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January 28, 2006

"I Don't Think Anybody Could Have Predicted..."

Via Daily Kos -- which I read to see what the unrepentant, unapologetic, irrational left is thinking, just as I read Opinion Journal's "Best of the Web Today" to see what the unrepentant, unapologetic, irrational right is thinking -- nevertheless comes this striking juxtaposition:

"I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon." -- Condoleezza Rice, May 16, 2002

WASHINGTON -- In the two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command conducted exercises simulating what the White House says was unimaginable at the time: hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets and cause mass casualties.

One of the imagined targets was the World Trade Center. In another exercise, jets performed a mock shootdown over the Atlantic Ocean of a jet supposedly laden with chemical poisons headed toward a target in the United States. In a third scenario, the target was the Pentagon -- but that drill was not run after Defense officials said it was unrealistic, NORAD and Defense officials say.
-- USA Today, April 18, 2004

January 27, 2006

Oh, and This One, Too

This Fafblog "interview" with Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito is awesome:

ALITO: You know, people are focusing way too much on the triviality of things I've said or done or repeatedly expressed a strident ideological commitment to. I don't let my legal opinions affect my legal decisions -- I just follow the law, the Constitution, and the original intent of the Founding Fathers.

FB: So you don't want to strip-search ten-year-old girls without a warrant. James Madison wants to strip-search ten-year-old girls without a warrant!

ALITO: Exactly!

FB: That bastard! Why'd we let im write the Constitution anyway?

ALITO: Dunno! I guess we're just stuck now.

Time to Rewrite the Civics Textbooks

Via Boing Boing, this Fafblog "Q&A" on President Bush's accumulation of powers is the funniest thing I've read in a long, long time:

Q. Can the president spy on Americans without a warrant?

A. The president has to spy on Americans without a warrant! We're at war, and the president's gotta defend America, and he's not gonna wait for a permission slip from a judge or a senator or America to do it!

Q. That's just the kinda tough, no-nonsense thinking I like in a de facto dictator! Now some crazy people say the president broke some silly old laws like FISA and the National Security Act and the Fourth Amendment. Are these crazy people crazy?

A. They sure are! Maybe those laws worked back in 1978 back when Leonid Brezhnev was snortin coke with Ayatollah Khomeini and groovin to the hits of the Bee Gees, but in today's dark and dangerous times they just aren't enough.

Q. Things sure have changed since the innocent days of mutually assured destruction! But is it legal for the president to ignore the law?

A. Maybe not according to plain ol stupid ol regular law, but we're at war! You don't go to war with regular laws, which are made outta red tape and bureaucracy and Neville Chamberlain. You go to war with great big strapping War Laws made outta tanks and cold hard steel and the American Fightin Man and WAR, KABOOOOOOM!

Q. How does a War Bill become a War Law?

A. It all begins with the president, who submits a bill to the president. If a majority of both the president and the president approve the bill, then it passes on to the president, who may veto it or sign it into law. And even then the president can override himself with a two-thirds vote.

Q. See it's the checks and balances that make all the difference in our democratic system.

January 22, 2006

Congratulations to the Seahawks

My prediction of the Steelers winning turned out correct, but I couldn't have been more wrong about the Panthers-Seahawks game -- the Panthers were absolutely blown out by the Hawks, 34-14. Jake Delhomme, possessed of a postseason quarterback rating of 108.4, the highest in NFL history, threw three interceptions and had a rating of 34.9. The unstoppable Steve Smith was held to 5 receptions for 33 yards. It was ugly.

The silver lining is that Seattle is my once and future home, so the Hawks are my once and future team, and it looks like they could be good for quite some time to come.

In any case, congratulations to the Seahawks, especially on ending your drought and finally making it to the Super Bowl. To everyone in Seattle, enjoy the moment! It's well deserved and long overdue.

January 21, 2006

Carolina to the Super Bowl?

Tomorrow afternoon, the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Denver Broncos for the AFC Championship. My hunch is that Pittsburgh will win that game, despite having to travel to the thin air of Denver. Why? Because they're playing like a team that wants to win more than any other:

The Steelers sat 7-5, the losers of three in a row entering their Week 14 showdown with 9-3 Chicago at Heinz Field. One more loss and Pittsburgh was essentially eliminated from the highly-competitive AFC playoff race. But the Steelers beat the Bears 21-9, starting what has become a six-game winning streak with their season on the line every week.

Pittsburgh has outscored its six opponents 167-68 in that six-game span, and picked up more confidence and sense of purpose with every subsequent victory. The Steelers... are playing their best when it matters most.

Now to the other game, the Carolina Panthers versus the Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle has a number of advantages in this game. The Seahawks have the NFL MVP, Shaun Alexander, undeniably a great running back, while as a result of injuries, the Panthers have a third-string running back, Nick Goings. The Seahawks will be playing at home, which may be one of the toughest places for visiting teams to play in the NFL, thanks to rabid fans and the acoustic engineers who designed the roof of Qwest Field. The Seahawks had a bye week and so are more rested than the Panthers.

And yet the Panthers will win. Why? Here are some statistics to think about:

  • Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme's playoff record: 5-1, with the only loss to the New England Patriots, a game in which he nonetheless performed brilliantly.
  • Delhomme's quarterback rating in the postseason: 108.4, the highest in NFL history (ahead of Bart Starr, Joe Montana, Ken Anderson, and Kurt Warner).
  • Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith's performance against the league's best defense, the Chicago Bears: 218 yards (fourth best in NFL playoff history) and two touchdowns.
  • Panthers running back Nick Goings' 100-yard games in 2004: five out of seven started.
  • Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's playoff record: 1-2.
  • Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander's playoff performances to date: 2004, 45 yards against the Green Bay Packers; 2005, 40 yards against the St. Louis Rams; 2006, 9 yards against the Washington Redskins (before leaving the game with a concussion).
As one of my favorite football writers, Paul Zimmerman, wrote in picking the Panthers to win tomorrow:
Spirit, fire and inner toughness will carry this team of destiny all the way.

January 20, 2006

Lasers? To the Moon?

I was talking with friends today about an earlier blog entry I wrote on green lasers, and one of them speculated that at some point someone would use a laser to illuminate the moon. With a laser powerful enough, we could imagine a logo being painted on the surface of, say, the new moon, which would be amazing (the first time) and then annoying (thereafter).

An artist named James Downey thought of having millions of people simultaneously point their lasers at the moon, but that idea has been debunked:

It seems there are not enough people in North America to make Downey's idea work.

"As I suspected, the number required is not millions of people, but more than millions of millions of millions of people," said Donald Umstadter, a laser expert at the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Okay, so, since I don't have the physics background to estimate the numbers myself, and since more detail wasn't provided, let's make some assumptions:

  • Millions of millions of millions equals quintillions.
  • The typical handheld laser produces 5 milliwatts.
  • 1 quintillion times 5 milliwatts equals 5 * 10^15 watts, or 5 petawatts.
Now, as it turns out, a 5 petawatt laser does exist: the aptly-named Petawatt, at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. This is deceiving, however, because the Petawatt fires pulses that last less than half a picosecond. To operate the laser continuously would, in theory, take 1,200 times the entire power generating capacity of the US -- and that was at 1.25 petawatts. Presumably 5 petawatts would consume 4,800 times the US power generation capacity.

So could someone paint logos on the moon with a laser beam? It's theoretically possible, and the laser exists to do it, but there's not enough power to make it practical.

A better idea -- okay, a less crazy idea -- would be to position a mirror in space capable of reflecting the sun's rays into a point on the moon that would be visible from Earth. This would obviate the need for power generation and would dispense with the problem of the laser's power attenuating as it rises through the atmosphere. The question is, how big would that mirror have to be?

January 18, 2006

TerraPass

My TerraPass should be arriving any day now, and I'm definitely looking forward to putting it on my rear window (and I'm not a bumper sticker- or window decal-kind of person).

TerraPass
If you're not familiar with TerraPass, the idea is simple:
  1. Each year, the average car emits about 10,000 lbs (three times its weight!) in carbon dioxide pollution -- a leading cause of global warming.
  2. You buy a TerraPass.
  3. TerraPass funds clean energy projects that reduce industrial carbon dioxide emissions.
  4. Your TerraPass is third-party certified to reduce the equivalent of your car's carbon dioxide pollution.
The TerraPass runs from $29.95 (for hybrids) to $79.95 (for large SUVs and sports cars). Mine was $49.95 -- a small price to pay, it seems to me, to know that my car's CO2 emissions have been offset.

January 17, 2006

Rationalizations

This past Sunday, I had scheduled a long run for myself -- sixteen miles, actually, which would have been two miles more than my long run two weeks before and would have been my longest run ever.

About four miles into the run, I started asking myself, "Do I really want to run sixteen miles today?" At six miles, I had a choice: turn left for a sixteen-mile run, or turn right for a nine-mile run. I turned right. Here, presented in the order in which they occurred to me, are the rationalizations I came up with while trying to decide what to do:

  • My first half-marathon is five weeks away, so I could run as little as eight miles today and still be on schedule.
  • I've been tired during my runs lately. I've probably pushed myself too far, too fast -- from seven miles in early December to fourteen miles in early January.
  • My orthopaedist just advised me to permanently cut back on my running once I run a marathon. My knees and ankles just aren't built for it. No wonder I've been in pain.
But the best rationalization of all was the one I came up with after I had made my decision:
  • When people ask me how far I ran this weekend, saying, "I wimped out and only ran nine miles" sounds pretty freaking cool.

"I'd Shut It Down..."

In 1997, Michael Dell was asked what could be done to fix Apple. His answer?

What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.
Last week, Apple's market capitalization rose to $72.13 billion, surpassing Dell's $71.97 billion. Steve Jobs marked the occasion with an e-mail message to Apple employees:
Team, it turned out that Michael Dell wasn't perfect at predicting the future. Based on today's stock market close, Apple is worth more than Dell. Stocks go up and down, and things may be different tomorrow, but I thought it was worth a moment of reflection today. Steve.

January 16, 2006

"I Am a Freakishly Talented Athlete"

During the Panthers-Bears game last night, announcer Joe Buck threw out this gem about Panthers defensive end (and sometime wide receiver, and sometime linebacker) Julius Peppers:

Hi, my name is Julius Peppers. I am a freakishly talented athlete. Want me to rush the passer? How about run the ball? Or get back in coverage? Whatever you need, I can do.

January 15, 2006

Two-of-Four, But I Don't Care

Yesterday morning, I posted my NFL playoff predictions. My accuracy fell from 100 percent the last weekend down to just 50 percent -- but I don't care:

  • Washington Redskins at Seattle Seahawks. My prediction: Seahawks 31, Redskins 6. Actual result: Seahawks 20, Redskins 10. I thought this would be a blowout. It wasn't. Without NFL MVP Shaun Anderson, lost to a concussion early in the game, the Seahawks looked flat. He should be back next week, but given home field advantage, Seattle should have played better even in his absence.
  • New England Patriots at Denver Broncos. My prediction: Patriots 34, Broncos 27. Actual result: Broncos 27, Patriots 13. Well, I got Denver's score correct, but I never would have predicted New England would turn over the ball five times. Having said that, most amazing play ever in a losing cause? Patriots tight end Ben Watson running down Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey from the far side of the field to save a touchdown (scored shortly thereafter). Yes, a tight end ran down a cornerback, starting from the far side of the field, with no good angle, and having to weave around an official.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts. My prediction: Colts 35, Steelers 24. Actual result: Steelers 21, Colts 18. The Colts' Peyton Manning is now 3-6 in playoff games. Ouch.
  • Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears. My prediction: Panthers 16, Bears 10. Actual result: Panthers 29, Bears 21. When are people going to learn? Carolina steps it up in the playoffs. Remember Peyton Manning, former NFL MVP, the quarterback who's 3-6 in the playoffs? Jake Delhomme of the Panthers is now 5-1 in playoff games, with the only loss in the Super Bowl, a close game in which he played magnificently.
I had a house full of people for the Panthers game this evening, and to say we were going crazy was an understatement.

Oh, how I'd love to be in Seattle for next week's NFC championship game. It should be a great one.

January 14, 2006

Divisional Playoff Predictions

Last weekend, I picked the winners in all four NFL playoff games, but since I didn't post my predictions here first, well, it just doesn't count, does it? Okay, I'll do it in the proper order this time.

  • Washington Redskins at Seattle Seahawks. Washington simply doesn't have the tools to keep up with the Seahawks. Many playoff weekends have at least one blowout, and this will be it. Seahawks 31, Redskins 6.
  • New England Patriots at Denver Broncos. Yes, Denver has the best home-field advantage in the NFL, and yes, they went 13-3 during the regular season, whereas New England went 10-6. So what? They're the Patriots, and they're back. Patriots 34, Broncos 27.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts. Pittsburgh is a tough team, and they're playing well of late. Meanwhile, Indianapolis is rusty and still dealing with emotional turmoil. It won't matter. The game won't be as close as the score will make it seem. Colts 35, Steelers 24.
  • Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears. Rex Grossman of Chicago has played six quarters of football all season, and this is his first playoff game ever. Jake Delhomme of Carolina has a 4-1 record and a 105.1 quarterback rating in the playoffs -- and his one loss came in the Super Bowl, when he was a shanked kickoff away from winning and being named MVP. Carolina runs hot and cold, to be sure, but under Coach John Fox, they consistently run blazingly hot in the playoffs. Panthers 16, Bears 10.

January 13, 2006

The Guardian of Forever?

Via Uncrate comes word of a new JBL speaker-alarm clock for the iPod called On Time.

JBL On Time

The JBL On Time.

In forum comments on a different story on the On Time, I came upon this comment that had me laughing out loud:

I like it too. It’s a unique design and it looks good. Most iPod speaker systems are just rectangular objects painted white. Big deal. This is actually pleasing to the eye.

Also, I believe Kirk and Spock can travel through this into the past and meet Joan Collins.

By Boris34 on 01.09.06 at 10:36 PM

Quote for the Day

From The Everything Zen Book:

Do not put off what you can do right now. Do not sit around thinking about what it is like after you die, or what it would be like to be enlightened. Do not wonder what it is like to be peaceful and to find that "place of inherent peace." Find it.

January 12, 2006

The Secret Starbucks Drink

It turns out there's a drink that Starbucks doesn't list on its menu. Well, not a drink, exactly; rather a size -- but the size affects the quality. Slate sussed it out:

The drink in question is the elusive "short cappuccino" -- at 8 ounces, a third smaller than the smallest size on the official menu, the "tall," and dwarfed by what Starbucks calls the "customer-preferred" size, the "Venti," which weighs in at 20 ounces...

The short cappuccino has the same amount of espresso as the 12-ounce tall, meaning a bolder coffee taste, and also a better one... Within reason, the shorter the cappuccino, the better.

The problem with large cappuccinos is that it's impossible to make the fine-bubbled milk froth ("microfoam," in the lingo) in large quantities, no matter how skilled the barista. A 20-ounce cappuccino is an oxymoron. Having sampled the short cappuccino in a number of Starbucks across the world, I can confirm that it is a better drink than the buckets of warm milk -- topped with a veneer of froth -- that the coffee chain advertises on its menus.

This secret cappuccino is cheaper, too -- at my local Starbucks, $2.35 instead of $2.65. But why does this cheaper, better drink—along with its sisters, the short latte and the short coffee -- languish unadvertised? The official line from Starbucks is that there is no room on the menu board, although this doesn't explain why the short cappuccino is also unmentioned on the comprehensive Starbucks Web site, nor why the baristas will serve you in a whisper rather than the usual practice of singing your order to the heavens.

The remainder of the article gives the economic theory explanation for why Starbucks a) offers the short cappuccino but b) keeps it a secret. (Hint: It has something to do with more money for Starbucks.)

January 11, 2006

Sticking the Knife In, But in a Funny Way

My friend Megan and I tease each other incessantly, which amuses us both to no end -- the cleverer the insult, and the sharper the comic timing, the more we like it, as long as there's a balance and we remind each other every so often that we really are great friends.

So we were talking on the phone the other night, and I had just jokingly paid myself a huge compliment. Then I went for that balance thing. Big mistake.

Me: Truth be told, I'm harder on myself inside my head than you could imagine.

Megan: I don't know. I'm going to have to think about that.

Me: What do you mean?

Megan: I don't think you're nearly as hard on yourself inside your head as I'm hard on you inside my head.

January 10, 2006

"MacBook"? "MacBook"?

So it's official. The PowerBook G4 is on the way out. Make way for the MacBook Pro.

[For the moment, I'll leave aside my disappointment at the lack of a built-in two-button mouse, which kind of throws a monkey wrench in my plan to switch to an Apple notebook and run Windows side-by-side with Mac OS X.]

The "MacBook Pro"? It's hard to believe that Apple under Steve Jobs would actually name a product that. I can't even begin to imagine the brand equity they've built up in "PowerBook" (and will now lose), but that's not my real concern. At least to this English speaker, "PowerBook" is a wonderful wordmark, one that rolls off the tongue and sounds perfect as it does. "MacBook" is lame. It sounds like something a Chinese knockoff factory would call its PowerBook clone, a clumsy hunk of titanium-colored plastic running a cracked copy of OS X on Intel.

The Phantomness of The Phantom Menace

In preparation for an upcoming blog entry, I found myself thinking about Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, and what amazed me was how quickly it seems to have disappeared from the cultural radar, at least compared with the first three Star Wars movies (Episodes IV, V, and IV).

Episode IV - A New Hope lives on in our culture not because it's well-written, or especially well-directed, but because it launched a trend that persists to this day, the era of special effects-laden space operas. Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back is simply one of the best science fiction movies ever made, a tribute to what happens when George Lucas comes up with the ideas and lets other people write and direct them. Even Episode VI - Return of the Jedi lives on -- as hokey as it was, Jabba the Hutt and Ewoks are still pop cultural icons.

But Episode I - The Phantom Menace? I can barely remember most of it, and I know I'm not the only one. With hindsight, its cultural permanence seems as wisp-like as its title.

January 09, 2006

Green Lasers

For Christmas, I got my son Cameron this green handheld laser -- he had wanted it for some time, and having tried it when it arrived, I can testify that it's very cool. It's a 5-milliwatt laser with a range of just under two miles. The opportunity for mayhem is reduced given that the beam itself is visible, not just the dot where the beam lands (thereby making it easy to trace to the source).

Now (via an entry here) a Chinese company has come along with its own line of green lasers that make the standard 5-milliwatt models sold in the US seem like Fisher-Price toys. They range from 15 to 115 milliwatts, with ranges of 6 to 50 miles. Videos on the Website show the more powerful models cutting through black tape, lighting matches, and the like. Cool! The mayhem is back!

The best part about the site is the marketing text for the lasers. From the description for the 75-milliwatt model: "The phoenix soars for miles blazing a green trail leaving everything scorched in its path." For the 95-milliwatt model: "Wield the chaotic forces of the nexus to create a new star." For the 115-milliwatt model: "Break apart the boundaries of this world and enter on a journey to your new reality! Use the forces contained within this powerful laser to bring light and creation to your new universe!"

How could I not want one of these?

January 08, 2006

Wild-Card Weekend

My one serious sports-watching vice is the NFL. I find most sports fairly boring to watch, but there's something about football... I think it's football's unique stop-and-start nature, where the viewer has time to think about and anticipate the next play -- neither free-flowing like soccer (which I love to play but don't usually watch), but not paint-drying-watching-slow like golf or baseball.

Anyway, so this was wild card weekend in the NFL. I suppose this would mean more if I had blogged it here first, but I did pick the Redskins, the Patriots, the Panthers, and the Steelers to win. Having said that, I didn't think the Redskins would perform so atrociously on offense, I didn't think the Patriots would manhandle the Jaguars quite so badly, I didn't think the Panthers would shut out the Giants, and I certainly didn't anticipate the Bengals losing their starting quarterback on his second play.

In any case, the important thing around these parts is that the Panthers won. They're a schizophrenic team -- when the good Panthers show up, they can quite literally beat any team in the league (and have). On the other hand, when the bad Panthers show up, they can be embarrassed by quite literally any team in the league (and have been). Thankfully, the good Panthers showed up today, and the result was the Carolina Panthers 23, the New York Giants 0.

Next week, Carolina plays at Chicago, where they lost earlier this season -- but again, if the good Panthers show up, they could whip the Bears. Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins will play at the Seattle Seahawks, a game the Seahawks will win handily. This could set up an interesting situation for me, because the two teams I think of as my "home" teams are the Panthers (because I've lived here the past few years) and the Seahawks (because of how the Pacific Northwest feels like home for me). If Carolina plays in Seattle for the NFC championship... well, I'd cheer for the Panthers, but it would be close. And I'd seriously consider something I've never done, flying out for a football game. I can only imagine how cool that would be to see in person. But that's two weeks and a couple of games away from now.

So, congratulations to the Panthers, and good luck against the Bears next weekend, and good luck to the Seahawks next weekend as well -- but not the weekend after if the Panthers are still in it.

January 03, 2006

At the Gym

From a conversation at Impact Athletics, Cary, NC (my gym for the last year):

Me: What's up tonight? I've never seen so many cars in the parking lot. Are they all New Year's resolutions?

Trainer: That's it. Give them six weeks and they'll all be gone. Sad but true.

January 02, 2006

I Have the Best Friends

Seriously, I have the best friends. I can't fully explain why -- I just know that I do. I'm a lucky person and I know it.

I Have the Best Friends

Jon, Eve, me, Reid, and Michelle, Sticky Fingers, Charleston, SC.

Happy Birthday to Me

This is what happens when you step away from the table to take a phone call (a nice one from my kids, as it happened) while out for dinner on your birthday.

Happy Birthday to Me 2

Surprise birthday cheesecake, Garibaldi, Charleston, SC.

Mrs. Susan Hall Legare

During my visits to Charleston with my friends Eve and Jon, every so often we'll go walking through the small cemeteries that are scattered throughout downtown. Once in a while, a headstone will get to me for some reason. Two and a half years ago, it was a marker for a wife from her "most afflicted Husband". This trip, it was this headstone:

Headstone

This Monument
is inscribed
to the memory of
MRS. SUSAN HALL LEGARE
by her afflicted husband
DR. THOMAS LEGARE.
In her was lost
a tender and devoted wife,
an affectionate mother,
a dutiful daughter,
a faithful sister and relative,
a firm friend, and above all
an unaffected Christian:
who performed
all the various duties of life justly,
leaving the consoling reflection
to her bereaved friends
that her Soul is now at rest
in the bosom of her God.
She died
on the 19th of August 1826
aged 27 years.

January 01, 2006

Wisdom and the New Year

A year ago today, I wrote:

Today I turn 42. I'm hoping that the number 42 really does have special properties -- even if only because I expect it to -- and so as a result I'll be especially wise for the next 365 days.
On the one hand, I can't look back at 2005 and say that I was especially wise. On the other hand, I feel a bit wiser now. Perhaps I'm confusing being wise with becoming wise.

In any case, Happy New Year, and may you all achieve your goals for the year. Well, unless they're evil goals. Then... um, let's just say Happy New Year and leave it at that.