Friday, August 29, 2008

I picked it - Biden-Obama!

I was away this week when Obama picked Biden for his vice presidential running mate so I couldn't gloat about my prediction, but I will gloat now.

Way back in January of 2007 when everyone was taking those presidential candidate quizzes and there were many more Democratic and Republican candidates I took the 2008 Presidential candidate quiz. My results - Biden/Obama! At the time I just thought the quiz read my IP address and picked the Delaware guy and the popular guy. Now I know that I was extraordinarily prescient and that the quiz just rotated the order.

I also occasionally rag on Biden and his son, but I can think of worse picks for the VP. Biden is also a no-show at Blue rocks games. If nothing else Biden will be exciting to watch since he is such a straight talker, the Republicans even have a Biden gaffe clock. Since Biden is from Delaware I guess this state is sewn up for the election and we still won't have any presidential campaigning. Maybe we will see them on their way to Pennsylvania.

Perhaps now with my early guess of the Obama/Biden ticket I should become a political pundit. I certainly have opinions that I can share with you whether you want to hear them or not. Maybe instead I should just get back to pictures of my backyard and the science fiction I just read.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Las Vegas Strip from the top of the Mandalay Bay

There is a very cool club on top of the Mandalay Bay with a view of the strip. Of course I only brought my crappy Treo camera.

Enjoy anyway.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

LENNON fan's license plat in Delaware

I "imagine" that this person is a big John Lennon fan. They are flying their colors on their license plate. The car also had a lot of peace stickers on the car as well.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Groundhog munching on weeds by the Shellpot Creek

This big varmint (groundhog, woodchuck or my favorite, whistlepig) was helpfully eating some leafy weeds in the backyard today only feet away from the Shellpot creek. That would be great except that I think that it is also eating the leaves of the pumpkin and melon plants and might be eating the tomatoes and parsley every so often as well. There are plenty of ready made holes for them to leave in near the creek since the rocks on the creek edge are sometimes undercut which forms a nice burrow.

Two pictures of his sleek coat.

The pictures were taken from the second floor window with my camera all the way zoomed out and then cropped.

Groundhogs are marmots and are in the squirrel family. They are probably most famous for their Day.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Olympic Roundup

I have been hypnotized by the Olympics this year. So much so that I programmed a set of favorites on the cable box so that I can move from NBC associated channel to channel searching for coverage. I have even been watching Juegos Olimpicos on Telemundo if they have the best coverage. (Not huevos olimpicos, that would be eggs Olympics) It is great that has 2000 hours of coverage online but if you use firefox they make you download the Silverlight extension, which I did. Couldn't they just use the streaming video that everyone else uses? My biggest pet peeve about the coverage is that CNBC insists on having paid advertisements during the weekend instead of Olympic coverage. What does that lady selling that cooking thing have over the CNBC execs? At least Universal HD, Mojo are simulcasting the CNBC or MSNBC coverage in HD along with NBCHD.

I have so many other opinions about the Olympic this year that it would take many hours to commit them to writing. Turns out many other have made the same observations. To save time I point you to their coverage.

Howard caught the opening games and has been watching many of the unusual (not baseball, or tennis) sports of the games. he even noticed that female saber seems to consist of the women trying to tab each other first and then both turning to the judge with a fist pump thinking they won.

Howard is also impressed with the man made kayak course and the kayakers themselves. He, like the rest of us, hasn't quite grasped the new scoring for gymnastics that doesn't go from 0 to ten anymore. I try to remember that higher is better and that it usually ranges from 14 to 17 for top-level gymnasts.

I thought the opening ceremonies were fantastic, but this guy nit-picked the details for us. For the record, the commentators told us the firework footprints were special effects during the coverage and there really were fireworks footprints in Bejing. Also, only a blind person would think that little girl at the piano was actually singing. I would think that all of those years of Milli-Vanilli and Ashly Simpson would help us realize when someone is lyp syncing, poorly. The commentators also told us that the children representing the ethnic groups were not from the ethnic groups.

Someone else was critiquing the opening ceremony outfits as harshly as we were during the parade of nations. Read the practically country by country critique at Street Carnage, from the worst outfits in the world red flowered print jackets of Hungary to the cool plaid of Antigua and Barbados.

By the way, I hear there is this guy, Michael Phelps, and he is a swimmer going for some sort of record. A neighbor told me of a drinking game his friends had where you must drink everytime his name is mentioned during Olympic coverage and you must down the whole drink left handed everytime they show his mother.

Happy Olympics!

Zinnias and Sunflowers finally blooming

I planted Zinnias and Sunflowers from seed this year in some spots in the bes where we haven't decided what the long term plan would be. About one in ten seeds survived the hot days without rain and have done well enough to bloom.

Here the zinnias have finally reached their full puffy bloom stage.

I planted two types of sunflowers, one to grow to 6 ft that has reddish and orangey petals ...

... and one that is supposed to grow to 8 ft and have huge flowers, but hasn't bloomed quite yet.

Neither is really the height I was aiming for, but even 5 ft sunflowers are fun. The birds, especially elusive goldfinches, love the seeds, but I will get to pull little sunflower weeds all next year.

Snakeskin on the Shellpot Creek

I haven't seen another Northern Water Snake this year on or in the creek like years past but today I found some evidence that they are still around. This snake skin was shed in the creek at a spot between the rocks that looked good for a snake to scrape off its skin at.

I put it in the sun to dry and then took a picture. It is very scaly and you can see the finer scales on what was the top of the snake and the coarser scales on what was the bottom of the snake. It is pretty long and probably not even the full snake since the snake looks like it would have been 4 inches in circumference or so.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Decimal arbitrary Prius milestone 3333

If we used another base in our mathematics this post would be at a different time.

Still like the car. Still haven't reached the first oil change yet. This month the mpg is creeping down to 40mpg, probably due to my heavier foot and increasing impatience with other drivers. I only have driven it back and forth to work, especially lately. I hear that on short trips the car doesnalt warm up enough to get the best gas mileage. The gas engine turns on to assist the electric whether you need it or not in the first moments of driving and then I don't drive it far enough to recoup the losses.

Still, driving fewer miles is seems better then increasing the distance for an extra 5 mpg.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Cicada on a rain barrel

This cicada survived the hale and storms to crawl or fly to the top of the rain barrel. I thought they only came out every 17 years, although I know there are several broods. Yet anyone with ears in the summer can tell that there must be cicadas every year due to the racket. This year is no exception.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Happy 8-8-08 at 8:08

I am sure that you have noticed that today is 8-8-08. I thought I would post at 8:08 to remind you. The Olympics started today 8-8-08 at 8:08, the Chinese chose this time because eight is a lucky number, the word eight sounds similar to the word for prosper or wealth.

I have already had someone wish me a Happy Olympics today, so I pass that on to you.

(see you again at 9:00 on 9-9-09)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Jesuits in Space

I am struck by the number of science fiction novels and short stories that I have recently read or re-read that included Jesuit priests as a main protagonist. It is possible that being Jesuit educated that I have sought out these stores and there is a positive selection process in place, either in the choosing or the remembering, but I cannot rule out that they are popular characters to include in a book.

These musings were prompted by the novel The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (which coincidentally won the Arthur C. Clarke award, see the Clarke reference below) and its sequel Children of God. In The Sparrow the Jesuits themselves send a mission to another star system when a radio signal reaches Earth revealing an intelligent, technological civilization conveniently close around Alpha Centauri. While the UN debates, the Jesuits just go. The novel is a way for the author to explore First Contact with an alien culture, reflect on the Jesuit's missionary history and point out that what you don't know about an alien culture can kill you. "Things are not always what they seem."

In Children of God, poor Father Sandoz, the protagonist of the first book, returns to Alpha Centauri, less than willingly, and sees the consequences of the previous book played out on the planet. The novel serves as a case study in the sometimes corrosive nature of contact between two dissimilar cultures.

The wikipedia entry on The Sparrow points out that James Blish wrote a novel "A Case of Conscience" in which a main character is also a Jesuit priest joins an expedition to the planet Lithia, a pleasant enough place, but with no concept of God or the afterlife. This forms the basis of tension in the book. The book was expanded in 1958 from a novella written in 1953 and reflects its times in archaic psychology and a dystopian future that is a product of the Cold War mentality of its day. I enjoyed the Cities in Flight series more.

I actually wrote a report for freshman English class in high school (Jesuit high school, of course) about the short story The Star by Arthur C. Clarke. (text) I suppose I thought I was being clever, since the teacher was a Jesuit priest and the main character is a Jesuit priest on a mission to another solar system. The Jesuit explorer and his team discover the ruins of a great civilization destroyed by a supernova thousands of years ago. The main characters faith is shaken as we and he slowly come to realize that the supernova was the Star of Bethlehem.
"God, there were so many stars you could have used. What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?"
Heady stuff for a high school student, I guess. I should find the paper and see what score I got.

In Manifold: Space Stephen Baxter answers Fermi's paradox with a burst of alien colonization activity flowing over the outer reaches of the Solar system starting with the Von Neuman machine-like Gaijin. The Gaijin don't fly from system to system, they use an ancient interstellar teleportation network. After Reid Malenfant is the first human to travel through the blue ring that is a gate of the network at the edge of the Solar system, others eventually follow. One is a woman priest, Dorothy Chaum (Catholic!) who travels through the blue gateways as an envoy of the Pope and the Vatican. She is qualified to deal with the Gaijin aliens in the novel because they prefer to talk to humans using Latin because of its logical structure. The light speed limit of the gateways and the long trips she takes has her most likely outliving the Catholic church in the novels. This is only hinted at once or twice in the book. She travels after Reid Malenfant to try to save his life because he has to "save the universe".

Baxter also has a Jesuit in (inner) space appear as an illegally created sentient program in the short story Dante Dreams in the collection Phase Space.

What Jesuits in space have I missed?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mary, Star of the Sea Church

A few weeks ago when we were in Baltimore we went to the Mary, Star of the Sea church for mass on Saturday. It was the choice because you could walk to it from the Inner Harbor and we could get down in time to go to the baseball game. The church is planning on celebrating its 150th anniversary. If you want to find old Catholic churches in the United States, one place to find them is in Baltimore.

The church was definitely an antique. It smelled like several old wooden cabinet antiques that I have.

You can see Mary, Star of the Sea (Stella Maris) at the top of the window.

The red haired woman at the foot of the cross below must be St. Mary Magdalene.