27 April 2010


A fly-by blog post because I love this quote so much:

"If a 'religion' is defined to be a system of ideas that contains unprovable statements, then Gödel taught us that mathematics is not only a religion, it is the only religion that can prove itself to be one."
—John Barrow

26 April 2010

My Phlangy

Imagine I told you that there was club that could heal your broken phlangy. Wait a second, you might ask, I don't have a broken phlangy. I'm not even entirely certain I have a phlangy. No problem they tell you, all you have to do is agree that you have a broken phlangy and they'll make-sure your phlangy is in tip-top shape.

That doesn't sound like a great deal does it? The logical thing would be to ask them to prove you have a phlangy correct? They assure you that you do, otherwise you wouldn't be alive. You see you need a phlangy to live you see, and if you're alive that means you must have a phlangy.

But it's broken of course, and desperately needs to be fixed.

Now imagine that the people that are a part of this club think you are a terrible person for walking around with your broken phlangy. How could anyone live like that? You must not be a normal person, there's something wrong with you. Why would anyone choose to have a broken phlangy when there's a club, right there, that can fix it for you? Everyday you hear people talking about how awful it must be to have a broken phlangy, and how grateful they are that they got their phlangy fixed.

Does it sound silly?

I hear this argument, literally, every day. Only they don't call it a phlangy - they call it a soul.

I don't believe I have a soul - at least not in the way a religious person does. I believe that there are things deep in our subconscious that cause us to behave in certain ways and to appreciate art and beauty, but I do not believe in some part of me that was created when I was born and will live on after me when I die.

Religious people, please keep this in mind when you are trying to convert me to whatever doctrine you follow. You may know how to save my soul - but you're offering to fix something I don't believe I have. And as silly as the phlangy club might sound to you, you sound infinitely sillier to me.

16 April 2010

Shut up Pluto

Somewhere in Prague, 2006

Friends, Astronomers, Laymen: I come not to praise Pluto, but to bury him. The virtues of a planet have long been decided on whim and whimsy. It is time to set down in stone what does and does not belong to this exclusive fraternity. My colleague Pluto claims that he has every right to be a planet. Is he not round like a planet? Does he not orbit the sun like a planet? I too am round. I too orbit the sun. Why, Pluto, do you then balk at my being a planet? I am much larger than you, I have as many moons as you. I say that it is all or nothing. If Pluto is a planet, then we all get to be planets!

Hear hear!

This is outrageous. Eris is only trying to live up to his namesake, to cause dissension and bring chaos. I have been a planet for a hundred years, when were you discovered Eris? 2005? Please.

It's not up to you Pluto, it's up to the IAU, and if you don't back down from this we're all going to end up demoted. I don't give a damn personally if you're a planet or not, but I want the system to be fair. You don't get to be a planet just because you've always been one.

I can't be demoted. Don't be ridiculous. I've been a planet for nearly a hundred years. It would mess up the whole mnemonic. My very educated mother just served us nine... what exactly? She can't just serve you nine.

What are you guys, new?

I'm sorry, you are who exactly?

Yeah, this meeting is for planets-

Possible planets.

-only. So if you don't mind...

You celestial whippersnappers. In my day, being a planet meant something, it wasn't open to every piece of flotsam off in the backwaters of the solar system. You over there, you're not even round.

Well I never...

Who are you?

Me? I'm Haumea, in the Kuiper Bel-

Not you, the actual sphere.

Who do you think I am? Ceres is what they called me and I was a planet long before any of you had the temerity to show your face in a telescope. Do you think you're the first ones to face this issue? Did you think you were special? I became a planet back in 1801. A whole century before anyone even thought to look for your scrawny silhouettes.

Wait just a minute...

Shut up Pluto and let your elders talk. You only got to be a planet because they thought you were something you weren't. You've been skating off the lie of being Planet X since 1930.

But there is no Planet X, so what does it matter anyhow?

It matters because it's a lie. If the IAU had simply owned up to it back in the 90s when they figured it out, they could have headed a lot of this off. Made a definition for planet then so we wouldn't have to be in this mess now. Do you know how many "planets" there are? Just in our solar system? Take a wild guess.

I don't really see what kind of bearing this has on the discussion at-

Seventy-one. There are seventy-one objects out there that are round and orbit the sun. Well, mostly round.

I'm right here.

The point is we don't all get to be planets. Some of us have to be asteroids, some have to be trans-Neptunian objects. I'm thirty-two percent of the mass of the asteroid belt. Thirty-two percent. You'd think that'd be enough to set me apart as something special wouldn't you? Enough to be a planet? Well, I was for a bit, but they decided to make me an asteroid back in 1810. That won't work for you guys out there in backwaters. If you don't shut your pie-holes we'll all end up with a really stupid name. Like planetoid or dwarf planet.

Let's be realistic. Even if they decide we're not all going to be planets, they wouldn't be so dumb as to include "planet" in our new title, that's just silly.

You know, I like the sound of "Pluto-class Object" myself.

Shut up Pluto.

Jeez, you don't have to be mean about it.

(The size pictured in each dwarf planet's avatar is [mostly] true relative to the size of the other's avatars. Each of the avatars can be clicked for links to their respective wikipedia pages. They are [in order of appearance] Eris, Quaoar, Orcus, Sedna, Makemake, Haumea, Pluto and Ceres.)

13 April 2010

You're going the wrong way!

We thought we had you all figured out, planets. A cloud of gas is spinning until it becomes a flat disk, the center becomes a star which spins on its axis in the same direction the disk is moving, then the planets form. Everything continues to spin in the same direction.*

So what is up with these shenanigans?

This cannot be so. It flies in the face of all of our understanding about how solar systems are formed. That planet is orbiting its sun the wrong way. Ok, yes, it's an artists rendering of a planet, but the planet does exist.

Everything about this is just wrong, how can it happen? There are some theories, so it's not as though astronomy as we know it has just collapsed (or has it?).

This is the astronomical equivalent of finding a green grape growing in the middle of a bunch of red ones. Yeah, that's right, I'm breaking out the analogies.

Science isn't exactly sure of the whys and heretofores of this solar system yet, so don't expect to find definitive answers, just know that the universe is a super weird place.

*That's the really really short version of this tale.

(Thanks to Bad Astronomer for the headsup)

03 April 2010

Bat Hard

A belated #fanficfriday because it took much time and effort and other stuff I don't really enjoy. Like all superbly strangely things in my life, this project had its roots in a conversation with @hubcomics.

I refer you back to the Battlestar Batman which may have been better. Your mileage may vary.

This is a similar iteration. I have no regrets about using Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne - he's prettier than any of the other real life actors and the cartoon/comic Wayne would have stuck out too much. Also, I got to look at Christian Bale for about three hours. Yay!

click to embiggenate

Battlestar Batman had a better punchline, but for some reason I find this one funnier. *shrug*

02 April 2010

Clash of the Titans

So, there's this little girl sitting in front of me at the theater with her parents. She could not have been more than four or five. I saw her when I sat down and I remember thinking, I'm not sure this is going to be a good movie for somebody that young. Fast forward to about halfway through the movie. A not-so-big-baddie has had his hand chopped off and his dripping blood. Everywhere his blood lands, a giant OMFG scorpion is birthed out of the sand. So the sand starts churning for the first one, and the scorpion begins to arise.... suddenly, from in front of me, I hear the little girl go "Aw crap."

I laughed so hard. She was absolutely the best part of that movie.

That should tell you something I guess. Don't get me wrong: I loved it like cake, but it was by no means a good movie. Neither could it manage to cross the line into "so bad it's good". Instead it's in that middle ground of just plain bad where no movie has a right to be.

Again though, I loved it like cake. Liam Neeson filled cakey goodness... mmmm....

Is it possible to spoil a thirty year old movie? A movie that is in fact older than I am? A movie based on 3,000+ year old myths? Virtually the entire movie is: Monster! [fight monster] Monster! [fight monster] Monster! [fight monster] Monster! [fight monster]

Okay, so what happens is that in times long past Zeus seduced the wife of Acrisius and she had a son named Perseus. I kind of want to stop already to point out that she was at least lucky enough to have Zeus appear in the form of her husband. Others were not so lucky. Actually, in the original myth Zeus appears to Perseus' mother in the form of a golden rain and you know what? I don't even need to make that joke do I?

Gee? Where was I? Anyway, Perseus grows up with an adopted family who hate the gods, and it turns out the gods hate them right back because they get killed before Pete Postlethwaite (a veteran "Hey, it's that guy!") really has a chance to get going which is sad and makes me tear up a little even now.

Man, you can tell I don't have a whole lot to say about the movie when I keep getting sidetracked like this.

Anyway, Zeus is convinced by Hades (Ralph Fiennes who makes a way better Voldemort if you ask me) to punish a city called Argos for not worshiping as they should. Hades tells the city to sacrifice the king's daughter or they will all be fed to the Kraken - which is so not what Zeus told him to do but whatever...

You know what? Let's start over. Perseus goes on quest to find the magical thing to save the people. Magical thing is obtained, the city is saved, there is much rejoicing.

The historian in me who has studied Greek mythology flipped her shit through about 98% of this movie. The person in me who loves bad movies thought it was the most amazing CGI spectacle I have ever seen in my life. So know that. They are very very free with their mythology.

Rant? RANT! Zeus turns into an eagle, that's cool. That's how it's supposed to be. Why oh why did it have to be a bald eagle? Was that really necessary? Did you think we wouldn't like Zeus if he had some sort of generic eagle? Is this an American Zeus? Every time that damn eagle went flying I would die a little inside.

(I do love how Perseus denies that Zeus is his father, despite "Zeus" being in his name for all intents and purposes. Hades even pronounces it Per-Zeus.)

The monster effects were superb and in my opinion pretty damn seamless. Someone, somewhere has mastered the art of CG water which is nice to know. There are scorpions and horsey-birds and ogres and a big f-off KRAKEN. Clash of the Titans Kraken > Pirates of the Caribbean Kraken. By a lot. This was what a kraken is supposed to be, and it doesn't get anywhere near enough screen time in my opinion. I would watch two hours of the Kraken kicking stuff over and drowning people. I totally totally would.

This movie was entirely predictable and a great deal of fun. If you can enjoy a movie without needing it to stimulate your higher reasoning skills in any way whatsoever then this is the movie for you.

(Edited to add: Because of this review I am now the number four hit for the Google search "Zeus bald eagle". I can die happy.)

01 April 2010

Lou Gehrig's Farewell to Baseball

It seems in my researching for the 'speeches that make me cry' that the shorter the speech is the more likely it is to have an emotional impact - on me at least.

Presented in its entirety:

Lou Gehrig's Farewell to Baseball

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?

Sure I’m lucky.

Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy?

Sure I’m lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies -- that’s something.

When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter -- that’s something.

When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body -- it’s a blessing.

When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed -- that’s the finest I know.

So, I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for.

-Lou Gehrig, 4 July 1939