Friday, November 27, 2009

A Quartet of Fun Videos

Ok, so I haven't been blogging much lately--and I haven't been blogging as many of those long, wordy, overly-sincere disquisitions on What's Wrong With the World And How To Solve It.

I suppose you could look at it like this... it is, after all, that time of year when we're supposed to give thanks for the blessings in our life, right? Well then, perhaps my readership should Give Thanks that they don't have to sit through another of my 5000-word manifestos today. :)

And I'm thankful that I don't have to write them just yet.

Instead, I've been collecting some fun videos I've been seeing online lately, and thought I'd pass them on. No doubt you've seen some of them already, but perhaps you haven't seen all four.

So, we'll start with one that's hit the internet lately in a really, really big way. It's shown up on a lot of people's blogs, including that of my sister-in-law (although that's not actually where I first saw it). Behold: the Muppets do Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.

And, as usual, Animal steals the show. But Beaker (who, along with the Swedish Chef, is my favorite Muppet) puts in a pretty good showing, too.

(Oh, and my sister-in-law has some wonderful Thanksgiving-day pictures of my three kids, and their two cousins, playing in a pile of leaves. Take a look here.)

Ok, here's the next one, which has been all over the TV lately, so most people have already seen it. But if there be any more Luddites out there like Tonya and me who don't watch TV, then you might not have seen it yet, in which case you are welcome to treat this post as a public service. With a hat tip to The Anchoress (where I first saw it myself), I give you Cop vs. Kitty:

You know, I'm glad that this wasn't my cat Pasha doing that. What's cute with a three-lb kitten would, with my arthitic yet lovable 15-lb lardbutt, be downright tragic.

Ok, here's the shortest video of the bunch. I had been web-surfing a few nights ago, when the Pillowfight Fairy came over to the computer and saw some random link about albatrosses (the seabirds with the 7-foot wingspans). So we clicked it, and watched some video on them.... and then clicked on some more, and some more... and eventually we were watching all kinds of nature videos. (By the way, the ones of albatrosses landing on ground, as opposed to on the water, are good fodder for seven-year-old humor. Apparently, albatross stall-speed is faster than albatross running speed, so their landings tend to involve plenty of unintentional mayhem. Especially when they land on a beach crowded with other albatrosses.) Well, we went from albatrosses to frogs, to insects to... this one that was temptingly captioned, "Frog vs. Dragonfly". What we expected was another of those videos showing nature in all its gory glory, red in tooth and claw (or whatever it is that frogs have). What we got gave everyone an unexpected and surprisingly hearty laugh.

Geez. That's not much better than what Pasha could have done.

Ok, here's the fourth one, which is the longest video of the bunch. I was reading along on the Wired website, on a story entitled Thanks a Lot: Pop Culture's Finest Moments of 2009. Now, I'm never one much to put the phrases "fine" and "pop culture" in the same sentence, unless the sentence is something like, "That's a fine load of pop culture you've managed to land us in this time." Nevertheless, I was bored, and there was a cool picture of Superman next to it, so I thought, "meh..." and clicked. (I was actually more intrigued by the picture of Dr. Horrible next to the story immediately underneath it. Apparently, there's going to be a sequel to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog! Huzzah! I say.)

There's actually some interesting stuff on that list of pop culture. But the one that caught my eye was for an episode of the latest Batman animated TV series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Now, the title itself does nothing for me, sounding too much like that of a soap opera. But the Wired write-up of this particular episode made me cock my Spock-brow:
After decades of taking the animated Dark Knight deeper into the shadows, Warner Bros. lightened things up with this bright series, which is resiliently clever. Nowhere is its broad, demographic-crushing appeal more brilliant than in this musical episode, which features the vocal acrobatics of the resurgent Neil Patrick Harris as the Music Meister, a villain who can send humanity into a trance by singing (mostly about himself). Ranging from outright cheese to subversive comedy, “Mayhem of the Music Meister” found Batman hitting the high notes, literally, while beating back a horde of ballet-dancing supervillains and superheroes, all while sampling iconography from Milos Forman’s Amadeus to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Best animated hero worship of the year, hands-down. —Scott Thill

O.M.G. An episode of Batman... done as a musical? All the superheros and supervillains singing and dancing? Subversive cheesiness? I. Am. So. There. So I clicked on it, and had a big dopey grin on my face for the next twenty-three minutes or so.

View More Free Videos Online at

I especially liked Batman's deadpanned line at the end of the "Death Trap" song about halfway through.

I remember, as a kid, that occasionally the powers-that-be would do something weird like this in one of the cartoons that I watched at the time, and I always found it hokey to the point of being totally embarrassing. Why do they do stuff like this? Don't they know how dorky it is? And then I grew up, and discovered that these were often the only episodes of the cartoons in question with anything like a long-term redeeming quality. By the way, this includes the "Kill the Wabbit" Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd episode, which in hindsight (and a bit more immersion in the lore of Wagner) becomes freakin' brilliant.

Anyway, this is the kind of episode that I once would have totally embarrassed me by its sublime dorkiness. So I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Sign That Our Daughter's Moral Training Is Not Complete...

From the Adrenaline Junkie (Age 4.9):

"Sometimes I feel like... like... like I don't have enough things."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Where the Heck do They Learn These T hings?

So the Happy Boy, still aged two, just ran up to me.

And, of course, being two, he made absolutely no attempt to stop.


"Ow", I explained, somewhat annoyed. "Why did you just do that?"

And my two-year-old boy, who's not yet speaking in complete sentences, looked straight up into my eyes, and sweetly explained:

"Torture Daddy."

Where the heck do they pick these things up? He's two, and he already has a firm grasp of the term torture.

And although he can't pronounce it yet, it appears he also has down the concept of "mortification of the flesh", as we just caught him intentionally (and happily) running headfirst into the cabinets....

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Tale of Time Travel

Saw something recently that tickled my funny bone, in an intellectual sort of way, and thought I'd share it with y'all.

Background: My wife has somewhat unusual tastes in entertainment fare, when compared with most of female-kind in this country. She's one of those types highly-sought-after by us geeks, who actually enjoys science fiction. She once went to a Star Trek convention, and was mistaken for being in costume. Yup, she had just dressed in what for her was normal street-clothes, which happened to consist of a very 80's-style red jumpsuit with black turtleneck and black boots, and she just happened to be mistaken for one of the women in Khan's posse....

Okay, she enjoys more than just science fiction; she has enough girlyness in her that she occasionally watches the 5-hour BBC Pride & Prejudice miniseries that we have on DVD. Still, she doesn't usually go for the really weepy stuff. She likes explosions.

And big muscles.

(Hmm. Makes me wonder... How'd she wind up with me? Must be the potential for explosions....)


Ahem. Anyway, her favorite sci-fi sub-genre is Time Travel. Yup, she loves stories where people go back in time and accidentally cause themselves not to be born. Or they become their own parents or something. Pretty much, the more convoluted the story, the more it makes your mind bend just thinking about how they got themselves into this mess, or how they're going to get out of it by the end of the hour, and she's there. She was a big fan of the time travel stories on Star Trek; she was a big fan of Dr. Who; and she loved Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (a judgment with which I heartily concur).

So of course, I had to share the following news with her when I saw it online the last few days. It gave her a bit of a smile. Hopefully it'll do the same for you.


But first, I have to pose a time-travel thought experiment.

Suppose someone builds a time machine, and uses it to go back into the past. What would happen?

Well, there are two schools of thought. One is that the timeline doesn't change, because everything the time traveler does when he gets to the past already happened. If the time traveler loses his wedding ring in the past, his contemporaries from his home year will be able to find it exactly where he lost it. In fact, someone may have found it already, in the intervening years between when the time traveler lost it in the past, and when he started out on that journey in the future. Under this school of thought, the time traveller can't do anything that wasn't already done before.

A good movie that appears to take this approach is Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. ("Trash can... remember a trash can!")

The other school of thought is that the time traveler can in fact change the past, and by doing so will change the future. This is the school of thought on display in the Back to the Future movies. Marty has to fix the past before he goes home to the future; otherwise, since he accidentally broke up his parents, he would cease to exist.


Well, just for kicks and giggles, let's assume that the latter of these scenarios is true--that a time traveler from the future can change the past to something different from what happened in the time traveler's history. What then?

Since I'm a geek, allow me to go to the diagram.
Let's say the above diagram represents a time-line. Now, let's say that a time travel experiment is started up that makes changes in the past.

So far, so good. The trouble is, since the past has changed, that means that the timeline diverges; from the moment in the past that the time travel experiment makes something different happen than what went before, the time line has changed--and the remainder of the original timeline, the one on top in these diagrams, never happened.

So really, only the bottom timeline exists anymore. And it is identical to the first timeline, up until the point where the time traveling object appears (seemingly out of nowhere, as observed by people in the past). From that point on, the timelines start to diverge.

Now here's where the fun begins. The timeline is now proceeding differently than it did before. This may in fact cause changes to the circumstances of the time travel experiment itself! What happens then? Well, that experiment will then be run at a slightly different time, and send its payload to a slightly different time in the past, causing yet another timeline to form (and voiding the remainder of the timeline we just constructed, too). And then this timeline will cause changes to the circumstances of the time travel experiment, causing yet more changes in the past....
Now, it seems to me that these alterations to the past timeline would accumulate; they wouldn't necessarily void each other. If the first experiment puts a bowling ball back through time, that changes the timeline; then the next iteration puts a nectarine through instead, what then? Well, since the timelines are identical up until the point in time that the time travel causes them to diverge, it means all the old alterations would still be there as well--including the bowling ball. (Though I'm certainly open to the idea that someone with greater powers of logic than me will come along and contradict this point. If I'm really lucky, maybe he'll come from the future!)
So what's left? Well here's the catch. Ever heard of the "Butterfly Effect"? Any change to a chaotic system, no matter how minor, causes little changes... which cause bigger changes... which eventually cause the system to look completely different than it would otherwise have been. This has long been a bugaboo in the world of weather forecasting. The problem is that weather systems are so sensitive to initial conditions, that missing the tiniest cause--like the flap of a butterfly's wings--will eventually cause the predictive model to yield wildly inaccurate results. The addition of that butterfly's wing flap could result in a hurricane showing up at a different time and place than it otherwise would have, for instance.

But don't we have the same thing in time travel? One minor change sends out eddies and ripples into the timeline, which grow--uncorrected--until the future looks nothing at all like it would otherwise have been. And this huge loop of time-travel changes, with each iteration changing the past, and in turn changing itself, would be dumping an awful lot of unpredictable, disruptive factors into the past.

Eventually, something is going to break. Rather, one of these changes will--through random chance--cause a tornado to hit the time travel research lab. Or will cause the wrong congressman to win the election, who decides to cut the research funding. Or will cause a giant fire-breathing turtle to appear and devour the lead scientist.

After all, this time-travel cycle can happen an arbitrary number of times, and is guaranteed to go on until the cycle is broken--by some sequence of events that stops the experiments. Then, you have a stable timeline, with no more loops.
Now, this timeline will have a lot of seemingly-odd, highly coincidental events in it, that to an objective observer just seem to conspire to shut down the experiment. Like that out of season tornado, followed by that crooked election, followed by that fire-breathing turtle. The observer might be tempted to think that God doesn't actually want us to discover time travel, right?

Either that, or God has an absolutely wicked sense of humor. And He's into slapstick.


So what would these "highly coincidental" events look like in real life, that would prevent time travel from happening?

Well, it might look a little like this.
Baguette Dropped From Bird's Beak Shuts Down The Large Hadron Collider (Really)

The Large Hadron Collider, the world's most powerful particle accelerator, just cannot catch a break. First, a coolant leak destroyed some of the magnets that guide the energy beam. Then LHC officials postponed the restart of the machine to add additional safety features. Now, a bird dropping a piece of bread on a section of the accelerator has, according to the Register, shut down the whole operation.


With freak accident after freak accident piling up over at CERN, the idea of time traveling particles returning from the future to prevent their own discovery is beginning to seem less and less far fetched.

Incidentally, I loved the comments on this article. I got a particularly good laugh from this one by HyMinded:

The bird's briefing:

The approach will not be easy. You are required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point. The target area is only two meters wide. It's a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The shaft leads directly to the reactor system. A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy the station.


But what's really funny to me--partly in a "ha-ha" kind of way, and partly in the Spock-eyebrow-amused kind of way, is just how many serious scientists are taking this kind of reasoning seriously. After all, my little exposition up above seems pretty tongue-in-cheek to me, but apparently no one can find the logical flaw in the thing that can break the whole argument down. Take a look at this article from Time describing the same incident, and tell me if that isn't the case.
While most scientists would write off the event as a freak accident, two esteemed physicists have formulated a theory that suggests an alternative explanation: perhaps a time-traveling bird was sent from the future to sabotage the experiment. Bech Nielsen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan, have published several papers over the past year arguing that the CERN experiment may be the latest in a series of physics research projects whose purposes are so unacceptable to the universe that they are doomed to fail, subverted by the future.

...But ever since the British physicist Peter Higgs first postulated the existence of the [Higgs Boson] in 1964, attempts to capture the particle have failed, and often for unexpected, seemingly inexplicable reasons...

In a series of audacious papers, Nielsen and Ninomiya have suggested that setbacks to the LHC occur because of "reverse chronological causation," which is to say, sabotage from the future. The papers suggest that the Higgs boson may be "abhorrent to nature" and the LHC's creation of the Higgs sometime in the future sends ripples backward through time to scupper its own creation. Each time scientists are on the verge of capturing the Higgs, the theory holds, the future intercedes. The theory as to why the universe rejects the creation of Higgs bosons is based on complex mathematics, but, Nielsen tells TIME, "you could explain it [simply] by saying that God, in inverted commas, or nature, hates the Higgs and tries to avoid them."
Yeah. That and the fire-breathing turtles.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What I've Been Doing All Summer

Don't have a whole lot of time to post now, but I know that there are a whole bunch of people out there who've been wanting to see this. I might update this post a little later with more details about my little girl's Wood Elf outfit...

Behold, the Adrenaline Junkie's Halloween costume: