Archive for October, 2011


Coyote Alert!

October 31, 2011

Apparently there have been more sightings of coyotes than usual in the western suburbs of Chicago. Lock up your pets and small children!

I thought we lived in civilization.


Why you should never wear the red shirt

October 27, 2011

Never wear the red shirt!


Listen to your elders…

October 27, 2011

Listen to your elders...

Again, from the series of sites.


Happy Halloween from Basement Cat

October 27, 2011



Complaining about TV and radio commercials

October 27, 2011

If you hate rants, you probably will want to skip this one. This is definitely one of those where I just need to get something off of my chest. It has to do with things that irritate me about about TV and radio commercials.

First, in case you haven’t noticed, TV commercials usually are broadcast at a higher relative volume than the program in which they are located. You’re not imagining that. In fact, President Obama just signed the CALM Act into law that is supposed to help reduce the volume of commercials. Did we need a Federal law for this? Recently it seems that whenever Obama can’t get something passed he tries to use a Federal agency to get the same result using a rules change. Those don’t require Congressional approval. The EPA is particularly good at this kind of end run. I figure the CALM Act was important because Congresscritters  want to go back home and tell their constituents they were looking out for them and got those annoying commercials turned down.

The broadcasters have a point, though: today, depending on what kind of show, the dynamic range used in a soundtrack could be quite wide, especially on the hi-def side.  Our local Fox HD channel tends to broadcast at a lower overall volume level than the other local channels. We tend to turn the volume up on shows like “Fringe.” Then when the commercials come on we’re blown out the windows behind the couch. It would be nice if the broadcasters, or at least the local stations, could actually monitor this and limit the volume on the commercials.

Now that we have that one solved, on to the fun:

First, I’ve heard this several times lately, both on radio and TV, in commercials for several different sponsors: confusing of the usage of the worlds less and fewer. I don’t recall hearing that in years past. Do we really have that much trouble with grammar today. Is it another problem like possessives and plural possessives? This is high school English. Didn’t anyone catch these things and fix them? For example, I just saw a Mercedes-Benz TV commercial referring to a new two-door version of a four-door sedan model as having “less doors.” Huh? Who is the ad agency for Mercedes and why are they hiring middle school students who get Cs in English as copywriters? (Even WordPress flags less doors.)

I always thought it was funny that certain topics and language on TV was supposed to be kept to the 10 o’clock hour – except that only applied to the Eastern time zone. Since the same national broadcast schedule is used for the Central time zone, our kids had to be ushered away from the TV at 9 to be kept from the mature stuff. Does that mean the kids in the Central time zone (and others) don’t matter as much as the kids on the East Coast?

That wasn’t my point, though. It’s that this rule apparently doesn’t apply to commercials. Cialis and Viagra commercials are on pretty much at any time of the evening, from what I can see. And since the distribution of commercials throughout the evening is apparently done by cretins, it seems to be  almost a given that the same commercial will appear during a program three or four times. (Cable channels like USA are even worse; sometimes they have only a couple of commercials to run for a whole hour plus the promos for their own shows.) I really don’t want to have to explain what erectile dysfunction is to my granddaughters!

Radio has the same issue. I listen to talk radio a lot, and they run commercials for men’s medical clinics and men’s natural testosterone supplements at any time of day. Then there’s the “1-800=KARS-FOR-KIDS” jingle, which has to be one of the worst on the planet. I don’t expect WLS-AM to be a classical music or public radio station, but dang, again, how do I explain this stuff to my grandkids in the car? (OK, I’m not far enough gone to have them listen to Rush Limbaugh quite yet. i think a child should be at least eight years old before he or she is exposed to the EIB network.)

And there was a radio commercial playing over the last couple of weeks having to do with upgrading the electrical grid in Illinois. The beginning of the 60-second spot talked about how Thomas Edison wouldn’t recognize much of today’s technology, but he would recognize our outdated, century-old electrical grid.

Well, he probably wouldn’t. I’m not even going to talk about the fact that there have been substantial changes to the grid since then, which should be obvious to anyone. Besides, our electrical grid in the United States uses three-phase 60 cycle alternating current, and the technology used to build that grid originally was invented by three Hungarian engineers and then refined and simplified by Nikola Tesla and Charles Steinmetz, among others. Edison was adamant about using direct current for power transmission and stubbornly pushed it even when it was clear that it was an inferior system and that practically all towns and cities were adopting alternating current.

I recently finished reading a biography of Edison. The Wizard of Menlo Park, by Charles E. Stross. The most recent biography of Tesla I’ve read is Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla, by John J. O’Neill. One thing that is clear in the Edison bio is that Edison was his own worst enemy far too often, usually as a result of his own stubbornness. The persona of the wizard inventor went to his head and he made so many ridiculous claims about his next great invention that his credibility gradually was eroded by his own behavior.

Not Tesla, but David Bowie playing Tesla in the film "The Prestige"

I know that wasn’t what the commercial was driving for. As Walter Peck says in Ghostbusters, “I’m not grotesquely stupid.” (Even though I do hate that man…) I just think it’s sad that we have to perpetuate the really inaccurate meme that Edison was the genius of the age. (My own tendency to promote Tesla notwithstanding.) Couldn’t they have found another way to write the dang commercial? But of course, advertising is essentially the manipulation of memes to promote certain attitudes and behaviors.

A comment not related to my rant on commercials: Purely by accident I saw about 5 minutes of a new sitcom, “Whitney,” last night. It wasn’t just that it was poorly acted and almost completely unfunny; although that was true. The really annoying thing was that it was “filmed before a live audience” but the laughter sounded exactly like 1950s and 60s canned laughter. It felt really strange and kind of creepy. I don’t watch sitcoms much and I wasn’t prepared for that. (On the other hand, “Psych,” which is on USA Network,  is a lot funnier but the producers know better than to put a laugh track on it. Of course, it has just enough seriousness to keep it from being a straight comedy.)

Sorry for venting. I’m sure there will be a part two to this.


Halloween Angry Birds and more

October 26, 2011

I’m not a games guy, but I’ve found I can waste a lot of time very enjoyably playing Angry Birds – all three versions – on the iPad. Not on the iPhone, mind you – anybody who can do that has tiny fingers and great eyes. But I’ve caught the dang AB bug like millions of others. This image is from a pumpkin carving contest sponsored by TMZ. It doesn’t look like much carving was done to create it, but it’s cool anyway.

You can also get a stencil at that site so you can carve your jack-o-lantern this year to look like a portrait of Ice-T. Who doesn’t need that?

Ice-T is very unhappy!


Tom Clancy’s “Dead or Alive” and a question

October 25, 2011

This isn’t a review, exactly. Off and on I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of the Tom Clancy/Grant Blackwood “Dead or Alive,” which kind of got whomped when bin Laden was killed. The ficticious “emir” of the story was obviously supposed to be a surrogate of bin Laden, except more dangerous. I’m not really going to talk about the book, except to say that Lou Diamond Phillips does a good job reading it. It’s a long book and you need a good reader to you’ll never get through it. I was surprised how good he was.

It got me wondering, though, after the recent Kadaffi duck business, where there was video and a lot of pictures, some apparently of his actual death. We have no such documentation for bin Laden. We’re told the government does, and we’re told he was buried at sea. I’m not even sure if the crew of the USS Carl Vinson knows for sure if he was the one buried. How many people actually saw the body?

Maybe he wasn’t killed, but was brought back here and wrung out by the CIA or the FBI. It would be nice if some intel was gleaned from the takedown. I wanted to see the bastard gone as much as any American, but I hope there was more we got out of it than just revenge.

Is the Obama Administration’s intelligence community that clever? Maybe the possibility really didn’t present itself and he had to be killed. Maybe not. I would be perfectly happy believing he was killed in the house and booted off the stern of the Carl Vinson if we got some good intel from the takedown.

Something tells me that only happens in novels.


More crony capitalism attempts in the space business?

October 19, 2011

A report was recently issued by the Government Accountability Office, the closest thing to a nonpartisan watchdog arm of the Federal government we have. It found a number of problems with a recent proposal from United Launch Alliance (a joint effort of Boeing and Lockheed Martin) to sell 40 rocket cores to the Department of Defense over the next five years as a package.

The GAO found no basis for the rationale that the block buy period should be five years. ULA officials had to admit that the data used to determine the number of boosters that would be needed was determined using “faulty inputs.”

The GAO also pointed out that the proposal could commit the DoD to purchase more boosters than it would need, and that it would stifle competition in the marketplace. (The USAF, NRO and NASA just completed a memo of understanding outlining the strategy to allow new companies to compete for launch services.)

The GAO further pointed out that competition would further present an opportunity to lower launch costs – in fact, the report used the term “unprecedented.”

The GAO also criticized the information provided by ULA on pricing, saying it was inadequate” and did not provide a basis upon which to negotiate launch contracts.

As we all know, Lockheed Martin and Boeing are two of the Department of Defense’s biggest suppliers. (The last information I saw had LockMart as the largest.) The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program (principal contractor: Lockheed Martin) is in big trouble, taking longer and costing far more than originally planned. The military has put all its eggs in one basket on this fighter, and the stopgap in many respects is the F/A-18 Super Hornet, built by Boeing (originally built by McDonnell Douglas). Boeing just got the big new tanker aircraft contract, after a year of legal manuevering after it was originally awarded to EADS.

Boh companies can see the future. Somehow, the Federal budget is going to get slashed in the coming years, no matter who is President or who is in Congress. Both companies are doing everything they can to maintain their income streams. To do anything else would be stupid. However, in this case they got caught with a proposal that might have made it through fifteen years ago. Today there is competition, there are fewer dollars to throw around, and even the GAO is under scrutiny.

I’m not against big business, and I’m not against either of these companies. I just think there should be a level playing field. I think a lot of Americans, including those camped out in a park in New York City, are tired of back room deals. This looks like a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge) deal ULA is trying to score with the DoD. ULA already has a leg up with substantial infrastructure no one else has, both in launch facilities (provided by the government) and in production lines for boosters. If Orbital Sciences or SpaceX can compete successfully it will be a major feat of capitalism and technology. They should at least have the chance to try.

SpaceX press release

GAO document


Great caller quote from Rush’s Show

October 17, 2011

A caller to Rush Limbaugh’s show last week – Harry from Grants, New Mexico – unloaded about the ineffectiveness of the Republican leadership in the House specifically, and in the Congress in general. The cap to his very well-thought-out interchange with Rush was this:

“Great football analogy for you. We, the conservative team, had a wonderful draft this November.  We drafted some coming superstars, we drafted a few guys that are ready to play at the pro level like Marco Rubio, but the team owners — and that’s me and you and the rest of the conservatives — paid no attention whatsoever to the coaching staff.  So we got a coaching staff that has never won a game in their life.”

I didn’t hear him. I couldn’t listen on Friday, and that’s when I assume he was on. I’ll check the podcast today. This guy was very articulate and he called it. He got it exactly right. Rush responded that some people did pay attention, and talked about it, but Harry’s still right – we left the people in place who were business-as-usual Republican leaders.

In Illinois we were able to elect a Republican Senator, finally, and got Mark Kirk. Kirk’s heart is in the right place, but he’s a moderate, not a conservative. When I heard him at a town hall last spring he was in the mind set of tweaking legislation here and there to make “improvements.” The folks in the town meeting were not looking for that. They were demanding substantive change. Real change at the fundamental level in the Federal government. Career politicians don’t get that. The Tea Party candidates who were elected last November, like Joe Walsh from the northern suburbs here, certainly do get it.

Literally, the chance of a lifetime is coming up in November 2012. We all need to think hard about the choices we have to make for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.


Iran can’t launch a monkey.

October 16, 2011

According to the Iranian Deputy Science Minister, the recent launch of a Kavoshgar-5 rocket with a monkey on board was unsuccessful – or, at least, “all of its anticipated objectives were not accomplished.”

I don’t exactly see why it’s necessary for them to launch a small animal, anyway. Are they just trying to duplicate what the US and the Soviets did sixty years ago? Why? I understand why they would want a satellite presence. First, they probably would have a little trouble getting launch services from the Europeans or from us, since they have about a million sanctions thrown at them already. Maybe the Russians or the Chinese would sell them launch services. But having their own successful launch system, even on a small scale, would be a plus.

Then there is the other, probably bigger reason, and in many ways the same one the US and the USSR had: if you can put a sizable satellite into orbit, you can launch warheads – most notably, nuclear warheads – for long distances.

And that’s the bigger issue with them. The monkey is a minor thing. Keep your eyes on the ball, not on the monkey.