Thursday, July 26, 2007

I Dub Thee "Harbinger"

If you ever see this cat approaching you, run as fast as you can the other way and hope that it doesn't follow you:

Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours.

Oscar the cat doesn't like to be put out in the hall when a patient is dying.

His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means the patient has less than four hours to live.


I've been distracted and preoccupied lately, both in action and thought. More on that to come soon, maybe. In the meantime, I have allowed my fantasy baseball teams to lie fallow, which is undoubtedly a matter of great consternation to all of you. Ironically, as seems to be the case every year, the team that was drafted by computer is doing pretty well, while the team I drafted personally has lately fallen precipitously in the standings. Player injuries have taken their usual toll, but I blame the front office for its failure to scout and identify a whole team's worth of new talent that has prospered in the major leagues this year. The team should just fire the general manager and be done with it. I should rename the team Groucho's Guppies, and a adopt a suitably Marxian motto: I would not want to be a part of any team that would have me as its general manager.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Airport Deja Vu

The crash of an airliner in Brazil this week brings back some points I've made before about airports with short runways in urban areas.

The Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo is apparently a notoriously difficult airport for pilots. It is in the middle of the city, and its longest runway is 6,300 feet, about the same as Burbank's longest runway and 500 feet longer than the runway usually used for landings in Burbank. The airplane crashed in bad weather, at night, hitting a building just beyond the airfield.

Scary comparison to the 2000 near-disaster at Burbank:

Urban airfield: check.
Runway under 6,400 feet: check.
Nighttime: check.
Heavy rain: check.
Gas station beyond end of runway: check.
Overhead views of Sao Paulo and Burbank. Quite similar, no?

Even more frightening, the Brazilian airport had been shut down due to its dangers (a court ordered it to reopen), and the runway was in the middle of a rennovation that left it without drainage grooves for rainfall.

The CNN article linked above points out that not only is there a move afoot to close the airport again, but some are calling for the installation of a soft cement system at the end of the runway to arrest runaway aircraft. Burbank has installed such a device, which has already been tested by the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez. (East Coast Bias alert! The CNN article notes that this system has prevented airplanes from skidding off runways at New York's JFK airport, and gives the dimensions of La Guardia's runway as a comparison. I humbly submit that Burbank provides better comparisons for both issues. But what do I know. I'm just a blogger, presumably typing away in my parents' basement while wearing pajamas.)

All of this, and I'm supposed to be flying out of Burbank next week on a business trip. Good thing I'm not afraid of flying.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fun With Your Nervous System

Apologies if you have seen this one, but I found it amusing:

1. Sitting where you are, at your desk in front of your computer, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles.

2. Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand.

Your foot will change direction.

Bonus points: how frustrated can you make yourself trying to make your foot not change direction?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How Not To Avoid Jury Service

Here in SoCal, a summons for jury service is not nearly the burden that it once was. You must call in to an automated telephone number each evening for a week. If your jury pool number is not called, you are done. If your number is called (which it undoubtedly will be), you go in for a day. Unless you are impaneled on a jury that day, you are done.

Despite the efforts of courts to ease the impact of jury service, and the important civic duty that it represents, people are always coming up with schemes to get out of jury duty. One of the most obvious, time-honored excuses is that you have an irreconcilable bias against one of the parties, or, similarly, that you maintain an adamant view on punishment (heavy or light). Jurors seem to forget, however, that judges hear these same excuses every single day of the year. Plus, they are, well, judges, after all, and have well-developed hooey meters.

A fellow in Massachusetts recently discovered that his declaration that he was a racist, homophobic liar was not enough to elicit sympathy from the judge:

"You say on your form that you're not a fan of homosexuals," [Judge] Nickerson said.

"That I'm a racist," Ellis interrupted.

"I'm frequently found to be a liar, too. I can't really help it," Ellis added.

"I'm sorry?" Nickerson said.

"I said I'm frequently found to be a liar," Ellis replied.

"So, are you lying to me now?" Nickerson asked.

"Well, I don't know. I might be," was the response.

Ellis then admitted he really didn't want to serve on a jury.

"I have the distinct impression that you're intentionally trying to avoid jury service," Nickerson said.

"That's true," Ellis answered.

Mr. Clever now faces perjury charges. Nice going.