February 2008

From Friday, February 29, 2008

This picture will ruin your weekend.

From Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Element Song, something every Major General or cartoon writer should know.

The Presidents of the United States. The Nations of the World (dated). The Fifty State Capitals. If the Animaniacs didn’t sing it, I shouldn’t have to know it.

Books: Old Man’s War

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

catwithhat.pngI finished reading Old Man’s War by John Scalzi last night. It’s another military sci-fi book. Yes, I know – this is not a healthy habit and I need to quit today. Maybe tomorrow.

The book’s interstellar politics can be easily described through the board-game monopoly: many alien species like planets similar enough to our own tastes that first contact typically occurs over territory disputes; humans are essentially boxed in from all sides by other species; if humans wish to remain competitive in a few centuries’ time they better start invading. It’s interesting how ethics are fundamentally based on self-preservation.

Earth is essentially excommunicated from all human colonies. This is to prevent disease as well as the culture shock of inter-species war of this scale. For example one encounter involved some bad aliens landing on an unarmed colony and enslaving all the colonists (enslaving in this case meaning caging everyone, milking the males, impregnating the females, and finally cooking up some human-flavored veal).

So the universe is a bad place where humans are not that popular. The military’s attrition rate stays around 80% mainly because every war they fight is completely different from the last. So enlistment takes place on Earth where no-one has a clue what they are in for. People sign up because it’s the only option to leave the planet. And that’s where the title comes from: enlistment is only accepted on the applicant’s 75th birthday. The recruit is then genetically modified to become a soldier who will (hopefully) be capable to compete with all the unknown alien badguys out there. I swear it makes more sense in the book.

The book is a quick read, about eight hours. It’s not “life-changing good” but still very enjoyable. The characters feel genuine and are hilarious which is what makes this book so much fun.

From Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Blood-powered touchscreen “tattoo” with Bluetooth connectivity. Is it bad that I want one?

Wired profiles Consumer Reports’ Secret Shoppers.

Senator Obama has class, or at least he tries not to cockblock.

Comcast blocks public debate.

Creationist science fairs?

From Monday, February 25, 2008

Photoshop’s first icon.

What atheists are really like: a friendly reminder to mainstream believers.

From Saturday, February 23, 2008

Why gay marriage matters.

Yin and Yang – another great flash game.

Music from this years SXSW available as a torrent.

Be Kind Rewind gets the Be Kind Rewind treatment. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull learns to fit in with its siblings.

A timeline for the movie Primer. A timeline for Back to the Future. A timeline for The Terminator. Time travel is serious business.

Senator McCain talks about President Putin, you know, of Germany. I’m sure he misspoke……

From Friday, February 22, 2008

This image from a recent Scientology protest is amusing.

Books: The Forever War

Friday, February 22, 2008

stormtrooper.jpgI finished a book!

The Forever War is one of those military sci-fi books I read so much yet am too embarrassed to discuss with my real friends. Overall I would give it a 7/10, enjoyable but nothing too special. The author knows his physics, especially general relativity, which provides most of the interesting concepts behind this. He also served in the Army during Vietnam and it shows as the main character is painfully ostracized from society.

But for me the book really excels when it discusses the time-dilation effects of an interstellar war. The first veterans arrive back on Earth after a single skirmish thirty years after they left, but only two years from their perspective. Enemy reinforcements will unexpectedly arrive with equipment decades ahead of what the humans have, or show up to fight with weapons almost a century out of date. Soldiers are sent to worlds so distant and numerous that they often don’t even bother naming them.

There are other topics explored such as conscription, military sociology and culture, eugenics, and the economics of war. Interesting quirks in the world described are heavy drug use and fraternization, but he was a college student in the sixties so what can you do? It’s not as philosophically deep as Starship Troopers (the empirical standard to measure these stories by) but still fun. It took me about 12 hours to jog through it.

From Friday, February 22, 2008

Saturday’s Lunar eclipse, from the moon!!!