Monday, December 28, 2009

Gravity wells

XKCD has a wonderful graphic to illustrate how the gravity wells of different bodies in our solar system compare to each other.

Truly a work of art and science.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Historic or historical?

Which one is it?

To me, historic refers to an event or location or other item that has made a name for itself in history while historical is a term that refers to a general quality that recalls an earlier era. The battle of the Alamo was historic, but the re-enactments of said battle are historical. Likewise, the Alamo chapel is a historic structure, but tourists come to San Antonio in part to enjoy the city's historical heritage.

I bring this up because this morning a Today show anchor referred to the blizzard that's been sweeping across the northern United States as a "historical Christmas storm". That usage mildly bothered me. If the storm goes down in the record books as particularly severe or long-lived, then it seems to me that that the storm is historic. You might refer to "historical" Christmas weather, but particular storms are "historic".

But perhaps I'm making too much of it. In fact, in my job, we sometimes have to deal with old structures or locations, and in my company's own paperwork I have noticed that "historic" and "historical" are used interchangeably. I seem to be the only one that even notices there are problems with the usage sometimes, so maybe I'm also the only one with this little linguistic hang-up.

What about you? Have you ever considered the differences between "historic" and "historical"?

Friday, December 18, 2009

"The Physics of Space Battles"

If you like science fiction -- especially the kind that involves space battles -- then you will most likely enjoy this Gizmodo article by Joseph Shoer.

So, I think the small fighter craft would be nearly spherical, with a single main engine and a few guns or missiles facing generally forward. They would have gyroscopes and fuel tanks in their shielded centers. It would make sense to build their outer hulls in a faceted manner, to reduce their radar cross-section. Basically, picture a bigger, armored version of the lunar module. The larger warships would also probably be nearly spherical, with a small cluster of main engines facing generally backward and a few smaller engines facing forward or sideways for maneuvering. Cannons, lasers, and missile ports would face outward in many directions. On a large enough space cruiser, it would even be a good idea to put docking ports for the small fighters, so that the fighters don't have to carry as many consumables on board.

I think it's time to sketch some pictures and write some stories!

(Hat tip: The Volokh Conspiracy)

Cartidge morning


Nothing but a bunch of .38 Special ammunition cartridges.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Glint morning -- on Titan

The Cassini spacecraft catches the glint of morning light off a liquid lake on Titan, Saturn's smoggy moon.


Image courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/DLR. Read more about the image here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Schooling from the Punisher: how to say 2010


Inspired by this blog post on Silver Creek 78250.
My wife reminded me that we are only 13 days away from Christmas. How does this sort of thing catch up on me? I mean, it seems like only a few weeks ago that we were celebrating Thanksgiving. Time flies. Next thing you know, it will be 2010. Then, we can join everybody in pronouncing the year, “Twenty-Ten” instead of “Two-thousand and nine”. I know this is not something worth arguing, but I think the only person I hear saying “Twenty-oh-nine” is the bow-tied Charles Osgood on CBS Sunday Morning. And he is correct, by the way. Everyone else I know says “Two-thousand and nine.” All I know is, this year; I am going to party like it is “One Thousand, nine-hundred, and ninety-nine.”

Happy in Paraguay

"Whatta ya say we make apple juice and fax it to each other?"

Fabulous lip reading done by dayjoborchestra. Hat tip: Language Log.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Toasting your health

Who wouldn't want this to be true?
HEIDELBERG, Germany -- It is a story guys everywhere have been waiting to hear. Beer may actually help prevent prostate cancer.

Preliminary evidence shows an ingredient in beer that's derived from hops is able to block the effect of testosterone on the prostate.

However, one doctor told USA Today that if beer could prevent prostate cancer, we would already see lower rates of it.

Well, maybe the current rates are the lower rates. Perhaps, if everyone stopped drinking beer, prostate cancer rates would skyrocket.

Did ya ever think of that?

Monday, December 07, 2009

"Virgin Galactic's Commercial Spaceliner Makes Public Debut"

And the event produces a very strange -- and somehow quite cool -- confluence of people, terms, and ideas.
SpaceShipTwo made its debut here today – a super-slick looking rocket plane showcased as the world's first passenger-carrying commercial spacecraft. The enterprise is under the financial wing of well-heeled U.K. billionaire and adventurer Sir Richard Branson and his space tourism firm Virgin Galactic.

Some 800 onlookers were treated to the rollout ceremonies – an event that took place in a very cold, windy, and near-snow desert environment here at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Still, attendees were treated to a glittery and spectacular site – the public unveiling of SpaceShipTwo, slung underneath its carrier aircraft.

At the rollout, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was joined by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for the honor of christening SpaceShipTwo as Virgin Space Ship (VSS) Enterprise.

"I have to tell you that there's a lot of cool things you get to do when you're Governor, said Schwarzenegger. "But today is one of the coolest things that I've ever done."


Virgin. Spaceship. Billionaire. Rocket. Enterprise. Adventure. Space tourism. Snowy desert. Space port. Arnie!

What's not to like.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

What I've been listening to lately


That's from Amorphis's latest album, Skyforger.

Amorphis is a Finnish metal band that I've listened to off and on over a few years, but this is the first full album of theirs that I have bought.

In two words: good stuff. I like the vocals and the harmonies, and some of their offerings on their other albums depart from traditional metal in a way that really slaps my ears in a good way. Skyforger is a solid addition to Amorphis's discography, and my only complaint is that which I've had all along with the band: their penchant for punctuating their music with death vocals. I know Amorphis started out as a death metal band, but their talent for harmonies and clean vocals is clear, and I think they can eventually let go of the growl without losing any power.

That having been said, the death vocals really don't detract from the beauty of this album. If you only want to download a few songs from Skyforger to see if you really like the stuff, I recommend "Sampo," "Sky is Mine," "Highest Star," and "Course of Fate."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Schooling from the Punisher: alternate pronunciations


Inspired by this news story about Hamed Haddadi.

Smith: “He’s the first Iranian to play in the NBA.” (Smith pronounced Iranian as “Eye-ranian,” a pronunciation that offended a viewer who complained.)

Lawler: “There aren’t any Iranian players in the NBA,” repeating Smith’s mispronunciation.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Where do YOU store your potatoes?

A blog I check out from time to time is Sorry I Missed Your Party, the proprietor of which (Party Pooper) skims through Flickr photo threads and posts some very interesting images of people having fun at parties. On Thanksgiving 2009, Party Pooper posted this picture:

According to the information on the Flickr thread, that's a picture from an Oscar-night party in New York in 2005. OK, it's a party, so here's this woman in an sheer top holding a mostly-empty bottle of vodka and not looking like she really cares who won the Oscar for Best Scoring for a Video Game Turned Into a Movie. What's so odd about that?

Nothing. Until you look behind the woman.

And then you will see ----- what the hell is that little cubby-hole cut into the wall right at floor level? And what's inside? Potatoes!?!

My God, who does that to their house and thinks it's actually a smart way to store your root vegetables? Or who moves into a house with that feature and decides to continue using it rather than immediately covering it over with a patch and some new paint? I mean, jeez, at least put a little door on that thing so your guests (and everyone else checking out this Flickr thread) don't have to watch your forgotten vegetables start taking root.

Believe me, people at parties notice these kinds of things.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The future is here

Shields up!
Smart armor being developed by scientists and engineers at U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center in Michigan can not only predict its own failure, but also identify the size of bullets shot at it and even generate electrical power upon impact.


Intelligent armor is based on piezoelectrics, or materials that generate a small voltage when bent. The reverse is also true: Apply a small voltage, and a piezoelectric material will bend.


Each plate of armor, whether its [sic] wrapped around a soldier's body or vehicle's chassis, has two piezeoelectric sensors attached to it.

An electric current flows into one sensor and turns it into mechanical energy in the form of a tiny vibration that ripples through the armor plate. The other piezoelectric device takes that mechanical vibration and turns it back into electrical energy.

Anywhere from five to 15 volts of electricity is pumped into, and out of, an intact plate of armor. If the armor has been damaged by bullets, shrapnel or anything else, some of the current released into the armor won't be picked up on the other end.

By measuring just how much energy is lost, the TARDEC scientists can determine how damaged the armor is.

Saturn's auroras

Space weather. Cool stuff.

As on Earth, electrical fields above Saturn interact with atmospheric chemicals to produce shimmering lights above the polar regions.

Now NASA's Cassini spacecraft has captured video of Saturn's aurora.

Saturn's flicking polar lights dance higher above the planet – 750 miles (1,200 km) – than any known aurora in the solar system. They ripple like tall curtains, changing every few minutes, according to a statement today from the space agency.

"The auroras have put on a dazzling show, shape-shifting rapidly and exposing curtains that we suspected were there, but hadn't seen on Saturn before," said Andrew Ingersoll of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "Seeing these things on another planet helps us understand them a little better when we see them on Earth."


Monday, November 23, 2009

Going to the asteroids

Ooh, this sounds exciting!
BOULDER, Colo. - Call it Operation: Plymouth Rock. A plan to send a crew of astronauts to an asteroid is gaining momentum, both within NASA and industry circles.

Not only would the deep space sojourn shake out hardware, it would also build confidence in long-duration stints at the moon and Mars. At the same time, the trek would sharpen skills to deal with a future space rock found on a collision course with Earth.

In Lockheed Martin briefing charts, the mission has been dubbed "Plymouth Rock — An Early Human Asteroid Mission Using Orion." Lockheed is the builder of NASA's Orion spacecraft, the capsule-based replacement for the space shuttle.

Send astronauts, by all means. But leave the miners at home. They're more trouble than they're worth.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Water on the moon

A lot of it, apparently.
It's official: There's water ice on the moon, and lots of it. When melted, the water could potentially be used to drink or to extract hydrogen for rocket fuel.

NASA's LCROSS probe discovered beds of water ice at the lunar south pole when it impacted the moon last month, mission scientists announced today. The findings confirm suspicions announced previously, and in a big way.

"Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn't find just a little bit, we found a significant amount," Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator from NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.

Lot's for us to drink when we get there, let's hope!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wrong word choice for a headline

"Toyota looking for workers at SA plant"

What, did they all go on break at the same time?

"This is not junk mail."


I didn't ask for it. You sent it. It's trying to sell me something. It's junk mail.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What I did today


And here's what I used to make those holes.

The circle in the upper right of the target were shots fired right-handed, using both the Beretta and the Smith & Wesson. The circle in the upper left were shots fired left-handed. In both cases, I used careful aim with the target first at about 10-12 yards and then at about 7 yards.

All the holes in the middle were center mass firing with both weapons. Sometimes one shot, sometimes two, sometimes with a holster draw.

I had a great time. It's been a while since I've had the chance to squeeze off some rounds and not have to worry about being anywhere afterward, so it was quite relaxing.

And the most amazing part about this morning's exercise? I seem to be better at shooting left-handed, even though it feels absolutely strange to shoot that way.

Go figure.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Space and God

Specifically the possibility of extraterrestrial life in that space.


The Catholic Church seems to think so.
[J]ust as the Church eventually made accommodations after Copernicus and Galileo showed that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, and when it belatedly accepted the truth of Darwin's theory of evolution, Catholic leaders say that alien life can be aligned with the Bible’s teachings.

Father Jose Funes, a Jesuit astronomer at the Vatican Observatory ..., said: "As a multiplicity of creatures exists on Earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God.

"This does not conflict with our faith, because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God."

The occasion for the comments is a conference on astrobiology being held by the Vatican. Interesting stuff, plus some pretty funny photo art at the link.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Foggy sun morning


Nothing but our dear old sun doing its best to peek through the fog on a dreary morning.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Seasons on Mercury?

Will wonders never cease? Now it seems that our solar system's most sun-drenched planet may actually have seasons! Just like on Earth.

OK, maybe not exactly like Earth.
Mercury's atmosphere is what scientists call an "exosphere," and is made up of atoms kicked up from the surface. It is very tenuous and has a very low density, meaning atoms in the atmosphere rarely run into each other. It also has a tail that streams away from the planet in the opposite direction of the sun.

MESSENGER looked at differences in three atoms in the exosphere — sodium, calcium and magnesium — between the probe's three flybys. They detected much less sodium during the third flyby than they had during the second.

"While this is dramatic, it isn't totally unexpected," [mission scientist Ronald Vervack, Jr., of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory] said. This is because radiation pressures from the sun change as Mercury moves through its orbit, which changes the amount of sodium liberated from the surface.

In essence, Mercury's atmosphere experiences seasonal effects during the planet's orbit.


Not quite like the changing leaves and cold fronts we are used to, but pretty interesting nonetheless.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tile afternoon

Nothing but a bit of historic tile accented by modern wood in a corner of San Antonio.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"... and Robin pncuhed her ..."

An awesome dramatic reading of badly written and badly spelled fan fiction by some guy named Peter Chimaera. Performance is by Phil.


Oh, and always proof your work.

Sex in space

Do you think it could be possible? Guess what?

Apparently it's already happened! And NASA videotaped the whole thing!

"The issue of sex in space is a serious one," [French writer Pierre Kohler] says. "The experiments carried out so far relate to missions planned for married couples on the future International Space Station, the successor to Mir. Scientists need to know how far sexual relations are possible without gravity."

He cites a confidential Nasa report on a space shuttle mission in 1996. A project codenamed STS-XX was to explore sexual positions possible in a weightless atmosphere.

Twenty positions were tested by computer simulation to obtain the best 10, he says. "Two guinea pigs then tested them in real zero-gravity conditions. The results were videotaped but are considered so sensitive that even Nasa was only given a censored version."

If Kohler is to be believed, then astronauts have been sexing it up in space for some time now and have been taping it for research purposes. And, given the tight confines of spacecraft and the need for at least one other person to be present to tape the encounter, it seems that any such mission would turn out to be nothing more than a porno movie shoot under very difficult circumstances.

I just hope they picked the lead actors very well.

(Story from The Guardian; hat tip: Blogonomicon)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Trying out new rocket fuel

This sounds promising.

Rocket propellant has barely changed in the more than 50 years since the launch of the first artificial satellite Sputnik. But a new mixture of nano-aluminum powder and frozen water could make rocket launches more environmentally friendly, and even allow spacecraft to refuel at distant locations such as the moon or Mars.

The aluminum-ice propellant known as ALICE gets its kick from a chemical reaction between water and aluminum. Researchers hope that the hydrogen products of that reaction might go beyond launching rockets, and also feed hydrogen fuel cells for long duration space missions.

"In the bigger picture, we're looking at technology that can store hydrogen long term," said Steven Son, a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University. "Water is a nice, stable way to store hydrogen."

Both NASA and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research have shown enough interest in the concept to fund initial rocket firing tests. The research teams at Purdue and Penn State University used ALICE to successfully launch a rocket to 1,300 feet during an August flight test.

Such technology may not see action for some years to come, or at least until NASA sorts out its space exploration plans. But the recent confirmation of water sources on the moon and Mars may hint at a future where ALICE and similar rocket propellants become highly practical.

Water and metal, reacting together to power rockets. If this technology pans out, then human interplanetary -- and perhaps even interstellar -- space travel will be within reality's grasp. The trip may not be quick, but there could be plenty of refueling stations along the way.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What I just finished reading yesterday

This is the third book of C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy: That Hideous Strength

Overall impression: Not a bad read at all. Not great, but enjoyable.

The tone of the book is vastly different from that of its predecessors, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Where the events of the first two books take place on Mars and Venus, respectively, everything that happens here happens on Earth. It's a classic battle between good and evil, but the evil is disguised as a vast new government entity (called the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments, or N.I.C.E. -- get it?) that threatens to take over post-WWII England with political manipulations and engineered revolutions. (On second thought, maybe a vast government entity is not such a good disguise at all.) The diabolical plots fail, of course, when Ransom and his cohorts get a little help from a revived Merlin who takes away the language from the evil ones, and England survives their machinations while the main character, Mark, discovers the love for his wife he had never before realized.

In any case, I think the writing here is much better than in the previous two books, and if you were to decide to choose just one title from the Space Trilogy to read, forsaking the others, I would suggest this one. It's a bit outlandish in parts, and overall it's fairly predictable (I don't know how much that would be true in the mid-1940s, though), but not bad if you are a Lewis fan.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Relying on the Russians

This is not an encouraging development in the field of manned space exploration.

Almost six years ago, the nation embarked on a new space policy of retiring the Space Shuttle in 2010 (next year, after the International Space Station is complete) and replacing it with a new (and presumably safer) means of getting crew to and from orbit. This vehicle’s primary mission was to carry astronauts to the moon and beyond, but most people assumed that it would also be capable of replacing the Shuttle for that purpose. It wasn’t planned to be ready until 2014 and in the half decade since, the schedule has slipped years beyond that, while its budget has ballooned. So now the original “gap” during which the U.S. would be incapable of launching its own crews into orbit to change out astronauts at the space station has grown from three years to five or more.

What does this have to do with the Iranian nukes problem and the Russians?

It has always been assumed that “the gap” would be filled by Russian Soyuz flights, as it was during the previous “gap” created when the Shuttle was shut down for almost three years after the loss of Columbia. But there was always a bug in that ointment, called the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA). It is a U.S. law that prohibits purchases from countries that aid those countries for which it is named in their efforts to develop missiles and nuclear weapons. By the letter of the law, Russia has always been in violation of it, realistically, but it has always maintained sufficient plausible deniability to allow Congress to grant it waivers so that NASA could continue to get Russian support for ISS, which has been difficult to maintain without it, even with the Shuttle operating. Once the Shuttle retires, it will be almost unthinkable: Russia will have the only system capable of delivering humans to orbit.

Yikes. Perhaps we shouldn't retire the shuttle right now. Or perhaps we, as a nation, need to be encouraging private investment in space travel more than we are currently doing. I think a little more competition might lead to some faster developments, and it might let us get more ships up into space sooner.

(from Rand Simberg; hat tip, Instapundit)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Top 11 Iron Maiden solos, part 2

Here is the second part of the list of my favorite Iron Maiden guitar solos. (Part 1 is here.)

"Phantom of the Opera" from Iron Maiden:


"The Prisoner" from The Number of the Beast:


"Prodigal Son" from Killers:


"Public Enema Number One" from No Prayer for the Dying:


"Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son:


"Wasted Years" from Somewhere in Time:


Top 11 Iron Maiden solos, part 1

Here is a list of my 11 favorite guitar solos from Iron Maiden songs. There are 11 because that is how many albums I own, and I thought it would be most convenient to just pick one song from each album to highlight rather than try to rank them. And I have chosen these solos for the same reason I picked out the solos for my top 10 list of favorite heavy metal solos: they have a certain "replay" quality that renders higher levels of listening pleasure in proportion to the numbers of times they are played.

The solos are in alphabetical order by song titles. Guitarists featured: Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gers.

"2 Minutes to Midnight" from Powerslave:


"Die With Your Boots On" from Piece of Mind:


"The Nomad" from Brave New World:


"No More Lies" from Dance of Death:


"Out of the Shadows" from A Matter of Life and Death:


Part 2 to come later.

UPDATE: Part 2 is posted.

Friday, October 09, 2009

With a bang, but with a barely visible bang

Well, it wasn't very showy, but at least the scientists got something to work with.

Scientists said NASA's moon-smashing mission produced enough data on Friday to address questions about lunar water ice — but the crash didn't come close to meeting public expectations as a cosmic fireworks show.

"Today we kicked up some moondust, and all indications are we are going to have some really interesting results," said Pete Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center in California. Ames served as the mission control center for the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission, or LCROSS.


The LCROSS blast promised to show how much water ice might lie within a cold, dark crater known as Cabeus. And judging by that scientific standard, members of the LCROSS team said Friday's closely observed crash was shaping up as a smashing success. The spacecraft hit the crater in a shadowed area, just as hoped. All of LCROSS' instruments appeared to be working as expected, and observations were streaming in from a network of ground-based telescopes monitoring the impact.

But there was no big flash, as was expected and hoped for. Disappointing to the watchers, no doubt, but I guess they can't all be Tempel 1. Now that was a blast.

Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Playing basketball on the moon

In the previous post, I quoted a news story from about the crashing of a spent rocket stage onto the surface of the moon -- all for science (and a little show!), of course. Now let's take a moment to look more closely at the first sentence of that story.
Scientists are hoping for a literal slam dunk with NASA's upcoming Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS mission — an event to be observed by a coordinated network of Earth and space-based equipment. [emphasis added]
We'll look at it for just a moment. That's all. I don't want to get a reputation for being a grammar grouch.

Then again, maybe Dwayne Day was the ghostwriter for this story.

"Targeting the Moon"

Get ready!
Scientists are hoping for a literal slam dunk with NASA's upcoming Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS mission — an event to be observed by a coordinated network of Earth and space-based equipment.

LCROSS will search for water ice on the moon on Friday morning by crashing its spent upper-stage Centaur rocket into Cabeus, a permanently sunlight-shy crater within the lunar south pole region. The impact is set for 7:30 a.m. EDT (1130 GMT).

That Centaur will serve as a heavy impactor on the moon, with scientists hoping a resulting debris plume will ascend above the moon's landscape. The intent is to toss tons of debris and potentially water ice and vapor high above the lunar surface.

As part of the LCROSS mission, along with the upper stage's "bang-up" job, a Shepherding Spacecraft will follow a similar trajectory of the Centaur, flying through and studying the Centaur impact plume before it too speeds into the lunar terrain.
Let the crashing begin! I just wish I could see it happen in real-time.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Misrepresenting Texas

I realize that most people who write stories, novels, television shows, screenplays, and the like are probably not from Texas. As such, they won't be familiar with life in the Lone Star State, and they can be forgiven if they make some minor cultural errors when using Texas as a setting. But grossly misrepresenting Texas (or any other state) in a way that can be easily fact-checked by just looking at a map is a bigger transgression.

For an example, I turn to that purveyor of refined culture, Marvel Comics.

Recently I introduced my son to my old comic book collection. Since he is still young (and since many of the titles I used to read were written for mature audiences), I have been going through the collection bit by bit and reviewing some of the titles to make sure they are appropriate. When he gets older and can handle some of the adult themes he will get the rest of the collection, but there's still plenty for him to read now, and I'm getting just as much a kick out of watching him enjoy the comics as I got out of reading them myself.

Recently I got to the section of my collection that focuses on Marvel's Punisher character (largely inappropriate for my son's age, by the way), and I came across this issue, The Punisher War Journal #16. As you can see from the cover, this episode takes place in Texas.

Yes, the "Texas Checking Account Massacre." Sure to be an enduring classic.

The story takes place in the days when savings and loan institutions were tanking, and the Punisher must go after some unscrupulous characters who have been bilking regular people out of their hard-earned cash. The main offender is a high-dollar scammer named Kelleher, and the Punisher goes to Texas to punish him.

The story opens in the fictional town of Elsinor, and here is where the first geographical mistake takes place.

The story names Elsinor as a suburb of Houston. In case you are not from Texas (and in case you may be a writer who is thinking about setting a story in Texas), Houston is here:

The troubled financial institution in the Punisher story is called "South Texas Savings and Loan", as you can see in the opening panel. This is a minor quibble, but Houston is not in South Texas, which is highlighted below:

Houston is generally considered to be in East Texas, or Southeast Texas. I know it is entirely possible that a small firm can start in one area of the state and expand to other markets, but I'm not sure that's the intent of the writer here. I think the writer just assumed Houston was in South Texas and named the S&L such for the convenience of the readers (who are probably not from Texas, either).

The second geographical error takes place on the sixth page of the story, where we see the Punisher discussing his next task with his sidekick, Microchip.

They talk about going to Houston to take care of Kelleher, and the following dialogue takes place:

The Punisher: Fix me up a file -- I'll pick him up in Houston at the trial. I'll need some bugs [listening devices] ...

Microchip: You're gonna need some bug spray. The Panhandle gets mighty itchy this time of year.
Sorry, Microman. That may be a joke, but it falls flatter than the Llano Estacado because the Panhandle of Texas is a looooong way away from Houston.

How far is it? Let me give an example that big-time writers might find useful. The Panhandle is farther away from Houston than Canada is from New York City, about twice as far, in fact.

Perhaps Microchip can be forgiven. Maybe he, as a character, is really ignorant about Texas, or maybe he just likes horrible jokes. And if that was the intent of the writer, then I should cut him a little slack. But I don't think that was his intent. I think the writer is the one who doesn't know squat about Texas, and to him the Panhandle and Houston and South Texas and any other part of the state is all the same. If that's the case, then that's just sloppy writing, and it's kind of an insult to Texas itself. Really, it's not that difficult to find a map and to take a quick look at it.

But, oh well. It's not like it's the first time Texas has ever been misrepresented in popular culture. And, in all likelihood, it won't be the last.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The future is here

Ray guns!

OK, it's just a laser. But how cool is that! A laser fired from a C-130 actually burns through a truck hood! The stuff science fiction films are made of.

Read the whole story here.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Top 10 Metal Solos, Part 2

Here is the second part of my top ten heavy metal guitar solos. (Part 1 is here.)

Mötley Crüe, "Starry Eyes" from Too Fast For Love
Guitarist - Mick Mars


Ozzy Osbourne, "Mr. Crowley" from Blizzard of Ozz
Guitarist - Randy Rhoads


Queensrÿche, "Walk in the Shadows" from Rage for Order
Guitarists - Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton


Scorpions, "China White" from Blackout
Guitarist - Mathias Jabs


Steve Vai - "The Animal" from Passion and Warfare
Guitarist - Steve Vai


You may have noticed that I did not include any songs from Iron Maiden, my favorite metal band. That's not an oversight. I was going to include some solos from the Maiden guitarists, but then I realized I could probably put together a-whole-nother top ten list featuring just them. I may do that some day.

How about you? Do you have any favorite guitar solos that you find yourself listening to over and over again?

Top 10 Metal Solos, Part 1

Here is a list of guitar solos from heavy metal songs that I find particularly enjoyable to listen to. I did not compile this list with technical proficiency or musicality in mind (though many of these solos certainly possess such qualities). I simply picked ten that have a certain "replay" quality, which means I find myself replaying the solos immediately after hearing them just so I can hear them again. Over and over again.

Here are the first five of my top ten.

Black Sabbath, "Lonely is the Word" from Heaven and Hell
Guitarist - Tony Iommi


Dream Theater, "Under a Glass Moon" from Images and Words
Guitarist - John Petrucci


Judas Priest, "Freewheel Burning" from Defenders of the Faith
Guitarist - Glenn Tipton


Megadeth, "Hangar 18" from Rust in Peace
Guitarists - Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman


Metallica, Blackened from ...And Justice For All
Guitarist - Kirk Hammett


Part 2 of this list to come later. (UPDATE: Here it is.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Water, water everywhere ...

... and hopefully plenty for us to drink, once we get there.

There's water all over the moon, after all.
"Widespread water has been detected on the surface of the moon," said planetary geologist Carle Pieters of Brown University in Rhode Island, who led one of the studies detailing the findings.

While the findings, detailed in the Sept. 25 issue of the journal Science, don't mean there are pools of liquid water sitting on the moon, it does mean that there is — entirely unexpectedly — water potentially tied up or mixed in the minerals that make up the lunar dirt.

"What we're detecting is completely unexpected," Pieters said. "The moon continues to surprise us."

And Mars hides water ice just beneath -- really, just beneath -- the surface of the planet.
Craters gouged into the ruddy Martian terrain have revealed subsurface water ice closer to the red planet's equator than would be expected, new orbiter images show.

The ice also seems to be 99 percent pure, instead of the dirty dust and ice mixture some scientists expected to see, scientists said today [September 24, 2009].

I'm optimistic about space travel. I am confident that we will eventually colonize other planets, and not soon enough for me. So it's encouraging to know that we can possibly get something to drink, once we get where we're going.

Fighting panda extinction

Or perhaps not.

"Evolutionary dead end?" Chris Packham may have a point. But where have I heard similar sentiments before?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Duck morning


Nothing but a Mallard hunkering down amongst the foliage.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A place I would like to visit


I had no idea the Air Force had a place that looks as magnificent as this.

Image created by Wikimedia Commons user Hustvedt

That's the interior of the cadet chapel at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado. It's a stunning, breathtaking version of the traditional university chapel, and I was struck by its futuristic look when I happened to stumble on the image while searching for other information online. I don't know if I will ever get the chance to see this place in person, but I hope someday I might.

And, in case you thought it was just the inside that looked cool and ultramodern, take a look at the imposing, angular exterior of the chapel.

Image created by Swedish Wikipedia user Greverod.

This is an all-around beautiful building. Though I tend to prefer more traditional styles for religious structures -- Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque, and the like -- some modern styles can be appealing, if done right. The USAF Academy Cadet Chapel does it right.

Read more about it at Wikipedia.