Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Well, Now That We Got That Out Of the Way

Forgive me--I just haven't been in much of a mood to blog, lo this last week. And I must say, now that the election is over and I've had a little time to decompress, I feel much better--despite the fact that my guy lost.

I think it's the uncertainty that got to me more than anything else. Now that it's actually settled that I'm going to man the walls and defending the last vestiges of Western Civilization from the ravaging hordes (for at least the next couple of years at any rate), I somehow feel calm, at peace.

This is me:

Anyway, I've got a few items to share with you--just some fun links.

ITEM: My sister-in-law, who is participating in the annual event known as NaBloPoMo '08 (Basically: commit to blogging at least one post a day through the entire month of November) has found and linked to a wonderful tribute to the music of John Williams. It's one of her friends' birthday and he's really into John Williams and anything Star Wars related, so she posted this for him. I've stolen it for you. :-)

ITEM: One of the political sites I follow quite a bit decided to do a "Roundtable" yesterday. This is a blog post where several of their contributors hash out some question of weighty import.

Yesterday's question:

Rather than allow the last remaining outposts of the Elves at Imladris and Lothlórien continue without disruption from the outside world, [Elrond] chose to invest the Elves in a grand global fight to rob Sauron of his power permanently, in the process destroying the Rings of Power of his own and Galadriel's. At the Council of Elrond, a Fellowship was constructed, representing Elves, Men, Wizards, Dwarves, and Halflings, all united by a supposed common cause.

But where are the Elves now? All gone West. Was this great act of foreign policy by Elrond a self-destructive act? Would Elves not have been better off allowing Sauron to remain, acting as a counterweight to the Men, and preventing Men from being an undisputed hyperpower in Middle-earth?

Now, perhaps this is naive, but for the life of me I can't tell whether the implicated contributors were actually contributing, or whether one guy decided to do a send-up of all the others. If it was the former, they're all brilliant. If it's the latter, that one guy is really brilliant, because he nailed all their personalities and writing styles. Alas, you'll really only get the humor if you've managed to finish not only the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, but the Silmarillion as well. If you get all the references here and understand all the humor, it means you're a total geek. I am a total geek.

And stay for the comments at the end; some of them are priceless.

...I just forwarded it to my wife so that she'll know what real geeks sound like since I'm her only point of reference...

...I love each and every one of you dearly and I have for many years. I am impressed at your level of NERD.

...Is it Bad that I understood this whole thing without the use of Google or Wikipedia etc.?

Melkor/Sauron '12: I'm done voting for the lesser of two evils!

And the comments I liked best were the ones that were left by some of the regular commenters on the site, who happened already to have Tolkien-themed user names. Their comments on the post were delivered totally in character. The one by Sam Gamgee was priceless. And there was one by Finrod:
Hmpf, this would have been moot if I had gotten help when it counted

Personally, I tried to take out Sauron long before it was fashionable. If someone, anyone, had helped me take out Sauron back in the First Age, he wouldn't have been around to corrupt the Rings of Power and none of this would have been an issue.

ITEM: It's Punkin' Chunkin' time! I posted about this last year. Well, that time of year is upon us again, and this time Popular Mechanics did a story on it. "This" is a competition, held in Delaware every year, where amateur artillerymen bring their contraptions to the field to see who can launch a pumpkin the farthest. There are massive flatbed-truck-sized airguns for shooting pumpkins, and torsion catapults, and trebuchets, and centrifugal devices, and "human-powered" devices....

Popular Mechanics did a slightly longer post just before the event, that gives a little of the history and strategy of the event. It turns out that most of these artillery pieces are back year after year, each time with little tweaks done here and there to try to squeeze just a few more yards out of each shot. Some of these machines are practically being passed down from one generation to another. Most of them started out competing in the "Youth" category, but through the years were modified and tweaked, gaining more and more oomph until they are serious contenders for the crown.

And apparently, there's a shift underway: traditionally, the airguns can "chunk" a pumpkin farther than the more archaic weaponry--catapults and trebuchets. But it appears that the airguns may have topped out at a bit more than 4000 ft. range, with the record set in 2003. It may be that they're up against some laws of physics here: you just can't launch a pumpkin farther than that, by air power, without blowing it to smithereens right out of the barrel. But the catapults are starting to catch up, and it's no longer uncommon for chunks of 3000 feet to come from these machines:
The air guns, which rely on a sudden release of pressure to propel pumpkins out of their barrels, may have hit an engineering wall. Torsion catapults, on the other hand, are still benefiting from design tweaks that provide more room for the catapult's arm to swing and a more efficient angle of release.
What happens if the catapults catch up to the airguns?
If the catapults, trebuchets and other more traditional seige machines bring an end to the decade-long reign of the air guns, Shade believes that artillery-minded teams might have to explore a new direction: rail guns.

"Down the line, they could conceivably put something together where one of those electromagnetic rail guns could come on board and blow everyone away," Shade says, referring to the high-velocity experimental weapon systems currently being tested by the United States Navy. "The problem right now is that they have to have a small substation at this point. But that will change. Remember the original cellphones? You practically had to drag them around with a handcart."

Another option—applying WW II-era German rail-gun technology to compressed-air cannons. Instead of a single release of air pressure, cannoneers could begin with a small amount of air and trigger successively larger releases of pressure once the pumpkin is in motion. That would require longer barrels, and possibly computerized, precision-timed charges, but Shade doesn't put anything past Punkin' Chunkers. "We have said for years, if the knowledge and ability and technology devoted to throwing pumpkins could be harnessed, it could solve most of the world's problems," Shade says. "And win some wars, too."
These guys are seriously hardcore. One of these years, I'm going. That would be one serious educational experience for our homeschool. :-)

I love this country.

ITEM: Ok, so this item isn't as fun as my previous ones.

Michael Crichton, the author of such hard-SF staples as The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, and State of Fear, has passed away at the age of 66 following a "private battle with cancer".

I'll lose geek cred for saying this, but I've never actually read any of his novels. But I have read a number of his essays and speeches, which are collected at his website. I found them to be well-reasoned and thought-provoking.

Crichton was very concerned about the state of Science in our polity. Science, in his view, was a process used to gain understanding of the world. But the demands of politics are often in direct conflict with the demands of science; and when this conflict happens, it is frequently the case that the process of science gets corrupted. After all, it's the politicians who have the tax money, and they can choose to fund or not fund whatever scientific study supports their worldview.

In particular, Crichton became a strong skeptic of the Anthropogenic Global Warming hypothesis. Specifically, he felt that the process by which the scientific community came to its conclusions was nowhere near being rigorous; and he believed that the underlying processes that drive the climate are complex to a point far beyond what our puny predictive powers can foresee.

In 2004 Crichton published his novel State of Fear, which cemented his status as infidel in the eyes of much of the environmental movement. In this novel he explored the thesis that the fear of impending environmental doom is often far more dangerous than the environmental situation itself--and also more useful to demagogues. Crichton talked about this phenomenon at length in this essay:
But most troubling of all, according to the UN report in 2005, is that "the largest public health problem created by the [Chernobyl] accident" is the "damaging psychological impact [due] to a lack of accurate information…[manifesting] as negative self-assessments of health, belief in a shortened life expectancy, lack of initiative, and dependency on assistance from the state."

In other words, the greatest damage to the people of Chernobyl was caused by bad information. These people weren’t blighted by radiation so much as by terrifying but false information. We ought to ponder, for a minute, exactly what that implies. We demand strict controls on radiation because it is such a health hazard.
But Chernobyl suggests that false information can be a health hazard as damaging as radiation. I am not saying radiation is not a threat. I am not saying Chernobyl was not a genuinely serious event.

But thousands of Ukrainians who didn’t die were made invalids out of fear. They were told to be afraid. They were told they were going to die when they weren’t. They were told their children would be deformed when they weren’t. They were told they couldn’t have children when they could. They were authoritatively promised a future of cancer, deformities, pain and decay. It’s no wonder they responded as they did.
In fact, I would recommend pretty much any of Crichton's speeches--especially the one with the whimsical title of Aliens Cause Global Warming, about what happens when you allow the political process to corrupt the scientific process.

Anyway, he had a very sharp mind, and was one of the good guys. He will be missed.


Paige said...

Love the John Williams tribute! Don't know how to feel about the fact that I understood the references and humor in the roundtable discussion. I even followed the link because I was so intrigued by the part you had posted and wanted to know more. I hate to think my daughter is correct when she calls me a total geek.

Crimson Wife said...

Does it make me an ubergeek that I got all the LOTR references *AND* I happen to have 2 X chromosomes, LOL?

Timothy Power said...

Crimson Wife,

Yes, it does. However, it should be noted that female geeks are highly sought after by a big chunk of the male population. After all, they actually enjoy conversation topics that we guys like, too--not just the normal girly-talk, that makes our brains turn to jelly and leak out our ears.

My guess is that the Crimson Husband is very fortunate to have an "ubergeek" for a wife, and that he knows it.