Saturday, April 12, 2014

Dogs and ham

One of Leonore's language students brings her incredibly cute little dog with her. The dog makes a beeline for me because I always greet her with a treat — a rolled up smoked mozzarella and proscuitto delight from Costco. What dog wouldn't like that?

Well, maybe a Moslem or Jewish dog. But dogs are considered unclean by Moslems, so maybe there are no Moslem dogs. There are certainly Jewish ones (leaving aside the whole circumcision thing).

An old insult for Jews in Medieval England — or at least, in historical novels — was "dog of a Jew". I guess a Jewish dog would be a Jew of a dog.

Today's rambling thoughts brought to you by Working on Taxes, 2014 edition.

Friday, April 04, 2014

MPAD Memoirs

Which would be a nifty title, but I don't know what the title will be.

MPAD = Mission Planning and Analysis Division, simply the utterly most important and core part of what was then NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center (later renamed Johnson Space Center) in (south of) Houston. (Others who worked there, but not in MPAD, might disagree.) (They'd be wrong.)

Recently, a former MPAD coworker of mine from the days of the Apollo Project contacted me to say he was interviewing people who worked at MPAD at the time of the moon landings. He's my age and also retired, and he drives around the country quite a bit. He arranges his trips so that he can drive through the cities his old colleagues (and we are all old!) now live in and interview them. Once all the interviews are done, he'll figure out how to weave them together with the story of Apollo. The result will be a fairly substantial book.

He was in Denver yesterday, and we had a very nice and quite long meeting. Mostly, he was interviewing me about my life before, during, and after Apollo, but we also spent some of the time talking about the other people who were in MPAD back then. He'll probably want me produce the e-book and print versions of the book and design the cover.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

It’s not the Christian Bible, damn it

It's silly of me to be annoyed by this, given that I'm an atheist. Nonetheless it annoys me considerably.

Thanks to the Noah movie and to today's date*, there has been a spurt of references to the Bible in the online places I frequent. I keep seeing the Flood and Psalms, both in the Old Testament, referred to as being in the Christian Bible.

No, sirree. They're in the Old Testament, a.k.a. the Hebrew Bible.** The fact that Christians have incorporated the OT into their religion is irrelevant. Moslems have incorporated much of the OT and the NT into their religion, too, but that doesn't make those two books part of the Koran.***


* I'm referring, of course, to the obnoxious "joke" that today is atheism's holiday because "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God."

** Yeah, yeah, I know, Pentateuch. As far as I'm concerned, the whole shebang counts.

*** Maybe it does to Moslems, who I gather consider the OT prophets and Jesus to be Moslems, but that's just weird, and I haven't encountered any Moslems in the online places I was referring to.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Continuum’s Height Problem

I like the TV show Continuum and its twisty time-travel switcheroos. I'm always a sucker for those, in any show. I wonder how the various mysteries will be resolved, assuming they are all resolved when the show finishes its run. But the one mystery that I find annoying rather than intriguing is Alec Sadler's height.

In the present, he's about 20 years old. He's shorter than almost everyone else, including Kiera. In scenes set in the future, he's in his mid-eighties. Unless future medicine has solved the problem of people getting shorter in old age, he would have lost some height since his max height. But he still towers over almost everyone, including Kiera. Maybe growth spurts happen after 20, but they must be rare.

There are other time travelers, besides Kiera, and none of them seems unusually tall or short compared to people of today or the future. So unless travel itself does something weird to people's heights, Alec's height is a msytery.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thor Didn’t Thunder, and Oblivion Should Not Have Been Consigned to Oblivion

I keep a lookout for the cable appearances of big-budget sf/f/h movies that I skipped in the theaters. Then I record them to watch while exercising.

After watching such a recording, I sometimes regret that I didn't see it on the big screen, but more often I'm glad that I saved the money and time. I can’t say what effect watching a movie while grappling with a heavy weight has on my judgment, but presumably if it does induce a bias, the bias is the same for all of the movies I watch while exercising.

Recently, I watched Thor and Oblivion this way. Because of how the two performed in theaters, I assumed I’d like Thor and would not like Oblivion. It was the other way around.

Thor’s big budget shows. The sets are lavish (but at the same time absurd and laughable in the Asgard scenes) and the CGI is impressive. But the action scenes are murky, and it’s hard to see what’s supposed to be happening. The scenes begin as set pieces, then there’s some stylized movement and much blurred stuff, followed by a set-piece resolution. The acting is adequate, but the dialog ranges from dull to silly to — in the Asgard scenes — embarrassing. There’s little to the movie. It’s better looking and acted than the awful imitation that appeared on the SyFy Channel but just as empty and aimed at the same pubescent audience. Thor’s box-office success is depressing and disappointing.

Oblivion is a very different matter. It also had a big budget, but that budget was put to better use. The CGI is excellent (albeit with one brief exception) and the sets are completely believable. The acting is quite good, and that includes Tom Cruise, who for decades now has been in the unfortunate and puzzling position of having to keep proving his acting ability. One big problem with the movie is the idea that clones, despite being complete human beings with the normal human range of emotions and needs, are interchangeable when it comes to love. The other problem is that the story line is a combination of a number of stale, old science fiction plots instead of something original. But they have been sewn together competently, and the result is entertaining and believable. I imagine that for audience members who haven’t read much sf, it all seems brilliantly original. The movie deserved much better treatment at the box office, and it certainly should have been a far greater success than Thor.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Blogging about Atheism & Reading about Atheism: The Atheist Blogroll

I started this blog in September 2006.

At the time, I planned to use it write about my writing. In part, I thought it would act as a spur to make me write more because I’d be reporting on my writing progress and I’d be embarrassed to have to report how little I had written. Hence the title and the quote from Trollope at the top. That doesn’t seem to have worked too well. If it had, I’d have written quite a few more books in the last seven and a fraction years than I have.

On the other hand, I came to see the blog as a convenient place to express my opinions about all sorts of things — books, politics, movies, petty annoyances, major annoyances, etc. Of those, the posts that seem to get the most attention are the negative reviews of popular movies. Here I am, trying to set the world right with my insights and wisdom, and the strongest responses I get are hostile ones from people who call me names for trashing a movie they loved. It has been a source of great joy to me. I must make an effort to see more bad popular movies.

But that’s all beside the point.

One topic I don’t blog about (not often, maybe not ever) is atheism or the related topics of religious belief and church-state separation. That’s odd, because atheism has been an extremely important part of my life, and I have strong opinions on separation, strong enough to be offensive to some of my fellow atheists. For example, an essay of mine titled Should Atheists Celebrate Christmas? has earned me more hostile responses from atheists than from theists. (Probably because it’s not so much an attack on the silliness of Christmas as it is upon the silliness of atheists who celebrate it.)

That’s not to say I don’t read atheist blogs. When such blogs started appearing, years ago, I began following them eagerly. The number of such blogs has exploded in recent years, and I haven’t been able to keep up. I still follow the ones I became aware of early on, but I can only sample the others from time to time. Other than following links from blogs, how is one to find the pool to dip into?

A brave blogger named Mojoey has taken up the task. He maintains a blog called The Atheist Blogroll. He vets the blogs he includes, and he removes inactive ones. (This blog, A Blister to My Eye, is now included in his blogroll.) I expect to use his blogroll to discover good blogs to follow. Just not too many, I hope.

I do plan to blog more about atheism, religion, separation, and related topics in the future.

Partly, this is because they are more on my mind than ever as Leonore and I spend more time working on our book about our atheism, which we hope to have done and published before the end of 2014.

Partly it’s because those topics are never far from my mind, no matter what book I’m writing, and I have strong opinions on those topics, and this is my blog, and it’s where I express those strong opinions in strong terms.

I just remembered reading that there will be a flood of big-budget religious movies coming out this year, including one about the Flood. I wasn’t planning to see any of them, but now I think I will — not because I’ll like them, but because I’ll hate them, and it will be a fine opportunity to combine blog posts slamming religion and bad popular movies at one and the same time.

The comments should be fun.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Here’s how badly Colorado’s secession movement failed

In yesterday’s election, 11 Colorado counties voted on whether they wanted to secede from Colorado and form a new state, North Colorado, a.k.a TeaPartyGunNutFrackitupiStan.

Not all the votes have been counted, but the results so far show that five of those counties voted solidly in favor of secession, while the other six voted just as solidly against it.

Some people have fallen for the standard Republican trick of analyzing voting results in terms of square miles. In this case, that sleazy trick becomes comparing numbers of counties on one side vs. numbers on the other. When you look at it that way, you might think that secession is a powerful force out here in the Mountain West where men are men and fracking injections are wonderful for the environment. Five counties want to secede! And all of them are filled with sunburned, Stetson-wearin’, squinty-eyed, gun-totin’ manly men. Also their wives and hosses and little cowboys and cowgals.

Wal, hold on a jest minute there, buckaroo.

I put the latest election results I could find into a spreadsheet and did some simple arithmetic. Not all of the vote counts are final, but I should think they’re fairly close to complete by now.

Here’s what I found.

If you add up all the Yes and No votes in the 11 counties, you get 91,377 votes cast. We only had two state-wide issues on yesterday’s Colorado ballot, so I chose one of them, Amendment 66 (which failed, damn it), as a way to get the total statewide vote cast yesterday. The Yes and No votes on Amendment 66 total 1,268,889. That means that the total number of Yes and No voters in the 11 counties voting on secession only amounted to 7.2% of the total statewide vote. Hmm. Lotsa square miles out there on that rolling, highly frackable prairie, but not a lot of voters.

Now, if you add up all of the No votes in the 11 counties — i.e., the votes against secession — you get 50,293. All the Yes votes add up to 41,084. As percentages of the 91,377 votes cast on the secession issue, that gives you a vote of 55% to 45% against secession.

I call that a resounding defeat.