When I get to work every morning I ask Google Assistant the same question: Will it rain today? I ask this so I know whether or not I can leave the windows on my car cracked open so it’s not a raging blast furnace when I climb in at the end of the day. This is such a regular occurrence that I’m surprised the artificial intelligence at Google doesn’t just tell me as soon as I shut off my car’s engine without being prompted. Google probably thinks this is the only thing I care about because it’s the one question I’ve most asked the Google Assistant since it was first introduced.
Yesterday when I asked this question the Google Assitant was adamant that it was going to rain. “Absolutely.” She said, “Thunderstorms up the wahzoo all damned day long.” I’m paraphrasing a bit, but that’s essentially what she said. So I rolled up the windows all the way and grabbed my umbrella. You can imagine my surprise when I stepped out in the afternoon and not only had it not rained a single drop, but it was so damned sunny I thought I had somehow been transported to Florida.
I thought to myself, “Hey! Wouldn’t it be funny if I asked Google Assistant if it would rain today and it still insisted that it was going to?” My thinking being that perhaps it had meant it would rain in the evening hours. Then I got the bright idea to record myself asking if it would rain with the brightly shining sun directly behind my head thus illustrating how wrong Google’s supposed artificial intelligence could be. Ha ha!
In hindsight it should’ve been obvious to me that you can’t use voice commands while recording a video because, duh, the mic is busy with the video recording. to have pulled this off I would’ve needed two phones. So not only do I look like an idiot standing in the parking lot with an umbrella when it’s clearly nowhere close to raining, but now I also look like an idiot because I’m barking orders at my phone in a lame attempt at a joke that probably wouldn’t have worked anyway because Google Assistant would probably have told me: “No, of course not, you moron. Don’t you see that sun up there behind your friggin’ head?”
I especially like the bit where I thought that perhaps I just wasn’t speaking loudly enough so I moved the phone closer to my mouth thus revealing just how craggy my left eye socket really is. That’s some high quality eyebrow hair I got going on there.
So fuck you for ruining what would’ve been an entirely middling joke, Google.
Being a professional computer technician in general, and a blogger in particular, I spend a lot of time with my hands on a keyboard. Specifically a QWERTY keyboard. I taught myself to type quickly using a minimum of fingers long before I had a proper typing class in high school and, to this day, I still tend to type using a mish-mash of proper and improper techniques that looks bizarre to anyone who watches me type.
I have always used QWERTY keyboards and even though I’ve seen a Dvorak keyboard once or twice in my lifetime, I’ve never tried to use one myself. It’s always been a curiosity that you occasionally hear mythical tales about how much better it supposedly is over QWERTY, but seeing as QWERTY works fine for me I’ve never felt the need to try one. Which brings us to this interesting video by The Engineer Guy who talks about the Dvorak keyboard and the myths surrounding it:
I have to say that a 5% improvement in typing speed wouldn’t be enough for me to make the switch. My blogging is probably the most typing I’ll tend to do in a day and my speed is already faster than my thoughts can keep up with most of the time so being 5% faster wouldn’t really benefit my output any. Plus there’s the hassle of learning an entirely new keyboard layout when I am, fundamentally, a lazy person. Still, I found the video interesting and thought I’d share it with you in case you might as well.
Oprah recently hosted Diana Nyad on her Soul to Soul show on the OWN network. Diana made a bit of history recently by swimming from Cuba to Florida without using a shark cage. An impressive feat made even more so by the fact that she’s 64.
The interview, as you can imagine based on the title of the show, involved a discussion about God and spirituality. Diana considers herself to be an atheist ‘who is in awe’. Based on Diana’s explanation of what she means by that, Oprah proceeds to tell her that she doesn’t consider Diana an atheist at all. You can see the clip below:
It’s clear from Oprah’s description of what she believes God to be — he’s “not that bearded guy in the sky” but rather the belief in “the awe and the wonder and the mystery” — that she’s got a very different concept of God than most folks. By that definition you could say I’m not an atheist as I have no problems with the concepts of awe and wonder and mystery, though I’m not sure how those things could be a God of any kind.
Apparently this has caused a bit of a stir in the atheist community. Personally, I’m not really bothered by it, though I am amused. I certainly consider myself an atheist and yet I’ve felt awe and wonder on an uncountable number of occasions throughout my life. Others such as the Boston Atheists have started a Facebook campaign seeking an apology and affirmation from Winfrey for her comments:
In response to Oprah Winfrey’s biased comments against atheists in an October 2013 interview, the Boston Atheists are asking for support in asking her for an apology and some gesture of acknowledgment and affirmation toward the secular community. Whether that means inviting she invites Josiah D Van Vliet on camera for a sit-down on camera to talk about atheist community organizing, or about how atheists can listen to and understand and appreciate music, depends entirely on how much noise we can make about this!
Additionally, American Humanist Association President David Noise wrote an article for Psychology Today about how Oprah’s comments confirm the negative image of atheists held by believers:
What is most alarming about Oprah’s revelation is that she doesn’t even realize its invidiousness. Atheists, to her, don’t feel that deep, emotional connection to the universe. She has drawn a circle that includes people of all faiths, but excludes atheists, thereby confirming negative attitudes toward nonbelievers.
To those among Oprah’s legion of loyal viewers who may have held anti-atheist prejudices, this now validates their bias. That’s right, those atheists just aren’t like the rest of us, they can now say, nodding their heads.While we religious people of the world are appreciating the wonder and awe of life, those atheists are just one big buzzkill!
I suppose that may be true for some believers, but I seriously doubt Oprah is adding all that much fuel to the anti-atheist fire among believers. She didn’t say anything particularly disparaging, she just applied her vague and ham-fisted definition of God to someone who considers themselves an atheist. I suppose you could infer that Oprah is saying that atheists are incapable of feeling awe and wonder and mystery, but knowing that I am an atheist and that I have experienced those emotions shows me that at worst she’s just ignorant.
I’ve seen a few folks criticize Diana as well because she seems to believe in a soul and an afterlife. While it’s true that most atheists don’t believe in souls or afterlives, there’s nothing about the word “atheist” that rules those ideas as out of the question. An atheist is simply someone who does not believe in God(s). That’s it. That’s all that’s required to be an atheist is a lack of belief in God(s). Diana says she thinks collectively humanity and love of humanity is what she’d call God and some folks think that means she’s not really an atheist, but Einstein said more or less the same thing about nature as God and it’s pretty clear he was an atheist as well even though he disliked the term (he often used “religious nonbeliever” instead).
Meh, I think if she considers herself an atheist then she probably is. Oprah doesn’t think she is, but then the definition Oprah is using makes me think Oprah is closer to atheism than she realizes. Either way, I don’t think this is an issue worth getting all upset over. Especially in comparison to the likes of Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association. Now there is an anti-atheist bigot.
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Say you’ve got a five-year-old son who isn’t conforming to traditional gender roles. Specifically, he likes to wear skirts and dresses instead of the customary pants most little boys wear. Do you try to convince him to dress traditionally or do you allow him to cross gender lines in his clothing choices?
The pair used to live in the well-to-do borough of Kreuzberg in cosmopolitan Berlin, where there was little or no reaction to Mr Pickert’s son wearing dresses.
The issue would simply spark debate among parents, he said, over whether allowing it was ‘wise or ridiculous’. For open-minded Mr Pickert, it was never even a question.
He would sometimes dress in a skirt or dress himself, during mild weather.
When they moved to a ‘very traditional, very religious’ little town, however, Mr Pickert’s son became too embarrassed to wear women’s clothing to nursery school – and asked his father if he would dress up again.
‘I didn’t want to talk my son into not wearing dresses and skirts,’ said Mr Pickert. ‘I had only one option left: To broaden my shoulders for my little buddy and dress in a skirt myself.
‘After all, you can’t expect a child at pre-school age to have the same ability to assert themselves as an adult completely without role model. And so I became that role model.’
Personally, I think Mr. Pickert is a great Dad for encouraging his son to be who he wants to be, but it appears I may be in the minority judging from the reaction in the comments around the web.
From the Daily Mail comment section itself we get the following:
What?? This is sick! They both need to see a doctor and the child to see a psychologist.
– Rob, England, 30/8/2012 13:51
what .hes a little boy not a girl he should not wear girls clothes hes 5 for gods sake why is the father encouraging this its sick.
– bee, plymouth england, 30/8/2012 16:24
OMG what is the world coming to with these people who seek to feminize their male children? Seriously, the child should be removed from the home.
– Action Bob, The Universe, 30/8/2012 16:01
And then from the comments on the FARK for this article which had a HERO tag associated with it:
Hero tag? Try Dumbass tag.
A good father wouldn’t let his five year old son dress like a girl at school or anywhere else.
Sigh, what a failure of a parent. Your not helping your making it worse. Do you fix a leaking sink by saying, it isn’t the sink’s fault but it should be the kitchen that needs to accept the water better.
I was bit odd as a kid myself and I took a fair amount of shit for it. No, I didn’t run around in dresses, but I was the 80 pound weakling who got beat up on a regular basis and my biological father died when I was 5 so I tended to be a little off-kilter from those two things just to start with. I was also ADHD and didn’t know it and that alone is enough to make you feel like an outsider who doesn’t really fit in and I eventually got to the point where I embraced my weirdness and just accepted that I wasn’t quite normal. I suppose that’s why my initial reaction to this story was to cheer the dad for supporting his kid instead of trying to force him to be “normal.”
I honestly don’t understand what the big deal is. The kid is five years old. It’s not clear he even has a concept of gender roles let alone why some folks would expect him to conform to them. It’s similar to the uproar over the J. Crew catalog that had a VP painting her son’s toenails in it. Holy fuck, the Far Right had a fit over that with FOX’s own Dr. Keith Asshole Ablow declaring the kid would need therapy in a few years to deal with the horror of his own mother forcing him to paint his toenails a bright pink color.
I’ve said before, including in that entry about the J. Crew catalog, that I’ve been known to paint my own toenails from time to time despite being an adult heterosexual male. It gets worse than that though. Back when I was a teenager I had a Unicorn phase that would rival any teen girl’s obsession with the fantasy creatures. I collected statues, had posters, the whole shebang. As an adult I’m not as into them anymore (though my obsession over all things otter is still as strong as ever), but the years that I was into them doesn’t seem to have affected my manliness all that much. Of course you could argue that I’m not exactly a man’s man to begin with, but it’s not like macho men have never worn dresses. Again in that J. Crew entry I mention the fact that at one point it was common for kids of both genders to wear dresses up until age 7 including such notable examples as Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Roosevelt before he went on to become President of the United States
Seriously, what’s the worst that could happen? He turns out to be gay? That could happen regardless of whether he conforms to gender roles. Just look at the number of gay-hating Republicans putting on a manly front only to turn out to be gayer than the Village People when people aren’t looking. He could end up a transvestite? A number of men have managed to be quite successful while wearing women’s clothing. Perhaps he’ll grow up and want a sex-change operation. Again, that’s just a likely to happen regardless of what clothes he starts off in.
He might be more comfortable during hot summer days? Oh the horror! If only people would put so much energy into worrying about things that actually matter like whether he’s getting a decent education or whether the planet will be habitable by the time he grows up.
So the kid is a little different. Let him be different. We don’t all need to be the same.
It pretty much goes without saying that I’m a cusser — that much is obvious just from the title and tagline of this blog — it’s one of the few vices I have. It’s a habit I’m not at all ashamed of and which I take a certain amount of enjoyment in engaging in. So does Stephen Fry it would appear as he discusses in this clip from the celebration of his 50th Birthday in 2007:
For the record, I do swear to make up for a stunningly small vocabulary. It’s the only way I can sound anything close to eloquent. Fuck.
With all the driving back and forth to Lansing I’ve been doing lately I decided to start carrying my digital camera with me. The decision came about in part due to a rather stunningly lovely morning drive to Charlotte, which is just south of Lansing, which showed off a particularly nice part of the Michigan countryside. I already carry the little 1MP Kodak — it was the first digital camera we ever bought — in the glove box in case of accidents. That was all I had on hand that morning and so the pictures are somewhat small, but not bad I thought. The next day, after thinking about it, I packed up the 4MP Canon PowerShot we have just in case I came across anything interesting.
Here’s a few of the results. The first three pictures are from the lower-res Kodak:
A random stretch of Michigan road.
A different random stretch of Michigan Road.
Yet more random Michigan roadness.
The camera didn’t really capture the amazing aspect of the morning light as I saw it, but I still thought they looked pretty good for a crappy little digital Instamatic-style camera. The next couple were taken the next day using my Canon PowerShot A80:
About to drive into a weird fog bank.
Graffiti on a power transformer box in downtown Lansing.
Driving into the fog bank was pretty weird. The day had started off brightly sunny all the way up until just before I hit Lansing when the road ahead was suddenly obscured with a wall of gray. Once we passed into it the mood became very gloomy almost immediately and it was hard to remember how beautiful the day had been just moments before. It was foggy like that all the way into Lansing, but it had lifted by noon.
I saw the graffiti on a power transformer box sitting between two buildings next to the parking structure I’ve been parking in all week long. I have no idea what it’s supposed to be, but I have seen other similar “faces” spray painted elsewhere around town. The building I’m working in is ten stories high and I can see one of the faces painted on the back door of a business the next block over, too far to get a shot with the camera, and the others I’ve seen in passing while driving.
The state Capitol building is just a block over from where I’m working, but you can’t see it from inside so I’ll probably take the time tomorrow to snap a photo of it as I leave for the day. I do have some interesting views of other buildings downtown including the Comerica bank building, one of the oldest in Lansing, that is a very cool bit of architecture with at least one amusing item on a fifth floor balcony. I’ve not taken a shot of that yet as I’m worried about hauling a camera out in the middle of a department full of potentially confidential information.
Though that didn’t stop me from using my phone’s camera to take a quick grainy snap of a science experiment I found growing in one VP’s office:
That's an impressive mold colony you have going there!
Yeah, someone’s been out on vacation perhaps a little too long.
Sometimes it helps if we can visualize how bad a problem is. It’s difficult to get a sense of the scale of the BP oil spill from reading news reports. Sure, we know it’s hit the coastlines of several states and is encroaching on Florida beaches, but unless you live there it’s really hard to grasp what that means. That’s where IfItWasMyHome.com – Visualizing the BP Oil Disaster comes in handy.
Here, for example, is what the spill would look like had it happened where I live in Ann Arbor, MI:
Click to embiggen.
Oh yeah, that drives it home.
Now, in fairness, it would obviously not be quite as widespread as it shows up here due to the fact that Michigan isn’t underwater and as such the dynamics of the spread would be completely different, but in terms of visualizing just how big this fucking thing is, well, it works pretty well. That’s a shit load of oil and anyone who tries to claim that it’s not an environmental disaster — something several Republicans have tried to do — needs his or her fucking head examined.
The truly sad part is that this is going to fuck up those coastlines for decades to come. Proof of that can be found in Prince William Sound. Over 20 years after the Exxon Valdez spill things look like they’re back to normal, until you dig just inches into the soil:
Twenty years after the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, oil persists in the region and, in some places, “is nearly as toxic as it was the first few weeks after the spill,” according to the council overseeing restoration efforts.
“This Exxon Valdez oil is decreasing at a rate of 0-4 percent per year,” the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council stated in a report marking Tuesday’s 20th anniversary of the worst oil spill in U.S. waters. “At this rate, the remaining oil will take decades and possibly centuries to disappear entirely.”
The council’s findings come two decades after the March 24, 1989 disaster, when the single-hulled Exxon tanker hit a reef, emptying its contents into Alaskan waters. The spill contaminated more than 1,200 miles of shoreline and killed hundreds of thousands of seabirds and marine animals.
That article is from March of last year. The spill was “only” 11 million gallons. As of this writing, the BP disaster is already estimated to be at least double that amount and it’s still flowing. It will surely go down in history as one of the worst man-made environmental disasters of all time. Just look at that map up there. Or, better yet, go to the site and put in your home town and see for yourself.
If this isn’t a good argument for increasing the funding of research and development of renewable energy sources by several fold then I don’t know what is. Need another visual aid to help? Try this one:
I’m in a real love/hate relationship with this game and I’m torn on how to present the review. So I suppose I’ll start off with a quick summary: It’s awesome and horribly flawed at the same time. This latest outing manages to improve upon the original in almost every way, but at the same time it also manages to take several steps backwards that mar what would otherwise be a flawless game.
The original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was a big surprise for me and, I think, for a lot of other gamers when we finally got our hands on the release version. Not only were the graphics as new as the setting, but it was clear that Infinity Ward had been paying attention to what the modders had been doing with the multiplayer in previous CoD games. The addition of kill-streak rewards recreated the functionality of some of the most popular CoD2 mods and then when you stacked the RPG-ish XP system that unlocked new weapons, attachments, and perks on top of that it made for a helluva fun experience and a title that is still widely played to this day.
The sequel builds on most of what made the original so damned amazing and that generally is a good thing, though in some places it’s a bit over-the-top. Take, for example, in the singe-player game’s storyline.
I said in my review of CoD:MW that I didn’t pay that much attention to the plot in part because it had you jumping back and forth between a couple of different characters in different locations and was hard to follow when you’re busy just trying to survive the mayhem taking place around you. The plot for Modern Warfare 2 is similar in that you jump back and forth between no less than five different characters throughout the course of the game. If you thought that mechanic in the first game was a tad confusing then you’ll just love it in the second one.
The story is set some five years after the events of the first game and it apparently involves the Ultranationalists (Russians) from the first story gaining control of Russia and declaring the main Russian villain from that game as a national hero and martyr. The new villain, an Ultranationalist lieutenant, is engaging in acts of terrorism designed to ultimately bring tensions between the U.S. and Russia to a boiling point. It’s hard to go into too much detail without revealing a lot of spoilers, but suffice it to say there’s a lot of setup for an eventual Russian invasion of America without the use of nukes and then a whole shit load of plot twists that reveals yet another major villain and sets things up for the inevitable sequel.
Here’s the thing about the story in MW2: Imagine the folks at Infinity Ward weren’t happy with the quality of the story from CoD4 and decided they needed to bring someone in to punch it up for this game. Now imagine that they hired Michael Bay to write it and he somehow got a little confused and thought it was a James Bond film. That’s the sort of aftertaste that was left in my mouth by the time I was finished with the campaign mode. It was that over-the-top at times.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Early on in the story you take on the role of Sergeant Gary “Roach” Sanderson who, along with a Captain “Soap” MacTavish, infiltrate an airbase in Kazakhstan to recover a lost ACS module from a downed satellite. It starts off with lots of stealth, but finishes up with a wild snowmobile race to the extraction point and a waiting helicopter. There’s lots of shooting and exploding snowmobiles and trees to avoid until the very end at which point you have to leap the snowmobile over a yawning chasm that in the game looks to be at least a quarter-mile wide. The longest snowmobile jump I’m aware of was around 263 feet by Ross Mercer which is sill a tad bit short of the 1,320 feet in a standard quarter mile. Now I don’t know how big the chasm was really supposed to be, but it definitely looked bigger than what the snowmobile could handle so when I made it across easily it just seemed a rather silly ending to the level. There’s a lot of stuff like that in the single player campaign, but you don’t really notice it being quite so silly at the time because so much of the rest of it is just very cool. When you get done and reflect upon the events, however, you realize how silly a lot of it is.
That’s only a slight disappointment, though. The real disappointment about the single player game is just how short it is. This was a problem with CoD4 as well, but it seems even more pronounced in MW2. I don’t recall how long it took me to finish the first game — it was a couple of nights — but the total time for Modern Warfare 2 was a scant 6 hours. Much like the first game, again, there are collectibles scattered throughout the levels to stretch things out through replaying the campaign mode, but it’s still short by past standards.
I don’t use the word ‘evil’ very often to describe crimes that people commit and in all honesty I’m not sure the following really is deserving of that designation, but it certainly feels like it to me. It involves two people who took advantage of a 93-year-old man with Alzheimer’s disease:
Rebecca Tharpe posed as a legitimate buyer for the home of Artee McKoy, a retired barber with diminished mental capacity, and forged his signature on a sales contract. The contract was used to obtain a mortgage on the property. Tharpe then sold the house for $395,000 and pocketed $102,000. Tharpe’s accomplice, Alexandra Gilmore, received more than $200,000 in proceeds, including a $97,000 check that had been made payable to McKoy and an additional $130,000 which she secured by setting up a real estate company and falsely claiming to have been owed the money from a previous mortgage loan on the property.
Gilmore also took advantage of McKoy’s diminished capacity to twice refinance a property he owned in Bayside, New York by claiming that she was McKoy’s daughter and that he was refinancing the property in order to make cash gifts to his children. Earlier this year Gilmore pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree grand larceny as a hate crime and was sentenced to two to six years in prison.
Gilmore opened an account in McKoy’s name without his knowledge at Commerce Bank in Massapequa and directed that all account statements be sent to her house. A review of bank records by the District Attorney’s office revealed that Gilmore withdrew more than $100,000 from the account four days after an unendorsed check for $129,268 had been deposited into the account and cleared. Several months later, she withdrew additional funds from the account after a second check – this time for $222,160 – had been deposited and cleared.
According to bank records, a few initial monthly mortgage payments were made on the Jamaica property before payment ceased all together and the house went into foreclosure. A civil court case is presently pending before Supreme Court Justice Howard Lane. The Bayside property has also been forced into foreclosure proceedings.
As you can see above, Gilmore got two to six years in prison for the crime. Can you guess what Tharpe’s punishment was? A mere 30 days in jail and five years probation.
Maybe Tharpe’s role in the crime wasn’t as extensive as Gilmore’s — the news item is rather brief — but it’s clear that Tharpe knew full well what she was engaging in. It makes me wonder just how callously selfish you have to be to even think of engaging in a crime like this? Of course we don’t know what her motivation was, or Gilmore’s for that matter, but it’s hard to imagine how one could rationalize something like this to themselves.
The more I think about it the more I realize I’m having a visceral reaction to this news item and that in the great scheme of evil acts this pales in comparison to many other atrocities people have committed. I think because it strikes so hard at my sense of basic fairness that it bothers me so. Still I think Tharpe is due more than a month in jail and five years of probation, but perhaps that’s just me.