December 6th, 2009

#1840: You can take the blogger out of the blog....

Steven Den Beste writes a great post at about "government by wishful thinking". It's great reading.

* * *

I agree: fifteen years and $10 billion is not enough time or money to build a space elevator, particularly when the cable is still made of unobtanium. You'll spend years and billions of dollars just finding ways to make a strong enough cable; and after that you will still have everything else to do.

Not too long ago I had a discussion in the gunblogger conspiracy IRC channel about using radiothermal generators to power cars, and the person I was talking to refused to accept that the problems with doing that are greater than mere politics and the general acceptance of nuclear power. There are real engineering problems which have to be contended with; while these problems have solutions they are not trivial.

Engineering problems are always trivial to the person who doesn't actually have to solve them.

It gets worse when you're talking about an all-new paradigm like a space elevator; we can make a few educated guesses about some of the problems that will arise, but we can't predict all of them...and some of the unpredictable ones will be doozies.

Take, for example, the suspension bridge. We built plenty of suspension bridges before 1940; yet the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed a few months after its completion because of wind-induced resonant oscillation which no one had predicted or anticipated.

We might be able to build a space elevator in fifteen years and for ten billion dollars...someday. But not until someone spends a lot more time and money than that learning how to build them.

* * *

So the job market is suddenly much better than it was, eh?

Emerson Electric's CEO isn't planning to hire anyone; are his views representative?

Reuters gives us twelve reasons unemployment will hit 12%. And that measure, by the way, is U3, not U6. A U3 of 12% means a U6 of 19%. Remember, when George W. Bush was in the White House, U6 was "more accurate".

* * *

"The perversity of inanimate objects tends to a maximum," and I have finally figured out why.

Scott Angel quotes Genesis:
"Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.

"Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;

"For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return."

--Genesis 3:9-19
God cursed the ground because Adam and Eve disobeyed Him and--worse--tried to hide their disobedience and lay the blame for it elsewhere. And I realized, after reading this, that everything we make or build comes from the ground. The iron to make that car? Ground. The plastic in that LEGO brick that randomly pops loose? Ground. The spare tire winch which loves Og's head? Ground.

It all comes from the ground, and the ground is cursed. And that's why the junk is so annoying; you can thank Adam, Eve, and Satan for it.

* * *

Chemicals come from the ground, too.

* * *

Apparently I am not the only person who dislikes Sarah Jessica Parker's entire ouerve.

...bit mean comparing her to Ron Perlman in his "Beast" makeup, but only a bit....

* * *

The opening line of this opinion piece is pure gold: "Pretty much anything Bono or Sean Penn write is a festival of crap that would never be tolerated from another contributor."

"A festival of crap". WTF, Sean Penn's entire existence is a "festival of crap". Ditto for Bono-head; there isn't a single U2 song I like. It's all crap.

Sean Penn? He is the entire reason I never saw Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and I figure that playing Jeff Spicoli had to be the height of his career--because of his performances which I have seen, he played whiny douchebags. Much the same as his role in real life, now that I think of it.
Newspaper editors are, mostly, slightly shabbily dressed former reporters who think Bono is actually cool, rather than an aging midget who wears sunglasses indoors.

"Sean Penn is a great actor and a terrible writer. Appalling. Meandering circles of shit.", he's not a great actor. "Oscar"? C'mon--Penn's father was a communist, blacklisted by the HUAC; that alone is enough to give a mediocre actor enough street cred with the academy to guarantee an Oscar for something.

* * *

Generally speaking the Fungus is pretty highly anti-celebrity. Show me a celebrity worth idolizing and I might change that policy; but in my 42.5 years on this planet I have found a precious few people who I thought were worth idolizing:

Harold Edgerton
Richard Feynman
Edward Teller
Robert Heinlein

These are the people I would be utterly gaga over, were any of them still alive. None of them are actors or musicians. In fact, only one of them is a celebrity in the conventional sense; the other three are famous scientists.

Harold Edgerton is the reason I chose my major; he's the guy who invented the strobe light and the apparatus of high-speed photography. His doctorate was in electrical engineering.

I probably don't need to explain why Feynman or Heinlein are on the list. But Teller?

Teller, the "father of the hydrogen bomb", is on the list because he worked tirelessly to ensure that the United States had it first--because he had seen what communism and fascism were like first-hand. He was a brilliant physicist who also understood how the real world worked, and had no use for communists or their sympathizers.

(I may think of another name or two later on. But none of them will be performers, either.)

Bono is a freaking singer and Penn is an actor and neither of them is any good at anything outside their professions. It would be nice if someone could tell them, "Look, you suck at this" and have them actually hear and understand it, but that's not going to happen. Those guys get too much "Oh, Mr. [name], you're so SMART and BRILLIANT!" *sigh*

* * *

As for me, I didn't end up going to the parade I spent so much time bitching about in a prior post. But at least this time it was all my own fault.

I got about 2 hours of sleep before getting up around 6:30 AM; and after having breakfast, I stayed up. I should not have done that. And to make matters worse, I got out the PSOne and started playing Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus...and finally quit that around 2-ish. Asking Mom to wake me at 5 PM, I went to bed. It probably took me about half an hour to fall asleep.

When I woke up at 4:45 I felt ready for embalming and decided I wasn't going to go.

I was still awake at 6 PM; I could have gone...but by that point I had settled back into bed and I was nice and toasty warm, and almost perfectly comfortable. Did it make sense to leave that to watch a parade in the freezing cold? When I hadn't gotten enough sleep and my arms and legs were still aching with fatigue?

Well, maybe next year.

* * *

I had been contemplating digging out the PSOne and playing some videogames anyway. The carpal tunnel problem comes from clicking the mouse; the Sony DualShock controller requires the use of completely different muscles, and it's better than listening to my MP3 player and moping, which has been most of what I've been doing when I haven't been sleeping or doing other things.

I haven't even tried several of the games that came with the thing. I got it from another member of the Fiero forum; he asked if anyone wanted it and I made him a lowball offer which--it turned out--was about what GameStop had offered, only in store credit. I was paying cash, so he sent it to me.

At the time, the PSOne was rather long in the tooth, the PS2 was years old, and the PS3 a year or so from release. Now with the PS3 on the market for 3-4 years, the PSOne isn't even on the radar any longer. Especially since you can get a new PS2 for $100 now; and I have to admit I've been tempted by that, several times. One major advantage of upgrading to a PS2 would be that I could finally get a copy of Dance Dance Revolution.

With the PSOne I got a stack of games (many of which were bought used by the previous owner, as it turns out) and most of them I have never played at all. The "Abe's World" game is the one which I played the most; I tried Twisted Metal 2 but didn't play it much.

A trip to GameStop netted me the World's Wildest Police Videos game (!) and the Atari arcade game pack. (And Oddworld: Abe's Oddysey) but I never played them very much, either.

I'm just not a big console game guy.

But I noticed that I have a copy of Resident Evil 2 and I thought I might give that a try. I don't know anything about the RE franchise, so from here I think it's a "go shoot everything" game--I am probably wrong--and I wouldn't mind playing that kind of game. So we'll see.

* * *

If I had not been playing video games and sleeping, Saturday would have been a good day to put up the outdoor Christmas lights. Maybe today; maybe next week.

* * *

A few days ago I cleaned up my room a bit. Mainly it was the result of realizing that the empty media cabinet in the dining room didn't have to be empty just because it was in the dining room; so I filled it with videotapes, books, and DVDs which were taking up space in my room and which I was not likely to want in the immediate future. Then I went through the other piles of stuff and found places for many of those items which were not in my room, or which at least were more efficiently placed in my room. The result is hardly visible, but if you saw "before" and "after" pictures you'd see the difference.

It's still not what anyone could call "clean", not by any stretch of the imagination, unless the person in question is the kind of incorrigible pack rat who has piles of old newspapers in his house and narrow paths from room to room. But it's better than it was, and it makes the basis of a starting point for getting rid of the rest of the mess.

* * *

Chance of snow Tuesday and Wednesday. We'll see.

#1841: Sirius, lose the James Brown. Seriously.

I've had Sirius-XM's "Holiday Traditions" channel on. For the most part they play nice Christmas music: there's no John Lennon, Paul McCarthy, Madonna, WHAM!, USA for Africa, Band Aid, nor anyone of their ilk. There is no hippie moralizing, nor are there any songs which attempt to minimize Christmas spirit by making you feel guilty for not living in a third world country. In general, this is good. I would not mind getting through an entire holiday season without hearing the signature Christmas tunes of those performers/groups.

In fact, in the entire time I've listened so far this season, they've played one version of "Santa, Baby" once, and it wasn't the version by Madonna. Believe me, this is a mark in their favor.

And the same goes for many modern performances of Christmas music. No matter which artist does it, I haven't heard a single contemporary version of a Christmas carol which was worth squat. (Mannheim Steamroller does yeoman service, but even their most recent emission was sub-par. Too much "this is what made us successful" and too little "this is actually well-done".)

But it's not unalloyed bliss. There are three problems I have with Sirius-XM's musical lineup. (I would not be writing about it if I couldn't complain.)

First: James Brown is a marvelously talented performer--I wouldn't even begin to attempt to argue he wasn't--but no performer can hit every note or sing every song. There are all kinds of songs the man has sung which cannot be imitated by others, but James Brown and Christmas carols simply do not go together.

Second: "Baby, It's Cold Outside". This is not a bad song; it does not mean it must be played at least once per hour. There are some four or five versions of it in the channel's playlist; I think it could safely be trimmed to one or two.

Third: "Merry Christmas, Baby". Ditto. Christmas-themed blues songs which are not depressing are rare; but this one doesn't need to be played all the damned time.

If I could hack into their playlist, after I made those changes, I'd also add a few Mannheim Steamroller songs. (The good ones, not the commercial ones.) Hilary Stagg's Winter Magic would go in. Maybe selected tracks from David Arkenstone's Christmas album, just to mix it up.

Generally speaking, this year their mix is better than last year's. So that's good.

* * *

Well, I tried playing Resident Evil 2 on the PSOne. Boy, did that suck.

It was like the Sensei! Ninomiya-kun! video game in Minami-ke.
For a certain reason, Kana and Chiaki are playing a game that Kana has borrowed from a friend. We see the screen of the TV as they play the game. Chiaki is controlling "sensei" and Kana is controlling "Ninomiya-kun", a high school girl.

They walk into a room. The high school girl runs into a crate and stalls, running in place. A zombie comes out of the side door and starts attacking the girl. She screams ("kyaa!"), still running in place, and it attacks her again. She screams again, suddenly fires two rounds from a gun she hadn't had a moment before, and then dies. "Ninomiya-kun!" says sensei.

This is the funniest moment in the series so far, at least to me. Why? Because it was so real. The element of truth was what made it so funny: Kana is playing a game she's never played before, and she doesn't know how to play it. So her character fumbles around on the screen and gets killed in very short order: "Kyaa! Kyaa! blam blam Eeyaiggh! Ninomiya-kun!"
My attempt at playing RE2 approximated that...five times in a row.

I spent more time watching the cutscenes than I did playing the game, including skipping past them 4 additional times.

When the game finally starts, your character is surrounded by five or so zombies. None of the controls are intuitive (it took me three character deaths before I learned that you have to hold R1 while pressing the attack button in order to shoot) and the character moves at a slow walk when you try to move him around.

Yeah, you read that correctly: I died three times before I managed to fire so much as a single freaking shot. (WITH reading the manual pamphlet.)

When you get killed, you're treated to a 30-second animation of zombies eating your character, while the DualShock controller vibrates like a gasoline-powered marital aid. There is no way to skip it; you get to watch the whole thing while blood splatters the screen and the words "YOU DIED" slowly fade in. (No shit? My character died? I couldn't have guessed from the way he folded like a bad tent in a hurricane and now has zombies swarming all over him making messy eating sounds.)

I spent more time watching the "you died" animation than I did playing the game.

And this was on the easiest mode, where you start with a machine gun and inifinite ammunition.

After death #5 I decided This shit isn't worth it and took the thing out. I very nearly smashed the CD over my knee to make the point, but I decided I might someday wish to fob this piece of crap off on someone who has the reflexes of a 15-year-old gamer geek who lives on Mountain Dew and Skittles.

It provides, in fact, a textbook example of how not to make a game. Making the starting screen fricking impossible for a novice to clear is not going to make the novice in question want to come back for more, nor is it going to make the novice interested in seeing what else the series has to offer.

You start off slowly, because some people need to learn how to run the character before they can jump in and fend off five zombies. (Five zombies, I might add, which can take multiple bullets from a 9mm machine gun before dying.) Start with one zombie, maybe two. Five? No.

While we're at it, having the character move faster than a slow walk would be a plus. He's just narrowly escaped death and he's surrounded by the living dead--I think he'd be amped up on adrenaline, for one, and would probably default to sprinting. (I would. And the character is a rookie cop, first day on the job; he's not a 40-something fatass who spends most of his time in front of a computer.)

So I think RE2 is a shit game, and I think it's a shit game because I can't stay alive long enough in it to enjoy it. I don't need this kind of crap.

If I thought I could get anything worthwhile for the effort, I'd take the sports games and this junk to GameStop--but they'd probably give me about $4 in store credit. What would that buy me, part of a DS game? Screw it. I started Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus with a view to rescuing every last mudokan. So far, 33 out of 75 (the first part of the game) and zero casualties...though I've had to make heavy use of quicksave to do it.

* * *

Looking for the quote about Minami-ke led me to some other posts, and I found this quote: "Minor complaint: the new version of Solitaire in Windows Vista doesn't let you resent the "win/lose" statistic." Heh. You don't need the software to let you resent it. Typo FTW!

#1842: Is that all? Hell, let's build two of 'em.

If one wants to power the world with solar power, only 90,000 square kilometers of the Sahara Desert would have to be covered with solar power plants.

Only 90,000 square kilometers! Is that all?


If you have no trouble building a solar plant the size of INDIANA, go right ahead.

Look: 90,000 square kilometers may be only one percent of the Sahara's area, but it is still a fucking big area.

Obviously, they wouldn't build one huge solar thermal plant; it'd be a conglomeration of hundreds of smaller plants. But even so, you're talking about covering a square patch of desert 300 km on a side with solar reflectors.

Problem the first:

Steerable mirrors--thousands of them--all of which must be kept clean (in a desert!) to maximize reflectivity and ensure peak efficiency.

Problem the second:

...but you need to build two--at least two--of these plants, one on either side of the planet, because unless you're planning to stop the Earth's rotation there is no way a solar power plant in the Sahara can supply power 24 hours per day. Otherwise you'll need coal/oil/nuclear plants to provide power at night; and if you have those already, why bother with the solar plant? Particularly when it's far away?

Problem the third:

The Sahara Desert is surrounded on three sides by insane muslim radical nations. What do you do when they blow up your power plant? I'm just saying that the security of your power source is questionable.

To be sure, the article isn't discussing such a grandiose operation; it's talking about a real-world plan to provide 15% of Europe's power by 2050. But even so, I think the problems I outlined above are still serious issues.