamers is going to depend on the casual gamers being graceful about it. Patton Oswalt already stirred up this pot with his Wired article saying the geeks have to let go of their exclusivity. They didn't like that idea. I think we can all just get along. But then again, some people are pretty touchy. (Sorry this College Humor video is flash)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mark Kelly from the space station in concert with U2 in Seattle

US Department of the Interior Gets What They Deserve

A couple of weeks ago I reprimanded the US Department of the Interior for trying to get a new logo for $1000 on Crowdspring. Well the contest ended today. You can see all the entries. (click the Gallery tab if it doesn't go there) It's hard to tell how many there really are because a lot of them were withdrawn. Several hundred though. I'm tickled that they got the proper level of effort for what they were paying -- nothing. I am pretty sure people were mocking them.

Here are the ones I found caption-worthy.

This is the logo they deserve. It ignores the instructions to have
less than three colors and it looks like a bandaid.
I guess blue is water, brown is dirt,
green is grass and yellow is for pissing on this logo.

I don't know what the fuck it is that this is. 

It's like the University of South Florida had a calf that
contracted a bad ear infection.

This is the underbust corset logo. Nothing says government
like the suggestion of tits named U and S.

The Purple Mountain idea was well represented in this
contest, seen here in the Buffalo Photobomb logo.

The Cross stitch Buffalo is added by hand after they print the background.

How now brown cow?

This. Exactly this. Give everybody three pens and let them
decorate their own hats and tees.

Japan? Is that you?

Walmart has the sphincter logo, Department of Interior has
the slotted washer logo.

The Twizzlers will prevent the escape of the mutant green buffalo.

OK I don't really have a caption for this one. It's beyond words.

It's like that chart at the butcher shop labeling the cuts of beef. 

DO I what? Like it? No, I DOUS NOT.
I only just realized this makes a tree.

This won't be a silkscreen, it will be vinyl puffy stickers stacked up.

Bezier curves are gonna cost extra.

I actually like this one because the buffalo is clearly saying
"I'm outta here." And he's leaving to the left.
And we have a winner!

Go the Fuck to Sleep (NSFW)

Stories like this make me so smug because I'm not a procreator.

They also make me smug because when MY MAMA read to me when I was a little girl she would not have read:
The cats nestle close to their kittens.
The lambs have laid down with the sheep. 
She would have corrected that to say "The lambs have lain down with the sheep." Actually, she would probably think it wasn't a very compelling story and would have chucked the whole book and read me The Lion's Paw.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pervert, schmervert (NSFW)

This blog is by request. My mother asked how to find the Anthony Wiener pics online and while I thought she'd probably pass many hours amusedly perusing the Google results of "weiner penis pictures," it would be more expedient if I just used my fuzzy logic for her.

The latest locker room stuff on The Daily Show has TMZ watermarked on it, so I went straight to the source. TMZ is really on top of it with this story. They have covered every position.

Apparently somebody is concerned he may have used Congressional resources in his "online exploits."

OK, I'm starting to get annoyed now. He didn't DO anything! What EXPLOITS?! He just took some snaps! So he messed up with Twitter. That's Twitter's fault for not integrating photo hosting properly. Somebody fund some technology research in this country already. Here's The Daily Show again. At 4:13 there's footage of a protest outside Rep. Weiner's office:

The signs say he's a pervert, a liar, and a cheater. WHAT?! I am completely baffled by all of this. Is Obama still president or is Queen Victoria our leader? And won't she please put her foot down this time?

Weiner took pictures of himself in the mirror at the gym, with all his privates covered, and people say he's a pervert? How can people be this sheltered?! He is NOT a pervert. A pervert would have somebody else take the pictures first of all. Maybe a pervert would take them completely nude, maybe dress up the private bits with a cowboy hat and some googly eyes. Even then, that's a harmless kind of pervert, like cosplayers and furries. What actually disturbs me more about all these pictures in the mirror, especially that one where I can see a toilet, is that he might be a bro, not a perv.

Now maybe my bar is set high because of online dating. I barely even consider somebody a pervert when they send "Do you like anal sex?" in an icebreaker message. They clearly don't think anybody will answer that. They have low self-esteem and know that if they say something that can't possibly be construed as a polite introduction then when nobody answers them it's not a reflection on them personally, just a reflection on this dumb thing they said. Yet they get some tiny bit of attention. That's kind of pervy. Sending a picture of yourself to somebody who ASKED you to be their friend online is not pervy at all.

Anthony Weiner is a politician. He must crave validation of himself. He takes pictures of himself and sends them to people for the same reason anybody else does, and people do it ALL THE TIME! (Trust me. I know.) He wants people to compliment him. He isn't CHEATING on anybody. He just wants a second opinion. He's thinking, "I'm working out and I'm looking good. Right?!" This has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with his wife. It's all to do with him and boosting his self-esteem. He isn't sending women pictures of himself because he wants to cheat on his wife. That's idiotic. And he's not an idiot. He knows pictures of men don't turn women on. It's not a tactic to get them to have sex with him or anything. It's purely to get them to make a remark that boosts his ego. I know instinctively that when a man sends me a picture of himself I have to think of something flattering to say about it. And I know not to use any diminutive terminology. (Boy, I slipped up one time.... Whew! Never say "li'l" anything about a man!) I think men know instinctively that women are not turned on by pictures of men. If they don't know, take it from me and Kristin Shaal who explains it on the Daily Show. This is common knowledge. Frankly women are more turned on by pictures of other women than by pictures of men. Because women are beautiful. The Victoria's Secret catalog is a better thing to show a woman than a close-up of your junk. They photoshop the hell out of those models. They are PERFECT. And they are beautifully lit and posed. A Blackberry photo of your turgid wang bisecting the red mark left by your underwear elastic with a toilet paper holder in the frame are NOT going to make ANYBODY hot for you. I'm actually kind of impressed that Anthony Weiner kept the towel. He shows a level of good taste somewhere above Jersey Shore. He should get a professional to do some really nice photos then publish them in GQ or Maxim or whatever the big magazine is. People would be in agreement about how good he looks and he'd never have to take snaps again. Unless he wants to. And he is fully within his rights to do it.

Anthony Weiner says he's going to treatment? FOR WHAT?! He could use some advice about self portraits, for sure. First of all get a tripod and stop holding the camera yourself. That is REALLY tacky. Mirrors are so I can see a therapist telling him EXACTLY what I just put in that last paragraph. Don't feel bad, man, you are perfectly normal. Maybe a little repressed actually. I think he can finish that session in about 10 minutes and spend the rest of the hour with PR specialists brainstorming how to get people to move on to the next thing already. They can use my professional photographer idea. I actually think that's pretty good. Like how I set a line of fire at the top of my hill when the fire is coming up from the bottom so it meets in the middle and goes out without burning my house down.

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Rash of Penis Photos
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Update: Dan Savage has a good ranting podcast (Episode 243) about this topic. I like how he describes the media as trying to make ordinary harmless behavior pathological.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level

I learned today that the Sarah Palin emails from when she was governor of Alaska were released Friday ON PAPER! I assumed it was just a PDF people could download from a link on or something! I learned this from The Daily Show. From 3:15 in the video below.

Clip of Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: "The boxes are packed with single spaced, black ink on white paper. And the documents are in chronological order. And the boxes weigh 50 pounds."

Jon Stewart: "You know, I think the box of paper would weigh 50 pounds whether there were emails written on them or not. You know really, the 50 pound would only be news on Mars, where the gravitational force is different."

I watched The Daily Show after I read an article this morning about an analysis of the writing quality of the email. Now I have greater respect for the effort to do this analysis because somebody had to type this stuff in or run optical character recognition on some of the paper. That's WORK.

AOL Weird News claims they hired experts to evaluate 24,000 pages of Sarah Palin's email. They used the Flesch-Kincaid readability test. You guys! This is BUILT INTO WORD! You don't have to hire consultants! Anybody can do it!

They picked small passages and graded her at 8.2, "...a solid communicator." She pretty much writes the way she talks. This is typically something I encourage in writing. The problem with Sarah Palin is not that you can't parse her sentences, it's just that what she says is plain WRONG. We understood that she thought Paul Revere rode through Boston to warn the British. She was just WRONG. Not confusing.

When I coach engineers on how to write reports I have them explain the content to me first. Usually they are eloquent and knowledgable and clear. I say "Great. Write that down." And they look confused. Don't I have to put in lots of hence and therefore and semicolons? NO! Just write like you talk! People understand that. (Plus for civil engineers usually nobody will ever read it so just do it the easiest way possible. Android phones will take dictation now. My brother can do an extra 2 hours of work a day in the truck on the way too and from the Everglades if he wants to.)

So back to the Flesch-Kinkaid readability. The author of the AOL Weird News story scored 8 for his writing.

I want to play! Let's do my Ocean Circulation Primer, where I was trying to be extra concise.

7.5 grade level? Is that good? I wrote it so a 12 or 13 year old can understand it? 

You can test anything. Something online? Just open Word to a new document and copy and paste the text from the internet. Here are the menu steps to get there. This is on my Mac but I assume it's the same for Windows.
Tools: Spelling and Grammar
Selection Options at the bottom of the Spelling and Grammar window
Under the Grammar section check the Show readability statistics box

Run through ignoring spelling and grammar "mistakes" and it will show you the statistics at the end.

There's a bug in Mac Word where you can't get back to the Spelling and Grammar menu once it's already completed. It will just show you the readability statistics again. The workaround is to intentionally create an error and it will show you the options again. Make an initial caps small.

I would test more writing to be sure the test is consistent but this happened and now I don't want to play with Word anymore.

Oh, Microsoft Word! I love you so much less than iChat, where my funny funny friends live, like Steven Kuck.

S: Hey, wassup?
B: I just discovered a douchey grammar setting in Word
S: ?
B: Yeah if you choose the "technical" setting in the grammar tool it makes suggestions to make your writing douchier.
S: An example?
B: I would give you some but it crashed.
B: But one I remember was the suggestion to change "a lot" to "many"
S: As in "I left my car parked in many?"
B: HA HA! Yes!
S: Though, I guess, you know, "many" probably is a lot better most of the time....

Friday, June 10, 2011

Aquarius is a Satellite!

This morning the rocket took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base carrying the Aquarius satellite I've been going on about for so long. It was delayed a day but took off today despite a dense fog hugging the Pacific Coast. My friend in Lompoc said he heard it but couldn't see a thing.

I watched it live on NASA TV. The air was so saturated with water they were running windshield wipers on the tower cam. The different cameras had different auto-iris reactions to the sudden increase in exposure. The second camera that made it look all glowing and orangey, then they switched cameras and then it was just gone in the fog. They switched immediately to a animation. In fact the whole thing was so fast I decided to screenshot the best bits from the video for you and make a slideshow.

They came back on the air after the 40 minutes of coasting. There was a 12 second burn on the second stage engine then separation. That damn satellite had video telemetry of the spacecraft separation! I've never seen that before. There was much rejoicing in the control room.

NASA photo of the day, Aquarius liftoff!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Super 8: Pretty Good


Well, OK! I'll go! It's been a big week for the Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin. I was kind of curious if it was all online or if it translated to any more actual business.

Monday I picked up a link to their latest pre-movie announcement on YouTube. I was about the 350th viewer. It was funny so I put it on Twitter.

 Barbara Tomlinson 

Apparently everybody else put it on Twitter too, and it exploded on Reddit, and then it went mainstream and ended up on CNN and everywhere else. They only show this before R-rated movies though, so I didn't see it on the big screen today. (Uncensored means don't play this on speakers during nap time at play school.)

So that's the deal with the Alamo. Tim League has a new video blog post about the viral video. In less than a week it has the same number of views as my rocket video in a year. (Which people are still viewing. I got a new comment just a minute ago: FAKE FAKE FAKE FAKE! its so not natural the only option is that the video is FAKE!)

OK, so back to the movie. I checked Rotten Tomatoes before I bought my ticket to see what the deal is on this thing. Super 8, written and directed by JJ Abrams and produced by Steven Speilberg. There's lots of buzz, 88% Fresh by reviews and 92% of people want to see it. I seemed to see the words "nostalgia" and "sentimental" a lot in the reviews, so I was a bit worried it would be sappy. But I also read "steel mine" in one review and saw that the main character's mother is killed in a construction accident in another. There are no steel mines. That's idiotic. That'd be like a toaster mine. You make steel, you don't mine it. In the opening scene it was obvious as hell it was a steel MILL where a man was changing the "No Accidents in ___ Days" sign and it served as a stark reminder that Rex Reed is an idiot. I should just watch the damn movie. Within the next 5 minutes somebody said the kid's mother was crushed by an I-beam, which may be where the construction accident mistake came from in the other review, but I think she was moving it around after they manufactured it, not building something out of it. So the movie guy got it right and reviewers hosed it up. Way to go, dragging down the least common denominator, guys. That's all we need.

So right off the bat the dialog between the young lead characters was really good. They were standing around a table of food after the funeral for Joe's mother. There was the potential for unpleasant bickering but they turned it around beautifully. I was so worried it was going to be another Goonies, with kids just yelling over each other all the time. I cannot STAND that! But they did a good job at not being annoying. They kept it just at the line where the amount of freaking out some of them were doing was held in check by the ones that kept it together. One character had the unfortunate nervous reaction of throwing up. It turns out I don't mind this nearly as much as I thought I would. Throwing up is WAY better than yelling and flailing around. They did a fine job of incorporating vomit in an action scene. Nobody really paid attention to it and they kept the destination off camera.

Back to the plot, they flash forward from that snowy funeral day to the last day of school a few months later. Time for the kids to finish making Charles's zombie picture shot on Super 8 film. Charles has decided to add a female lead to make you care more about the protagonist. Alice leaves all the middle school boys stunned by her acting abilities. It was actually meta-artistic that the director got us to believe that she was actually that middle school girl, then she was playing the wife of the detective on the train platform. And the other actor had to play a boy playing a not-very-good actor. It's all very meta, but so well done you don't even realize it at the time. And where the other characters could have made a big deal out of how amazing Alice was in that rehearsal they compose themselves quickly and give middle-schooler style remarks, but the camera work made it very obvious they were impressed. All of them fell in love with her on the spot, if they weren't already. Then the action starts. A train is coming. Charles decides to film the scene with the train going by. He calls it "production value."

Then you are presented with the most gratuitous train wreck I've ever seen. The physics is utterly preposterous. The kids all run away but they don't run AWAY, like perpendicular to the track. They all seem to run parallel to the track, even the same direction as the train, which is like running straight towards the target at the end of a shooting range. Like the pyromaniac character, Cary, says, there were some really great explosions. I wish I could say it was so not natural it looked FAKE! FAKE! FAKE! but what do I know about train wrecks? I mean, it WAS fake so they're going to go to extra trouble to pick out anything that looks fake and make it AWESOME instead so we won't care. Well, I didn't care about tanks shooting off their train cars or any of that stuff but the kids running away the wrong direction bothered me. Apparently this little town has some special rules. You can run along side flying debris and be fine and there is apparently some kind of moratorium on deceleration and it's deleterious effects on the human body.

My favorite character has to be Cary, the one obsessed with fireworks. He is just as cool under pressure as a guy ought to be who rolls his own M-80s. I do think he could stand to wear some goggles and ear plugs. If any of this was real the whole rest of the movie would have just been people going WHAT?!

Instead you get all the way to the end and then go, "What?" It's like they dragged out this monster stuff so long they ran out of time and then the producers told JJ Abrams to zip up that happy ending and to hell with the explanation for the mechanical stuff. They had some X-Men software at Industrial Light and Magic that they wanted to use over again, I just know it. I bet they reassured JJ Abrams it would all make sense. Well maybe not. Maybe they just said it would look cool. The latest metal-flying-through-the-air-and-sticking-to stuff effects. I think somebody ought to take away their Wooly Willy after this and just not let them play with that anymore. They have gone too far. Magnetism is not for your amusement, Hollywood. You're ruining it.

Despite that it was a pretty good movie. Not too annoying, safe for people who don't like cursing or sex. You could take a pre-teen to it.

Now about that nostalgia and sentiment the other reviewers talked about. Who was it supposed to be nostalgic FOR? The reviewers? JJ Abrams? It was set in 1979 but it wasn't overly stylized to evoke that time. When they picked music from the time it was like The Cars Bye Bye Love, not something really awful like any of the disco stuff they could've used. So since it strikes me as a movie for children I don't really see how it would be nostalgic for them. They weren't there. I was there but it didn't feel like a trip down memory lane. Maybe it's because I'm not from Ohio and none of that stuff really seemed familiar to me.

So Super 8. Decent way to spend a hot summer afternoon with a Guinness. Let me know if anybody else hears the smoke monster from LOST in this thing.

Update: From Tim League at the Alamo Drafthouse. I did not get this presentation yesterday.