Tiny machines, tiny bugs

Micromachines are incredibly tiny devices, almost imperceptible to the unaided eye. We’re talking about something the size of a grain of pollen. There are all sorts of implications of this kind of technology, but one is particularly, er, creepy.

And Sandia Labs, they’ve got pictures of bugs on their micromachines. Tiny, tiny bugs. Mites, really. But damn they’re creepy.

Dept of Edgy Advertising

I admit it: I enjoy the newish trend of goofily edgy advertising — except the ones for Old Navy. Sometimes, it’s fun to watch. Though I can’t imagine that any of these ads make me more likely to consume whatever it is they’re hawking.

Lipton’s latest take on this concept is covered in the New York Times today. By way of enticement, all I can say is this: a commercial involving Loni Anderson, Mr. T, and George Hamilton playing a video game.

Dept. of Missing the Point Entirely

Confused by Kandinsky? Baffled by Pollock? Just plain don’t get modern art? Turn your bewilderment into objective judgement! Here’s a guy who purports to illustrate which artists are just plain bad in his Rogues Gallery of Bad Art and Non Art. Charlatans! Frauds! Give me some more pretty pictures! Out with Duchamp! More Dogs Playing Poker!

I’m so glad he’s cleared all that up for us. Maybe this means I can get a de Kooning on the cheap now.

If that wasn’t enough, by the way, more fun can be had by investigating the degree to which this guy embraces the technical/engineering stereotype the rest of us work so hard to escape. Hint: bad, 1994-esque web design; rabid prog-rock (Yes/Marillion/Alan Parsons) fandom; Rush-esque disdain for the Clintons; and (was there any doubt?) Ayn Rand worship.

(The really sad part: I’m sure he’s on the short list to head the Bush Administration’s National Endowment for the Arts.)

Okay, Check This Out

There exists a program on MTV called Total Request Live, or TRL. Apparently, it’s a big hit among the teeny-bopper set. The conceit is this: viewers request videos via the Internet, and the playlist is determined accordingly. Wonderfully ripe, of course, for a little subversion.

The plan: submit as many votes as you like via this site for Bhangra artist Daler Mehndi’s video for Tunak Tunak Tun (I don’t know what it means, either). My guess is that the core demographic for said program will have NO idea who this is.

Call Center Hell

Some poor guy working a call center somewhere in Texas has captured some of the real doozies that come across his desk, but with a twist. Instead of the “aren’t-these-users-stupid” jokes we’ve come to expect from the help desk crowd (and I’ve been there and done that), this particular site chronicles the absurdly bad trouble tickets written by one of his cow-orkers. It would be funny if it wasn’t almost certainly authentic.

Like You Care

Well, some of you might. New photos of a recent trip to Birmingham, featuring people you might know. But if you weren’t there, and you’re not Joy, Carl, Carla, Eric, Andy, Michelle, Clare, or a few others, odds are you won’t care.

“Military Intelligence” on Parade

This story is rich. First, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki decided late last year that the whole Army should get new black berets as part of a morale-building effort designed to conicide with the Army’s birthday this June 14.

Predictably, the Rangers were a bit annoyed by this; heretofore, only their elite group was able to wear black berets. They understandably insisted that Army-wide deployment thereof would cheapen the emblem of their unit. Somehow, a compromise was reached allowing the Rangers to get some other color hat, which frankly still strikes me as wrong, but at least they still get to be unique.

Then is comes to light that the only way to get enough — 2.6 million — berets by the deadline would be to use foreign suppliers. Including China, who would be supplying 600,000 black hats. Once again, a PR issue ensued — “shouldn’t the Army buy American goods?” people asked. Lawmakers got nervous.

Not nearly as nervous, though, as they are now, since China has been elevated to Bad Guy in the wake of the mid-air collision last month. Tuesday night, the Pentagon announced that no Army personnel would wear Chinese-made berets, and directed the Army to dispose of all said berets with “Chinese content.”

That’ll show those pesky Chinese. “We’re gonna buy 600,000 black berets from you — and then throw ’em out!. Nyah Nyah Nyah!”

Link: Army Drops Chinese Berets Plan

How to Move a Million-Pound Turbine

This guy has some pretty cool pictures of the migration of a million-pound turbine from its point of manufacture (CT) to its eventual home in New Hampshire. The logistics of this sort of thing are pretty amazing — coordinating the highway department, state and local police, the telco, electric company, and the transportation contractor. According to the site, the convoy was about half a mile long and moved at about 1 mph.

Dept. of Obsessive Lego Robotics

The Intrepid Dr. Girlfriend and I have thus far built robots capable of frightening her dog. We are therefore shamed by this guy (you’ll probably have to scroll down), who has created a Rubik’s Cube solving machine using the Mindstorms kit.

It should be noted that it amounts to a computer controlled system, as a PC program creates the code based on the scrambled state of the cube, but it’s pretty damned impressive nevertheless.

(Thanks, Cory!)

Just Wait ‘Til They Discover the X-Men

The hip among us area aware of India’s vibrant and growing film industry. The work of directors like Satyajit Ray is known by film buffs worldwide — the Academy even gave him an honorary Oscar in ’92 for his ongoing contribution to the art and craft of filmmaking.

Unfortunately, the directors of this gem were in no way acquainted with such concepts.

Twenty Twenty Twenty Four Hours To Go

Proto-punk pioneer Joey Ramone died Sunday from lymphoma. He was 49.

Even if you don’t know who he was, you know his music and his influence — without the Ramones’ tour of England in 1976, we’d have had no Clash, no Sex Pistols, no X, no punk. The Ramones were also fixtures at seminal New York clubs like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City, alongside folks like Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Blondie, and the Talking Heads.

Play something really loud.

Links: SonicNet ABCNews CNN plus a feature at Salon

I am a Bad Person

If I had any human decency at all, I wouldn’t post things like this. But it’s already haunting me, and I felt that, by rights, I shouldn’t be alone in this.

An Ego Bigger Than Mine

Harry Bruce reviews The Art of Nonfiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers by the inimitable Ayn Rand in the current National Post.

Suffice it to say that he pulls no punches, and in an amusing way.


Cary Tennis has a lovely, Thompsonesque rant about the state of energy in his (her?) home state over at Salon (as spotted by E).

Ok, this is just cool.

Two college kids have circumnavigated the globe in a 1957 twin-engine Aero Commander, thanks to lots of corporate and nonprofit sponsorship and, one must suspect, ample amounts of stubborness. Their story is recapped here; their web site is here.

Oh, The Sweetest Thing

My old pal Mikey has raised the bar for any man considering popping the question — of course, as Charlotte points out, he did take his own sweet time, so I guess it all evens out.

First comes the press release, but the really impressive part is the video (9mb streamed QuickTime) of the actual event. In Hawaii. The soundtrack is perfect.

“From Hell to Fargo”

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, if you read no other links from here, read this one. It will take a while. It’s long. Close your office door, put the phone on busy and read this. It’s all about perspective.

There is a group of orphan boys in Africa called the Lost Boys of the Sudan. They started out maybe 18,000 strong. When the Khartoum-led forces crushed their villages and killed their families, they were sent to Ethiopia. On foot. As children. With no idea how far that was (hint: it’s a long-ass way).

Those who survived the drought, starvation, sickness, marauding bandits, and wildlife — many of the weaker ones were eaten by lions, and more than a few drowned or were eaten by crocs crossing an Ethiopian river — managed to walk a thousand miles, from Sudan to Ethiopia back to Sudan and then on to Kenya and refugee camps. A few have made it here, where “culture shock” doesn’t begin to describe their experience. These guys haven’t seen stairs or light switches or stoves. Ever. Let alone supermarkets — or “cold,” for that matter.

So: Sara Corbett has this nice long piece in the current New York Times magazine. The header title I’m using here comes from the print version; online they’ve retitled it, but it’s the same piece. Go. Read.

Dept. of Legislative Embarrassments

Once upon a time, my home state of Mississippi had great elder statesmen in the Senate. John Stennis served for what seemed like forever until Strom kept ticking like some sort of undead Timex, and our junior man was Thad Cochran — while a Republican, he’s typically been altogether free of dogma and pretty moderate besides.

Then things went to hell when plastic-haired pork-barrel-king Trent Lott ascended from the House. He’s dogma central, and now everyone in the damn country knows where this slick-talking cracker is from. If supporting Ashcroft and Dubya wasn’t enough, he’s now on-record supporting cockfighting.

Way to go, Trent. That’ll show those yankees how much progress we’ve made in Dixie. Thanks.

Genuinely Useful Stuff

Amazing, huh?

About a year ago, my brother and I gave our mother a Ceiva picture frame. You log in to their web site, upload digital pictures, and every night the frame itself dials up and checks to see if there’s anything new to get. Mom had to know next to nothing about it — all you have to do to enjoy it is hook it to a phone line & plug in its power adapter. Neat toy.

Now I’ve found a nice companion service at Zing.com. I haven’t used many of their features — really, I just found it when some pals used it to share their honeymoon shots — but their prints-from-digital-shots service is darned nice & pretty prompt. I had them run some prints of a shot late last week; the site prepped me for about a 2-week wait, but I got them today (I did pay for expedited shipping). The prints themselves were a buck each (5×7) and came on actual Kodak paper. Probably not hardcore shutterbug quality prints, but for snapshots and grandmother-gifts, they’re spot on. Enjoy.

The Best Video Ever

Sure, there are other candidates — Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You,” and the Beastie Boys’ immortal “Sabotage” — but since Spike Jonze did ’em all, it’s sort of moot. His latest bit, a video for Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice,” is essentially a three-minute dance piece by Christopher Walken.

Yes, that Christopher Walken.

Bonus question: find the science fiction reference in the song lyrics!

American Gods

If you’re really geeky, you probably already know about the forthcoming novel by Neil Gaiman. His publishing journal – weblog/diary, really – is pretty neat reading even if you never read Sandman.

I’d like to thank Arkansas…

…for making sure that we in the South continue to look like a bunch of ignorant, slack-jawed, inbreeding yokels.

This time around, it’s evolution they’re after — again. A bill in the Arkansas House would bar the topic of evolution or radio-carbon dating of animal and plant fossils from state-funded textbooks. Additionally, teachers would be required to instruct students to mark references to evolution or carbon dating as “false evidence” or “theory” in the margins of books already in use.

Paging Mr. Scopes, Mr. John T. Scopes…

How many Finns you got?

This is an index of graphic files showing the relative density of particular (eponymous) national heritages by county in the U.S.

What those two hotspots of Canadian activity are in Texas I’d love to know. Is one of them Tarrant County, i.e. Ft. Worth?

Rock On, Dude

One afternoon in 1986, a crew of independent filmmakers visited the parking lot of a Maryland auditorium in the hours before a Judas Priest concert. The results are at once compelling and repellant, in particular if you ever owned or wore anything in a zebra print.

Just Like a Yankee

Mark Strauss over at Slate seems to think he’s funny in his latest tirade, a call for Northern secession in an effort to gerrymander the U.S. into a nation more likely to elect presidents with politics more closely resembling his own. Strauss blames us for Dubya’s ersatz victory, but fails to note how many of us voted against Bush even in states viewed as GOP strongholds. In his altogether wrongheaded burst of screed, he paints Southerners as slack-jawed NASCAR addicts too stupid to the political light of day — which boils down to an ad hominem attack on millions of people, many of whom voted the same way he did. I’ve seen broad-brush attacks before, but never one quite so wide and quite so absurd.

Strauss, of course, fails to note that neither side of the Mason-Dixon line corners the market on either NASCAR devotees or PBS supporters, and overlooks the role of the South in the cultural development of the the U.S. Most glaringly, he ignores the millions of voters in the South who voted for someone other than Bush last November. Sure, 150 years ago there was a wrongheaded war about, among other things, slavery. But since then the South has reinvigorated itself socially and economically; cities like Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Houston, and Austin have huge high-tech economies. Southern writers and artists make tremendous contributions to our national cultural ledger. Andwhere would America be without the Blues, Jazz, and Rock and Roll? Barbecue? Mardi Gras? SEC football?

Strauss notes — and is clearly alarmed by — Northern migration to the South and its implications in electoral voting (hint: we get more votes next time — and this troubles him). We can only hope that he continues to believe us all to be drooling evolutionary throwbacks and stays up North — either that, or he comes to visit and meets a crowd of people who don’t take kindly to his high-handed babbling in general — and his barbs about Earnhardt in particular.

Next Stop: Soma.

Apparently running out of maladies to cure, Eli Lilly has created a new one. Actually, they’re just calling good old-fashioned PMS “Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder,” and are giving their “new” remedy a marketing full-court press.

The kicker? This new wonder drug — “Sarafem” — is actually just Prozac, i.e., fluoxetine hydrochloride. Oh, what a Brave New World in which we live…

Check it out at Plastic.

March 13

Today is my birthday. According to a whole mess of sites I’m too lazy to link in here, I share it with:

  • Percival Lowell, astronomer, 1855
  • Hugh Walpole, writer, 1884
  • L. Ron Hubbard, “entrepreneur,” 1911
  • William J. Casey, crooked Iran-Contra uberspook, 1913
  • Al Jaffee, MAD Magazine artist, 1921
  • Clarence Nash, voice of Donald Duck, 1936
  • Neil Sedaka, singer, 1939
  • William H. Macy, darned good actor, 1950
  • Dana Delaney, acceptable actor, 1956
  • Adam Clayton, U2, 1960

It is my sincere hope that the inclusion of Clayton, Macy, Jaffee, and a few others compensates for Casey and Hubbard. Hope hope hope.

“It’s not the government’s money…”

Thomas Friedman has a great column in today’s New York Times. My favorite line, in re: the GOP’s rampant desire to spend a surplus that doesn’t yet exist: “I suppose all this won’t hit home until the Republican Party realizes that, without the surplus, there won’t be any more federal buildings to name after Ronald Reagan.”


NASDAQ Bubbles and Comic Book Heros

If there’s any such thing as comic book heros, they don’t wear capes and fight crime per se; they’re the men and women who created comics as we know them the middle part of the 20th century. These people — like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby — invented many of the motifs and themes we all not recognize as cannonical comic elements. Lee created or co-created characters like Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and (perhaps most notably) the wildly successful X-Men. Instead of artificial heros in made-up cities, Lee and Kirby gave us real people with unreal abilities who lived in real places and dealt with the rent, pain-in-the-ass bosses, and in general exhibited a level of humanity not seen before in the medium.

Lee, though, never really saw the kind of money you’d think appropriate for someone with his resume. For all his years at Marvel, he was an employee — by his own description, a well compensated employee, but an employee nevertheless. With the rise of the Internet, he saw an opportunity to work his magic again, but with a new medium — and as an owner. A pretty gutsy move for a guy in his seventies, but after all, substantially less robust business plans appeared work, right?

The Standard is running a feature about the sad collapse of Stan Lee Media – done in not so much by the now-infamous dot-com bubble, but by unsavory partners and a lack of business savvy. It’s a damn shame. Excelsior anyway, Stan.