Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year

There's one minute left in 2008. I feel like I should count down or care or something.

The Earth made it all the way around the sun ... again! Wow!

Walking on water

If you were on one of the tiny moons of Jupiter or Saturn and you dug down to the hypothesized liquid water, is the gravity low enough that you could walk on the water? If there were life in the water, would the creatures be super-heavy in order to swim around in the water under low gravity or would they walk upside-down on the underside of the icy surface because they are lighter than the water between the core and the ice? Would both forms exist? In this case, only the heavy can "fly".

Hemingway Challenge Entry

Galactic Iliad complete, her clone mourns.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy Weekaversarie

I stopped blogging for a week.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Weekaversarie

I've been blogging for a week.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pink Floyd's "The Thin Ice" is about George W. Bush

These lyrics never made sense to me until I thought about them as a premonition of our 43rd president. The first part is about an easy and blissfully ignorant childhood (enough said there). As for the rest, couldn't you call the high-tech-but-fatally-flawed-by-lack-of-historical-consideration invasion of Iraq skating on the thin ice of modern life? And I'd say that, in doing so, he dragged behind him the silent reproach of [at least] a million tear-stained eyes. I'd also say that a pretty big crack in the ice appeared under his feet. And if anyone's ever slipped out of their depth, he has.

Momma loves her baby,
And daddy loves you, too.
And the sea may look warm to ya, babe,
And the sky may look blue.

Oooooo babe.
Oooooooo baby blue.

Oooooo ooohh babe.

If you should go skating,

On the thin ice of modern life,

Dragging behind you the silent reproach,

Of a million tear-stained eyes,

Dont be surprised when a crack in the ice,

Appears under your feet.

You slip out
of your depth and out of your mind,
With your fear flowing out from behind,

You as you claw the ice.

Cargo, Part 1

She’d planned never to be out here again, and turned down job after job, but this time the money is too good. She doesn’t know what’s so special about this asteroid. She doesn’t want to know. She just wants to get herself and her crew back to Earth with it and collect her pay.

The captain fears that the young crew has become overconfident after an uneventful trip to the asteroid belt, the easy time they had attaching the asteroid (even though the old space suit has so much duct tape on it, it looks like the Tin Man), and the very simple return passage thus far. It’s especially easy to get cocky when you finally start to recognize Earth again through the window.

She alone knows first-hand the dangers of this part of space. Out here, pirates don’t board your ship and they don’t leave you disabled and waiting for help. Why would they? They fire fifty-caliber bullets through your hull. Either you and your ship pop like balloons, or you and your crew are sucked out of the tiny holes the bullets make – strings and gobs of purple goop streaming through space, splattering on the cargo.

The Captain glances at a young crewman’s console. He’s watching an episode of a centuries-old science-fiction TV show. With the dawning of the twenty-third century, interest in this program has resurged. It is a vision of how things might have been.

All’s I can say is ‘Forget that Star Trek bullshit right now!’

the Captain announces. She continues:

It’s the twenty-third century all right, but there ain’t no Federation of Planets and there sure as hell ain’t no trek across the stars. What there is is me and my boys tryin’ to bring this damn rock, full of gold and uranium and shit … What the hell else did he say this had?

The crewman replies, Trituim?

The Captain smacks him hard in the back of the head.

Trituim!?! … That shit ain’t real! That’s Star Trek bullshit you stupid ass ... maybe you should turn off that TV for a few minutes you ignoramus!

As though she’s not still regaling the crew of five on the tiny bridge, the Captain looks away from the crewman and stage whispers:

… tritium … stupid asshole …

She continues with what has become her standard pep talk:

Anyway, If we can get this damn rock back to earth without it getting stolen along the way and manage not to drop it once we get there this time – man those dudes were pissed when we messed up that fjord or whatever the hell it was; DAMN you’d think somebody got killed – we’ll be some rich sons of bitches.

Unfortunately, pirates like to cherry-pick shipments like the one we got. We get within about two-hundred thousand miles of Earth and those fuckers come out of the woodwork. We know enough to stay away from the Moon -- it’s a goddamn pirate’s cove -- but those assholes can still find you. We got some big guns ourselves, but dudes a lot bigger than us still get blown away all the time. So keep your eyes on the scanner and off the TV!

There used to be dudes you could pay to escort you the last part of the way to Earth, but those chicken shits would never stick with you when things got heavy. Hell, half the time it was the escort’s damn cousin tryin' to jack you in the first place.

As if on cue, a half dozen tiny pirate ships appear on the scanner. They are old military fighters retooled for stealing cargo. An alarm blares on the freighter's bridge. The captain calls out to the crew:

Battle stations people! I've seen these guys before. These ships are fast and well-armed. Luckily, these pirates can't shoot for shit, but the sun even shines on a dog's ass once in a while. So hit them before they hit us!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The comet

What if we sent a probe to look closely at a comet that had been flying through the galaxy and found, attached to the comet, messages and probes that had been placed there by intelligent life from other planets as it passed through their solar systems? It's sort of like graffiti on a New York City subway train.

Star Trek Enterprise final episode

For a long time, I felt like I was only one who liked the show Star Trek Enterprise. And then it switched from the WB to UPN (or vice versa?) after the third season and I didn't have the channel that it went to. So I had to wait years for the final two seasons to come out on DVD. During this time, I misguidedly defended the show to its critics, not knowing how much the quality declined in those two seasons.

While I was waiting for these seasons to come out on DVD, I was secretly hoping for a final episode that ended with the following encounter:

Many years in the future, a very old Commander Tucker is finishing a guest lecture at starfleet academy. After the lecture, a very young man with a Scottish accent approaches him from the audience to say "I jest wanted ye' te know thut I rrealy enjoyed yer lecturre."

A simple connection to TOS to wrap the whole thing up.

You can imagine how dissapointed I was with the "real" final episode. I barely remember it, but I do remember that Tucker gets killed and five minutes later, nobody cares. ... except me.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Artificial Gravity

Why can't a space ship, instead of giving an intense thrust at the beginning of the trip, just continuously accelerate at 9.8m/sec*sec for the first half of the trip and turn around and accelerate at the same rate in the other direction for the other half of the trip (reaching zero velocity at your destination)? In one year, you're already going 1/10 * the speed of light, plenty close to experience the effects of relativity. You also get gravity for free assuming the "floor" of the ship is on the same side as the thrusters.

Monkeys typing on typewriters will NOT, given enough time, eventually type the complete works of William Shakespeare

I've done the math and, for all of the monkeys on Earth typing random letters full time, it would take roughly 1,000 times as long to type even the first page of a specific book as it would for them to evolve into humans (or some awesome typing animal, depending on the selective pressures). By this time, they probably aren't typing at random anymore. In fact, they may be so much smarter than Shakespeare, or any other human who's ever lived, that they consider Shakespeare to be ancient drivel.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Simpsons' final episode

Here's how The Simpsons should end. Remember the ending of Homer3 (a.k.a. 3d Homer) from Treehouse of Horror VI? Homer finds himself in our world, the 3d world, and (until distracted by some "naughty cakes") is terrified to be here.

I think 3d Homer has been living in our world since 1995. It took a couple of years of trying to get back into the 2d world for him to finally accept his fate and figure out a way to make a living. He eventually did and has, since 1997, been writing for The Simpsons.

This would explain why the quality of the show has gone down so much in the last 11 seasons (Homer is not a very good writer). It would also explain why the character of Homer has turned from an everyman into the stupidest person in the world. It's Homers own self deprecation.

Anyway, the last episode is a live action show about 3d Homer's conflict about having to write the final episode and say goodbye to his family. What will become of them?

A Difinitive Haiku

A three line poem
With seventeen syllables
Five, seven then five

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A theory about the film Back to the Future

You've seen the movie Back to the Future. Have you ever thought about the story from the point of view of George McFly (Crispin Glover)? Imagine what you would think if you had a son who, as a teenager, began to look *exactly* like the guy your wife dated before she dated you?

I think the entire movie takes place in George's mind. He can't deal with the obvious, but unthinkable, explanation: that his wife Lorraine (Lea Thompson) had an affair and conceived a child with ... what was name of that guy she went to prom with? Oh yeah, "Calvin Klein".

Instead, he imagines that his son Marty (Michael J. Fox) took must have traveled back in time. Calvin never even existed. It was Marty all along and, under a fake name inspired by his underwear, he was really helping George get together with Lorraine.

George is a science fiction writer after all. I wonder how close this is to the plot of "A Match Made in Space".

Hello World

Until today, I hadn't ridden my bike in years (and hadn't been a big rider even back then). On an impulse, I filled the tires and rode in to work today. It's about 15 miles through Lexington, Arlington, Cambridge and Boston and it took about an hour. I don't even have a helmet. It turned out to be quite pleasant. We'll see how well I get home tonight and sore I am tomorrow.

It would be very nice if this could become a regular thing. I tried public transportation for a while. It was a long multi-phase trip (bus/subway/bus). Eventually it got to be too much. When I was stuck on the stalled T underground for 45 minutes and was, therefore, a half hour late to pick up my two small children from daycare and unable to call (because I was underground), I decided to start driving to work. The problem is that the drive is now taking at least 45 minutes, usually more. It can be as long as two hours when the weather is bad or when Boston's many many many construction delays clog my main, alternate, and alternate-alternate routes. This seems to be happening more and more often and I can't leave work 2 hours earlier everyday just in case. Did I mention that when you're late to school (they're in school now) they charge a dollar a minute per kid? 10 minutes late = $20. This is completely reasonable. If they didn't, parents would be late every day. The teachers have lives too. However, it's also not affordable. We're already paying $33k per year. It's not a fancy place. That's just how much it costs to have 2 kids in preschool. We've spent well over $100k to this point.

We don't eat out much and I drive a 15-year-old car that I bought on eBay. I'll be very happy when they start kindergarten. Public kindergarten will be like a 33 grand raise. What to do with all of that money ... how about paying off all of the debt we've gotten into trying to survive in Boston with 2 kids on a postdoc + medical resident salary? It's a generous postdoc, but it's turning out to be insufficient. I think Boston's a fantastic place to be either rich or childless, but if you're neither of those, there's no good reason to be here. We're both signed up for 3-year employment contracts and when they end (in a year and a half) I'll be more than ready to move either back to Madison (where we came here from) or some other place in the middle of the country.

So, why do we live in Lexington? We used to live in a two-family in Arlington. Unfortunately, (as almost everyone I know in the area who has small children has found out) families sharing a space with anyone but other families tends to result in serious and ongoing noise/lifestyle conflicts that almost never end well. It certainly wasn't going to end well in our case. A full description of what happened would require at least one full post in itself. See this NYTimes article for a good description of the general phenomenon.

We didn't want to move out unless we could close off the possibility of landing in the same (apparently all-to-common) situation, but you can't control who moves in around you. So we searched Craigslist for an affordable, non-fraudulent, cat-allowing, de-leaded (our kids don't eat paint, but it's the law around here), single family house to rent. What we found was a tiny house in Lexington. It's actually not much more money than we were paying in Arlington and it's got a gigantic yard.

So now, though Lexington has more history and character than typical post-WW2 Brady-Bunch land, we're in the suburbs and, of course, transportation is an issue. I haven't mentioned gas prices because I'm actually pro-high-gas-prices for the obvious reasons. I just have to figure out a way to fulfill my responsibilities to my family and my job within the confines of what we can afford in terms of housing and transportation. So, maybe riding my bike will work out. I don't think driving once in a while will be a problem, especially if I fold in a grocery-shopping trip on the way home. I can probably also work from home a day or two a week (assuming I'm productive).

Anyway, that's what I've been thinking about this morning. Speaking of being productive, I better get to it. Happy First-Blog-Post-Ever Day (in case anyone reads this).