Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hard Contact

I finished Karen Traviss's first Republic Commando novel last night. Way, way too late last night. Amy says I should self-impose a reading curfew and that sounds like a good idea right about now.

The book itself is quite good. Unlike most things Star Wars, Hard Contact focuses on the adventures of a squad of commandos thrown together after their original squads are destroyed in the Battle of Geonosis at the end of Episode II. These four men are sent behind enemy lines by the Republic on a new mission to destroy a Separatist bioweapons facility. While doing so they run across some Jedi and a Mandalorian, There are no named characters from the films in this novel. This is a book about the troopers and Padawans that make the Republic war effort run.

It does a very good job. The book delves into the culture of the clone soldiers and their inherent humanity. While they are of identical genetic stock, each commando has their own personality derived from their personal experiences as individuals. They become more than just faceless "wet droids." These are tragic figures. Men born to die, either in battle or because of the side-effects of the rapid aging used to bring them to an early adulthood.

The military terminology of the book didn't quite work for me though. It is too derivative to really fit in Star Wars. Couldn't she have found a better acronym than GPS for am SW GPS system for instance? I also found it funny that acronyms were throw around a lot even though Star Wars uses Aurek-Besh instead of the Modern Latin alphabet. Not that this kept the movies from having characters named R2-D2 or C-3PO.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dark Knight

I saw the new Batman movie on Sunday with my brother and wife. Wonderful. Best Joker ever. The only problem? It was long enough to require uncomfortable bladder moments for a significant number of the audience members. Myself included. Otherwise it's excellent. See it.

Terminology Problems

While I think this thing is a pretty cool idea, it is not a "jetpack" or "rocketpack." Perhaps you could call it a ducted-fan pack. But jetpack... wouldn't that require jets engines of some sort?

Snarking the Obamessiah

Nobody does biblically inspired snark like the British. Via LawDog.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Amy picked up WiiFit yesterday. For those budding eBay entrepreneurs out there, she did this by calling the local GameStop every morning for three days straight to see if they had received any with their most recent shipment. No, try back tomorrow. No, try back tomorrow. Yes, we have a few. Hurry, hurry. Get in line with other people buying WiiFits. Whoopie!

I have mixed feeling about the game itself though.

The balance board (or whatever you call it) is really a digital scale with built in wireless connectivity. Most of the minigames revolve around shifting your weight about while standing atop it. This lets you simulate everything from hula-hooping to downhill skiing. It is also integrated with strength training, cardio, and yoga exercises. Unfortunately for some games it's too large (like when Amy is doing the step aerobics class) and for others it's too small (like when I try to do pushups). I suppose that's just the way it goes.

The structure of WiiFit is derived from of Brain Age. It even has the calender stamps. You create an account for yourself and give the game important information like height and birthdate. Then it tracks your weight, derives your BMI, and asks that you set health goals for yourself. You play minigames and do exercises in order to accumulate points to unlock other games and exercises.

Theoretically these games help you lose weight and maintain fitness and posture, but I have my doubts. While a few of the games do give you a little burn and can potentially raise a sweat, at around 3 minutes, they're all very short. 3 minutes is a warm up, not a proper cardio workout. This makes me wonder whether WiiFit will actually move you towards accomplishing your stated health goals.

The big problem is that WiiFit seems to have the faults of Brain Age as well. It keeps track of when you play, but has no idea if you workout outside of the program. I hate getting guilt tripped about how often I play. Being called a health slacker right after I finish a 30 minute cardio workout on real exercise equipment just pisses me off.

Right now, it's a mixed bag for me. But hey if we wind up annoyed by it, there's always a market on eBay.

High Stakes Gambling

Steve Lamp has some thoughts on stocks:
So earlier this week, I think it was Tuesday night, I couldn't sleep, and I was thinking about all of the dour economic news that kept pouring across CNBC at work that day. Stocks were getting pummeled and people were in a near panic. I thought to myself, this is the perfect buying opportunity. I jotted down a list of five stocks and people were morbidly selling that I thought were being driven more by fear rather than by reasonable forecasting.
I remember having a conversation with Steve like that at Small Group during the downturn after 9-11. Steve recognized that a crappy stock market is a perfect time to buy.

But what to buy? I impulsively suggested investing in airlines. They were all under-performing after the air travel hit of 9/11, but there is no way they would all go under. We were right. The hard part is figuring out which airline stock to buy. The correct answer turned out to be Southwest, but unfortunately I was still a grad student with no money to invest in that sort of thing.

Right now the hit is in mortgage brokers and the trick is to find a smaller broker that isn't heavily involved in the sub-prime problems. They'll be in the best position to expand as other brokerages either go out of business or have to charge higher interest rates to cover their losses. The problem is finding that firm.

Free Stuff

TOR booms is giving away free e-ditions of various sci-fi and fantasy authors books along with electronic copies of cover art. They're available at the TOR blog.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


The Belt-fed "Vulcan" Nerf Machinegun, for those of you who thought the Nerf sniper rifle was just too wussy.

BTW, what is vulcan about this gun? Typically that denotes multiple barrels that this Nerf uber-blaster doesn't seem to have.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Range Wear

This video from Pretty Pistolera shows why I generally email out a dress code when I take people shooting for the first time (includes mild profanity):

Via Kim Du Toit.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Shopping Yesterday

Amy and I bought a Wii on Saturday. Miss Anon ran across a store that had them in stock and offered us the first crack at it before she auctioned it off for her own benefit. After church, we took a shopping trip to look for games that don't have the word "mini" attached to them. I had this experience several times:

Well, it wasn't actually that experience per se. People mistook me for a sales associate at both Best Buy and Fye. Unlike Sheldon, my reaction involved far more glaring and indignation. This is the last time I go shopping in khakis and a polo shirt.

Big Bang Theory clip from a Melody Byrne post.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Why You Get Fat

I have come to some conclusions about why people tend to get fat in their twenties. Their metabolism kicks off. They move from and active collegiate lifestyle to a sedentary office one. Lastly, they realize that they're cooking for themselves and can make whatever they want whenever they want it.

This last one leads to thirty year old engineers making breakfasts like this:Amy and I realized we could make pancakes for ourselves a couple weeks ago. A quick trip to the store for milk, eggbeaters, and Bisquick and we are now just slightly fatter than we used to be. We had kept this to a special weekend breakfast or two, but it turns out I didn't have any of my normal breakfast materials this morning. Not that I'm really complaining about the results.


I've been really sore all week. I tried doing the first day of the hundred push-ups schedule on Tuesday. My initial test put me in the "more than 10" category and I went through the recommended exercises. The first set of ten was pretty easy. The last set was considerably more difficult.

Wednesday I woke up with tired arms (a good sign) and that progressed to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) by bedtime. I was really sore Thursday morning too. After a google, it turns out that this is pretty normal if you're just getting into a workout routine. Most places also suggest you not put serious stress on those sore muscles because they're rebuilding. This is especially true if you experience residual muscle weakness like I was. My recommended Thursday workout was therefore postponed. Oh well.

I'll try to do my Thursday push-ups tonight along with my usual cardio. Hopefully it won't take me an extra day to recover again. I'm thinking the "weekly" schedule of 100 push-ups may become more of a suggestion if it does.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dreaded Phone Calls

I was polled over the telephone at dinner time yesterday. Normally I hang up on pollsters as if they were telemarketers, but it occurred to me that someone (possibly someone I even like) would be using this data to make important decisions. They asked me whether I love or despise President Bush (neither). Who various Delaware candidates for office were and what I thought of them. In the end, they focused more on the Democrats than the Republicans, so I can't help but wonder if I haven't aided the dreaded enemies of the Republic. Oh well it was a risk worth taking none-the-less.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hellboy II: the Golden Movie?

I dragged Amy to see Hellboy II last night with a bunch of friends. I liked it.

The plot is that thousands of years ago, Mankind made war against the creatures of magic. In the end they were defeated when the Elves and Goblins forged an invincible mechanical fighting force called the Golden Army. But the war was ended when the creatures of magic recoiled at the horror of what they had wrought and created a truce. Now an Elven prince seeks to break the truce, gain control of the Golden Army, and use it to destroy mankind.

Along the way Hellboy runs across fairytale creatures that are quite Grimm. Think of the dark fantasy world in Del Toro's prior work Pan's Labyrinth. The fae and folklore behind H2 have a similar edgy and sinister feel. The BPRD gang also gets some character development (unfortunately except for Jeffrey Tambor). The action scenes are solid. Although the story isn't based directly on a comic like the first movie, it still has the Hellboy comic feel that makes the movie fun.

If you liked the first Hellboy movie, you'll enjoy the second. It's a good ride and definitely worth a few bucks.

UPDATE: Chris Byrne has this to say:
What bugs me the most though, is that the quality was there, what they really needed was more time to explore; and they could have had it. The movie was only 110 minutes with credits; and audiences in this genre are fully prepared to sit for 150 plus credits. If they had taken the 150 minutes, this movie would have been spectacular.
I disagree. I like unplumbed depths in my films, especially when good pacing means not plumbing them. Hellboy II is a fun action film, but would make a horrible epic. We need more 110 minute movies made today, because making them generally leaves about 40 minutes of crap on a cutting room floor somewhere.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tony Snow Dies of Cancer

The former White House Press Secretary and Fox News anchor lost his battle with colon cancer, the same disease that took his mother when Snow was 17. Snow was 53 and left behind his wife of 20 years, 2 daughters, and one son.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Working Out

100 Push Ups seems like something I want to try. I like the exercises that largely deal with body weight and my current work out routine (as paltry as it is) includes pushups and crunches. I'm currently doing the exercise bike MWF so this will get slated in on my TRS slot. Via Incoherent Ramblings.

Reaping What You Sow

The ACLU Blog's entry clarifying their stance on the Second Amendment (they're against it) is racking up quite a lot of comments. Few favor the ACLU. Good stuff.

UPDATE: It appears that the Nevada chapter of the ACLU has broken with the national ACLU on the 2nd amendment.
The Nevada ACLU has declared its support for an individual’s right to bear arms, apparently making it the first state affiliate in the nation to buck the national organization’s position on the Second Amendment.
Good. I hope other states follow suit.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Spending Money Stupidly

I'm in pretty decent financial shape at the moment. Sure my retirement savings is taking a nosedive with the stock market, but in terms of current weekly input and output I'm doing well. So what should I spent that money on? Swords, knives, kilts?

How should Jeff waste his money?
Ronin Swords Deshi Katana
Kukri House No 1 Kukri
Windlass Gurhka Kukri
Stillwater Gordon Standard Kilt
Stillwater Solid Green Heavyweight Kilt
Other (Use Comments) free polls

UPDATE: Doh! I figured out why I have a few hundred extra dollars in my bank account. I haven't got the bill for the exercise bike that Amy and I bought yet. I may still have extra dough after this, but not nearly as much as I had thought. The good news is that I've been using the bike every other day for two weeks so it hasn't been a stupid purchase. In fact, if I wind up losing a few pounds it'll be a pretty smart buy.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Lost is Found

A film museum in Buenos Aires has discovered an intact copy of Metropolis in their film archives. Holy Crap! Did someone ask to see their copy of the Magnificent Ambersons while they were at it?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Thursday, July 03, 2008


After hitting a few places on the way, I ended up at Ommelanden to finally celebrate Heller properly. Only to find the range is already closed for the holiday. This is what I get for not checking ahead over the internets.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Programming Perplexion

In college I learned to program in FORTRAN. Why? Because I'm an engineer and that's what we program in goldurnit. FORTRAN is very good at doing math and difficult to screw up. Most of the stuff that people screw up in C, you simply can't do in FORTRAN. This has the disadvantage that unless you're doing lots of math, FORTRAN is essentially worthless. It's sort of the idiot savant of programming languages in that way.

Right now I'm writing a few tools for work in Tcl/Tk. Tcl/Tk is sort of the anti-FORTRAN. It sucks at math, it's easy to screw up, and it's syntax is labyrinthine. But you can crank out a GUI in Tcl in no time flat. Tcl is also a higher level language that has been assimilating parts of other languages like crazy. If you want it, Tcl probably has it. If you can find it and figure out how to use it.

Unfortunately as a FORTRAN programmer, I'm just not used to this kitchen sink programming paradigm. If I need something, I have generally build it myself. With FORTRAN you basically had to. I just discovered that several of my Tcl routine could be replaced with a simple line of code. Doh. Oh well, at least mine work.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Invincible Oba-chan

77 year-old Japanese grandmother Keiko Wakabayshi is regularly kicking the crap out of Italian soldiers twice her size. Wakabayshi is in charge of their martial arts training and is skilled in a wide array of disciplines.

Thankfully they picked a woman. As we all know from anime like Ranma and Dragonball, all male Japanese martial-arts masters will spend all their time chasing tail when they should be teaching.

When Fake Women Are Real Characters

Amybear mentioned that we watched Lars and the Real Girl over the weekend. To my surprise it turned out to be a fun and even heartwarming film.

Lars and the Real Girl is about Lars, an incredibly shy office worker, and his odd attempt to emerge from his self-imposed exile into society at large. It's odd because Lars method of doing this was purchase a Real Doll and then delude himself into thinking it was his Brazilian internet girlfriend Bianca.

Bianca becomes Lars' social crutch. On orders from the local doctor/psychologist, Lars friends and family play along to facilitate this self-treatment. It all results in scenes which are both funny and heartwarming. Bianca grows on the community and is treated like a real girl (complete with volunteer work and girls nights out). In the end, although inanimate, she essentially becomes a character in the story that the characters and the audience can identify with. It's a mind trip.

About the only bad thing I can say about the movie is that suspension of disbelief is required. You have to believe that everyone in this small town will treat an obvious nutcase like Lars with kindness instead of mockery. For that matter you have to believe that lots of people will care about someone who is essentially the town recluse. That's a pretty big pill to swallow.

After seeing both films, I'm sorry that Lars lost to Juno so often during this past awards season. Lars is frankly the better film with the better script. Juno has needlessly indie scenes and jerky plot development. Ellen Page's portrayal of a scared pregnant girl who is putting on a brave face is brilliant, but none of the characters in Juno really develop. In contrast, Lars is brilliantly paced with characters who grow as the plot unfolds. Juno is less than a hundred minutes and it could be more in retrospect. Lars is less than a hundred minutes and you really can't change a thing.