Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nanofrogs

Scientists just discovered frogs in Borneo that are only 10-12 mm long when fully grown.

This is genuine and way cool. You can read the story and see more pictures here or here or here.

I think frogs are good luck and I decorate my house with them. Now I need to get some super tiny ones.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Short fiction: "Streets"

Every day I pass Marv on the street. Only now he has a beard and an accent and he doesn't recognize me. What route did he take to get from there to here? How different he is from me. I grew older and he grew more abstract. I have a hard time holding onto him now, watching him fill holes in the asphalt this week, hammer holes into it the next. He sold me coffee this morning. He looked troubled, distracted. I wonder how he is, and if he has seen me lately, roaming the streets of Tucson or Tuscaloosa. I guess I miss him, but I don't know him anymore. I can feel him slipping away, dissolving into the sea of anonymity around me. And I feel some small part of me is being lost as well.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Seinfeld: what really happened

Sometimes a brilliant series - be it in television, movies, books or whatever - hits a horrible, horrible bump. Sometimes this bump happens in the middle and the series never recovers: that's called "jumping the shark." (For example, the Star Wars series jumped the shark somewhere during script revisions for Return of the Jedi.) Sometimes the bump is explained away by the introduction of something new that negates what just happened: that's called "retconning."

But sometimes, the bump comes at the end and no one ever bothers to fix it; the series just dies along with everyone's hopes and dreams. Such is the case with Seinfeld, a brilliant sitcom with one of the worst finales ever - where none of the characters behaved the way we expected them to and the unspoken "rules of engagement" for the Seinfeld universe were violated.

More than a decade later, I still can't believe how bad it was. I'm obsessed with it like George Costanza was obsessed with the missed opportunity to deliver a snappy comeback. The real shame is that they could have done so much better. Before the finale, I had actually sketched up what I thought was a great plot for the series-ender. And so, without further ado, here is what - in my mind - really happened on May 14, 1998.

First of all, the tone is just like any other Seinfeld episode. The episode may be longer than normal, and have more story lines running at the same time, but it is essentially just another episode. (That's only fitting for a "show about nothing.")

The plot involves a big TV event that none of the characters want to miss. This frees the writers to insert all kinds of jokes about the shallowness of hype for hype's sake, relevant because of all of the hype around the Seinfeld finale itself. One of the catch phrases for the finale is "It's must-see TV!" - making subtle fun not only of the show but of the network it aired on. They can get away with that, because they've earned it.

Jerry decides to hold a viewing party for "everyone I know" and rents a spacious ballroom with lots of screens. This allows you to reintroduce a million former characters, who interact with Jerry and with each other before and at the party. It also lets you replay on the jumbo screens some slips of Jerry's stand-up routines and various videotaped segments from the entire cast throughout the series (for example, George eating a sundae at the U.S. Open, Elaine dancing or Kramer appearing in an episode of Murphy Brown).

Madcap hilarity ensues when Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer get tied up and are running late for the party. After many hilarious hijinks, they all meet up and make their way against all odds to the party, just as the "must see" event is starting. Unfortunately, just as they get there, the power goes out throughout the city - caused, of course, by a chain reaction started by Kramer half-way through the finale. (Coincidentally, the power really did go out in Baltimore during the Seinfeld finale.)

All of the guests leave, and we are left with just our four main characters. George says "Well, I guess we missed it," and Jerry replies, "Yes, it's all over now." After a pause, Elaine adds, "Well, it's just TV." They then all laugh and walk out together as the camera sentimentally pulls away. In the distance, we hear Kramer scheming to fly to Argentina, the one country where the "must-see" event doesn't air until tomorrow...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Stupidity tax

In my neighborhood, you can't park on the street on garbage pick-up day. That's normally not a problem, but I was home sick this past garbage day and absentmindedly left my car parked in the street. This yielded me a $15 parking violation. Fortunately, if paid within three business days, the ticket is only $7. And right there on the back of the ticket it said that I could pay online - what convenience!

I followed the URL listed on the citation, and here is what I found:


That's my tax dollars at work! But wait, it gets better. After some digging I discovered the actual URL. After a few more clicks, the website instructed me that I actually needed to go to http://www.officialpayments.com/ to make online payments. Once I clicked through to that site, I made a few more clicks and was asked to enter my "Jurisdiction Code." There was no such code on the citation. Fortunately, however, you can find what you're looking for by making some additional clicks and entering your state, "Payment Entity" (city) and "Payment Type."

That last bit of information is the kicker, as none of the payment types are "parking citation." One of them is "miscellaneous receivables," though, so I selected that one. When I clicked on "Make Payment," I was then kicked over to a different website, my city's "Internet Services" website.

On that page, there is no information about paying parking citations, just a bunch of information about paying city property taxes, none of which is relevant for me:


Notice how it says, "Miscellaneous Receivable invoices and Special Assessment bills may also be paid online," but does not anywhere give a link for doing so. That's "Internet Services" for you.

There is one link on the entire page, and it leads to the county website (yet another website!), but there is nothing there that bears the slightest resemblance to what I was trying to do.

In the end, I wrote my check for seven dollars by hand, slipped it into the yellow sleeve and dropped it in the mail. I had to pay 44 cents for a stamp, as opposed to a 3% fee (21 cents) for processing it online, but in the end it was worth it to be done with it. And I'm happy that my stupidity can help fund the greater stupidity... er... I mean the greater good.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rico Detroit online


I use a lot of automated feeds to update my websites. Anything I post to Twitter, for example, automatically feeds Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Buzz and my Alien Robot Zombie Skeeptic blog. In turn, headlines from both of my blogs automatically generate tweets on Twitter. To keep track of the circular nature of all of this, I recently mapped it all out.

This is what I came up with. The green lines show the flow of content I've generated about music, the blue lines are personal comments (mostly "yo' mama" jokes), and the red lines are all of the alien robot zombie stuff.

Actually, this is greatly simplified. It doesn't take into account sites that I post to / comment on infrequently (like Urban Dictionary, WikipediaYouTube or the nerdtastic io9.com), or lesser social networking sites like Yahoo! Pulse or Hoffspace. (No MySpace page for me, though.)

And now that I think about it, the map doesn't show every relationship it should. For example, Flickr actually feeds Facebook and Google Buzz directly. And my record reviews at Rate Your Music now show up on my blogs. But I'm not going to draw the whole damn thing all over again!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Twisdom 3

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.


Bagpipes make any song badass


 The teeth of the demon monkey skull, I say.

 Please, someone, use this word in a rap song: "superluminous"

 Those new super-high-speed hand driers don't work any faster than the old ones. They're just noisier.

 They should have "Diet Pepsi Throwback" with saccharine. "Tab Throwback" would also work.

 I have eight arms and a baby shark head.

 I was talking about Amsterdam, and the boy thought I said "hamster dam." Hilarity ensued.

 Change is inevitable (but that may change...)

 You can never safely get into a "yo' mama" fight with your dad - it doesn't bode well for anyone involved

 I think the other superheroes must drive the Flash crazy. Imagine sitting around waiting all the time. "Can we PLEASE hurry this up?!"

 A group of frogs is called an army. It should be called a froggle.

 Seven-year-old physics: "When you talk into a balloon, the helium creates friction which causes static that pulls your voice in and adds weight to it."

 If I were Superman, I would shoot my eye-lasers, like, ALL the time.

 Open up! This is the academic police. We have you theoretically surrounded.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Seven things I learned about seven-year-olds on my seven-day family road trip

  1. Seven-year-olds can concentrate on a video game for hours on end, but cannot concentrate for 10 seconds on what you're saying.
  2. No matter how much fun you have somewhere, what a seven-year-old will remember most about it is the trinket they acquired there.
  3. Whatever word you least want them to say ("badonkadonk") is the one seven-year-olds will say incessantly.
  4. You should never teach a seven-year-old what it means to "moon" somebody.
  5. Seven-year-olds think the word "don't" means "hurry."
  6. Even the best seven-year-olds would be considered psychopaths if they were adults.
  7. Seven-year-olds make any family vacation more fun. Eventually. After they finish complaining about it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The next Superman movie

Christopher Nolan, the man who brought us Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and is now working on the third and final film in his Batman trilogy, is producing a Superman movie reboot, and rumor has it he will bring his brother Jonathan Nolan on board to direct. As a rookie director, Jonathan is at risk of falling into some of the same traps that others before him (I'm looking at you, Brian Singer) have fallen into. And so, before this project gets too far along, here is some advice that Jonathan should take to heart.

First of all, the superhero genre has been done to death. If we're going to reboot this tired cliche of a character, we're going to need a hero for today's post-9/11, Middle East quagmire, financial crisis world. With that in mind, let's do a movie that examines what it must be like to be an interstellar orphan that no one understands but everybody wants something from. Here's the plot:

After escaping from his emotionally abusive foster parents, he'll join the army and go to war. But once there, he'll discover that he's become a pawn of the government (specifically General Lex Luthor), and that they've been using his special alien "talents" (we'll downplay the silly costume and powers and other comic book elements) to make things worse, not better.

In the movie's turning moment, a young journalist named Lois Lane will be killed as she tells Clark the truth she's discovered. His grief will lead him to try to destroy those who betrayed him, but in the end he'll be crucified in the public opinion, labeled an enemy of the state, and hunted down with the only thing that can hurt him: bullets made from the shards of his ruined home planet.

Mmmm. I smell sequel already...