Tuesday, December 9, 2008

When Robot Programmers get bored

Thursday, October 16, 2008

John McCain and the Overhead Projector

My friends, I'm betting it happened this way...

Just before the second debate, one of McCain's policy aides breathlessly rushes up to him.

"Chief," he says --you just know that McCain's staff is encouraged to call him something like 'Chief' or 'Boss'-- "we have evidence that BHO voted to provide three million dollars for a projector for a planetarium in his hometown of Chicago! You can really nail him with this!"

They can't bring them selves to say Obama's name out loud. They prefer to call him something like "BHO", in the way that the 9/11 Report called Kahlid Sheikh Mohammad "KSM" and Osama Bin Laden "OBL". It gives them a sense of comraderie -- a sense of mission.

McCain's eyes light up. Projectors? This is something he knows about. His post-POW years in the Navy were spent giving military briefings to politicians. He's worked with overhead projectors for years. He knows all about overhead projectors. He can even change the bulb in most models of overhead projectors; find another Senator who can do that. And who ever heard of spending three million dollars on an overhead projector? That's the kind of overspending even the Pentagon, his beloved Pentagon, which has turned overspending from an art into a science, couldn't manage.

McCain realizes he's got something good here. "Tonight, at the town hall debate," he says, "if _that one_ dares to mention wasteful government spending, I'll sock it to him with this!" McCain chuckles. "A three million dollar overhead projector!"

The aide is about to correct McCain when Cindy walks into the room. McCain's wristwatch beeps twice.

"Two thirty, Johnny", Cindy says. "Nap time."

McCain is happy. He looks in a nearby mirror. His seventh cranial nerve fires, pulling his risorius facial muscles back into something that looks like a smile. He's really going to hand it to that upstart tonight.

"Nap time." Cindy repeats.


"What the hell do you mean, wrong?" McCain thunders at his young science aide. The second presidential debate ended about an hour ago, and McCain was sitting in his suite at the Carleton in his US Navy bathrobe when this kid brought the news.

"Well, Chief, um, it wasn't an overhead projector that BHO tried to get for the planetarium. It was a planetarium projector. Different thing."

McCain will have none of it. "What the hell's a planetarium projector?" he thunders again.

"Well, sir, if you remember the last time you were in a planetarium, that big thing in the middle of the room. Looks like a giant insect. That's the planetarium projector.

"That thing? What does it do?"

"It projects the image of the stars onto the dome."

"I thought that was a pendulum to make the room spin."

"Uh, no sir, when you're in a planetarium and if feels like the room is spinning, sir, that's really the projector making the stars spin."

"Son, I'm an old fighter pilot and if the seat of my pants tells me that I'm moving, I'm moving. I know a spin when I feel one."

"Yes, sir." The young science aide pauses. "Chief, should I have Ms. Pfotenhauer issue another clarifying statement to the media, explaining what you meant to say?"

"Fuck 'em," McCain growls. "I'll bet not a single Warshington reporter knows the difference between this planetarium projector and an overhead projector, either.'

"Yes, sir," the aide says gamely. "But the blogosphere, especially the science bloggers; they're up in arms."

"Blogosphere?" McCain asks for the thousandth time.

The science aide wiggles his fingers in a typing motion.

"Oh, yeah, those geeks who write on the internet tubes," McCain says. "You told me they loved Sarah."

"Well, yes, sir. But there's a small group of science writers who really care about planetariums."

"Are any of them going to get to go on TV and complain?" McCain asks. This is something few young people understand about McCain -- he doesn't get modern technology, but when it comes to technology he grew up with, he's a master at using it for his ends.

"Not likely, sir" the science aide sighs.

"So fuck them too," McCain snaps. "Anything else?"

"Just next time, chief, if you could remember that it's a planetarium projector, not an overhead projector."

McCain just stares at him. "Anything. Else?"

The aide knows a dismissal when he hears one. "No sir, nothing else."

"Good night, then," McCain says, reaching for the tv remote.

"Good night sir."


Halfway through the third and final debate, McCain's young science aide makes the mistake of taking his attention off the screen for an instant as he gets another cup of coffee. Suddenly the Blackberry on his hip starts twitching and buzzing. The RSS feeds to the top science blogs have simultaneously started spewing. The aide rushes back to the TV.

"Did he?" the science aide asks.

"Yep," the foreign policy advisor says. "'Overhead projector' again."

The science aide's fingers start to go numb as his Blackberry continues to vibrate nonstop.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Take a Memo: Rock My Vote

A (wonderfully intelligent) twenty-something's take on Barack Obama:

Take a Memo: Rock My Vote

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Protein synthesis: an epic on the cellular level

Protein synthesis, acted out in dance form by a bunch of long-haired hippies in a park.

Friday, August 15, 2008

"They know they're lying..."

It's as if he heard me!!!!!!

Google Insights for Search - Search Volume: is obama muslim - United States, Last 12 months

Google Insights for Search - Search Volume: is obama muslim - United States, Last 12 months

Take a guess as to where in the United States the Google search "Is Obama Muslim" is most popular. Then click the link above.

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If this doesn't make you feel as if the floor opened up and swallowed your soul, nothing will.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The speech Obama needs to give

"Senator McCain can't tell you the truth about his energy plan -- so he tells lies about mine.

He can't tell you the truth about his health care plan -- so he tells lies about mine.

He can't tell you the truth about his Iraq strategy -- so he tells lies about mine.

He can't tell you the truth about his education program -- so he tells lies about mine.

This is not the John McCain I know.

This is not the John McCain we respected in 2000.

This is the John McCain whose new friends and advisors all were graduated from the Karl Rove School of Dirty Politics.

Well, I'd like to give Senator McCain some advice my grandmother gave to me. She said 'It's easier for low friends to pull you down than it is for you to pull them up. '

I'd hate to see that happen to him.

And that's all I'm gonna say about that."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Karl Rove Decoded

"Even if you never met him, you know this guy," Rove said, about Barack Obama. "He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."


"He's the guy at the country club" -- This nigger can get into a country club now. You can't. Unless it's through the servant's entrance. The entrance HIS people used to have to go through. And whose fault is that?

"with the beautiful date" - This smooth bastard can get all the good looking white women he wants. Doesn't that just piss you off? You had yourself a looker, once. Course she's not much to look at now. Neither are you. He still is. Fucking bastard.

"holding a martini and a cigarette" -- Who does this nigger think he is, James Fucking Bond? Martini. Bet he lifts his pinkie up to drink it, too.

"that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by." -- Especially you, when you're working your third job as a caterer at the country club. And why do you have to work three jobs? Because of smug bastards like him.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Science of Battlestar Galactica: The colors of space

My first video podcast for The Science of Battlestar Galactica: The colors of space are not what they seem.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Science of BSG: Why So Sweaty on Demetrius?

Can't it just be too damn hot in the spacecraft?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Last of the Mohicans

Last of the Mohicans is the most nearly perfect movie. It's got American literature based on American history. It's got English colonists fighting with Native Americans. It's got English colonists fighting against Native Americans. It's got different Native American tribes fighting each other. It's got fighting with tomahawks and muskets. It's got people fighting under Glens Falls. It's got Daniel Day Lewis. It's got Madeline Stowe at her most beautiful. It's got the underrated Jodhi May. It's got Wes Studi as Mogwa, the baddest badass Indian in American cinema. It's got the best cinematic depiction of Lake George and Fort William Henry I've ever seen (I spent every summer of my childhood at Lake George). It's got Daniel Day Lewis shouting to Madeline Stowe as they're dragged apart, "STAY ALIVE. I WILL FIND YOU!"

I wonder if James Cameron studied this movie while he was planning Titanic; because the formula is so clearly ripped off: throw in plenty of action for the boys and plenty of doomed romance for the girls, and you've got yourself a hit.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Science of Battlestar Galactica

Spoilers about the first episode of season 4 ahead.

How did Starbuck get to Earth and back in only six hours?

The first episode of the fourth season presents us with an interesting physics problem. Starbuck returns two months after the destruction of her Viper with a brand new ship, claiming to have been to Earth. She thinks she's been away only six hours. What's going on? Some possibilities:

Starbuck discovered a wormhole network between gas giant planets in various planetary systems.

Buried deep in gas giant atmospheres, wormholes could permit instantaneous travel between widely separated points in the universe. Starbuck says she remembers seeing a gas giant planet with rings; without a telescope (even with a pilot's sharp eyes), she'd have to be very close to Saturn to see its rings. Perhaps our solar system's end of the wormhole is located at Saturn.

Starbuck's still got to get from Saturn to Earth and back again. In the Miniseries, it was determined that Colonial One can travel at about 1/10 the speed of light. Taking a wild guess that a military fighter can travel at twice that speed, it would take a viper at full throttle 178 minutes to travel the most likely distance between the Earth and Saturn (it could be 161 minutes, it could be 196 minutes, or any value in between). With relativistic time dilation caused by traveling at 20% of the speed of light, the 178 minutes would seem to Starbuck (and the clock in Starbuck's viper) like 175. It is just possible for Starbuck to travel from Saturn to Earth, take some quick pictures, travel back to Saturn, and traverse the wormhole.

But she came back at a different place from where she left. That implies a second wormhole in our solar system, leading to a second destination. If the new wormhole is at Jupiter, say, then Starbuck had time for a quick orbit of the Earth (which is what she said she did) before traveling to the second wormhole.

Of course, the big unanswered questions with this scenario are: how did she know where Earth was in relation to Saturn, and how did she know where the return wormhole was?

Some agency managed to accelerate her Viper it to 99.99132% of the speed of light.

At that speed, the relativistic time dilation effect would make her feel as though 6 hours had passed while two months has elapsed for the Fleet. (Of course, the fleet is moving at about 1/10 the speed of light itself, but this time dilation is negligible). If this is what happened, then the colonists have the answer they've been searching for: the the round trip distance to Earth.

But it's an answer that's meaningless. At 99.999132% the speed of light, a one month outbound trip covers 482.7 billion miles – about 1/12 of a light year. (Makes sense: one month is 1/12th of a year). This is 1/50th the distance between the Sun and Alpha Centauri, and about half the distance between the Sun as the Oort cloud. If the fleet were that close to the Sun, they'd certainly be able to detect its planets, and possibly be able to observe Earth directly.

It's not Starbuck.

Starbuck died in a vortex of a gas giant planet. The thing that returned is some sort of replica, created in the image of the real Starbuck by some unknown agency, flying a showroom-new viper to replace the one that got destroyed.

This is the simplest answer and the most unscientific. At our present level of understanding, a technology that could do such things is indistinguishable from magic.

Repeat to yourself it's just a show, I should really just relax.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Date with Matt Damon?????

Go to Google Calendar on July 25 and enter "X-files II" as a daylong event. What response do you get???

Date with Matt Damon?????

Go to Google Calendar on July 25 and enter "X-files II" as a daylong event. What response do you get???

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ok, I've got writer's block. At least provisionally -- I can write magazine stuff, but the book is stuck in my brain and won't get out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

resignation headline contest

my entry: Spitzer Swallows Pride

Sunday, March 9, 2008

newly updated for 2008

There are 10 types of people: those who are sick of this joke and those who never got it in the first place.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Originally uploaded by justpat
I'm led to believe that when people picture me in their heads, they usually picture me making this face, or a face very much like it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Notes on Watching MS-NBC

If the election coverage were to be played as a Christopher Guest mockumentary, Chris Matthews would be MS-NBC's own Fred Willard.

Monday, January 7, 2008


I needed a Geiger counter for a bit of investigative journalism, and I couldn't find one to borrow or rent. So now I own one.

I did my investigation and the substance I was testing is not radioactive. This is mixed news because (a) it is good that this thing in our homes is not radioactive but (b) bad because there goes my story.

And now I've got a Geiger counter and nothing to do with it.