Friday, October 31, 2008

International Drop-a-Name Day

I know you thought it was Halloween. Well, what about this? Whaddaya call a pound of shortening in a can, plus Duncan Renaldo?

The Crisco Kid.



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tony Hillerman

The author of the Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee detective stories set on the Navajo Indian reservation has passed on at 83, in an Albuquerque hospital. He is survived by seven or eight of my favorite novels.


Monday, October 27, 2008

The Classics

My uncle gave me one of these leather grip Estwing rock hammers when I was in high school, back in 1959. I had it all through college and carried it from place to place after that, for years. My holy grail was to find an Iowa geode. Never did. My sister-in-law, before she got married, stumbled over one in the back yard of her student digs on Knapp Street. A big one. Oh, well, at least I've seen the planet Mercury. Some astronomers go their whole lives without seeing Mercury. Some rock hounds never even find a rock with native crystals (except those weird curved dolomite crystals around Niagara Falls), let alone a perfect Iowa geode the size of a cantalope.

Long story short, I lost the hammer to the exigencies of feckless fickle fate, but found a replacement here, for about fifty bucks including s&h.

This is the pick, a classic in utilitarian design and an industrial work of art; Estwing used to make a leather grip model of their chisel ended sedimentary rockbuster (basically a bricklayer's hammer), but that's only available these days in blue nylon/vinyl. The one piece forged steel is still there; only the handle is cheap. More durable, maybe. And maybe more visible if you drop it?

[Update] American craftsmanship has gone downhill a bit. In 1960, the hammer I just got by FedEx would have been a factory second. There are minor blemishes in the leatherwork and toolmarks on the base plate and picktip. Also, handle feels like it's coated with polyurethane these days. In the old days, it felt more natural. There is also a certain blandness in color, less contrast in the leather windings over the handle.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Beautiful downtown Balfonheim

Wish you were here.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Honeybees and William Jennings Bryan

Article in Science News online.

Back to politics, here's a recording of William Jennings Bryan arguing for a bank deposits guaranty scheme for private individuals in 1908. A forerunner of the FDIC?


Green butter and toast

Those little swirly energy-saving light bulbs make your butter look green. Not a very flattering light, either. And breakage releases mercury vapor. And has anyone had one of these things turned on for seven years? Really? Better things for better living through chemistry? Or another fine example of how the profit motive doesn't have your best interests at heart?

Ok, so "little swirly light bulbs" are a viral consumer stopgap — however the real future in home lighting is true white LEDs, when they finally show up. Those should last 50 years powered by AA batteries. Any guesses on ETA? A bull market without a ring in its nose is worthless. Maybe, after we've got all the bears out of the pit, it's time we tried a little extra socialism?


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Only Eleven More Days 'til Fudge McSludge Goes Away For Good

Rudy "The Evil One" Giuliani is voicing vile, lying robocall attack ads on John "McSludge" McCain's behalf these days. Hopefully, Obama has already bought the Nihopaloa accessory, so all that soul-destroying evil hate and darkness turns to light, higher poll numbers, massive waves of pro-Obama early voters in every State, sweetness and love and puppy dogs and all good things.

Nihopaloa? Sorry, Final Fantasy must be leaking over into my reality this morning. It's expensive.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sarah Palin bobbin' on SNL

Gadzooks, now that's gravitas. Give that clown a cap and bells!


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Random Acts of Socialism

Not that socialism is a bad word, mind you. I suspect comedy done away with godless Communism, just as comedy is slowly (and somewhat sixfingeredly) tying the tubes of godless Capitalism. The middle ground appears to be socialism.

Which works just fine in Sweden, and used to work in England, at least until Margaret Thatcher got her harpy's billhook into the shepherd's pie. The free association of willing reformers is at least as important to the commonwealth of nations as the unimpeded spew of its lunatic fringe.

Personally, I hope President Obama invites the Dixie Chicks to his Inaugural Gala.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Out of Order

I see McCain is calling President Obama a "socialist" — which seems a bit out of order to me, coming from an intellectually bankrupt laissez-faire know nothing whose bad luck and bad judgment overlap like red and blue make purple. When you need a government, you need a government that works, no offense there, oldtimer. <*Yaaaawwn*> Tampa Bay versing the Phillies is way more interesting, and should rip off just enough attention from politics for half the 14 or so days until the election. (My guess is the Phillies in six, but Tampa Bay is really fun to watch.)

Speaking of random non sequiturs, I've discovered you can play FFXII out of order, too. So, e.g., right now I've avoided finishing the Stillshrine of Miriam (it leads to another annoying boss encounter with the Imperials), and by dint of sheer fleetfootedness, I've managed to open up the Mosphoran Highwastes and the Salikawood, plus the north half of Dalmasca Estersands and the Barheim Passage's back door entrance. That's a big playground to level up in. I want to come out of the Stillshrine at about level 40 or 45 before heading off to the Phon Coast. [Update: 38, 37, 37]

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

More Elder Wyrm

I was stuck trying to spring Ashe out of the pokey on Leviathan — Judge A and Judge B kept cleaning my clock. So I leveled up, very tediously I might add, to about level 20, and made it a point to get all three quickenings set up for every character, all six of them. After that, it was a piece of cake, despite low abilities otherwise. The License charts looked like mining and sapping ops, a straight line to the edge of the board, and sparse else.

TMALSS, that made things pretty much dead easy from the Ogir-Yensa Sandsea through the Tomb of Raithwall to the Henna Mines to Bur-Omisace. Tiamat was kinduva joke. I remembered the Demon Walls in Raithwall, both of them, but couldn't remember which was which (one of them is easy). The first one fell to a chain of 15 quickenings (a personal best) followed by 7 more. But the second wall just crumbled. Oh yeah. Shoulda run for it in Round 1.

I remembered the Elder Wyrm from last time, but just forged ahead when time came to move along. Only one trick, I used my second team (9 quickenings) first to take the old boy down about half way, then sent in the first string — Vaan, Balthier and Fran, also 9 q's. That drained his life bar down to a stub with too much left for comfort, but by then it was just a matter of Phoenix Downs and attrition. Only Fran and Balthier were left standing.

Right now, I've forgotten the trick to activating the Stillshrine of Miriam, but it'll come to me... Hmmmmmmmmm...

Obligatory reference to John McCain. Vote, people! Vote early! Vote now, today!

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Debate? What debate?

I voted for Obama weeks ago, so I've skipped all three of the live debates, preferring the MSNBC rehashes — occasionally. I skipped Letterman this evening, too. I usually do, but I didn't want to take a chance on throwing a full cup of coffee at the television with McCain on there.

Here's a picture of Sarah Palin's Rubber Dodo Award, just for kicks. Many, hard, kicks.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Insect evolution

This is a water boatman, a kind of true bug (i.e., Hemiptera; note the crossed wings), and very, very modern. But, the boatman's long, flat, hairy legs used for swimming underwater, serve as a helpful aid in visualizing the origins of insect wings.

Consider. We now know that insects arose in fresh water along with vascular plants during the late Silurian about 430 million years ago, and that their closest relatives were freshwater crustaceans similar to the brine and fairy shrimp which survive today.

Fairy shrimp have an interesting feature — about 7 to 15 pairs of legs lining their long thoraces, one pair of appendages per thoracic segment. By comparison, insects have "only" six legs (3 pairs of thoracic segment appendages). But insects evolved for scores of millions of years between the Silurian and the Carboniferous, when gigantic dragonflies buzzed the horsetails and club mosses. A recount of all those insect appendages modified to other uses lists 3 pairs of legs and two pairs of wings per thorax, with possibly a couple of palps migrating forward to the mouthparts in the head. These suggest a proto-insect crustacean ancestor with a six or seven segmented thorax, well within the body type of freshwater Anostracans.

Now evolution begins to knead the hot wax of DNA, forming it into shapes useful for aquatic insects. Step one, something like the water boatman's swimming limbs, probably appendages from the anterior, first two thoracic segments. These eventually become wide, veined (like all insect wings) and possibly, able to hook together on each side for extra power bursts. A complete set of "water wings" (no more implausible than a turtle's or a penguin's — or a water boatman's!) And, of course, at this point, the entire insect life cycle is still underwater.

So when did the wing pairs migrate up on the thorax to the insect's "back"? Probably early, just as modern airplanes suspend or support their fuselage on the airfoil plane. In the case of insects, "early" would mean "still underwater." It seems likely that the pair of appendages just behind (i.e., rearwards from) the wings would migrate forward and become mouthparts (perhaps the undershot folded jaw of a dragonfly larva?)

It seems even likelier that this entire wing evolution — up to and including transparent, veined wings! — played out within the Anostracan crustaceans, and that this is the development that launched insects as a competitively favored group. (It is no more true that springtails and silverfish are the "first" insects than that crocodiles are the "first" birds.)

When the fossil record becomes more complete, it seems likely that one might find both wing forms (upper or lower), with the lower plan dying out. Considering the fluid dynamics involved, t seems extremely unlikely that body plans would exhibit six wings (3 pairs), although I suppose that is not impossible. The "biplane" type, with wings over and under the fuselage of Snoopy's Sopwith Camel, probably never existed because an insect's wings are not merely airfoils, but the cutting edges of insect propulsion.

Point being, just like whales, insects have "intermediate" forms, and "intermediate wings" are not only useful, they convey a huge competitive advantage to insects living in water over other freshwater crustaceans which, in the modern era, are reduced to living in vernal pools and puddles during desert rainy seasons.

Disclaimer: This is a complete crock, of course — or as I like to call it, just an educated guess. But I was right about plate tectonics back in 1968, Iowa State geology class, so who knows? The wonderfulness of a decent theory like evolution is that it allows one to make predictions with a fair likelihood of eventually turning up in the slowly accumulating body of fact. Besides, creationists have used insects to poke alleged holes in Darwinian theory for decades, but the evidence so far does not support the pig-ignorant, irrational view.

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Drink mo' Poe

'Strooth! My kid discovered that, in OoT, you can drink a Poe — just catch one in a bottle. Your life meter goes up or down a bit if you imbibe.

Not as much fun as watching John McCain lance his own karmic boils, maybe, but about the same result. Half a heart either way. (More importantly, can the Dodgers hold off the Phillies tonight?)

On November 4th, vote Obama.

Old tricks seem new to young pups, but she found this one on her own!

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

She said disingenuously...

"I did not call [Sarah Palin] Gov. Gidget or Caribou Barbie." — columnist Susan Estrich
Nice mention, though, 'ey, kiddo? I love it when they refuse to twist the scalpel without anaesthetics.

I've called Sarah Palin a glow-in-the-dark biohazard, but that's only because she's a fear-mongering secessionist twit who doesn't mind inciting to riot. (To be fair, the only real danger she poses is to McCain's chances on November 4th.)

That said, we did hear a word of Zen from John McCain this week: "No, ma'am. No, ma'am. [Barack Obama] is a decent family man." This, contradicting the woman who said Obama's an "Arab." He even added, to another audience member, "You don't have to be a-skeered of President Obama."

That's the John McCain I remember, the one I could have supported months ago, before it became too late. It was interesting to hear Joe Biden defending McCain earlier, on the grounds that McCains's actually unhappy banging on the ol' Nixon/Rove/Atwater war drums.

The Sean Hannity/Rush Limbaugh wingnuts are as much an embarassment to Eisenhower Republicans as the Ku Klux Klan was to New Deal Democrats.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Nice ending

Finished Final Fantasy IX about 15 minutes ago. Nine point nine stars out of five. Never did manage to get into Mognet Central, never did level up my Chocobo, never did find all of the Sprites, or Hades, or Ozma. I'll have to play it over again, I guess. Maybe for Christmas.

My final party, all the way from Memoria to the Flying Theater, was Zidane (level 70), Dagger (no Ark), Eiko (no Carbuncle) and Freya (with her cheap, maxed out Dragon's Crest hitting 9999 every single time).

Biggest blunder? Selling precious stones for gil, including the ruby! Strangest running joke, aside from Moogles and Chocobos? The four-armed man in Treno and Daguerreo...! Sweetest fantasy? It's a game. If you level up high enough, you'll win the game.

This joins my short list of all-time favorite games. Which are Myst, Tomb Raider 3, Star Ocean (honorable mention); Tomb Raiders 1 & 2, Star Ocean: Second Story, Star Ocean: Blue Sphere, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Final Fantasy I & II, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy XII, and Canasta, but who plays that anymore?


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Hmm... Easier than I thought...

Kuja stumbled momentarily in Pandemonium on the second try, after a short battle with Zidane (level 61, Orichalca), Dagger (level 58, without Odin), Eiko (level 48, Madeen) and Amaranth (level 53, using Sun Disks, apparently a kind of superheated Frisbee). The usual netwits were suggesting unusual difficulties (except for the Game Nuncles who publish their 30 second exploits on TubeYou), but no — in hot pursuit to Disc 4.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Price of gas in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Yesterday, gas (ethanol-added "Premium") dropped another dime to $3.099 a gallon in Cedar Rapids. Weird, but that kind of unfair we can take. I thought gasoline was in really short supply in the South — you know, down South where the hurricanes and the big oil infrastructure are? I'd be more impressed but I can remember gas at 30¢ a gallon.

Is this an October bribe for Iowa, an oil slick on political passions in a formerly Republican state now leaning toward Obama?

Not to change the subject, but George W. Bush seems to have been quietly putting some environmental protections in place, such as the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, a sparsely populated and undervisited (but drastically overfished) underwater wonderland northwest of Hawaii. It's almost as if he's been doing some ecogreen stuff for one of his kids, kind of like school projects. How does an ideologue fiend do the Teddy Roosevelt right-thing-to-do occasionally? History may be a bit kinder to Bush around the edges, after American voters have finally lanced this boil.

My day for wierd stuff. Did you ever have a dream where everything was bone white? Tables, lamps, chairs, rugs, wall, people, birds? All the right shapes, just made out of White? White as milk, or toothpaste. Strangest dream I ever had — tossing and turning, trying to get my colors back. My wife woke me up and demanded to know what all the thrashing around was about...

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

R & R

FFIX makes a sudden left and a sharp diving buzz bomb run toward insanity after you've gotten out of Ipsen's Castle. You have to split up your team and face four Guardians of Terra with four teams of two — and nobody's ready for it! So, after you drag your sorry tails out of the Water, Fire, Wind and Earthquake Shrine disasters, point the Hilde Garde 3 toward the bottom left corner of your map and regroup at Daguerreo. Bring gil.


Monday, October 06, 2008

John McCain: "Viva la barracuda!"

John McCain hearts his lying bitch valkyries unvaccinated, I guess. Sarah Palin is now in full gape attack dog biohazard mode. It wasn't pretty when war hero Bob Dole did it, and it's even less attractive now when Palin hikes up her hemline with that hooker's twitch on her lips and salavers into her above-the-knee, made-fer-walkin' boots. Never saw that one comin', I betcha! Ye gods, doggonit, I must be psychic...

"With sufficient thrust, pigs fly just fine. However, this is not necessarily a good idea...." — RFC 1925


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Innocence and experience

Portrait of my mother and niece, 1977, Ames, Iowa.

Copyright © Heirs of Helen E. Oshel

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Fish faces

>{^O^} {^O^}<

(this bit is yesterday's newspaper on the canary cage floor)


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Sarah Palin, Motormouth

RPG'ers know what that means. It doesn't actually connote non-stop, frame-filling BS. It means quick on the draw, able to launch that magic spell faster than normal. That's Palin's advanced Barracuda skill, a kind of full-mouthed, preternaturally fast attack mode with smiling, even teeth. Like a barracuda. Or in fresh waters, a muskellunge, same idea. Full marks for that one.

In other respects, she's a noob. Always will be, perpetually stuck at the lowest levels of unminded evolution, forever unable to learn, mainly because she's impaled herself (like all bony fish) on the sturdy palisades of unnecessary thought.

For example, for her, the past is damaged in essence and therefore (four millenia of church history to the contrary) inessential — she can simply wish it away like chalk off a blackboard — because as a true born-again believer, that pentacostal gift of ineffable, unvoiceable grace promised in hours-long sermons every Sunday is, dogonnit, Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket straight to the chocolate vats of Paradise, no efforts required, no regrets and above all, no atonement for collateral damage done. (Catholics — my brand — may have gang aft agley concerning the role of reason and science, in particular the biological sciences these days, but to our eternal credit we've kept Purgatory on the lists of legitimate pause.)

I could go on. For example, Palin isn't "pretty." No, really. What she is, is symmetrical, Perfectly banal from any angle, in other words. Incidentally, I think the reason she couldn't name a newspaper or magazine is probably because she gets her news off the internet, and she couldn't very well say "Google," now, could she? I mean, would you say Goooggull Nyuuuz in polite company? Of course not. Yeah, that's probably it.

But tell me she wasn't jacked up on something! You don't get that kind of pupillary diameter by flirting with old guys you intend to slip a mickey to (*wink*)...

Biden won the debate with pure overt Rope-a-Dope®. And Palin obliged nicely, as we knew she would. She slew herself with the jawbone of an ass. That Obama guy's a (*beep*)ing genius.

What? You didn't immediately think of Original Sin? You haven't been perusing your Gibbon, my friend. (Or Cuppy's Decline either, for that matter.)


Catching up...

Final Fantasy IX, I'm happy to report (only 8 years after its release!) is up to snuff. The manic pace and plot is thoroughly in tune with the various oddball characters. There's stuff in here I've never dreamed of, to slightly misquote C. S. Lewis' recommendation of his friend J. R. R. Tolkien's LOTR. Dunno how it comes out yet. I'm only just leaving Eiko's kitchen for the Conde Petie mountain pass. My 14yo tells me she has a friend who's played this game front to back eight times over, and I can well believe it.

FFXII, with Vaan and Penelo, Balthier and Fran, wasn't truly odd. Grand, yes. Odd, no. More like a culmination of enormous but familiar themes. FFIX, on the other hand, flickers near a natural history of the cultural imagination. It feels like discovery, not revelation.


Just another found object...

Hmm. Are both Palin and McCain druggies? He obviously does speed, judging by the snide ripsnarls in the video of his Des Moines Register editorial board interview. Is she doing pot to stay adorable? Big problem up there in Alaska right after alcohol and incest, I hear.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

October: National Politician Insanity Month

Be kind to your candidate this month. These are the days that drive sane men and women mad — or, as a Jimmy Carter-era bigwig once said in my earshot, the time that a candidate's body chemistry goes out of whack and makes them stink. (No joke, I've noticed.)

Frankly, by now, if you're not already in place to win on Election Day, you're going to lose. The con artists have shot their wads. The dead have duly risen from the grave and found their angelic places among the precinct choirs, the winners are chewing up the scenery and the losers are eating their young alive.

The losers are, in fact, counting the hours till their tenures expire and their jail terms begin. The bloodied veterans of backroom administration brawls are applying merthiolate to their scars and tightening up their stitches — any bets Colin Powell won't get Secretary of Defense?