Apr 10

Asymmetric warfare

This is a public service announcement directed at the world’s five-year-old children. I am aware that if you decide to attack me, I can be overwhelmed by a sufficient number of you. However, I will not go down without a fight. And according to this test, I am capable of taking almost two dozen of you with me:


Bear this in mind as you make your plans.

Mar 22

Dial S for Skynet

When I wrote a few days ago about how Arthur C. Clarke predicted the World Wide Web, I was not aware that he had actually inspired its creation. But since then, I have learned from multiple sources that Tim Berners-Lee cites Clarke’s 1964 short story “Dial F for Frankenstein” as a major inspiration for his invention of the Web.

I have read that story before (in fact, I just reread it; it’s only five pages long), and it has never occurred to me that it might have anything to do with the Web. It describes how the activation of new satellites unites the world’s telephone networks into a single global system that is as complex as a human brain. This global network becomes conscious, with dire consequences for humanity.

“Dial F for Frankenstein” does strike me as a prediction (or, possibly, an inspiration) of something that came decades later. But, with all due respect to Sir Tim, I don’t think it’s the Web. Anyone who has seen Terminator 2: Judgement Day will know exactly what I mean.

Sep 05

Be very afraid

Scientists are continually finding new evidence that everything is trying to kill you, and I do my best to point out new findings of this sort. In the past, I’ve warned you to be afraid of church air and flip-flops. Today I’m also warning you that laser printers and microwave popcorn are deadly. As a precaution, you should wear a hazmat suit at all times while in your office — and at home, too, if you have any laser printers or microwave popcorn there. No need to thank me; I’m just posting this information as a public service.
UPDATE: In order to better highlight this sort of news, I have created a new category of blog posts called “Things that will kill you.”

Jul 05

Go fish

Yikes! A man fishing in the Catawba River near Mount Holly, NC caught a piranha last week. And not a little one, either — this piranha weighed 1 pound 4 ounces, and bit the man’s pocketknife hard enough to leave marks on the blade.
I say “Yikes!” because I have gone swimming in the Catawba River.
Well, technically, I swam in Lake Wylie, but it amounts to the same thing. Lake Wylie is a South Carolina reservoir that was created by damming the Catawba. And Lake Wylie is downstream from where the piranha was caught.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a panic attack now.
UPDATE: In her comment, my mother relays the news that the fish wasn’t a piranha after all.

Mar 03

Under pressure

Following a link from Instapundit, I read a Popular Mechanics article on Extreme Plumbing by Jamie Hyneman of MythBusters fame. Jamie makes the following point about pressure tanks:

The forces at play with high-pressure tanks can be huge. If the energy stored in a workshop air-compressor tank is released all at once, it can hurt or kill a person. I once complained to our insurers, “Why are you so fussy about the explosives we use on the show? Every day we make rigs using pressure tanks that are just as dangerous.” Big mistake. Now they fuss about pressure tanks, too.

As it happens, I was reading this shortly after I got home from Raleigh Little Theatre, where I spent all day working on the first technical rehearsal of House of Blue Leaves. I am assistant stage manager for this play, and one of my responsibilities is to handle the special effects that are used when, halfway through Act 2, a bomb explodes just offstage. One of those special effects is a compressed-air cannon that fires a load of fuller’s earth through a doorway onto the stage, simulating the cloud of dust and smoke produced by the explosion. The cannon fires when I open a valve that releases air from a pressure tank.
In fact, one of the last things I did at RLT before coming home was to repressurize that tank to 80 psi so that it’s ready for tomorrow’s dress rehearsal. Then I came home and read Jamie’s explanation that pressure tanks are dangerous and can kill you.
Actually, I’m not worried. If you read his entire article, you’ll see that that paragraph is scary only when taken out of context. Sure, pressure tanks can be dangerous if you use them in a reckless or irresponsible way, but the MythBusters don’t do that, and neither do theatre techies like me. Jamie’s article is really about how many of the challenges on MythBusters have been solved with plumbing and pressure tanks, and what that tells us about how useful and powerful that technology is. And fun, of course. I’m certainly going to be careful operating my cannon over the next several weeks, but I’d be lying if I said it won’t be a big thrill to set it off.

Nov 22

The church menace

In case you don’t have enough things to lie awake at night worrying about, here’s one you probably weren’t aware of: you’re not even safe in church. In fact, your church is going to kill you. According to a study published in the European Respiratory Journal, church air is full of incense and candle smoke and will give you lung cancer, especially at Christmastime. Antoine Clarke points out the obvious corrective measures: “Immediately ban church-going for all children, impose a tax on adult church-goers, put health warning signs on the outside of all churches and copies of the Bible. Oh, and ban Christmas.”