Thursday, June 30, 2005

War of the Worlds

Yesterday evening, before my kickball game, I made a mad dash to get to the theater to see War of the Worlds at 5:50pm. I was close to 10 minutes late, and forced to sit in some very uncomfortable seats in the second row (the seats didn't tilt, and even slouching and tilting my head uncomfortably, it was difficult to see the top of the screen), but I think I saw a full complement of trailers, thankfully missing the stupid TV adds.

The movie was OK, but I don't think it lived up to the hype. Special effects about the destruction of a/the world just don't impress me much anymore. I realize that it's a lot of work for the crew (apparently they bought a real 747 to cut it up, placing it over the back lot of Universal for a 5 minute scene), but it wasn't that stunning.

I did like a scene where a burning Amtrak trail blasts past a crowd of refugees at full speed and the crowd seems completely unfazed. It was a surreal moment, that's for sure. There was another scene where the clothes of the the vaporized victims float eerily down through the trees, like some giant leaves in the fall. That was eerie, but two scenes don't make a movie.

Tim Robins' character didn't have a big enough part in the movie (though it's hard to fault the movie for that -- it's just that I like Tim), and we didn't see enough of the aliens or get enough background on some things for my liking.

I realize that the movie is told from Tom Cruise's character's point of view, so we don't know the things he doesn't know, but that doesn't make me like the movie any more.

I also think that's a limiting view of how to tell this story. Since it is a movie about the attack and destruction of the Earth and its people, it would be more interesting, to me, to see the story told from a broader perspective. Either from that from someone with better communication (like the President), or from the view of multiple people as they scramble about. There was a lot of dead time in this movie where the main characters are sleeping, driving, running, etc. It would have been nice to have seen some other characters at those points.

I think the bottom line is that this story has been told so many times, and everyone knows how it ends, that you have to give us something more. The movie claims to be full of suspense, but it isn't. You know how it ends, and when was the last time you saw a Hollywood movie with three main characters where they all die? Never. Which means there's no suspense.

I'm glad I only paid $4 for the movie. I think I would have been disappointed if I had paid more, especially considering the hype that lead me to believe that this would have been an awesome movie.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie

By now I figure you've all heard about the Supreme Court saying it's OK to take someone's land as long as you can promise to bring in more tax revenue than the current users (here's CNN's report about it).

What worries me most is, what's to keep a developer from taking a bunch of houses to make an apartment building and strip mall? The developer would force everyone out of their homes, and then conveniently make a place for them to live, only this time he gets all the money and the coffers of the local government get that much richer.

I'm hoping that things like this won't come to pass because the basic goodness in people will keep them from even trying, or that our local governments aren't so corrupt as to allow it, but the very thought that it's not out of the realm of possibility is scary. What's to keep us from becoming a bunch of serfs tied to the land owned by a few wealthy "lords" who were able to "convince" the local authorities to let them "buy" the land (at very reasonable prices, I'm sure) and force everyone off of it?

Isn't that how the communists used to work? And we're not even doing it for a factory or better farm, but for office buildings and strip malls.

I'm Melting!

It's been pretty warm here the past few days, and I'm coming the realization that the HVAC system in my house just isn't up to snuff.

It's too cold on the second story in the Winter, and it's way too hot in the Summer. The first floor seems to maintain the set temperature reasonably well, and the basement is always basement temperatures, but the second floor is a horrible living experience. Even Lucy is hanging out in the basement and will only sit on my lap for a few minutes. And cats are from Africa! It's that hot.

For the past few days I've been able to get away with opening the windows and getting a reasonable amount of cooling, though not as much as I would like. However, now that outside temperatures are high nineties, and inside temperatures are high eighties, windows won't cut it.

Yesterday I closed down all but one of the first story vents and all but the two vents in my bedroom in an effort to get some cooling upstairs. That worked slightly. Basically the upstairs was as miserable as the downstairs. At this point, after checking for leaks around the heater (the humidifier is leaking a little air, but nothing much), I think I'm going to have to call a pro to come out there and tell me what's wrong.

I have plenty of attic vents. Do I need an attic fan? Do I need booster fans in the ducts? Do I need to recharge my AC? Probably not since the heat doesn't get up there either... Well, hopefully this won't be too expensive. Call me paranoid, but I'm not expecting an easy fix. Let's hope I'm wrong.


Last Saturday I was at a friend of a friend's party, doing my best to talk to others. Turns out that a few people at the party are in a kickball league (yep, just like what you played in grade school) organized by MUSA. They invited me to come out and play with their team, "Cntr | Alt | Del", and I accepted. They play on Wednesdays at 9pm, so I don't have to leave work early for it, and hey, it's a co-ed league. :-)

We played at Como Park, under the lights on the softball field. Kinda surreal to be playing kickball under kilowatts of artificial light.

We won the rock-paper-scissors face off and elected to be the "home" team. Not having played kickball for, oh, 25 years, I was put in right field. One of the first balls came right too me. I was a little far back, so I came running forward, lost the ball in the lights, tripped over the grass/dirt interface and got a bloody knee and scraped up palms (caught and dropped the ball). It didn't phase me, it made me more intense. This was going to be fun.

A good time was had by (mostly) all. One player on the opposing team was a bit of an ass, which seemed to wind up one of our players a bit and later a tag was made in a rather forceful manner that had people muttering. Disparaging remarks were made, but it wasn't too bad.

In the 7th or 8th inning, I switched to playing second base, feeling confident I could do a decent job of ball handling. Plus I was tired of doing nothing in right field (I only ever got that one ball -- most balls stay well inside the baseline). One man got to first. The next ball was kicked right to me. I ran forward a few feet and waited for it to arc right to me, hoping that it wouldn't bounce off of my hands. I grabbed it for a fly out and looked to my right to find the man who was on first standing just a couple of feet to my left say "Oh, that's not what I wanted to see." I tossed the ball at his back for an easy tag out and double play. Then center fielder asked me if I was going to be here next week. :-) I almost caught the next kick too, but once again, I lost the ball in the lights and it went over me (I got a pinkie on it, but that was it).

We lost, something like 12 to 5, but we all had fun. I know I had fun. Afterwards we went to Dave's, a bar just one block away to get some beers. I stayed until about 11:30pm, chatting with people. They all seem like very nice people, mostly mid-thirties, so there's a real possibility of making some friends. Yea!

I'm already committed to the Fall league, and I'm excited.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Lost in space

Bummer for Cosmos 1, the first attempt at working a spacecraft propelled by solar sails. CNN reports the Russian ballistic missile it was launched with malfunctioned and, while it appears to have gotten Cosmos 1 into space, it didn't put it where it was supposed to be.

Hopefully the mission can be saved and useful data collected. Solar sails seem to be our best bet at being able to explore the outer planets in a reasonable time frame, and that's an important first step in making life better on this planet.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

F1 at Indy

I just finished watching the F1 race at Indianapolis and I have to say that I really enjoyed the spectacle of it all.

I especially like the fact that no compromises were made and Michelin was hung out to dry, unable to let any of their teams race. This is F1, the motor sport that prides itself on cars with no compromises. Why should the FIA change things because a bunch of people choose poorly? They shouldn't, and they didn't. And that's cool.

This isn't kids' stuff, this is F1. They're not a bunch of school girls. The track is the same for everyone, and the particular corner that's causing the problem has remained unchanged (in its banking level, the thing causing the issue with the tires) for over 90 years. Michelin has supplied tires for 5 previous years' races without any problems. Who forgot about the banked corner this year?

F1 is all about making the best thing you can, and then bringing it out to see if your best is better than everyone else's. Some times you win, some times you lose, and some times you lose big. And when you do, take it like a man.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Cube of Babble

NPR did a story about Herman Miller's subsidiary Sonare Technologies coming out with a cool new product call Babble that promises to make workplace cubical conversations private for the first time. Sounds like interesting technology, and I'll be looking at this kind of technology more closely in the future. Maybe when it comes down from it's initial $395 price tag I'll actually buy one. I like the idea of a personal version of this for cell phone conversations and doctor's offices.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Batman Begins

Last night I skipped out of work a tiny bit early to catch the 5:45pm showing of Batman Begins because it's only a $4 at that time. I didn't want to be into this movie for $8.25 because of the very real chance it might not be that great.

However, I was happily surprised to find it a decent movie, even for someone not that into Batman. The visuals were great, the fighting was well done, Batman's tools were reasonable (so I didn't have to suspend disbelief too much), and the acting was passable. All in all, a movie that I would have been happy to see at twice the price.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Boundary Waters pictures

I finally managed to get the pictures of my Boundary Waters camping trip arranged and posted.

Some are by Mike before his camera got wet, some are by Jon, and some are by me. I'm not saying which are which, but my disposable cameras were clearly inferior to Mike's and Jon's digital cameras. I've elected to leave a couple of very unflattering pictures of me in there for who knows what reason (self loathing?). I especially like the one where I look like Jabba the Hut (taken by me trying to hold the camera at maximum arm's length).

If the pictures are bit slow in loading, I apologize, they're hosted on my home computer and I've not sprung for the extra bandwidth from Comcast yet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Last week I was in California at Apple's World Wide Developer Conference for business.

Among other things that were discussed, I talked with an old friend about his dating experiences of late. He's getting married! Yea for him. I asked him how he had met the lucky lady, since we were both having issues meeting people (and I'm always looking for good ideas). He said that eHarmony had found him his match. He highly recommended it.

Tonight I decided to give it a try. While I was prepared for the inevitable rejection that dating brings with it, I was not prepared to be rejected by eHarmony. Apparently I'm in the 20% of the public that they just haven't figured out, and rather than give me some bad matches, they're going to give me no help whatsoever.

I have to say, being told that you're that unlikely to find a compatible person hurts almost as much as being rejected by a real person. Ouch. Is my nose bleeding?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Boundary Waters Day 4

The fourth day in The Boundary Waters was our last, and shortest, because we were to be picked up at 3pm.

Again, the day started slowly as we had blueberry pancakes and hash browns with the requisite hours of cook time. After I had attacked the frying pan and gotten it as clean as I thought it was going to get, which wasn't clean enough to allow plausible deny ability of the fact that we used it in the fire, Jon scrubbed the frying pan like a mad man and got it that clean. Whew, we weren't going to need to buy them a new pot set.

We decided that we wanted to a hike instead of paddling. We'd had enough of paddling, and we were going to get a couple of miles of paddling even if we wanted to hike.

We found a hiking loop near the south east side of Snowbank. That would good for two reasons, it was a loop which makes hiking it quickly easier, and it was near our pickup point which meant we could spend more time hiking. We brought our lunch and planned to have it on our hike.

Cleaning up camp didn't take too long as our gear was fairly minimal. We did a quick two minute loop around our island to check it out and were on the water at about 11:30am, heading for the short trail that's supposed to take us to the hiking loop. We got to the south-east corner of Snowbank, which was heavily populated with fisherman in motorboats, and tried to find our trail head.

I tried to steer clear of the fishermen, not wanting to get yelled at for scaring away their fish, but our obvious lack of fishing gear and random paddling around the lake caused some of them to take note of us. One asked us if we had heard the weather report. We hadn't. He said the forecast was calling for storms today. A quick check of the skies showed that it was a definite possibility.

We headed for the next cove as a couple of fishermen sped towards us. They were not speeding to get to the best fishing hole, but instead came to ask us if we were lost. We told them we were looking for a trail down on this end of the lake and one of them responded "Oh yeah, it's not used anymore. It's not maintained anymore." He didn't know where the trail might be. We decided to land and Jon would walk into the woods hoping to stumble across the trail.

A few minutes after wandering through the woods, Jon reported that he had found a trail and that it was marked with orange tags. Mike and I backed the canoe out of the cove we were in and headed for the adjacent cove where Jon came out. There was a log that had been worn down, like when a canoe hits it head on, and there was a clear trail that looked like it hadn't been maintained for a few years. We figured this was the trail we were looking for.

Mike set a waypoint on his GPS at our canoe so we could be certain of finding our way back out. We followed the trail about a hundred yards into the woods only to find it abruptly end. There were no more orange tags to be found. We could see a blue tag, and Jon found a couple more, but they were in a straight line and didn't have any walkable path near them. Jon hiked farther into the woods only to find a similar set of grey and red tags, but no trail. After about 10 minutes of searching, and getting eaten by mosquitoes, we backtracked and called it a no-go.

It was about 1pm and we decided to head for an island to eat lunch. Lunch was a simple beef stick and banana chip affair. As we were finishing lunch, the weather turned ugly and it started to rain. We were uncertain of the length or intensity of the rain, so we quickly finished eating and headed towards our pickup point. I don't think anyone wanted to relive the stormy/windy/choppy seas of the previous day. We were quick to get off the island before the water got a chance to get nasty.

We made it to our pickup point at about 2pm and hung out until close to 3pm when our pickup arrived. Once back at the outfitter's, they checked our canoe's various scrapes with the back of their hand and it passed muster. They said that we should head down to the office to check out, and in about 15 minutes they would call down to say if we were clear to leave or if we owed them more money.

We sat outside the office, like kids at the Principal's office waiting to find out if we were in trouble. I mentioned to the owner that the Kevlar canoes are quite easily scratched and he, I believe jokingly, said that we needed to get out of the canoe in deeper water. I responded that we landed our canoes the same way as everyone else we saw and noted that even a stick will scratch the resin of the canoe. He eventually agreed that they were easy to scratch and then got on his radio to check if our gear check was satisfactory. It was.

We breathed a collective sigh of relief and headed back to my car for the 4+ hour drive home. Jon and Mike gave me a hard time for bringing up the scratches on the canoe. I was sure the owner was pulling my leg, but they weren't so sure and were a bit worried that I might have said too much (like that's never happened before!).

The drive home was uneventful, though we eventually met up with the bad weather that had been forecast. At one point, the rain was so intense that all I could make out of the car a couple of hundred feet in front of us were its dim taillights. I remarked that if it stopped abruptly, we were going to stop abruptly too. Luckily, that didn't happen.

A quick shower for everyone and a quick dinner at Chili's closed out the evening with a pleasant mellow air.

Everyone had a great time, and Mike and Jon said that they would be interested in doing it again. Now that we have a better idea of how The Boundary Waters work I think that we can plan out a trip that would suit our needs better. It was pretty clear that the outfitter expected us to be fishing and not paddling 50 miles in two and a half days, so we either need to plan everything ourselves, which I think we can do now, or find a different outfitter that's more geared towards hiking trips.

All in all, it was a good time and I hope we all get to do it again.