In the worlds imagined by Marvel and DC, those with special gifts (derived from accidents of birth or lifelong dedicated work) often choose to dress up in special outfits and Fight Evil. Sometimes, they band together in organizations to Fight Evil more effectively.

In this world, wouldn't it be nice if people with special skills got together to Fight Stupidity?

For example, as near as I can tell, the folks who built the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig decided to put multiple redundant valves on the well, so that if one failed, another could still be used to shut the well down. That's good. Then they bought multiple identical valves, each with the same failure modes, from the same manufacturer. That's not so smart.

Wouldn't it be great if there were some organization of super-engineers, folks of Tony Stark's caliber, who were paid to notice problems like this in advance and draw up plans for how to stop a hypothesized oil leak using technology and tools that currently exist? "Hey, Buckaroo, did you see this oil rig design?" "Yeah, Tony, I did -- someday, if that runs into problems with methyl hydrates, it could leak millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico." "Do you think they could stop a leak, if one happened, by plugging the hole with mud?" "No, you'd need a containment vessel, too -- who do we know who has a reinforced dome 200 feet across that can handle the pressure at that depth?"

It's nice to imagine Buckaroo Banzai, Tony Stark, a few of the materials scientists who support Batman, and Reed Richards drawing a salary to deal with problems in our world.

Failing that, though -- could we have skilled engineers and scientists draw a salary funded by philanthropists to work out answers to "what if" problems?

Or could there be some way to identify and brainstorm problems a little bit at a time, similar to the way the "SETI at Home" divided up data analysis tasks? If volunteers with appropriate background knowledge each worked on problems in their "spare" time in ad-hoc teams, linked by wikis....
OK, with less than a month to go before the last book in the series is released, I've got some questions. No, not "Who is Snape really working for?" -- that's something that everyone wonders. My questions are more idiosyncratic.

  • When Harry's parents were killed, he was taken to live with his aunt and uncle. We're told this was because Harry got some protection from living with his relatives; plus, if he had grown up among Wizards, he would have had a swelled head early on. My question: what about his grandparents? Do any of the books come out and say that all four of Harry's grandparents were dead or incapacitated? Lily's parents were Muggles, so he would have grown up without contact with the Wizarding world -- but at least they weren't virulently anti-magic, the way his aunt and uncle are.

  • One early summer, Harry let the Dursleys think that he could do magic at any time; they were surprised (and quite pleased) to eventually find out that under-age wizards aren't allowed to do magic unless at school. Petunia, having grown up with her witchy sister, should have remembered that important fact from her own childhood.

  • Dumbledore apparently collected the invisibility cloak from James Potter's effects after his death, and held it aside for Harry. We are given to believe that it is a rare object, even among wizards; no others have been encountered (even Draco Malfoy, whose family is quite wealthy, doesn't seem to have one -- if he did, he would have used it at some point in Year 6!), and people rarely take precautions against being spied upon by invisible watchers. So where did James Potter get it? He used it during his time at Hogwarts, so it could not have been the result of any money he earned after graduation. Together, James and Lily left behind a tidy sum for Harry to inherit -- did they have that money during their lives, or are the contents of Harry's vault at Gringott's the result of a good life insurance policy? (Related question: who was dumb enough to write insurance policies for members of the Order of the Phoenix?)

  • Another question about artifacts: wouldn't Hermione's teachers have been aware of the oddities in her schedule the year she had the time-turner? Wouldn't they have compared notes about the smartest girl in her year? Which means that when Snape suggested that Harry had something to do with Sirius Black's escape, and Dumbledore suggested that would be impossible unless Harry had a way to be in two places at once, Snape stopped arguing because he understood Dumbledore's subtext: yes, Harry did do it; it was an action I authorized, now be quiet.

  • And am I the only one that thinks that Hogwarts is, at its heart, a puffed-up Vo-tech school? All of their classes are about how to use their main "technology": magic. Even the history class is history of magic. Where are the classes on general history (given that Dumbledore defeated a noted dark magician in 1945, there's a chance the wizarding world was involved in WWII), literature, or art? I feel sorry for the teachers -- reading homework essays by 16-year-olds who haven't been taught anything about grammar and composition since they were 10. [Of course, the Muggles have their own glorified vo-tech: medical school comes to mind!]

Feel free to suggest your own answers, or to jump in with more questions of your own.
Check out this picture from the National Spelling Bee...

...and let me know if mere cynicism is the correct response, or if I need to proceed to soul-sucking depression.
Yes, my cats are happier now that over 40 brands of cat food have been recalled.

Canned cat food is part of their daily diet, ever since Umbra was weaned. At first, he couldn't eat kibble -- so we had to give him canned -- and then Sandalwood realized that she could get some too.

Since it has historically been the case that a recall that starts for one product eventually finds problems with others, P and I have decided that it would be best not to give Umbra or Sandalwood any canned cat food until the situation is better understood.

Why does this make our cats happy?

Because now they get food intended for humans -- tuna! sardines! more cheese! mackerel!

(Yes, I'm completely pwned.)
Saturday was a big day. P borrowed a pickup truck from work and we (including lionessprite) loaded it up with bed, bookshelves, books, and other Stuff For The Apartment. Drove out to Pennsy where we were met by another friend. Help was much appreciated, especially since the bed, mattress, and omg-this-is-heavy dresser had to get schlepped to the third floor! Unloaded the mess, had dinner out, and then back home. Today we get to repeat the same theme -- except that tonight I'll be sleeping in the apartment, and tomorrow morning I head off for Orientation for the new job.

The contract arrived overnight express yesterday. As the saying goes, it's all pigs fed and ready to fly. But this is a good day to start new ventures, at least for English speakers: after all, today is March Forth.

There's no net connectivity in the apartment yet, so I probably won't be able to read or post for a while.
P has often said that the guy who owned our current home before we did should have a radio ankle-bracelet. If he gets to the front door of Home Despot, Lowe's, or other hardware store, some uniformed aides would appear and politely escort him to the edge of the parking lot. "I'm sorry, sir," they'd say, "you can't come in here. With the contents of our store, you'd be a danger to yourself and to others. We can't allow that to happen."

Today's example: shelf standards. You know, the metal railing with little slots in it? You attach two parallel vertical strips to your wall, slide the brackets into the slots, then drop a piece of planking across the brackets. Quick, easy, functional -- until this guy did it.

Seems he wanted to be sure that the standards wouldn't come away from the wall. Did he use wall anchors? Noooo. He curved the metal and buried it under the plaster!

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to find a Dremel tool. And tea. Tea, dammit, tea!
I just got a new PDA. This one has an itty-bitty QWERTY keyboard at the bottom, Blackberry-style, instead of handwriting recognition.

I've been touch-typing on a real keyboard for years, and suddenly I'm reduced to hunting and pecking with my thumbs.

Is there such as thing as a typing tutor for thumb keypads? "Mavis Beacon Teaches Crackberry," perhaps?

That'll do, Jeneralist. That'll do.

Which movie was this quote from?

Get your own quotes:
From Family Practice News (not peer reviewed -- more of a trade magazine)

A small group of physicians and investigators plan to market a removable tattoo ink next year, and if the ink lives up to the inventors' expectations, physicians will be able to remove permanent tattoos with a single laser treatment.
Read more... )

I know there's a lot going on right now; many of my friends are anxious and exhausted. Some photos have already been shared today to help cheer us up. I offer photos of one of the cutest kittens ever, spending time with Santa Claus... Santa Claws... you know, the guy who brings tuna to good little toms.

I know, I should save these for a grumpy day, but I want to share them now.

Friends, behold the kitten that has stolen my heart (and stained my clothes with kitten formula):
Today, the NJ Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that:

  • same-sex couples must be afforded the same rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples;

  • the current Domestic Partnership Act does not bridge the inequality between committed same-sex and heterosexual couples

  • "the Legislature must either amend the marriage statutes or enact an appropriate statutory structure within 180 days..."

In other words, the Legislature needs to enact either gay mariage, calling it "marriage," or enact civil unions that are equal to marriage. (The full decision is on-line at

Oh, and the 4-3 vote? The dissenters said that NJ needs gay marriage under that name -- trying to develop an equivalent structure and calling it "civil unions" isn't good enough.

I'm proud of New Jersey!
jeneralist: (typing)
That's "quantum" in the "how many" sense....

Yesterday, I had two cats. There was Sandalwood -- an eight-year-old brown lap cat who, as soon as you sit down and clap your hands against your thighs, will come running into the room and jump on you, purring happily. And there was Shadow -- seventeen and a half years old, five and a half pounds weight. For most of the past year, she's been in a decline.
Read more... )
At this point, the kitten ("Umbra," until it lets us know better) is in solitary confinement in the basement, near the furnace. There's a hot water bottle, lots of towels, a ticking clock, food, formula, water -- and a rubber duckie offered by my nephew/godson. Sandalwood prowls the ground floor, feeling slighted and hoping for a lap. And Shadow is the madwoman screaming in the attic.

Next week, how many cats?
When do we want to lose something?

There are many times we might want to get rid of something. We can talk about getting rid of junk, cleaning out our closets, getting past old ways of thought. "Losing" is not used for these examples. We lose football games, we lose $10 that fell out a hole in our pockets, we can even lose hope. "Losing" is bad.

Why, then, do we speak of losing weight?

I'm looking for a word or phrase that refers to intentionally lessening one's mass, that makes it sound like a good thing to do. "Shedding" a few pounds is close, but I know you can come up with something better.

Donating extra carbon to the global Goodwill?

Iron Butt

Sep. 1st, 2006 03:20 pm
jeneralist: (forest biker)
I know that I've mentioned the Iron Butt before: a motorcycle rally dedicated to the concept that what is worth doing, is worth overdoing. The Iron Butt Rally, held every two years, covers at a minimum 11,000 miles in 11 days. Those trying for a win, rather than a mere finish, must earn bonus points with side-trips: say, visiting Key West on a route from Denver to Maine.

I ain't gonna do that.

Then there's the Iron Butt Association. This larger group awards membership to those riders who have demonstrated, in a smaller way, the ideals behind the Iron Butt Rally. 11,000 miles in 11 days not your style? Well, what about the "50cc" ride: coast-to-coast in 50 hours. (You get more time if you do it through Canada, which is wider than the Jacksonville-San Diego route.)

No? How about the "Saddlesore 1000" -- 24 hours for the 1000 miles of your choice. Go whenever you want, pick the course that appeals to you, just document that you've done 1000 miles within 24 hours. Heck, you can even spread it over two calendar days if you want. If you trust yourself enough, you can even sleep.

I ain't gonna do that, neither.

For those who have already used up their lifetime allotment of voluntary sleep deprivation (generally in the realms of medical education, or for the more extreme, parenting) there is one option more: the Iron Butt Association National Parks Tour Master Traveler Award. For this, you simply need to visit 50 national parks in the US or Canada in at least 25 different states, provinces, or similar regions over the course of a year. At each park, get a dated stamp in your "passport" (actually a cute little promotional gimmick available for under $8 from, or at the parks themselves).

Living as close to NYC, Philly, and DC as I do, the 50 shouldn't be a problem. It's the 25 different regions that will be difficult.

The tally thus far:
Quebec Fort Lennox
New York Saratoga National Historic Site
Martin Van Buren National Historic Site
Kentucky Cumberland Gap National Historic Park
North Carolina Blue Ridge Parkway, Folk Art Center stop
Tennessee Great Smoky Mountains, Sugarlands visitor center
Georgia Chickamauga Battlefield
Alabama Russell Cave National Monument
Missouri Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (Gateway Arch)
Wilson's Creek National Battlefield
Kansas Brown v. Board of Education NHS
Nebraska Homestead National Monument of America
South Dakota Missouri National Recreational River
Minnesota Pipestone National Monument
Iowa Effigy Mounds National Monument
Indiana Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Or, 16 sites in 14 states/provinces. Looks like I have some more travelling to do.....

The fine print: I have a lot more stamps in my passport than those 16. For example, I've also got one from the visitor center in the North Carolina part of the Great Smokies. But scoring 2 stamps from the same park is a no-no. And at the Missouri River site in South Dakota, I also got stamps for the Lewis and Clark Trail and the Pony Express Trail. Again, scoring the same site multiple times is a no-no.)
You scored as 3rd doctor. A man of science, a Gadget king, you can put up a good fight. You are just what the doctor ordered


3rd doctor


10th Doctor


4th Doctor


6th doctor


2nd doctor


1st Doctor


5th Doctor


7th Doctor


a Dalek


9th Doctor


8th Doctor




What Doctor Who character are You?
created with
Consider this news report from A weekend of heavy rain is creating a commuter nightmare in Washington, D.C., and the mid-Atlantic region, spilling mud over the Capital Beltway, washing out roads and disrupting Amtrak service. The National Archives closed because the moat surrounding the building has flooded. Forecasters warn the storms won't end any time soon.

Isn't a moat, by definition, supposed to be flooded?

Now I'm wondering what the government uses to stock the moat: are there piranha protecting the Constitution?
Made by hand, bouncing between Google Maps (for driving times) and
Color code indicates estimated drive time from Scotch Plains.

Now if only someone would automate this...
MyMaps at
Today's installment of "In Search Of:"

Does anyone know of an interactive map application that will show you regions within driving time x of a given location?

Imagine the contour lines on a topographic map. Now if we use that idea to draw a map where contour lines represent commuting time, rather than altitude...

Let's say I wanted the map to show everything within a half-hour's drive of my house. I'd get a weird blob with tentacles reaching out along the Parkway and the Turnpike, and sub-blobs at exits off of those main roads.

Such a map would be useful to job-hunters ("what can I get to within a reasonable commute?") and house-hunters ("where can I live, and wind up with a reasonable commute?")

It's useful, so it must exist already, right?
A cursory Google search did not find it, but I'm not sure what the search term would be.
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