Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vintage ad: 1993

Do you remember digital compact cassettes?

I don't. But if this old advertisement from the early 1990s is any indication, apparently someone thought this would be a good format to compete with the compact disc.

Obviously, the DCC never did take hold. It was just one of those experimental formats that got crowded out by another format or that never really appealed to the masses. Seeing this ad reminded me of a time (probably about the same time) when I went to an electronics store to buy a replacement home CD player for one that had died. I knew what I wanted -- a carousel with at least five trays so I could get a decent randomization that would play for a few hours -- and I said as much to the store employee that asked if he could help me find something. So, I was a little surprised when he said (I'm paraphrasing as best as I can remember), "Oh, no. What you want to get is a MiniDisc player."

I said, "What?"

He said, "The MiniDisc. It's the new format, and it's the direction that the industry is going. You'd be wise to go ahead and get it because compact discs are on their way out."

Now I had already undergone a format conversion some years prior. When my old turntable died, vinyl had pretty much been disappearing from local record stores, and I decided to make the wholesale switch to digital music by buying a CD player. Shortly after, I sold off my LPs and singles and used the money to buy a bunch of compact discs. So, when my first CD player gave up the ghost, I was more than willing to get another one. In fact, I was upgrading from a single-drawer model to a carousel with a random-play feature.

And here was this guy telling me that's not what I wanted. He was telling me I wanted something else, something that played a format I was unfamiliar with, something that would require me to get rid of -- and rebuild -- my music collection all over again.

So I told him, "No, I think I'm going to stay with a CD player." I was being polite.

I was rewarded with a snort. "You can do that, but no one's going to be producing CDs anymore."

I was a little miffed. I said, "So, what, they're going to be making nothing but these mini-disks from now on?"


"I don't think so. I think this is just a flash in the pan."

Now he was miffed. "What? This is something that's being embraced by musicians and afficionados because of its superior quality. It provides a much better audio experience, and it does blah-blah-blah, and yackity-smackity, and technobabble ... and all that ... ..."

"But," I interrupted, "that's not what's out there. Stores sell nothing but compact discs right now. Perhaps if the mini-disk catches on, I might consider switching. But I have a whole bunch of CDs, and the record stores sell CDs, and if the mini-disk goes the way of the 8-track, I will still have my CDs. So, I need a CD player. With a carousel that holds at least five disks. And no mini-disk player."

Very few times have I seen someone hired to help paying customers actually show open, glaring contempt toward a person who is willing to spend money in that particular store. But that's what I got that day. He looked at me for a couple of seconds, and I could read all of his thoughts. "Fine," he finally said. "The CD players are over there." And he walked off without another word.

Now, I don't know why I didn't say something that day. I should have asked for the store manager and expressed my disapproval of the condescending attitude I got. I should have just left the store and spent my money elsewhere. But I didn't. I found the CD player I wanted, I paid for it (and the checkout lady was very nice to me), and I got many years of enjoyment out of it.

And, guess what? I still have all of my CDs. Sure, they're all ripped to my computer, and I listen to most of my music on an MP3 player now, but I still have them. And I don't have a single MiniDisc in my collection.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Feeding the sharks

Despite our best efforts to love cute animals, nature can be so cruel, dashing our feelings at every turn.

Dunham, a juvenile male dolphin, was released Tuesday morning after eight months in rehab recovering from pneumonia.

Jeni Hatter, spokeswoman for the Clearwater [Florida] Marine Aquarium, said the dolphin was attacked twice by at least two different sharks. Hatter said experts nearby were monitoring the dolphin with a VHF radio transmitter at the time of the attack.

Hatter said experts rushed to the dolphin and euthanized him because of the life-threatening injuries.

Animals eat other animals. It's not very pretty.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What I just finished reading

This is the second book of C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy: Perelandra.

Since I had already read the first book in the series, Out of the Silent Planet, and since I had bought the third one (That Hideous Strength) because it was on sale for four dollars, and since I held a Barnes and Noble gift card with twenty dollars on it, I thought I would go ahead and get Perelandra to round things out. And, since I had already read the first one, I naturally gave the second one a chance.

In short, this story is not bad. But if you're thinking of reading it, be warned: it is entirely about religion, more so than the first book. As Alan from Blogonomicon said here, the only thing science fictiony about Perelandra is that it takes place on Venus rather than Earth. This seems to be Lewis's attempt to write an explanation of how he sees the Christian religion, to "justify the ways of God to men," as John Milton described his reason for writing the classic poem, Paradise Lost.

In Lewis's work, Ransom, the protagonist from Out of the Silent Planet, travels by angel power to Venus, called Perelandra. There he meets that planet's Adam and Eve figures, and he literally battles Satan to keep him out of the still-young paradise. The story starts off kind of slow, but it picks up when Ransom and the Devil start beating the crap out of each other and engage in a pursuit across the ocean and underground where magma flows and strange beasts lurk. Unfortunately, this isn't until page 128 of a 190-page book.

But it's not a bad read. If you like this kind of stuff, give it a try. It's not a long book. But if you're turned off by religious tales or if you're not Christian and therefore might be unfamiliar with some of the religion's finer points, you might want to give it a pass because some of the references might seem obscure.

Hopefully soon I will start on the next book, That Hideous Strength. I'm curious to see where Ransom will go from here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Forty years of footprints

May they last forever.

[Music from The Eagle Has Landed by Saxon]

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Plumbing in space

No matter how exotic or awesome space travel may seem, it still has its problems, especially when the commodes start acting up.
One of two toilets on the International Space Station is apparently broken, NASA announced Sunday.

It's too early to tell if the toilet has a serious problem, or can be fixed quickly, space station flight director Brian Smith said.

The station is currently host to 13 people - a record number of crewmembers onboard at once. While that toilet, which is in the U.S. Destiny laboratory, is down, astronauts can use the other almost identical facility in the Russian Zvezda service module, as well as the toilet onboard the space shuttle Endeavour, which has been docked since Friday.

"We don't yet know the extent of the problem," Smith said. "It could turn out to be of no consequence at all. It could turn out to be significant."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Do you hate your name? It could be worse. You could actually have a name so bad that you end up on Oddee's list of "13 Most Unfortunate Names for their Jobs".

Here's #11:

Do you think he knows?

Most eye-catching headline of the day

"Upcoming Military Robot Could Feed on Dead Bodies"

A Maryland company under contract to the Pentagon is working on a steam-powered robot that would fuel itself by gobbling up whatever organic material it can find — grass, wood, old furniture, even dead bodies.

Robotic Technology Inc.'s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot — that's right, "EATR" — "can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable," reads the company's Web site.

That "biomass" and "other organically-based energy sources" wouldn't necessarily be limited to plant material — animal and human corpses contain plenty of energy, and they'd be plentiful in a war zone.

EATR will be powered by the Waste Heat Engine developed by Cyclone Power Technology of Pompano Beach, Fla., which uses an "external combustion chamber" burning up fuel to heat up water in a closed loop, generating electricity.

So, is this the rise of the machines, or the rise of the zombies? Or both?

You decide.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday sonnet: Gerard Manley Hopkins

More dense expression from Mr. Hopkins, an 1877 poem about the wonders of the deity.

"God's Grandeur"

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
- It will flame out, like the shining from shook foil;
- It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
- An all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
- And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
- There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
- Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs---
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
- World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Rhyme scheme: abba abba cdcdcd

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Answering the RNC

Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, sent me a letter. And a survey. I'm not sure why he did it; I'm not a member of any political party, and my voting record -- just by virtue of living in a city where most of the politicians are Democrats -- probably includes more Democrats than Republicans. But he did, and if he went to all that trouble, then surely I can spare a few moments to respond to his survey.

Of course, the letter and survey are really nothing more than fund-raising devices, so I'm pretty sure they were meant for actual members of the Republican Party and not just little old me. But I'm going to fill out the survey anyway. I'm not sending the GOP any money, but I think I will send them my opinions, just for the heck of it.

The survey is called the "2009 Obama Agenda Survey." It includes fifteen questions, and I'm supposed to answer each one yes, no, or no opinion. There are no blanks for me to fill out explaining my answers, so the GOP won't know why I'm answering them the way I am, but I would like someone else to know besides me. So I will explain them here.

1. Do you agree with Barack Obama's budget plan that will lead to a $23.1 trillion deficit over the next ten years?

No. I don't like any plan that increases spending or adds or expands programs. The U.S. government spends way too much as it is, and it never does enough to cut spending, if at all.

2. Do you believe the federal government has gone too far in bailing out failing banks, insurance companies, and the auto industry?

Yes. And in all fairness this horrible parade of bailouts began with George W. Bush. The first dollar of any bailout for a bank or insurance company or car company was going too far for me, and all that started before Obama took over. He just picked up the ball and ran like hell with it once he was sworn in.

3. Do you support amnesty for illegal immigrants?

No. Not generally. Specific cases might require some leniency, but blanket amnesty is a bad idea.

4. Should English be the official language of the United States?

No. I assume Steele is talking about a Congressional decree. By default, English already is the official language of our country, and I don't think we need Congress making a law saying that it is. Besides, if you legally acknowledge English as the official language of the U.S., then you're going to have to start making lists of recognized second languages, and if you start down that path you might as well recognize all languages because someone somewhere is going to claim even the most obscure tongue as the language they speak at home. Including Klingon. Or [gasp!] Esparanto!

5. Are you in favor of granting retroactive Social Security eligibility to illegal immigrants who gain U.S. citizenship through an amnesty program?

Yes. I don't agree with amnesty, but, hey, if our government decides to make someone a citizen of the United States, then that person deserves all the rights and privileges that other citizens have, including access to Social Security. I don't know what the "retroactive" term means here, but if you've gone and provided amnesty, and you've provided citizenship, and you've provided Social Security benefits, then making some "retroactive" determination seems like pointless nitpicking.

6. Are you in favor of the expanded welfare benefits and unlimited eligibility (no time, education or work requirements) that Democrats in Congress are pushing to pass?

No. Going back to question 1, I think government should be looking at ways to cut back on programs, not expand them.

7. Do you believe that Barack Obama's nominees for federal courts should be immediately and unquestionably approved for their lifetime appointments by the U.S. Senate?

No. Of course not. Lively debate is good.

8. Do you believe that the best way to increase the quality and effectiveness of public education in the U.S. is to rapidly expand federal funding while eliminating performance standards and accountability?

No. See question 1.

9. Do you support the creation of a national health insurance plan that would be administered by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.?

No. That's just more federal spending.

10. Do you believe that the quality and availability of healthcare will increase if the federal government dictates pricing to doctors and hospitals?

No. It might, but I don't think it will.

11. Are you confident that new medicines and medical treatments will continue to be developed if the federal government controls prescription drug prices and sets profit margins for research and phamaceutical companies?

Yes. Advancements will be made. They may be government-driven, and they may not be done as well as in the private sector, but I am certain that new medicines and treatments will continue to be developed.

12. Are you in favor of creating a government-funded "Citizen Volunteer Corps" that would pay young people to do work now done by churches and charities, earning Corps Members the same pay and benefits given to military veterans?

No. The charities are doing their jobs, and the members of the military are doing theirs. We don't need another spending program.

13. Are you in favor of reinstituting the military draft, as Democrats in Congress have proposed?

No. The military is working fine as it is. There's no point in a draft.

14. Do you believe that the federal government should allow the unionization of Department of Homeland Security employees who serve in positions critical to the safety and security of our nation?

No. The need for unions is no longer what it once was. We don't need more unionization of our workforce.

15. Do you support Democrats' drive to eliminate workers' right to a private ballot when considering unionization of their place of employment?

No. Open ballots lead to voter intimidation. In almost all circumstances. The secret ballot is a valuable component of a democracy.

That's it. I answered my questions, and I'm sending them to the Republican National Committee, sans contribution. My responses will probably get tossed since I didn't enclose a check, but at least I got a good, long blog post out of it. And I feel as if I've done a little bit of my civic duty.

Do you think that will get me out of my next jury summons?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Word/name of the day


I'm trying to decide if this is real. I have my doubts, but I know the Chaucer reference, so I also believe it somewhat.

WARNING: The easily-offended should not click the link above.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Eating well

Today I had some very delicious chunks of one of the best watermelons I have ever tasted.

I took a knife to it, a big serrated bread knife, and I began to slice through the green rind. I had cut almost halfway through when the fruit burst of its own accord, spilling juice and very ripe pieces onto my counter top. I grabbed one and popped it into my mouth. And I savored its ripeness. Then I cut off many pieces and gave them to my family.

Crisp, and juicy.

One of the best ways to spend a summer afternoon.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Lunar evening

Remember the moon? We're going to be learning a lot more about it in coming years because of the new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has started sending back pictures.

Like this one:

Image courtesy NASA/GFSC/ASU. Get the story at