Sunday, April 13, 2014

A scientific analysis of Space Sector 2814

According to Green Lantern lore, billions of years ago the advanced alien species known as the Guardians of the Universe moved from their home planet of Maltus to the planet Oa "near the center of the universe." (Technically, the universe has no center, but we'll let that go.)

From Oa, the Guardians divided the universe into 3,600 "Sectors," each one touching Oa and radiating outward from it. There has been some confusion about the size and shape of these Sectors over the years, so I will explain. A two-dimensional circle is easy to divide into 3,600 parts -- each 1/10th of a degree wide -- and so it has been rumored that the Guardians simply divided the universe into very thin wedges. However, this is impractical for a three-dimensional universe, and it is not the method used by the Guardians. It has also been stated at times that each Sector is one degree by 18 degrees (18 square degrees). However, this adds up to 64,800 square degrees, which was apparently arrived at by multiplying 360 degrees by 180 degrees. In fact, a sphere has approximately 41,253 square degrees (the proper formula is 360*360/π), so the math is off. Each sector should cover approximately 11.46 square degrees of Oa's sky.

Here is a rational way for the Guardians to have divided up the universe into 3,600 Sectors. First, they would have divided the sky of Oa (and, extending outward into infinity, the sphere of the universe) into eight equal segments. This would have essentially given them the spherical equivalent of an octahedron. As you can see below, an octahedron is constructed of eight equivalent sides, each of which is an equilateral triangle. Likewise, we have divided our sphere into eight equivalent, triangular wedges.

Now, it is a fact that you can divide an equilateral triangle into n^2 smaller equilateral triangles of equal size, where n is any whole number. For example, here is an example where we divide one equilateral triangle into nine (n = 3):

 If use then use this technique to divide each of the eight faces of the sphere into 900 smaller "rounded triangles" (n = 30), we will end up with 7,200 roughly triangular sections. (These will, of course, not be actual equilateral triangles due to the curvature of the sphere, but the principal should still hold true enough for it to be a convenient method of dividing the space.) Combine two of these subdivisions into a roughly diamond-shaped area, and you have your 3,600 Space Sectors. Here is an example of a small cross-section:

Note that these Sectors start out small where they all come together at Oa (which is considered "Sector Zero"), but because they grow wider with distance, at the "edge" of the universe they will be more than 2.7 billion light years across. (We'll talk more about scale in just a moment...)

At first, the Guardians of the Universe tried to live up to their self-appointed name by patrolling these 3,600 sectors themselves. Then they built a robot police force to do so, which had disastrous consequences. (The robots, known as "Manhunters," congregated and tried to eradicate all intelligent life in one of the Sectors.) Finally, they began appointing an organic police force to do the job, which they dubbed the Green Lantern Corps. Due to certain limitations on the Guardians' power source, at first there was only one Corpsman per Sector. There is now an average of two per Sector. That is still not much, as I will explain below, so the universe is barely guarded, but I suppose every little bit helps.

One of the facts that has been established in the lore is that the Milky Way is part of Sector 2814, while its neighboring galaxy Andromeda is in Sector 2813. If you know anything about the scale of the universe, you know that this is highly unlikely. The two galaxies are only about 2.5 million light years apart. In a universe that is at least 93 billion light years across (that's just what we can observe of it - more on this in a moment), 2.5 million is insignificant. To put it another way, the Atlantic Ocean is about 3,000 miles (4,800 km) wide between New York and Ireland. If the observable universe were that wide, the distance between the Milky Way and Andromeda would be 425 feet (130 m).

Of course, we do draw political boundaries like that all the time, so it is possible, however improbable. And the closer the two galaxies are to Oa, the more likely it is that they would be split down the middle like that, since the Sectors would not be as wide.

Looking in our immediate area of the universe - within one billion light years - a perfect location emerges for Oa: the Boötes Void, also known as "The Great Void." The Boötes Void is what is known as a "supervoid." It is 250 million light years across and contains almost no galaxies. Its center is roughly 700 million light years away -- ridiculously far in human terms, but comfortably close in cosmological terms. Placing Oa in the middle of a supervoid makes great sense, as despite their mission, the Guardians remain somewhat aloof from the universe. It makes sense that "Sector Zero" would be somewhat isolated and not part of a normal cluster of galaxies.

Additionally, the Boötes Void appears to be at nearly the correct angle to place a dividing line perfectly between the Milky Way and Andromeda. (Of course, in a few billion years, the two galaxies will merge anyway, and the Green Lanterns will have a much harder time figuring it all out, but for now we can make it work well enough.)

If Oa is 700 million light years away, that would mean that Sectors 2813 and 2814 would each be approximately 44.4 million light years across in the neighborhood of the Milky Way. With that knowledge, we can safely predict some of the nearby galaxies that belong to each of the Sectors. The map at the top of this article shows the approximate dividing line, as does this view:

Within our Local Group of galaxies, Sector 2813 would include Andromeda (home of the Skrull Empire and the now destroyed planet Krypton) and its many satellite dwarf galaxies, the Triangulum Galaxy (home of the Shi'ar Empire), and the NGC 3109 Subgroup. Other nearby galaxies in the Sector would include the M81 Group (including the well-known galaxies M81, a.k.a. Bode's Galaxy, and M82, a.k.a. the Cigar Galaxy), the M101 Group (including M101, a.k.a. the Pinwheel Galaxy), the IC342/Maffei 1 Group, the NGC 55/300 Group and the Ursa Major (M109) Group.

Sector 2814 would include the Milky Way (our home), the Large Magellanic Cloud (home of the Kree Empire), the Small Magellanic Cloud, and the Milky Way's many other satellite dwarf galaxies. It would also include the nearby galaxies in the Canes Venatici I Group, the Centaurus A/M83 Group, the NCG 1313 Group and part of the Virgo Cluster (although the cluster's core would lie in another Sector - probably 2815).

These nearby galaxies would just constitute a small cross-section of these two Sectors, however. As I mentioned before, the universe is a big place. Even if we count just the observable universe - that is, the part from which we can hope to observe data from Earth with the most powerful telescopes we could ever create - we are talking about a scale that will baffle your imagination.

Our Sun is one of 400 billion stars in the Milky Way. It is one of 1.5 trillion stars in our Local Group of galaxies (which includes Andromeda, Triangulum, the Magellanic Clouds and several dwarf galaxies). It is one of 200 trillion stars in the Virgo Supercluster, which includes the large Virgo Cluster and several smaller groups of galaxies, including our Local Group.

There are about 100 million similar superclusters of galaxies in the observable universe. Here is a rough map of the structure of the observable universe, showing threads of superclusers alternating with voids. (The Virgo Supercluster is at the center, but not even visible at this scale.)

Those 100 million superclusters equal an estimated 170 billion galaxies and 300 sextillion stars. (How big of a number is that? This big:300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.)

Furthermore, a recent NASA study estimated that 22% of stars had planets in their habitable zones. That doesn't mean that they could support life, just that they are in the right location to do so under the right circumstances. Assuming that everything else is equal, that yields 66 sextillion potentially habitable planets.

We don't yet know what percentage of those planets actually does support life. According to my sources (science fiction books and films), it is nearly 100%. However, I will be conservative and predict that 5% contain an ecosystem that has developed beyond microbial life. That yields 3.3 sextillion flourishing worlds in the observable universe. I will further estimate that one in 1,000 of these has developed life forms with a higher level of consciousness and intelligence comparable to or greater than humans. That yields 3.3 quintillion fully evolved worlds. Of those, I will predict that half of them have already destroyed themselves, leaving approximately 1.7 quintillion inhabited planets remaining.

If we divide those numbers by 3,600, we get the following:

  • Almost 27,800 superclusters per Sector.
  • More than 47 million galaxies per Sector.
  • 83,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars per Sector.
  • 18,000,000,000,000,000,000 potentially habitable planets per Sector.
  • 900,000,000,000,000,000 planets with primitive ecosystems per Sector.
  • 9,000,000,000,000 inhabited planets per Sector.

That's 83 quintillion stars and nine trillion inhabited planets per Green Lantern. And again, that's only in the universe that we can observe from Earth. The actual size of the universe is currently unknown. there are some who believe that it may actually be just slightly smaller than the size of the observable universe, which if true would mean that we could determine the true size of the universe just as soon as we have a telescope powerful enough. However, most astronomers believe that it is at least slightly larger, with one popular estimate being 250 times larger (by volume), and another plausible estimate being that the totality of the universe is 300 sextillion times larger than what we can observe. Because of the cosmological constant, we know that stars and galaxies are present at the same density throughout the universe, so we can easily extrapolate our numbers.

We are already in dangerous territory as it is, so I am not even going to bother with the higher estimates, but I will acknowledge that the universe is slightly larger than what we can observe. If we estimate that it is 50% bigger (by volume), that would make its total diameter just over 106 billion light years, and each Sector's numbers would increase by 50%:

  • Almost 41,700 superclusters per Sector.
  • More than 70 million galaxies per Sector.
  • 125,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars per Sector.
  • 27,500,000,000,000,000,000 potentially habitable planets per Sector.
  • 275,000,000,000,000,000 planets with primitive ecosystems per Sector.
  • 13,500,000,000,000 inhabited planets per Sector.

Spending an average of one hour on a planet and working eight hours per day, 200 days per year, a Green Lantern could visit about 1,600 planets per year. At that rate, it would take over 8.4 billion years to visit all of the inhabited planets in a Sector. (Or more than 4.2 billion if there were two Green Lanterns working each Sector.) It is safe to say that there are a lot of planets that are not part of the regular beat of these space cops.

It is likely that the Green Lanterns stay close to home: giving highest priority to the galaxies closest to Oa, and only venturing further into deep space when something truly odd is happening. In fact, the Milky Way was probably somewhat out of the way and on the very border of the Corps' patrol when the Guardians gave the Psions the Vega System. They probably never expected that the great Abin Sur would one day crash-land on a remote world in that border galaxy and bequeath his ring to an Earthman.

Or that the Earthman would spend 90% of his time driving around America with his pal Ollie while the rest of his Sector went untended. No wonder no one likes Earthmen.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The mountains of Jupiter

Photo 1 by NASA's Voyager 2 space probe (July 1979)

The tallest mountains in the Solar System? They're on Jupiter, of course. Some are over 4,000 miles high—more than 10 times the size of the Moon!

Photo 2 by the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini space probe (December 2000)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Odds of death

After a careful analysis of my risk factors, I now have a comprehensive actuarial assessment of my likely means of leaving this world. In the interest of the common good, I have listed them here. Your odds may differ from mine.

Odds – Cause
30% – Cardiovascular disease
30% – Infectious disease
11% – Cancer
10% – Digestive disease
6.0% – Respiratory disease
4.0% – Other non-communicable disease
2.0% – Alzheimer's and other neuro-mental illness
1.5% – Automobile accident
1.0% – Homicide
0.8% – Drowning
0.8% – Falling
0.7% – Fire or smoke
0.4% – Extreme weather
0.4% – Poison or venom
0.4% – Suicide
0.1% – Bear attack
0.1% – Drugs or alcohol
0.1% – Electrocution
0.1% – Nuclear holocaust
0.1% – Sports
0.05% – Domesticated animal attack
0.05% – Lightning
0.05% – Nanobot malfunction
0.05% – Pirate attack
0.05% – Robot uprising
0.05% – Terrorist attack
0.05% – War
0.03% – Alien invasion
0.01% – Bad juju
0.01% – Bionic hardware malfunction
0.01% – Circus animal and/or clown attack
0.01% – Earthquake
0.01% – Excessive leeching and/or bloodletting
0.01% – Frozen in the vacuum of outer space
0.01% – Trampled by farm animals
0.01% – Zombie apocalypse
0.005% – Alien parasite or fungus
0.005% – Killer bee attack
0.005% – Murdered by a renegade theme park robot
0.005% – Shark attack
0.001% – Aircraft accident
0.001% – Alligator or crocodile attack
0.001% – Catapult malfunction
0.001% – Dehydration
0.001% – Devoured by Cthulhu or another reawakened, ancient evil entity
0.001% – Dinosaur attack
0.001% – Eaten by cannibals (professional or amateur)
0.001% – Human pyramid collapse
0.001% – Kaiju attack
0.001% – Kangaroo or wallaby attack
0.001% – Landmine
0.001% – Laughing
0.001% – Mutated by radioactive waste, then killed by an angry mob
0.001% – Sinkhole
0.001% – Snake attack (2:1 odds it's an anaconda)
0.001% – Teleportation accident*
0.001% – Time-travel paradox
0.001% – Volcano
0.001% – Other wild animal or carnivorous plant attack
0.001% – All other possible causes**

* Note: does not include cases of successful teleportation, which technically could entail the destruction of my current body and assembly of a completely new body, depending on the type of teleportation.

** Note: this includes the possibility that I will, in fact, not die. Currently, my odds of escaping death due to the Rapture, for example, are 0.00000000000000000000006%

Sunday, March 16, 2014

There's a planet out tonight

Here is an idea I have for a science fiction story. There is a double planet: two planets sharing the same orbit and revolving around a common center of gravity. The civilization on the larger planet is aware of the smaller one, but early in their history they don’t understand what it is. The smaller planet has a very dark surface, but still reflects an incredible amount of light because it is so close. They can see darker and lighter patches on it, and at first they think it is a god. Later, they think it is a special light placed in the sky by their god.

As they develop some technological sophistication, they begin to understand the nature of planets, and begin to use telescopes to learn more about their orbital companion. They see that it is a world much like their own with what appear to be mountains, deserts and seas, but their telescopes are primitive and they cannot make out more details, and they have no way of traveling there.

Their scientists debate for years about whether the other planet harbors life like their own. Some claim to see winged people living in canyons, while others claim that the planet is lifeless. Finally, they manage to build a rocket powerful enough to carry them to the other planet, a journey which takes days to complete. The trip proves conclusively that the other planet is indeed lifeless and barren. What appeared to be seas, in fact, where nothing but dry ancient lava beds. Still, the people rejoice for they have conquered the challenge and become and spacefaring species. The universe awaits.

Oh, wait, that’s not fiction. That’s Earth’s history. The other planet is our moon, which is big enough to be considered a planet in its own right. (It is big enough that if the Earth wasn’t there, the moon would still be able to dominate that orbit on its own, thus meeting the modern IAU definition of “planet.”) And in fact Earth and its moon are close enough in size that many consider them to be a double-planet.

So the next time you look out your window at night, don’t just casually note the light of the moon. Marvel at the fact that there’s a whole freaking planet hanging right there in the sky. (Tonight's a good night to look: there's a full planet!)

It’s close enough that when we build permanent settlements there, we’ll be able to see the lights, just like they’ll see ours. It’ll  be pretty hard not to think of it as another planet at that point.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The most dangerous jobs

Here are the occupations with the highest annual death rates in the U.S., according to government statistics. I have also included statistics for U.S. wars and a few other hazardous situations for the sake of comparison.

All U.S. jobs: 0.0035% (1 in 28,570)

Construction workers, farmers, ranchers, truck drivers and law enforcement officers: 0.02% (1 in 5,000)

Electrical power line workers and sanitation workers: 0.03% (1 in 3,333)

Iron workers and roofers: 0.04% (1 in 2,500)

U.S. soldier in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (2001–2012): 0.04% (1 in 2,500)

Pilots (most dangerous for small aircraft in Alaska): 0.05% (1 in 2,000)

U.S. soldiers in the Persian Gulf War (1990–1991): 0.08% (1 in 1,250)

Fishermen: 0.12% (1 in 833)

U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War (1964–1975): 0.12% (1 in 833)

Loggers: 0.13% (1 in 769)

Stunt person in the 1980s (safety standards have since improved): 0.25% (1 in 400)

U.S. soldiers in World War II  (1940–1945): 0.68% (1 in 147)

U.S. soldiers in the Korean War (1950–1953): 0.92% (1 in 109)

American soldiers in the Revolutionary War (1775–1783): 1.85% (1 in 54)

U.S. soldiers in World War I  (1917–1918): 2.15% (1 in 46.5)

Death row inmates: 4% (1 in 25)

Union and Confederate soldiers in the U.S. Civil War (1861–1864): 5.65% (1 in 17.7)

Extreme wingsuit base jumpers and superheroes: 6.67% (1 in 15)

Gang members: 7% (1 in 14.3)

Obviously, there is going to be some variation within those groups: police officers on undercover assignments with the mob will have higher fatality rates than those with desk jobs, for examples.

Also, keep in mind that these are annual fatality rates. Over an extended period of time, the chance of an individual surviving decreases. For most U.S. workers, the on-the-job fatality rate is still very low. A 0.0035% annual fatality rate extended over a 30-year career ends up equaling only a 0.1% chance of death (1 in 1,000). For the next highest risk group (construction workers, farmers, ranchers, truck drivers and law enforcement officers), the extrapolated fatality rate over a 30-year career is 0.6% (1 in 167).

However, at the other end of the spectrum, the differences add up quickly. If you look at the career of a superhero, for example, you can see that they have a dramatically high fatality rate within a career of even a few years. Not including those who quit while they're ahead, only three quarters of them survive to fight crime for four years, and fully half of them will perish before they see ten years.

Survival rate after one year: 93.3%

Survival rate after two years: 87.1%

Survival rate after three years: 81.3%

Survival rate after four years: 75.9%

Survival rate after five years: 70.8%

Survival rate after six years: 66.1%

Survival rate after seven years: 61.7%

Survival rate after eight years: 57.6%

Survival rate after nine years: 53.7%

Survival rate after 10 years: 50.2%

Survival rate after 11 years: 46.8%

Survival rate after 12 years: 43.7%

Survival rate after 13 years: 40.8%

Survival rate after 14 years: 38.1%

Survival rate after 15 years: 35.5%

Survival rate after 16 years: 33.2%

Survival rate after 17 years: 30.1%

Survival rate after 18 years: 28.9%

Survival rate after 19 years: 27.0%

Survival rate after 20 years: 25.2%

Amazingly, Superman debuted as a superhero in 1938 and remained active in that role most of that time until his death in the line of duty in 1992. On paper, the odds of surviving 54 years as a superhero were only 2.4%. Even for a nigh-invulnerable alien, that was a pretty impressive run.

The original Batman, of course, wasn’t as lucky, dying in 1956 after 17 years under the cowl. Still mighty impressive for a costumed vigilante with no superpowers, though.

Here are a few other superheroes who were killed in the line of duty. Note that these are only a handful of examples. These days, there are approximately 200-400 superheroes and supervillains active at any given time (depending on your definition) and approximately 30-60 fatalities from that group per year on average.

  • Wonder Man (Fred Carson, d. 1939 after a career of only a few weeks)
  • Lobster Johnson (real name unknown, d. 1939 after seven years)
  • The Comet (John Dickering, d. 1941 after a year and a half)
  • Wing (Wing How, d. 1945 after seven years)
  • Captain America II (William Naslund, d. 1946 after one year)
  • Marvel Girl / Phoenix (Jean Grey, d. 1980 after 17 years)
  • Captain America I (Steve Rogers, d. 2007 after approximately 50 active years, not including years spent in suspended animation)

(P.S. – All pretenses aside, this was totally just another article about superheroes. The statistics are real, though, and are based on 2012 figures from the U.S. Department of Labor.)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ultimate fighting weight classes - for everyone!

My son is a big fan of boxing. And, being my son, his fandom includes absorbing every piece of information possible. Recently, I admitted that I had no idea what a "welterweight" was, and he began explaining the weight class system to me in detail. For the record, here are the core, traditional weight classes in professional boxing:

Maximum Weight – Boxing Weight Class
Up to 112 lbs. – Flyweight
Up to 118 lbs. – Bantamweight
Up to 126 lbs. – Featherweight
Up to 135 lbs. – Lightweight
Up to 147 lbs. – Welterweight
Up to 160 lbs. – Middleweight
Up to 175 lbs. – Light Heavyweight
Unlimited – Heavyweight

Being me, of course, I did some more research on my own and found that there were many more sports with weight classes – everything from judo to kick boxing, and from Greco-Roman wrestling to sumo wrestling. Mixed martial arts (MMA), also known as "ultimate fighting," is the hot fighting sport right now, and it has its own weight classes based on the traditional boxing classes, but simplified and updated to be more in line with the weights of today's fighters:

Maximum Weight – MMA Weight Class
Up to 125 lbs. – Flyweight
Up to 135 lbs. – Bantamweight
Up to 145 lbs. – Featherweight
Up to 155 lbs. – Lightweight
Up to 170 lbs. – Welterweight
Up to 185 lbs. – Middleweight
Up to 205 lbs. – Light Heavyweight
Up to 265 lbs. – Heavyweight
Unlimited – Super Heavyweight

However, after thinking about it, I realized that even the updated MMA weight classes still left an awful lot of fighters without a proper weight class of their own. Specifically, the MMA weight classes assume the combatants are all normal humans. The is the 21st century, though: is that really an assumption we're willing to make?

So I present to you an updated system of "Ultimate Fighting" weight classes, designed to cover everyone – human or otherwise!

Maximum Weight – Ultimate Fighting Weight Class
Up to 1 lb. – Pennyweight
Up to 5 lbs. – Teacupweight
Up to 10 lbs. – Toyweight
Up to 15 lbs. – Super Toyweight
Up to 20 lbs. – Paperweight
Up to 25 lbs. – Super Paperweight
Up to 30 lbs. – Zephyrweight
Up to 35 lbs. – Super Zephyrweight
Up to 40 lbs. – Boosterweight
Up to 45 lbs. – Super Boosterweight
Up to 50 lbs. – Pixieweight
Up to 55 lbs. – Super Pixieweight
Up to 65 lbs. – Mosquitoweight
Up to 75 lbs. – Miteweight
Up to 85 lbs. – Squirtweight
Up to 95 lbs. – Peeweeweight
Up to 105 lbs. – Atomweight
Up to 115 lbs. – Strawweight
Up to 125 lbs. – Flyweight
Up to 135 lbs. – Bantamweight
Up to 145 lbs. – Featherweight
Up to 155 lbs. – Lightweight
Up to 170 lbs. – Welterweight
Up to 185 lbs. – Middleweight
Up to 205 lbs. – Light Heavyweight
Up to 230 lbs. – Cruiserweight
Up to 265 lbs. – Heavyweight
Up to 350 lbs. – Super Heavyweight
Up to 500 lbs. – Sumoweight
Up to 750 lbs. – Super Sumoweight
Up to 1,250 lbs. – Hulkweight
Up to 2,000 lbs. (1 ton) – Super Hulkweight
Up to 1.5 tons – Giantweight
Up to 2.5 tons – Super Giantweight
Up to 4 tons – Kongweight
Up to 6.25 tons – Super Kongweight
Up to 10 tons – Mammothweight
Up to 15 tons – Super Mammothweight
Up to 25 tons – Titanweight
Up to 40 tons – Super Titanweight
Up to 62.5 tons – Thunderweight
Up to 100 tons – Super Thunderweight
Up to 150 tons – Megaweight
Up to 250 tons – Super Megaweight
Up to 400 tons – Colossalweight
Up to 625 tons – Super Colossalweight
Up to 1,000 tons – Monsterweight
Up to 1,500 tons – Super Monsterweight
Up to 2,500 tons – Behemothweight
Up to 4,000 tons – Super Behemothweight
Up to 6,250 tons – Gargantuanweight
Up to 10,000 tons – Super Gargantuanweight
Up to 15,000 tons – Light Kaijuweight
Up to 25,000 tons – Kaijuweight
Up to 40,000 tons – Super Kaijuweight
Unlimited – Ultimate Kaijuweight

Finally, for the record, I am not fat – I am just fighting as a Super Heavyweight right now...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Most anticipated splody movies of 2014

At the beginning of each year, I check to see what movies are coming out and try to informally rank which ones I think will be worth seeing. My formula for success is equal parts good character development and explosions. Here is what I think about the movies scheduled for 2013:

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
When: April 4. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because at this point Marvel Studios can do no wrong. The first trailer for this movie looked incredible, and those who saw early footage at Comic-Con raved about it. It promises to be a 1970s-style political thriller wrapped in a superhero action film, and it is clear that rookie directors Anthony and Joe Russo understand and care about their source material very much. In short, I can't freaking wait!

2. Godzilla
When: May 16. Why I’m looking forward to it: I've been a huge G-Fan from day one, ever since I caught my first "Godzilla Week" on The 4:00 Movie on Detroit's Channel 7 WXYZ after school in the mid-1970s. After the disaster that was the 1998 Sony version of Godzilla, it's nice to see that Legendary is doing the second American version right: the big guy actually looks like Godzilla, and will be an unstoppable force of destruction. Yes! Plus, this movie has Heisenberg himself: Bryan Cranston!

3. Guardians of the Galaxy
When: August 1. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because see Captain America, above. This film will be Marvel's most wacky and risky venture so far, but it could also be the most fun. It is about a ragtag group of lovable rogues in outer space, one of whom is a talking raccoon and another of whom is a sentient tree that can only say his own name. If that sounds like a kids' show, don't worry: this movie will have an edge. It will be Marvel Studios' first venture into their "cosmic" heroes, and if it succeeds it will open the door to an entirely new side of the Marvel Universe.

4. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
When: May 2. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because the first film was a mixed bag, but had enormous potential. From everything I've seen so far, this could be the film that sees that potential come to fruition. Jamie Foxx's Electro looks like a much more well-rounded villain than the last film saw. And with the origin out of the way, we'll get an entire movie of Spider-Man being Spider-Man. Yeah!

5. X-Men: Days of Future Past
When: May 23. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because Bryan Singer is back behind the camera and just might pull off this incredibly ambitious, time-hopping epic. The "Days of Future Past" story line is one of the moved beloved in X-Men lore, and Singer has already confirmed that they've changed quite a bit, so it is on shaky ground in that regard. Singer is also using the film to "correct" the mistakes of past movies (specifically the awful X-Men: The Last Stand) and reboot Fox's cinematic superhero universe. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it's so crazy it just might work. Plus, if the story is anything like the original, it is going to be sweet. (Oh, and I almost forgot: Jennifer Lawrence!)

6. The Hobbit: There and Back Again
When: December 17. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because this is it: the last Middle Earth film we're likely to ever see. This one will have the final confrontation with Smaug and the Battle of the Five Armies, so it should be worth the ride.

7. Big Hero 6
When: November 7. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because this is the first animated Disney movie based on a Marvel Comics series - albeit an obscure one. The 30-second teaser footage of the fictional city "San Fransokyo" was beautiful. I'm not at all familiar with this, but I'm intrigued. If done right, this could be the next Incredibles and open the door for many more such collaborations.

8. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
When: November 21. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because I'm in love with this series, and Jennifer Lawrence rules.

9. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
When: July 11. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because the first of the new Planet of the Apes movies was a delightful surprise. This one takes place ten years later, in a changed world at its tipping point, and looks like it has a lot of potential. And it has Gary Oldman!

10. Interstellar
When: November 7. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because in Nolan we trust. Even his sub-par movies are worthwhile. This one has me slightly nervous, because it features perennial douchebag Matthew McConaughey. But his best role was probably Contact, which this reminds me of. So I think director Christopher Nolan can pull something worthwhile out of him. Plus, this film promises to continue the trend of movies that feature pure, old-school sci-fi, and that can only be a good thing.

11. Jupiter Ascending
When: July 18. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because sometimes you want pure, new-school sci-fi that defies all logic. Directors Lana and Andrew Warchowski (the siblings responsible for The Matrix, V for Vendetta and Speed Racer, among other films) have a decidedly mixed  track record, but can always be counted on for groundbreaking visuals and action effects. This movie sounds like it could be the next Fifth Element or the next Spacehunter. Actually, you know what? Either way that sounds awesome; I'm in.

12. RoboCop
When: February 12. Why I’m looking forward to it: Because this movie just might work. When I first heard they were remaking RoboCop, I thought it was a mistake. Some movies are so close to perfection that they should not be touched. Then I learned that Brazilian director José Padilha was attached, and my position softened. (His Elite Squad films are not to be missed.) Then I learned that Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson were all on board. And the trailer didn't didn't look half bad. Well, damn, I just might have to check it out. And while I still think it won't be as good as the original, maybe if it does OK at the box office, we'll at least finally get some more decent movies in the series. And you know what? ...

Finally, some other splody-looking movies that just might prove worthwhile in 2014 include...
  • Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (January 17)
  • The Knights of Badassdom (January 21)
  • I, Frankenstein (January 24)
  • Pompeii (February 21)
  • Mr. Peabody & Sherman (March 7)
  • 300: Rise of an Empire (March 7)
  • Need For Speed (March 14)
  • Muppets Most Wanted (March 21)
  • Noah (March 28)
  • Under the Skin (April 4)
  • Transcendence (April 18)
  • The Quiet Ones (April 25)
  • Maleficent (May 30)
  • Edge of Tomorrow (June 6)
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2 (June 13)
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction (June 27)
  • Hercules (July 25)
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (August 8)
  • Lucy (August 8)
  • The Expendables 3 (August 15)
  • Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (August 22)
  • The Boxtrolls (September 26)
  • The Interview (October 10)
  • Home (November 26)
  • Ridley Scott's Exodus (December 12)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Most anticipated splody movies of 2013: recap

At the beginning of 2013, I made a list of what I thought would be the best movies of the year. (My formula for success: equal parts good character development and explosions.) Now that the year is over, as is my custom, here is my analysis of how those predictions went.

First, a note: 2013 was a weird year for splody films. On the one hand, there were no universally-loved blockbuster action movies this year like last year's The Avengers to anchor the box office. Sure, a number of films made a bank, but fanboys were bitterly divided over all of them. On the other hand, ten of my eleven picks for the year (the twelfth was delayed until 2014) were certified "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes (60% or greater critic score), so there weren't really any highly anticipated movies that "bombed" this year, either.

The upshot is that a lot of fans thought this was a down year for movies, but the box office numbers were strong, and there wasn't a single "EPIC FAIL" movie on my list, so I'm counting it as an overall WIN. (Note that since I didn't have any "FAIL" movies to replace this year, I stuck extra choices in where appropriate. Enjoy.)

1. Pacific Rim
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 72%). This was my most anticipated movie of the year. It didn't live up to the hype I created for it in my head, but it was still solid. (I mean, giant monsters vs. giant robots: how could it not be?) I think it would have been better if they had spent more time investing in the personalities of the kaiju, and giving us a single "big bad" kaiju that couldn't be killed and reappeared multiple times, instead of making them cool looking but disposable. That's what makes Godzilla work. On the other hand, I've watched this movie three times now, and it keeps getting better. I do love me some kaiju-on-mecha action!

2. Star Trek Into Darkness
Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 87%). This movie started out well, but the second half devolved into what tried to be an homage to Wrath of Khan but felt more like a parody of it. I was OK with the premise here: "Let's see what would have happened with a popular villain if things had gone radically different from the start." But if they were going to do that, they should have committed to it fully and avoided the painfully corny parallels to the original story line that they forced into the second half. This was a visually stunning movie, maybe even more gorgeous than the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek, and even at the end there was a lot to love, but I couldn't help feel that there were missed opportunities as well. What ELSE should have been on my listGravity (Tomatometer 97%). Simply put, this was the most stunning movie I saw in 2013. It was beautiful and intense.

3. Iron Man 3
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 78%). Longtime fans are divided on this one, mostly because Iron Man's most dangerous foe, "The Mandarin," is changed radically for the movie. To me, the bigger sin is that the final villain just isn't convincing enough. When you make a switch like that, you need a new antagonist to step forward and be even more terrifying than anything you could have possibly imagined up to that point. Oh well. Even with that flaw, it's still a fun ride and was the year's highest grossing film.

4. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 76%). Without a doubt, Peter Jackson should have made The Hobbit into a single movie or at most two, because he's padding the trilogy with ridiculous things. However, I must say that they have been quite entertaining. This second film moves at a much faster pace than the first, which is both a blessing and a curse. There is not much room for character development this time around (hopefully you got your fill of that in part one), but the action comes so quickly that you never get bored. However, the difference between this series and The Lord of the Rings is that when you leave the theater after The Hobbit movies, there isn't a single moment that jumps out at you as the defining moment. There is no "You shall not pass!" moment. Jackson seems to be trying to make The Hobbit more epic, but I worry that he's cheapening it with parlor tricks. That won't stop me, however, from being first in line for part three.

5. Man of Steel
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 55%). There has never been a good Superman movie. Ever. Until now. This one had its flaws, and I'm not happy with certain needless changes to the mythology. But it finally did two things right. First, it showed Superman being a total badass and fighting like Superman would actually fight. (Caveat: the final battle scene in Metropolis was ridiculous disaster porn and went on way too long. But I digress.) Second, it didn't introduce a new ridiculous power just for the sake of the plot. (The 1978 film was ABSOLUTELY RUINED by giving Superman the ability to turn the entire freaking planet backwards in its orbit - and somehow have that reverse time instead of killing us all!) Yes, its flaws are numerous: continuity issues, confusing subplots, Jonathan Kent sacrificing himself for no reason, etc. But there is also a lot to love: Clark's discovery of his powers, Superman bursting into flight, high-speed Kryptonian fighting, etc. Superman is boss. For all its faults, at least this movie understands that.

6. Thor: The Dark World
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 66%). This was my favorite superhero movie of the year. Hard to believe that not long ago I thought Thor was the stupidest superhero there was and his movies would fail miserably. Thor's relationship with his crazy brother Loki continues to be fertile ground for Marvel Studios. This movie also had lots of cool scenery and aliens and gadgets and action sequences, not to mention unexpected twists and turns. I hope we keep getting more of the same for years to come.

7. The World’s End
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 89%). I actually haven't seen this one yet, but I'm giving it a WIN based on reviews and because I'm big fans of the previous work Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have done together. What ELSE should have been on my listThis Is the End (Tomatometer 83%). Speaking of apocalyptic comedies, this one caught me by surprise. Hilarious and highly recommended.

8. The Wolverine
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 69%). This movie didn't stick very closely to the original "Logan in Japan" story that inspired it, but it was still pretty solid. It was slower than a lot of superhero movies, but I enjoyed the introspection. The end got pretty bonkers, but all in all, it was a vast improvement over the first Wolverine film, and I think it was Hugh Jackman's best performance to date. (Even though he's still too tall for the role.)

9. Elysium
Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 68%). Elysium was this year's Prometheus - a movie that looked beautiful and ultimately left me confused as to whether or not I loved it. I did, but I also have to admit that it had its flaws, including the fact that it was weak on both character development and plot. But oh my, what incredible visuals and world-building. What ELSE should have been on my listOblivion (Tomatometer 53%). This is a gorgeous film with a great performance from Tom Cruise and an interesting twist. It isn't as splody as Elysium, relying somewhat more on drama and suspense, but it is old-school sci-fi done right.

10. Ender’s Game
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 61%). I rather enjoyed this. It was nice to see a sci-fi movie that offered something different, and Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford were both fantastic.

11. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 89%). Even better than the first, and Jennifer Lawrence rules.

12. I, Frankenstein
Result: INCOMPLETE (Tomatometer M.I.A.). Like last year with G.I. Joe: Retaliation, this film didn't come out when it was supposed to. Oh well, it sounded cool (I'm a big Frankenstein fan), but now that I've seen the trailer, it looks like garbage. Frankenstein's monster just looks like a regular dude with a few facial scars... WTF? What should have been on my list: G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Tomatometer 28%) and Kick-Ass 2 (Tomatometer 29%). These two movies may not have gotten the critics' love, but they were fun, brainless, action-filled romps. My expectations for both of these were low, and they were more than exceeded. The second G.I. Joe film was surprisingly better than the first (which was a fun but shallow B-movie) and nicely balanced ridiculous plot points and cool action sequences. The second Kick-Ass movie wasn't as good as its predecessor, but it didn't have to be: its predecessor was a better film than most. And there was a lot to love in this sequel, including the fact that it got made at all. Is it too much to hope now that there is a third?


Bonus Wins: There are a few other 2013 films that I think are worth mentioning, even if they aren't necessarily "splody." By all accounts, The Conjuring (Tomatometer 86%) was the scariest movie of the year. Despicable Me 2 (Tomatometer 74%) turned out to be a worthy sequel in the kid-friendly adventure movie category. The thrilling black comedy The Wolf of Wall Street was another masterpiece by director Martin Scorsese, with a career-defining performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. The low-budget, found-footage Europa Report (Tomatometer 79%) was a well-done mock-documentary sci-fi thriller. And Upstream Color (Tomatometer 85%) was a fascinating art-house head-trip sci-fi drama. The last two were both slow burns, but if you like sci-fi and don't mind a slower pace to your movies, you'll find them rewarding.

And of course it wasn't released theatrically, but who can deny the brilliance of...

Coming next: my choices for splody movies most likely to please in 2014...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The bowl is half empty - part 5

Congratulations to the Florida State Seminoles, winner of Monday night's so-called "National Championship Bowl" and holder of this year's mythical NCAA football crown. I say "mythical" because, while I believe they have a good claim to the title, for some reason we still don't have a true playoff system to definitively settle the matter. So, as I have done for the past four years, I'd like to imagine a world in which we had been treated to a month of playoff-level excitement. A world where we had gotten to see 16 of the season's top-ranked college football teams battle for the ultimate, indisputable title.

Here is what it might have looked like. I have bracketed and seeded the teams according to their final regular-season BCS rankings, with some consideration given to tradition (e.g., SEC champion in the Sugar Bowl bracket) and geography. I also used the rule of no more than one team per conference in any given bracket.

Rose Bowl Bracket

1st seed Michigan State (12-1, Big Ten) vs. 4th seed Oklahoma State (10-2, Big 12) -- winner: Michigan State

2nd seed Stanford (11-2, Pac-12) vs. 3rd seed South Carolina (10-2, SEC) -- winner: South Carolina

Rose Bowl: Michigan State over South Carolina. South Carolina played well, but Michigan State proved they belonged in the upper echelon of this year's teams.

Fiesta Bowl Bracket

1st seed Alabama (11-1, SEC) vs. 4th seed UCF (11-1, American) -- winner: UCF

2nd seed Baylor (11-1, Big 12) vs. 3rd seed Oregon (10-2, Pac-12) -- winner: Oregon

Fiesta Bowl:  UCF over Oregon. Going into the playoffs, I thought Alabama was the team to beat. However, in real life, Alabama was upset by a team like UCF, while UCF upset a team like Alabama, so I think this is a fair result.

Sugar Bowl Bracket

1st seed Auburn (12-1, SEC) vs. 4th seed Arizona State (10-3, Pac-12) -- winner: Auburn

2nd seed Ohio State (12-1, Big Ten) vs. 3rd seed Clemson (10-2, ACC) -- winner: Clemson. (This is what actually happened in this year's Orange Bowl.)

Sugar Bowl: Auburn over Clemson. Ohio State almost beat Clemson. I think Auburn would have sealed the deal.

Orange Bowl Bracket

1st seed Florida State (13-0, ACC) vs. 4th seed UCLA (9-3, Pac-12) -- winner: Florida State

2nd seed Missouri (11-2, SEC) vs. 3rd Oklahoma (10-2, Big 12) -- winner: Oklahoma

Orange Bowl: Florida State over Oklahoma. Oklahoma looked incredible in their bowl game, but Florida State looked unstoppable all season. It would have been close, but I think the Seminoles would have pulled it out.

Final Four

Eastern Semifinal: Florida State over Auburn

Western Semifinal: Michigan State over UCF

National Championship Bowl: Florida State over Michigan State. Then again, could Florida State have really beaten Oklahoma, Auburn and Michigan State all in a row? Or would another team have risen to the challenge? Unfortunately, for this year at least, we'll never know.


BONUS: The "N.I.T." of College Football

As I did the past two years, I have also set up a second-tier 16-team tournament. I've included all of the conferences champions without a spot in the main tournament (C-USA, MAC and Sun Belt), as well as the next-best available teams according to the BCS rankings and AP poll.


1st seed Louisville (11-1, American) vs. 4th seed Bowling Green (10-3, MAC) -- winner: Louisville

2nd seed Georgia (8-4, SEC) vs. 3rd seed Miami, Fla. (9-3, ACC) -- winner: Georgia

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Louisville over Georgia


1st seed LSU (9-3, SEC) vs. 4th seed Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4, Sun Belt) -- winner: LSU

2nd seed Duke (10-3, ACC) vs. 3rd seed Iowa (8-4, Big Ten) -- winner: Iowa

Gator Bowl: LSU over Iowa


1st seed Wisconsin (9-3, Big Ten) vs. 4th seed Vanderbilt (8-4, SEC) -- winner: Wisconsin

2nd seed Northern Illinois (12-1, MAC) vs. 3rd seed Notre Dame (8-4, independent) -- winner: Notre Dame

Alamo Bowl: Notre Dame over Wisconsin


1st seed Fresno State (11-1, Mountain West) vs. 4th seed Rice (10-3, C-USA) -- winner: Fresno State

2nd seed Texas A&M (8-4, SEC) vs. 3rd seed USC (9-4, Pac-12) -- winner: USC

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: USC over Fresno State


Outback Bowl: Louisville over LSU

Cotton Bowl: USC over Notre Dame

Capital One National Invitational Championship Bowl: USC over Louisville

Monday, December 30, 2013

Twisdom 2013

Every once in a while, I tweet something that stands on its own. Sometimes it's poetic, sometimes silly and sometimes just a little observation that has a kernel of wisdom in it. Here are some of those tweets.

There is no effective euphemism for "half-assed."

Just saw a handbill for a band named "Scared to Death," and I read it as "Sacred to Death." That would have been a better band name.

Who cleans Darth Vader's durable medical supplies? Or does he use The Force?

Freeway is closed for miles. I, of course, immediately suspect kaiju.

I really need to stop (verb ending in -ing) for a while, so I can feel (adjective) and get some (expletive) (noun).

Future generations will edit out all of the awkward rap interludes in our songs.

I wish I were a wiener. If I were a wiener, everyone would be in love with me.

I think all extremists should be shot, but I'm on the fence about what to do about moderates.

What do Clark Kent's farts smell like? Don't they give him away somehow?

It is a crime against the universe that Run-DMC never made a children's album.

Theory: dark energy is related to the nature of time itself, and dark matter is the "echo" of matter from the past. Discuss.

Red R(obin—Y)um! I'm not saying there's a hidden message there, but...

I want a new kind of video game that works just like a choose-your-own-adventure-novel on 'roids. We have the technology. Make it happen!

I can't find Parmesan cheese at the grocery store; how does Batman find every clue at every crime scene every time?

How do people go on dates now that they have smart phones?

I'm just barely holdin' on now / I got the tiger by the teeth / feel cold and sliced, laid out on a platter / like a pack of deli meats

Everything just grew by 50%. My body, my car, the road, the whole world. The perspective is the same, but It's just... huge.

Wife: "These potato chips are greasy." Me: "They're wet with flavor."

I don't want to be a dick. Unless it's a private dick.

How is it that Reese's hasn't yet made a monkey-shaped peanut butter cup?

When I was a kid, adults said I could do anything I put my mind to, but damn if I still haven't figured out a way to fly like Superman.

On the information superhighway, everyone has road rage and there are no traffic cops.

We already live in a post-apocalyptic world.

My goal when I drink is to get drunk enough to not care that I'm old and fat and bald and going to die in a few years. [Note: this is probably the funniest thing I’ve ever drunk tweeted.]

There's a Disney film playing on the Lifetime channel right now. I can't help but feel that my wife and toddler are ganging up on me.

Just watched my 1st Magic Schoolbus. Found it highly implausible. And very likely those kids would be dead by the end of the episode.

One of these days, I'm going to eat asparagus and drink coffee at the same time.

In an ideal world, based on importance to society, the starting pay for a teacher would be double the going rate for a U.S. Senator.

I have an analog selfie hanging above the sink in my bathroom. Er, I mean a mirror.


It's strange that we get to take credit/blame for the things our younger selves did, when we are clearly not those people.

So proud of my 2-year-old, who just sang to me: "Robot, robot, robot, robot eat your food!"

My favorite part of each episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is when he prays for "Toodles" from his black magic machine god, "Mouskedoer."

If I was naming my band right now, I would name it "Burglemeyer and the Perverts."

Twitter is the new haiku.

Social media has given us all a pulpit, but not all of us have been called to preach.

Some like it hot / But I like it hotter / You can keep the toast / Just give me jelly and butter

Each day you're a different person. The days before were your ancestors; the days to come are your heirs. Today is your life; live it well.


Bonus: a lot of people asked me about the following stream-of-consciousness tweets during the year, so here’s the official explanation. The first word in each of them was one that popped into my head and I felt like tweeting it. And I have a little exercise that I do sometimes to test my mental flexibility: I say as many words or short phrases as I can in a row, out loud, that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. (Try it and you’ll see: it’s pretty difficult to do without pausing or falling into some kind of thematic pattern.) So I captured that exercise in these tweets – up to 140 characters.

Gunshy. Juniper. Hazmat. Hair suit. Jumping bean. Kamikaze. Fishing for compliments. Wishbone. A-1. Bone saw. Vera Cruz. Calamitous. Sight.

Bipolar. Point and click. Wax factory. Turtle dove. Noodle. Gun club. Chinese checkers. Jack of all trades. In fashion. Backbreaker. Swine.

Malaise. Milk bucket. Pomeranian. Diplomat. Jack Johnson. Jim Dandy. Old Appalachian Trail. Hinterland. Kissin' cousins. Flypaper. Yeah!

Hope. Glory. Creamed corn. Little Dipper. Trudging slowly over wet sand. Fortified. Ourang-outang. Icicle. Beater. Not like it used to be.

Nostalgic. Caramel. Concrete. Motor speedway. Hopscotch. Michelangelo. Can't get there from here. Boa constrictor. Texas Instruments. Okeh.

Problem-solver. Redacted. Garden gnome. Yesterday. White out. I can't quit you, baby. Joker. Radishes. Car crash. Belly. Jury's still out.

Monday, December 16, 2013

College football playoff brackets announced!

Every year, I report on the results of a mock college football playoff in protest of the fact that we still don’t have one. By popular request, this year I am releasing the brackets early. Enjoy.

I have bracketed and seeded the teams according to their final regular-season BCS rankings, with some consideration given to tradition (e.g., SEC champion in the Sugar Bowl bracket) and geography. I also used the rule of no more than one team per conference in any given bracket.

Rose Bowl Bracket

1st seed Michigan State (12-1, Big Ten) vs. 4th seed Oklahoma State (10-2, Big 12)

2nd seed Stanford (11-2, Pac-12) vs. 3rd seed South Carolina (10-2, SEC)

Fiesta Bowl Bracket

1st seed Alabama (11-1, SEC) vs. 4th seed UCF (11-1, American)

2nd seed Baylor (11-1, Big 12) vs. 3rd seed Oregon (10-2, Pac-12)

Sugar Bowl Bracket

1st seed Auburn (12-1, SEC) vs. 4th seed Arizona State (10-3, Pac-12)

2nd seed Ohio State (12-1, Big Ten) vs. 3rd seed Clemson (10-2, ACC)

Orange Bowl Bracket

1st seed Florida State (13-0, ACC) vs. 4th seed UCLA (9-3, Pac-12)

2nd seed Missouri (11-2, SEC) vs. 3rd Oklahoma (10-2, Big 12)


BONUS: The "N.I.T." of College Football

As I did the past two years, I have also set up a second-tier 16-team tournament. I've included all of the conferences champions without a spot in the main tournament (C-USA, MAC and Sun Belt), as well as the next-best available teams according to the BCS rankings and AP poll.


1st seed Louisville (11-1, American) vs. 4th seed Bowling Green (10-3, MAC)

2nd seed Georgia (8-4, SEC) vs. 3rd seed Miami, Fla. (9-3, ACC)


1st seed LSU (9-3, SEC) vs. 4th seed Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4, Sun Belt)

2nd seed Duke (10-3, ACC) vs. 3rd seed Iowa (8-4, Big Ten)


1st seed Wisconsin (9-3, Big Ten) vs. 4th seed Vanderbilt (8-4, SEC)

2nd seed Northern Illinois (12-1, MAC) vs. 3rd seed Notre Dame (8-4, independent)


1st seed Fresno State (11-1, Mountain West) vs. 4th seed Rice (10-3, C-USA)

2nd seed Texas A&M (8-4, SEC) vs. 3rd seed USC (9-4, Pac-12)

So there you go. Start your office pools now and stay tuned: the final playoff results will be posted here sometime after January 6...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Why have you never seen a superhero?

When people imagine what the Asteroid Belt is like, they imagine the scene from The Empire Strikes Back, where the Millennium Falcon is dodging a densely-packed array of space rocks. In reality, though, the Main Asteroid Belt in our Solar System holds only about 4% of the mass of the Moon, spread out over an orbit 1.5 billion miles long and over 100 million miles wide just at its core. When we send a spacecraft through it, our chances of even seeing an asteroid, let alone hitting anything, are statistically zero.

It's important to keep this perspective in mind when thinking about other rare, statistically improbable occurrences. A great example is shark attacks. On an average year, sharks kill five people worldwide. That is a ridiculously low number when you consider that there are an estimated 7,125,000,000 people living on the planet today. Even lightning strikes, another very rare form of death, still manage to kill 24,000 people annually. And yet, because the media reports each shark death, we sometimes think sharks are running amok. The reality is, your chance of being struck by either a shark or lightning in your lifetime is statistically next to zero.

Now what  if the media didn't hype an ultra-rare phenomenon? Or what if the phenomenon was purposefully discredited by the mainstream media, either due to its own inherent bias or due to government tampering, leaving only "fringe" elements to cover "the truth"? Examples abound: Bigfoot, ESP, UFOs, conspiracy theories.

Well, let me add one more. It has come to my attention that there are approximately 500 "people" alive on this planet today who are endowed with extraordinary powers that cannot be explained by conventional science. Some may be the next phase of human evolution, some may be aliens in disguise, some may be using technology so advanced that it is incomprehensible to us. In any case, they are not "normal."

If you add to that the number of truly elite, non-superpowered humans - we're talking James Bond / Bruce Wayne / ninja-level awesomeness here - then the number of extraordinary individuals on the planet might be 1,000. That is 0.000014% of the total population of Earth. To put it in a different perspective, it is about half the number of people walking this Earth with a Super Bowl ring. Given that small of a group, what is your chance of accidentally bumping into one of them on the subway? And what is your chance of realizing it even if you do?

Contrary to popular belief, superheroes and aliens are not walking around our planet in broad daylight in day-glow outfits waiting for the FBI to come lock them up at Guantanamo. But they are out there. Suspiciously reclusive, orphaned billionaire with one too many defense contacts? Hyperactive multiple-doctorate scientist working as a freelance photographer? Gluten and corn-intolerant goofball blogger obsessed with aliens, robots and zombies?

Then again, maybe you've already met a superhero and you don't even know it...