Monday, January 30, 2006

The Ultimate Jon Story

OK, so I have a friend Jon who is the king of doing goofy things. He is not at all stupid...he's actually quite smart, but somehow he ends up in situations that beg the comment, "Wha...?” Thus begins a series of blog entries. Every so often, I will regale you with one of the vast number of Jon stories in my repertoire. Jon is, aside from being a very good friend, endlessly entertaining. :)

Jon always starts this particular story by saying, "You know when you were a kid and you made concoctions in the bathroom?” When everyone continues looking at him blankly, he gamely explains further, "You know, like, you mixed the toothpaste and the mouthwash just to see what it would smell like?” (Blank stares from the crowd) Anyway, at this point Jon just goes on with the story. Apparently, he liked to make concoctions in the bathroom when he was a kid, but he was not allowed to keep them in the "mouth rinsing cup" that his mom kept in the bathroom. He had to rinse his concoctions down the drain when he was finished to keep the "mouth rinsing cup" clean and tidy. So, one day he invented an AMAZING concoction. Man, did it smell good! He really needed to keep it and, being unable to keep it in the aforementioned cup, he began looking through the bathroom cabinets for ways to preserve his creation. Lo and behold, under the sink he found the perfect do-dad! He stuck it into the cup whereupon it absorbed all of the concoction, and it still smelled great! Heck, it even had a string so he could hang it up like an air freshener! Perfection! Jon proceeded to tack his new ornament up on his wall.

When Jon's dad came home from work, he went up to Jon's room to see how his son's day had been. Somewhere in the middle of their conversation, he laid eyes on Jon's ornament and immediately addressed Jon by his FULL name (uh-oh!) and announced that they needed to have a talk. The way Jon describes it, he learned a lot more than he really wanted to know about girls that day.

Now, the really funny part of the story is....how old do you think he was?

Go on, take a guess...

Fourteen. Yes, seriously. Fourteen.

Ah, Jon... :)

Ba-Na-Na, Bah-Nah-Nah

I recently learned that Alison doesn't like bananas. For years now, I've been saying things like, "I'm going to have a banana in my hot cereal. Do you want one?" And for years now, she's been saying things like, "No, thanks. I think I'll have cranberries." Somehow, I never noticed that, in 3.5 years, I've never actually seen her eat a banana, except possibly in smoothie form.

This makes me wonder, exactly whom am I marrying here? What kind of person doesn't like bananas? What other unjustifiable biases lie hidden in her psyche? I think this could be a deal-breaker.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Ultra Mecha Ace, Unit 0, Go!

I'm no otaku---though I've played one on TV---but I've seen my fair share of anime. I've noticed a few themes that recur repeatedly in Japanese animation, specifically science-fiction anime. The first 3 you've probably noticed; the others, maybe not. Are you interested in reading about them? Oh. Well here they are anyway. Ready, ikimashou.

GIANT ROBOTS

Giant robots, are, of course, the hallmark cliche of anime. Sometimes, the mecha are truly autonomous robots; sometimes they are vehicles/machines piloted by humans or other sentient creatures. In the later case, the mecha may be so small as to be just power armor. In all cases, however, they are roughly humanoid in shape or, if transformable, have at least one humanoid configuration. Notable examples include Robotech (Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada rewritten rolled into a single series), all 3 Voltron series, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Patlabor, Tranzor Z ( Mazinger Z), all the Gundam series, and too many more to list.

BIG-EYED, BIG-HAIRED CHARACTERS

Sub-Cliche: Gaijin as Nihonjin

After giant robots, perhaps the most famous trait of anime is the style in which the characters are drawn. In particular, they invariably have large, round eyes. These eyes are intended to make the characters more endearing and expressive, but, to Western viewers at least, the round eyes and other features, make all the characters look Caucasian. I won't bother listing examples for this one; just turn on any anime series.

Sub-Cliche: Crazy Hair

Anime characters are also famous for huge, gravity-defying, hairstyles that divide into peaky, pointed clumps. (How much animated hair spray do you suppose the average anime character goes through in his average animated day?) Anime hair is also distinctively colored; blue, green, and purple are commonly found. And dye isn't the explanation; based on the context and the characters involved, the crazy colors seem to be natural. As before, providing examples would be pointless, so I won't bother. Pick a show at random.

THE TEAM OF FIVE (more or less)

(This one's my personal favorite.) Often in anime, the central characters form some kind of formal or informal team. The team members usually number about 5, and they belong to these categories:
  • The Cool Guy. This is usually the leader of the team, and he's often the central character. And yes, he's generally the coolest one.

  • The Slightly Less Cool Guy. This character often supports the Cool Guy/protagonist; sometimes he's the Cool Guy's best friend, sometimes he simply servers to as a contrast, to show just how cool the cool guy is. Occasionally this is a slightly darker character.

  • The Big Guy. This character can be musclebound, but more often, he's simply fat. The Big Guy often serves as the comic relief.

  • The Girl. Yep, there's usually just one girl, though that seems to be changing as even Japan becomes less sexist. The Girl can be a romantic interest for one of the other characters, but that is not often the case.

  • The Kid/Nerd. This character is sometimes just a kid, and sometimes just a nerd, but he can be both. Not surprisingly, he often wears glasses and provides comic relief.

Note that sometimes the roles can be combined. In particular, the kid can sometimes also be the token girl. In other cases, the central team may include additional characters, though they will frequently fall into one of the above archetypes. (If nothing else, I've cleverly written my description of the Slightly Less Cool Guy vaguely enough to include almost any character.)

Examples of series featuring a team of exactly these 5 members include Battle of the Planets/G-Force (Science Ninja Team Gatchama), and the Lion Voltron series, among others. Examples of series featuring slightly fewer or more characters that nonetheless match my descriptions include
Cowboy Bebop,and Robotech, the New Generation (Mospeada),

Sub-Cliche: Not-Quite-Uniform Uniforms

When the central characters are part of a formal team, often a military unit, they usually wear a "uniform" that is not uniform. Almost always, everyone has his or her own signature color. (Black, blue, red, green, and yellow are the standard colors for the Team of 5, although the Girl can sometimes be pink.) Additionally, sometimes a character's uniform will differ to reflect his or her gender or special skills. Examples include Battle of the Planets/G-Force, Voltron, and Robotech, the Macross Saga.

NEPOTISM

Frequently, a single visionary inventor is responsible for developing a crucial technology, often a mecha or vehicle. In this case, his son (or sometimes daughter, nephew, or niece) will invariably be chosen, out of sheer nepotism, to pilot/operate the mecha/vehicle/whatever his or her father/uncle created or contributed to. Examples include Tranzor Z and Evangelion.

TOKYO RESURECTED

These stories often take place in a post-apocalyptic setting where, among other disasters, Tokyo has been destroyed. But don't give up hope, because Tokyo is almost invariable reborn as Neo Tokyo, Tokyo 3, or some such. Examples include Akira and Evangelion.

THE GIANT UNDERGROUND COMPLEX

Given that Tokyo has been destroyed---but rebuilt, never fear!---I suppose it makes sense for the military---I mean self-defense force---and research corporations to hide all their top-secret (and usually mecha-related) projects underground. Still, these complexes are immense, often with enormous open volumes. The GICs always engender questions in my mind:

  • How do they support the earth over such huge caverns?

  • How long did it take them to dig these things out? I mean, the Chunnel took 15,000 workers over 7 years, and these GICs are much bigger.

  • Where did the put all the dirt? Seriously, if these series and films are any indication, it seems as if roughly a quarter of the Japanese archipelago has been undermined. Shouldn't the rest of the country be 100 meters higher now? Or maybe they solved the overpopulation problem by making all the islands larger.

Examples of giant underground complexes include those in Akira and Evangelion, but they can be found elsewhere.

I hope you've enjoyed this little tour of anime cliches. (If not, I'll be glad to give you your money back.) Can you think of any that I missed? If so, feel free to comment. (If you're only planning to comment that my hair looks stupid today or that my momma dresses me funny, please keep that to yourself.)

Doumo arigatou gozaimashita.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Politicos

I'm guessing that at least 3 of our regular readers, of which there are (sadly) probably no more than 5, will be interested in this LiveScience article.

The article reports a study in which human subjects with strongly held political beliefs were presented with information that contradicted their preferred candidate from the 2004 Presidential election. The subjects’ brains did not exhibit increased activity in areas involved in reasoning. The subjects then reached conclusions that were not justified based on the facts given to them, at which point brain activity "spiked in the circuits involved in reward, a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix." In short, the "study points to a total lack of reason in political decision-making."

So, care to guess weather it was the die-hard Republicans or the dyed-in-the-wool Democrats who so ably demonstrated their irrationality? The answer: both. Fascinating, eh? It appears that both conservatives and liberals can be unreasonable when they hold strong pre-existing opinions. So try to keep an open mind, will ya?

By the way, I suspect that this same pattern would be observed when people with entrenched opinions on other topics are faced with correspondingly contradictory statements.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Dark Horizons

Today, NASA postponed the launch of the New Horizons unmanned Pluto probe for the second consecutive day. Yesterday, high winds at Cape Canaveral forced a delay. The problem today was, once again, weather, but this time it was weather about 1000 miles away. Read this article, or this one, to find out what I'm talking about. For me, the upshot of all this is that I'm working from home today.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

USARPS

I recently stumbled upon what appears to be the web site of an organized, sponsored league for playing the "sport" of rock, paper, scissors. (Dig this press release.) The site is certainly an elaborate joke. Too bad; proffessional RPSers would be fun to mock. If the USARPS were real, I'd propose that the league dump the passé "RPS-3" and work its way up to RPS-25.

Update: Apparently this league is indeed real; Alison and I saw a bit of the championship on the tube.

Call Me Old-Fashioned

OK, since I have started all of this wedding planning business, I have found myself becoming one of those women who buys bridal magazines. Yeah, yeah...go ahead and make fun. :) Anyway, in one of them, I found these ads for Impression Bridal, which feature women in the bridal dresses posing with naked men. (!!) Eeew! I hate to be a prude, but how does that say "wedding"? Frankly, it kinda freaks me out. Anyway, follow the link to decide for yourself.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Any Color You Want as Long as it's Silver

Are you some kind of paranoid nut-job concerned about the privacy implications of RFID technology? Do you, like Red Green, believe that if you can't make what you need out of duct tape and whatever happens to be lying about, you don't really need it? Well, you may be interested in these instructions for building an RF-opaque wallet.

Raze Rage

Does it bother you that when you burn a building down to the ground you are actually razing it?

Monster Taxidermy

Does your kid love stuffed animals, but you are tired of paying The Man to make your child happy? Are you a plushophile who would like to wield more creative control over the plush creatures you...interact with? Well, you might be interested in this visual tutorial showing how to make your own stuffed felt monster.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

What Doctor? Doctor Who?

Hey all you mad sci-fi super fans. You may be interested to know that the Sci Fi Channel* has just inked a deal with the Beeb to broadcast the first season (first series to you Brits) of the new Doctor Who** in the US. Doctor Who is certainly a kid/family show and makes no effort to be hard science fiction, but if you accept that, you'll find the series is quite well done and quite entertaining. I can't help but think that, if this season brings in the ratings, Sci Fi will pick up the second season as well. So, if you are a Nielson family, please tune in Fridays at 9:00 PM beginning in March.

* Sci Fi is the home of the very enjoyable reimagining of Battlestar Galactica, a couple of crappy-to-medium Stargate series, and a whole boatload of idiotic made-for-TV monster movies.
** For Doctor Who news, reviews, episode guides, and more, check out Outpost Gallifrey.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Kanji Smatter

I'm sure you've noticed that Chinese characters (hanzi in at least one Chinese dialect, kanji in Japanese) are very popular as graphic art among Westerners. Whities, African Americans, and Latinos paint them on cars, hang them on walls, and tattooed them into skin. I've often wondered, given that most of these people most likely don't speak (or, more to the point, read) a word of Japanese or any Chinese dialect, how often the message is flubbed or intentionally mistranslated. I've long speculated that some huge number of Americans are walking around with nonsense permanently implanted into their skin. Shoot, I'm sure more than a few are carrying messages that insult the bearer's intelligence or parentage. Well, know I know I was right to wonder. An NPR story pointed me to Hanzi Smatter, a blog written by a Chinese American and dedicated to "outing" misuses of kanji by Westerners. So, you might want to investigate the site. And enjoy, gentle reader.

Friday, January 06, 2006

To-may-to, To-mah-to. Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to. Fitter, Fatter.

Men's Fitness magazine has recently completed their latest annual ranking of the fittest and fattest cities in the nation. Inexplicably, Baltimore was ranked as the fittest city, leapfrogging last year's winner Seattle. In response, the entire state of Maryland made this statement: "Hunh?"

On the other end of the spectrum, Chicago passed last years "winner," Houston, to claim the title of fattest burb.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Really More of a Loose Guideline

You should really check out the latest Penny Arcade comic strip; I found it highly amusing. My favorite part is the "toink!"

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Monday, January 02, 2006

It's a Bird. It's a Plane. It's Bird-Man!

Ever thought of strapping jet engines to your legs and jumping out of a plan? No? Well, this guy did it, and with only one of those flying-squirrel "wingsuits" to guide him. Be sure to watch the video.

To the Velomobile!

As a cyclist, engineer, and environmentalist, I heartily endorse this guy's velomobile project. Check out the clever design and advanced materials.

Point After Touchdown

You won't find much sports news here on Industrial-Strength Science. In fact, I think this entry is the first example. However, I was rather tickled by this particular antic, so I thought I'd report it.

Yesterday (New Year's Day), in the Patriots-Dolphins game, New England* vintage** back-up quarterback Doug Flutie*** scored an extra point by way of the NFL's first dropkick in 64 years. The last time was 2 weeks after Pearl Harbor was attacked, back when the ball was quite a bit more spherical than it is today. Crazy, eh?

* Flutie is, of course, from Canada, not New England.
** Simply calling Flutie a "veteran" is an understatement.
*** "Flutie" is fun to say, don't you think? Flutie, flutie, flutie. Flutie.

As Seen on TV

So I'm watching the Science Channel (of all things), and on comes and ad (advert, for you Brits) for Doggy Steps, a small "flight" of three carpeted steps that your older, arthritic, overweight, or small-breed dog can use to get up onto the furniture or into the car. Now, it's not so much the Doggy Steps themselves that I find funny; rather it's the marketing campaign. The TV ad went through the whole cliché process of suggesting progressively lower prices for the product. Then, because one marketing cliché isn't enough, it made an "incredible double offer": a second set of steps for free! (Except for additional shipping.) Meanwhile, I was constantly treated to short clips of small dogs easily ascending onto beds or into cars, there to be embraced by their waiting and adoring owners. Awwww.

Of course, that is a pretty good price. And I would get two of them. And at that price, they won't last long. And those dogs are really cute. Hmmm. I'd better place my order today. Wait! We don't have a dog. Curse your evil genius, doggysteps.com!

I would say that this is exactly what Muffy needs, but Alison and Sharon have already planned to build a carpeted ramp for her instead.

Anyway, you should check out the site. Be sure to note the famous "as-seen-on-TV" logo in the corner. Hah!