2012: A Space Odyssey (almost for real)…

I love space.  Not personal space (though I enjoy that, too, from time to time) but outer space, interstellar space, the sparkle-filled, infinite near-void that surrounds the little rock we call home.  I’ve always been a fan of sci-fi that discussed space travel, nonfiction that detailedspace exploration, and day-dreaming about what’s out there that we can’t even begin to comprehend or guess at.

Several years ago, there was talk of real, true space travel (at least in low Earth orbit) for the everyperson, coming soon to a space port near you.  This intensified my interest greatly, and I’ve been keeping track of these programs – my favorite is SpaceX – ever since.  Then there were Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity.  Rovers on Mars, collecting data that we’d never seen before.

So imagine my delight while watching NASA/JPL’s “7 Minutes of Terror” video outlining the landing of Curiosity (aka Mars Science Laboratory).  Now, about twelve hours after the fact, I am writing about the successful deployment of Curiosity on Mars’ surface – even having used all the craziness depicted in the video linked above.  A space crane?  between that and my iPad, I really feel like we’re closing in on Star Trek territory.


I am a happy and excited geek!

Animal-based Food Additives… What’s the Big Deal?

I wonder how much of that table, if you dig really, really deep, has something in it that someone will find revolting.

From the vast number of news articles about vegetarian and vegan products, to news about “pink slime” and cochineal beetles used as food coloring, consumers are being overwhelmed with news about what goes into products.  This is good from a knowledge perspective, and bad because a lot of it is hype.  Wired has been doing this for years, typically with a one- or two-page bit in the magazine called “What’s Inside?

The Wired blurbs tend to be interesting, but often stories carried as “news” are a bit more concerning.  Where the What’s Inside? articles are generally matter-of-fact, the news articles often carry some bias.  This all came to a head for me today when I read this gem on ABC’s ABCNews Go site today.  It discusses the “7 grossest things in your food,” and the writer even believes some are possibly worse than pink slime.  But are they really?  Americans have spent decades becoming more disassociated from their food even while we consume greater and greater quantities of it.  Of the seven listed items, the only one that truly concerns me is Prozac and other medications found in poultry.

Ok, I get it.  That’s really not good.  Though I would imagine that most of those compounds lose their efficacy upon cooking.  But the other six?

Yes, rennet is an enzyme from a cow’s stomach and is used to make cheese.  Rennet  isn’t a man-made chemical, and has been used in cheese making for a very, very long time.  Actually, according to the post linked in the last sentence, it IS man-made these days, which actually makes it vegan as far as I can tell.  Still, even if natural rennet is not always vegan, is an enzyme from a cow’s stomach somehow not vegetarian?  it’s not meat.  if you can drink milk, you can consume enzymes in my book.

And oh noes!  There’s lanolin in gum?  It’s sheep oil?  Collagen from a fishes bladder in beer?  Beetle resin on my candy?  First, you’ve probably been consuming these things your whole life, and prior to being granted this knowledge thought these were delicious consumables.  Second, a lot of people might freak out about duck feathers in dough-based products, then go and eat a Big Mac.  Seriously people?  Duck feathers are far more natural than a McDonald’s patty, and probably much better for you.  If it’s what works…

Remember, lots of people around the world eat testicles and crazy looking things from the ocean.  If a little extra fiber via wood pulp in your bran cereal is enough to make you lose your mind, you should probably just at lettuce.  Organic lettuce.  From the farmer’s market.  That was grown on rainbows and love.

Cease-and-Desist Done Right



Jack Daniels Properties is my Hero of July for such a wonderful letter.  If you read the Mashable link above, there’s a great story about JDP not only being polite to the nth degree, but explaining why they needed to send the cease-and-desist letter, and even then offering to help cover some costs for redesigning the cover.

Beats the hell out of these IP lawyers doing things by the status quo these days.



Also some Fark discussion about it all here:  http://www.fark.com/comments/7227998/Jack-Daniels-shows-world-how-to-do-a-cease-desist-letter-right

Dear Carreons…

Dear Tara Carreon,

I’m sure by now you are aware that much of the Internet citizenry finds you and your husband to be utterly out of line.  However, Tara, you especially seem content to name call and belittle people you do not know because they’ve chosen to take to anonymity.  Isn’t free speech and Constitutional Law the very thing that Charles Carreon has spent his career upholding?  How then should it appear to us that he is fighting against those very same tenets that he has built his career and reputation around?

In the beginning, I found Charles Carreon to be a deplorable human being.  As a Libertarian who believes fully in Constitutional Law, I am appalled at the painstakingly autocratic approach that your husband is taking.  Still, I can accept that his views may suddenly become different while he is roasting under the spotlight.  You though…  Mrs. Tara Carreon…  you are a true piece of work.  An utterly despicable, nasty kind of human that says preaches one thing and acts upon another.  You say that it’s horrible, that Inman and those who have taken his side are so immoral as to attack you and your poor husband, while with your tongue firmly in your cheek you return the same in kind.

So, Tara, here I am.  I am not anonymous.  I am Jesse Williams.  A father, a professional and a combat veteran from Royal Oak, MI.  I hide behind nothing.  In plain sight of gods and men, I tell you that you are awful and your behavior incredibly irresponsible.  You and your husband have taken a simple stroke of the pen, and demonized it for what appears to be nothing more than media attention.  They say that no press is bad press, but I hope in all earnest regards that your husband’s career is ended due to this outlandish and unlawful affront to the laws of our fine country.




Jesse S. Williams



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Double Fine? Double AWESOME!


Double Fine Productions, spearheaded by Tim Schaefer of Day of the Tentacles and Psychonauts fame, has launched a Kickstarter funding project to produce a modern, reenvisioned point-n-click adventure game called “Double Fine Adventure“.  If you aren’t that old, are new to video games, or somehow just missed out on the trend, check out games like Monkey Island and King’s Quest from back in the day for an idea of how these games work.  There are many aspects of this that have me thrilled, and for sanity’s sake, I will list them in a list-like form – sometimes called a “list”:

  1. The people that comprise this company are sort of like famous indie developers.  I don’t know that I could comfortably say they are indie – they are all too well known and have made too many games (collectively).  But they are also not the business elite, driving after every green dollar and every red cent.  This is to say that I have a strongdesire to see them succeed.
  2. Speaking of having made games, there have been a lot of really good ones to come out of these people, currently and prior to being Double Fine.  Recently, I’ve played Stacking on the 360, and just really enjoy it.
  3. Crowd-sourced funding, in my humble view, denotes that the developers are trying to seek our money AND our input in game design – to the extent that it’s possible.  Also, this project is breaking crowd-sourcing records like so many bricks beneath a sensei’s chop.
  4. They don’t need no steenkin’ publishers!  This could, likely, mean no DRM, no BS red-tape control over development, and more freedom for the developers to do what they need/want to do.

At any rate, for the low, low price of $15, you can basically pre-order the game, and help pay for development.  Also, their goal of $400,000 was squashed in 8 hours and 11 minutes.  As of this writing, they have reached $849,160 and are rapidly closing in on the most funded project ever on Kickstarter.  Oh, and there are still 33 days left for people to back the project.


UPDATE (2/9/2012 7:53pmEDT):  The more I think about this, the more interesting it becomes.  Not only has DF hit the million dollar mark (and climbing), but this could be as big a shift in how the gaming industry works as the shift from arcades to homes.  It may not have the overt social impact of home gaming systems, but it may have a similarly-sized impact on the content, quality, and uniqueness of games.  This excites me!

Pages v Word, Mac OS v Windows, iPhone v Everything

So, recently I’ve had a few conversations with people (most notably Samir) about why I enjoy Apple products.  I’ve been given a bit of crap about loving my iPhone and shunning Android.  Apparently this is seen as anti-geek, a step away from the tinkering fool I once was.  My argument has been, for quite some time regarding the iPhone and the Mac (I’ve had both for about two years now), that I simply don’t have the time or energy to deal with the nuances and bullshit of Windows and Android.  I don’t want to hunt for drivers, verify version compatibilities, change out this, that or the other thing, anytime I want to install a new app.  I want it to “just work,” and it does.  This pleases me.

Another thought has been creeping out from my subconscious lately about the simplicity involved here.  Sometimes it’s a matter of visual appeal – simple, clean interfaces – though Windows has been making great strides to this effect as well of late.  Sometimes it’s a matter of overall simplicity.  Last week I downloaded Pages rather than get a new version of MS Word for Mac.  I love Word, I know Word… some might say carnally.  Word and I have been involved for a very, very long time.  I can make Word do just what I want it to, when I want it to, almost every time.  The thought of moving to a new word processing app made me apprehensive, to say the least.  After only a week with it, thought, I can say that apprehension was for naught.  I still don’t have the working knowledge of Pages that I do of Word, but it’s just so… so…  pretty.  I don’t mean this in the typical geek way; I can’t skin it with Gears of War logos or a Star Wars font.  I can’t make the borders match my guild colors.  I mean it in an artistic way.  It’s clean, sleek, even minimal, and I love it all the more for those reasons.

Maybe I’m losing geek cred with every conversation I have like this.  If that’s the case, so be it.  My hardcore days are over.  I don’t use linux (despite the BSD shell in OSX), I don’t crack lines of perl out anymore, and I don’t play MMORPGs into the wee hours of the morning.  Yeah, I said it.  What now?!

Zynga, I Loathe (and Love) Thee so…

Zynga, the company behind the atrocity that is Farmville, is a company that most gamers despise.  Their claws latched into casual gamers around the world, the bilk people of hard-earned dollars with micropayments for silly things like orange pigs and green alien cows.

Sadly, when looking for a Scrabble-like game on my iPhone a long, long time ago, the best I could find was Words with Friends.  At that time, it was developed by Newtoy, Inc.  Eventually, though, Zynga ate them like a hearty appetizer, and spawned a whole category of “with Friends” games.  Now I own them all: Words, Hanging, Scramble, Chess.  I hate that I feed their eager maws, even without paying for microtransactional coins and bits and doodads.

HOWEVER, these games are really good.  Scramble with Friends, the newest word game (like Boggle, more or less) has been beneath my grubby fingers several times a day since it came out.  So, I recommend buying it.  It’s good.  It’s okay to hate Zynga, and still feed them.  They’re obviously hungry after all…

SOPA/PIPA (not sopaipilla)

Sadly, this post is not about tasty Latin American treats. It’s about legislation that endangers the free exchange of knowledge that the Internet offers us. The basics of SOPA and PIPA entail the ability for the US Department of Justice to require immediate take down of sites and domains, including rerouting DNS and preventing payments to them, when it appears a site infringes on US Copyright laws in any form. The details, however, are far less fuzzy. Under the guise of this bill, the government could kill off sites that link to news articles (aka Fark), or use images or text from other articles (aka ArsTechnica), or for any other reason impede on the “rights”, real of imagined, of the lobbyist agenda.

Will it happen? Nobody can say for sure. But why even give the government the power to make such decisions for us? Take action – call your congresscritters today! There’s not much time left. Next year, your favorite site might be closed for business.

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If you have an iPhone and need a case, I recommend one of these:


I almost got one last year, but the maker got a C&D from Apple. They are back on the market now, and if I hadn’t just spent a bunch on another sweet case, I’d go for this bad boy. If you want something a little more subtle (or more expensive), I also HIGHLY recommend these:


I love mine. Peep has the Vapor Comp, which is also sweet, and slightly cheaper.

So, Steve in Carbonite – recommended on a cool factor. Element Cases – recommended from use.

Musings on a Restroom Sink

Something struck me as odd today about the bathroom habits of the other inhabitants of my office building. I understand that this may seem like an odd thing to consider, but seeing as I use the restroom here at the office at least as often as the one at home, perhaps it’s not so strange.

The first thing to mention is that each of the three floors has an identical restroom in identical locations on the floor. This, in and of itself, is not unusual in the least. This is about where the normalcy ends, however. All of them are “public” to the daytime residents of the building. We’re in the largest suite and do not have private facilities, so I doubt anyone else does either. However, each floor’s men’s room has a distinctive quality.

On the first floor, there is always reading material in the stalls. Most of it stays there for about a month before being refreshed by someone who has decided to use that stall as his domicile for an hour or so. There is also the strange habit from our eastern friends of leaving soap-and-water filled dishes on the bathroom sink. I understand first-hand the difference between their culture and ours, but this still seems slightly unsettling in the U.S.

The second floor, by the appearance of the men’s room, must be abandoned entirely. I’ve never walked into it at a point in time where the lights were not off (they are on a motion sensor). This differs form the first and third floor, where I’ve never walked in on the lights being off unless I was working late in the office. There’s never reading material, it’s always clean, and it’s never out of toilet paper. Perhaps, in this sense, the second floor is the place to go for all of your nature calls.

The third floor men’s room, aka Restroom Prime for my office, has no reading material or dishes, but constantly has paper towel and toilet paper on the floor. Apparently Pigpen from Peanuts works in one of the adjacent offices. Also, people on the third floor apparently are not familiar with the flushing mechanism of the toilet.

Despite these differences, there is one thing that ties the three together–the sinks. There are three sinks in a row on the same wall on each floor. Everyone appears to favor the leftmost sink. Because of this, the leftmost sink on each floor has developed quirks, most of which are related to the dispensing of soap. The soap and water are both released by a motion sensor. However, on those leftmost sinks, the motion sensor is either completely uncalibrated, or has developed sentience and is combating our overuse of it. When drawing one’s hand under the dispenser, it does not deposit soap in your palm as it should. But moving your hand under the faucet turns on both water and soap. This creates a small dance by where you must place your hand under the soap dispenser and move your other hand in a broad stroke under the faucet. It’s sort of the CTRL-ALT-DEL of the appliance world.

When someone is already at the leftmost sink, people seem to gravitate to the center sink, thus enforcing my theory that there is some sort of subconscious stigma attached to the rightmost sink. The center sinks have yet to develop their sentient (and anti-human) autonomy; they function as expected. I would think this would cause people to utilize the center sink more often, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The rightmost sink usually has no soap (or the dispenser simply doesn’t function at all). Perhaps after years of not being refilled due to lack of use, the soap dispensers on those sinks have simply gone on strike. Or, in some cost cutting measure, it was determined that the stale soap in those dispensers just doesn’t need to be replaced, since nobody ever uses them. To shore up my hypothesis, I just tried the soap dispenser on the right after a failed CTRL-ALT-DEL dance with the left sink.

No soap came out.