Friday, March 30, 2007

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Saturn's got some strange weather.

A bizarre six-sided feature encircling the north pole of Saturn is pictured by the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer on NASA's Cassini spacecraft, in this image released by NASA March 27, 2007. This image is one of the first clear images ever taken of the north polar region as seen from a unique polar perspective and was originally discovered and last observed by a spacecraft during NASA's Voyager flybys of the early 1980's. The new views of the polar hexagon taken in late 2006 prove that this is an unusually long-lived feature on Saturn. This image is the first to capture the entire feature and was taken October 29, 2006.  REUTERS/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Handout.  EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO SALES.

How strange is this? 

There's a hexagonal storm swirling around on Saturn.  I don't even know how this is possible, and the article I read didn't have any physics to explain it.

Of course, then there's this on the other side:

As the article says, this is "freak, one-eyed monster storm" that's raging on the opposite pole from the hexagonal storm.

Truly, this is a bizarre planet.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

My wife is a good person. She lets me talk her into doing things like this:

I thought it'd be a funny picture to have her straddling the miniature tracks like a giantess. You can tell by the tilt of her head that she's nonplussed. Here's the photo:
See? Funny, right? Imagine being a train and you saw her standing there and . . . aww, never mind.

Once again, I am given scintillating, soul-stirring advice by my choice of underarm deodorant. If that ain't inspirational, I don't know what is. It's especially gratifying to wipe that slogan in my pits. I mean, if that hadn't been carved into the stick, I might've forgotten to "lead the way" today - and that's unacceptable.
In all seriousness, having slogans on my deodorant has the reverse effect than what I expect was intended. Products that are pushy like this make me mulish; I'd just as soon do the opposite than know that I was following the advice of my smell-good. In this case, I wound up becoming opinionless and wishy-washy for the day. Hopefully, I'll never get one that says "Make Money" or "Take a Deep Breath."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Yes. I may be a bit behind the times, but I do so enjoy Twitter.

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This site is fabulous. It's a flickr photostream with shots of someone's little boy playing his Gameboy at various historical sites in Europe and around the Mediterranean.

Game Boy at Stonehenge

I remember doing something similar when I was his age (or at least his size . . . como se dice "late bloomer" en espanol?), except it was a novel, not a video game device. As my family traveled around Europe the summer following my 7th grade year, I found myself engrossed in "Team Yankee" by Harold Coyle.

Team Yankee: A Novel of World War III

From the Amazon page for the book:
Harold Coyle's Team Yankee: A Novel of World
War III (Presidio Press, 1987) was published a year after Red Storm
Rising's triumphant debut in hardcover, and although it is thematically
similar (Soviet forces invade West Germany after a series of crises
escalate into an all out conventional war), Coyle's approach is very
different from Clancy's. Instead of creating his own possible scenario
for a NATO vs. Warsaw Pact confrontation, he asked for, and received,
permission from British author (and retired General) Sir John Hackett
to set Team Yankee within the scenario created in Hackett's two
"speculative fiction" books The Third World War: August 1985 and The Third World War: The Untold Story.
Team Yankee takes place within a two-week period in an August in
the late 1980s. Since late July, a series of crises precipitated by the
Iran-Iraq war has morphed into a clash between U.S. and Soviet naval
forces in the Persian Gulf region. By August 1, word comes that NATO is
mobilizing and ordering their armed forces, including Bannon and Team
Yankee, to their wartime positions. Soon, the Soviets and their Warsaw
Pact "allies" cross the Inner German Border in force. Team Yankee and
the rest of NATO's forces in West Germany must then fight the invaders
and stop them before the Red Army reaches the Rhine River. After that,
assuming the Soviet attack bogs down, the mission will change from
merely defending territory to taking offensive operations and pushing
the invaders back. The question Coyle poses is, can American soldiers,
using their weapons and tactics against superior numbers of Soviet and
Warsaw Pact soldiers, defeat Russian weapons and tactics?

Readers familiar with Hackett's macrocosmic World War III will know
the big picture, but first-time readers will be turning the pages to
see who wins, who loses, who dies...and who survives in this
outstanding first novel by a true master of the military fiction genre.

The only flaw, and this is not Coyle's fault, is that reality -- in
the shape of the fall of communism and the end of the Cold War -- has
made the novel's setting extremely outdated. Some of the then-modern
weapons, such as the M1 main battle tank, have been since updated to
M1-A2 standard, older weapons have been retired, and obviously there's
no more Warsaw Pact.

All in all, it's an entertaining read.

I felt justified in reading it, though, since the setting for the book happened to be Germany. As we sped down the Autobahn, I'd occasionally glance out the window to take a look at the land. This made the book all the more immediate to me (so that's what the Black Forest looks like! Whuddya know?), and I finished it in record time. The book, in turn, spawned a phenomenon in my entertainment for the next couple of years. The diagrams in "Team Yankee" were very appealing to my young mind with their grids and topographical lines and symbols representing armored units; I decided to create a game with my pal Kyle Dahlen that utilized those same markings.

The game required:
  • Grid-lined paper
  • Pencils
  • Lots of erasers
  • A ruler
  • Honesty
Essentially, it was "playing war" as young boys do with the whole "I shot you first. Nuh-uh! I shot YOU first", except it was on paper, which is what young nerds do. There would be agreements made ahead of time regarding the range of artillery (six grid spaces), the speed of vehicles (2 grid spaces for humvees per turn, 1 for trucks and tanks, etc.), the damage caused by said vehicles (a humvee, unless it was equipped with anti-armor missles, was unable to take out a tank), and the inability for your units to "see" around hills even though you, as the player, could see the massive armored unit lurking on the other side of a large hill plain as day. Discovering hidden enemy elements required scouts and helicopters which couldn't be intentionally sent to the other side of the hill; the movement had to have the appearance of routine and unintentionality, and we would call each other on moves that looked too suspicious.

All of these unspoken rules made the game a tad on the subjective side and not unlike Calvinball in some respects . . .

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. . . which is why we quit playing the game around the time one outgrows playing "war." We turned our attention, instead, to other, more age-appropriate pastimes.

What?! You thought we'd play something that wasn't on paper? Hardly.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

I had a dream a couple of weeks ago that affected me a bit more than I expected so I might as well write about it. See if I can't get it out of my system.

I dreamt that I had an opportunity to visit Angel Falls.

Now who wouldn't want to visit the tallest falls in the world? Especially if you're of the same mindset as me; I want to see the biggest, baddest, edgemost, best places and things and Angel Falls fits into that category. So, with that in mind, you might possibly understand my excitement at the prospect.
My dream fast-forwarded to my arrival at the falls. I hopped out of my vehicle and raced toward the walkway that would lead me to the great wonder. As the walkway led around the corner of a cliff, I realized that I wasn't actually looking at a natural cliff-face. Rather, it looked more like a dam. In fact it was! It was a big ol' cement wall . . . with a thin, pathetic rivulet dribbling down its face. "Odd," I thought and then I saw a sign in front of me. The sign looked like any of a number of National Park informational signs and it read "Angel Falls." Disappointment descended upon me like the world's largest sponge after it had filled itself with the world's largest falls but I tried to make the most of it.

"It's so bee-yoo-tiful," I said to my companions, and I clasped my hands together and held them to my chest.
"Isn't it though?" they replied. "Truly a wonder."
"Oh yes," I said through my teeth. "It truly is."

They cast some sideways glances at me because they knew I was being insincere. I'd had my fill of "Angel Falls."

"Let's see what else is around," I prodded.
"But we came all this way," they complained. "Don't you want to spend some time with the falls?"
"I've spent plenty of time. It's manmade!" I shrieked. "I DIDN'T KNOW IT WAS MANMADE!!" I ran back to the parking lot, sobbing.

I woke up in a sweat; this is not your typical nightmare what with its lack of werewolves and public nudity, so I felt a bit confused at how rattled I was. Since then, I've given it a lot of thought and I'm pretty sure that I know its meaning, but if any of you want to give it a go, feel free. I don't remember my dreams much anymore.

Oh, and by the way, the other night I woke Heidi up by talking in my sleep. I said, "That's why they call it the weasel dance!" followed by deep, jolly belly laughs. Heidi then proceeded to wake me up because she was laughing so hard.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

As a kid, I used to watch nature documentaries like empty-nesters watch soaps. Cheetahs chasing down gazelles in super-slo-mo, old men wrestling anacondas in the Amazon, bighorn sheep butting heads, great white sharks devouring huge chunks o' meat - their eyes rolling back into their cartilaginous noggins with bestial ecstasy: All of this served to instill a need to see the animals at their most active. Zoos were disappointing - the animals just sat around or slept most of the day - so I spent much of my time in the woods, hoping to catch a glimpse of nature going about the business of survival. I did get to see many things in the forests of Minnesota, but we don't have any of the romantic animals other than wolves and no one ever sees those unless they live way up North. You know, the lions and killer whales and spitting cobras and gorillas - all those unique and exceptionally dangerous animals with a flair for the dramatic.

Well, my dreams came true this last week. Luckily, I had a camera with me. When you see this, if you were a true fan of nature docs, you'll know exactly what was going through my mind as I recorded the event. Why, I've even included the appropriate music (to add to the effect). I give you . . .

"The Elephant Seals of Piedras Blancas"!