Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Earthqauke/Tsunami Disaster in Japan

      As I'm sure you've all heard, a 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit on Friday, March 11th and caused a 30 foot tsunami to hit Japan. Thousands are dead, thousands more are missing. If that wasn't enough the the damage to the infrastructure is palpable. If THAT wasn't enough part of that infrastructure includes nuclear power plants.

      In short this is a true disaster and a true tragedy and as reports continue to come in things just keep looking worse.

      If all this death, sadness, loss, and fear wasn't enough, I just read an article informing me that some people are making fun of the disaster. Some even going as far as to say it was a karmic incident and that Japan deserved it. To put this in a perspective that Americans can directly relate to, does anybody remember September 11th? Think back to how you felt when that happened and think about how you would have felt if someone was told you that those people deserved to die. It is not okay to say people deserve to die. And it is not okay to put aside our humanity for the sake of embracing our ignorance.

      Sometimes incidents occur that are so fundamentally devastating to our human nature that we can hardly begin to comprehend their scale. It is often easy and natural to want to ignore these events or to try to reason them away for the sake of our own peace of mind. However, we cannot give in to such impulses. Though it may shake our nature to confront these ideas, the least we can do is to deal with what happened; to not run away and ignore the situation.

      I'm not a journalist, so if you'd like to learn more about this ongoing tragedy here's a link to the Huffington Post page where they have a live update page concerning the quake and tsunami.

      If you want to do something to help, here's a link to the Red Cross where you can make a donation. They operate hospitals in Japan and have deployed 700 relief workers across the country already.

      Or, if you prefer, here's a link to Doctors Without Borders where you can make a donation. They don't accept any earmarked contributions, but their general support will enable them to carry out their response work there. They send out teams of doctors into hardest-hit and most difficult-to-reach regions and support the government led response in Japan.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mad Max Mini Comics

Hey, I got bored and decided to draw some comics. Thus I have spent minutes, that's right Minutes, making stupid comics for you. Not just any stuid comics mind you, but stupid comics about that famous Australian film: Mad Max. I saw this movie for the first time recently and it left me rather confused. For one thing I didn't realize it was an Australian film. For a few minutes I was convinced that for some reason in this dystopian world only Australians had managed to survive. It wasn't until I was trying to figure out why one cop would be arguing with his partner over who gets to sit in the passenger seat that I realized we weren't in the States anymore. The driver's seat is on the other side, Jesse! Yes, yes, I am a moron. Anyways, the entire film left me rather confused. Why are Max and his wife never paying attention to their baby? If gas is so rare how come they can afford to go on a road trip? If Toecutter wants revenge on Max why does it seem more like they're trying to get revenge on Max's wife? Does a sidekick named "Goose" ever survive? How can so many people have seen Mad Max, but so few people have seen The Castle? How is that possible!? I keep getting weird looks whenever I reference it. The world just doesn't make sense sometimes.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book List 2011: Part 1

I've decided that instead of doing one huge end-of-the-year list of the books I've read, I will instead just release several smaller lists throughout the year. This way they're a little easier for me to do and they can be a little more thorough. For instance, last time I tried to keep the quotes from the books to a sound bite, but this time I'm going to go ahead and use a long quote if I feel like it. After all the point of the quotes was not for a novelty, but to give you a sense of the writing style of the author. I mean, a book with an interesting plot isn't any good if you aren't personally engaged by the particular writing style. And sometimes you can condense that style into a sentence or two and sometimes you need something a little longer.

But enough of me blabbering about my ridiculous notions and reasonings. Here are the first 10 books I read this year.

* = reread

How to Beat Up Anybody:
An Instructional and Inspirational Karate Book by the World Champion
by. Judah Friedlander

A humorous guide to the world of hyperbolic Karate.

This isn't a guide to real karate. It won't teach you forms and discipline. This is a guide to Karate. You know, the kind that you see in the movies; where people can levitate, punch through walls, and defeat scores of opponents. Admittedly if you try to read this book in one sitting you'll probably get sick of it pretty fast. The hyperbole and ridiculousness of it gets old after a while. However, if you read it a chapter at a time it remains pretty hilarious. Even if it doesn't sound like your kind of thing I'd recommend finding a copy and just perusing the pictures. The pictures are by far that greatest thing about it. You'll see many amazing photos of the author doing things like: fighting a Sasquatch, teaching self offense to strippers, fighting a man with three arms, and even a flip book illustrating his levitation techniques. There is even a whole bit where he dresses as a woman in order to show the ladies of the world the proper way to defeat would-be predators. If you've seen the show 30 Rock you'll know of Judah Friedlander as the character Frank Rossitano, and I assure you that seeing him in a dress beating up street thugs with his purse is a pretty priceless image.

“Hit the attacker with your purse, which you have preloaded with bricks. Then he will leave you alone forever. Your purse is a sexy accessory and an instrument of destruction.”

My Empire of Dirt:
How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm
by. Manny Howard

A man tries to see if he can create a backyard farm to live off of and fails miserably.

When I first heard about the premise to this book I was annoyed. "Do they really think that every one has the time to just start a mini farm in their yard?" I thought haughtily. However, I soon learned that this was actually a cautionary tale. It is about how hard running a farm actually is, especially for someone who wasn't born into it. Poor Manny Howard had to deal with countless setbacks: from animal attacks to marital troubles, from bad soil to tornadoes.

A Word of Warning: if you are a serious animal lover then you should probably avoid this book. A fair amount of the animals end up meeting rather unpleasant ends. I won't go into it, but to clarify I don't necessarily mean "unpleasant ends" as in he kills and eats them...let's just say animal husbandry is a lot harder than it sounds.

“The last thing on Omega Chicken's mind is the location and disposition of the alpha bird. In fact, life for Omega Chicken is so fraught with danger that he would in a heartbeat happily trade life in the chicken run for good old-fashioned despotism. When food gets scarce, as it did on occasion in my chicken run, it is pretty much all over for Omega Chicken. Because the licks he's taking minute by minute, day in, day out, are just about maintaining flock status quo. This is tame stuff compared to the abuse doled out the moment there's a hiccup in the system and the birds above him (and, remember, all of them are) get stressed in any way. It's simply a matter of time before they've worked through his tail and he's tripping on his own intestine. Why that doesn't kill Omega Chicken outright is beyond me. But he will continue trying in vain to evade the rest of the chickens in the run for hours, tripping over his own guts as if his pants were at his ankles.”

Last Call:
The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
by. Daniel Okrent

The history of American prohibition, from start to finish.

“How did it happen? How did a freedom-loving people decide to give up a private right that had been freely exercised by millions upon millions since the first European colonists arrived in the New World? How did they condemn to extinction what was, at the very moment of its death, the fifth largest industry in the nation? How did they append to their most sacred document 112 words that knew only one precedent in American history? With that single previous exception, the original Constitution and its first seventeen amendments limited the activities of government, not of citizens. Now there were two exceptions: you couldn't own slaves, and you couldn't buy alcohol.”

Yeah, that's right, I started out with quote this time. And guess what? I'm going to end with one as well. In short: this book is so interesting that I think it needs two quotes. After finishing it I am slightly appalled that I never really learned anything about this time period in school. It's fascinating! There's booze and bootleggers, intrigue and argument. Not only that, but within that time period are many parallels to the political world of today. There were companies influencing politicians and the media through their money, while groups launched propaganda and disinformation campaigns against the things they didn't like. Sound familiar?

I realize I'm pumping this book, but I will warn you that it is a history book. If you don't like history books, you probably won't like this book either. I'd say in terms of entertaining history books this book is not as entertaining as a Sarah Vowell book, but much more entertaining than a textbook. Regardless of the entertainment the book provides, the Prohibition era was an intriguing period of history and has had profound effects on the country that no one pays attention to. In addition to profound effects, there are also plenty of fascinating little mundane facts as well. Did you know that Welch's Grape Juice used to be called Dr. Welch's Unfermented Wine!? DID YOU KNOW THAT?

“In 1920 could anyone have believed that the Eighteenth Amendment, ostensibly addressing the single subject of intoxicating beverages, would set off an avalanche of change in areas as diverse as international trade, speedboat design, tourism practices, soft-drink marketing, and the English language itself? Or that it would provoke the establishment of the first nationwide criminal syndicate, the idea of home dinner parties, the deep engagement of women in political issues other than suffrage, and the creation of Las Vegas? As interpreted by the Supreme Court and as understood by Congress, Prohibition would also lead indirectly to the eventual guarantee of the American woman's right to abortion and simultaneously dash that same woman's hope for an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
Prohibition changed the way we live, and it fundamentally redefined the role of the federal government. How the hell did it happen?

How We Decide
by. Jonah Lehrer

A look into how the brain makes decisions and what that means for you.

I don't really know how to describe this book. Because of this I'm going to link you to the place where I heard about this book: a Radiolab episode about Choice. Basically if you listen to this episode and find it really interesting then you will probably get a kick out of this book. (on a side note Radiolab is super great in general and you should check it out.)

“But the best decision makers don't despair. Instead, they become students of error, determined to learn what went wrong. They think about what they could have done differently so that the next time their neurons will know what to do. This is the most astonishing thing about the human brain: it can always improve itself. Tomorrow, we can make better decisions.”

by. Terry Pratchett

Recent events have caused the the racial tension between the Trolls and Dwarves of Ankh-Morpork to skyrocket. A highly controversial dwarvish politician has been just killed and unless Commander Vimes and the rest of the city watch can get to the bottom of it war may break out in the city.

This is possibly my second favorite discworld book. The Vimes stories are always my favorites. Like any great Pratchett novel it is clever, funny, exciting, interesting, and poignant. Through a lens of fantasy Pratchett really lets us take a closer look at ourselves. At its heart Thud! is a story about a clash between races that points out that a happy ending isn't such an outlandish idea.

“"You may laugh, Nobby, but you've only got to look around," said Fred gloomily. "It's just gang fights now, but it's going to get worse, you mark my words. All this scrapping over something that happened thousands of years ago! I don't know why they don't get back to where they came from if they want to do that!"

"Most of 'em come from here now," observed Nobby.

Fred grunted his disdain for a mere fact of geography.

"War, Nobby. Huh! What is it good for?" he said.

"Dunno, Sarge. Freeing slaves, maybe?"

"Absol-well, okay."

"Defending yourself against a totalitarian aggressor?"

"All right, I'll grant you that, but—"

"Saving civilization from a horde of—"

"It doesn't do any good in the long run is what I'm saying, Nobby, if you'd listen for five seconds together," said Fred Colon sharply.

"Yeah, but in the long run, what does, Sarge?"”

A Thousand Days of Wonder:
A Scientist's Chronicle of His Daughter's Developing Mind
by. Charles Fernyhough

A scientist chronicles the developments of his daughter's mind for the first 1,000 days of her life.

How far back can you remember? If you're like most people you probably can't remember anything much further back than when you were 3 and that is precisely what makes this book so interesting. It investigates the ways in which young children perceive the world and how they're brains are in a state of constant flux. From newborns to 3 year olds and all those changes that happen in between. And more than that it's about a dad trying to understand his daughter during a time when she can't just tell him what's on her mind. Personally I am very intrigued by the concept of this book and if you are too than you might just enjoy it as much as I did. Did you know there is evidence that babies have synesthesia? A young baby might be hearing colors and seeing smells. If that wasn't enough, because of a difference in physiology, babies literally see the world in a different light than we do.

“When she does eventually open her eyes, she might want to close them again straightaway. Her optical equipment, like her cortical activity, is fundamentally different from mine. The lens of my adult eye has become yellowed with age, meaning that the short, or bluer, wavelengths are filtered out. Newborn lenses, in contrast, are crystal clear. Getting those eyes back, for us, would be like taking off sunglasses on a bright day.”

The Fall
by. Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

The second book of The Strain series. Things have gone from bad to worse for Ephraim Goodweather's motley crew as they continue to try and fight back. However, the vampiric infection continues to spread through the population and unless they can get their hands on an ancient book their chances for survival might just be 0.

If you'll remember the 2010 list you'll remember I've already talked about the first book in this series (it was number 54). I won't go into details as I don't want to ruin a sequel for anyone, but I will say that this book lived up to its predecessor. It's a horror story that's told in a fundamentally different fashion than most horror stories. It's about vampires, but none of the images that come to your mind when you think of vampires are applicable to these creatures. To quote the first book, "Think more along the lines of a man with a black cape. Fangs. Funny accent. Now take away the cape and fangs. The funny accent. Take away anything funny about it." This book definitely ups the ante from the first one and I can't wait for the next one to come out so I can find out what happens next.

“And now this thing, this plague, this awful...it's taken who she was and burned off all that was good in her. All that was right and true. All that was, as we understand it human. Your mom...she was beautiful, she was caring, she was...she was also crazy, in the way all devoted mothers are. But you were her great gift to the world. That's how she saw you. That's what you are still. That part of her lives on. But now—she is not herself anymore. She is not Kelly Goodweather, no Mom—and this is hard for both of us to accept. All that remains of what she was, as far as I can tell, is her bond with you. Because that bond is sacred, and it never dies. What we call love, in our sappy greeting-card way, is evidently something much deeper than we humans imagined. Her human love for you has...it seems to have shifted, has morphed, into this kind of want, this need. Where she is now, this bad place? She wants you there with her. It's not bad to her, or evil, or dangerous. She just wants you with her. And what you need to know is that this is all because your mother loved you so completely."

Zack nodded. He couldn't or wouldn't speak.

"Now, that said, we have to keep you safe from her. She looks different now, right? That's because she is different—fundamentally different—and it's not easy to face that. I can't make this right for you except to protect you from her. From what she has become. That's my new job now, as your parent, as your father. If you think of your mom, as she originally was, and what she would do to save you from any threat to your health, to your safety...well, you tell me. What would she do?"

"Zack nodded, answering immediately. "She would hide me."

"She would take you away. Remove you from the threat, get you to a safe place." Eph listened to what he was saying. "Just pick you up and...run. I'm right, aren't I?"

"You're right," said Zack.

"Okay, so—being the overprotective mom? That's my job now.”

Packing for Mars:
The Curious Science of Life in the Void
by. Mary Roach

A look into the science that goes into sustaining life in outer space.

I kind of feel that Mary Roach books are slightly tainted because none of them are as great as her first book Stiffs was. However, that doesn't mean they aren't still pretty darn good. Off the top of my head there are only 3 things I didn't like about this book.

1)She has a habit of putting an asterisk right in the middle of an interesting point, which forces you to break the flow of the book to read it. I'm not against asterisked asides. In fact because of Terry Pratchett I love them. However, he is a master at them and she most definitely is not.
2)Some parts are definitely more interesting than others, so you happily breeze through some parts with a smile on your face and trudge through others with a slight feeling of ennui .
3) At one point in the book she wrote this, "Astronaut Wakata Koichi (pronounced, perhaps aptly, co-itchy) wore the same J-Wear underpants for twenty-eight days without complaint." Koichi is NOT pronounced "co-itchy". It is pronounced co-e-chee. I cannot express in words how much this bothers me.

But enough with the bad onto the good. Mary Roach is amazingly good at thinking of subjects that most people don't think to even think about. That is this books great strength; it has an ability to fascinate you with an intriguing question and then proceeds to fascinate you further as it answers that question. For instance, how do you design a way to go to the bathroom in space? Think about what you do in the bathroom and then think about how much gravity plays an important part of that process. Now know that gravity plays an even bigger role than you just imagined it did. That is some crazy shit right there.

“Given the complexity of the chore, "escapees," as free-floating fecal material is known in astronautical circles, plagued the crews. Below is an excerpt from the Apollo 10 mission transcript, starring Mission Commander Thomas Stafford, Lunar Module Pilot Gene Cernan, and Command Module Pilot John Young, orbiting the moon 200,000-plus miles from the nearest bathroom.

CERNAN:...You know once you get out of lunar orbit, you can do a lot of things. You can power down...And what's happening is—

STAFFORD: Oh—who did it?

YOUNG: Who did what?


STAFFORD: Who did it? [laughter]

CERNAN: Where did that come from?

STAFFORD: Give me a napkin quick. There's a turd floating through the air.

YOUNG: I didn't do it. It ain't one of mine.

CERNAN: I don't think it's one of mine.

STAFFORD: Mine was a little more sticky than that. Throw that away.

YOUNG: God almighty.

[And again eight minutes later, while discussing the timing of a waste-water dump.]

YOUNG: Did they say we could do it anytime?

CERNAN: They said on 135. They told us that—Here's another goddamn turd. What's the matter with you guys?
Here, give me a—

YOUNG/STAFFORD: [laughter]...

STAFFORD: It was just floating around?

STAFFORD: [laughter] Mine was stickier than that.

YOUNG: Mine was too. It hit that bag—

CERNAN: [laughter] I don't know whose that is. I can neither claim it nor disclaim it. [laughter]

YOUNG: What the hell is going on here?”

The Help
by. Kathryn Stockett

The story of three women in 1960's Mississippi who try to change things by bringing to light the truth of what life is like for African American maids.

Writing a continuous story from three different perspectives strikes me as challenging. Yet Kathryn Stockett pulls it off so well I would swear she was taking dictation. This really was a great book. The characters are so full of life and personality it is hard to believe they are fictitious. If that wasn't enough the story is both fascinating and powerful. I mean imagine if your job was to raise children, to love them and care for them, all the while their parents thinking so little of you that they make you use a different bathroom because they don't want to catch any of your germs. In addition to that you are in charge of all the cleaning and the cooking. You make less than minimum wage, you can't talk back, you can't complain, and if you displease the family you work for they will claim you stole from them and take you to court. Or maybe they'll just fire you. Maybe they'll fire you, spread lies about you so no one will hire you, and then get their husband to fire your husband out of spite. Now imagine, on top of all that, those little children you cared for are growing up to see you and treat you the same way their parents do.

A great story brilliantly told. What else can I say? Go read it.

“I linger at the window. Outside, a fine rain has started to fall, misting the glassy cars and slicking the black pavement. I watch Lou Anne slip away in the parking lot, thinking, There is so much you don't know about a person. I wonder if I could've made her days a little bit easier, if I'd tried. If I'd treated her a little nicer. Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought.”

The Upside of Irrationality:
The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home
by. Dan Ariely

I'm just going to come out and say that I didn't really like this book. That being said I wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't found it somewhat interesting and I probably would have liked it a lot more if I hadn't read How We Decide before I read this one. Here is a brief comparison of two. How We Decide: Reads like someone did a lot of research and interviews and wrote a book about the psychology of decision making. Uses exciting examples to illustrate his points and details fascinating experiments. Upside of Irrationality: reads like a college professor took his class lectures and bound them together. Uses examples from his own life to illustrate points from his own personal experiments. Occasionaly says random and extremely biased things, like this for example, "Like many political bodies, the United Nations is anemic and spineless."

Basically if you're interested in the psychology of decision making I would recommend you read How We Decide instead of this.

“I think we can summarize our wide range of irrational behaviors with two general lessons and one conclusion:

1. We have many irrational tendencies.

2. We are often unaware of how these irrationalities influence us, which means that we don't fully understand what drives our behavior.

Ergo, We—and by that I mean You, Me, Companies, and Policy Makers—need to doubt our intuitions. If we keep following our gut and common wisdom or doing what is easiest or most habitual just because "well, things have always been done that way," we will continue to make mistakes—resulting in a lot of time, effort, heartbreak, and money going down the same old (often wrong) rabbit holes. But if we learn to question ourselves and test our beliefs, we might actually discover when and how we are wrong and improve the ways we love, live, work, innovate, manage, and govern.”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Random Photographs

As I'm sure you've noticed I haven't been very good about updating recently. I've kind of had to sideline some of my projects temporally so I can concentrate on other things. Namely finding another job and getting everything moved out and cleaned up at my old apartment. However, I feel bad about leaving you all in the lurch so here are some random photographs I've taken recently.

This is a cup of gummi bears after they were left submerged in sierra mist for a couple days. As you can see they get pretty bloated and gross. Also, a word of warning, they taste awful afterwards. Absolutely awful.

This is picture of the cupboard at my new apartment. One of these things is not like the others. Can you guess which one?

Here is another picture from my new apartment. These look like drawers, but they most definitely are not. Apparently I wasn't the only person who kept forgetting and then trying to open them because my roommate Sammi decide to put up this warning. However, unlike real hoez these drawers are not at all loose.