Do you like watches? I like watches.

Before I was absorbed into Apple Watch Borg, I was a longtime devotee of mechanical wristwatches. There’s something beautiful about them; a mechanical movement is the culmination of tech first used hundreds of years ago. A clockmaker from the 17th century could look inside my Omega and recognize the techniques even if he wouldn’t be able to understand how we got the device so small. It’s a lovely, lovely thing.

But most people have no real idea how they work beyond “uh, I wind it and it keeps time.” I sure hope you are just as delighted as I was when you look over, and hopefully read, this spectacular explainer about how mechanical watches work. It demystifies words like “escapement,” and details clearly, from a very simple and easily understood baseline, how a watch works.

Make time. This is what the web is FOR.

(As a bonus, allow me to point out some other topics the author has given the same treatment — it’s amazing. Gears! Cameras and lenses! GPS! The internal combustion engine! It’s deep-dive paradise! Creating these beautiful, interactive pieces is a hobby for the author, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider becoming a patron anyway. It’s beautiful work, well done, and authoritative, that helps explain the complex topics around us. In this, he makes the world a better place.)

Your Long-Awaited 2022 MS150 Recap!

FRIENDS!

Over the weekend, I completed my TENTH MS150 ride to end Multiple Sclerosis. I say that, and it’s true that this is the tenth time I’ve been REGISTERED for this ride, but the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have had their way with this event over the years. To wit:

  • 2013: YEAR ONE. I ride a two-day event ending in downtown Austin, but I do it SLOW because I am FAT.
  • 2014: Sure, why not do it again? I’m a little slimmer but still very slow. My team masses up just outside downtown to roll across the finish line together, which is EXHILARATING but also a giant PITA for our friends and family waiting at the ACTUAL finish.
  • 2015: The weather conspires to take the first day of the event, which is fine because I do not ride, owing to certain medical misadventures, but I still raise money — by now, the mission of the event has taken root in my head, and so fundraising tops $5,000.
  • 2016: Participation on the weekend is lower because of threatening weather, but my team saddles up for day 1, the hundred mile route into La Grange. Day 2 is cancelled during Saturday’s ride, which (unfortunately?) opens the door for a seriously epic bash in the campground. Fun was had, but the hangovers were definitely earned.
  • 2017: AT LAST a return to the two-day ride plan! We didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the last ride to finish in downtown Austin.
  • 2018: I’m a lot stronger, which is fun, and my pals and I knock out the first day in a hair over 5 hours. Day 2 ends at Circuit of the Americas, a huge Formula 1 track outside Austin. This is NOT a great endpoint, but any port in a storm.
  • 2019: COTA again, but by now acknowledged as a stopgap. This is my strongest two-day effort, and the only time I felt up to doing the “challenge” route through the state park outside Bastrop. I’m really bummed about that — I probably could’ve done it in ’17 and ’18, but confidence is a bitch sometimes.
  • 2020: The ORIGINAL plan for the 2020 ride, released in late 2019, was a reimagining of day 2 entirely. The day one routes and endpoint (La Grange) work well and were retained, but day 2 would bring the ride back east and forsake Austin for College Station. Texas A&M was VERY welcoming, and set up a plan for riders to finish ON KYLE FIELD. The logistics of ending this event in a place like that, which was already engineered to entertain 100,000+ people, were VERY attractive. And then COVID happened. Initially, the ride was pushed to the fall and reduced to a one-day event going to College Station, but that was just wishful thinking. COVID eventually forced a full cancellation.
  • 2021: With COVID waning a bit, they tried to do the one-day College Station plan again, but weather eventually forced an 11th hour cancellation. Even so, I hit a personal best on fundraising of over $17,400.
  • 2022: Now, finally, we get the full two-day College Station plan. It was, by all accounts a HUGE success!

So if you’re keeping track, out of ten rides, I’ve actually done a 2-day effort only 6 times. Two we lost to due to COVID; one I sat out entirely for medical reasons; and once we lost day 2. Oh well!

So, Chet, how’d it go this year?
Great question! Let me tell you.
You ride a whole bunch! I’ll bet you just ate this up with a spoon, right?
Well, funny thing about that. It’s true I AM a pretty dedicated rider, and usually notch 100-140 miles in any given week including back-to-back efforts on the weekends, especially this time of year, and largely to prep for this event. But this time around, a crash back in March utterly derailed my training at a critical time. I lost several weeks of those back-to-back efforts, and came into the ride at a lower level of fitness than I wanted.
Wait. Crash? What?
Yeah, not a big deal in the larger scope of things — nothing broken, gnarly roadrash, sprained shoulder, etc — but I had to lay off a while. Had it been a month further back, it would’ve made all the difference.
Quit bitching. You did the ride, didn’t you?
Damn right. It was just harder than I expected.
Define “harder”?
Well, we still kept a solid pace though the start of the hills on day one, but it was slower than in prior years owing to (a) a shared lower fitness with my immediate cadre of pals and (b) the fact that 3 folks made the choice to do the ride on mountain bikes as training for an ultra-endurance event called Leadville later in the year. The gearing on those makes it VERY hard to maintain speeds that are not especially fast on a road bike, but owing to point (a) this was less of an issue.
Who are these weirdos you rode with?
Aha! There’s a picture! L to R: Your Humble Author; Amish Mechanic; Everyone’s Favorite Bulldozer Rep; She Who Questioned Her Choices A Bit; Person I Don’t Know Well Enough To Have A Funny Name For; The Charming Axis of Bradford & Cody; The Amazing Returning Cory. (It amuses me to note that there are 5 A&M degrees represented across only 8 folks, but one person is double dipping.)

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Ok, so then what?
Well, as expected, things got harder for me once the hills hit in Bellville, or about halfway. You can see the elevation graph below; that’s where the Hill Country starts. I am a flatlander, and I am 52 and mildly overweight, and so these are hard for me. But that’s not what made the day suck.

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What DID make the day suck?
Cramps. I am not, historically, a person who cramps up. I ride thousands of miles every summer in Houston’s tropical humidity and heat, and it really never comes up. I only recently started carrying salt-supplement tablets, and I mostly have them to give to OTHER people. I’m careful about on-bike hydration and nutrition — any long effort is at least partly an exercise in body chemistry; you MUST eat and drink a LOT to ride 100 miles — and so I figured this was a solved problem for me.

Around mile 60, it becamse clear that no, this was NOT a solved problem for me, and that the rest of the day was going to suck out loud.
That sounds bad.
Yeah, you’re not wrong. The weird thing is that, according to Strava for Day 1, I actually covered the second half of the ride in SLIGHTLY less time than I did in 2019. I have no idea how that could be true, because I felt like CRAP and could only occasionally really put my legs into it; most attempts at any real power would bring back the cramps. But I didn’t sag. I don’t sag.
What DIDN’T suck about the day?
The company. Even once I was mostly riding alone, I still ran into my friends on the regular — with the exception of the very HEAD end of folks, we weren’t THAT far apart on the route, and so we’d see each other at rest stops, or pass one another and start riding together again. The suck is ameliorated in good company.
I’ll bet it felt good to stop!
Absolutely, but in this case it was very much in the way that it feels good to stop smashing yourself in the head with a ball-peen hammer. I was so wrecked that I gave SERIOUS thought to bailing on day 2.
But did you die?
Reader, I did not in fact die. A coke, a beer, a giant jug of electrolyte recovery drink, and a huge plate of Mexican food led directly to about 10 hours sleep, and that helped a LOT. I wasn’t exactly bright eyed and bushy tailed by Sunday morning, but I was no longer in danger of quitting. After all, I had 70 donors watching me via LiveTrack!
So tell us about day 2.
Traditionally, day 1 of this ride, at least for stronger riders, is about seeing what they can do. Put your back into it, and drop the hammer, and test yourself. Day 2, on the other hand, is about riding with your teammates and friends, and for that I was GRATEFUL. I rolled out with a small set of pals — mostly the folks enumerated above — and we put some speed out for about 15-20 miles before a few of us decided to drop back and let the stronger ones surge ahead. That triad of folks — me, my pal Bruno, and Eric Cody from day 1 — really ended up doing most of the 80 miles into College Station in some flavor of together. Some of the time it was Bruno pulling me, and some of the time it was me and Bruno pulling Eric, but it was definitely cooperative.
Did the cramps come back?
NO, thank God. I had limited power until lunch, but figuring I was probably low on fuel we DID stop at the lunch stop and eat. We don’t normally do this — we skipped lunch on day 1, for example, as we nearly ALWAYS do — but on Sunday, I needed it. This made a huge difference for the back half of the day; I was finally able to put down a little power, and felt good about finishing the ride. Also, lunch pics with BRUNO and ELLENDROTT!

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Anything else?
Yeah, impromptu breaks helped, too.
“Impromptu?”
Yeah, the Society I guess lost the usual day-2 lunch sponsor (HEB), and as such had no drinks other than water or Gatorade at lunch. Eric and Bruno and I, though, REALLY REALY wanted (and had ANTICIPATED) a Coke. (You have NO idea how good a Coke can be on a hot day like that.) As luck would have it, a stopped freight train not long after lunch left us idle for a few minutes in front of a gas station, and so…

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Let’s talk about momentum
That’s where we find ourselves after the Cokes. We were over 50 miles into what we thought was an 80 mile day, so definitely on the downhill side. (Turns out, it was 85 miles, the extra 5 wasn’t on our radar until later.) Plus, the elevation gains for this ride were actually mostly behind us, which we knew, and which made us feel a LOT better.

Screen Shot 2022 05 03 at 11 23 57 AM

How about that finish?
It was, as expected, pretty damn awesome. A&M has every right to be proud here; they rolled out the red carpet for us. The ride literally finished on the football field. We did a “victory lap” around the field, and my name was announced (in my capacity as a top fundraiser) while Erin and other friends already finished cheered for me. That was pretty darn nice, and WAY better than the ending experience at either COTA or downtown Austin.

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And what about the REST?
Well, there is one other thing. This year, I topped $100,000 in lifetime fundraising for this event. If you’re reading this, there’s a very very good chance you’re a part of that. Your support means the world to me, and it WAS that support that kept me rolling when things were going poorly for me on Saturday. I thank you, and the Society thanks you.

Ken Paxton is a craven, evil, jackass

The new anti-trans opinion from the office of our criminally-indicted AG here in Texas directs the Texas Department of Child Protective Services to treat gender-affirming care as child abuse.

Caught in this fascist dragnet are innocent families doing their best to raise their children with love, including the Briggle family in Denton. The Briggles are interesting here because, in the wake of some bathroom bill nonsense 5 years ago, they invited Paxton to dinner on the theory that perhaps actually KNOWING some trans people might matter. He even came!

Spoiler: It did not matter to Paxton. It does not matter to Paxton that trans children are at DRASTICALLY higher risk for suicide and self harm. It does not matter to Paxton or Abbott or any Republican that steps like ones they’re taking INCREASE those risks. No, none of this matters to them because they do not actually care about trans people one way or another.

All they care about is riling up their increasingly reactionary and dangerous base. They need an inflammatory issue to drive voter turnout, and the vanishingly small minority that is the trans community is a convenient target.

This is, I think, even WORSE than them being simply bigoted assholes. I mean, I think they probably ARE bigoted assholes, too, but the absolutely craven and monstrous disregard for the lives of real, actual people here is breathtaking, and it has real-world consequences.

If you vote for this man, or any of his cronies, you are dead to me.

Our Increasingly Gibsonian Future: Robot Dogs Hunt Migrants at the Border

I am not kidding.

DHS’ choice of vendor sparked additional concern. While most police departments leased their pups from Boston Dynamics, which forbids customers weaponizing any of their tech, DHS chose Philadelphia-based Ghost Robotics. Late last year, the company debuted a version of its robot dogs equipped with long-range guns capable of hitting targets at a reported 1,200 meters.

OH NOES! WRONG MAGIC WORDS!

This is fucking hilarious:

A Catholic priest has resigned after a church investigation found he performed invalid baptisms throughout most of his more than 20-year career, according to Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix.

Father Andres Arango, who performed thousands of baptisms, would say, “We baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” But Olmsted explained the words “We baptize” should have been “I baptize” instead.

Apparently, as a result of the incorrect pronoun, God doesn’t consider these folks properly anointed, and the “victims” will need to get baptized again. BUT THERE’S MORE:

The error also means that because baptism is the first of the sacraments, some people will need to repeat other sacraments, according to the diocese webpage for frequently asked questions. CNN has reached out to the diocese for comment on other sacraments.

Grown adults in the United States are taking this seriously. Jesus wept.

Guess what? CSI is a lie.

That’s the takeaway from this well-sourced piece by Radley Balko that is entirely worth your time.

We’ve all seen stories, both in life and in fiction, about how bad guys got caught by fiber analysis, or bite analysis, or ballistics reports that conclusively prove that a given recovered bullet came from a specific gun, or whatnot. Turns out? None of that is backed by science, and when examined in blind tests the so-called pattern-matching experts tend not to do any better than a 50% accuracy rate. The root of the problem is that these “sciences” have typically been invented by law enforcement to achieve conviction, and those same organizations are DEEPLY unwilling to re-examine the accuracy of these kinds of evidence because, for them, convictions are FAR more important than anything so quotidian as justice.

The current exemplar of this attitude is the assistant general counsel of the FBI crime lab, a guy named Jim Agar, who is actively telling analysts

how to circumvent judges’ restrictions on unscientific testimony. He even suggests dialogue for prosecutors and analysts to recite if challenged. Most controversially, Agar advises analysts to tell judges that any effort to restrict their testimony to claims backed by scientific research is tantamount to asking them to commit perjury.

People are in PRISON over this stuff. People have been EXECUTED. It’s only been with the advent of DNA that the unreliability of pattern-matching evidence has really come to light, which is definitely good news — except one remaining are of pattern matching is not nearly as likely to be disproven by DNA: firearm tracing.

Guns work at a remove. You can shoot someone without being near enough to deposit DNA. And in the absence of DNA evidence to disprove an unethical prosecutor’s pattern-matching-backed theory, you might be up shit creek. Especially since, as the Agar memo shows, law enforcement organizations care far, far more about winning cases than they do about accuracy. Even at the FBI.

“We could be heroes.”

Take a moment today to remember Bowie, who would have turned 75 years old today. In retrospect, his passing two days after his 69th birthday in 2016 was the point at which everything turned to shit. Next came Prince, and after that, well, Trump and COVID.

There’s lots of ways to remember him. If you have to pick one, you can do a lot worse than “Heroes.”

Another great option is his final album, Blackstar, released on his birthday the year he died. At the time, I thought it was easily among his strongest albums, and the six intervening years have done nothing to change my mind. Listening to it now, understanding that he knew he was dying as he wrote those words, gives it a weight beyond the text.

“Public health is invisible when it works”

Hey, there IS good news re: COVID. Read here.

The tl;dr is that vaccines WORK, and that we probably got a break on omicron. But there’s data on both points that is reassuring.

Does this mean unmask and lick strangers? No, absolutely not. Just keep being careful, and the graphs will keep looking good.

GenX, drifting well past the midpoint

An unexpectedly sad aspect to the common activity of “whoa! I haven’t thought of $song in years… whatever happened to that band?” is, well, discovering someone who lived in your stereo at some point died a while back.

The first time I remember this happening was a year or so ago, when I randomly heard “How Bizarre” on the radio, and it stayed on my mind enough to Google OMC once I got home. I discovered that Pauly Fuemana, the frontman and singer from OMC, had died in 2010 of a degenerative nerve disease.

I was reminded of this after falling down the Google hole while listening to “Fade Into You” thanks to a BoingBoing post. The song was everywhere in the mid-90s, and honestly it’s never really gone away. Lots of folks probably think of Mazzy Star as a one-hit band, but they had much broader success — just nothing at the scale of “Fade” (but few songs are).

It remains beautiful and ethereal, thanks in part to Hope Sandoval‘s lyrics and delivery, but we ought not overlook her songwriting partner David Roback; all of Mazzy’s output is credited to her for lyrics and him for composition. Roback and Sandoval were the creative center of the band (which, we should note, released three albums AFTER So Tonight That I May See).

So here we are at the point of the post: David Roback — whose career included two other critically-acclaimed LA bands — died last February of metastatic cancer. BrooklynVegan has a roundup of musician responses, which will give you an idea of his influence and reach beyond Mazzy Star. He was 61.

Definitive Proof of the Dangers of Jam Band Music

Phish concert spreads COVID across the entire country.

Over Halloween weekend, the Vermont jam band Phish played a series of concerts in Las Vegas. Several days later, one attendee posted to Facebook that he had tested positive for COVID-19 — and more than 500 replied, most saying that they or someone they knew had also tested positive after attending the concert.

I’ve always thought that Phish a contagion, but this is not how I expected that to manifest.

Marty, just stop

Variety is reporting that Scorsese is planning to direct a Jerry Garcia biopic starring Jonah Hill.

  1. I mean, at least it’s not DeNiro.

  2. Maybe tell a story about something other than boomers.

  3. Realistically, what was the last great Scorsese film? Dude’s been phoning it in for a long time, despite the awards he gets because of the reputation he created with the undeniably great films of the 70s and 80s. I mean, he deserved an Oscar, but he didn’t deserve it for The Departed, which was him coasting through a remake of a Hong Kong film.

This is positively soviet

The GOP really, really hates talking about racism, so in New Hampspire, it’s now illegal — at least in the classroom:

The New Hampshire state legislature passed House Bill 2, the Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education, earlier this year and Sununu signed it into law in June. The bill text says the law “prohibits the dissemination of certain divisive concepts related to sex and race in state contracts, grants, and training programs.” It goes on to describe “divisive concepts” as a number of different things, including ideas like New Hampshire or the United States being “fundamentally racist or sexist” or anything that indicates “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” The passage of the New Hampshire law was part of a broader trend that’s been playing out in red states as Republicans fear-monger about the academic framework called Critical Race Theory, manufacturing outrage about the concept for the better part of the past year.

End Fraternities.

“Research on fraternity men has continuously found that they are much more likely to commit sexual violence than men not in fraternities.” More than three times as likely, even though, as one study showed, their prior histories of sexual violence were equivalent. So what was responsible for the increase? According to the report, “It appeared to be the fraternity culture itself.”

They are just as bad as we have always known them to be. End them.

Dept. of Deeply Nerdy Statistics

COVID has produced the longest delay between same-actor Bond films EVER: almost 6 years.

In looking at this, a pretty amazing stat popped out: On average, starting with the release of Dr. No in 1962 and continuing through the last Timothy Dalton film in 1989, a Bond film was released about every 20 months for 27 years. That sounds insane but the numbers don’t lie. The first three came out a year apart, followed by a 20 month gap between Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. Then we settled down to something between 18 and 24 months for Moore’s run — sometimes less.

Even recasting events didn’t blow that up too much. There WAS a then-unprecedented 30 month gap between Connery’s almost-last outing (You Only Live Twice in 1967) and the sole George Lazenby film (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969) — but Connery’s return film came out not quite two years later, and then Roger Moore’s debut (Live and Let Die) dropped less than 600 days later.

The shift from Moore to Dalton didn’t even create a delay: The Living Daylights opened a hair over two years after A View to a Kill, so more or less right on time.

The largest gap between films came in the handoff between Dalton’s last outing and the release of Goldeneye: almost six and a half years. The delay was due to what can best be described as inter-corporate chicanery. Dalton was actually on a 3-movie deal, and they were on track to do the film by 1990 when the project hit “development hell” owing to legal problems between MGM and the Broccoli family (who have always held the film rights to Bond). MGM was in talks to be acquired, but the deal was getting dicy, and the new owners had plans to generate quick cash by selling international broadcast rights to the 007 films on the cheap, so the Broccolis sued, and while all this was going on Dalton’s contract expired.

Long story short: Goldeneye wasn’t released until 1995, with a new Bond, which was fine because in those 6 years the world had changed quite a bit.

Once they had Brosnan, though, they moved pretty quickly; his films have an average interval of about 2.3 years, or not much different than Moore or Dalton.

The gap after Brosnan, though, is big: the 3rd largest of the set, at 3.99 years. It appears no single factor can be blamed. Eon Productions had (finally) acquired the rights to Casino Royale in 1999, but then they needed to find a good Bond and a good director, and that took up some time.

Craig’s films came slower: on average, 3.7 years counting almost-6-year-gap for No Time to Die, but closer to 3 if we ditch the outlier. If NTTD had dropped on its original date in 2019, Craig’s average would still be high at 3.25 years; only once is the gap less than 2 years (and it shows, since Quantum of Solace is terrible).

Craig’s tenure overall has been on a slower pace: prior to COVID, there’s been an average 3 years between each of his films.

It turns out, though, that the gap between films has been increasing over time, even when we take out gaps due to other factors (like the MGM/UA thing):

  • Connery: 1.5 years (which factors in Lazenby; Connery’s first 4 were all only a year apart)
  • Moore: 1.9 years
  • Dalton: 2 years
  • Brosnan: 2.3 years (omitting Goldeneye gap)
  • Craig: 3.25 years (omitting DAD->CR gap and crediting back “COVID” delay)

Overall, there’s been a new Bond film about every 2.5 years for almost 60 years. That’s kind of amazing.

Differential Upgrades!

Jason Snell has put together a great guide for iPhone users that covers, starting with an iPhone 7, what changes you’d experience if you upgraded to a new iPhone 13.

This is a GREAT idea, because while there are exhaustive reviews of the new phone every fall, the upgrades year over year are incremental. Comparisons between your 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 year old phone and the New Hotness are almost never done, and yet: Snell did it.

(Via Daring Fireball)

You just assume you’ll have more time. You’re wrong.

Houston is a funny old town. People say that it’s the smallest town of 7 million they’ve ever seen, and they’re not wrong. I’ve got dozens of stories that prove the point, but none as good as this one.

I ride a lot. If it was anything else, Erin would’ve had an intervention by now. It had been a thing for a while, but after my second MS150 I had a taste of a level of fitness I’d never had before, and I decided to keep pushing at the same pace. (That pace — 100 miles a week, give or take — has turned out to be the pace of my cycling life ever since.)

As part of that, I joined a ride out of a local shop that ran every Tuesday and Thursday evening. I gauged my gains in speed by how long I could keep the front group in sight. At first, it was “oh, about 10 minutes,” but I got stronger and stronger and was eventually able to hang with them a pretty long way into the ride — sometimes, all the way to the cutoff between the short version of the route and the long one. I always took the short one, to get home and have dinner with Erin, and it seems like a minor thing but the very idea of holding on until Brompton was like winning the Tour for me at the time.

Then, as I guess most of you know, my crash happened, and I was out for a while.

The funny small-town part of this comes in now. I was at an Easter party thrown every year by our pals the Britton-Dansbys, in line for food, when a guy I didn’t recognize started chatting with me about riding. “You ready to ride again?”

Uh, what?

It took me a minute to figure it out, but my interrogator was Dan, a guy I knew from the Tuesday/Thursday ride. Dan is a gruff but profoundly kind guy, and a terribly strong rider, but I couldn’t figure out why he was at Andrew and Nicki’s house. Turns out, Dan was a Chronicle writer, just like our hosts.

And more than that: it wasn’t just Dan. It was Dan, and also two other guys from our ride: Dane and Andy. And it turned out that, unbeknownst to any of us, we’d been attending the same parties at a couple different Chronicle-connected homes for YEARS without realizing it. Dane was less regular, but when I got my legs back under me I rode with Dan and Andy and couple other guys twice a week, every week, for years.

Andy was a quiet sort, but like Dan unfailingly kind and encouraging — I was never on his or Dan’s level, but they’d hold back and let me catch up before putting the hammer down again. Cycling is suffering like that. It’s what we do. It makes you stronger, and at that time in my life the encouragement I got from these guys was priceless.

I remember, very clearly, the Tuesday ride after Bowie died and left us Blackstar. Andy was a fan, too, and at every stoplight we were chattering about how amazing the record was. Normally pretty reserved, his enthusiasm here was striking and disarming and pure — the kind of vibe that just makes you feel better for being near it, you know?

Time passed and I shifted my midweek rides to workouts — more time efficient, more impactful — and the Tuesday/Thursday ride petered out. I’d still see Dan and Andy and the other guys on other rides, but nowhere nearly as often as I’d have liked. We’d run into each other at the Odell parties, or Easter or Thanksgiving at the Britton-Dansby house, and every time I’d think to myself I should make more time to see Dan and Andy and oodles of other people that you meet, but never seem to see often enough. People get busy. It’s a thing. There will be time later.

There’s no more time, though, for Andy. He died on Saturday. He would’ve turned 47 in December.

Hug those near you. Reach out to those you wish you knew better. Sometimes, cliches are true: nobody knows how much time is left, for anything at all.

Andrew Dansby wrote the obit. If you feel so moved, Andy’s wife has asked that donations be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a cause already close to my heart.

The reaping is upon us

Thinking about Watts, and I realize that in 5 years, most of these will be gone. I mean, let’s be honest: At threescore and ten, you’re in the zone of statistical danger.

  • Bill Wyman the long-retired Rolling Stones bassist, was born in 1936 and turns 85 in October.
  • Mick Jagger turned 78 in July, and has concert dates scheduled next month.
  • Keith Richards is a year younger at 77, and is presumably also planning to play those shows.
  • Ronnie Wood is still the new guy in the Stones, even though he joined 46 years ago. He was born in June of 1947, so he’s a sprightly 74, and will presumably join his mates on the bill next month.
  • Paul McCartney, bass & co-lead-songwriter for the Beatles, turned 79 this summer. He released a solo album last December.
  • Ringo Starr, the Beatles’ drummer, turned 81 this year.
  • Brian Wilson, the only one who mattered in the Beach Boys was born in 1942; he turned 79 this summer. Was still touring when COVID hit.
  • Eric Clapton, noted racist and occasional guitarist, was born on the 30th of March 1945, and so rings up at 76.
  • Bob Dylan turned 80 this year.
  • Steve Winwood was the kid of the 60s bands; he was only 19 when “Gimme Some Lovin'” was a hit for the Spencer Davis Group. Even so, math’s a bitch, as he’s now 73.
  • The Kinks’ Davies brothers are in this group, too: Ray was born in 1944, and just turned 77. Baby brother Dave is 74.
  • Roger Daltrey turned 77 this year.
  • Pete Townshend is a year younger at 76.
  • Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel both turn 80 this fall.

We think of these as 70s bands, not 60s bands, and yet they’re not much younger:

  • The surviving members of Zeppelin are getting up there, too. Jimmy Page is a contemporary of the folks above, born in January of 1944. Plant was famously younger — too young to enter some of the venues Zep played early on — but he turned 73 last week. John Paul Jones is only a year younger, so 75.

  • 70s stalwarts Aerosmith are in statistical danger, too: Steven Tyler is 73; Joe Perry turns 71 next month.

Pink Floyd are actually older as well:

  • Nick Mason, b 1944, currently 77
  • Roger Waters turns 78 next month
  • David Gilmour turned 75 this year

“You’re my fucking singer.”

Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones for 58 years — and, not for nothing, Shirley’s husband for 57 — has died at the age of 80. Initially a jazz player, he was coaxed into what would become the Stones by Mike, Keith, and Brian, and stayed there holding down a stalwart rhythm section for the rest of his life. Mick, Keith, and Charlie are the only members present on every studio record, from 1964’s England’s Newest Hit Makers through to Blue & Lonesome in 2016.

The Rolling Stones have been a novelty / nostalgia act now for a long, long time; my guess is that in the utter SEA of excellent music now available to folks who enjoy this sort of thing, it’s absurdly easy to overlook boomer-era bands entirely, and a young person just getting to know the musical world wouldn’t be insane to have done so. Their glory years are long, long behind them — their last relevant studio record was (arguably) 40 years ago (Tattoo You, which gave us “Start Me Up” and “Waiting On A Friend”), but they’ve kept touring. Their “No Filter” world tour was interrupted by Corona, but was set to resume next month in St. Louis. Ominously in retrospect, earlier this month they announced that longtime associate Steve Jordan would be handling the drums for this leg as Charlie underwent an unspecified medical procedure. (The buried lede here, of course, is that he was still playing live at 79; the last pre-COVID show was 2 years ago this month in Miami).

Their footprint is enormous and inescapable, and I’d argue more interesting and long-lasting than either of the other two “great” 60s bands (the Beatles and the Beach Boys). It’s hard to say what will happen now; obviously they continued after Bill Wyman retired almost a quarter century ago, but this is different. Mick is 78. Keith is a year younger. Nobody would blame them if they packed it in after these shows.

(Oh, and the headline is from here, in case you didn’t already know.)

Kwisatz Whatnow?

Right, so, in my capacity as an Aged Nerd, GenX Uncle Chet now provides a sort of Dune Primer in advance of the upcoming film.

What is Dune?

Dune itself was the first of a series of books by Frank Herbert. It was published in 1965, and Herbert continued the story with several sequels until his death in 1986. The series has won basically every award they give in science fiction, and is truly one of the giants of the genre.

  • Dune Messiah came in 1969.
  • Children of. Dune came in 1976
  • God Emperor of Dune, 1981
  • Heretics of Dune, 1984
  • Chapterhouse: Dune, 1985

Herbert’s son and collaborators continued the series after this point. I’ve only read through God Emperor, which is a place lots of people stop because at that point you’re thousands of years past the events of Dune itself, and it’s a point in the overall story where it’s easy to stop.

Prior Adaptations

Yes, Dune has been adapted before. David Lynch made a very flawed film in 1984, starring a then-unknown Kyle MacLachlan plus a long list of pretty serious actors (Patrick Stewart is in it; so is Jose Ferrer). It was also done on TV by the SyFy network in 2000, but that version is just unwatchably bad (and even so, they made a sequel that took them through Children, which is the only time I’m aware of anyone tried to adapt the works past the first novel).

Finally, much hay was made a few years back about a documentary made about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to adapt it in 1973. I’d love to have seen that!

The Universe

Dune is kind of unusual in highly inventive, very alien sci-fi in that it explicitly is about the far future of US, actual earthlings, not some other population of people unconnected to the present day (e.g., the Star Wars universe). The events of the story in Dune take place about 25,000 years from now. Humanity has dispersed to the stars, having at some point invented faster-than-light travel and a variety of other interesting technology.

Curiously missing from the Dune world is any trace of computing. This is because of a thing called the Butlerian Jihad, which happened long before the events of the book (like, 10,000 years; Herbert did some INSANELY DETAILED worldbuilding, akin to Tolkien, but you have to glean most if it from context). The result of the jihad was a broad and foundational prohibition on any thinking machines.

Space travel is complicated, obviously, so how do they do it without computers?

The Spice and the Guild

At some point in the distant past (relative to the story), humans discovered the desert planet Arrakis, also called Dune. Dune features the by-now-famous ENORMOUS sandworms, and is the only place in the universe where the spice melange is found. (There is an isolated population of humans there who are now effectively indigenous, but they truly arrived as a result of a long-ago sect of religious wanderers. They’re called Fremen, and play into our story as well.)

In 1965, it would’ve been a spoiler to disclose that the spice is produced by the enormous sandworms of Arrakis, but at this point it’s like knowing that a nasty baby alien is about to burst forth from John Hurt’s heaving chest in Alien.

Our characters don’t know this, though.

Melange is an addictive narcotic, but not a debilitating one. Additionally, it imparts some pretty amazing effects for some humans, among them mental expansion and ESP-like abilities; greatly increased lifespan; access to genetic memories; and eventual physical changes (the least drastic of which is one’s eyeballs turning blue).

Long-term exposure to the spice has allowed the Spacing Guild to unlock the secrets of manipulating something called the Holtzmann Effect, which is how interstellar travel happens in the Dune universe. The Guild has a complete monopoly on this; if you want to travel, you pay them. This puts them in a position of enormous influence, which in turn makes them a power effectively equal to the Emperor himself.

And, again, this spice is found in only one place in the universe, so control of Arrakis is a big damn deal. The spice is the single most important and valuable substance in the universe, and controlling it is to control pretty much everything.

Government

The Dune universe is effectively a multi-house feudal state. The emperor maintains power by playing the other houses against one another, with the cooperation of the Guild and other key players like the Bene Gesserit sisterhood.

Our hero is Paul, the son of Duke Leto Atreides, who has just been given control of Arrakis by the emperor. It’s a plum assignment, but it’s also a trap; the emperor is planning to allow the evil House Harkonnen to ambush the Atreides on Arrakis and eliminate them; Baron Harkonnen’s prize will be Arrakis and the production of spice (which, as noted, is a big deal).

Bene Whaterit?

The Bene Gesserit as a sorta-religious order of women who have their own mysterious agenda.

Spoiler: the agenda is to, via careful manipulation and court intrigue, bring about the culmination of a surreptitious breeding program and create the Kwisatz Haderach, or Shortening of the Way, a male Bene Gesserit figure they believe will lead humanity to salvation (“leading humanity to salvation” is a big theme in the books after Dune itself).

As the book begins, the order was poised to set up the final pairing: a daughter from Leto Atreides and his Bene Gesserit consort Jessica, who would eventually marry the heir of the evil Baron Harkonnen and produce the Kwisatz Haderach. Jessica, though, loves her duke, and knows Leto wants a son. One benefit of being a Bene Gesserit sister is near-total control of one’s body and chemistry, and so she gave him Paul instead.

This was unpopular with the sisters, since they believe Jessica has ruined their plans. What has truly happened, though, it will not surprise you to learn, is that Jessica jumped the line and bore the fruits of their program one generation early — and out of Bene Gesserit control.

The sisters have a host of quasi-supernatural abilities, including some precognition, genetic memories, etc., all associated with spice usage. They are also fearsome warriors, and possess abilities not seen in other groups such as the Voice, which allows a sister to give commands that cannot be disobeyed. There’s a certain amount of is-he-or-isn’t-he about Paul, and whether or not he can manifest these same abilities…

Important Characters

Paul Atreides
Son of Duke Leto and Lady Jessica; our focal character. A teen in the books, usually shown as a young man in adaptations. Played in both films by 25-year-old actors: the new film has Timothy Chalamet, and by Kyle MacLachlan in the 1984 film.
Duke Leto Atreides
Paul’s father and head of the ascendant and powerful House Atreides. Played by Jurgen Prochnow in 1984, and Oscar Isaac in the new film. I thought, when Isaac was cast, that he was too young, but the truth of it is he’s only about a year off the age Prochnow was in 1984 (Prochnow was 43; Isaac is 42). Given that Paul is supposed to be 17 or so, this works — though both Paul actors were older (25 for both).
Lady Jessica
The Bene Gesserit concubine to Duke Leto. I don’t think it’s ever made clear why she’s not his actual wife; Herbert does a lot of this with his characters — Paul eventually takes a noblewoman as his wife, but for political purposes only as his true love is Chani. This happens again a generation or two later. Francesca Annis played Jessica in 1984; up-and-comer Rebecca Ferguson has the role in 2021.
Gurney Halleck
Paul’s weapons teacher and House Atreides swordmaster. He’s also a gifted musician. Serves with Duncan Idaho and the Thufir Hawat as the Duke’s main advisory council. Patrick Stewart played Gurney in 1984; for 2021, we get Josh Brolin. (Also a good choice.)
Duncan Idaho
The other chief “knight” and retainer of the Atreides. Richard Jordan played him in 1984; Jason Momoa has the role now, which is a big shift but easy to envision.
Thufir Hawat
Unlike Halleck and Idaho, Hawat is not a fighter. He’s a mentat — a sort of human computer, fueled by (you guessed it!) spice — and master assassin. Freddie Jones was Hawat in 1984; master theater actor Stephen McKinley Henderson plays him today (you may have seen him in Devs).
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
Head of the primary rival house. Transparently evil and scheming; they prize sadism and domination. Also a weak point for Herbert because he’s described as both corpulent and ugly, because bad guys have to be physically unappealing I guess. Kenneth McMillan in 1984; Stellan Skarsgard today.
Glossu “the Beast” Rabban
Baron Harkonnen’s sadistic and brutal — even by Harkonnen standards — nephew, and a key part of the Baron’s plot to destroy the Atreides on Arrakis. Possible heir to the Baron. Paul Smith in 1984; Dave Bautista today (which is another bit of great casting).
Gaius Helen Mohiam
Bene Gesserit reverend mother and head of the order; mentor to Lady Jessica. Spooky witch lady. Charlotte Rampling has the role in the new film, which makes perfect sense.
Chani
Half-Fremen woman — her father is the planetologist Liet-Kynes in the books; Kynes is gender-flipped in the new film — who becomes Paul’s lover and partner; eventually (after the events of the first book) mother of his children. Played by Sean Young (oooo, 1980s Sean Young!) in 1984, and by Zendaya today. GREAT casting.
Stilgar
Leader of the Fremen on Arrakis and ally to Paul after the fall of House Atreides. Really a great character in the books and on film. Everett McGill — who went on to be a frequent collaborator with Lynch — played him in 1984. We have Javier Bardem today. (Seriously, given the casting director a dang medal.)

Very Curious Omissions

Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen
The Baron’s younger nephew and actual heir. Whip-smart and conniving, and (for the Bene Gesserit) planned sire to the Kwisatz Haderach but for Jessica’s rogue choice. Played memorably by Sting in 1984 (there’s a knife fight at the climax) and as yet unknown in the new film. LOTS of hay has been made about his absence from any promo materials and casting lists. The most plausible reasons for their radio silence on this, a fairly pivotal character, are that (a) the new film doesn’t get deep into into the book to need him yet, and he’ll show up in a sequel; or (b) they’ve cast some hugely famous surprising figure and want to save the reveal until release. It would be SUPER WEIRD if he was just omitted entirely — like, unfathomably so.
Alia Atreides
Paul’s sister, who is only a small child in the events of Dune (and, in the sequels, comes to a bad end). Played by Alicia Witt in 1984, and as yet completely absent from any press about the new film. She has real things to do in the book, but (as with Feyd) if this film doesn’t finish the first book then her absence makes sense. She could also be written out entirely, but only if Villeneuve has no intentions of making sequels. (Her absence from any adaptations of the follow-up books would be harder to engineer.)

Scunthorpe in reverse

In software development, there’s a thing called the Scunthorpe Problem. It’s not some weird, arcane topic about memory allocation; it’s actually bone simple. The central question is: “How do you police text inputs to keep naughty words out?”

The naive answer is simple string matching, so you’d check to see if the input contained any of a set of rude words.

The problem then crops up, because there are nontrivial legitimate occurrences of a number of those sequences of letters, and dumb rude-word-police algorithms that just check for “contains” will kick out all sorts of perfectly reasonable inputs. This leads to a number of annoyed customers, not the least of which would be the denizens of a quaint village in Lincolnshire. Or men named “Dick,” say. (The first link in this post includes a list some infamous examples, including blocked searches for “Superbowl XXX” (because “XXX” means porn), or the blocked domain registration for shittakemushrooms.com, etc.)

So you have to be smarter.

But you can also turn this around, and that’s what this post is about. If you’re manipulating user names to create something unique, you should be cautious about your recipe, and you probably SHOULD use a fairly dumb string filter to alert you if your proposed scheme results in unfortunate combinations.

To Wit: Our customer base at work is comprised of largely big government contracting firms, and in this pond there is near-constant merger/acquisition/spin-out behavior. This leads, inevitably, to changes in people’s email addresses. MOST of the time, this is no big deal: Joe.Blow@CompanyA.com becomes Joe.Blow@CompanyB.com.

However, in one such case happening now, the new company has shifted to first-initial-last-name for emails — from Joe.Blow to jblow, for example. This SEEMS innocuous, until you come to the case of my client contact named something like Steve Hittman.

I mean, it could be something else. It could be Francis Uckley. Or Charles Unter. But you get the idea. (It is not any of these, but it’s just as bad.)

One wonders when the Exchange administrator at the new firm will notice, and what — if anything — they do about it.

What’s the best piece of art you’ve ever seen?

I wasn’t looking to fill any such category a few years ago at the MFAH, but holy cow did I ever with a video installation piece called The Visitors by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson.

From the Wiki description:

The Visitors constitutes the performance of a song written by Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, Kjartansson’s ex-wife. The piece is displayed across nine different screens, each featuring musicians or artists either by themselves or in groups in different rooms of the house at Rokeby Farm, or on the grounds outside, performing simultaneously but separately. One screen features Kjartansson by himself. Others featured in the piece include friends of Kjartansson, both from the artist’s native Reykjavík and elsewhere, as well as residents of Rokeby Farm, where the piece was filmed.

Eventually, the musicians move from their isolated spaces — libraries, bedrooms, a bathtub — and congregate in a downstairs room before filing out onto the grounds, across a beautiful meadow, dancing and drinking and continuing to sing.

It’s about an hour long, and is utterly, amazingly beautiful.

The WaPo has a great interactive oral history of the piece that is 100% absolutely worth your time. (h/t to Erin!)

What were YOU doing on October 25, 1990?

I was in Birmingham, on a school night — well, a college night; it was a Thursday, and nobody took early classes on a Friday — to see Robert Plant on his Manic Nirvana tour. Someone we’d never heard of was opening.

Those someones blew us all the fuck away, because they were the then-completely-unknown Black Croweshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Crowes). That first album hit huge shortly thereafter — I can’t imagine we were the only cadre of folks who bought it the day after seeing them, and then kept playing it for YEARS.

Well, comes now the news that they’re touring again, finally. They’d announced a reunion tour, playing the first album in its entirety plus others, before COVID, but then, well, COVID. Given the mercurial relationship between the band’s central siblings, it was anybody’s guess if the tour would ever happen.

It’s happening. It started happening Tuesday night, in Nashville. I caught news of it just now in the car; Sirius had credible audio of the opening number (“Twice as Hard”) which still boils with swagger and slide and an astonishingly undiminished-by-time voice from Chris Robinson. Rolling Stone has video, but the audio isn’t great there.

The tour hits Houston — well, the Woodlands — on August 14. I’ve said for years I had no interest in driving back up there for a show, but on this one, well, BITCH I MIGHT.

“I personally have chosen to land like an Avenger.”

The GQ piece on Jason Sudeikis is really worth your time.

The title quote is here:

But he acknowledged it had been a hard year. Not necessarily a bad one, but a hard one. “I think it was really neat,” he said. “I think if you have the opportunity to hit a rock bottom, however you define that, you can become 412 bones or you can land like an Avenger. I personally have chosen to land like an Avenger.”

Season 2 of Ted Lasso is just around the corner. I’d be hard pressed to come up with a better half hour show EVER. Find time.

Today’s Surprising News: Actor Edition

In the 80s, I was a fan of St Elsewhere, which was a pretty unusual show for the time — reasonably smart, reasonably well written, and not a simple drama or comedy. The cast was even nominally diverse — or, at least, should be remembered for having cast a very young (28!) Denzel Washington before he was, well, Denzel Washington. (His role as Stephen Biko in Cry Freedom would come on the strength of this role.)

Anyway.

As with medical dramas everywhere, we had a cast of varying generations of doctors. Washington was part of the younger set (along with Howie Mandel, David Morse, and Ed Begley, Jr.); the middle range was held down by Ed Flanders as especially William Daniels (later famous as the voice of KITT on Knight Rider; sue me, I’m a child of 80s television). And the most senior physician, Dr Daniel Auschlander, was played by Hollywood veteran Norman Lloyd.

Lloyd was a decidedly senior 68 for the pilot.

Norman Lloyd died on Tuesday, in his home, at the age of 106. I had no appreciation of it at the time, but he was a giant. He started entertaining — vaudeville! — in 1923; his last came in 2015, at the age of 100 (it was Trainwreck, which as rom-coms go is pretty good — Bill Hader, Amy Schumer, etc.). 2015 was also the year he had to quit playing tennis, which I find immensely inspiring.

Lloyd was a frequent collaborator of Alfred Hitchcock, and a personal friend of Charlie Chaplin; not for nothing does the NYT obit begin by noting he was the last living link to the golden age of Hollywood.

He married his wife Peggy in 1936; they remained so until her death in 2011. You do the math. They had two kids, one of whom was the actress and director Josie Lloyd, who sadly passed away last year at 81.

“32-bit unsigned integer ought to be big enough for anyway”

Except, well, Berkshire Hathaway.

Warren Buffett’s company has eschewed stock splits forEVER, and as of now it trades at an eye-popping $429,172.43 per share. (The next priciest issue is around $5k.)

My Nerds are with me already, but for those of you not in the tribe:

You’ve probably noticed some numbers show up as “limits” in computing. One common one is 255. Lots of data input fields, for example, limit you to 255 characters. You may or may not have ever wondered why, but I’m gonna tell you anyway: Remember that, at the end of the day, computers are powered by tiny tiny circuits, and at that level everything is either “on” or “off.” That’s binary. With a bit of handwaving, you can see how the limit of number storage for a given variable type would be tied directly to how much memory is set aside to store that variable type, and the limit can always be expressed as a power of 2 (because with binary, there are 2 states: on or off).

Two to the 8th power is 256. That number takes 8 bits to store.

Now, back to stocks.

NASDAQ, on which Berkshire trades, used a 32-bit integer data type to store stock prices. A regular 32-bit int has a range that’s centered on 0, but since stocks can’t have a negative price they used the unsigned version. 2 to the 32nd power is 4,294,967,296.

NASDAQ, sensibly, reserves the 4 rightmost digits for the fraction, so the largest stock price they can accommodate is $429,496.7294 per share — a value the Berkshire is fast approaching. NASDAQ is responding by rushing out a fix, but I think we all know how well rushed fixes go.

(If you’re thinking “wait, isn’t this kind of the same thing as the Y2K problem?”, well, you’re not entirely wrong. But given that Berkshire is SUPER weird in refusing to split, and that the next largest issue is two orders of magnitude away from the limit, I’m inclined to give the NASDAQ designers a pass here. Odds are, they’ve known this was coming for a while; my sense is that probably some of them wondered if Buffett would die first and be followed by someone less split-averse.)

This seems like news

This story, about how Pandora will no longer sell mined diamonds, is actually TWO stories by my lights.

First, obviously, that a major jewelry retailer is going all-in on man-made diamonds and abandoning natural ones entirely owing to their horrible, horrible history. That’s big.

But second, somehow Pandora has become the world’s largest jeweler. I always parsed them as a weird little tacky thing just above a kiosk. I even thought, at the time, that this SNL bit was almost punching down:

Apparently: No.