Scientists Make It Harder For My Child To Distinguish Fantasy From Reality

Ever since he watched Star Wars, the child is full of questions about it, mostly along the lines of “Are stormtroopers bad guys?”, “Is Anakin a good guy,” and “Why was there a monster in that place where they went [the garbage compactor]?”

It was bad enough when George Lucas bollixed it all up with the prequels or even with the originals when reflected upon as an adult (So they’re standing knee deep in waste water on a space station?).

However, the boy also asks questions along the lines of:

  • Is Darth Vader real? No.
  • Are light savers real? They’re light sabers, and no.
  • Is Tatooine real? Uh….

The first four planets orbiting the star 55 Cns were discovered in the late1990’s – early 2000’s. However, they were hot gas giants. After the discovery in 2002 of the planets 55 Cnc C and 55 Cnc D it turned out that there was a wide “gap” between them. However, the results of modular simulation showed that this space can be occupied by stable planetary orbits. Only in 2007 one of the study participants, Professor Geoffrey Marcy, “stumbled” upon the fifth planet – 55 Cnc F, whose mass is equal to 0.155 of the mass of Jupiter (approximately 46 Earth masses) and is removed from its parent star by approximately the same distance as Earth from the Sun.

The new planet was “unofficially” name Tatooine – the name of the homeland of “Star Wars” characters Anakin (the future Darth Vader) and Luke Skywalker, a planet with two suns.

Great. So now I have to admit that some things from Star Wars are real, kind of, and confuse him with why, kind of like how I confuse him by telling him the Star Wars stories are real qua stories, but that the events depicted within them did not happen.

At least it will keep me from trying to explain how Anakin Skywalker will bring balance to the force by killing all the Jedi but two (one of whom dies of old age) and then killing the Sith Master and dying as the Sith Apprentice. Which is a pretty grim bit of balance bringing, that.

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Good Book Hunting: August 13, 2011

Yesterday, instead of doing something productive, I gathered up the family and headed to two garage sales. When we’d gone to Asbury United Methodist Church last year, they had a whole room of books. This year, there was only a table, but it was heavy on the science fiction as you will see below. Additionally, we managed to reach the SLS 8th Grade Trip Sale about 10 minutes before it was going to close at 11, and, hey, they had books, too.

Here’s what I got:

August 13, 2011 book purchases

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Book Report: Point Blank by Jack Hild (1987)

Book cover This is the next book after Firestorm U.S.A., but it’s far different from the earlier book. We get a lot of allusion to some things in Barrabas’s past, but the book starts him out in Egypt without much to give this reader any bearing on why he’s there and what he’s doing. After a very slow and disengaging first chapter, one discovers that Barrabas has a recurring villain, a former CIA agent who bedevils Barrabas repeatedly. So this book ties into that storyline with which I was familiar.

At any rate, Barrabas goes hunting for this guy; coincidentally, two members of his team are spending some of their “off” time in Africa helping the medically needy there, and they find the super-villain in an abandoned copper mine, weaponizing this new deadly disease AIDS using African natives as incubators. The super-villain frames Barrabas for the attempt on the life of Barrabas’s ex-lover, who then comes to Africa to avenge her brother by killing Barrabas. And other member of Barrabas’s team come looking for him as Barrabas survives a plane crash in the desert.

It comes together at the villain’s lair, of course, and Barrabas’s team wins, of course. Unfortunately, the pacing of the book is kinda slow, and even the jump cuts don’t build suspense because it reminds you how obvious the required coincidence is. So it’s my least favorite in the series, but it does not kill the series for me.

Now, if I could only read something weighty to impress my smart friends.

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The Winner of the Republican Candidates’ Debate: Me

I watched the first half of the Republican debate in Iowa last night, and I’m pleased to announce that I won.

I won because I saw the candidates with the potential to win the presidential nomination (Romney, Bachmann, Pawlenty, and maybe Cain), and I did not react to any of them with an Ew, not him.

Unlike in 2008, where a McCain caller early in the process got very snitty with me because I didn’t think McCain would be much of an improvement over Hillary Clinton. McCain was a candidate I would support only with my reluctant vote (although his vice-presidential choice got me to an event or two with some grubzits).

But those people on stage, yeah, I can send them money (and have, in one case) and maybe spend a little time at the local HQ volunteering. And that gives me hope and a little sense of some semblance of a role to play in shaping the future of the country. Instead of just reluctantly voting for whomever the party has put out there because he’s slightly better than Hillary or the Sena (only a half term, so he only gets half the title) from Illinois.

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I’m Not Retro, I’m A Pack Rat

A friend on Facebook posted a retro comment about wanting to go shopping so her mom could buy her a Trapper Keeper for school, and after I was all about reminding everyone that I was a child of the housing projects who got his first Trapper Keeper secondhand, if you call “from the common metal garbage cans in the alley” secondhand (all right, they weren’t exactly common, as each apartment got two trash cans with the apartment address painted on them–you got me, I’m making this all up!). I never did take that Trapper Keeper to school, as it had last year’s (1981’s) scrawlings from someone else in it.

But I did get a second one in 1985, which I still have. Of course.

My 26-year-old binder

Continue reading “I’m Not Retro, I’m A Pack Rat”

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Book Report: No Shoes, No Shirt….No Problem! by Jeff Foxworthy (1996)

Book coverThis is not the first Foxworthy book I’ve read; I read You Might Be A Redneck If… in 2006 and How to Really Stink at Work: A Guide to Making Yourself Fire-Proof While Having the Most Fun Possible last year. This book proved its worth in merely providing me with the fodder for a blog post ("Wherein My Life Intersects, Again, With The Humor Of Jeff Foxworthy And Larry The Cable Guy") and a tweet/status. Strangely enough, this is my gold standard for books by comedians these days. Also, books by Roman emperors.

This book is better than How To Really Stink At Work anyway. The humor and musings are more aligned with Foxworthy’s humor. Unfortunately, the book does stray into his personal life a bit too much for my taste. I dunno, he talks about his courtship of his wife and whatnot, and I guess I like my humor a little more abstract. When he’s talking about wives and women, I cringe a little to tie this to a specific person. Maybe that’s just me or my taste towards the middle of 2011.

So it’s an amusing enough book, but not pure enough comedy for me.

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Words To Live By

Step 1: Secure the Goat

You know, reading this has changed my life. The first thing I’m going to tell myself when I get up in the morning is Today, we will first secure the goat. Me, I will use that royal ‘we’ inside my own head because goat-securing sounds like a two-person job, even metaphorically.

When someone lets me down, I will express my disappointment by telling that person that he did not secure the goat.

And I will ask myself as I lie in bed, going to sleep (or staring at the ceiling, depending upon what I think the answer will be): Did I secure the goat today?

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Since My Blog Empire Is Already So Profitable, Why Not Start Another?

I’ve been kicking around the idea of starting a blog dedicated to the objects I find in books as bookmarks used by the previous owners, where I can muse on what the objects might mean. Some of them will be very curious, as they’ve laid dormant in books for decades.

I’ve started it, sort of. The first post is Kansas City Royals Ticket Stub. It is not as quaint as some of the other things I’ve found, but it’s a start.

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Kansas City Royals Ticket Stub

About of the third of the way into a Gold Eagle book, Point Blank (SOBs #17), I found a ticket stub for a Kansas City Royals game:

Kansas City Royals ticket stub found in Jack Hild's Point Blank

Given that the book itself bears the stamp of a Kansas City used bookstore within it, I can assume that the ticket stub came from a Kansas City fan and not an Orioles fan.

On May 10, 2003, the Royals were in first place in the American League Central, not that I would have known then. I lived in the St. Louis area, and if you’re in the St. Louis area and think about Kansas City+baseball, you think one of two things, depending upon where you were in 1985. You think They have baseball in Kansas City? or you think Effin Don Denkinger! Lest you wonder where I stand, let me tell you I alone in Busch Stadium (II) booed Don Denkinger when he called a game in 2000.

The Royals beat the Orioles, 8-4, that night. The manager was Tony Peña, a former Cardinal catcher. The center fielder that night was Carlos Beltran, a player who would worry Cardinals fans in the coming years when he played for the Astros and Mets. You see, if you’re a Cardinals fan, it becomes all about the Cardinals.

Section 408 lies on the third base side; I assume row U is the top of the nosebleeds such as they are. Note the price of the ticket, even in 2003: $2.50. Tickets to Milwaukee County Stadium were higher than that in the 1980s.

The ticket lie closed in that book for over eight years before I bought that book (in June) and read it (in August).

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Bring the Kids!

Man, Woman Charged After Allegedly Leaving Child, 3, At Burglary Scene:

Two people face charges after they allegedly brought a 3-year-old with them as they committed a burglary, and then left the child at the scene.

If they’d have left the child at home alone and it was found, they would have faced far more acrimony than if they’d been merely caught at burglary. So it’s a rational choice, sort of.

Making the kid carry a bag of silverware that anchored the kid in place, though, that sort of defeated the purpose.

(Link seen on Hell in a Handbasket.)

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School Supply Shopping Lists: No Brown M&Ms

Since school starts in a week, the school has sent its non-normalized list of equipment the urchins will need for school. One child’s list is very specialized in certain areas, the other’s is specialized and recommends specific brand names and sizes. So your shopping list has to be a half again as long as it should be.

Then I remembered something I’d read recently about Van Halen and brown M&Ms:

In case you weren’t around during the 80s, the rock supergroup Van Halen had a clause in their concert contracts that stipulated that the band would “be provided with one large bowl of M&M candies, with all brown candies removed”. Once the “M&Ms” story leaked to the press, social commentators jumped all over it as an egregious example of the pampered and spoiled behavior that rock artists demanded.

Van Halen was one of the first rock bands to bring truly massive concerts to mid-size cities like Macon, Georgia. The staff that worked at concert arenas in these smallish cities were used to bands coming to town with, at most, three tractor-trailers full of equipment. Van Halen’s equipment took up 9 tractor-trailers. It was a lot of stuff, and the staff at these venues were frequently overwhelmed. And when people are overwhelmed, they make mistakes. At a rock concert, “making a mistake” during setup has a large number of possible outcomes. Some mistakes don’t have any effect at all. Other mistakes can make the band sound awful, which hurts nothing but the band’s image. Other mistakes can cause stage lights to fall from the ceiling and kill people… which is exactly what the band was afraid of.

At the heart of any major concert is the contract. Much of the text of these contracts is standard legal boilerplate, but each band may attach specific demands via something called a “rider”. Most of the contracts involving concerts at large venues are jam-packed with riders, most of which involve technical details specific to the band’s stage design. For instance, a rider might say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, spaced evenly, providing nineteen amperes total, on beams suspended from the ceiling of the venue, which shall be able to support a total gross weight of 5,600 pounds each, and be suspended no less than 30 feet, but no more than 37.5 feet, above the stage surface”. Van Halen’s concert contracts would have several hundred such demands, and their contracts ended up (in lead singer David Lee Roth’s words) looking “like a Chinese Yellow Pages”.

The staff at venues in large cities were used to technically-complex shows like Van Halen’s. The band played in venues like New York’s Madison Square Garden or Atlanta’s The Omni without incident. But the band kept noticing errors (sometimes significant errors) in the stage setup in smaller cities. The band needed a way to know that their contract had been read fully. And this is where the “no brown M&Ms” came in. The band put a clause smack dab in the middle of the technical jargon of other riders: “Article 126: There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation”. That way, the band could simply enter the arena and look for a bowl of M&Ms in the backstage area. No brown M&Ms? Someone read the contract fully, so there were probably no major mistakes with the equipment. A bowl of M&Ms with the brown candies? No bowl of M&Ms at all? Stop everyone and check every single thing, because someone didn’t bother to read the contract.

And I thought, Holy cannoli! The teachers are testing me!

If the urchin’s backpack contains a 6oz bottle of Elmer’s Glue, a gel gluestick, or a 48-pack of crayons, this failure will automatically indicate to the teacher that I am that kind of parent. The kind who lets the child select camo-and-stripes ensembles with the trousers on backwards and two different shoes on the wrong feet.

So I was particularly meticulous in this annual scavenger hunt, finding the right size of disposable cups that are only sold in a dusty Halltown shop with a single shelf slot and two boxes stocked every two weeks.

Because I am that kind of parent, but I am considerate enough to not want to spoil the remainder of the teacher’s summer.

UPDATE: Thanks for the link, Mr. Sensing.

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Republican Democracy Fails Again

Republicans take 4 of 6 in recall elections, hold Senate:

Democrats won two state Senate seats in Tuesday’s historic recall elections, but failed to capture a third seat that would have given them control of the chamber.

By keeping a majority in the Senate, Republicans retained their monopoly on state government because they also hold the Assembly and governor’s office. Tuesday’s elections narrowed their majority – at least for now – from 19-14 to a razor-thin 17-16.

If only there were some way the people could have voiced their opinions!

Aside from the election in 2010, the Supreme Court election, the recall elections….

(More from Wisconsonites Troglopundit and Ann Althouse.)

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Book Report: The Kentucky Rifle: A True American Heritage in Pictures by The Kentucky Rifle Association (1967)

Book coverI inherited this book from my wife’s uncle, who was something of an expert on period firearms. This book collects images of the Kentucky Rifle, focusing on the craftsmanship in the inlays and etching on the stock.

To someone not that into period rifles, the pictures look a lot the same until you really snap into the lingo and the variation, at which point I could appreciate the differences and the artistic flourishes more.

But it’s definitely a book for enthusiasts more than the casual reader. It took me many football games and baseball games to make it through it.

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Book Report: The Bittersweet Ozarks at a Glance by Ellen Gray Massey (2003)

Book coverI borrowed this book at the library this weekend because I was running short of things to read around here. Actually, no, I have this tendency to stop by the local history section at the Republic Branch of the Springfield-Greene County library and check something out in spite of having enough to read. This particular volume is a collection of photographs taken as part of an Ozarks studies class at Lebanon High School from the 1970s to the early part of the 21st century.

That lends the book a certain double effect narration: Some of the photographs are themselves history, as many capture not only the old timer residents of the area wearing their horned rim glasses unironically, but also some of the students are captured in their flared bottom pants, also worn unironically. Sometime in the 1980s, old people stopped looking like these vintage old people, didn’t they? I have some pictures of my great aunts from the late 1980s with the horned rim glasses, and they looked old. In contrast, I have a grandmother and a friend approaching 90 and a mother-in-law approaching, well, maybe I shouldn’t use her as an example since she sometimes reads this blog. But some of the photographs in this book are of people who fall between those ages, and they look older than the aforementioned people who will unfriend me on Facebook for mentioning their ages. Maybe it’s that I’ve gotten older, but it’s not exclusively that, is it?

So I enjoyed looking through this book while watching a Cardinals game. The photographs capture some of the natural beauty of the region as well as some of the residents of the area who were farming it before electricity reached them (in some cases, as late as the 1960s). Although the pictures of the native fauna was less impressive since I’ve snapped most of them myself in my backyard.

A side note: you know, one can easily dodge high school literary works as subpar (come on, they’re just learning). However, one overlooks high school history programs at one’s own risk. This is pretty good stuff, much like Webster Groves High School’s In Retrospect series that started in the middle 1970s, too.

I recommend the book. Of course, instead of going to the library for it, you can order it right off the Internet from the link below. Or, if you’re like me, you can get it from the library and then scoop it up later after you’re sure of it’s worth.

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Wherein Brian Explains How He Got A Lot Of Eastern Bloc Twitter Followers And Why DHS Is No-Knocking On His Door

So I have this tech writing gig where I’m writing documentation for software that generates import/export documentation for exporters. The software now features the ability to produce documents for ITAR, which is the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. So on my technology Twitter Feed, I said:

Today’s user scenario: I am an international arms dealer. No, really.

A user scenario, as you know, is describes the mindset and goals of a user interacting with software.

Someone responded:

That’s good. Most of the software I work on is useless to you if you can’t get yourself some arms.

So I said:

Can I interest you in something on our menu?

The link goes to a list of codes used in shipping munitions overseas. Comparing this list provided by the United States Customs to the United States Munitions List, I discovered that the list was missing one of the munitions categories (even though the Customs data element spec says it should be available, but that’s government data integration for you). So I tweeted:

The Man is holding me down. I can’t sell Directed Energy Weapons abroad.


I mean, the Pentagon’s selling its lightning gun on Ebay (, and I can’t sell particle beams to the Mongolians.

I thought it was mighty funny. I just hope the Federal agents monitoring the social networks have a sense of humor, too.

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Book Report: Firestorm U.S.A. by Jack Hild (1987)

Book coverThis book is the 16th in the series; I read the 5th of the series, Gulag War, in 2009. Strangely enough, I bought this book, too, for a quarter, although I see it’s not as quite in demand as the earlier books when I search the Internet. I told the kid at Castle Books, a used book store here in Springfield that I’d never heard of (!), that I was excited to get it. He tried to riposte, but could not. I hate it when repartee dysfunction happens to me, too. I’ll keep my eye out for others in this particular series when I’m there. I’ll just have to look in the back cheap books closet again.

Speaking of used book stores, this volume has made the rounds: It has three different used book store stamps from the Kansas City area within it. I guess it was held onto by some serious pulp readers who bought it, read it, and turned it in for store credit elsewhere. Unlike me, who is a serious pulp accumulator.

So this story shares some broad strokes in common with the Chuck Norris film Invasion U.S.A.: A group of terrorists infiltrates Florida and starts wreaking havoc until the Soldiers of Barrabas can stop them by firing their submachineguns from the hip.

The strokes they share are only broad, though. It’s not the Russians behind this, but some group that has a plan to introduce a dictator into the United States as a reaction to the terror. Ah, the olden days, before 1995, when you could posit that a coordinated terrorist attack could topple the government. Before 2011. Before we did actually have terrorists and enemies of our way of life popping up every so often to shoot or otherwise wound innocents. I dunno, the drama loses some relevance since it’s no longer unthinkable, and the stakes are somewhat diminished since what’s at stake is a little more ripped-from-the-headlines-where-the-government-warns-us-not-to-assume-terrorism.

At any rate, a quickly paced read that is more like a text movie than a book, and if you can forgive that and forgive some actually laugh-out-loud funny cinematic moments (no, really, one of the SOBs does bring her MAC-10 up to firing position, her hip, and shoot a terrorist in a crowd three times in the chest, or when two SOBs chasing a bad guy toward his car bomb wait for him to pull his gun before bringing their MAC-10s up to their hips, or any of the points where a soldier with a rifle even with open sights could have ended a dramatic moment really quick), you can enjoy the book.

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One Of These Things Is Like The Other

Federal budget axe could fall in St. Louis, eventually:

The city of St. Louis could feel the burden of such a failure in cuts to community development block grants, relied on to provide a host of services from safety to streetlights to housing for the elderly and homeless. The city already is anticipating diminished funding for roads, as less federal money flows to states.

Also, a dramatic reduction in money for new rail projects has dimmed hopes of extending MetroLink any time soon. For the next two years, barring the unforeseen, the debt compromise this week provides a measure of stability for existing services. Anything beyond that, observed James Brown, who lobbies in Washington for the city of St. Louis, “is precarious.”

Report: State budget pushes Milwaukee County deeper into fiscal hole:

The new state budget has pushed Milwaukee County more than $21 million deeper into a fiscal hole, increasing the chances that massive service cuts could be needed to fill the gap, a nonpartisan local think tank says in a report being released Wednesday.

Transit, parks and social services all could be chopped, while layoffs and benefit cuts could be ahead for county workers, the Public Policy Forum report says in its preview of the challenges in crafting the 2012 county budget. For revenue, the county has one last chance to raise property taxes by $10 million, in addition to boosting fees and imposing a controversial wheel tax, the report says.

In both cases, Republicans at higher levels of government are trying to make the higher levels of government at the Federal and state levels spend closer to what they take in, and as a result we’re getting the opening notes of the penury that local governments run by Democrats will have to live in as a result.

Expect this particular symphony in a minor key to swell.

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