Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sacre Bleu Lord Vader!

This is the exact reason why, even in my darkest hours, I never cracked open Being and Nothingness.

Note 1: Double-click to watch in full screen mode; I couldn't figure out how to resize it to fit on the blog page.

Note 2: This has been floating around the past couple of days on various sites. I found it over at Mark Shea's.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Time, Hills, Funnels

Some unregimented thoughts on our fourth dimension ...

How would one describe something mathematically that had less freedom than its counterparts?

Traditionally, reality for us mortal humans is made up of four dimensions: length, width, and height as the three spatial dimensions, plus one dimension of time. We have complete freedom of movement within the three spatial dimensions. In the dimension of time, however, we can only move in one direction: toward the future, away from the past.

(Let’s ignore in this post the concept of spacetime, which is a sort of blending of all four of these dimensions.)

Originally, I thought a neat way of referring to this one-way aspect of time would be re-categorizing time as not a full dimension, but half a dimension. Sounds promising, but what does it mean? Hmm. Got me. Might as well call it an antidimension, or a negative dimension.

Thinking mathematically, however, you can’t really say that time is a negative dimension. Spatial dimensions would have both positive and negative directions. Time can’t be a negative dimension because that, to me, implies a reversal. Best to say that time is an absolute value dimension, because whether you try to move forward or back (positive or negative) you are automatically translated back into that one, automatic direction.

Then I tried to come up with a visual metaphor. What could represent the unchangeable direction of time, the arrow of time? How about a hill? The past would be at the top of the hill and the future would be at the bottom. Time would flow downwards, aided by some sort of gravity. One can only travel downward, towards the future. Never to the past, uphill, because too much energy would be required to overcome this pseudogravity powering time.

The other dimensions – length, width, height – would reside upon a flat plane, uninfluenced by this special gravity. Hence the ability to move in any direction one desires.

How about we take this hill metaphor of time and expand it out into all of our spatial dimensions. Instead of a hill you would be talking about a pit or, even better, a funnel. If you’ve ever taken a modern physics class or read pop sci books on Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, you’ll recognize something here.

Gravity moves in only one direction too. Maybe some physics whiz kid can apply Einstein’s equations, based on non-Euclidean Riemannian geometry (the analytic geometry of curved surfaces, like funnels) to time and get him some Nobel Prize street cred. Or maybe not.

Some other questions:

Is time pushed or pulled?

What could this “time gravity” be?

What is the driver of time?

For this driver mechanism to work, must we resort to a fifth dimension?

Will I ever return to 1985 to invest all my college savings into a small Seattle startup called Microsoft?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trump and Birthers

As you know, we’ve been inundated by the media over the claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, and is thus ineligible to be president. Though I believe he is unqualified to be president for a whole host of reasons, I think this whole “birther” stuff is nonsense and a non-issue, and, yes, I think the president was born in the old US of A.

Birther is a derogatory term for anyone who thinks the president is not a US citizen. It’s used by the media to denigrate anyone who may have legitimate questions about Obama’s citizenship. I think it’s pretty fair to say that the mainstream media treats Obama with kid gloves, carries his water, and can be described with just about any other cliché you can think of inferring that they are in his corner. (Didja like what I just did there?)

But we all know this.

Now: Trump.

I must admit to a certain vicarious thrill with Donald Trump. But don’t jump to conclusions. I think he would be a complete, undeniable disaster for this country if he ever got elected to the presidency. The man has shady morals which he aligns to whatever way the wind is blowing. He is an unabashed, unashamed egoist who never admits when he is wrong or when he makes a mistake. He often comes across as a belligerent, my-way-or-the-highway type of, well, jerk. In other words, someone who, by virtue of always having unlimited and vast amounts of money, expects others to bend to his every whim.

(As a side note, my father-in-law once made an observation that every rich man always thinks someone is currently conspiring – at this very moment! – to steal his money. Based on my experience, I tend to agree.)

So what’s my delight in listening to Trump day in and day out on the news?

I love the fact that now, finally, Obama is starting to get some flak by someone who has a public pulpit. This really hasn’t happened before; see the second half of the second paragraph above. The president is finally getting something somewhat reminiscent of the Bush treatment, albeit not from the 24-7 media but from some very vocal fringe political opponent.

One thing that really steams me is gas prices. You too, I bet. I remember just three or four years ago the daily hammering of President Bush over creeping increases in gas prices. Every day, every hour, every newscast, all we heard was how the price of gas was reaching four dollars a gallon and how that was going to destroy America, destroy families, destroy the economy. And a dozen times a day we were told how Bush is bungling it, botching it, failing to lead and preserve the union by failing to reduce the average price of a gallon of gas.

In the two years Obama’s been president, the average price of gas has risen 110%, from something like $1.83 a gallon to $3.90. The response from the mainstream media?


So I am enjoying immensely Trump’s hounding and badgering and pounding of this disaster of a president. But even though I am looking forward to observing the president and his people squirm as Donald now goes after his college records, it is approaching the point of diminishing returns. Trump is still useful, though, because, like Obama’s monthly vacations, anything that keeps the president distracted from pursuing his ineffective and disastrous economic policies is a good thing.

However, I think Trump will need to go away in about six months time. I agree with conservative pundits who are mostly aghast with his positions, even the economic ones where Trump supposedly should be treated with awe and reverence because he was able to take his father’s money and convert it into billions of dollars.

In an ideal world, I wouldn’t want to see Trump on the same stage with other Republican candidates during the debates and primaries next year. But I would love – absolutely love – those same candidates to speak with such confident tell-it-like-it-is authority and completely go on the offensive against this Jimmy Carter we currently have sitting in the oval office.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

As Game or Art?

Consider the game of chess.

Moves alternate between each player. During a turn, a player may move one piece. Each piece moves and captures in a certain fashion. There are some special moves, primarily castling, that allow certain pieces to move in certain different ways, but the mechanics of castling are the same for both players.

However, within the framework of these rules, a player can do whatever he wants. He can develop whatever pieces in whatever order he desires. He may play with a strategic plan in mind, or he can play haphazardly and foolishly. If he plays according to a plan, he most likely will win the game; he plays willy-nilly, he most likely will lose prematurely. And if he chooses to play with a certain plan in mind, it could be one he’s read about and studied, or it could be the result of long experience of battling opponents of varying character.

This brief discussion on the whole “algorithm” of playing the game of chess applies also to life. Now this may sound obvious to you, but I just came to an understanding of this.

There is a framework to this earthly life we’re given. There are rules. Follow them, and you’ll “succeed” depending on how well you follow them. How well depends on a whole bunch of variables: knowledge, discipline, will, energy, enthusiasm, direction, just to name the first couple that come to mind. There are twenty opening moves White can make in a game of chess. There could very well be an infinite amount of “opening moves” one can make at any given moment of your life.

For long I’ve viewed life as not necessarily as a game, but as a riddle. That’s probably why I read so much religion and philosophy: I have to know the Answer! But there are also other ways of looking at life. Why not as a work of art? Surprisingly, since I write fiction, nonfiction, and play music, I do not view life in this manner. But after some very off-the-cuff rumination, I kinda like this view.

What am I trying to say here? Not quite sure. I finished Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time a few days ago. While the fantasy / science fiction novel is aimed at a much younger audience than me, it does contain a couple of very profound observations. In one piece of dialogue she has a character compare life to a symphony. As I read it I automatically thought of the game analogy. Her character notes that in writing a symphony, there are rules, as in a game, but the rules in a symphony only serve to make the work of art more pleasing and appealing to the ear. Follow them, and you’ll succeed.

I don’t believe the analogy is unique to L’Engle. It has an Augustinian ring to my ears, but I could be wrong.

Anyway, today’s food for thought.

How’s your work of art coming?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


You can find anything on the Internet.

There is a scene in this episode the old teevee show The Avengers that completely terrified me as a little boy. Gave me a nasty case of the nightmares, gave me an awful, sickening feeling in my stomach.

Somehow I managed to view it around the age of four or five. I remember it in black and white, not in color. I don’t recall my parents being in the room with me, but my father could have been there, right next to me, watching it, and – who knows? – I may have been ostensibly reading a book or playing with a puzzle. Anyway, it’s such decades long trauma that warns me of what I view when my little ones are about.

By the way, I can gleefully watch it now with a sympathetic chuckle for Little Me all those years ago.

If you don’t want to view the whole thing, scroll forward to the 7:35 mark and vicariously experience my four-year-old terror.

(PS – that’s Peter Cushing guest starring! I loved him in all his Victorian reservation all those years ago.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

100 All-Time Reads


“Meaningful” – fun, profound, emotional, witty, shocking, enjoyable, influential, transcendent, or transformative

In alphabetical order …

A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960) by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Apocalyptic science fiction, winner of 1961 Hugo Award

A Confederacy of Dunces (1980) by John Kennedy Toole
Comedic character study; winner of 1981 Pulitzer Prize

“A Day’s Wait” (1933) by Ernest Hemingway
Very touching and uncharacteristic short story from Hem

A Generation Removed (1977) by Gary K. Wolf
Futuristic dystopia of ageism taken too far

A Song of Ice and Fire (1996 - ?) by George R. R. Martin
Masterful gaggle of 1,000-page medievalish fantasy novels

A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeleine L’Engle
Children’s science fiction / fantasy; winner of Newbery Medal

A Voyage for Madmen (2001) by Peter Nichols
Psychological study of an ocean circumnavigation race

A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) by David Lindsay
Surreally weird philosophical fantasy tale

Alien (1979) by Alan Dean Foster
Graphic novelization of the groundbreaking film

Atlas Shrugged (1957) by Ayn Rand
Philosophic novel espousing Objectivism

Awaken the Giant Within (1992) by Tony Robbins
Surprisingly effective self-help book

Beast (1991) by Peter Benchley
Effective beach and ocean horror tale

Beyond Ourselves (1962) by Catherine Marshall
Spiritual topics perfect for newbies

Burr (1973) by Gore Vidal
Entertaining if slanted historical tale with a powerful ending

Case Closed (1993) by Gerald Posner
Exact antithesis to Oliver Stone re: JFK; Pulitzer finalist

Cat’s Cradle (1963) by Kurt Vonnegut
Nice blend of science fiction, fantasy, comedy, and philosophy

The Children’s Bible
Mesmerized Little Me for hours at a time

Conquerors from the Darkness (1965) by Robert Silverberg
Swashbuckling science fiction tale

Diagrams for Living (1968) by Emmet Fox
A different way of interpreting various biblical stories

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987) by Douglas Adams
Second-funniest science fiction you’ll ever read

Dune (1965) by Frank Herbert
Classic world-builder SF; winner of Hugo and Nebula Awards

Eifelheim (2006) by Michael Flynn
Brilliant and touching mix of medievalism and SF; won a Hugo

Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury
Dystopic SF you read in high school; read it again

False Dawn (1978) by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Dystopic SF you didn’t read in high school; give it a shot

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (1987) by Susan Jeffers
Lotsa new insights on fear and how to overcome it

Floating Dragon (1982) by Peter Straub
Effective and very scary industrial horror

Foucault’s Pendulum (1989) by Umberto Eco
Superb send-up of the conspiracy mindset (or is it?)

From the Earth to the Moon (1865) by Jules Verne
Light-hearted and often slapstick Victorian adventure

Hocus Pocus (1990) by Kurt Vonnegut
Hilariously weird novel in one-page “chapters”

Hyperspace (1994) by Michio Kaku
Readable nonfiction about higher dimensions

Imagica (1991) by Clive Barker
Surreal yet gritty epic supernatural fantasy

In Dubious Battle (1936) by John Steinbeck
Exciting story and likeable characters overcome leftist ideology

Inside Music (1999) by Karl Haas
Solid introduction for the newbie to classical music

It (1986) by Stephen King
Epic, childhood horror; King’s mammoth magnum opus

Jurassic Park (1990) by Michael Crichton
Bioengineering horror / SF / adventure about Murphy’s Law

Justice and Her Brothers (1978) by Virginia Hamilton
Tween science fiction about telepathy and other worlds

Kidnapped (1886) by Robert Louis Stephenson
Readable, swashbuckling tale of camaraderie and revenge

Killerbowl (1975) by Gary K. Wolf
Futuristic football played with knives and guns; it works

Kim (1901) by Rudyard Kipling
Touching adventure tale and character study in British India

Life after Life (1975) by Raymond Moody
Convinced me of life after death, even before I was a Christian

Life of Christ (1958) by Fulton Sheen
Page-turning compare-and-contrast of aspects of the life of Jesus

Lives of the Composers (1970) by Harold Schonberg
Superb, concise background info for a classical music enthusiast

Logan’s Run (1967) by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson
Dystopian science fiction where you only get to live to age 21

Lord of Light (1967) by Roger Zelazny
Epic SF/fantasy of Hindu pantheon; won Hugo Award

Medusa’s Children (1977) by Bob Shaw
Clever science fiction tale of sea monster hunting

Midnight (1989) by Dean R. Koontz
Intelligent mix of SF, mystery, and technological nastiness

Midworld (1975) by Alan Dean Foster
Lushly detailed science fiction

Nine Horrors and a Dream (1958) by Joseph Payne Brennan
Atmospheric and readable old-time tales of terror

Nine Tomorrows (1959) by Isaac Asimov
Best non-robot stories of all stripes SF

“On the Storm Planet” (1966) by Cordwainer Smith
Far-future novella of assassination, love, and bioengineering

Phantoms (1983) by Dean R. Koontz
When a master of horror uses the Blob as an antagonist

Red Planet (1949) by Robert Heinlein
Great juvenile tale of the settlement and revolt of Mars

Rendezvous with Rama (1972) by Arthur C. Clarke
Bland yet still fascinating exploration of a fantastic object

Sandkings (1981) by George R. R. Martin
Riveting and bloodcurdling science fiction short stories

Shardik (1974) by Richard Adams
World-building fantasy about a bear god and redemption

Siddhartha (1922) by Herman Hesse
Spiritual transcendence from an Eastern perspective

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) by Ray Bradbury
Lyrical fantasy with touches of genuine horror

Space Skimmer (1972) by David Gerrold
Imaginative far-future character study

Sphere (1987) by Michael Crichton
Good solve-this-mystery SF, exponentially better than the movie

Steppenwolf (1927) by Herman Hesse
Philosophical jigsaw puzzle about a split personality

Taking the Quantum Leap (1982) by Fred Alan Wolf
By far the best introduction to quantum mechanics

The Amityville Horror (1977) by Jay Anson
Scary, scary, scary modern haunted house horror

The Bad Place (1990) by Dean R. Koontz
Koontzian mystery mixing SF and psychotic killers

The Bible (TEV)
The greatest story ever told and changer of many, many lives

The Crystal Cave (1970) by Mary Stewart
Readable, exciting, personal account of the life of Merlin

The Dark Tower series (1982 - ?) by Stephen King
Melding of horror, fantasy, and western; earlier novels better

“The Death of Doctor Island” (1974) by Gene Wolfe
Bizarre in the best sense of the term

“The Death of Ivan Ilych” (1886) by Leo Tolstoy
Read this and then try to go back to living your life as usual

The Exorcist (1971) by William Peter Blatty
Scary, scary tale of real evil

The Forever War (1974) by Joe Haldeman
Vietnam in the far future meets relativity

The Fourth Dimension (1984) by Rudy Rucker
Best book for newbies on higher dimensionality

The God’s Themselves (1972) by Isaac Asimov
Uneven speculative SF, but what’s good is phenomenal

The Grayspace Beast (1976) by Gordon Eklund
Science fiction the way it oughta be

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (1979-1984) by Douglas Adams
Actually a five-book “trilogy”; the funniest SF you’ll ever read

The Hollow Hills (1983) by Mary Stewart
A continuation of Merlin’s life from The Crystal Cave

The Imitation of Christ (1418) by Thomas a Kempis
If you’re seeking the greatest of all attitude adjustments …

The Long Walk (1979) by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)
Brutal tale that takes its toll on the reader

The Lord of the Rings (1954-55) by J. R. R. Tolkien
Fantasy epic by which all others are measured

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963) by Walter Tevis
Moving portrayal of a lonely lost alien

The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) by G. K. Chesterton
Surprisingly entertaining tale of anarchy and Christian allegory

The Martian Chronicles (1950) by Ray Bradbury
Groundbreaking poetic SF vignettes from one of the masters

“The Merchants of Venus” (1972) by Frederik Pohl
Near-futuristic novella spoofing capitalism and accidental revenge

The Mind Parasites (1967) by Colin Wilson
Half philosophic novel, half homage to H. P. Lovecraft

The Name of the Rose (1983) by Umberto Eco
Excellent philosophic medieval murder mystery

The Psychopath Plague (1978) by Steven G. Spruill
Imaginative and effective SF mystery

The Puppet Masters (1951) by Robert Heinlein
Definitive alien-invasion-by-stealth by a true master

The Razor’s Edge (1944) by W. Somerset Maugham
Disillusioned WWI vet heads East to find meaning

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” (1936) by Ernest Hemingway
Ambiguous short story about gaining courage, however brief

The Spinner (1980) by Doris Piserchia
Spiderish alien brings a town to its knees

The Sum of All Fears (1991) by Tom Clancy
Intensely detailed and possibly prophetic terrorist scenario

The Time Swept City (1977) by Thomas F. Monteleone
Horror / SF tales of a city growing towards sentience

The Tommyknockers (1987) by Stephen King
King’s unique take on alien invasion-by-proxy

“The Wall” (1939) by Jean-Paul Sartre
Riveting short story of three men awaiting the firing squad

This Immortal (1966) by Roger Zelazny
Semi-apocalyptic SF; winner of Hugo Award

Watership Down (1972) by Richard Adams
Rabbits as epic geopolitical metaphor

Way of a Pilgrim (1884) by Anonymous
Influential spiritual tome on 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Weaveworld (1987) by Clive Barker
Brilliant supernatural fantasy; winner of World Fantasy Award

Whispers (1980) by Dean R. Koontz
Inexplicably explainable page-turning whodunit

Who Can Replace a Man? (1965) by Brian Aldiss
Bizarrely imaginative gritty science fiction tales

Without Remorse (1993) by Tom Clancy
Gripping revenge tale / backstory of CIA agent John Clark

The list may change on any given day, but 90-95 of these works will always be on it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter everyone!

May it be fun, relaxing, and blessed for all. Remember not to let the little ones have too much candy! Parcel it out in moderation!

Oh, and try to spend at least a few minutes thinking about the real reason for today: a certain special man actually rose from the dead and opened the afterlife for us all.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Torn & Mended

In Desert Wisdom, Sayings from the Desert Fathers, “Abba Mios was asked by a soldier whether God would forgive a sinner. After instructing him at some length, the old man asked him, ‘Tell me, my dear, if your cloak were torn, would you throw it away?’ ‘Oh, no!’ he replied. ‘I would mend it and wear it again.’ The old man said to him, ‘Well, if you care for your cloak, will not God show mercy on his own creatures?’”

- taken from A Stone for a Pillow, by Madeleine L’Engle, chapter 4

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

The next group of wounds that call for our attention, although not blood flows as such, offer not the slightest cause for questioning the credibility built up so far. These consist of numerous small marks, clearly visible on the photographic negative, peppering both the back and front of the body from the shoulders downward, excluding only the head, forearms, and feet. Each is about 1.5 inches long, they are more numerous on the dorsal image, and their number, because some are so indistinct, has been variously estimated from 90 to 120.

It takes little deduction to identify what these marks are. Close inspection of both positive and negative reveals that they are distinctly dumbbelled in shape and are grouped generally in threes, spreading out from a horizontal axis across the loins, fanning upwards on the shoulders from either side, downwards from the right on the legs. We are clearly dealing with a whipping, the thongs of the instrument in question being evidently studded with twin balls of metal designed to cause maximum pain. Doctors define the wounds caused as contusions and again have noted that they are physiologically accurate.

As even the layman is able to appreciate, the very pattern of these marks carries conviction of authenticity. We are able to see that all blows were delivered from behind. The wounds on the front of the body seem to have been caused by the weapon having been aimed to whip round onto the upper chest and the front of the thighs. We are able to deduce the height at which the executioner’s hand was raised. We have good grounds for the speculation that because the center from which the blows radiate on the right side is a little higher than the corresponding center on the left, there were two men carrying out this flogging, the one on the right being a little taller than his companion and having the somewhat sadistic tendency to lash his victim’s legs as well as the back.

- excerpt from The Shroud of Turin, by Ian Wilson, page 24

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Star Diaries

Finished the majority of Stanislaw Lem’s incredibly episodic The Star Diaries. Clocking in at a densely packed 319 pages, these dozen tales require quite a bit of effort, but any energy put forth is rewarded exponentially. They simply fascinate and surprise at every turn of the page. What ideas! And big ideas, too! This is true-blue science fiction, SF at its most ideal. Each “travelogue” of the collection is equal part societal critique, rockets and blasters space opera, and “what if” wonderings brought to their strange but logical conclusions.

Lem (1921 - 2006) was a much-lauded Polish writer, primarily of science fiction, who arguably did his best work from the 1950s to the 70s. Not overly familiar with his work, but I do remember attempting his Pirx as a little one (a rare mistep – way way over my head). I did see the Soderbergh-Clooney version of Solaris, for whatever that’s worth. But I’ve read that within the framework of science fiction Lem has many voices. Here he’s best described as a quirky, good-natured satirist. Even more genuinely refreshing than the head-slapping turns each tale takes are the burst of laugh-out-loud humor found every couple of pages or so. Douglas Adams is probably the funniest writer I’ve ever read; Lem is Adams through a translator. But where Adams is a comedian using SF motifs, Lem comes across more as a Renaissance scientist-philosopher with an incredibly sharp sense of humor.

What type of “ideas” am I talking about? Well, if you plan on ever reading this work and want the pleasure of genuine surprise, you may want to skip the rest of the review. If not, let me suggest the following:

- An astronaut stuck in a time loop who meets different versions of himself over a 24-hour period

- A renegade navigational computer that starts a robotic society which speaks Chaucerian English – because that’s the only database available to it

- An alien species who voluntarily eliminates individuality – indeed, the punishment for most crimes is to be sentenced to individual identity – and bizarrely attains eternal life

- A man forced into the 27th century with the task of reconstructing the history of the earth, only to have everything gloriously go wrong despite all his best efforts, resulting in, well, the earth as we know it

- A device which slows down or speeds up time, which our hero uses to keep his head in a very violent feudal society

- A planet that suffers from extremely devastating meteor showers to the point where its not uncommon to lose your life – well, one of them, at least – at any given moment

And lots more. Often, each story contains multiple themes and storylines, and often they’re tied together at the end in unexpected ways. I particularly liked the details Lem inserts – such as that robot race’s term for living creatures: mucilids – and though the names of planets or people tends to be very hokey space operish, I take it as tongue-in-cheek homage to the pulps he no doubt read during the Bronze and Silver Age of SF.

A note about translation: Don’t be scared! Lem obviously wrote in Polish, so this work here is translated by a man named Michael Kandel. Don’t know nuthin’ about him, save for the fact that he must be brilliant in his own right. Not only is he faced with the task of simply transcribing words and sentences from Polish to English, he must get the whole “spirit” of the work right. In Lem’s case, that’s a certain lighthearted humor, and Kandel manages to accomplish this. He also gets special kudos from me for “The Eleventh Voyage” because he has the additional chore of translating Polish into the 14th century English of Geoffrey Chaucer, and that he has to make legible – and funny – to 20th century readers. A daunting task that I thought was well-done. Before delving into other Lemian works, I plan on making sure Kandel is the translator.

The stories vary greatly in length and depth, but the grades I gave them fluctuated only in the narrow range from B-minus to A-plus. Overall, I give the collection a solid A. Find it and read it if you are a serious SF aficionado.

PS - the caption at the top of the picture of The Star Diaries above has it exactly right: Lem is very, very much reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

DeAngelo Vickers

Quick question –

Do the names

Lance De Lune
Big Earl
Chazz Rheinhold
Chazz Michael Michaels

and now,

DeAngelo Vickers

mean anything to you?

If you still don’t know, how about if I throw in

Frank the Tank
Ricky Bobby


Ron Burgundy?

Ah. Now you know.

One of the funniest things about Will Ferrell, to me at least, are the details about his characters. And what better characterization of a character is there than his name? Now, I’m sure Will didn’t come up with all of these character names in the films he’s been in. But some, yeah, I’m sure he did come up with.

I’ve been a fairly consistent fan of The Office over the past couple of years, though I must confess I’ve found the last season or two a little unexciting. Not unfunny – it’s always funny, every episode has a couple of belly laughs. But I just don’t look forward to it the way I did, say, three or fours years ago. I think the zenith of the show had to be season 5, particularly in Michael Scott’s confrontation with Charles Miner. The reason for my lack of enthusiasm is the sad realization that The Office has been eclipsed by funnier shows. Parks and Rec, Community, and Big Bang Theory, to be specific.

But like that aging champ coming out for one last bout, I’ll be damned but did that show just pull a TKO by bringing on Will Ferrell as Michael Scott’s (possible) replacement, DeAngelo Vickers. Bringing Ferrell in to compliment Steve Carell is genius, pure genius. It’s the Ali vs. Frazier of humor. The Godzilla vs. King Kong of comedy. Two masters of their art sparring, and we are all the richer for it.

We DVR’d the show Thursday night, and I’ve watched it twice since. To me, it is 24-karat comedy gold. The apex of profound hilarity. Say what you will about it, or me, but that was one of the most entertaining 22 minutes I’ve spent in years. I can’t wait to watch it with Little One (I’m breaking her into The Office slowly, but she seems to enjoy it, though she doesn’t like Dwight).

I still haven’t erased it from the DVR. I probably won’t.

DeAngelo Vickers. Heh.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Agonie

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staffe to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sinne and Love.

Who would know Sinne, let him repair
Unto mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skinne, his garments bloudie be.
Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruell food through ev’ry vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay,
And taste that juice, which on the crosse a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquour sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as bloud; but I, as wine.

- George Herbert, 1633

To get in to the Spirit of the upcoming few days …

Monday, April 18, 2011

Schools Closed Friday

My daughter is off from school this Friday. So is everyone at the town high school. Apparently, mentioning the name Christ in a public school is strictly forbidden lest the ACLU comes to town, yet all the students, teachers, and administrators get the day off.

In all fairness to my local government, the school website mentions


But the announcement board on the high school’s front lawn just states “School Closed Apr 22.” Perhaps they are not trying to draw too much attention.

Borough offices are closed this Friday, too. On the town calendar that’s distributed to every resident, April 22 is marked “Good Friday.” However, on my town’s website, April 22 is only known as “Earth Day.” But since they acknowledge the following Sunday as Easter, I’m willing to allow this as an innocent oversight.

What’s my whole point? I think my town is manned by good guys. I think we’re trying to hold back the tide of multiculturalism manifested in a hatred of Christianity. That hatred is manifested in the continuous drive to ban all mentions of Christ from the public sphere. But even though my town is doing its best, it’s still one of those kids that goes along with the crowd, doing what it knows is wrong just to fit in or avoid censure. Two steps to the left, one step back right. Two steps to the left, one step back right. And on and on.

If I’m wrong about any of this, let me know. If you think I’m being oversensitive or reading too much into anything here, let me know. Just keep in mind what any Approved Grievance Group © on the left would do if public policy moved as much against it as it has been doing over the past thirty or forty years against the beliefs of 85 percent of us.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Atlas Shrugging

Is it me, or does anything in the theatrical poster to Atlas Shrugged Part I, seen here

Remind you of a recent political campaign logo, seen here

If such was the intent of the film studio, bravo. It’s marketing genius.

I have long said we are living out, more and more as the days of the Obama Administration go by, Rand’s nightmare vision for pre-Galtian America. Now, I have a lot of problems with Ayn Rand and her philosophy. Personally, she was abhorrent, and her ideal of noble selfishness rings discordantly against every fiber of my being. That being said, I must admit to a fascination with her fiction and non-fiction during a two-year phase I went through about a decade back. I understand her work is “loaded” (and what network teevee show isn’t “loaded” in the opposite direction?), but I still think she presents a potential scenario we may see to some degree in the near future of the United States.

I’m not anxiously pacing for the movie to get to my local theater, and I’m not sure I’ll even rent it when it comes out on DVD. Reading the 1,000-plus page textbook-romance novel was an ordeal I can only go through once in a lifetime.

But we’ll see.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Language Trees

So we’re driving along, running errands for my wife, me and the Little One, and we’re chatting about languages. I love languages, though, sadly enough, the only one I know with any real authority is English. But I have a passing enthusiasm for etymologies, and for rhymes and syncopations, and even for the visual “look” of a word on paper. I can recall as a fourth or fifth grader being fascinated with that whole tree of languages chart.

My daughter has a similar interest, at least for the time being, and really only regarding names. She’s commandeered the family’s Baby Names book, which the wife and I dog-eared trying to find suitable appellations for the two little ones (we made the decision to be surprised by the baby’s gender at delivery, so we had to have two names ready). So Little One goes through the book, and notes the meanings of various names of her friends and family members.

Somehow the conversation turns to derivations. Don’t ask me how, I don’t quite remember. Anyway, since I’m talking with a six-year-old, and since I’m not an expert on the subject, merely an interested party, I’m simplifying things as much as possible. English, I say, has about four times as many words in it as other common languages, like Spanish or French, because we tend to snatch words from other languages to use. Plus, we’re basically the international language of science and finance throughout the world.

I think she understands this as I note her furrowed brow in the rear view mirror. Then she asks me what it means when her baby name book says that such-and-such name comes from Latin. I say that most of the words in English evolve from either Latin or Germanic. As a general rule, mellifluous, polysyllabic words are usually from the Latin, whereas short, harsh, guttural sounding words come from the Germanic. Rephrasing this a couple of times, plus a few examples, seem to illustrate this for her.

Satisfied, I seek to cement the idea with an image she’ll easily relate to and remember. “Just think of English as having two parents, Latin and Germanic.”

Again I see her reflection deep in thought. A few minutes go by and my mind begins to wander as I drive through traffic.

“Hey, Daddy?”


“Which one’s the mommy?”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pair of Paperbacks

Planning on spending two days at my folks’ home in PA with the girls. While driving up yesterday afternoon, I had to – had to! – make a stop in Milford, once-home to SF writer Damon Knight and home-away-from-home to numerous others who wrote and brainstormed with him.

Milford has a very nice little used book store I frequent maybe twice a year. Usually I can score at least a pair of outta prints every visit. Yesterday was no different.

First sentences:

Book 1 – Roum is a city built on seven hills.

Book 2 – In those days there were oceans of light and cities in the skies and wild flying beasts of bronze.

Give up? The first book is Nightwings by Robert Silverberg. Over the years I’ve read six or seven of his books, and they are all good reads. No exceptions. Even when I may find the material somewhat distasteful, like last summer reading The Book of Skulls, the writing draws you in, helpless until you reach the novel’s end. Don’t know much about this book, save that it won a Hugo forty-some-odd years back. Should be a quick, fun read.

The second is The Knight of the Swords, by Michael Moorcock. I wrote, here, about reading Moorcock when I was a tween and being enraptured and, quite frankly, a little scared, of the fantasy world that sprung from the man’s mind. Don’t remember anything else – title, characters, plot, theme – so I don’t know how to hunt it down. But this one seems as likely a candidate as any. Again, should be a quick, fun read.

Looking forward to a long, relaxing day today. Slept for ten hours – ten hours! Easy to do when the grandparents are there to rustle the little ones when they wake at 7. I’m still on a short-story kick, so I’ll be working my way through Lem’s Star Diaries this morning, then do a little thinking and writing and job surfing later in the day. Wish me luck, and I’ll wish it back to you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day at the Museum

Mecca for me, growing up in the 70s in the New Jersey suburbs, was the Museum of Natural History in New York City. I went there five, maybe six times over the years: school field trips, Cub Scout outings, once with my mother and aunt, twice with girlfriends a long time ago. Yesterday, we took the Little One there for the afternoon. First time I’ve been there since 1992 or so, first time the wife’s ever visited.

We had a great time.

The wife took a vacation day; the morning was somewhat lazy and relaxed. The skies were overcast and it was misty out, so we all dressed for warmth and comfort and brought along the big golf umbrella. Fortunately, traffic was nonexistent when we left - we got in to the city in no time, found parking, and got to the museum by 1. Little One was very excited about all this.

There were a couple of special exhibits showing at the museum; after much discussion we settled on seeing the butterfly attraction. We bought our tickets and went there first. In a self-contained greenhouse in the museum, through two double-doors guarded by museum personnel, was a miniature rain forest, very moist and heated to 82 degrees. Inside were over 500 butterflies of varying shapes, sizes, and colors, from all over the world. Some had wingspans as big as your outstretched hands. Some had designs on the wings reminiscent of lizards or snakes to scare off predators. Little One was enthralled and tried desperately to get a butterfly to land on her outstretched arms, to no avail.

Since we figured on her low staying power, we decided to hit the biggest and best attractions first. These were primarily my memories from youth: the giant hanging blue whale, the twenty and thirty-foot tall dinosaur skeletons, the gems and minerals and meteors. Scanning a wall chart, Little One wanted to see the “tiki statue”.

Over the course of three hours we probably skimmed through half the museum. I got my fix, Little One got hers. After two hours she started getting quite random and distracted; no doubt her little feet were starting to ache. Picture taking was no longer fun for her, but she gamely fulfilled our wishes. We stopped at the gift shop and she bought herself a butterfly magnet and an amethyst geode (the minerals were probably her favorite exhibit).

Afterwards we grabbed burgers and fries across the street, then stopped in a cupcake shop on the way to the parking garage. We got home by 6:30, all of us unusually exhausted, and well-satisfied with a fine vacation day. And Little One has the benefit of a great tale for when she returns to school next week, “What I did on my vacation.”

Squid and whale battle! – my favorite as a kid.

My amateur rock hound …

When dinosaurs ruled the earth …

Me and Little One in front of her favorite dinosaur.

Little One and her “tiki”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Honest, unloaded question here …

You always hear how the European settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries gave the American Indians all sorts of infectious diseases that eventually killed off the natives by the thousands and tens of thousands.

I’ve always wondered: how come it didn’t go the other way around?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Slip of Paper

In a drawer in my desk is a medium-sized sticky note. On occasion I use such notes as bookmarks, and jot down any cool words or ideas I come across. The following words are on this slip of paper:

lares and penates


“meat glue”

The question I’m scratching my head over is, just what the hell was I reading here?

I really want to know!

PS. – that “meat glue” thing, plus the Eskimo-sounding “nunatak” and all the sciency-type words lead me to guess it might be one of the two or three books I read about Ernest Shackleton in 2002. But that’s really just a guess …

Monday, April 11, 2011

Warning: SNL

There are fond memories of Saturday Night Live here at casa Hopper. I’ve been watching it somewhat consistently since the mid-80s. Not every show every season, but over the years I’ve probably seen a third to half of all the shows made. And from reruns I’m quite familiar with the time-worn classics from the 70s. My favorite performers over the 35-plus seasons have been Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, and Will Ferrell.

My wife has a great memory of the show from her youth. Her dad would tape it for her, and the next day they’d watch it together over breakfast. It was a great bonding ritual, and she speaks fondly of it, often.

We can’t do that with our children now, even if they were much, much older.

I was going to title this post, “Ten Reasons Not to Watch SNL”, but as I was compiling my list, I realized that the problems with the show can be reduced to two factors:

1. Sketch writing that just isn’t funny

2. A mean-spirited compulsion to make conservatives and Republicans look bad

The show wasn’t always this way. In fact, I think this season is the absolute worst in years. Normally we DVR the show and watch it at some point during Sunday afternoon. My daughter absolutely loved Zach Galifianakis’ debut hosting job in May of 2010, so much so that we are forbidden to delete it. We tried watching two shows recently with her in the room while her younger sister napped. Both times ended disastrously.

While some skits can be uproariously funny, those skits are a real rarity nowadays. I would guess genuinely laugh-out-loud skits average out to one per episode. Some shows may have two funny skits, but those are unfailingly balanced out with a completely humorless show the next week. So on average you gotta mine through ninety minutes of crap to get one five minute gold nugget.

A lot of the skits suffer from what I call the Dave Chappelle effect. I never watched the Chappelle Show when it was in its heyday a few years back, but I did catch two or three skits, and I realized they all had one thing in common: a long build-up until you get to the payoff. It seems on SNL now that the majority of the sketches start off verrrrrrrrrry slow, and the viewer must suffer for waaaaaaaaaaaaay too long until you get to the laugh. Most of the time the laugh is weak, and it’s repeated in various permutations for the remainder of the skit. Again, this isn’t every skit every time; perhaps 75 to 80 percent of the time would be a good estimate.

The only really funny parts of the show, to me, are the parody commercials. Some are so hilarious I’m literally crying as I watch, vision blurring, laughing so hard I can’t talk. Andy Samberg’s digital shorts can also be funny, but he can be quite erratic. They’re either great or they bomb. It’d put that ratio at about two or three to one.

Yes, all the writers are very, very liberal. Seth Meyers, the newest anchor, is Tina Fey lite. There seems to be some concrete rule against making fun of Obama. And speaking of our floundering president, that has got to be the worst presidential imitation in the history of the show. Obama as our patient, longsuffering intellectual superior. Exasperated because he has to deal with us and all the dummies around him. Heck, I think Chevy Chase did a better presidential imitation of Gerald Ford than Fred Armisen does of Obama. I’m a conservative, and I wholeheartedly enjoyed Hartman’s Reagan, Carvey’s George H. Bush, and Ferrell’s W. I think the skit with W and Gore as the Odd Couple is one of the best in the past decade.

There’s a trend this year that made us realize that we can’t watch the show when the little ones are in the room. Not necessarily watching it with us, mind you, just in the same room as us. That’s an inexplicable proliferation of, well, gay kissing and gay references. I won’t go into it here on the blog, except to state that, guys, it’s just not shocking anymore, just off-putting and disgusting.

I’ve thrown my hands up in defeat regarding the show. Remember the goofiness when Mike Myers did all those characters? Will Ferrell, in the late 90s before he became “political”, was absolutely zany. Remember the Blue Oyster Cult skit with him? Perhaps the funniest thing I ever saw on teevee. I don’t want to even DVR the show anymore, because I just know there will never be anything as funny as that, or even half as funny, at least for the rest of this season. Probably for the rest of the Obama presidency.

But my wife is still willing to give SNL the benefit of the doubt, which means I’ll still be DVRing it, and watching it back the next day, thumb firmly poised between the fast forward and mute buttons on the remote.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Every One Sang

Every one suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark green fields;
and out of sight.

Every one’s voice was suddenly lifted,
And beauty came like the setting sun.
My heart was shaken with tears, and horror
Drifted away … O, but every one
Was a bird;
and the song was wordless;
the singing will never be done.

- Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)

Nicely done, by a poet I know absolutely nothing about. Took the book of verse off the shelf, flipped a random page, and there ’twas.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pagan World

That’s the first thought that popped into my mind last Saturday. We’re living in a post-Christian world. A pagan world.

Me and the little ones were running errands and I stopped by a new library in a town I was unfamiliar with. The town is very upscale, very wooded, but off a main highway and only six or seven miles from my house. The library appeared quite new, perhaps only fifteen years old or so. There were display cases on the first floor, a very modern, kid-friendly children’s room, and a long spiral staircase up to the second floor where all the nonfiction is housed.

We were up there when I passed by the reference librarian. She was clicking away on her PC. Middle-aged (meaning, my age), short dark hair, a very professional and business-like outfit. As I passed by her, though, I did a double-take. I looped around and passed her again, inconspicuously, to verify what I saw out of the corner of my eye.

She had a big circular tattoo on the back of her neck. Two, two-and-a-half inches in diameter. I’m not sure exactly what it was of, but it seemed to me to be some sort of Buddhist symbol. I did have a short phase in the 90s where I explored Zen Buddhism, and this symbol seemed like the ones I recall from the books I read. It was either that or some sort of spiraling labyrinth.

That word, pagan, was the first conscious thought to rise up in my mind.

Anyway, I went to the very back to check out the 900s. History. Looking for something weird and funky (but not tattoo’d) to jump out at me. I found a book that claimed to list the “1,000 days that changed the world.” I took it off the shelf and decided to put it to the test.

First off, the authors use the whole BCE / CE thing that I sort of mock, here. Sometimes that’s disguised anti-Christian sentiment, sometimes it is a legitimate if foolish attempt at “scientific” objectivity. I turned to the front to scan the table of contents. If you’re a Christian, as 85 percent of us profess to be in polls, there are two possible “days” that had the greatest effect on the world: the Nativity and the Crucifixion / Resurrection. I decided to see what the authors say about these days.

Thankfully, the book was arranged chronologically as opposed to order of importance. If the latter was the case, I’d expect to see the Nativity at around page 185 and the Crucifixion / Resurrection at page 107. Instead, I flipped to “c. 30 CE” and read what they had to say about the defining event of Christianity.

I had to stop after the first sentence. Unfortunately, I have to paraphrase, but the author began by noting the “disappearance of the body” from the burial tomb, and described how “many came to believe that Christ had rose from the dead.” Ugh. To be most charitable, it’s just plain ugly in its clinical objectivity. To be slightly less charitable, it’s a slander to me and millions others like me, and our beliefs.

Again the word pagan resonated in my head.

As my two-year-old daughter says, “Welcome to America. This is smicky.”

But there’s hope. There is an oft-trotted out observation that I try to remember when confronted with such intelligentsia-driven agenda. “We are a nation of Indians governed by Swedes.” India is often described in polls and the like as having the greatest percentage of spiritual believers; Sweden is likewise noted to be one of the most atheistic societies on the planet.

“We are a nation of Indians governed by Swedes.”

That’s smicky.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Another Calendar Trick

Here’s a (relatively) simple math trick to impress your friends and family with your mental prowess.

The only props you’ll need are one of those month-by-month calendars and a calculator.

First, ask your friend to make a 3 x 3 square anywhere within the month. The only caveat is that each box must have a date number in it.

Then, have him tell you the starting date, that is, the number in the top left square of the 3 x 3 grid.


Finally, after a pause of only a second or two, you’re able to tell him the sum of all nine dates in the box. After clumsily punching in the dates on the calculator, a minute later your friend is able to confirm your answer.


How is it done?

It’s really just a simple algebra problem.

Let’s call the top left date in the 3 x 3 grid x. The next two days in that row are x + 1 and x + 2. Drop down to the second row. The three dates there are x + 7, x + 8, and x + 9. And for the third row, the dates are x + 14, x + 15, and x + 16.

Add them all up and you get: x + x + 1 + x + 2 + x + 7 + x + 8 + x + 9 + x + 14 + x + 15 + x + 16

Which reduces to 9 x + 72

Which further reduces to 9 (x + 8)

So when your friend tells you that top left date, x, add 8 to it and multiply that sum by 9. If multiplication by 9 is too hard, multiply by 10 and subtract the original number.


Let’s say the 3 x 3 calendar grid is


The grand sum of the grid is 9 (7 + 8) = 9 x 15 = 150 – 15 = 135

A calculator will confirm this.


(See here for an additional calendar trick)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Plethora of Greatest Hits

I’ve had Rush on the mind since I posted on them a week ago. Yesterday I was in B&N browsing through the CDs, hoping to possibly purchase an oldie I hadn’t listened to in a few years. (Most of my Rush CDs were stolen in 2003; the remaining Rush I have is on cassette tapes, but I don’t have a cassette tape player.)

Six CDs. That’s it for Rush at B&N. Signals, Moving Pictures, one of their 21st century keyboard-fests, and three greatest hits CDs! What? I do a quick lookup on wikipedia when I get home and discover that they have 8 – eight! – greatest hits CDs. I love these guys to death, but c’mon, eight greatest hits CDs seems a little excessive.

With this in my reticular activating system, I browsed around further, amazed at all the greatest hits CDs in the bins. Yes, I understand the economics of it, both from the band’s side as well as the record company’s side. Still, the purist in me buckles. That being said, I’ve often purchased the greatest hits CDs when I was sitting on the fence about a band. But not that often.

I have two pet peeves with the whole greatest hits thing. I don’t know why they’re done, but the cynic inside figgers it’s either to reduce production costs or to spur interest in the band. Most likely the former.

I absolutely cannot stand when a band (or a record company) puts a live track on a greatest hits CD. Save those for the live album, please. And for the life of me I can’t stand when a band puts unreleased material on their “greatest hits” CDs. Sounds rather presumptuous, doesn’t it?

You know, I think I kinda sound like a “get off my lawn you kids!” old ranting gummer here. I really only half-formed these thoughts in the store, focusing mostly on keeping the little ones in visual sight and making sure they’re not wreaking havoc in the aisles. And now, sitting at the keyboard wondering what to write for the Hopper, this all pops into the mind.

Like Inspector Drebbin in front of the exploding fireworks factory, “Move along, now. Nothing to see here. Move along” …

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thirty Days of Night

[spoilers big and small]

Watched the 2009 movie Thirty Days of Night on my PC about a week or so ago while everyone was upstairs dancing to DVR’d episodes of American Idol. I had mixed feelings as I thought about the film over the past few days. Basically it boils down to this: what was good was very, very good, and what was bad was very, very bad.

First thing, it’s a vampire flick. There’s a nebulous, semiformed post deep inside me about our culture’s intense fascination with vampires, but that still needs gestation. As for my personal feelings about vampires, well, I’m pretty much sick of them. Bored of them, to be more precise. Ho-hum and hum-drum.

However, here we’re treated to one of the best premises ever in a vampire movie. The setting is one of those ice-bound towns in northern Alaska, way up in the arctic circle. Now, forget the actual physics of the tilt of the earth forming seasons and all, but in this town every year the sun abruptly goes down one day and stays down for thirty straight days. Get it? Thirty days of night.

That’s the good part. Here's the bad:

A pack of generic vampires descends on the town for a month of feeding. There are basically two types of vampires in Hollywood: brooding pale hunks and sloppy blood-stained hissers. (In other words, Draculas and Nosferatus.) The latter group are found in this movie. They hiss, they screech, they mimic Spielbergian velociraptors. They are superfast and superstrong. They might actually be scary if I hadn’t seen them three or four dozen times before.

The lead vampire was a little bit interesting in that he was not a brooding hunk. He was somewhat on the chubby side, almost nerdish in a way, as if he spent his prior human life as an accountant or an insurance salesman. Ned Ryerson as a vampire. And I also have to give credit to the moviemakers for designing such a unique guttural language for the baddies. Just where the heck do these fanged fellows come from?

There was some cause fer head scratchin’. For instance, why do the vampires slaughter something like seven-eighths of the town the first day? They’re going to be there for a month. Why not capture the townsfolk and put ’em in holding pens until the vamps get hungry? And if it’s thirty days of night at the north pole and the first thing the vampires do is kill all the generators and all the lights and power – how come I can see everything that happens in the street like I’m on some lighted Hollywood soundstage? ... oh.

I also didn’t recall a single church or crucifix in the movie. Odd. Don’t Hollywood vampire fear these blessed items any more? Perhaps they are atheist vampires. Post-modern atheist vampires. That must be it.

Didn’t like the ending, either. Hero has to inject some tainted blood into himself to become a vampire to fight the lead bad guy – kung fu style! And he kills the bad guy by one of those cinematic fist-through-the-mouth-and-out-the-back-of-head punches. This is a vampire movie, right?

Despite all this it was an entertaining and perfectly-paced movie, and there was suspense, particularly in the quiet moments, when the surviving humans are hiding and trying to ... survive. Some of the ploys the vampires use to find their escaped prey were riveting in a nasty and sometimes sickening way. It’s a movie that is true to itself – it does what it needs to do for what it is.

Just wish those vampires weren’t so ... hum-drummingly ho-hum.

Grade: B-minus.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


All right, this story's a few days old but I felt I had to write something about it. A lot of parents are upset that Rutgers University paid "Snooki" $32,000 to chat with students for 90 minutes. I would no doubt be angry, too, if I felt the exorbitant tuition rates I was paying was going to this piece of, well, uselessness, let's say. I've read that this fee is $2,000 more than Nobel prize winner and authoress Toni Morrison is being paid to give the commencement address.

Now this makes me outraged!

Now my blood is truly boiling!

My only consolation is that I am not a tuition-paying parent here. I mean, paying $30,000 to the most overrated writer in recent history!

Monday, April 4, 2011


O'Doul's is perhaps the most well-known non-alcoholic beer on the market today. I make this statement because it's the only non-alcoholic beer average joe me knows. In actuality, though, it's not 100 percent alcohol-free. Each bottle has about a tenth of the alcohol of a regular bottle of beer, or about 0.5 percent alcohol by volume.

There's an old Zach Galifianakis joke that goes something like this:

I've been trying to quit drinking so I switched to O'Doul's. One day I drank a case of O'Douls and was pulled over by a cop later that night. He said, "You been drinking, son?" I said, "Kinda." I said, "I'm trying to quit drinking, officer, so I switched to O'Doul's non-alcoholic beer." So he wrote me a ticket. He wrote me a ticket for being a gaylord.

Yesterday I drank two O'Doul's out on my deck, sitting in the sun in the peace and quiet while my wife had the two little ones at the park. You know what? I actually liked it. I never thought I'd think this, but it tasted good. You'd never know there was, basically, no alcohol in there. For about an hour I had a nice simple pleasure, one I hadn't had in a long time, without any of the potential harm. I enjoyed myself.

Now that it seems spring is finally here, and summer just on the horizon, I may check out other brands of non-alcoholic beer. It's not a high priority, but I'm looking for simple ways to simply bring back some enjoyment in my slightly overstressed existence. This might be one.

Just don't write me a ticket for being a -

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Multiple Choice

“The physicist Max Tegmark has argued that the universe repeats itself over and over again (including all possible variations) if you go far enough, and estimates that there should be a perfect copy of you no more than 10^10^118 meters away.”

(taken from Professor Stewart’s Hoard of Mathematical Treasures, pg. 47, by Ian Stewart)

Think about this a moment. This means that a gazilla-milla-rilla-multizillion miles away, there’s another you sitting at your PC reading this, right at this moment. Well, relatively speaking (there is no “this moment” for such vast separations of distance – or is there?).

The question is, will my other me hop on that stationary bike gathering dust in the corner of the basement, or go out for two slices of pepperoni pizza and a 24-ounce diet coke?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

3 + 2 = 1

When is the equation

3 + 2 = 1


There are some situations where it is true.

Trust me, it's true under certain circumstances.

Need a hint?


Think about a clock.

Doesn't help?

Think of the face of a clock, and then think of what the answer to this equation might be:

10 + 3 = ?

If you start at ten o'clock, and add three hours, do you end up at thirteen o'clock?

No, you end up at one o'clock.

10 + 3 = 1

This is true when the modulus is 12.

The modulus is any number which reverts back to zero during a mathematical operation. You use only the numbers that fall between zero and the modulus. In the case of clock math, you only use 1 through 12. (In the case of clock math, 0 is read as 12.) So, in clock math,

Adding ten hours to eight o'clock yields

8 + 10 = (18 - 12) = 6

Or, if Suzie has three two-hour classes starting at 9 am, when does she get out of class?

9 + (3 x 2) = 9 + 6 = (15 - 12) = 3

Now, back to the original question.

When does 3 + 2 = 1?

Well, normally, 3 + 2 = 5 ...

Unless the modulus is 4.

Then, 3 + 2 = (5 - 4) = 1

There! Now, file that away in your brain for the next time you want to stump a mathematically inclined friend.

Friday, April 1, 2011


[minor but big picture spoilers]

Last week I saw the movie Limitless with my pal. I was honestly shocked; it was a much better movie than I was anticipating. Yes, it had some stupid and unnecessary violence and some stupid and unnecessary sex, but what it did have was ideas. Science fiction ideas, the kind of ideas you read about in a Philip K. Dick or Michael Crichton novel. (It’s actually based on the 2001 novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn.)

You probably know the set-up. Lovable loser Eddie Morra is a down-on-his-luck writer. Defeated by mental blocks, his publisher threatens to call in his advance. His girlfriend / bank dumps him and his landlord itches to kick him out on the street because he can’t pay the rent. One random day sadsack bumps into his old brother-in-law – yes, the only women he’s ever loved divorced him – an unsavory character who happens to be ... a drug dealer.

Brother-in-law is hawking a new type of drug. Right off the pharmaceutical company’s experimental drug assembly line. Allegedly it enables you to use 100% of your brain, percentages based on the old wives tale we only use 20% of our brains (the figure I recall hearing ages ago was 5%). So, what the heck, there’s nothing left to lose. Just pop that experimental drug into your mouth and see what happens.

Here’s where the movie shines. The drug, known as NZT, enables you to see everything “clear.” Thirty seconds after ingestion, you have access to everything you’ve ever seen, read, heard, done. You can make the connections instantaneously. You see the big picture. Everything around you is in slow-motion, and you’re in comfortable confident overdrive. And, apparently, you have boundless energy, because, I guess, gifted with such visioneering capabilities, who would want to sleep?

The movie details Eddie’s rise to the top. Yes, he finishes his novel in four days, and it’s a revolutionary sort of work. He gets a loan from his generic neighborhood Russian mob guy and transforms $12,000 to $2.3 million in ten days trading stocks. Swarms of interesting people flock to him at cocktail parties. Connections are made. Our boy soon comes to the attention of Karl Van Loon, DeNiro’s character, a smorgasbord of corporate tycoons with shades of Trump, Bloomberg, Soros, and the cigar-chomping financiers of the 18th century. He also has to deal with the Russian mafia, and there’s a monkey wrench thrown into things when that neighborhood mobster ingests one of Eddie’s pills and becomes supersmart himself.

I recommend the movie wholeheartedly. The special effects were very interesting; Eddie’s vastly increased mental capabilities were represented visually in an entertaining way. Particularly those long, telescoping sidewalk shots (you’ll know what I’m talking about if/when you see the movie) meant to convey the memoryless movement of large chunks of time. Yes, it was violent, but no more than yer average 2011 R-rated movie. I suppose it added an element of danger to the flick, especially when Ed’s girl is being pursued by a menacing, knife-wielding baddie. Even better, though, are the mental chess games that are played for very high stakes between the main characters. That’s where the movie’s best, I think, and could be better.

Now: let’s personalize this a bit, shall we? I have to admit more than a passing identification with the character of Eddie. Pre-NZT Eddie, that is. If I had made but two or three decisions differently a decade ago, I’d be exactly in his shoes. So when the whole concept of NZT was introduced in the flick, my mind, too, raced, and I completely sympathized with Eddie and his decision to swallow the clear gelatinous pill.

What would you do under the influence of such a pharmacopia? It’s vaguely posited in the movie that one’s potential is dependent on the degree of intelligence one brings to the table. Whatever that means. I suppose the “smarter” you are, the wilder your dreams and the better equipped you are to attain them. The film does mention Eddie’s quest for his “great vision”, i.e., that he needs money money money to attain it, but I’m not sure what exactly that vision was, save for him running for higher office.

What would I do? Well, for starters, I’d do what Eddie did not do, at least initially. I’d turn my attention on NZT. What is it? How is it made? Are there any negative side effects? Then I’d take care of business: assure my supply if it had to be a pill, and eliminate any side effects. I wouldn’t contract with the mafia under any circumstances, and if I had to, I’d checkmate them out of the story early using my vast mental and physical abilities.

I would finance myself with book sales. I’d write what would sell, sell it, and reap the profits. NZT would help with this, giving me the far-seeing sight. Once I had financial independence, then I would spend some time (or a handful of pills) exploring what to explore next. This list, which I came up with during my etude on solitary confinement, would be a good starting point:

1. Reconcile quantum physics with general relativity

2. Solve the Riemann hypothesis predicting the distribution of prime numbers

3. Master Aquinian philosophy and theology and apply it to today’s society

4. Completely map out the human consciousness a la Husserl and his phenomenology

5. Memorize the Catholic Bible verse-by-verse and understand it spiritually, metaphysically, historically, anthropologically, symbolically, and as literature

6. As a corollary to #5, master Latin, ancient Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic

7. Compose a dozen symphonies synthesizing the ideas and motifs of Sibelius, Dvorak, Brahms, and Wagner (good luck with that!) and striving beyond them

8. Study the art and science of English poetry – Shakespeare, Donne, Byron, Keats, Shelly, Tennyson, Browning, et al, and after at least a decade, try my own hand at it

I think the greatest temptation would be the temptation to become a god. If not actually becoming one, then thinking I was one. Pride goeth before a fall and all that. Maybe I’d print up a hundred little cards and post them all over my mansion, each one reminding me of Spiderman’s philosophic catch-phrase: With great power comes great responsibility. The biggest concern, no doubt, would be what should be done with NZT. Should it be kept only for myself? Kept for a select group of like-minded individuals? Destroyed permanently and irrevocably? Dumped in the water supply? I don’t have any answers to these, but I would put them in prominent placement on the Agenda.

So I guess the best compliment I can pay those behind Limitless is that it made me think, and kept me thinking. Me and my friend chatted the possibilities on the ride home. The wife and I discussed it, too, and here I am, writing about it.

Let me end on one thought. I do believe we have access to NZT, right now. But it’s not a pill, and it most certainly doesn’t act in 30 seconds. Nor does it allow us access to “100%” of our brain. Now don’t think me loopy, but based on all the smatterings I’ve read (actually, all the smatterings I’ve read that I remember), I think you can maybe double your brain usage by following the following prescription: a raw vegan diet, an hour of cardio daily, Zen meditation, lots of premeditated autosuggestioning, and an intricate, well-thought-out, well-planned Goals List. Consistently follow this for 365 days, and when comparing the Now You with the Year-Ago You you’ll be convinced that NZT is some way shape or form exists.