Monday, December 31, 2012

The quietest week of the year

To me, the week between Christmas and New Year's Day seems to exist in an entirely different sort of time from the rest of the year.  I can tell the difference when I wake up on Boxing Day:  The frenzy of holiday preparations and celebrations has come to a crashing finale, and the new year  doesn't start for a week yet.  Because so many people are on vacation, not much gets done at work.  The kids are out of school.  The weather is, at best, cold enough to encourage one to stay indoors.  There's a sense of expectation hanging over the days - it feels too soon to start anything new, but too late to finish anything old.  Everything's in kind of a quiet holding pattern.  It's a welcome change from the hyperactivity of the Thanksgiving to Christmas period, but I'm glad it doesn't last any longer than it does.  By the time New Year's Day rolls around I've recovered from the finale of the previous year and I'm itching to start the new one.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Do you know anyone who is transgender?  Are you sure?  Given the danger transpeople find themselves in just by being who they are, it's really no surprise the lengths they go to in order to hide themselves.*  Being outed as trans doesn't just mean potential for loss of friendship, employment or housing - it often means serious injury or loss of life.  The Transgender Day of Remembrance was created to memorialize the transgender people who were killed during the course of the past year. Officially Transgender Day of Remembrance is on November 20, but since the 20th is on a Tuesday this year, many events are scheduled during the weekend before.  So please, find a Transgender Day of Remembrance event near you and come out to remember the people who were taken from us in the past year, to show solidarity with the trans community, and to show the bigots that what they're doing is not okay with you.

*  Not to mention most of them just want to be able to live as "a man" or "a woman," not "a transman" or "a transwoman."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New books!

I got my copy of The Inexplicables by Cherie Priest in the mail today.  I pre-ordered this as soon as it was announced and I've been eagerly awaiting its arrival ever since.  What books have you been looking forward to?

The rich are different from you and me

Well, from me at any rate.  I can't can't say for certain about you, but I'd be willing to take a bet they're different from you too.*

It seems to me that the non-rich people of the world can be divided into 2 camps:  Those who love reading about the rich, and those who don't.  I generally don't.  This isn't because I don't like the rich.  Hell, given a chance I'd like to be one of them**.  It's because, in some perverse distortion of equality, the rich to try deny that they're different.  They try to portray themselves as "just regular folks," when anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows that it's just not so.***

A rich man still puts his pants on one leg at a time, but they tend to be much nicer pants.  And if they're not, it's because he chose to buy cheap pants - and that's the crucial difference.  I'm not naive enough to think that rich people don't have problems, but a great many of their problems can be solved by throwing money at them.  And those that can't, can often be ameliorated to some degree or another by throwing money at them.

So rich folks:  If you want to write about what it's like to drive a Ferrari, I'm all ears.  That's an experience I've never had and that I'm unlikely to ever have.  But the moment you start complaining about the costs of maintaining a Ferrari, I'm out of there - I've got plenty of worrying about auto repair costs in my own life, thank you very much.  Similarly, if you want to write about your battle with cancer, please do.  But if you want me to read it, you'd better be sure to acknowledge how fortunate you are that your dilemma lies in choosing which esteemed specialist you seek treatment with, not in wondering if you're going to be able to find a way to get treatment at all.

The poor recognize that the rich are different.  It just seems like the rich people never got the memo.

*  In the event you are rich, which it seems no one will ever admit to, I'd love to talk to you about investment opportunities in this blog, but that's another matter entirely.
**  Not enough to actually do the sort of things it generally takes to be rich - I lack the killer instinct where business is concerned.
***  This post was prompted when I stopped reading a book in disgust after the author**** was dissatisfied to have received a Honda motorcycle rather than a Harley Davidson as a present from his boss to celebrate his 25th anniversary with the company.  Heads-up, Mr. Ungrateful Author:  You know what most of us will get after 25 years with a company (should we be so fortunate as to get such a thing)?  A 26th year, hopefully to be followed by a 27th, a 28th, etc.
****  Who I will do the favor of not naming here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Solar eclipse, 13 November 2012

There's a solar eclipse tomorrow.  Unfortunately, unless you live in northern Australia (or in the ocean just east of northern Australia), you're  not going to be able to see it.  Fortunately, there are several sites where you can watch the eclipse online - this article from gives links and more information.  I know I've going to have a tab to one of these sites open in the background while I'm working tomorrow, and I hope that you're able to check out this eclipse as well - no matter many eclipse videos or photographs I see, I continue to be amazed by the phenomenon.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October reading log - Infinite Jest

I haven't finished any books this month, as I've been working on reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.  (As finishing this book in a summer is considered an accomplishment, I pretty much flew through it, considering that if I finish in the next few days [as seems likely] I will have finished in just over a month.)

Infinite Jest has turned out to be everything I'd heard it was, in terms of breadth and density.  If you want a straightforward "A then B then C" story, this is definitely not the book for you.  At about 1/3 of the way in, I still wasn't certain whether there as a story beneath the encrustation of detail or if it was just a mass of encrustation with a hollow core.  At halfway in, I was starting to see a story.  At 2/3 of the way in, I had found the story, was determined to finish the book to see how it turned out, but swore that I would never read anything by David Foster Wallace again.  At 75% I discovered that what I had thought was the story was just a part of the story, and I was getting more excited about it.  Now I'm at 90+%, I'm pretty sure I've got a handle on the shape of the story and not only do I want to read Wallace's other books and stories, I'm looking forward to rereading Infinite Jest.

When I do reread Infinite Jest, I'm going to do it in conjunction with reading about the book, which I have studiously avoided this time through so as to force myself to think it out and try to find the patterns myself.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The paleo diet's fatal flaw?

Over the past year or two I've done some reading about the paleo diet.  At at first glance, this seemed to make sense to me:  That eating foods that humans had evolved to eat would be the best diet.  And yet I couldn't buy into it.  I kept having a feeling that there was something missing, some problem in the rationale that would blow the whole thing up.  Besides the fact that historical humans didn't follow this diet and seem to have done okay.  (Paleo advocates would no doubt tell me that historical humans would have done even better had they followed a paleo diet.)  As I was fixing lunch today, the answer occurred to me:  Peppers.  As an SCA chef can tell you, peppers (along with tomatoes and potatoes) are a New World food.  And so a quick web search was in order:  Are peppers paleo?  Apparently so.  But unless you're Native American, your ancestors were only exposed to peppers for 500 years, certainly not enough time (by paleo standards) to have evolved the ability to process them. 

Now, I'm not trying to take this as any sort of debunking of the paleo diet.  (People who have such large amounts of time, energy, and money invested in an idea aren't so easily swayed.)  And if you're currently eating a paleo diet and it's working for you, more power to you.  But as for me, I no longer feel the compulsion (and certainly never felt a desire) to go paleo.

Additional trivia:  While doing research for this post, I learned that 3 out of the 4 founding members of Black Sabbath are vegans.  (Tony Iommi is the odd man out.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tractor-Trailer-Sized Asteroid Zips Between Earth And Moon

Of course, my first thought when I heard this was:
The year: 1994. From out of space comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction! Man's civilization is cast in ruin!Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn...A strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super science, and sorcery. But one man bursts his bonds to fight for justice! With his companions Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel, he pits his strength, his courage, and his fabulous Sunsword against the forces of evil.He is Thundarr, the Barbarian!

There are two kinds of... no, not really

Last night I downloaded The Pleiadians (sic) Files - Hidden and Ancient Records by Dace Allen, which was available as a freebie on the Kindle.  I enjoy reading ancient astronaut and conspiracy theory sorts of books, but I don't believe them at all.  While presented a problem this morning when I went to enter the book into BookHabit, the app I use to track my book collection and reading process.  It didn't feel intellectually honest to classify this book as "nonfiction," but respect for authorial intent prevented me from classifying it as "fiction." 

And the more I thought about it, an extended list of different sorts of books came to mind that were classified by their publishers as "nonfiction" but which I still wouldn't consider true:
  • Books based on scientific theories which were later disproved (phrenology, geocentrism, etc.).
  • Books based on blatant distortion of scientific or historical evidence (Holocaust denial, young earth creationism, etc.).
  • "Memoirs" which are, if not constructed of whole cloth, at least at variance with reality.
  • Religious books for faiths which the reader does not believe.
And then it hit me:  Fiction/nonfiction, like so many other things that we take to be binaries (gender identity, sexual orientation, autism, political believes, homelessness, etc.) is actually a spectrum.  Some books that are published as fiction are more "true" than some that are published as nonfiction, and some books contain differing amounts of reality for different readers.

Oh, and in case you're wondering how I classified The Pleiadians (sic) Files:  I didn't.  I tried coming up with a good category name for "books that the author apparently sincerely believes to be nonfiction but which I don't" and instead decided not to spend the brain cycles it would require.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

An open letter to the powers that be at CW

Dear powers that be at CW:

First of all, I'd like to commend you on your decision to make a Green Arrow show.  While Green Arrow doesn't have the same name recognition as Batman and Superman, he's still a viable part of the DC Universe.  Plus, the Robin Hood/social activist component of his character makes him particularly relevant in our post economic meltdown world.  So well done on that.

That being said, I see that you've made one major mistake in this project.  So major that it may doom the project before it gets off the ground.  You decided to name the show Arrow.

You may ask why this is a mistake.  Let me explain.  Two words:  John Carter.  Hopefully you now understand the nature of your mistake and can use the time you would have spent reading the remainder of this letter to begin fixing the problem.

What?  You're still here?  Okay, then.  Let me elaborate.  Even people who've heard of but never read Edgar Rice Burrough's Barsoom books would get that John Carter of Mars is a reference to those books, which would kindle interest in a movie of that name.  And even people who've never heard of Burrough's books would, upon hearing the name John Carter of Mars figure out that the movie involves a guy named John Carter and that he is on Mars, which could inspire them to look into the movie more.  But upon being presented with a movie named simply John Carter, people are most likely to go "Who?" as the movie's title gives them no idea what the movie's about.

Likewise, by naming your series Arrow instead of Green Arrow, you're passing up a chance to give people information that will make them want to check out the series.  After all, the Green Arrow character has been around for 71 years - even people who aren't regular comic book readers are likely to have heard of him, whereupon they'd likely say something to the effect of "Hey look - CW's made a series about the Robin Hood guy from the comics.  I think I might check that out."  Whereas after being told that CW has a new series out called Arrow, they're more likely to say something along the lines of "Arrow?  What's that about?" and some other shiny thing will probably catch their interest before they take find out.

Also, I don't know if you're aware, but FX has a series called Archer.  Now stop for a moment and ask yourself:  Is the average person likely to be confused by two series with 5-letter titles that start with 'A' and make reference to archery that are airing simultaneously on networks with 2-letter names?  If you honestly thing the answer is "no," then please get in touch with me - I have a lovely bridge you might be interested in buying.

Mr. B.

PS:  Seventy-one years of history behind the name!  That's not something you just give up at the drop of a hat.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Goodbye Rachel

Last Friday night was Rachel Ehmke's funeral.  You might not have heard of Rachel.  I hadn't until a friend of mine made a blog post about her.  Rachel was a 13-year-old girl who committed suicide after relentless bullying, both online and face-to-face, by a group of girls at her school.  This wasn't the first such incident, and even I'm not optimistic enough to think it will be the last.  But for some reason this story has grabbed hold of my mind and won't let go.

I think this is at least partly because of what Rachel's dad said about the bullies:  "They're kids. They made some horrible decisions. If these kids would've have known this would happen I'm pretty sure they never, ever would have done what they did."  That just made me think.  Among other things, it made me think about Jimmy S, who I haven't thought about in years.

Jimmy was a boy who was in the same Boy Scout troop that I was.  He was the black sheep of the troop - to the best of my knowledge, he didn't really get along with any of us.  The rest of us all went to the local public junior high and high school, while he went to a private religious school.  He was obsessed with the military.  (Even by the standards of people living in a defense industry company town during the time of Rambo and Red Dawn he was obsessed with the military.)  He was overweight, which made his aspirations to join the special forces seem ridiculous to the rest of us.  Before joining the Boy Scouts, he had been in the Royal Rangers, and his stories of "how we did things in the Royal Rangers" didn't endear him to us.  And so he always got chosen last for teams.  Whenever we started playing pranks at summer camp, he was always the first target that sprang to mind.  In short, any of the myriad small cruelties that children and teens are capable of were aimed his way.

Before you get the wrong idea of where this story's going, let me tell you that Jimmy did not commit suicide.  In fact, a quick Google search conducted as I started writing this revealed that he still lives in the town where we grew up, still looks pretty much the same as he did, and seems to have pretty much the same interests as he did back then.  He apparently had a pretty strong concept of who he was even as a teenager, which no doubt helped him make it through our tormenting.  But another factor that no doubt worked in his failure is that in the mid-1980s we didn't have Facebook or text messaging or any of the other tools that today's kids are able to use when they set a target.  And I wonder now at what difference these technologies could have made in Jimmy's case.  He only saw us at Scouting events, so he only had to deal with our mistreatment for one evening a week, plus one weekend a month for camping, plus one week a year for summer camp - a fairly small amount of time compared to the 24/7 bullying that kids today are exposed to.  Also, all our interactions with Jimmy were done face-to-face, in public, under the supervision of our leaders.  This limited how far we could go.  And, knowing that we sometimes ran up against these limits, I know that we almost certainly would have gone further had we had the ability.

I don't have a solution to the bullying problem - if I did, I'd be being interviewed on TV about my "groundbreaking solution to the bully problem" instead of writing about it in my blog.  And while I by no means want to excuse the actions of these bullies, I want us all to remember Mr. Ehmke's words:  "They're kids [who] made some horrible decisions."  Bullying didn't begin with this generation, and I don't think these kids are necessarily crueler than their forebears.  I just think they have access to more powerful tools in their campaigns against each other than we ever had (although a phone in the days before caller ID was a pretty powerful weapon), with no more judgment than we had as to how far is too far.  The more tech-savvy parents are already aware, and the others are beginning to catch on, that what happens online is just as serious and just as "real" as what happens in the schoolyard.  If their children are being bullied online, that needs to be taken just as seriously as if it was happening face-to-face.  Conversely, if they find out their children are bullying other kids online, that needs to be taken just as seriously as if it was happening face-to-face.  What happens in Facebook, doesn't stay in Facebook.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What do you want to be when you grow up?

"Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they're looking for ideas." - Paula Poundstone

Having spent the past decade or so in an extended period of career drift (punctuated by brief periods of moving in directions which either failed to pan out or else turned out to be not what I had hoped they would be), I've been trying to reorient myself and move forward.  Since I have the luxury of having a steady job that pays the bills, and since my attempts to select a career based on my business skills (which aren't my strong suit) haven't been successful, I've decided to look back to my youthful dreams to see what I can come up with.  And this morning, you get to go along with me.
  1. Astronaut.  I pretty much scratched this off the list after the Challenger disaster.  That and the fact that everything I read said they wanted short people and I've always been tall (I'm currently 6'2" - not a giant, but certainly tall).  Add in the fact that I was never willing to join the Air Force in order to get into space and that I've missed my "launch window" age-wise as far as getting the necessary training, and I have to admit that this is off the list of possibles.  That being said, if offered the chance to live in a space colony, I'd sign up in a heartbeat.
  2. Game designer.  Specifically, I wanted to live in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and work for TSR.  This is no longer a possiblity in its original form (Lake Geneva's still there, but TSR isn't), but it could still happen in some other form.
  3. Computer programmer.  I wanted to work in artificial intelligence or in the MIT Media Lab or some similar interesting situation.  This is still a possibility.  I'll have to brush up my programming skills, learn some new languages, etc., but that's not a problem.  And given that the introduction of apps has ushered in a return of the era of individual programmers building human-scale programs, there's an opening for the sort of programming I'd like to do.
  4. Physicist.  To be honest (and with the benefit of experience and hindsight) it wasn't physics that interested me so much as physicists.  I'd read (auto)biographies of Einstein and Feynmann and felt that these were really interesting people - the sort of person I wanted to be - and apparently studying physics was the way to do that.
  5. Writer.  Specifically, I wanted to be a science fiction writer.  Not because - as so many authors of my acquaintance have said - I had stories on the inside bursting to get out (I had settings and ideas, but no stories, about which more in a later post).  No, I wanted to be a writer because I wanted to be an interesting person (which writers seemed to be), to hang out with other interesting people, and to receive royalty checks and fanmail and invitations to speak at conferences and conventions.
Looking back over this, I've seen a pattern, and I hope I can manage to put this knowledge to use.  There's a pretty consistent trend here of wanting to learn things and then convert that knowledge into a product (whether that product be a game, a program, an article, a book, or speech is fairly irrelevant) and wanting to be recognized (both materially and otherwise) for what I have created.  Isaac Asimov has long been an idol of mine, and though I've more recently learned of some characteristics of the good doctor that I'd do well not to emulate, I think the basic model still stands:  Convert knowledge into product, receive money and recognition.  I want to make a profession out of being a fascinating person.

Another recurring theme that I see is my weakness in business skills.  That aspect of things doesn't come naturally for me, and all my efforts to improve this area seem to have done is to hold me back in other areas.  I recently read Resumes Are Dead - And What To Do About It by Richie Norton (along with several other "how to find the job that will really make you happy" books) and the key points I've taken away are:
  1. Start doing what you want to do now and try to find a way to get paid for it later.
  2. Focus your energy on your strengths - where you can become excellent - rather than your weaknesses - where you can become adequate - so as to maximize the value of your work.
So that's what I'm going to do.  I'm going to put myself out there and be the fascinating person I've always wanted to be, starting with regular posts to this blog, and trust that the money and recognition I'm hoping for will eventually come as a result of it.  It promises to be an interesting journey; I hope you all come along with me.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What a difference a consonant makes!

Little B (age 7) has the most amusing word misunderstandings - witness our conversation this morning:

Little B:  Why do people in mysteries and magic shows always talk about salami, which is an Italian meat?
Mr. B:  What?
Little B:  Like in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the map made you say "I salami swear I am up to no good."
Mr. B:  Ohhhhhh!  (tries to keep from laughing)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A golden opportunity for libertarians

Or - depending on your opinion of libertarians - "put up or shut up time" for libertarians.

For years libertarians have been saying (some would uncharitably call it whining) that if they just had a chance to put their ideas into practice people would see how well libertarianism actually works.  They've even been pushing a plan to get enough libertarians to move to New Hampshire that they could turn it into a libertarian paradise.

But property in New Hampshire is expensive.  And there are already a lot of people living there, some of whom don't want to live in a libertarian paradise.  If only the libertarians could find someplace smaller - say, the size of a city - maybe even someplace with a dropping population, so that the libertarians could gain electoral majorities more easily.  Someplace where property values are lower.  Someplace like...


The median home price in Detroit is $6000!  Some houses can be had for as little as a dollar!  The city is rapidly getting out of the business of providing services, and would probably be quite glad to outsource the few remaining ones to anyone with cash on hand.

So come on, libertarians!  The Motor City needs you!  Bring Detroit back to life, make it a place that people want to move to, and you'll have proved your point.

(Thanks to The Economic Collapse for inspiring this post.)

Friday, March 30, 2012

He robbed from the rich, and he gave to the poor

I've been thinking a lot about Robin Hood recently, firstly because I'm reading Robin Hood: People's Outlaw and Forest Hero by Paul Buhle, and secondly because I just love the Robin Hood stories, so they're never that far from my mind.  And something that I've recently noticed - and can't believe I'd never noticed before - is how conservative Robin Hood is.

"But..." I hear you sputter, "he robbed from the rich and gave to the poor!  He led the peasants in a fight for their freedom!"

Well, yes and no.  He did rob from the rich and give to the poor.  But he never tried to free the serfs.
"But..." you sputter again, "I've seen the movie!  Morgan Freeman says 'If you would be free men, then you must fight!'"

But he only said that because even though it would be more historically accurate, it makes a lousy sound-bite to shout "If you would defend the power of your God-given feudal overlords, who only exploit you in the traditionally ordained amount, against these usurpers who seek to take from you more than what custom requires you to give, then you must fight!"

To look at what Robin's fighting for, it's helpful to look at what he's fighting against.  The Sheriff of Nottingham's crimes were:
  1. He abused his power, taxing the peasants excessively.
  2. He conspired against his rightful king.
Conquently, in every Robin Hood movie, the "happy ending" consists of the defeat of the sheriff and the return of the rightful king, Richard the Lion-Hearted.  And the credits roll during the celebration over the kings return, so you never see the next morning when the peasants say "Wait a tic!  We're still peasants!"
Of all the Robin Hood movies I've seen, I think the one that does the best job of expressing the essential nature of Robin's struggle is the Disney version.  You know, the animated one.  Where Robin's a fox and Little John's a bear.  (And WTF are rhinoceri doing in medieval England?  And how is it that Marian is the king's cousin if she's a fox and he's a lion?)  Funny animal issues aside, though, this one does a great job of capturing the essential medievalness of the Robin Hood story.  There's never any talk of the peasants being free, but instead a promise that things will be "like they used to be" when King Richard returns.
So there you have it:  Apparently Robin Hood was robbing from the rich and giving to the poor not because the rich were taking from the poor, but because the rich were taking too much from the poor.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

My inspirational song of the day

This song always gets me pumped up to go take on the world, and this particular version even more so.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

It's official - Republicans now officially beyond parody

An Oklahoma Republican has now managed to prove once and for all that it is now impossible to parody the Republicans. In order to be able to parody the Republicans, one would have to be able to take one of their positions and stretch it beyond the limits of reality for humorous effect. Yet the Republicans have consistently demonstrated that there is no extension of their positions, however illogical, that they will not embrace. For example:

Food containing fetuses targeted under new Oklahoma bill

State Senator Ralph Shortey (R - Oklahoma County), the "brains" behind this bill, admits that he doesn't know if companies are doing this. But just in case, he wants to let them know that if they decide to do this, they can't do it in Oklahoma. I'm sure he thinks he's going to make his constituents happy with this piece of legislation, but let's just see how happy they are when they're unemployed because Soylent Green cites the "hostile business climate" in Oklahoma as their reason for opening their new factory elsewhere.

Monday, January 23, 2012

H & R Blockheads

Tax season is coming up here in the US.  Maybe you're thinking of hiring a professional to help you with your taxes. If so, there are probably some questions you'll want to ask:  Did she pass the CPA exam?  How does she keep up with the ever-changing forest of tax code?  How do her clients typically fare in audits?  Can she provide references?  The question you probably won't think to ask is "Is she white?"  But for some wingnuts in the white power movement, the answer to that question can make or break a tax preparer.  Fortunately (?) there's a woman in Wisconsin who's ready to meet their bigoted tax preparation needs.  They say it takes all kinds.  It just wish it didn't take so many of some kinds.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Happy Friday!

This video just made my day: John Scalzi's daughter Athena encountering a record for the first time. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

So hard to say good-bye

Separation anxiety is something that all children go through - when they realize that they can move, they realize that you can move too, and that you might go away and not come back.  The wonder isn't so much that children go through separation anxiety so much as that separation isn't worse than it is.

Of course, when dealing with an autistic child, separation anxiety is worse than with a neurotypical child, and extends to a much older age.  Case in point:  Yesterday Mrs. B. had to wait for the school bus with Little Boy B, age 7.  Not only was he waiting for the bus with someone other than me (strike 1), he was also wearing a new pair of shoes (strike 2), and Mrs. B., being not dressed appropriately for the cold, tried to get him to go down the front walk to the bus by himself (strike 3).  Result:  Meltdown.  This morning I was back on morning bus duty.  He's gotten used to his new shoes (mostly), and so the transition went smoothly.  I convinced him to try walking halfway to the bus with me and then halfway by himself, and he managed that without a hitch, so I'd consider today's transition a major success.  Of course, the real test will come tomorrow, when Mrs. B. is back on bus duty.

It any of you are having trouble with separation anxiety, here's a list of tips from St. David's Center for Child and Family Development that can help out.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Blog review: Marc and Angel Hack Life

Mrs. B. introduced me to Marc and Angel Hack Life a couple of years ago and it rapidly became one of my favorite personal development blogs.  It's nothing really deep or heavy, being mainly lists of simple things to do or think about to improve your life, but if I open my mailbox in the morning and see "Oh!  New Marc and Angel!", that's the first thing I read.  Even though there is some repetition from one post to the next (for example, quite a few of the 101 Simple Truths We Often Forget had appeared previously as part of the 60 Inconvenient Personal Development Truths), this doesn't make the insights provided any less useful - these things are just as true the second or third time you hear them as they were the first, and the repetition causes me to consider them again, which I think is a good thing.  It may not be your cup of tea, but I highly recommend you check it out.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Comic book review: Archie #627

Buying a new Archie comic was a return to my comic book roots.  While my friends were all caught up in Marvel's Secret Wars mega-event, I was caught up in the happenings down in Riverdale.  When I heard that Kiss were going to be making a 4-issue guest appearance, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a walk down memory lane.

I didn't hear about the Kiss storyline until the second issue was about to come out, so I considered myself lucky to find a copy of the first issue (#627) at my local comic shop.  As soon as I had it in my hot little hands, I sat down and once again immersed myself in the Archie world.  And I can honestly say that not much appears to have changed in 30 years:  If you liked Archie comics then, you'll like them now.  The characters all looked just the way I remembered, and Kiss looked great in this style of comic art.

The storyline is that Archie and the gang are helping Sabrina the Teenage Witch cast a protection spell when Veronica messes it up and summons a group of monsters, who immediately start turning the townspeople into zombies.  Fortunately, the mixed-up spell also summons Kiss, who in the Archie-verse are both rock stars and monster-hunters.  The issue ends with Archie on the phone with Betty, as he just realizes how bad things have gotten.  Fortunately, he's got 3 issues left in which to set everything right.

My only complaint about this issue was Reggie.  Reggie used to be cunning and devious, a truly worthy foil for Archie.  In this issue, he appears to have morphed into a cowardly metrosexual.  Somebody please tell me this is just an oddity of the script for this issue, and not a permanent change in the character!

As an aside, my collecting this series provides a great example why it's good to have a local comic shop that you patronize regularly:  The copy of this issue that I bought (the last in the store, mind you) had the variant cover.  When I talked to the shop staff about adding this title to my pull folder, I asked if they could be sure I get the variant covers of the other 3 issues.  They assured me that this would be no problem, and they've come through for me.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book review: Merchant of Death (Pendragon, book 1)

If I had to describe D.J. MacHale's Merchant of Death in one word, that word would be "adequate."  It  ticks all the checkboxes for YA fantasy:  Normal kid discovers he has a greater destiny, alternate worlds alongside ours, helpful but inscrutable mentor who disappears when it's important for the hero to stand on his own, appropriate sidekicks for the hero (one or more of which could end up being romantic interests), super-powered villain who the hero drives away but doesn't defeat (thus setting the stage for sequels).  But for all that this book does right, it still felt kind of perfunctory - I felt like I could see the superstructure under the story and see how things were happening because the story structure demanded it, not necessarily because they seemed like they were an integral part of the story itself.  In the end, though MacHale held my attention through to the end of the book, he didn't grab enough of my attention for me to want to pick up the sequels and keep reading.

I think the thing that really turned me off this book was the way the background magic/technology just didn't seem rigorous enough.  Things seemed to just work with no underlying mechanism in the way that was most convenient for the story.  I'm willing to accept any amount of magic or imaginary technology that it takes to make a story work, but I expect it to work within internally consistent rules, not just on authorial whim.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees - another disappointing year

I just heard that the 2012 inductees to the Rock and Roll "Hall of Fame" have been announced.  To my utter lack of surprise but continued disgust, neither Rush nor Kiss were inducted.  Perhaps if the "prominent rock historians" who currently decide the inductees were replaced with crack-addled wildebeests, the inductees would be more in tune with rock fans' tastes than with critics' tastes - the wildebeests certainly couldn't do worse.  As always, I'm dubious about several of the acts that did get inducted, but I'm going to keep quiet about them lest I be accused (near entirely unfairly) of sour grapes.  (I will say, though, that I entirely approve of the decision to induct the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Freddie King.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Don't know much about history...

Congress has recently announced the effects their latest compromise will have on the Department of Education.  My jaw dropped when I read Education Week's coverage.  They eliminated the Teaching American History program and also completely eliminated federal funding for foreign language education.  I'm sure their justification was something along the lines of "desperate times, desperate measures" and all that.  But let's look at the numbers, and see how desperate they really were.
  • $120 million saved by eliminating Teaching American History (they actually only saved 46 million, because funding for this program was gutted last year, but I'm going to use the fully funded amount so that Congress gets full credit for their heroic cost cutting.)
  • $27 million saved by eliminating funding for foreign language education
  • $25 million saved by cutting funding to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education
So, altogether, a savings of $172 million.  Now to ordinary people, $172 million is a lot of money.  But this is Congress we're talking about, where you can find more money than this lost in the sofa cushions.  By completely eliminating funding for social studies and foreign language education, and cutting STEM funding by 14%, Congress managed to cut $172 million out of a 2012 federal budget of $3.7 trillion, a total savings of 0.00005% (5/10,000 of 1%)!  Put another way, they've just saved each and every one of us 55 cents this year.

Well done, Congress.  Well done.  But since I really don't trust your money management skills, can I have my 55 cents in cash?

Monday, January 9, 2012

MagaMerlina: more pebbles... Pebble Drawing

more pebbles... Pebble Drawing
: Still having fun with the pebbles from
Kaikoura. The white pebbles are painted with black Faber-Castell Pitt Artist
Pens... but the Chin...

Having lived in Louisiana for as long as I did, I tend to forget about the existence of rocks, much less their potential as art supplies. But these decorated pebbles are awesome - I've going to have to pick up some rocks next time I'm out for a walk and give this a try.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cleverness 10, timeliness 3

My mortgage banker sidestepped the whole "December holidays" issue and just sent all his client's "Happy New Year!" cards.  The fact that mine just arrived yesterday in no way diminishes what a good idea this is.

P.S. Award yourself 10 bonus geek points if you recognized that the title of this post was a reference to A Chorus Line ("Dance 10, Looks 3")

Friday, January 6, 2012

Piers Anthony, protoblogger?

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite SF/fantasy authors was Piers Anthony.  I was especially fond of On a Pale Horse, the first book in his Incarnations of Immortality series.  But even more than his books, what I enjoyed were the author's notes he included at the end of each book.  Here, at fairly extensive length (20 pages or so), Anthony would write about his thoughts while writing the book, his struggles with his computer systems, his exercise program, local events in his part of Florida, and anything else that came to his mind.  Even after I had stopped reading Anthony's books, I would still look at the them in the bookstore so I could read the author's note.  He has since turned his author's notes into a newsletter on his website, updated with increasing regularity since 1997.  Even if I never read another of Anthony's books, I'll continue to enjoy to enjoy his nattering about his life.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Love and autism

Thanks to The Mary Sue for pointing out this NY Times article about a young couple with Asperger's.  In many ways this reminds me of when the Mrs. and I first met, with one crucial difference:  Neither of us was diagnosed with Asperger's until almost 10 years later (when our daughter was diagnosed).  When we first met, all we knew is that we had each found someone we "clicked" with, who seemed to understand and relate to us in a way that no one else did.  At any rate, we must be doing something right, as we got married after dating for less than a month, and are going to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary this fall.  (Don't try this at home.)

The NYT article is also remarkable for one of the coolest retractions ever:
An article on Monday about Jack Robison and Kirsten Lindsmith, two college students with Asperger syndrome who are navigating the perils of an intimate relationship, misidentified the character from the animated children’s TV show “My Little Pony” that Ms. Lindsmith said she visualized to cheer herself up. It is Twilight Sparkle, the nerdy intellectual, not Fluttershy, the kind animal lover.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Politics: Michele Bachmann drops out!

In a victory for sane people everywhere, Michele Bachmann has announced she's dropping out of the race for the Republican nomination.  And, as an added bonus, along with providing the relief that there's now no chance she'll be elected president this year, she provided me with a couple of final chuckles at her expense.

First of all, in her withdrawal speech, she stated that after hearing the people of Iowa, she had "decided to stand aside."  Now maybe I'm being a bit too much of a language geek here, but to me "stand aside" carries implications that there's someone behind you whose way you're getting out of.  If Mitt Romney dropped out of the race because he thought Rick Santorum would do a better job, that would be standing aside.  Bachmann dropping out is just another straggler dropping off the back of the pack.

Then, as an added bonus, she said she would "continue fighting to defeat the president's agenda of socialism."  Really, Michele?  The president's agenda of socialism?  Has she ever met a socialist?  Or read anything about socialism?  Or even looked the word up in a dictionary?  On the other hand, I guess it's easy to make yourself look successful if you fight against something that doesn't exist.  Maybe I could run for president on the strength of my fight to protect the American people from Bigfoot, the Loup Garou, and the Jersey Devil.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A shout-out to a kindred spirit...

Before I started this blog, I did a quick search to see if anyone else was using "second breakfast" in a blog title.  Someone was (the phrase is really too good not to be used), but in such a way that the two blogs were easily distinguished.  Besides the names, the blogs are easily distinguishable by content:  They take "second breakfast" much more literally than I do, producing one of the most delicious-looking food blogs I've seen in quite a while.  So if you've got time to spare, and you like food, go check out
What About Second Breakfast?

You've got an education, but what you need is a degree

Forbes recently published an article by James Marshall Crotty about MIT's forthcoming MIT.x program, where people can access MIT courses online for free and then for an "affordable" (by whose standards?) but as-yet undetermined fee can get a certificate of completion for the courses, which they're quite careful to note is not an MIT degree, and they're going to great lengths to ensure it doesn't get confused with one.  Crotty says that this program, which from where I sit looks like nothing so much as an effort to monetize MIT's existing Open CourseWare program, is "nothing short of revolutionary [especially if] you aren't a credential freak."  Unfortunately, Crott's overlooking the fact that the pathway to jobs is guarded by HR professionals who are, pretty much by definition, credential freaks. 

In short, I think MIT's effort to expand access to their courses is laudable, but I don't think that MIT.x really does anything to address what I call the Good Will Hunting problem:

Will:  You dropped 150 grand on a f**king education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.
Clark:  Yeah, but I will have a degree.  And you'll be servin' my kids fries at a drive-thru on our way to a skiing trip.