Saturday, July 09, 2005

Midwest Discovered!

You mean there's land between the Appalachians and the Rockies? And people actually live there? Next you're going to tell me there are cities other than N.Y., L.A., and D.C. in this country. You're messing with my media-conceived notions, dude.

Quote of the Day - July 9, 2005

You're going sane in a crazy world.

- The Tick

Dennis Updates

I'm just going to post Dennis updates in this post from now on to avoid saturating my blog.

Why do the adjectives "beautiful" and "deadly" end up describing the same thing so often?

Dennis is gearing up to return to category 4 strength before it makes landfall somewhere near Mobile, Alabama or Pensacola, Florida tomorrow evening. The central pressure is already there, the winds are just trying to catch up. They're at 125 mph right now (11pm Saturday), near the high end of a category 3 storm. Can you evacuate a city as big as Mobile?

Jim Cantore, the Weather Channel's Action Meteorologist, is predictably stationed near the projected landfall site. If you ever watch the Weather Channel and see Jim Cantore standing outside (whether it's during the winter or the summer), make note of where he is an stay very far away from there. He makes it a point to be in the worst part of a blizzard or hurricane. He even sounds disappointed when a storm changes direction and hits one of his fellow correspondents harder than it hits him. I am fairly certain he would be a tornado chaser if he weren't working for the Weather Channel (and for all I know, he goes tornado chasing on his days off).

Update 7/10/05, 9:36 AM - Well, Dennis pulled a classic "stengthen overnight" move. Jeff Masters over at Weather Underground called the wind speed - Dennis is up to 145 mph. The eye is still just visible on satellite, but NOAA is predicting an eye wall replacement cycle just before landfall, which means it may weaken a bit (but not necessarily back down to a Cat 3). Hopefully, it's reached peak intensity.

Update 7/10/05, 10:36 AM - Latest wind speed update has winds at 140 mph, smack dab in the middle of Cat 4 wind speed range. Pressure is holding steady. Looking at the track for this thing, it looks like it's going to stall over southern Indiana on Thursday. After been trapped in Richmond for Gustav last year, I can tell you that this is not a good thing. Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio should keep their eyes on this system.

Update 7/10/05, 2:36 PM - Dennis has weakened a bit, with maximum sustained winds having dropped to 135 mph. However, he's still a Cat 4 and is expected to make landfall within the next hour. Everyone should be hunkered down at this point, with only the insane weathermen venturing out into the storm.

Update 7/10/05, 2:57 PM - Last advisory before landfall has winds at 120 mph, down to a category 3, but STILL a major hurricane.

Update 7/10/05, 8:51 pm - As of the 7 pm update, Dennis had been on land for 4 hours and was still a hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph. The pressure was still fairly low, too, so it may still be a strong tropical storm when the next update rolls around. The center is well north of the Florida panhandle now and will probably be out of Alabama by morning. People in the track of the storm now still have to worry about rain - an lots of it.

Update 7/11/05, 12:17 AM - Dennis is still a medium strength tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph even though it's half-way through Alabama.

Remember when there was no news?

I remember thinking some years ago that my generation was living through a rather dull period in history. My parents remembered where they were when Kennedy was shot and when man landed on the Moon. I remembered where I was when Bill Clinton said “I feel your pain” (recovering from having my teeth pulled) and when O.J. was found “not guilty” (in gym class, out on the tennis courts). There were some school shootings in the late nineties that scared people a bit. The election of 2000 stirred up some controversy, but few actually seemed to care which candidate won. Most people just wanted the election to be over so we could move on. Just before September 11, 2001, the big news story was a Washington intern who had gone missing. Even as 24-hour news channels were becoming more popular, it seemed there was less and less real news to report.

And then there was too much. 9/11. Anthrax scare. Another plane crash in New York. Economic woes. Corporate scandals. Beltway Snipers. Afghanistan. Shoe bomber. Terror attacks around the world. SARS. Columbia breaks up on reentry. Iraq invasion. Hurricane Isabel. The death of Arafat. The capture of Saddam. Hurricane season 2004. Election 2004. The Christmas Tsunami. Iraqi elections. Iraqi insurgency. The bombings in London. Hurricane Dennis.

Some of those are probably out of order. And I know I’ve left a bunch of stuff out. Sometimes, something would happen, but then the next big thing would happen and the first big thing would drop in coverage or even disappear. We hear about Iraq all the time, but what about Afghanistan? Dennis is already stealing headline space from the London bombings. What happened to the days when there would be maybe one big real news story every six months, from which the media would build countless other stories like violence in video games and hanging chads? Maybe I’m just falling into the nostalgia trap.

You know what this means, don’t you? It’s time to update “We Didn’t Start the Fire”.

Heinlein vs Whedon

After reading a post over at Dean’s World about Ayn Rand vs Robert Heinlein (thanks to Christiana for the link), I remembered a thought that struck me some years ago: Joss Whedon reminds me of Robert Heinlein. The thought occurred long before the reasoning formed and it took me a while to figure out what it was that made me think that. But when Firefly came out, I started to realize what it was.

Both writers are excellent at creating societies. One of my favorite Heinlein books is “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, which is written in a dialect unique to the Moon. Whedon creates a bit of a new dialect himself in Firefly, with new figures of speech and a bit of Chinese thrown in for good measure. Heinlein builds a society on the Moon full of Earth’s outcasts (the Moon is a prison colony) where most of the rules are unwritten and “families” are as much an economic as social alliance. Firefly’s protagonists are former rebels. They skirt the edge of the law and the edge of civilization, and stay alive by depending on each other, a family in spirit if not in name. There are some parts of the Moon’s society that will make you think about how different other societies can be. Due to a shortage of women, marriage has become a bit more… flexible. And there’s this whole thing with rolling the dice to see how much you’ll have to pay for things when you buy them. Whedon is also good at challenging his viewers with strange ideas. I mean, going all out with the Western frontier in space theme alone shows that.

Both men are good at presenting multiple viewpoints. Heinlein will often have characters discuss or express different ideas. His three most popular books – Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger and a Strange Land, and Starship Troopers – are all very different. In all of Whedon’s shows, but Firefly in particular, he has characters with varied backgrounds and different, sometimes even conflicting, philosophies.

Both men also appear to hold women in high esteem. Though Heinlein had the philosophy that society must ultimately protect women and children, it was for the shear purpose of survival, not through any weakness of women themselves. His women did not run from a fight. And they tended to be highly intelligent (of course, most of his characters that didn’t meet undignified deaths were highly intelligent). One of my favorite Heinlein quotes: “Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea." Most of Whedon’s female characters are strong in one way or another. If they are not strong physically, they are strong emotionally or intellectually. And they usually leave their male counterparts standing on their tongue.

Both writers are perfectly willing to kill off a popular character. It brings a certain realism to their stories that not everyone will survive. Don’t get too attached to any Heinlein characters named Mike. And with Whedon, there really is no telling who will be killed, maimed, or turned evil next.

There are differences, of course. Heinlein wrote mainly hard sci-fi while Whedon has mostly done fantasy. While Heinlein loved to conjure societies, the characters within those societies did not always have a tremendous amount of depth. He was more interested in technical aspects. How would this society work? He also delved more into the technology of the worlds he created. Technobabble is a greater source of angst than curiosity or wonder in Whedon’s worlds. He tends to focus more on the characters and their reactions to a given situation. Rather than asking “How does this society work?”, he presents the society and asks “How do my characters relate to that society?”.

I think the reason I like both writers so much is because I love universe building. I like to visit new worlds and news societies that make me think about the way my own world works. (And when I say “my own world”, I don’t just mean the universe inside my head). They are willing to show you the unexpected. And they will not insult your intelligence.

Use Google Maps to Find Dennis

This is really weird. I'm not sure how they're doing it (must be based on coordinates of the storm), but it shows you where the eye of the storm is.

By the way, here's the wind path so far. Brace yourselves for some devastating images from Cuba when this is over. This was pretty much a worst-case storm path for them.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Quote of the Day - July 8, 2005

Suddenly, I know I'm not sleeping.
Hello, I'm still here.
All that's left of yesterday.

- "Hello" by Evanescence

Thursday, July 07, 2005

I'm Not Ignoring London, By the Way

I'm just not sure what to say. My deepest sympathies to the victims and an eternity in the deepest pits of Hades to the perpetrators.

Cat 4! Cat 4!

Dennis is a category 4 hurricane, though the central pressure suggests it may not strengthen much further.

Spending Too Much Time Together Drives Us Apart

Continuing with the Monty Python theme of late: I'm reading Interpersonal Divide (had to go to Amazon, couldn't find it in stores). The book already has a "things were so much better before technology tore communities apart" feel to it, an interesting contrast to the other book I'm reading, Everything Bad is Good for You. But after watching the "burn the witch" scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I'm thinking that finding sources of entertainment that don't necessarily involve real human beings is not all bad. By having the option of escaping the constant company of the people around us, we're more likely to escape than "deal" with people we dislike in potentially bad ways. (She's weird. I bet she's a witch! Burn the witch! This'll be the most exciting thing to happen in this village in 400 years!) Yes, it would be nice if we could just all be civil to each other all the time, but let's face it. We're human. We need an outlet for our aggressive side. So shoot those space invaders! And not your neighbors.

You Are Truly Brave, Sir Knight, But the Fight is Mine!

Found an interesting link on Kitsune's site. Turns out, I'm King Arthur. Bow before me!

Take the Which Monty Python & The Holy Grail character are you? Test @ The Monty Python & The Holy Grail Unofficial Fan Site

Another T-Shirt

Remember this? Well, now there's a t-shirt. I feel like watching Firefly for some reason.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Quote of the Day - July 6, 2005

King Arthur: Old woman.
Dennis: Man.
King Arthur: Man, sorry. What knight lives in that castle over there?
Dennis: I'm 37.
King Arthur: What?
Dennis: I'm 37. I'm not old.
King Arthur: Well I can't just call you "man".
Dennis: Well you could say "Dennis".
King Arthur: I didn't know you were called Dennis.
Dennis: Well you didn't bother to find out did you?

- Monty Python and the Holy Grail

War of the Worlds Not Quite a Review

I don't really have much to say. I think Independence Day was better, really. Here's Mr. Cranky's review, which I found quite amusing. Dakota Fanning does her best Drew Barrymore impression and Tom Cruise is a jerk (but you knew that already). And Tim Robbins gives me the heeby-jeebies. But winner of the best title of a War of the Worlds review: Oooooooh! 'Splosions!

Given One Option, What Would You Choose?

There's a vending machine in the building where I work that lets you see inside. I find it fascinating because it fixes so many problems that traditional drink machines have: you can see exactly what you're getting, so there's not surprise Mountain Dew in place of your Diet Coke; there is an arm with a conveyor belt that lifts up to fetch the drink, lowers to the level of the dispenser slot, and slides it into the slot to minimize drop-induced fiz build-up; and if you don't get a drink it will try to dispense the drink again and if that doesn't work, it gives you your money back! I would so have loved designing and testing that. Why aren't there more of these babies?

Anyway, the top row is always all 20 oz Coke bottles. Yet, as refill day approaches, the distrubtion of drinks on the top row looks suspciously like an inverted bell curve. Something like this:

* * *
* * * *
* * * * * *
* * * * * * * *

The drinks on the right side had been there so long that every single one had red caps when all the rest had green (the sign of a contest change). When the machine got particularly low, someone was forced to buy one of them and it turned out to have reached its expiration date. It's interesting how people tend to choose the center first (I know I do - A5, all the way) and move outward, but they don't necessarily wait until a column is empty to do so. Statistics is everywhere. You cannot escape.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Cindy and Dennis

Ladies and gents, meet Cindy and Dennis, the latest named tropical storms of the 2005 hurricane season. Cindy's bugging Lousiana at the moment, but Dennis has the honor of breaking the record for earliest "D" storm ever. And he's probably going to be a nasty one, too. All the computer models have him skirting between most of the Carribean islands, which will give him the opportunity to build. It's looking a bit like a Cape Verde-type hurricane, which means it'll probably be strong. Some other Cape Verde hurricanes: Andrew, Isabel, Ivan... I'm telling you, it's going to be a bad season.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy Independence Day

The first of the fireworks have already happened (imagine, I was actually asleep at 2 am). My name, however, was not on the list.

Traffic from Richmond to D.C. was amazingly light this morning. Now I get to find out if I can see fireworks from my aparment.