Oct 08

Insanity

In an open letter to the terrorists (posted to a CNN message board), Laurence Simon points out that they should be afraid of us because we are crazier than they are. You should read the whole thing, but here’s a sample:

We sell hot dogs in packages of ten and the buns in packages of eight.

We can’t even decide if pitchers should have to bat for themselves or not. All those baseball fields we’ve got… none of them are even remotely the same size.

We think Elvis is still alive.

We put our money into dot-com businesses that have no imaginable source of revenue whatsoever, and then scream when their stock values plummet to zero in the frenzy of sudden realization. We lay off thousands upon thousands of workers because it is good for the bottom line and stockholders, when it’s the bosses who are the real stockholders with options for even more stock.

We gave millions of dollars to a guy that told us that God was going to kill him if he didn’t raise enough money. When he didn’t get enough money, he didn’t die. So we gave him more money in celebration of the fact that God didn’t make him die.

We’ve managed to keep the formulas for Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken secret for decades, we encrypt the most banal communications on our Information Superhighway, and yet we given away our most important nuclear secrets to the Chinese and Russians at the drop of a hat.

He’s right. Heck, this explains why so many of our former enemies (Great Britain, Mexico, Germany, Japan) are now staunch allies. They realized that we’re heavily armed and stark raving mad, and decided that it is much safer to be our friends.

Historical note: When it first appeared, the open letter was attributed to someone else by a lot of people, including me. But Laurence Simon sets the record straight on his own blog, and also provides annotations for all of the things he alludes to.

Oct 05

Argh

Most Windows installation programs do two things. They ask you to shut down every other application running on your computer. But first, they take over the entire screen, hiding the Taskbar and making it impossible for you to shut down anything. There must be a good reason for this, but I can’t imagine what it is.

Oct 04

Bad ideas

Listening to All Things Considered on the way home this evening, I heard how Washington is celebrating the reopening of Reagan National Airport. Am I the only one who thinks this is a mistake? DCA (that’s its three-letter code) is dangerous for reasons that have nothing to do with the recent terrorist attacks. No airport should be where it is in the first place. I’ve been there, and you can literally look out the terminal window and see the dome of the Capitol.
The FAA can tweak the security procedures and flight paths all they want, but it will always be insanely risky to have jumbo jets taking off and landing inside a city. DCA should have been permanently closed years ago, and I was hoping that after September 11, it finally would be. But apparently convenience still trumps safety in Washington.
NPR’s next story made me forget all about that by giving me something even worse to worry about. Since the World Trade Center was destroyed, I’ve seen quite a few harebrained and ill-considered proposals for anti-hijacking measures, but by far the worst is the notion of remote-control systems for airliners. The idea is that if a plane is hijacked, or the pilot incapacitated, people on the ground can send a signal to disable the controls in the cockpit, take control of the plane remotely, and land it safely in a secure location.
But if the FAA can seize control of a plane remotely, then terrorists can do it too. In fact, it will make their task much easier — now they can fly airliners into skyscrapers without putting themselves at risk. They won’t even have to go through the security checkpoint at an airport. Sure, you can build security features into the system, but can you guarantee that nobody can hack their way in or steal the password? The system has to be absolutely bulletproof, or you get a repeat of September 11.
Linda Wertheimer discussed this proposal with the president of the National Air Transportation Society for over four minutes, but it apparently never occurred to her to ask what would prevent terrorists from exploiting it. The closest she got was to suggest that terrorists could take over the control tower at an airport and seize control of airplanes from there. But why would they need to? All they need is the right kind of signal. I can’t believe anyone is taking this proposal seriously.

Oct 04

Buffy lives

I won’t post any spoilers about the Buffy season premiere, but I don’t think anyone will be surprised to hear that (a) it revolves around Buffy’s return from death, and (b) magic is involved. We all knew that ahead of time; the question was, how would this be handled? Bringing back dead characters is a very tricky business that can undermine the credibility of any show if it’s done wrong. Dallas ran afoul of this hazard back in the ’80s. The problem wasn’t that Bobby was resurrected, but the way he came back. Declaring an entire season of the show to have been a dream was a cop-out and a cliche, and Dallas never really recovered.
So I was curious to see how Buffy would avoid the pitfalls of raising its main character from the dead. Very well, it turns out. The spell that brought her back had so many conditions and qualifications that I’m sure we’ll never see it used again: it was only possible because Buffy had been killed by mystical forces, it was extremely dangerous for the caster, its material component was a rare and irreplaceable artifact, and it has severe consequences for everyone involved (which we’ll see next week). Nicely done.

Oct 04

Looking down

The Enterprise titles begin with some lovely pictures of the Earth from orbit, which demonstrate how far Star Trek has come in 35 years. Remember when the original series depicted the same thing in episodes like “Miri” and “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”? It looked like a globe: continents and oceans, but no clouds. That’s understandable, because manned space flight was only five years old at that point, and a meeting of everyone who had done it would have fit comfortably into an ordinary conference room. Orbital photos of the Earth existed, but they were grainy black-and-white images that didn’t come close to conveying the breathtaking reality that cosmonauts and astronauts saw.
Nowadays, Star Trek doesn’t have to guess what Earth looks like from orbit, or use visual effects to simulate it. They just use a photograph of the real thing.

Oct 04

Bumper stickers

Traffic on I-40 was exceptionally horrible this morning, leaving me with plenty of opportunities to read the messages on the back of other people’s vehicles. As usual, most of them made me say “huh?” For example, this one is my pick for Most Unnecessary Advice Ever: BE AS YOU ARE. And can someone explain to me what A COUNTRY BOY CAN SURVIVE is supposed to mean? But I liked the upside-down one that said IF YOU CAN READ THIS, PLEASE TURN ME OVER.
The most baffling bumper sticker I’ve seen recently was not on a car, but stuck to the inside of the sneeze shield at a food court serving line. It said “GOD” BLESS AMERICA. Apparently “God” is not His real name, just a pseudonym.

Oct 03

Pioneers

Who are those astronauts that appear in the titles of Enterprise? I’ve been having fun trying to identify them. The title sequence includes these shots:

  • A test pilot in front of his plane, walking toward the camera. His face isn’t terribly clear, but it could be Gus Grissom. (On the other hand, this may not be an astronaut at all. Maybe it’s Chuck Yeager. Hard to tell.)
  • A close-up of a smiling astronaut wearing the characteristic “Snoopy cap” of the Apollo program. I’m almost certain it’s Alan Shepard, suiting up for Apollo 14.
  • An Apollo crew during launch. The helmets make faces hard to identify, but I believe the one closest to the camera is Jim Lovell. He flew on two Apollo missions, but in this shot he’s in the commander’s seat, and that means Apollo 13.
  • A fully suited Apollo crew walking down a corridor on their way to the launch pad. It’s impossible to make out faces, but I’ll bet this is the crew of Apollo 11.

Update: At least one of these guesses turned out to be wrong.

Oct 02

Hello, world

Welcome to Scribings, my Web journal. I won’t bore you with a long-winded explanation of this page’s mission, because it really doesn’t have one. Apart from letting me write about whatever I want to — and letting you read the results, if you’re so inclined.

Historical note: “Scribings” was this blog’s original title. It was renamed in May 2002, and again in May 2007.