alaric: Myself as Wolverine, complete with blades (Wolverine)
Wednesday, August 11th, 2010 04:51 pm

Not to say that the movies are themselves gratuitous ... well, OK, I take that back.  They mostly are, in different ways.  None of them are Brand Shiny New; indeed, Shaun of the Dead came out in 2004.

Shaun of the Dead )

Overall rating for Shaun of the Dead:  99 minutes of my life that I will never get back.

Igor )

Overall rating for Igor:  Fun entertainment in the style of The Nightmare before Christmas, even though it fails to reach Nightmare's level.

Avatar )

Overall rating for Avatar:  Typical action-movie-level entertainment as long as you're not expecting Robert Ludlum depths of plot.  Shiny, shiny pixels really showcase what's possible with current CGI technology.

[1]  Note that I do not include Pixar in this category.  Pixar does good work; Disney largely just bought the right to put their own name on top of the credits for Pixar productions, and I'll give them credit for having the sense to mostly keep their hands out of Pixar's production process.

[2]  Bonus points for back-of-the-envelope estimation of probable terminal velocity of the walker suit and probable Gs of deceleration on impact.  Keep in mind that since the walker didn't visibly either embed its legs into the ground at all on impact, or bounce, said ground can reasonably be considered both rigid and inelastic.

alaric: Myself as Wolverine, complete with blades (Default)
Saturday, July 31st, 2010 03:07 pm

It used to be the case that the serious gamers played any of a dozen different tabletop RPG systems — Dungeons & Dragons and its knock-offs, Champions, Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun etc.  Serious players would spend anywhere from four to twelve hours at a time, maybe several times a week.  But for all that, you didn't really get a lot done in one of those marathon gaming sessions.  Sometimes, you might manage to get from one town to the next, or maybe only part way there, or you might maybe clear a couple of rooms of the current adventure "dungeon" that you'd been working on for the last couple of months.  But you'd seldom accomplish more.

Why? )

And when the mechanics of your game, for no good and necessary reason, obstruct the play of your game and force the player to break his or her immersion in the game to deal with mere mechanics, then you have failed at game design.  The game mechanics are, quite simply, necessary underlying structure for the workings of the game; and that is all they are.  They are not the purpose of the game.  The gameplay is the purpose of the game.

alaric: Extremely silly photo (Goonish)
Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 11:47 am

I found myself thinking of the fabled Octomom this morning, and reflecting that while families were often very large in pre-industrial eras of history, primarily due to lack of birth control and high infant mortality that meant you needed to have lots of kids to be sure of being supported in your old age, no-one prior to the age of modern medicine would have dreamed of having eight children in a single pregnancy and having mother or children survive.

Prior to IVF, it was simply ... inconceivable.  ;)

alaric: The Royal Navy WW1/WW2 battleship HMS Warspite (Warspite)
Friday, April 16th, 2010 05:05 pm

Stupid inconsistencies in video games annoy me.

Take Halo, for example.  It's, god knows, the 35th Century or something, we have faster-than-light starships that can jump across significant parts of the galaxy in weeks, we have fully self-aware AIs on a chip, we have cyborgs in powered battle armor with built-in energy shields, ... but that powered battle armor doesn't have night vision?  Come ON.

This is a common thread in almost every shooter.  (The only exception I'm personally aware of is Ghost Recon.)  Either there is no night vision gear, or there's night vision gear but its batteries last 30 to 45 seconds and then it has to recharge for 2-4 minutes.  As game detail, it's pathetically lame, and as a gameplay device, it's a cop-out at best.  Fer crissakes, we had working, usable night vision gear forty years ago in Vietnam.  It's still chic in many circles to look down our noses at Russian military hardware, but if any Russian equipment designer had dared to offer the Russian military night vision gear that crappy, they would have stood him up against a wall and shot him.

(Naturally, the darkness never impedes the attacking enemies in the least.)

Come on, game designers.  We're talking present-day-to-futuristic here, not THAG BASH THINGS WITH ROCK.  Give it a rest and join the 1990s at least.  If the only way you can achieve the game balance you want is to leave the player stumbling around in the dark, squinting into the monitor trying to see anything more than six feet in front of him, you have failed at game design.

alaric: Myself as Wolverine, complete with blades (Default)
Friday, April 16th, 2010 02:04 pm

I have a recipe for liver with oranges in our house cookbook.  It's pretty good, but requires good, juicy, tender eating oranges.  The typical California/Florida navel oranges just don't cut it; they're only usable for juice.  So, the last time I made it, a week or two ago (I'm just now finishing up the last of the leftovers because I'm the only one in the house who likes liver), I tried buying some Florida-grown mandarins instead in the hope that they'd be juicier and less tough.

Holy CRAP, Batman.  I don't think I've ever before had any kind of citrus fruit — hell, any fruit, period — as fibrous or as full of seeds.¹  Trying to eat these things, even cooked, is like chewing a mouthful of orange-flavored plastic bags, except that the plastic bags have less seeds.  You've seen "seedless" oranges and tangerines?  Well, now I know what they did with all the extra seeds.  I'm not sure I'd even dare run them through an electric juicer.  They were so full of seeds it was literally difficult to cut them into the quarter-inch slices called for in the recipe, because I couldn't find a cut line that didn't run through half a dozen seeds.

Needless to say, I won't be buying these Florida mandarins again.  I suspect this is another case of foodstuffs bred to ship well, rather than to actually be edible.

[1]  Well, OK, I'll concede pomegranates have a (slightly) higher ratio of seeds to volume.  But I don't eat pomegranates.  They're nasty.

alaric: Extremely silly photo (Goonish)
Friday, April 16th, 2010 11:47 am
alaric: The Tick, shouting his battle cry (SPOOOOOOOOOOOOON!)
Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 06:39 pm

Sometimes, the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train.  But however certain you are that it's not an oncoming train, if the rails start vibrating and singing, RUN LIKE HELL AND DON'T STOP TO LOOK BEHIND YOU.

(And if you can't run as fast as a freight?  ...Well, sucks to be you, doesn't it?)

alaric: Front view of Caer Llewys (House)
Friday, April 9th, 2010 10:05 am

We've had to do a fair bit of maintenance lately, some of it expensive.  We had to replace almost the entire exhaust system on the Volvo after it rusted out (everything behind the catalytic converter).  We just re-seeded the front and side yards, bare since last fall's structural repairs to the house.  And we replaced both the toilet and stopcock in the second-floor bathroom after my attempts to replace a rusted-out tank-to-bowl bolt were thwarted by a crack in the bottom of the tank.

(The stopcock was actually among the biggest single headaches of the entire job.  I replaced it because it was leaking, but discovered only after cutting it off the water pipe to which it was permanently affixed that said water pipe was not any standard pipe size in existence.  To make matters more fun, the main house stopcock does not shut off fully either, so the cut pipe was dribbling water until I could come up with a solution.  Fortunately, it transpired the pipe was just large enough that I could solder a 2" stub of regular ½" copper pipe into it, after thoroughly scouring it clean, which the new compression-fit stopcock then went onto without the least hitch.)

Anyway, the replacement toilet we chose was one of these, a one-piece water-saving Aquasource model.  We chose it for two reasons:  It was on sale at $128 (regularly $168), and the one-piece construction meant I would never again have to worry about tank-to-bowl leaks in this bathroom.  The one reservation I had was that, probably largely due to being a water-saving model, it had the lowest "flushing power" rating of all the models on display — 2.5 stars on a scale of five.  Without going into details, let's just say that this middle bathroom has to date been by far the most troublesome we have in terms of failures to flush.

On the basis of experience so far, I needn't have worried.  If this toilet rates 2.5 stars, then a five-star-rated loo must just about be capable of flushing a live rhino.  The only concern now is that if somebody falls in, they may never be seen again.

alaric: Front view of Caer Llewys (House)
Wednesday, April 7th, 2010 06:03 pm

Or it will be, once it grows in.  We just seeded the entire front and side yard, which have been bare earth since the massive reconstruction project last fall, with this grass mix.  It grows well anywhere from full sun to deep shade, including in heavily acidic soils under trees, doesn't need watering once established, doesn't need mowing if you don't care about having a putting-green lawn, and is non-invasive but resists invasion from weeds.

It's not as simple as just seeding, of course.  We had to rake the entire area to a depth of a couple of inches first to loosen up the soil (which had compacted somewhat over the winter), then seed after figuring out how to get an estimated about 15 seeds per square inch out of the rotary spreader, then rake again lightly just to scuff the seeds under.  We get to water for the first two weeks, enough each day to wet the ground about a half inch deep, then it's on its own unless there's any thin patches we need to reseed. I only used one of the two 5lb bags of seed we bought, so if we don't need to reseed anything, then we have enough seed left to reseed the entire back lawn too (but it'd have to be rototilled first).

alaric: Viggo Mortenson as Aragorn/Strider, in Lord of the Rings (Dúnedain)
Sunday, April 4th, 2010 01:52 pm

... for pointing to this Hero Archetype quiz.  (Godawful OKCupid-generated HTML cleaned up for the sake of all that's good and right.  Holy nested NOP spans, Batman!  I haven't seen such appallingly over-verbose HTML generated outside of MS Word or Frontpage.  The original is a prime example in using CSS to produce HTML more verbose than just using direct markup, with no visible effect upon the output.  Oh, and I corrected the spelling errors too.)

Your result for Awakening the Hero Within: Hero Archetype Test...

You are the Warrior.

50% Innocent, 46% Orphan, 83% Warrior, 54% Caregiver, 63% Seeker, 50% Lover, 63% Destroyer, 46% Creator, 32% Magician, 63% Ruler, 79% Sage, 46% Fool

Goal:  Win

Fear:  Weakness

Response to Dragon/Problem:  Slay/confront it

Task:  Fight only for what really matters

Gift:  Courage, discipline

Addictions:  Achievement, success


tl;dr ? )

alaric: Myself as Wolverine, complete with blades (Default)
Saturday, March 27th, 2010 03:22 pm

The Volvo:  New exhaust system installed.  When the original muffler came off all the way, it turned out the system was in even worse shape than we'd realized; large parts of the muffler outer heatshield had completely rusted away.  We bought all the parts from, formerly known as  The rear muffler was an aftermarket part from Starla, the rest of the system OEM Volvo parts.  The local Midas shop installed it for us for an hour's labor.  (I'd have done it myself, but I'm short a few necessary tools — I don't have a welder, and they had to torch-cut the pipe off the old muffler to get it off.) With the disintegrating tailpipe, the Volvo's fuel mileage had dropped abruptly to around 14.5mpg from the 18.5mpg or so we had been averaging; now, with the complete new exhaust system, it's not only recovered, it's better.  I got 22.5mpg calculated average, per the trip computer, driving home from the muffler shop.

There was a shipping SNAFU with the main part of the exhaust system, which is a single piece from the back end of the cat all the way back to the aft muffler, and which includes the forward turbo muffler.  As a result, the (VERY oversize) package arrived at the Laconia post office with $45.80 postage due.  I queried Swedish Auto Parts about whether this was expected, and Tony, the proprietor, immediately replied saying that no, that was not supposed to happen, and he was refunding the additional shipping cost to the card we paid for the parts with.  So, kudos to Swedish Auto Parts, and a recommendation from us.  We'll be shopping there again.  (First up, for new headlight wiper blades, which turn out to be otherwise a dealer-only part.)

As a footnote, the site also offers free technical support from a Volvo-certified master technician.

The washing machine:  God alone knows how, but it took the US Post Office four days to get a 2lb Priority Mail package from Memphis, NY to Gilford, NH.  For cryin' out loud, they could almost have gotten it here via Pony Express in that time.  It took them two entire days just to get it from Syracuse to Nashua.

The good news is, the new pump (which, by the way, was a newer, slightly revised model compared to the original, with a complete waterproof jacket around the motor) is here, it took me about half an hour to install it (most of which I spent fighting with those accursed balky bent-wire hose clamps), and the washing machine is now back in service and working fine.  I just need to put the lower front panel back on — with new, non-rusted screws.  (I had to drill out the head of one of the original screws, because the Philips head had rusted into more or less a conical pit and, being a pan head screw, I couldn't get a grip on it with pliers or Vise Grips to remove it that way.  The other screw's not much better.  Fortunately, I have two nice corrosion-resistant zinc-chromated screws scavenged from the original pump that will do nicely.)

The original pump motor was still working fine, by the way.  It's just that the pump itself doesn't work too well when all the vanes have broken off the impeller.  (And while on the subject, let me mention that it's the most horribly crude impeller I've ever seen.  They pinched every last fraction of a cent.  It's working purely on centrifugal effect; vane shape is contributing nothing.)

alaric: Myself as Wolverine, complete with blades (Default)
Monday, March 22nd, 2010 04:39 pm

I just realized I posted the last three or four entries from my "personal" account on Dreamwidth, [personal profile] alaric, rather than my discussion/opinion account, [personal profile] unixronin.  Ah, well.  A bit late to worry about it now.

Last year I'd started a daily exercise regimen with hand weights.  Pretty much all upper-body stuff, obviously.  Forearm curls, wrist rolls, wrist snaps, two different kinds of shoulder swings, two other exercises whose name I don't know, inward/outward/upward/downward blocks, and speed punches.  I got up to the point where I was doing a hundred speed punches and fifty reps on basically everything else, sometimes doing two sets a day, all with 3lb hand weights.

Then we discovered major hidden water damage in the house, and I spent several weeks lending a hand to the contractors whenever they could use one, and then winter came, by which time the routine had gotten broken, and I just never got around to getting back to it over the winter.  I find being continually cold somewhat counter-inducive to exercise.

Well, after meaning for the past several weeks to do so, I just picked up where I left off.  With interest.  Fifty reps on most of the exercises, as before.  A hundred inward/outward blocks.  Two hundred speed punches.  (I'll freely admit the last three or four were a bit ragged.)

I can feel it in my upper back already.  I may very well regret this by tomorrow.  But it's good to know I haven't lost any appreciable upper-body tone or aerobic fitness over the winter.

alaric: Myself as Wolverine, complete with blades (Default)
Monday, March 22nd, 2010 03:11 pm

Derek Lowe (of In the Pipeline, and of Things i Won't Work With fame) discusses his thoughts on the health care bill.

Here goes: first off, it's rather hard for me to get past my anger at being told (repeatedly, by both the President and members of Congress) that this bill will "bend the cost curve" and on top of that, actually reduce the deficit.  This is, in this case, such a transparent lie that it indicates actual contempt for their audience on the part of those repeating it.  We can start with history and general principles: I have yet to hear of a state or federal health care system in this country that has not ended up costing hugely more than it was ever slated to.

I can get more specific in this case, though, since the entire bill was carefully structured to show a spurious deficit reduction (in order for it to be pushed through the budget reconciliation process, without which it could not have passed at all).  Costs are pushed out past the Congressional Budget Office's ten-year time horizon, offloaded onto the states (whose Attorneys-General are now frantically trying to figure out what to do), or just blatantly left out.  In the last category is the "doc fix", the adjustment to Medicare reimbursement rates that had to be dropped from the current bill in order to hocus the CBO numbers.  The firm understanding between the interested parties is that the House will quietly pass that in the near future when not so many people are paying attention, and damn the numbers anyway.  As I said above, "contempt" is the word that keeps coming to mind.

I share his reservations.  Particularly at this time in history, with the US economy already punch-drunk and reeling and with the second body-blow of commercial property defaults about to start hitting any time now, I have serious concerns that the real costs of this bill, and the overall staggering rate at which this administration is spending money it doesn't have (it has actually accomplished the near-impossible of making the just-passed Bush administration look frugal by comparison) may bankrupt the United States.  The US national debt is now something over $40,000 for every man, woman and child in the US, and is increasing at about $11 per person per day.  By the end of this year it will be approaching $44,000 per person.

alaric: Myself as Wolverine, complete with blades (Default)
Monday, March 22nd, 2010 09:19 am

The healthcare plan just passed by Congress does a number of important things that are needed to fix America's broken health-care system.  For example, it outlaws the practice of rescission — revoking the insurance coverage of patients whose care has become more expensive than the insurance company planned on.  For another, it is claimed that it will make health insurance available to 32 million Americans who don't have it; but it will do so at the cost of making it illegal to opt out, and fining those who choose not to buy medical insurance.

"Come the revolution, Comrade, we will all eat peaches and cream!"

"But I don't like peaches and cream..."

"Come the revolution, Comrade, we will all eat peaches and cream ... and we will ALL LIKE it."

We really don't know all of the things Congress's health care plan does and doesn't do, because Congress hasn't deigned to tell us yet.  But the following are a few of the most important things that we know it does not do:

  • It does not detach health insurance from employment.  If you change your job, you'll still have to jump through all the hoops of changing insurance again, and you'll still have to settle for whatever plans your employer is able to qualify to offer, even if they don't actually meet your needs or if they're more comprehensive (and more expensive) than you want.  (Unless, of course, you can afford private insurance.)

  • It does not establish a level playing field.  Big employers will still be able to negotiate better deals than smaller ones — in fact, it doesn't do anything to make any guarantee that small employers will be able to get group health plans at all; it just fines companies with fifty or more employees that don't or can't — and insurance companies will still get away with paying as little as pennies on the dollar for services that you will still have to pay full price for if your plan does not cover them.

  • It does not stop insurance company accountants from making medical decisions.  Your insurance can still refuse to cover treatment that you need because they don't want to spend the money, under the ruse of declaring it medically unnecessary — effectively, practising medicine without a license.  (As noted above, at least it will prohibit them from cancelling your coverage altogether.  But that may be little help if they can still deny you needed care.)

  • It does not get insurance out of minor services that nobody would even need insurance for, were their costs not driven up by the overhead of having the insurance company involved.  (Routine office visits, for example.  Many rural doctors have, in recent years, begun refusing to take insurance for routine office visits, because if they don't have to hire and pay the clerical staff to do all the insurance company paperwork and jump through the insurance company hoops to stay contracted, they can do an office visit for about what the insurance company wants for a copay anyway.)

  • It does not put Congress on the same footing as everyone else.  Congress will continue to have a choice of about six medical plans, all of them cushy premium plans of the type that the healthcare bill will tax as "Cadillac plans" if offered by a private employer.  Congress, of course, will not tax its own plans.  Once again, there is one law for Congress, and one for all the rest of us.

  • But perhaps most importantly of all, Congress once again did not listen to America.  This bill has become steadily more unpopular during its passage through Congress, starting with distrust of the vast size of the bill and Congress's unwillingness to disclose what was actually in it, increasing as the reports slipped out of one backroom deal after another to buy votes for the bill, and peaking with the swell of fury over "deem and pass" (which the House backed away from only at the last moment).  Discussion on the House floor last night showed that Congress is well aware that as many as 60% of Americans did not want this bill.  But they passed it anyway; because, really, when did Congress last give a rat's crap about what America actually wants?  Even then, the final five votes to pass it were gained only by pandering to Rep. Stupak of Michigan with a promise of an executive order banning abortion funding — which, paradoxically, has both pro-life and pro-choice groups enraged.  (The pro-choice groups, because they feel Obama betrayed them and broke his promises — again; the pro-life groups, because they think Obama didn't betray the pro-choice groups enough.)  Rep. Stupak apparently knew this would be unpopular, because as little as half an hour before the vote, his office was reported to be denying the existence of such a deal.  But he did it anyway.  This is, after all, Congress.

According to news reports, the CBO analyses say this healthcare plan will reduce the deficit.  I, for one, an unable to follow how huge new expenditures to expand Federal programs can save money.  Any time a government plan spends more money and yet somehow still reduces the deficit, the odds are it does it by taking more money out of everyone's pockets.  Congress, remember, has no money of its own¹.  Every dollar it spends comes out of your pocket (and a high and rising percentage of those dollars are spent on interest from times it spent money it didn't have at all). Whenever government gets bigger, everyone else gets poorer.

Unfortunately, government never willingly becomes smaller.

[1]  Unless, of course, it just runs the printing presses and prints more fiat money.  But that takes money out of your pocket too, by diluting the money supply and decreasing the value of the dollars you already have.  If government prints money and increases the money supply by, say, 25% (to make the math simple), the effect is exactly as though it just took 20 cents of every dollar you have, including your savings and your investments.

alaric: Myself as Wolverine, complete with blades (Default)
Sunday, March 21st, 2010 09:41 pm

Keeping it short:  [ profile] hugh_mannity on health care, starting with why health care is not a right.  (The capsule summary of which first point is that you do not have a right to anything that somebody else has to work to provide for you.)

alaric: Myself as Wolverine, complete with blades (Default)
Tuesday, March 16th, 2010 01:15 pm

After making temporary repairs to the Volvo's exhaust system over the weekend to replace rusted-out hangers and keep it from falling completely off, I got it into a muffler shop yesterday and got a chance to take a proper look at the exhaust system up on their lift.

In the vernacular, "OMG."  The previous repair was WAY worse bodged than I realized.  The turbo muffler apparently rusted out, and was replaced by cutting pipe and welding in an aftermarket resonator a different size with different-sized pipes, and to make matters worse the idiots butt-welded pipes more than a quarter-inch different in diameter without even overlapping them.  Between that bodged job and general exhaust-system corrosion, it needs the entire exhaust system aft of the catalytic converter replaced.  I was hoping a new pipe section could be welded in, but having gotten a good look at the pipes now, they're not weldable ... the remaining metal is almost tissue-paper thin in places.  Try to weld it and you'd just blow more and bigger holes in it.

The guy at the muffler shop, which I will not name for his protection against possible corporate retribution, said "If I order the replacement parts for you, I have to use approved sources, and you'll be out a thousand bucks for parts.  So what you do is order your parts online, then bring them here, and I'll charge you an hour's labor to put it all together for you."  Now that's an upstanding guy.  :)

I just got a notice that the first installment of parts shipped (it's coming from two different warehouses).  We're saving $350 by buying the parts online, and still getting OEM parts for our money on everything except the muffler.

alaric: Front view of Caer Llewys (House)
Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 01:09 pm

The forecast snowpocalypse has so far not materialized. It was supposed to start snowing here between 0700 and 1000. It's now 1300, and we have ninja stealth snow; when you look out the window it's not visibly snowing, but if you get up and look outside, there is actually a light dusting of snow on the deck.  About enough to draw pictures in with your fingertip.

alaric: Extremely silly photo (Goonish)
Saturday, February 6th, 2010 06:39 pm

So, there I was, in the bathroom.  (No, this has nothing to do with bathroom humor.  It's just where I was.)  And I glanced at the book someone had left open on the vanity, which was a cookbook, open to a page that began with a recipe for "piccolo pizzas", which turn out to be little miniature vol-au-vent-like "pizzas" in cup-like crusts made from Pillsbury bake-and-serve frozen biscuits.

You know you're a geek when the very first thought that goes through your head is, "No, you've mis-spelled pico."

alaric: Frowning avatar (Pissed off)
Sunday, January 24th, 2010 03:21 pm

I have decided that I want junkmail to be a crime.  Conservation violation.  $1 per offense.

Each separate item mailed to each separate address to be considered a separate offense.

...Well, OK, no.  I'm not really serious about making it a crime.  But I DO want junk mail to be tariffed at a surcharged rate, not a discounted rate, and I want the US Post Office to be required to set up a means for any postal recipient to file a preference that says "Do not EVER deliver any mail to this address that is not individually addressed by name to a current resident", and then abide by it.  We just came within one semi-chance comment of losing a $450 unemployment check that got accidentally trashed because it was interleaved with a sheaf of ()%*)(@*&$(*&^()#%*&@%_)*@$^%$!! grocery-store circulars and advertising postcards.