The Flight of Cassini

September 14, 2011 In The News Comments (0) 135

This is absolutely incredible – no computer graphics or 3D animations here. These are actual photos of Saturn, taken by the Cassini spacecraft and composited to create an animated voyage. Watch it full-screen.

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Philadelphia Post-Hurricane Irene

August 29, 2011 In The News, Personal, Philly / Pennsylvania Comments (0) 191

The reporter in me says "what a great image!" while the nerd in me says "Obviously that's why they build things like parking lots on flood plains."

I flew back from Las Vegas literally hours before Hurricane Irene hit Philadelphia. Let me say that it’s pretty unfair going from the City of Overstimulation straight to twenty-four hours of lockdown inside my apartment, but I was worried about leaving my cats alone. I had visions of my windows shattering, glass flying everywhere, and one or both of the cats getting lost in the streets of South Philadelphia, and I figured that if I was home, I could pull them into the bathroom where there are no windows.

In the end, of course, there was very little damage. The wind blew pretty noisily for a few hours, and a brand new leak opened in the ceiling of my living room (which reminds me, I need to call the landlord today…) but mostly I played on Facebook and watched a lot of sensationalist hurricane coverage on the news.

Speaking of sensationalist hurricane coverage... my favorite image to come out of Hurricane Irene, courtesy of Skeptoid genius Brian Dunning.

To be clear, I am not complaining. At all. While Irene’s passage through Philly wound up being mostly hype, there were a good two hours when I was feeling pretty anxious, and I’m thankful things weren’t worse. One look at the consequences in North Carolina and in the Catskill Mountains reminds us that we shouldn’t take such weather events lightly. Continue Reading

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“The Dark Knight Rises” is filming winter scenes in Pittsburgh.

August 1, 2011 In The News, Philly / Pennsylvania Comments (0) 136

Yesterday in Pittsburgh it was ninety degrees and muggy, and Bane and his army of soldiers or minions or whatever were wearing winter coats. That’s fake snow that’s blowing around on the steps of the courthouse. Makes me a little glad I’m not in the movie business. Continue Reading

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Why the USA desperately needs to bring back Civics class

January 19, 2011 In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 215

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hc5UoPoI_xY

I do not post this video to mock Rita, or to praise Michelangelo Signorile, or even to trash Sarah Palin. I post it to call attention to the desperate need in the United States for sound civics education.

Rita sounds perfectly reasonable, and fairly articulate, but she is wrong. I’m not saying I disagree with her opinions, I’m saying she is factually incorrect.  With these incorrect facts as premises, she has constructed a (presumably) logical view of the world and of American politics that is entirely warped, and that is sad. Continue Reading

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Thank you for your support

December 30, 2010 ACLU, Animals, Personal Comments (1) 244

As we approach the end of the tax year, I thought I’d share a brief list of the charitable organizations I personally support.  Some of you can probably afford to make much larger gifts than I can, and I’d encourage you to give generously to support these causes.

1. Humane Farm Animal Care

While I am a meat eater, I don’t see why eating an animal after it’s dead requires that it be tortured while alive. Food labels like Certified Organic, Pasture-Fed, and Free Range are essentially meaningless these days, but one label can be trusted to say that the animal you’re eating was not made to suffer throughout its life: Certified Humane.  These labels come only from the folks at HFAC, and they are rigorous in enforcing strict criteria before they’ll give out the label.

I will admit that I don’t always buy Certified Humane, but that’s because it’s still difficult to find.  Supporting this organization will help raise awareness, and that will make Certified Humane products much easier to find.  You can learn more and donate through HFAC’s web site.

2. Cell Motion Biobus

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZpFENgX9uI

Founded by an old friend of mine (now apparently known as “Doctor Ben”), the Cell Motion Biobus is a mobile science classroom that travels New York City, bringing sound science education, taught by PhD scientists, to students whose districts can’t afford expenses like microscopes and computers.

You may have seen the Biobus on the Colbert Report in March, when they stole Stephen’s blood.  The organization reaches about 20,000 people a year, and they operate on a shoestring.  You can learn more, volunteer, and make a much-needed donation at their web site.

3. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of Pennsylvania


As if I would forget my employer.  As I’ve been known to say, I work for the ACLU because I support the cause, and not vice-versa.  The ACLU was the first charity I ever donated to, back when I was about 17 years old.  It is no exaggeration to say that the ACLU has not only defended, but in fact shaped the U.S. Constitution.  Did you know that no court ever upheld a free speech claim until the ACLU started arguing cases?

I view the ACLU as the world’s most important non-profit organization, and every American, whether they support the ACLU or oppose it, benefits from the ACLU’s 90 years of work.  Your gift to the ACLU is shared equally between the National organization and your state affiliate, no matter where you send it.

Incidentally, if you are one of those people who hates the ACLU, I’d invite you to learn more – particularly the articles on Snopes, and a list of the ACLU’s real work defending Christianity.  Most people who hate the ACLU have entirely the wrong idea about what we do, because unfortunately there are a lot of people out there telling outright lies about the organization.

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Merry Christmas, you atheist bastards!

December 28, 2010 ACLU, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 163

This was a banner year for Christmas cards at the ACLU of Pennsylvania.  We didn’t keep an exact count, but the total was somewhere over 500 cards.  Of those 500, perhaps twenty were kind thoughts from people who like us.  The other 480 or so were angry, angry, angry.

In case you’ve missed it, there is an annual campaign to bury the ACLU under Christmas cards.  A chain email that’s been circulating for a decade or more insists that if we get enough Christmas cards, we’ll have to spend all of our time and resources opening them (just in case they contain money!) and won’t be able to do anything else with our time.  Shades of “Miracle on 34th Street,” I suppose.

This is all under the mistaken impression that the ACLU is fighting a War on Christmas, that we’ve told Macy’s and other department stores that we’ll sue if they wish shoppers a Merry Christmas, and that we’re somehow campaigning to have the Christmas Tree re-branded the “Holiday Tree.”  It’s all a bunch of nonsense, of course.  None of those claims are true, and we think people should be free to celebrate whatever holiday celebration appeals to them – just that the government shouldn’t be in the business of dictating what holiday that is.

So I present for you a gallery of a few favorite Christmas cards we received this year.  As a nerd who has recently been studying a lot of ancient and Classical societies, I have to say that I especially enjoy the frequent theme that “it’s ALWAYS been a CHRISTMAS tree.”  Perhaps a brief course in Western Civilization would be beneficial… Continue Reading

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Nixtamalize me

May 26, 2010 History Comments (0) 362

I spent the past couple evenings watching some of the many, many episodes of Good Eats on my DVR. One episode in particular (“Tort(illa) Reform“) was especially thought provoking.  One of the things that endears me to the show is how Alton Brown presents not only recipes but the science and often the anthropology behind foods.  In this case, corn.

The foodstuff in question is actually properly called “maize.”  The name “corn” is applied in Europe to most cereal crops.  In this case, we’re dealing specifically with the starchy, thick-hulled maize used by the Aztecs to make nixtamal, AKA “hominy,” which begets masa which begets all manor of deliciousness.

After Cortez got done pretending to be a god and eradicating the massive Aztec empire, he returned to Europe with lots and lots of gold, but also maize.  Unfortunately for the Europeans, Cortez was too busy killing Aztecs to notice their methods of producing nixtamal.  See, the Aztecs learned thousands of years prior that by soaking corn kernels in an alkaline solution of water and wood ash they could remove the pericarp, or outer hull. Skipping this step leaves the maize nutritionally inefficient, and that’s why many European cultures that adopted maize as a staple food were stricken with pellagra, a niacin deficiency that fanatical “House MD” fans like me will recognize from the second-season episode “Forever,” in which it made a lady attempt to drown, and then successfully smother, her baby.

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I am just an advertisement for a version of myself

May 20, 2010 Blogging, Gay and Lesbian, Hockey, Naked People, Pop Culture Comments (1) 360

[Credit to David Byrne for the post title]

Way back in November of 2007 I posted about the sordid saga of Ethan Reynolds, formerly of the model blog / community Brat Boy School (since shut down; internet wayback machine link here – caution, it loads slowly).  I’m seeing echoes of that experience in the recent downfall of “Hockey Kid Mikey,” an alleged gay high school hockey player promoted by gay web site OutSports who, after building a small empire on the web, turned out to probably be a 40-year-old gay hockey fan.

Both appear to be cases where some blogger used the magical power of the internet to pretend to be someone else.  In both cases the bloggers built an enormous base of enamored fans, and in both cases their success began to open doors outside the internet shortly before their fictitious persona fell apart.  In neither case were any actual crimes (apparently) committed, and yet in both cases the fans, once betrayed, called for blood.

As I was in 2007, I am fascinated by the response from fans.  It’s not as if this technique is old.  I’ve compared Ethan to nudie centerfolds, who always seem to find titillating answers to the same questionnaire, but the creation of a fictional persona is not limited to the vaguely pornographic.  Think of Dear Abby, or Poor Richard, or for that matter any talk-show host.  None of these people is really the person they present to the world.  Granted, that fact is disclosed to varying degrees, but I’d imagine there are many Letterman fans who would be outraged to discover the real person behind the television character he portrays.  This is, I would hazard to say, at least partly to blame for the outrage behind the most recent “Late Night Wars,” and why Jay Leno emerged as the villain while Conan’s popularity grew: cutthroat businessman is pretty far removed from the brand Jay has been selling his viewers, while  Conan’s brand is apparently not as far from his actual personality. Continue Reading

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Soccer players kissing, blah blah blah

April 21, 2010 Gay and Lesbian, In The News, Naked People Comments (5) 997

Gary Neville kisses Paul Scholes

Paul Scholes and Gary Neville play soccer, professionally apparently, in a country called–wait, let me look this up–England.  Except there it’s called “football,” which I assume explains the unexplained popularity of soccer.  The British have apparently spent decades sitting around very large stadiums watching a bunch of men stand around an enormous field, wondering when the Steelers were to arrive.

Anyway, so on Saturday Scholes scored a very important goal to win a very important game, and Neville gave him a kiss, and people’s minds were BLOWN.  Bunches of newspapers in the UK ran kiss-related headlines.  Most were favorable, but still.  Someone should remind the UK that they are European, which in the US is a word that means “gayer than gay.”

But I digress.  The whole reason I took to this blog is because I love, love, LOVE the response from Guardian sports blogger Barry Glendenning, whose response is that these two guys are not nearly hot enough for a PDA.  Via Outsports (emphasis mine):

That kiss was wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And before you scuttle off down to the comments section to level accusations of homophobia at us, don’t bother. If it was two ripped and dashing footballers – some Matt Taylor-on-Jason Roberts action, for example – we’d have no problem with such ostentatious public displays of man-love and possibly be even a little turned on. Hell, even if Gary Neville had just planted one hand on either side of Paul Scholes’s head and laid a shock-and-awe black-and-white movie style smacker on his lips, that would have been fine too. But it was the tenderness of the moment, the cupping of the face, the tilting of the heads, the eyes closed expectantly, the blur of ginger hair and wispy not-quite-beardness in yesterday’s sport sections that put us off our lunch. Down with this sort of thing. Careful now.

Purely in the interest of journalism, I did the research, and it appears these are the two eye-pleasing gentlemen Glendenning would rather see locking lips on the turf:

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Shitting on Phil Collins, Part Two

April 20, 2010 In The News, Personal, Pop Culture Comments (1) 215

Yesterday I explained my personal sentimental connection to the work of Phil Collins and Genesis, and how my perspective has evolved with my musical tastes.  Even with that as background, I still feel bad for the rest of this post, so here is a disclaimer:  I love Phil Collins.  He’s one of the greatest rock drummers ever, if not the greatest.  People don’t realize this because rather than stay behind the drums, Phil has done a whole lot of other stuff, much of which he’s sucked at.  Face Value is a brilliant, artistic and personal album from beginning to end.  Phil also helped create Peter Gabriel (“melt”), another of the most brilliant albums ever recorded.  Phil brought gated reverb down from the mountain, and it revolutionized music mostly for the better.  With all that said…

To excerpt from the same article I linked to yesterday, “Coinciding with Collins’s Roseland shows, on June 17th he will receive the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s prestigious Johnny Mercer Award at the organization’s annual gala awards dinner in New York City.”

I find this the slightest bit ironic.  My friend Alex and I fairly recently realized that Phil Collins does not write lyrics so much as he strings together cliches, idioms, and figures of speech that happen to rhyme.  A couple of examples:

  • From “In the Air Tonight“:  Well I was there and I saw what you did / I saw it with my own two eyes / So you can wipe off that grin / I know where you’ve been / It’s all been a pack of lies”
  • Or my absolute personal favorite example, “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven”:  We had a life, we had a love / but you don’t know what you’ve got ’til you lose it / well that was then, this is now / and I want you back / How many times can I say I’m sorry?

Then, of course, there’s the album covers.  Here are the covers for Phil’s solo studio LPs to date.  See if you detect a theme:

Face Value (1981) Continue Reading

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