Category Archives: Odds & Sods

Odds & Sods For Monday, August 31st

Item The First: This is odd:

Site Stats

Normally this site percolates along with a handful of hits per hour. It’s not bad, but it’s not going to get any buyouts from Google or Medium any time soon. Three weeks ago there was a spike where it went up to 31 views in one hour, which I think was a record for WLTSTF. I may know what and/or who caused that one.

Then last week there was a one-hour long spike up to 47 views in an hour. No clue.

And today this. Again, no clue as to who or what.

Note, this is not a bad thing. I put this out there in order for it to be read and shared after all. But it just is odd that it’s happening and I’m curious. I’m also hoping that it’s a “good odd” as opposed to a “disastrous odd.” Since I’m pretty sure I know what the first one was, I’m also pretty sure (not certain) that it was a good thing and got good (if limited) results. I can hope for the best.

Cryptic? It’s that “elephant” thing again.

Item The Second: Good thing that football season is about to start and hockey training camps are about to open. I guess I’ll just have to live with the Chiefs taking the Super Bowl and the Kings winning the Stanley Cup this year. It doesn’t look like the Angels are going to even make the playoffs, let alone win the World Series.

Item The Third: I mentioned back at the end of April how great that month had been. The road has gotten decidedly rockier since then. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been some great things in the last four months (New Horizons, Vermont, our airshow, and so on) but there have definitely been some significant disappointments and issues to go along with them.

All in all, August? Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, okay? September? You and I need to talk and set some boundaries and goals, right here and now.

Item The Fourth: Tomorrow night (US time) there will be another crew going to ISS on a Russian Soyuz. Launch time for the “Expedition 45/Visiting Crew” TMA-18M is scheduled for 00:37 Thursday morning EDT, which will be 21:37 Wednesday night PDT. As usual, you can watch live on NASA-TV or on your computer using any of the free apps that bring NASA-TV over your internet connection.

For a few days the ISS crew will be back up to nine, before dropping back to its usual six. Remember the good old days when the Shuttle was flying and we routinely had thirteen up there for a couple weeks at a time?

Item The Fifth: Finally, there will be a full lunar eclipse on the night of September 28th (evening of September 27th in the US). Here in LA and on the US West Coast we’ll only see partial phases, but this eclipse will be perfectly positioned for all of Western Europe, Western Africa, the US east of the Mississippi River, and 100% of South America. I’m sure I’ll be reminding you of it later and giving more exact times, but if you want to see it, now’s a good time to stick it on your calendar.

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Filed under Astronomy, KC Chiefs, LA Angels, LA Kings, Odds & Sods, Space, Sports, Writing

Odds & Sods For Sunday, December 7th

Item The First: I had wonderful things to say about the Amanda Palmer concert and talk in Los Angeles, but I didn’t know the name of the interviewer and couldn’t track it down to save my life at the time I was writing the story. I now have the information, thanks to my friend Joey Shoji who saw the post on FaceBook. The interviewer was Bob Lefsetz.

Joey also had this photo on his FaceBook feed from the show in San Francisco two nights before the Los Angeles show. Needless to say, I am green with envy! I know it’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but I’m hoping St. Peter cuts me some slack on this one.

Item The Second: There’s a Jaguar SUV? The cars that were driven by James Bond have now morphed into a mom-mobile? I’m not that much of a “car dude,” but I can tell you this is causing a great disturbance in the Force, as if a billion car dudes cried out in terror and were then silenced.

The website says it’s a concept car and won’t be available for sale until 2015, but I saw it on the 101 Freeway coming back into LA from Ventura earlier this week. No mistaking that it said “Jaguar” and at least from the outside, it’s the vehicle shown. The LA Auto Show was going on at the time, so maybe a reporter or someone was taking it for a test drive.

Thanks, I could have gone all year without knowing that. It’s just so…wrong.

Item The Third: Have you ever (maybe as a kid, maybe later in life) been running so fast that you could just barely keep your balance? Maybe you were running downhill and running much faster than you could on flat ground. But you were flying!

Then you stubbed a foot on something and pitched forward, your arms pinwheeling, trying desperately to slow down or get your feet back under you, teetering right on the edge of going over onto your face for step after step after step, never quite sure if you should go down and tuck and roll, or keep trying to get your balance hoping you didn’t break your collarbone or an arm or your face…

Yeah, some days feel like that. So do some weeks. In that same sense, I’m not sure if resolution would be good (tucking and rolling) or not (uncomfortable, but I can still save this!).

Item The Fourth: It’s an ongoing burr under my saddle, no doubt deeply embedded in my Catholic school upbringing (I’m recovering, slowly, thanks), but I hate the way Christmas lights are so disposable. I hate that one or two lights, or a fuse, or something can go wrong and all of a sudden half or a third of the lights are out and your only real recourse is to spend $10 and go get more.

I know that they have these cheap little “detectors” at the hardware store which claim to be able to tell you where the problem is. I’ve got several brands. They’re all just about as useful and reliable as all of the “guaranteed” fitness and weight loss products that will get you looking like a body builder without ever getting off the couch while eating whatever you want.

I’ve searched for solutions on the internet. I’ve googled it. I’ve looked for YouTube videos.

Nada.

There’s just something fundamentally wasteful and infuriating about that. Unjust. Unfair. It should be relatively simple to have a way to figure out where the problem is and to fix it. Which bulb is burnt out of these 75? Is there a broken wire? Did a fuse blow? I can fix any of those problems if I know where the problem is.

If anyone has an actual, practical, working answer that I’ve never been able to hunt down, please let me know. There’s a whole bunch of eternal gratitude involved.

Item The Fifth: I have bitched before about telemarketers and robocallers. In the big picture, with all that’s going on in the world these days, it’s not that big of a deal. But it’s still like nails on a blackboard to me.

Well, there’s a new turn in this war. For years and years, I’ve known that it’s illegal for telemarketers or robocalls to call a cell phone number. “FCC regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers.” It seems pretty clear. Whether your cell phone number has been registered in the Do Not Call Registry (DNCR) or not, they can’t call your cell phone. And this was borne out by their behavior in the real world. In all the years I’ve had a cell phone, I’ve never gotten a telemarketer or robocall.

Suddenly I’ve gotten three robo-telemarketing calls on my cell phone in two days. What’s changed?

I made the mistake of calling AT&T customer service. I was told to sign up in the DNCR. I told them that I already had, and besides, it was a cell phone so see above. They knew nothing about the cell phone restriction. I gave them the web page to look at. Yeah, meh, whatever, they don’t care. They suggest that I file a complaint against the company using the Federal Trade Commission’s site. But I don’t know the company’s name – when you ask for that, they hang up. (They seem unaware that the scum sucking maggots who run robocall scams might do this. Duh!) They suggest I use the incoming phone number to file a complaint. That’s useless — the number shown is spoofed, fake, totally bogus. (They seem unaware that this is possible.) They suggest that I block the incoming phone number on my cell phone. That’s useless – the robodialer will pick a different random bogus number to spoof every call. (They seem unaware that this is done.)

Freakin’ idiots!

I had really been hoping that their technology might be better than that being used by the scammers and telemarketers. My bad – where was my head? When it gets to the point where the best idea you have for pursuing the problem is to complain to your Congressman, you’re pretty well screwed.

I would pay a lot of good money for some device or program that would prevent me from ever, ever, ever again receiving a robocall or call from a telemarketer. If the device or program would also send about 100 volts back down the line into the ear of the telemarketer or 100,000 volts back down the line into the robodialing computer, I would pay a lot more.

The ultimate follow up to that experience was a female telemarketer I got yesterday from one of the “Your credit card account is in danger, you must contact us immediately!” scams. After I asked in a “colorful” manner (i.e., blue) how I could ever get them to get me out of their system and stop calling, she wanted to start lecturing me on what Jesus thought of my attitude and how she would pray for me.

It is safe to assume that the conversation went downhill from there. She never convinced me that I should repent and mend my ways, and I never convinced her that she was a freakin’ idiot working to illegally scam people.

The difference between her and me? I’m self aware enough to wonder if maybe I might be as delusional as she is. (I’m not.) She couldn’t ever conceive that thought, because she already knew everything. (Like Jon Snow, she knew nothing.)

My final thought for tonight on telemarketers & robo-scammers – I need to make my smart be better than their stupid. They’re NEVER going to “get it,” they’re never going to stop, and god knows neither the government nor the phone company is ever going to stop them. All I’m doing right now is venting, blowing off steam, and raising my blood pressure.

Instead, let’s see this as an opportunity to have some fun, using these morons as dupes! I should be able to come up with a good script, a role play, an improv act, where the ultimate goal of the conversation is to leave myself laughing hilariously at their stupidity and leaving them pissed off for wasting so much of their time and making them look like the fools they are.

THAT‘s the thought! When answering the phone and getting one of these calls, before you pick it up, as yourself — “What would Robin Williams do?”

 

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Filed under Christmas Lights, Freakin' Idiots!, Music, Odds & Sods

Odds & Sods For Saturday, September 13th

Item The First: I mentioned Monte Moore, the radio announcer for the Kansas City Athletics when I was a kid there in the Sixties, and later the voice of the Oakland A’s after they moved. In looking him up to make sure I had his name spelled correctly and so forth, I remembered a fragment about one of his partners, a “color” announcer. It would have been about 1964 or 1965, the guy’s first name might have been David. If I remember correctly, he was killed during the off-season, possibly in a car accident.

As I said, it’s just a fragment of a memory from nearly fifty years ago, but I went to see if I could find any online information that matches that and I came up empty. (See, the internet is not omnipotent. Or it is and I’m just not asking the correct questions.) I found a lot of great old trivia about the KC A’s, and that brought up many more memories that I had that I didn’t see mentioned – but nothing about the loss of one of the radio guys.

If anyone of you should happen to know or remember anything about that (I know, it’s a wild shot in the dark) please let me know in the comments. Let’s see if the massed neurons of the WLTSTF family can do better than Google. Sort of like Ken Jennings taking on the IBM “Watson” system on Jeopardy!

Item The Second: It should be noted that in the Sycamore Canyon Beach panorama yesterday, The Long Suffering Wife can be seen enjoying the ocean breezes. I’ll let you go hunting for her if you wish — she’s in red and white. (Go Angels!)

Item The Third: I don’t know which was funnier the other night, seeing the stories and videos about the two deer tying up traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge for forty-five minutes, or seeing five minutes later that there was already a Twitter account for “Golden Gate Deer.”

Item The Fourth: Who used the phrase “Far Out!” any more? I mean, except for people doing their best impersonations of George Carlin’s early days as the Hippy-Dippy Weatherman. I don’t think even hipsters use that phrase. (What DO hipsters say, other than putting down anything that everyone else likes?) The volunteer duuuude who called up for the Red Cross last week to get me back in to donate blood (this was my donation #51 with the American Red Cross, whoo hoo!) used that phrase at least three times. It really sticks out in a conversation these days.

I wanted to respond to him with “Farm house, man!” but thought that might be a bit too esoteric, 1970s, Southern Vermont-ish for him. Punk kid doesn’t even know what “SKs” are, or how to properly use “wicked” in a sentence.

Item The Fifth: One thing I started noticing a lot at the Wings Over Camarillo air show was people wearing LA Kings branded shirts, hats, and other gear. You have to understand, LA has always had a rabidly passionate core group of Kings’ fans, and I’m proud to count myself among them going back for forty years now. But it’s always been a teeny, tiny, minuscule group compared to the legions of fans for the Dodgers, Angels, Lakers, UCLA Bruins, USC Trojans, Clippers, and even the Galaxy. There were folks jumping on the bandwagon when Gretzky came in 1988, and most (not all) of them jumped off when the Kings didn’t immediately win the Stanley Cup.

A lot of them jumped back on when the Kings won their first Stanley Cup in 2012. But unlike the Gretzky years, success wasn’t a one-time thing. The Kings made a deep drive into the playoffs in 2013. And then we won it again in 2014. At that point there were tons of folks catching hockey fever and there are signs that it’s still happening. At the airshow, I saw many more folks wearing Kings gear than I saw Dodgers or Angels or Lakers gear. I’m also seeing an awful lot of bumper stickers and “Kings – Stanley Cup Champions” window decals on cars.

This may become a hockey town yet!

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Filed under Critters, LA Kings, Odds & Sods, Paul

Odds & Sods For Wednesday, July 23rd

Item The First: Since you’re all cool and wonderful and “in the know” type folks (hey, you read this every day, right?) I’m sure you’ve all already seen this ultra-fantastic video. But just in case you’ve been too busy fighting crime and saving civilization, go watch it now! It’s one of those “why didn’t I think of that?!” things where it’s obvious once someone else has done it and now you’ll see everyone doing it, but this is the first that I’ve seen and it is just awe-inspiring.

Jos Stiglingh took a DJI Phantom 2 amateur drone capable of going up several hundred feet and (probably) a half-mile or so from the operator, attached a high-def GoPro camera – then flew it into the Sunfest 2014 fireworks display in West Palm Beach, Florida! The soundtrack was originally “Con Te Partiro” by tenor Andrea Bocelli and it was perfect — apparently there were copyright issues and now it’s got a hard-driving techno soundtrack that SoundHound can’t identify.

Either way, if this isn’t the most stunning video you see today, you’ve obviously had a much more interesting day than I have!

Item The Second: And then there’s that moment when you hear your computer going nuts, the “Windows Default Beep” sounding off like DingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDingDing… You figure that it’s probably smoking and tossing bits of the hard disk all over the room and you’re desperately trying to remember how recent your last full backup was, until you find that it’s just the freakin’ cat who decided to sit down on the keyboard and start bathing.

Item The Third: Has anyone else noticed that the ebola outbreak in Africa is still growing? Even three and a half months after we were told not to worry, “it’s quite difficult to transmit” and “the risks are quite small.” Now it’s blown way past all previous outbreaks to be the largest ever, both in terms of the number of people infected (over a thousand), the number of fatalities (632), and the size of the region showing cases (started in Guinea, has now spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone as well). To show just how bad it’s getting, the top researcher in Sierra Leone’s effort to combat the outbreak now has contracted the disease himself.

They will let us know when to worry, right? Or do we wait until we see Brad Pitt running past us, pursued by zombies?

Item The Fourth: As a long, LONG time fan of Weird Al Yankovic’s music, it’s great to see his new “Mandatory Fun” album hitting the charts at #1. We’ve seen him a couple of times in concert over the years and he really puts on a great show. His parodies are great and many of his original songs are wonderful. The “polka mashups” on many of his albums are sheer genius. He’s a treasure.

Over the last week he’s been releasing videos from the new album, eight videos in eight days. The first couple, “Tacky” (apparently one long tracking shot?!) and “Word Crimes” (superb and clever animation) were outstanding, and on “First World Problems,” one of my other all-time favorite people-who-happen-to-be-musicians, Amanda Palmer, sings backup.

Item The Fifth: Speaking of music, what’s your walk-up music? I asked this question a while back and I’m sure that you’ve all been giving it a lot of thought. Feel free to drop your answers into the comments, but for me, I think it would depend on my mood.

If I wanted to freak out the opposition and see if anyone was actually listening to the words of a song they almost certainly hadn’t heard before, I would use the chorus of Julia Ecklar’s “Temper of Revenge.” I would use the more upbeat and angry version off of the “Divine Intervention” album (which you can buy here, hint, hint). “Find me a horse / As red as the sun / Find me a blade / That will make their blood run / I will ride out at dawn / While the sun’s in the sky / So the buzzards can see / Where the bodies will lie.” Yeah, that would get their attention.

If I just wanted to be unconventional and weird, what better than some of the above-mentioned “Weird Al” Yankovic? Although it would be tough to decide whether to use one of his parodies (to see if anyone’s actually listening and notices that it’s not the original) or one of his great original songs.

But let’s say that those plans are nixed by either a stodgy team management or by the Prince of Darkness himself. What can I get away with for a more “conventional” choice? After all, they’ve allowed “Sympathy For The Devil” and heavy metal tunes such as “Enter Sandman” have become routine. So, surely I could use something like Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves Of London” or Frank Zappa’s (NSFW!)Dinah Moe Humm

To push the boundaries completely, how about TonioK’s (pretty NSFW) “H-A-T-R-E-D” or The Nails’ (yeah, a great song, but NSFW) “Eighty-Eight Lines About Forty-Four Women”? Or go completely to the opposite extreme (as Josh Reddick of the Oakland A’s did) and use something like “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked” or Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne”?

What mood would I be in today?

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Filed under Cats, Computers, Fireworks, Flying, Health, Music, Odds & Sods

Odds & Sods For Wednesday, June 3rd

Item The First: Living in any big city it seems that you can see a little bit of anything. (not so much in a rural area or small town, but I could be wrong.) One thing about Los Angeles is that this phenomenon is taken to a whole new dimension at times. It can be a really odd place.

The latest demonstration of this I’ve seen is a large number of men who are shaving their heads, so they look like Telly Savalas or this Republican dude running for governor. But they find that their skin is pasty white and pale under all of that stubble, making them look more like Marine recruits on their first day of boot camp. To solve this in turn, they apparently go and get a spray tan.

Unfortunately, too often the spray tans are pretty orange-ish. That’s a good way to tell actually, you don’t get that particular shade of orange-brown by any natural method known to man. But looking silly and fake and plastic has never stopped anyone in LA, so they do it anyway.

Then they cluster together, presumably because they’re co-workers or peers of some sort. Or maybe they just belong to the same cult.

Either way, they end up looking like the love children of Oompa Loompas and Mr. Clean, in business suits.

Item The Second: In January, the US first class postal rate went from 46¢ to 49¢. Most of us don’t even realize it happened because 99% of the stamps the USPOD has sold for several years are the “Forever” stamps, good for whatever the first class rate happens to be when you use them.

The USPOD touts this as a great thing and when rates are going up they urge everyone to buy a bunch at the older, lower rate so they can have them and save the extra couple of cents until your stockpile runs out.

But that assumes that the rates are always going to go up. That’s a pretty solid assumption in general — have the rates ever gone down? But this time, the Postal Commission decreed that the increase was temporary, and in three years the rates must go back down to 46.

I wouldn’t bet on that happening, but assuming for the moment that it does, will everyone get their three cents per stamp back on all of the “Forever” stamps they have, or will the USPOD just pocket all that money?

I guess it’s only fair if they do since they’ve eaten the difference when rates have gone up. Plus, it’s not like we’re talking a ton of money. Businesses all use postage machines, it’s just the little guys like you and me who buy stamps (how archaic!), and most of us have, what? Maybe a roll of 100 stamps at most, probably just a sheet of 20 (partially used). So we’re talking 60¢ to $3.00 or so per household? Except $2.00 a household times 115,226,802 households is a $230,457,604 windfall…

My brain wonders about things like this. It’s possible that it’s broken.

Item The Third: We were watching the US vs. Turkey “friendly” soccer match this last weekend and for kicks we were watching Univision, the Spanish language network. Their announcers are much more fun to listen to when a goal is scored, regardless of who scores it. Despite our command of the language gained by twelve weeks of community college conversational Spanish last year (non-graded, one class a week, no homework, and we bailed on about a third of the classes), we weren’t picking up more than one word in a hundred, and feeling grateful for that one word.

When that got old (and discouraging) we switched over to ESPN, where they had (I think) an English announcer and an Irish announcer.

We didn’t do any better understanding them.

Item The Fourth: In baseball these days it’s a thing for everyone on the home team to have “walk-on music” which plays as they walk up to the plate to bat, or for relief pitchers as they run in from the bullpen. This practice has gotten some attention recently when some players chose some rather unconventional music samples.

Usually you will hear something rock and roll, pop, rap, or maybe country. “Enter Sandman,” “Welcome To The Jungle,” something from Led Zeppelin, “Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy,” whatever. There have been practical jokes where some players will bribe the guys running the PA system to play the “wrong” music for a teammate, using a tune from a kid’s TV show or something, but that’s a one-time thing for laughs.

Recently, Josh Reddick of the Oakland Athletics has changed his walk-on music to Wham’s “Careless Whisper.” This has gotten quite a bit of attention, as well as a bit of a cult following with the Oakland fans. It’s not so clear that it’s helped his batting — a quick perusal of today’s MLB American League stats doesn’t show him anywhere in the top forty in any batting category.

But it’s bizarre and unusual, and I like that.

Item The Fifth: When shooting pictures of the lunar eclipse in April, one thing I noticed was that many pictures were blurry due to motion of the camera when the shutter was triggered. With the simple setup I was using I’ll never get rid of that entirely, but there are steps that can be taken to minimize the worst of it.

In particular, a lot of the vibration and motion comes when you physically push down on the button on the camera to take the picture. This gets worse the longer the exposure is, because on most cameras you have to keep holding the button down for as long as you want the shutter open. Needless to say, no matter how careful and steady you try to be, your hand is wiggling and so is the camera.

On a DSLR (as opposed to a point & shoot or smartphone camera) there are other ways to trigger the shutter. I knew that there were remote controls which plug into the camera electronically, and trigger the camera via a radio transmitter. Sort of like a garage door opener, only it takes the picture instead.

Especially for astrophotography, this is extremely useful since it will eliminate all of the vibration and blur caused when you physically touch the camera while taking the picture. A good radio remote control trigger also lets you do things like set up the camera on the roof and then remotely trigger it when you hear the raccoons rampaging about up there.

I thought that these things were hundreds of dollars and I really didn’t want to spend that kind of money right now. But, catching the assumption in my calculation, I was pleased to see that they’re under $20 from China via mail order. Who knew?

That’s one of the reasons the ISS transit pictures were so steady, I’m using the new toy to trigger the exposures. Next, the raccoons!

Item The Sixth: So, what would your walk-on music be? I’ll let you know my thoughts on mine in the next “Odds & Sods”. I would love to hear your thoughts about what you would pick (and why) in the comments.

 

 

 

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Filed under Astronomy, Critters, Los Angeles, Music, Odds & Sods, Photography, Politics, Sports

Odds & Sods For Friday, April 25th

Item The First: The following tweet from CNN is offered as proof that President Obama reads this blog:

2014-04-24 Proof That Obama Reads My BlogIt’s obvious. I post pictures about my visit to Gyeongbok Palace (here and here) and the next thing you know, Air Force One is in Seoul and the President’s getting a tour. Since coincidence = causation, ipso facto, the President reads this blog. (Mr. President, give me a call at your convenience, I’ve got a few thoughts on planetary exploration and the NASA budget that I would like to discuss.)

Item The Second: When I talked about the Hugo Award nominations a few days ago I mentioned that some of the nominees might require some effort to track down, being published in places I don’t normally read. I had forgotten that since 2006, many (if not most, or all) of the literary nominees are available in electronic form to all eligible voters.

Of course, this year the twist is the inclusion of “The Wheel Of Time” novels (all fourteen of them) as a Best Novel nominee. People were wondering how that would be handled, whether or not they would include one novel or just not include any. Instead Tor has decided to include all of them.

That may or may not have any bearing on whether or not other works are included (it’s at the discretion of the author and publisher) but it instantly guarantees a new record for the number of Supporting Memberships for a Worldcon.

It works like this — you get the package of e-books and stories if you’re eligible to vote for the Hugo Awards. You’re eligible to vote if you’re either an Attending Member or a Supporting Member of the convention. Anyone can join. An Attending Membership is currently $205 (and the price will increase in July) and lets you attend pretty much anything at the five-day convention. (We won’t be going unless we win the lottery or something, a fact which displeases me. I really love going to Worldcon!) So if you’re going to be or can be in London in August, get an Attending Membership and have the time of your life!

If you can’t go, you can get a Supporting Membership for $40 (which will also increase in July) and while it doesn’t let you get into the convention, it does let you:

  • get a copy of the program book and other publications
  • vote on where Worldcon will be in 2016 (currently Kansas City and Beijing are competing for the bid)
  • vote on the Hugo Awards, which in turn means that you…
  • …get the books & stories in the voter’s packet.

Let’s do some quick math. The fourteen “Wheel Of Time” books currently are available in the Apple store for a total of $94.86. (For the sake of argument I’m leaving out the one prequel novel, but for all I know Tor might be including it as well.) “Ancillary Justice” is $8.99, “Neptune’s Brood” is $10.99, “Parasite” is $9.99, and “Warbound: Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles” is $9.99. That’s the potential for $134.82 worth of novels for $40, plus (potentially) many of the best novellas, novelettes, and short stories of 2013, plus voting rights for the Hugos and 2016 site selection, plus the convention program book and other publications.

Now do we see why they’re going to be flooded with $40 supporting memberships?

Item The Third: This is what I have snoring on my left most of the day when I’m at my desk in my home office:

Joey_smallWhen the hummingbirds start hovering outside she gets a bit agitated.

Item The Fourth: The Beijing vs. Kansas City vote for the 2016 Worldcon Site Selection will be a tough one for me. I had an extremely good time on my one visit to China (Shanhai) and would love to go back to see Beijing. (If at all possible we never just go into town for the convention and then boogie back out. We always try to spend at least a few days to visit and see the sights.)

On the other hand, I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas (my elementary school years) and still have many things that I love about the city. (Chiefs! Chiefs! Chiefs!) It will certainly be a lot cheaper to get to KC than Beijing. That could decide it for a majority of US voters — but China’s a really great visit, so don’t rule it out, guys!

Then for the 2017 site selection, there are already bids for Japan, Montreal, Helsinki, and Washington, DC. Tough choice!  I also had a fantastic time on my visit to Kyoto, Japan (we’ll get to those pictures after the Korean pictures) and would love to see the country again. I’ve never been to Scandinavia, so Helsinki would be incredible. Washington, DC is one of my favorite cities on the planet, and I haven’t been there in over thirty years. As for Montreal, it’s okay, but we’ve been there, gotten robbed there, been there again.

Item The Fifth: This is what I have farting on my right most of the day when I’m at my desk in my home office:

jessie_smallShe loves her “desk cave”, but the semi-enclosed area tends to trap the odors. I’ve thought about putting in a fan and a venting system to the outside, but I fear that the neighbors over on that side would (justifiably) demand an Environmental Impact Report, which we would probably fail. Look at all the problems the Sriracha factory is having in Irwindale.

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Odds & Sods For Sunday, April 6th

Item The First: The Norwegian word for “skydiving” is “fallskjermhopperen“? The story is great enough all by itself, wonderful video, one in a trillion chance and all of that, but I’m really loving that word. It’s like a Muppets episode with the Swedish chef (I know, I know, Norwegian is not Swedish) on steroids. Now if I just knew how to pronounce it.

Item The Second: Yeah, nothing to worry about here. And I’m really not. (Much.) On the other hand, being a big fan of Mira Grant’s Newsflesh Trilogy, the backstory of which starts with everyone ignoring and downplaying the news about a new plague, there’s always this teeny-weeny little bit of nagging doubt stuck away in the corner of your brain, sort of like a burr from a weed buried deep in the fur of a shaggy dog. Nah! Ignore me. The CDC wouldn’t lie to us. (Wait, isn’t that…) Couldn’t be. Don’t worry. It’s nothing. Really. Move along.

Item The Third: There was a brief moment of panic (well, at least concern) when I realized that starting tonight, “Cosmos” and “Game Of Thrones” are on at the same time. We’ll be watching “Cosmos”, in part because it’s just on the once (plus being available on demand) where GoT is on about eighty times (plus being available on demand) before next week’s episode. Also, The Long-Suffering Wife and I didn’t quite get done watching Season Three of GoT on disc before the start of Season Four tonight. Almost, not quite. There’s something that happens in the next-to-last episode of Season Three that I’m really not looking forward to watching… (Ssssh, she hasn’t read the books yet.)

Item The Fourth: I’ve ranted the praises of Amanda Palmer here before, and I’ll do it again, but today I’ll highly recommend to everyone her new blog post. If you think that Twitter is just a toy used by teens and tweens to broadcast details of what they had for breakfast, read how she sees it enabling artists to interact and contact their audiences.

Item The Fifth: There are two total lunar eclipses this year, both very well suited to be visible from almost all of North America, a very rare occurrence.  The second one is on the night of October 8th to 9th — you’ve got plenty of time to plan. The first one however, is on the night of April 15th to 16th, just nine days from now. You may safely assume that we’ll be talking about this in the upcoming week, with some information on how to watch and how to photograph it (should that be your wont). But you can start checking the weather and thinking about a good place to see it from now.

Item The Sixth: Another blog that I’ve discovered and been reading for a while is Jim Wright’s Stonekettle Station. The man truly has a way with words, and he’s got the background to back up what he’s talking about. Highly recommended.

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Odds & Sods For Tuesday, March 25th

Item The First: On the second episode of the new “Cosmos” series, Neil deGrasse Tyson opened the lesson on evolution by talking about how humans had artificially bred dogs from wolves. In talking about this, he pointed out that we have bred for cuteness in addition to breeding for utility. When The Long-Suffering Dog sits in “The Desk Cave” (she loves it under there when I’m working), I’m wondering if we can breed for dogs that fart less? And can we please do it quickly?

Item The Second: Again we’ve gotten so blase about manned spaceflight. I tuned in on NASA-TV tonight at 19:25 expecting a show to start at 19:30 with live coverage of the Expedition 39/40 crew docking with the International Space Station. Instead I saw that they were already live and a lot of folks were huddled in groups around Mission Control. This is never good.

As we now thing we know, there was just a problem with the third delta-V burn needed to match orbits with ISS, so the burn was cancelled and that meant an abort of the “express” six-hour rendezvous flight plan. The failure scenario o the six-hour flight plan is the old, tired-and-true two-day flight plan. Everyone’s fine, the launch was flawless, there’s no indication that it’s anything other than some sort of software error.

But it was startling how quickly my brain went into “Apollo 1,” “Apollo 13,” “Challenger,” “Columbia” mode.

Item The Third: My Twitter feed is full of comments tonight from planetary scientists and the like (@elakdawalla, @PlanetDr, @Alex_Parker, @RonBaalke) about a news article that’s been released early. I guess there’s a major announcement coming out tomorrow from ESO. I’m assuming they’re talking about the European Southern Observatory instead of the Elder Scrolls Online, but I might be wrong.

Anyway, a couple of media places have released the embargoed story early. A part of the response, a new Twitter hashtag has been born, and it’s pretty funny. Check out #ESOrumors to see what I’m talking about. For example, @mcnees said “Hey no biggie, and totally just out of curiosity, but exactly how many nuclear missiles do we have?” @danielg1905 suggested, “Stronomers: ‘We’re not saying it was aliens . . . but it was aliens.”

Item The Fourth: Speaking of “Cosmos,” it has upset a number of fundamentalist groups that claim that Fox owes them “equal time” to talk about “intelligent design” if “Cosmos” is going to give a “one-sided” view of the arguments on evolution. A few thoughts:

  • This isn’t a political campaign, you have no right to “equal time.”
  • Hypothetically and parenthetically, if you were to win “equal time,” would you in turn be forced to give “equal time” to scientists and rational thinkers as part of every television program put on by some megachurch evangelist (i.e., blackmailing for dollars)?
  • Get over the “evolution is just a theory” argument! All it does is prove that you have no idea what the definition of “theory” means in a scientific discussion. Evolution is a “theory” the same way that gravity is and radioactive decay is. If you still don’t believe or understand, go jump off of a tall cooling tower into the core of a nuclear power plant. Enlightenment will await.
  • Not only are you not entitled to “equal time,” neither are the Flat Earth Society, the Ptolemaic fundamentalists who still believe in epicycles, the Mayan fundamentalists who believe that human sacrifice appeases the sun gods, or the Hindu fundamentalists who think that the Earth is carried around the sun on the back of a giant turtle. It doesn’t matter how big of a turtle they find. (Although, to be fair, if they could find a turtle the size of Saturn or Jupiter, I would be happy to accept at least the possibility that their theory was relevant. But can you imagine how much lettuce that turtle would eat?)

Item The Fifth: It’s so neat that our space program has taught all of us space cadets how to spell “r-e-n-d-e-z-v-o-u-s”. Is that a great spinoff, or what?

Item The Sixth: Someone the other day wanted to draw me into a political argument, and it was an argument, not a discussion. I wasn’t taking the bait, but after being pressed a bit I put it this way: “I hate all politicians these days. I don’t trust a single one of them, either party, local, county, state, or federal. On a scale of one to ten, I hate the Democrats about a twelve. You just think I’m a ‘liberal’ because I hate the Republicans about a thirteen.”

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Filed under Astronomy, Dogs, Odds & Sods, Politics, Space

Odds & Sods For Friday, January 31st

Item The First: I can’t be the only one wondering where in hell January went, can I?

Item The Second: As long as I’m in a cranky old fart mood, why is it that May Company always has “One-Day Only!” sales, “this Saturday…with a preview day on Friday.” I may have to use my fingers to count, but that’s two days, not one. Shouldn’t it be a “Two-Day Sale?” Somebody needs to grab their marketing folks by the lapels and give them a good talking to. Or maybe we should do that to the shoppers who fall for that particular little bit of stupidity masquerading as “marketing”.

Item The Third: Weep for our society. Here’s why. I was buying a soda and a snack at the gas station. It came to $2.80. I handed a $5 bill to the young lady behind the counter. She accidentally hit the “$10” key on the lowest-common denominator cash register. First issue — do we really have to have cash registers that don’t have the numbers zero through nine, but just buttons for $1, $5, $10, and $20? What’s next, buttons that just have pictures of the president on the bill because those number thingies are really hard? What if you bought $53.17 worth of gas and paid cash? Do they have to call a supervisor?

Anyway, ow the register display says she owes me $7.20 change. She knows that can’t be right — but she can’t figure out what the correct answer is! (I swear, I couldn’t make this up.) She can’t figure out “$5.00 minus $2.80 equals $2.20.” She can’t figure out “I hit the button that’s ten dollars instead of five dollars, so subtract five dollars from the answer the cash register is showing.” She’s holding $7.20 in change (a $5 bill, two $1 bills, and two dimes) in her hand, and can’t figure out “Put the $5 bill back in the drawer.”

She finally solved it — she put everything down and pulled out an electronic calculator to do the math, one of those little plastic, solar powered ones.

Weep for our society.

Item The Fourth: I love watching the astronauts on ISS doing live interviews with school kids. Interviews with most reporters, not so much, and television reporters and talk-show hosts are the worst. (Hint: Most of the grade school kids ask more knowledgeable and intelligent questions than the reporters.) But that’s not the point here. I noticed this week while watching some of these live interviews that the US astronauts are wearing belts with their pants. Why do you need a belt in microgravity? Your pants most certainly are not going to fall down. Is there a wedgie ninja on the ISS?

Item The Fifth: This last Monday the rate for first-class mail in the United States rose from 46¢ to 49¢. The Postal Commission has decreed that this increase will only be in effect for about two years, until the post office can recover the revenue it lost during the recession. Then, in 2016, postal rates will go back down to 46¢ according to their plan.

Show of hands — how many people think that the rates will ever, ever really go back down? Anyone?

Item The Sixth: Here in Los Angeles, and I assume in most other markets, starting at about 4 AM every day we get local news on six or seven channels and everyone has a slew of folks who are upbeat, chipper, and cheerful. I can’t speak for the men with that gig, but I’ve noticed that a fair percentage of the women appear to be single (i.e., they’re not wearing wedding rings). I don’t see any way that it’s because they aren’t good looking, and I doubt that it can be completely explained by the fact that they get up to go to work at 2:15 AM every day, although that can’t help. Nope, I’m convinced that it’s because they are upbeat, chipper, and cheerful at 4 AM! Such an attitude is unnatural and these folks must all be mutants or Communist agents or aliens of some sort. Anyone who is naturally chipper before 7 AM should be treated with great suspicion and considered to be a threat until proven otherwise.

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Odds & Sods For Wednesday, November 27th

Item The First: Should it be “The Long Suffering Wife” or “The Long-Suffering Wife”? I’ve been going with the former, but someone suggested that could be construed as her being “nine feet tall and suffering” as opposed to “suffering for a long time”. Now, I would think that “The Long, Suffering Wife” would be “nine feet tall and suffering” and that no hyphen is necessary. Punctuation is important, you know. (Ask Grandma tomorrow when the kid either yells “It’s time to eat Grandma!” or “It’s time to eat, Grandma!”)

Item The Second: I have been known at times to rant about the “freakin’ idiots” of the world, and this often targets politicians and our legal system. (Sorry, I’m not the one who invented the system. If politicians and lawyers would like to stop being highlighted as freakin’ idiots, they’re free to stop doing freakin’ stupid things any time they want. But I digress.)

Having gone off at the mouth about some of the bad things I see, it’s time to highlight a good thing that caught my eye. NPR has an article (and I went hunting and found a more detailed article at the Chicago Tribute) about a couple in Illinois that’s being allowed to get married immediately, rather than being forced to wait until June, 2014 when the new Illinois law allowing same-sex marriages goes into effect. Their circumstances are extreme, and tragic, and I think we should all congratulate the judge, US District Judge Thomas Durkin, for making a ruling that demonstrates compassion and common sense.

Item The Third: I understand why are there television shows that start with a voice-over and a card that says, “This show is a work of fiction and is not in any way based on any actual person or event”. (Hint, it rhymes with “too many lawyers”.) What I don’t understand is why they do that after the previous two hours of sitcoms have had teaser commercials for the show at least once every half hour and every single one of them screams “AN EPISODE RIPPED FROM TODAY’S HEADLINES!” Doesn’t that by definition mean that either the marketing department or the legal department is lying? (Yes, you get extra credit if you immediately pointed out the excellent odds that both of them are lying.)

Item The Fourth: The last two days NASA-TV has been running live interviews where NASA folks (astronauts, scientists, researchers, etc) have been going through these long series of one broadcast interview after another being done and recorded. On Tuesday it was scientists from Goddard being interviewed about Comet ISON, on Wednesday it was interviews about what the astronauts eat on ISS for Thanksgiving.

I understand that TV news anchors and personalities are no longer hired for having the same journalistic chops as Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley. They’re hired because they look good in front of a camera and can be pleasant on command. This leads to a fair number of them who appear to be unable to recite the alphabet without a teleprompter. It’s never more clear than when they’re doing these interviews. Leading off with statements like, “There are three people in space right now, one American and two Russians” is not only blatantly incorrect, it’s hideously lazy journalism. How hard is it to go the the NASA website, or simply type “Who is on ISS right now?” into Google to get a dozen correct answers. (Like, here, and it’s currently six people, which breaks down as three Russians, two Americans, and one Japanese.)  You can do that on your phone, for crying out loud! I commend the various NASA personnel being interviewed for not spending their entire interview correcting the stupid things said.

That having been said, is there an astronaut training course called “1,001 Ways To Say ‘That’s A Great Question'”? You hear it when they’re doing interviews in the studio, on orbit, from Houston, or at a public event like a Google + Hangout. They say it whether they’re talking to the president, a reporter, or a fifth-grader. They say it on every, single, freakin’ question asked! Is there a Department Of That’s A Great Question at NASA? (I rant, but I still love NASA and the astronauts and the scientists, would kill to work with them.)

Item The Fifth: Tomorrow is do-or-die day for Comet ISON as it slingshots around the sun, only 730,000 miles above the solar surface. (For reference, that’s only about three times the distance between the Earth and the moon.) That qualifies it as a “sun grazer” and it will be the point where it’s most likely to shatter into pieces or simply evaporate. The astronomers who have been tracking Comet ISON think it’s big enough to survive and come around the other side toward Earth (it can’t hit us, even if it falls apart, closest approach will be over forty million miles away), which will at least give it a chance to be spectacular in December.

The reports it might be “as bright as the full moon!” are total nonsense and always have been. There have been comets that have been bright enough to be seen in daylight and some early estimates thought Comet ISON had the potential to do it, but now it doesn’t seem that will happen. But for the last week or ten days it has been visible to the naked eye as it approached the sun, and there are some truly spectacular photographs out there on the Internet. Assuming it survives, once it comes around the other side of the sun it will start to be visible before dawn and by mid-December it will have gone far enough north that it will “circumpolar”, which means it will be visible all night long for northern hemisphere viewers. (Sorry, southern hemisphere folks!)

Tomorrow, despite it being Thanksgiving in the US, there will be a lot of astronomers skipping the turkey and monitoring Comet ISON’s progress. You can do it as well online (you can’t see it yourself, it’s right next to the sun, you’ll go blind, use common sense) since NASA will be having a Google + Hangout from 13:00 to 15:30 EST, 10:00 to 12:30 PST. (Perihelion is at 13:25 EST, 10:25 PST.) You can send in questions via Twitter, or you can just watch as the satellite images come down (here‘s the latest one, with Comet ISON approaching the sun from about the 4:00 position) and see what happens.

If you want to know more, there are hundreds of articles and news stories online — I recommend you start here, with Emily Lakdawalla’s excellent live blog on The Planetary Society’s website.

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