Coming to Kindle and Smashwords

Coming to Kindle and Smashwords
November 2013

May 31, 2013

How Does Superman Shave? The MythBusters Have a Few Theories

The trailers for the upcoming Man of Steel pose plenty of questions about Superman’s long-awaited return to the big screen: Did Pa Kent really just say that it might have been better if Clark had let those kids die? Are the Kryptonians invading in those giant machines? Does Lois get to call him Superman at all? But one question looms over all others: What is Superman doing with a beard in some scenes?
We know that he loses the beard before too long — we see him in the Superman costume clean-shaven, after all. But that presents yet another question: How does a man who is invulnerable actually shave? Wouldn’t his facial hair be as invulnerable as the rest of him? To answer that question, Gillette has turned to a team of experts for their analysis with a video series, launching today, called How Does He Shave?
Among the experts offering their theories will be Kevin Smith, Mayim Bialik (A real-life neuroscientist as well as regular on CBS’ The Big Bang Theory) and Bill Nye, self-proclaimed science guy. The series launches, however, with the MythBusters team of Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, who talked to Wired about analyzing the Man of Steel’s personal grooming routine.
“We ponder the impossible all the time, but on the show we only really deal with the probable/improbable, said Savage. “The mythology of superheroes and the physics involved are a whole ‘nother thing, and they’re a fun category to let your imagination run wild.”
Or, as it turns out, kind of wild. “Superman, while he is fictional, is pretty mainstream,” Hyneman pointed out, and Savage agreed: “We all instinctively understand the ground rules, and thus when we fly far from our current reality in ideating what might or might not be possible in this alternate universe in which Kal-El exists, we have a verbal shorthand with the public already in place. It makes it like a license to fly far from reality, while still hewing to much of what we already know — the way comic books do.”
As it turns out, comic books have already tried to answer the question of Superman’s shaving techniques, with a 1980s issue of Superman suggesting that heat vision and a mirror does the trick. “The heat vision and mirror is pretty much the first thing that everyone comes up with for Superman’s shaving,” Savage said. “That and Kryptonite shaving cream. Those were our first two as well.”
Although the theories that ended up in the video are somewhat out there, the theories that the duo discarded were even more outrageous. “I had thought that shaving with Occam’s razor would be clever,” Hyneman admitted, “but then that leads to all sorts of philosophical questions that would perhaps be perplexing to someone just interested in having a good shave.” According to Savage, that was far from Hyneman’s only unexpected solution. “Jamie was thinking that perhaps he might fly back in time to when he didn’t have a beard but that solution is fraught with paradoxical contradictions,” he explained. “Can’t have Superman fighting General Zod as a mid-pubescent teen who’s all powerful. That would be weird.”
As weird as the suggestions that did make the cut? Judge for yourself — Jamie and Adam’s video is below:

Theories from Nye, Smith and Bialik are already available at, where you can also vote for your favorite theories so far, or even share your own. Considering everything that Superman does for us, helping him stay clean-shaven really seems like the least we could do, doesn’t it?

May 30, 2013

Our long national nightmare is over.

Michele Bachmann Is Done: Her Hostage Tape to Reality

The congresswoman who represented the worst of American politics will not seek reelection in 2014. John Avlon on Michele

Michele Bachmann
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), pictured at a GOP picnic in August 2011 in Humboldt, Iowa, will not run for reelection. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Well, that’s overstating it. But the congresswoman who represented the worst of modern American politics more than she ever tried to represent her Minnesota constituents has announced that she will not run for reelection.
Michele Bachmann is done.
Smiling stiffly through an eight-and-a-half-minute video on her website, Bachmann again illustrated the palpable strangeness—the earnest, fact-free, Kool-Aid chugging self-obsession—that characterized her congressional career and her rolling disaster of a presidential campaign.
In her 'hostage video to reality,' Michele Bachmann announced that she would not seek re-election.
She wants the world to know that “this decision was not impacted in any way by the recent inquiries into the activities of my former presidential campaign or my former presidential staff. It was clearly understood that compliance with all rules and regulations was an absolute necessity for my presidential campaign.”
In a word: bullshit. The Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into her presidential campaign that was first disclosed by The Daily Beast is due to release its initial report soon. If it looked like Bachmann would be vindicated, she would have persisted in running for a congressional seat that had been gerrymandered to increase of her chances of representing a state that looks primed to easily reelect Al Franken to the Senate. This decision smacks of lawyer’s counsel—get out now before the boom comes down, and perhaps people will listen to your final signoff.
There is, inevitably, a rambling quality to an eight-and-a-half-minute monologue. This is Bachmann's hostage video to reality. The staff decision to back her vocal track with faint Springsteenesque music was a tell—the video would have seemed ever odder without it. Bachmann was at turns defensive and defiant and bucket-list ticking, talking about her excitement at taking a plane to London to attend Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, her co-sponsorship of the 37th attempt to overturn Obamacare (“which passed in the House”), and her philosophically contradictory commitment to bring federal tax dollars to her district to build a regional airport and rebuild a bridge. Note to Bachmann: you didn’t build that.
Relive Michelle Bachmann's most outrageous moments.
Over her eight years in congress, Bachmann quickly achieved notoriety because of her cavalier disregard of facts (her staff told me she gets most of her information from WorldNetDaily) and her impulse to play mini-McCarthy (routinely accusing political opponents of being anti-American) and then turn around and play the victim card to raise millions of dollars online from a national conservative populist base that saw her as plan B to Sarah Palin.
There is an impulse at the end of things to search for a redeeming quality, a handshake even between opponents for past battles well fought—and no doubt by midday someone will be offering a Slate pitch to go alongside the glossy partisan media farewells. But without attempting to characterize her personal life, the way Bachmann chose to use her time at the podium of public service was a disgrace. 
She degraded national debate, consistently chose fearmongering over facts, and exhibited every impulse of the demagogue and the ideologue. If she ever bothered to do her homework, she could have been dangerous. Instead Bachmann will stand as a sad cautionary tale, a curious footnote used to explain the reality-show auditions of the 2012 GOP presidential primaries, now all part of her reel tape as she attempts to get what she always really wanted: a Fox News contract. 

Vertigo, Dizzying Paintings of Cities as Seen From High Above

Vertigo by Fabio Giampietro
In the painting series “Vertigo,” cities are seen from high above in a dizzying downward fish-eye perspective. The paintings are by Milan-based artist Fabio Giampietro. For more of his work, see his Facebook page.
Vertigo by Fabio Giampietro
Vertigo by Fabio Giampietro
Vertigo by Fabio Giampietro
Vertigo by Fabio Giampietro

May 24, 2013

Mike Wazowski of ‘Monsters, Inc.’ Illustrated as a Blind & Devastated Vagabond by Dan LuVisi

Mike Wazowski by Dan LuVisi
Will Strike Fear 4 Beer!
Californian concept artist Dan LuVisi has released a new twisted pop culture illustration portraying Mike Wazowski, an animated character from Monsters, Inc., as a blind and utterly devastated vagabond hiding out on Earth. Previously we wrote about Dan and his ongoing series of pop culture illustrations, which includes Bert and Ernie as dirty thugs and realistic human version of Buzz Lightyear.
Here is the first half of Dan’s dark story for Mike Wazowski:
After Boo was saved, Sully and Mike realized they no longer required scares for cash, thus forcing Mike into a new line of business; comedy.
As Mike continued his stand-up routine with the children in hopes for laughs, Sully partied and wasted money that he didn’t have. The problem is: the world didn’t care, it was Sully, a hero and role model. And everyone loves Sully. Everyone but the one living in his shadow.
Mike was tired of it. Tired of lowering himself to telling jokes, only to hurt himself in the process over, and over again. Mike decided to have a talk with Sully about it, but was continuously avoided. Angered, Mike followed Sully one day, only to realize he was headed for the home of Mike’s girlfriend, Celia.
Mike rushed home, shocked to find the two talking. His anger got the best of him and he attacked Sully. Out of defense, Sully struck Mike, catching his one-eye. Out of confusion and anger, Mike launched his nimble body into Sully, peircing him with his horns, killing him.
As Sully laid dead on the floor, Celia screamed, blaming Mike for the death of him

3D printed bio-absorbable splint saves baby with otherwise fatal impaired breathing

May 23, 2013

New ‘Man of Steel’ Trailer & Posters Introduce Supervillain General Zod

Warner Brothers has released the new teaser trailer

The Fox-induced hysteria over Benghazi collapses

What happens when a lie goes astray?
You may recall the right wing’s hysteria last week over the way that events had supposedly played out in Benghazi, Libya. Stoked by inflammatory, deeply irresponsible misreporting on Fox News, they insisted that this scandal was bigger than Watergate, and that for his cowardice President Obama would be disgraced as commander in chief and impeached and removed from office should he win a second term.
Oh, they were in fine, fine form, braying like so many hounds certain they have finally treed the fox.
President Obama, we were told, had AC-130 gunships within an hour of Benghazi but refused to use them to try to intervene on behalf of his ambassador. We had Special Forces units ready to go just two hours away, at Sigonella Air Base in Sicily, but a cowardly Obama again barred a rescue operation, fearful that it might endanger his re-election if it went astray.
And twice — TWICE!!! — former SEALs at a nearby CIA compound had requested permission to intervene in the assault on the U.S. consulate, but twice they had been ordered to stand down and do nothing. Finally, the ex-SEALS defied orders from Washington, made their way to the consulate and rescued some of their fellow Americans. Obama, in contrast, was ready to just let them all die.
Fox News also reported that upon returning to the CIA annex, those same ex-SEALs had “lasered” a mortar targeting their position in hopes that an AC-130 would arrive to take it out, but again no help came. That same mortar later killed two of those ex-SEALs.
But as predicted here, none of that turned out to be true. None. From beginning to end, and in all its details, that story has proved to be false.
– There were no orders from the CIA or anyone else to stand down. According to a CIA timeline released last week, once those at the CIA annex learned that the nearby consulate was under attack, an ad hoc rescue mission was quickly put together and launched within 25 minutes.
– As Pentagon spokesman George Little described it Friday, “there was no AC-130 within a continent’s range of Benghazi” that night. The closest gunship was in Afghanistan, some 2,500 miles away. The two surveillance drones that eventually reached the scene in Benghazi also had to be reassigned from elsewhere; neither was armed.
– Contrary to the Fox report, there were no Special Forces units available for insertion into the situation. Soon after word of the attack reached Washington, a special ops team was scrambled from a training facility somewhere in Central Europe — some sources have reported Croatia — and transported to Sigonella.
In addition, a second special ops unit was immediately alerted and transported from a military base here in the United States to Sigonella, as an option should a hostage situation develop. In other words, major preparations were underway to provide a military option should the opportunity arise to use it.
But as Little put it last week, the units “did not arrive until after the entire sequence of events was complete. … They were in Sigonella many hours after the attacks.” Two platoons of specially trained Marines had also been hustled to Sigonella, but again too late for intervention.
– Finally, there had been no “lasering” of the mortar position used to attack the CIA annex in the second phase of the assault. (That second phase occurred more than seven hours after the attack on the consulate had ended). There was no reason to use a laser in that fashion — the SEALs knew they had no air cover to intervene — and more importantly, no opportunity to do so.
According to the CIA, its personnel at the annex were not even aware that the mortars existed until mortar shells began falling on their position; from beginning to end, the deadly mortar attack lasted all of 11 minutes.
In conclusion, last week’s entire controversy was spectacularly, embarrassingly wrong-headed. No facts exist to justify the overheated rhetoric and allegations directed at Obama and top officials in his administration, but no apologies will follow either. Quite the contrary, I’m sure.

Batman: Arkham Origins, A Prequel Video Game Starring a ‘Young and Unrefined’ Batman

Batman: Arkham Origins is a new prequel set several years before the popular video games Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, and will tell the story of a “young and unrefined Batman as he faces a defining moment in his early career as a crime fighter.” The game is expected to launch on October 25th, 2013 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and Windows PC, and is currently available for pre-order from retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop, and Walmart.
Batman: Arkham Origins
image via Batman Arkham

After Being Sealed for 100 Years, Time Capsule in Oklahoma City Reveals Pristine Artifacts

Century Chest time capsule
photo by Paul B. Southerland/The Oklahoman
On April 22, 2013, the Century Chest, a time capsule that had been sealed for 100 years, was opened during a ceremony at the First Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City. Onlookers and historians were astonished by the pristine condition of the contents: an untarnished desk telephone, a shiny pair of women’s shoes, a Kodak camera, and much more. The Century Chest was originally buried under the church on April 22, 1913 as part of fundraiser to pay for a church organ (the organ is still in use). The opening ceremony was captured on video for posterity. The actual opening occurs at the 1:10 mark. For photos of the contents, check out this gallery on the Downtown OKC Facebook page.

Century Chest time capsule
photo via Downtown OKC
Century Chest time capsule
photo via Downtown OKC
Century Chest time capsule
photo via Downtown OKC
Century Chest time capsule
photo via Downtown OKC
Century Chest time capsule
photo via Downtown

May 22, 2013

Makr Shakr, Robotic Bartender System Staffed by 3 Industrial Robots


Makr Shakr is a robotic bartender system that lets people order drinks from a trio of industrial robots. A companion app lets people choose and customize a drink recipe from a list of more than 100 liquors and mixers. Two of the Kuka industrial robots are equipped with cocktail shakers for mixing duty, while the third delivers finished drinks to a conveyor, which passes them on to the person who ordered the drink (presumably so that nobody gets whacked by the extremely fast-moving robots). Makr Shakr is a collaboration between MIT SENSEable City Laboratory and Italian architecture studio Carlo Ratti Associati. It debuted earlier this month at the Google I/O 2013 conference in San Francisco. For more on the system see this Gizmodo article.
Makr Shakr
photo by Lucas Werthein
Makr Shakr
photo by Max Tomasinelli
video via

May 21, 2013

Game of Thrones Season 3, Episode 8: Weddings and Blood Offerings

Normally the smell of old produce can be unpleasant, but I can't tell you how happy I was to see the Onion Knight again. And it wasn't merely because Ser Davos, the fingerless former right-hand man of Stannis, appears to have as much trouble reading books as you people think I do. No, the sight of Davos being freed from the Dragonstone dungeon warmed my heart and seasoned this entire excellent episode because it was a reminder of just how wonderful Game of Thrones can be when it digs in instead of spreading out.
I've judged the past two weeks harshly not because there wasn't enough action but because there was far too much of it: the camera whooshing from here to there and back again, like a three-eyed raven on a four-day coke binge. Believe me, I understand that the epic scope of this story demands multiple perspectives and myriad narrative threads. Even someone who hasn't read a word of George R.R. Martin's prose can be suitably stunned by the sheer size of the world he's created, the way small butterfly wings of culture, history, and pride beating on one continent can cause empires to fall on another. That Game of Thrones has a tendency to feel diffuse is more a byproduct of the medium than an indictment of the maestro; it's not easy taking a Hound-size plot and cramming it into Arya-size installments every week. Having too many wonderful characters to service is a good problem, one that other showrunners would walk through wildfire to experience. But it is a problem.
Happily, "Second Sons" was all solution. By limiting the scope of the episode to three of the most interesting settings, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss choreographed one of the finest hours of Game of Thrones to date. I loved nearly everything about the episode, from the delicate (and possibly a tad self-aware) overture in which Sandor Clegane, hideously scarred merchant of death, advised a little girl not to go around bashing people over the head to get a point across, to the twisty moral calculus on display in Dragonstone, King's Landing, and on the outskirts of Yunkai, math so murky it made Olenna Tyrell's new family tree seem as straightforward as a walking stick. ("Your brother will become your father-in-law, that much is beyond dispute," she tells her granddaughter. Forget it, Margaery! It's Chinatown.) Many critics point to "Blackwater" as the series high point, both for focus and execution (though when it comes to the latter I'm still partial to Ned Stark), but the artful "Second Sons" is equally impressive because all of its battles are internal. A great adaptation can capture the intensity, savagery, and scope of literary combat, but only a great TV show can make a bedroom conversation feel as dangerous as a world war.
Devoted and possibly a little dull, Liam Cunningham's Ser Davos might be a surprising choice for anybody's favorite character, but he's quickly becoming mine. Perhaps because I can relate — no, not to his illiteracy, but to his difficulty maintaining balance in a suddenly topsy-turvy world dominated by immortal deities and decidedly human monsters. Stannis may have a rightful claim to the throne, but he's no visionary, no matter what he claims to have seen in the flames. Instead he indulges in flights of fancy with Melisandre and then grounds himself by talking to Davos — it's the kingly equivalent of chasing espresso shots with NyQuil. "I think mothers and fathers made up the gods because they want their children to sleep through the night," is how Davos put it, plainly of course, just after Stannis gave him an earful about destiny and sacrifice and just before Melisandre demonstrates another magic trick involving her Shivering Sea. There's a way to see this three-person weave as a microcosm of a larger argument about gods vs. men and destiny vs. free will, but I think the only truth Game of Thrones is concerned with is the tough one Davos experienced firsthand. It ultimately didn't matter what the Onion Knight told his son or what he chose to believe. He died anyway.
About Melisandre: Do you think she used the same relaxation technique on all those lambs she claims to have slaughtered? For a while there I wasn't sure which of Gendry's bodily fluids she was after. When she hog-tied the bastard to the bedposts I was getting a distinct Basic Instinct vibe — though there's not really any need for ice picks south of the Wall — but instead things just started to suck. I don't care how kinky you are, no one wants a live leech anywhere near their flea bottom. But I loved the way Stannis's hypotheticals were ringing in my ears even as Gendry was writhing around on the bed: What's one bastard boy against a kingdom? I'm not sure what effect the bloody bug barbecue will have on the bearers of the three names Stannis uttered — Balon Greyjoy, Robb Stark, and Joffrey — but if it were to lead to a similar charred outcome for the latter I might just be OK with it.
It truly feels like end times at King's Landing, where the ruling classes are gathering in smaller and smaller halls to marry each other in increasingly unlikely and unasked-for combinations. It was all so decadent and incestuous. Did anyone else think Loras was going to pull a Mrs Dalloway and throw himself from that lovely and inviting ocean-view window? (I feel like all Tyrells would probably be big Virginia Woolf fans, while the Starks just really, really love wolves.) It seemed like a perfectly good opportunity for escape. But instead he was stabbed with one of Cersei's verbal daggers. I'm actually all for this marriage, because Game of Thrones is at its best when it throws unlikely characters together, but Loras isn't trained in the kind of jousting Cersei specializes in. ("Nobody cares what your father once told you," she says. Because all she cares about are the words coming out of the mouth of her own dastardly dad.) None of the Tyrells are, actually. Cersei's long walk with Margaery down the receiving line starts with some light banter about a pop song and ends with a promise of nocturnal murder. It's colder than anything north of the Wall, and further proof that when Tywin Lannister makes his daughter mad she gets even by acting just like him. There's an animal brutality in the way the Lannisters have just devoured the Tyrells, not because they were hungry but because they were in the way. After all, lions don't go out of their way to harm flowers. Lions don't even know flowers exist.
Oh, but one can't speak of lions and flowers without addressing Tyrion and Sansa's Worst Wedding Ever. "Second Sons" is what the newly introduced sell-swords in Essos call themselves, but a second son is what Tyrion is: an afterthought, a mistake, a joke. Peter Dinklage was incredible throughout all this awfulness. Playing drunk is hard enough (although it's becoming something of a specialty for him), but playing a character who is both himself playing drunk — the sloshed clown is an old act for Tyrion; it masks the sadness and disappointment as well as the occasional flaring of a treasonous temper — and actually hammered is another level of difficulty altogether. (Kudos, too, to Sophie Turner for conveying the resignation and disgust of a romantic princess forced to marry the frog.) Tyrion is a good guy, whatever that might mean in Westeros, constantly moving from one bad situation to another. He's now married to the most innocent and eligible heiress in the Seven Kingdoms, and for him it's an oath of celibacy equal to the one crows have to take up north. All respect to Davos and his bedtime stories, but wine is something man made up so adults could sleep through the night.
There's a futility to the choices on display in King's Landing that makes the Red God's insistence on destiny over free will seem like a relief. His is a full-bodied, active faith, one that puts a premium on bold, sometimes crazy-seeming behavior. All of the resurrections and blood sacrifices make the Westerosi power games — primarily based on the maintenance of troop levels and the making of corporeal, non-smoke babies — seem tame in comparison. The Red God hails from Essos, where the Unsullied are currently making camp. And while Daenerys's quest remains more or less secular, I can't help but wonder if some of the Lord of Light's decisiveness has rubbed off on her. I believe her character is meant to be roughly the same age as Sansa Stark, yet their life experiences couldn't be more different. Both were forced into unpromising marriages, but only one of them figured out how to take power along with a husband. Where Sansa remains more or less a prisoner, Daenerys has reinvented herself as the breaker of chains. And if stones won't harm the Hound, then the harsh words of a swaggering sell-sword definitely won't bruise the mother of dragons. Once you've eaten raw horse heart it's no big thing to eat a little crow.
And so we were introduced to our latest character and clearly the biggest threat yet to Jorah's harlequin fantasy version of the Retaking of Westeros. (Chapter 1: "Now that the Iron Throne is mine, all that I am lacking is a squinty bear to keep me company," breathed the Khaleesi … ) Daario Naharis is a total Surfer Bro. He claims he's from the Free Cities, but come on: This dude is from San Diego! "I'm the simplest man you'll ever meet" isn't something a warrior says; it's what the guy in the baja tells you before offering to take you to the best burrito shop in town. "I only do what I want to do," he tells Dany, between bites of "killer" guacamole. But, in this case, what he wanted to do was interrupt the Khaleesi while she was washing off the filthy talk of his former comrades and then win her loyalty — and one presumes, her body — by spoiling a little-loved Joe Pesci movie for her enjoyment. Gotta say, everything's coming up Dany these days. She got dragons in a year, an army in a week, and now, in a single afternoon, she's scored a chillaxing warrior willing to deal with her enemies and the knots in her back, thanks to some killer Reiki moves he picked up when he was bartending his way through massage school.
So strong was "Second Sons" that I didn't even mind when, at the end, it left the rich stories of the south behind for a quick flight north. Unlike some, I've been enjoying the awkward courtship of Samwell and Gilly, so a few comic moments wouldn't have been an unwelcome digestif after such a satisfying hour. But while the two were trading bad dad stories and trying to spark a fire, it turned out the one baby name they should have considered was Alfred. Because birds, amirite? The squawking ravens were a spooky warning sign for the coming of Frosty, the child-snatching Ice Monster. Samwell had his unlikely hero moment when it counted most, saving Gilly and the baby by stabbing the White Walker in the back. The fact that a single wound from the souvenir Sam found at the Fist of the First Men caused the creature to shatter like spun glass was truly shocking and an exciting sign of things to come. It's also a sign of real storytelling skill that the main takeaway from this episode was something most people in Westeros have known since birth: Everyone and anything can be killed. And it's usually not all that hard to do it.
[Note on these recaps: I have not read the books, and I have no intention to do so. My goal is to analyze and enjoy Game of Thrones strictly as a television show. So please, no spoilers or “I told you so”s in the comments, OK? OK!

Gitmo Doctor Defends Force-Feeding

Gitmo Doctor Defends Force-Feeding Force-feeing kits at Guantanamo Bay. (Carol Rosenberg/Miami Herald/MCT, via Getty)
One of the head military physicians at the Guantánamo Bay detention center is denying claims that the force-feeding of prisoners—who have been on a hunger strike since February—is unethical. “It's very easy for folks outside of this place to make policies and decisions they think they would implement," the doctor told Al Jazeera. “When faced with people who are to the point of needing medical intervention to protect their life … suddenly it's not a very abstract decision.” The practice, which consists of threading a tube through the prisoner’s nose and injecting supplements into their stomach, was condemned by the American Medical Association in April

The Japanese Tradition — Chopsticks, A Parody Educational Video on Proper Chopstick Usage

“The Japanese Tradition — Chopsticks” is a hilarious parody educational video on the proper use of chopsticks in Japan. It is part of the Japanese Traditions series by Japanese comedy duo Rahmens. The series began cropping up on the Internet in 2005—for more, check out the episodes on sushi and origami.


EpIsode VII’ Plot Proposal Pat Oswalt

Australian artist Isaac Moores (aka “Izac Less“) has created an animated video that visualizes the improvised 8-minute plot proposal for Star Wars: Episode VII given by Patton Oswalt during an outtake on Parks and Recreation. You can follow along with Patton’s commentary while Isaac brings the brilliant movie plot to life.

May 16, 2013

Help make Abercrombie and Fitch synonymous with homelessness

May 15, 2013

Game of Thrones Season 3, Ep. 7: “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”

Game of Thrones HBO Season 3 Episode 7 The Bear and the Maiden Fair George R R Martin
Each season of Game of Thrones has one episode written by AsoIaF author George R.R. Martin, and while we didn’t get the pyrotechnics of “Blackwater” or the surprise appearance of White Walkers as we did in “The Pointy End,” there were still plenty of memorable moments this hour.
And a ton of quotes that will have new meaning once the season’s over.
There are only three episodes of Game of Thrones left and while I can say we’re racing to the finish line, the players are certainly en route.
Does anyone else squee a bit when a new city pops up in the opening credits? This week we get Yunkai.
We haven’t seen this new slaver city yet, and we never would, if their representative got his way. You can’t blame a guy for trying to bribe Dany (Queen of the Andals, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons, It Girl of the Seven Kingdoms, etc.). Those dragons get bigger every week. And they still manage to not look cheesy at all. Dany looked so damn pleased with herself, chilling on her sofa, tossing her babies some meat.
Game of Thrones HBO George R R Martin Season 3 Episode 7 The Bear and the Maiden Fair
So, is Dany’s vendetta against slavery more important than her end goal of the Iron Throne? Ser Jorah doesn’t seem to understand why. You’d think he’d learn, being that he’s only in Dany’s service because he’s an exiled slaver himself. He’s not loyal to her cause. He’s loyal to her, but for his own selfish reasons. And that’s why she doesn’t love him. What’s the Dothraki word for “Friend-zone’d”?
Just a logistics question: how does she plan on fighting a war across the Narrow Sea if she’s got 200,000+ civilians with her? Will they follow her on ships? Will they wave her off from the shore and then fight amongst themselves? (This exact situation was handled pretty realistically in the final season of Spartacus, by the way, so it’s a dilemma fresh in my mind.)
Meanwhile, Robb’s army has shrunk so much, you pretty much never see anyone who isn’t a Tully or his spouse. This isn’t a good sign. He’s barely fighting a war. But he sure is getting naked with his wife. In a timely announcment for Mother’s Day, we learn Talisa is with wolf cub. Robb made a huge mistake marrying her, but, dammit, they’re so sweet together. It really makes you believe that a love match is much better than the alternative.
Sansa would agree.
I get where she’s coming from; she hasn’t seen all of the incredible things Tyrion’s done and said and, frankly, she’s pretty dim, so she wouldn’t appreciate his great wit. Maybe he should slap Joffrey in front of her. Then she’d come around.
I’m not into Shae pulling the whole psycho girlfriend routine on Tyrion. Shae should be more pragmatic. She knows her place in this world all too well, sadly. And if she didn’t know it before Ros got skewered, she knows it now. So it’s just off-putting to see her try to trap Tyrion with his own words and act more jealous than she should be. Yet, TV-Shae has a more genuine romantic interest in Tyrion than her book counterpoint. I just picture Shae being more mercenary. Like Bronn—who was much-missed these past few episodes. Need more Bronn!
The other big love match of the season is Jon and Ygritte. Ygritte saying anything with her accent kills me. “Drooms.” I loved the final scene between them, when Jon sadly told her that the Wildlings can’t win the war they’ve started. That moment when Ygritte corrected Jon’s “you” into “us” was so spot-on and poignant.
But this episode wasn’t called “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” for nothing.
Game of Thrones HBO George R R Martin Season 3 Episode 7 The Bear and the Maiden FairTo quote The Stranger in The Big Lebowski: “Sometimes, you eat the bear, and, sometimes, well, the bear gets his meal taken away by Jaime freaking Lannister proving his awesomeness.” I’ve been biting my tongue as people who haven’t read the books hated on Jaime, but now I can shout my Kingslayer love from the rooftops. And rescuing Brienne isn’t even the best thing the reformed knight does. But it’s still really dramatic and cool. Kudos to the bear. And to actors who are brave enough to work against a giant brown bear no matter how well-trained he is. That was some Emmy-worthy animal acting.
The only thing that would’ve made the scene better is if Jaime nonchalantly pushed Locke into the bear pit. That would’ve mirrored the act that made every viewer hate Jaime in the first place in such a perfect way.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield & Two Expedition Crewmates Have Returned Safely to Earth

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and his Expedition 34/35 crewmates, NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, have safely returned to Earth after spending the past five months aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

May 10, 2013

The Music Box, A Working Music Box Made Out of a Massive Soil Compactor Machine

The Music Box, A Working Music Box Made Out of a Massive Soil Compactor Machine

The Music Box by Dave Cole
For his 2012 kinetic sculpture “The Music Box,” artist Dave Cole converted a 22,000 pound soil compactor machine into a massive music box that plays the “Star Spangled Banner.” Though Cole stripped most of the weight out of the compactor to make the sculpture more manageable, it still weighs in at 2,000 pounds. The sculpture was commissioned by the Cleveland Institute of Art.

The Music Box by Dave Cole

Othermill: kickstarting a desktop 3D computer-controlled mill for circuit-boards, jewelry and more

TSA hearing for "Naked American Hero" John Brennan

NewImageRemember our happy mutant comrade John Brennan, who removed his clothes at the Portland Airport during a TSA screening? He was acquitted of a ridiculous indecent exposure charge, and now he is appealing an equally stupid fine from the Transportation Security Administration for “interfering with the screening process.” This might sound silly, but it's serious business. As Brennan points out in his press release below, "This is the first time the TSA has followed through on assessing civil penalties for 'interference with screening" purely for nonviolent, non-obstructive protected expressive conduct.'"
I'm grateful to Brennan for being a civil liberties champion.

May 9, 2013

Game of Thrones,The Climb.....

On last Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, appropriately named “The Climb,” we saw Jon Snow and the Wildlings scale the Wall, a 700-foot vertical ice barrier that separates the continent of Westeros from the frozen lands to the north (and the Wildlings and White Walkers that live there). In a dramatic climbing sequence, Wildlings roped together in groups of four scaled the sheer face with ice axes in hand, facing several near-death moments as falling ice sent many of them tumbling.

So how realistic was this scene, from the perspective of an experienced ice climber? I decided to find out with the help of Katie Mills, a Game of Thrones fan who also has eight years of experience mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest and lead climbing waterfall ice in Montana and Colorado.
First question: Why were the Wildlings climbing simultaneously while tied together by the same rope? If one climber falls, wouldn’t that pull everyone else off the Wall?
“This is a common technique known as a running belay or simul-climbing, where the team climbs at the same time with protection like ice screws placed in between team members,” said Mills. The catch, if you will, is that running belays are only appropriate on low angle ice or snow, where the friction of the rope against the terrain makes it easier for a climber to arrest their fall. A running belay should only be used where falls are unlikely, not for the sort of vertical climbing that the Wildlings attempt where the impact of falls is much more massive and almost certain to pull off other climbers.
Nobody would ever running belay a vertical climb,” said Mills. “You’d approach it the standard way, with one person leading, the other belaying from a stationary position, and then the leader building an anchor at the top and bringing the other people up.”
While we don’t see the Wildlings using modern ice climbing devices like ice screws or metal pickets placed in the snow during their running belay, we do see them pounding curved hooks into the ice. When Jon–the last member of the party–falls after being hit by ice, one hook pops out but the second one holds, and ostensibly “catches” the rope.
But since we see the rope moving smoothly through the hook, how would it stop Jon’s fall?
Short answer: It wouldn’t. Mills suggested that the hooks might be a medieval reimagining of the carabiner, and similarly would only be helpful if everyone fell and it caught the rope from a position above all the climbers. If anyone is above Jon, they’re the ones presumably catching him as they hold on to the Wall–an unlikely proposition given the forces exerted by this kind of drop, which would be many times Jon’s body weight.
What would be the more likely outcome? “Jon would yank the person above him off, who would in turn yank the next person off, and then the leader off, and they’d all be dangling from the ice hook with the rope taut.” (Inexplicably, right after Jon falls, the rope appears to be slack above him.)

Similarly, when Tormund embeds his axe in the ice and catches the three climbers in his team during the icefall–and when Jon does the same moments later to save Ygritte–their axes might stay lodged in the Wall, but Mills says the climbers would almost certainly lose their grip on them given the massive force of the falls, which are increased even further by the type of rope they use.
The ropes we use in modern climbing are dynamic–they stretch, which reduces the force,” said Mills. “The ropes [the Wildlings] are using are completely static with no give, so the instantaneous impact force of someone taking a vertical fall would be huge!” Since the force of the fall is concentrated at a single moment, rather than distributed more gradually by rope stretch, there’s also a good chance that the impact could snap this type of rope entirely.
Also, either intentionally or unintentionally, Mills says the scene where Orell cuts the rope above Jon and Ygritte is reminiscent of a similar rope-cutting scene in the film Vertical Limit, one of the movies most frequently mocked by climbers for its technical inaccuracies. And it’s subject to one of the same nit-picks: When Orell decides to cut the rope and send Jon and Ygritte tumbling, it takes him several moments to saw through it. But with the rope so taut, it would sever almost instantaneously. “You’d barely have to touch it,” said Mills.
The Wildlings do use accurate ice climbing gear like ice axes and crampons on their climb, and while the modern tools we see in this episode weren’t around in the 15th century ballpark of Game of Thrones, there were more rudimentary versions used by climbers of earlier eras. A form of crampons–ice climbing shoes with spikes–dates back to the 1500s, when Alpine shepherds attached spikes made from horseshoes to their boots. (Mills notes that the Game of Thrones propmasters are using modern Black Diamond crampons adapted to look older.) Similarly, while the sort of ice axes that Tormund and company use are too advanced, they were preceded by an alpine tool called an alpenstock, a longer wooden pole with a spiked tip that also dates back to the 1500s.

Of course, the most dramatic moment in the Wall-climbing scene involves the massive sheet of ice that shears off because of a crack created by Ygritte’s axe. How likely is this sort of rippling crack and catastrophic icefall?
Given that the Wall is made of solid ice, not very likely. ”While hanging ice curtains or pillars get horizontal cracks and fail catastrophically from people swinging their picks into them, it is near impossible that the ice would crack catastrophically like that if it is a solid block,” said Mills. “If solid hunks of ice could crack catastrophically like that, we would not ice climb because the sport would be too dangerous!”
If the Wildlings get a hold of the Horn of Winter, however, then all bets are off.

May 8, 2013

Ex-South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford wins old House seat back after scandal

Four years after scandal derailed his political career, ex-Republican Gov. Mark Sanford once again holds a South Carolina political office, winning back his old congressional seat Tuesday after a race in which he battled his past and an opponent who outdid him in fundraising.
Sanford's resurrection was completed when he defeated Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of political satirist Stephen Colbert, in a district that hasn't elected a Democratic congressman in more than three decades.
"Some guy came up to me the other day and said you look a lot like Lazarus," Sanford told a crowd of more than 100 cheering supporters at his victory celebration, referring to the man who, according to the Bible, Christ raised from the dead.
With all precincts reporting, Sanford had about 54 percent of the vote.
"I've talked a lot about grace during the course of this campaign," he said. "Until you experience human grace as a reflection of God's grace, I don't think you really get it. And I didn't get it before."
Sanford, who turns 53 later this month, has never lost a race in three runs for Congress and two for governor. And he said before the votes were counted Tuesday that if he lost this one, he wouldn't run for office again.
He saw his political career disintegrate in summer 2009, when he disappeared for five days, telling his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. He returned to admit in a tearful news conference he had been in Argentina with his mistress -- a woman to whom he is now engaged.
Sanford later paid a $70,000 ethics fine, the largest in state history, for using public money to fly for personal purposes. His wife and political ally, Jenny, divorced him. They have four sons.
On Tuesday, he thanked his oldest son and his fiancee, Maria Belen Chapur, who stood near him after flying from Argentina. The woman he has called his "soul mate" left immediately after his victory speech.
Sanford's 1st District, slightly reconfigured from the one he held for three terms in the 1990s, is strongly Republican and Mitt Romney took it by 18 points in last year's presidential race. Green Party candidate Eugene Platt also ran.
Three weeks before the special election, news surfaced that Sanford's ex-wife had filed a court complaint alleging he was in her house without permission in violation of their divorce decree, leading the National Republican Congressional Committee to pull its support from the campaign. Sanford must appear in court Thursday on the complaint.
Sanford said he tried to get in touch with his ex-wife and was in the house so his youngest son would not have to watch the Super Bowl alone.
The seat became vacant when U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint resigned from his Senate seat late last year. Governor Nikki Haley then appointed the sitting congressman, Tim Scott, to fill DeMint's seat.
"We put up a heck of a fight, didn't we?" Colbert Busch told a crowd of supporters at a hotel in Charleston, across the Cooper River from where Sanford met his supporters. "The people have spoken, and I respect their decision."
Colbert Busch had said after she voted that she felt positive and encouraged. But in the end, Sanford took the race despite his tainted past being an issue for some voters.
Gabriel Guillard, 49, a massage therapist and teacher, said she liked Colbert Busch but would have voted for anyone but Sanford.
"I would do anything to make sure Mark Sanford doesn't get back in because of his past behavior," she said. "And I am so tired of South Carolina being a laughingstock. I'm so sick of it."
Others didn't let the past dictate. Marion Doar, 79 and retired from careers in the military and business, said he voted for Sanford.
"Sanford was a fine fellow," he said. "He still is a fine fellow. Following his heart as he did was foolish but it happens."
Sanford already has survived a 16-way GOP primary with several sitting state lawmakers and Teddy Turner, the son of media magnate Ted Turner. He also won the primary runoff. Colbert Busch defeated perennial candidate Ben Frasier with 96 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.
Colbert Busch, 58, picked up the endorsement of The Post and Courier over the weekend. The Charleston newspaper called her "a welcome tonic" for those who suffer from "Sanford Fatigue -- a malady caused by overexposure to all of the cringe-worthy details of his 2009 disgrace as governor, his ongoing efforts for redemption via the political process, his resurgent personal problems, etc."
Sanford, despite losing national GOP support, picked up the endorsement of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a tea party favorite who is well-known in the district.

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Hollywood special effects master Ray Harryhausen dies at 92

US film producer and special effects creator Ray Harryhausen poses for photographers on June 29, 2010 next to his creation Medusa, which appeared in the film Clash of the Titans, at the London Film Museum in London
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US-born “king of stop-motion animation” and special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen died aged 92 in London on Tuesday, his family announced.
Hollywood tributes flooded in for Oscar-winner Harryhausen, who is best known for his work on “Jason and the Argonauts” and “Clash of the Titans”.
“Ray has been a great inspiration to us all in special visual industry,” said Star Wars mastermind George Lucas.
“The art of his earlier films, which most of us grew up on, inspired us so much. Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars,” he added.
Director Peter Jackson called the “Lord of the Rings” his “Ray Harryhausen movie”.
“Without his life-long love of his wondrous images and storytelling it would never have been made — not by me at least,” he explained.
Tinseltown giant Steven Spielberg said Harryhausen’s “inspiration goes with us forever” while “Avatar” director James Cameron stressed that Hollywood science fiction practitioners had been “standing on the shoulders of a giant.”
Britain’s Nick Park, creator of “Wallace and Gromit”, called him the “king of stop-motion animation”.
Harryhausen, who was born in Los Angeles in 1920, attributed his fascination with special effects to Willis O’Brien’s creations in 1933 classic “King Kong”.
Other credits throughout his distinguished career include “It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)”, “One Million Years B.C. (1966)”, and three films based on the adventures of Sinbad.
“Harryhausen’s genius was in being able to bring his models alive,” said the family statement.
“Whether they were prehistoric dinosaurs or mythological creatures, in Ray’s hands they were no longer puppets but became instead characters in their own right, just as important as the actors they played against and in most

New Tom Gauld print: "Some advice on how to cope in these tough times