Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sometimes Chicken Little Is Right

Just when you thought you had enough to worry about when travelling by air (are my carry-on liquids in clear plastic containers? Am I wearing clothing that is easy to remove and put back on at the security check?), now comes the story that space junk just about took out a commercial airliner.

It seems that a flight between Chile and New Zealand (how quaint -- people do stuff in the Southern Hemisphere just like people here in the real world) nearly crossed paths with Russian satellite that was, in the antiseptic phrase of rocket scientists, de-orbiting. The pilot of a westbound overnight flight was more than a little alarmed to see flaming chunks of space junk falling within five miles of his airplane. Consider that at the usual speed such aircraft fly, the separation between the airplane full of sleepy passengers and a flaming hunk of used-to-be satellite was about ten seconds. Just to make the adrenaline flow a little faster, the pilot said he could hear the roar of the falling debris over the sound of his own craft's engines. (Incidentally, I have no trouble believing this. On my last trip to Florida, we passed alarmingly close to aircraft headed west in the same flight corridor. The engine note of those jets was clearly audible.)

The Russians were little help. They had alerted the airlines that the satellite would be re-entering the atmosphere so that pilots could plan for the potential danger. Unfortunately, the Russians got a few details wrong: the day, time and place of the re-entry. Bummer, dude-ski.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Stay Off Washington Roads On Weekends

Think this kid is headed for a tough future? It seems that a Washington state 17-year-old was arrested for drunk driving. Apparently the combination of a minor driver (statistically the most dangerous) and drinking is not something Washington worries about, since it let the boy go. Washington cracks down on adults who drink and drive, though. Later that night, the same cop stopped the same kid for drinking and driving. Unfortunately for the kid (but apparently a huge stroke of good fortune for the good citizens of Washington), as night turned to early morning, he turned eighteen. Just like that, he got his very first adult DUI and was promptly locked up.

The same (former) kid had been stopped for drunk driving earlier in the month. Did nobody tell him that the get-out-of-jail-free cards he had been getting as a juvenile would out when he turned eighteen? Geez, what good are high school counselors, anyway?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sporting Frenzy

This is one of those weird, fun weekends when the sporting world offers up one of its better days of the year, particularly for those like me with, let's say, eclectic interests. The NCAA men's basketball tournament, of course, is the colossus that stands astride the sports landscape. The first weekend, packed as it is with 48 games, in which the rarely seen pure joy of sport makes an appearance every once in a while, is probably the best time for the casual fan. In that many games, there is bound to be a fun one or two (as Oregon found out, nearly to their regret). Plus, the now-mandatory filling out of tournament brackets has created perhaps the most effective vehicle for non-fans to experience the fun of following a particular sports team. Pick a team to win, for any reason at all, and you suddenly have a rooting interest. There's nothing quite like pulling hard for Winthrop (who?) to beat Notre Dame, believe me.

Since you asked, yes, my brackets are doing quite well. Historically well, actually. 28 out of 32 correct picks on one sheet, and 27 out of 32 on two others. It has helped that nearly all of the favorites have won.

In addition to basketball, the 12 Hours of Sebring, a venerable and important sports car race, is now underway. More importantly, the Formula One season kicks off this evening with the Grand Prix of Australia. It looks like this will be the most interesting season in years, now that Michael Schumacher has retired. Two-time defending champion Fernando Alonso has left Renault to join super-rookie Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, which seems to be back on form. Always quick Kimi Raikkonen has filled Schumacher's place at Ferrari, and has shown the expected speed. BMW Sauber appear ready to join the ranks of the elite teams, Renault is off the pace, and last year's comic relief, Super Aguri, is dominating the works cars of its patron, Honda.

Um, is anyone still here?

Did I mention that there is a full slate of English Premier League soccer games on as well?

And that I also have drafts for two different fantasy baseball teams today?

Okay, that should have eliminated everyone else. To the couch I go.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Another Reason to Love the Internet

It's been a reasonably good day at the office, it's Friday, and the weather is perfect. Naturally, one does in such situations, I'm thinking, "happy dance!" Hit number one on Google using that search term:

Thanks, Al Gore!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Brilliant Potential of the Human Mind

Are you feeling smart today? On top of your game, are you? Well, meet UCLA's 31-year-old mathematics professor who happens to have made some significant discoveries pertaining to a 2,300 year old math problem, among other things. He seems like a nice-enough guy, he just happened to be working through high school problem sets when most of us were struggling with the nuances of the "plus" sign. Stupendous brainpower apparently runs in the family. One of his brothers is mildly autistic and can play any piece of music on the piano after hearing it once. And pity the poor youngest brother, who had to beg his parents to recognize that he was not like his brother. No, that poor wretch only has degrees in economics, math and computer science and holds down a job as a computer programmer.

Want to know how you know you are a prodigy? Solve these problems. Without paper. At eight years old.

Can you even solve them now? [Yes, Andy, I'm sure you can, but you always did have a little Rainman in you when it came to math.]

Monday, March 12, 2007

My (Shared) Birthday Gift

As has been chronicled elsewhere, Michael is quite the whiz with Legos. Knowing this, Grandma Janet got clever and gave me a 1/17th scale Lego Ferrari F430 kit for my birthday. As she undoubtedly knew would happen, it was immediately appropriated by the Lego Kid:

We agreed to share the construction duties, each taking charge of every other construction step, of which there were about 34. It took three evenings, but we did it.

Just Because

Too bad the kid's so camera shy.

Spring Comes Early

The weather gods apparenly observe the appparently arbitrary comings and goings of daylight savings time. Just in time for that extra hour of evening sun, it was about 90 degrees yesterday, and promises to be warmer still today.

I'm a little uneasy with this manipulation of the daylight savings time, however. We should not be plunged back into darkness in the morning; that kind of thing should stay remain in the cozy autumn and deepest winter where it belongs. And have the timekeeping powers that be really thought through the consequences of extending DST until nearly Thanksgiving? One major American tradition will be noticably affected: Halloween. Around here, sunset usually falls at 5:01 pm on October 31st (yes, I checked an almanac). That means that real darkness is complete around 5:30; shortly thereafter, all the little kids who can't stay up late begin their trick-or-treating. The elementary school aged kids take up the next wave, from about 6:30 to 8:00 pm or so. Then it's time to shut off the lights on the porch and any any other part of the house that faces the street in order to avoid the teens who show up to mooch for free candy dressed pretty much as they dress for school -- piercings and makeup for the boys, underthings as outerthings for the girls. [/oldcoot]

This year, thanks to a sunset that will happen after six o'clock, parents will have the unenviable choice of trying to rein in their preschoolers who are already sugar-addled and are clawing at the door to troll for more sweets, imploring them to wait for dark, or commencing the trick-or-treating in broad daylight, which completely robs the event of its rule-bending excitement (since when does Daddy walk me around the neighborhood dressed as Spiderman? At night? Allowing me to collect candy?).

Plus there is the problem of moving all of the festivities an hour later into the evening. No self-respecting kid wants to trick-or-treat in the light, but it's a school night, so, except for the teen reprobates, the candy collecting cannot wait an extra hour. And thus the fragile balance of the Halloween trick-or-treating schedule will be broken. Toddlers will mix with almost-jaded sixth graders. More parents will be called into action in order to chaperone kids simultaneously rather than sequentially by age. Candy will be spilled, and tears will be shed.

Yet more evidence of the fabric of this great nation being torn asunder. When will it all end?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Darkened Side of the Moon

Get your telescopes ready. Starting the evening of March 3rd, a total lunar eclipse will plunge the moon into shadow. The linked article explains concisely how the moon will slip into the Earth's shadow for a few hours, turning it a coppery red. The last such event was in October 2004 as the Red Sox were completing their historic World Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, thus simultaneously ending the Curse of the Bambino and depriving millions of New Englanders of their primary excuse to drone on and on about how much they hate New York.

One more thing: the eclipse is only viewable east of the Rocky Mountains. Darned east coast bias.