Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sign I've Been Waiting For?

In the haste to clear our dinner table, my father unintentionally placed the Buddha water fountain my brother got for Christmas in front of our manger scene, obstructing the view of little baby Jesus. Now, if I was a superstitious man...

I've talked about it before, and I think it's annoyingly obvious to anyone who reads my blog, but I find myself always teetering on the edge of succumbing to serious piety. I feel a strong religious impulse, but I can find no reasonable avenue for catharsis. A few days ago, I had another small panic attack while I was contemplating my mortality --and what a nice feeling it was as I stepped into the shoes of a truly narcissistic believer for a moment, drank the koolaid, and hoped for immortality! Maybe I should give this whole religion thing the old college try...

Then I turn on the television and land on the history channel which, curiously, features a program on the Bible, the council of Nicaea, and the historical Jesus and I think, "This is all so silly! And painfully transparent, like Joseph Smith and the seer stones or L. Ron Hubbard and Tom Cruise! And who is this pale, European, long-haired fellow everyone is worshiping and placing in picture frames? That's not what Jesus looked like! And what does it matter if I believe in Jesus? Isn't it better to exalt what he stood for rather than obsess about how he was born, what magic tricks he performed, and how he died? Do I really have to celebrate a human sacrifice from the bronze age, or is there something more profound? And what's the deal with the Catholic Church? There seems to be a monster hiding in every nook and cranny of that old battleship. Hooray, the Church is responsible for the success of the printing press --but wait, that success was born out of the printing of indulgences, little pieces of paper, Catholic monopoly money, that you could buy to get out of purgatory. Hooray, the Church is charitable and helps the poor --except, the misappropriation of wealth is disgusting (upset about Sarah Palin's clothes? Wait until you get a load of the Pope's gold threaded duds!) and there is something sinister about coercing emaciated children into a belief system with a little food. Hooray, the Church supports science --except, only when it is a means to its own ends at the expense of truth...and so on...

Then I think about the Buddha, about the flexibility of the religion, and the strange Zen koan, "If you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha," and wow, I love that irreverence.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Almost Perfect Christmas

There are two gifts I was looking forward to getting, but despite my family's best efforts, they couldn't find any copies of E. Janet Browne's highly regarded, two volume, 1200+ page biographical tomes on the life of Charles Darwin, Voyaging and The Power of Place.


Thankfully, I've still got some Christmas money saved up, so I'll probably order the books off of Amazon sometime in the next few days. If I manage to make it through these two books, I think I will have acquired some level of expertise on the life of our greatest scientist. I've already read two biographies, Darwin's autobiography, a collection of his letters, a dramatization of his correspondence with Asa Gray, On the Origin of Species, and selections from the Descent of Man. Of course, I should probably also have a go at Darwin's original best-seller, Journey of the Beagle and, uh, there is the problem I still have of forming concrete memories of my reading. For example, it's a sad fact that I probably couldn't give you a very accurate estimation of Darwin's birth year and death or the names of his children...stupid brain!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wind Waker One Man Band

Holy cow. The Legend of Zelda never sounded so good.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Ukulele Get!

Despite the hard times, we had a pretty great Christmas all around. I got a ukulele! Soon I shall be its master...

Except, I'm distracted by the excellent online multiplayer experience of Call of Duty: World at War for the Wii. It's an impressive, fairly full-featured experience that is so far extremely addicting. (Anyone else out there want to exchange some COD friend codes?) Gears of War 2 has also proven to be an entertaining romp, although I can't imagine having as much fun if it weren't for cooperative play with my brother.

Merry Christmas!

Why does Matthew have Jesus riding on two donkeys at the same time? Because he misread Zechariah 9:9 which reads in part, "mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

Anyone familiar with Old Testament Hebrew would know that the word translated "and" in this passage does not indicate another animal but is used in the sense of "even" (which is used in many translations) for emphasis. The Old Testament often uses parallel phrases which refer to the same thing for emphasis, but Matthew was evidently not familiar with this usage. Although the result is rather humorous, it is also very revealing.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Yesterday, A little girl probably no more than 10 years old came into the store with her mother and wished me a Merry Christmas. As she was leaving, she spun around and added, "Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! Happy holidays!" while smiling a toothless smile.

To all those insecure, paranoid social conservatives fantasizing about invisible enemies and a made-up "war on Christmas," I ask you, have you ever heard of anything quite so sweet? My heart was deeply touched.

I'm working this Christmas Eve and on Christmas, so in case I don't get a chance to post it, Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and season's greetings!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Punch to the Gut at Blockbuster

Jay: yeah, I highly recommend King of Kong. It's a really great documentary.

Woman: Okay, great. We love documentaries. Actually, a couple weeks ago we saw Expelled. Did you see that?

Jay: Uh, yeah, I did see that.

Woman: Oh we thought it was just great. Very funny and well done.

Jay (anxiety kicks in): Um, well, yeah, I don't know. I mean, if you do a little, uh, if you like research it...

Woman: Yeah, it's kind of soft science, I know. Then again, so is Darwin.

Jay (queasily): But, uh, I mean if you find out more about it...

Woman: Yeah, I'm actually a science teacher and so is my husband...

JAY'S KNEES BUCKLE and his HEART DROPS. He doesn't know what to say. Should he say he's studied it all through college? No, he's working at Blockbuster now. That sounds retarded.

Jay: Well, okay, cool, have a nice day!

JAY HANDS WOMAN her movie and returns to register. He can't think. He's dizzy and disoriented. What just happened?


It's all too frequent true-life moments like these that make me think, "Maybe a little anxiety medicine could go a loooonnnggg way."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dragon Ball Evolution

You are probably familiar with at least some the story of Journey to the West, a classic Chinese novel that features the mischievous, free-spirit Sun Wukong, known in the West as the Monkey King.

Recently, Jet Li portrayed the Monkey King in the film The Forbidden Kingdom:

Journey to the West inspired the Japanese manga Dragon Ball, which is essentially a children's story spin on the original Chinese myth that morphs into a sci-fi spin later in Dragon Ball Z.

Take note of the child-like exuberance and naivete that characterizes both the Monkey King and Goku from Dragon Ball. Now prepare yourself for Dragon Ball Evolution, the live action adaptation releasing next year.

Something is missing. The humor and joyfulness of the original Dragon Ball, and indeed, the Chinese novel Journey to the West that the series is based upon, seem to be gone. Perhaps the tone does not translate well to the big screen. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether or not this new Hollywood bastardization --er, evolution-- of a classic tale can survive without the charm of the original.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Intelligent Design?

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- A Colorado Springs family is part of one of the strangest cases in medical history.

Dr. Paul Grabb, a pediatric brain surgeon, said he was surprised when he discovered a small foot growing inside the brain of 3-day-old Sam Esquibel.

Click here for a photo of the foot. Warning: graphic content.

"I've never seen anything like it before," Grabb told the Colorado Springs Gazette. "It looked like the breach delivery of a baby coming out of the brain."

Sam was delivered on Oct. 1, within hours of an ultrasound that showed what appeared to be a tumor developing in the brain of the fetus. Three days later, Grabb performed the surgery to remove it.

Read the rest of the article

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

World Events 2008

If you haven't taken the time yet to look at some of the photography coming out of the Greek riots, make sure you do so now. They are simply cinematic in their composition and their moving portrayal of raw human emotion.

On a lighter side, it's Christmas in Japan!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Xbox360 Woes: The Saga Continues

So I just got my Xbox360 back after having it repaired for RROD'ing. Excited to try it out, my brother and I popped in our Call of Duty 4 disc and booted it up. What followed was a horrendous screeching sound as the disc came loose in the drive and scratched a circular groove onto its surface. The game seems to be performing well, but that's the last time we'll be playing with the console upright.

Interestingly, this just popped up on Neogaf. Sounds like my woes may be soon be Microsoft's woes:

Suit: Microsoft knew Xbox could damage discs

A document unsealed in a lawsuit last week suggests that Microsoft employees knew before putting the Xbox 360 on the market in November 2005 that the video game console could damage game discs.

Several ongoing lawsuits charge that the Xbox 360 is defectively designed because tilting or swiveling the video game console can scratch game discs playing inside.

Plaintiffs in a July 2007 case filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle are seeking class-action status on behalf of all those who purchased Xbox 360s.

Most of the declarations in the court case are sealed, but a newly unsealed motion (read it here) seeking class status quotes from the sealed declarations of Microsoft employees.

The motion says that Microsoft knew that when the Xbox 360 was reoriented with a disc playing inside, the disc could be damaged.

It quotes Hiroo Umeno, a Microsoft program manager, who said in a declaration, "This is ... information that we as a team, optical disc drive team, knew about. When we first discovered the problem in September or October (2005), when we got a first report of disc movement, we knew this is what's causing the problem."

After the Xbox 360 launch, according to the motion, Microsoft sent a team of engineers to stores across the country "to investigate complaints that the Xbox 360 was routinely scratching discs during demonstrations."

Microsoft determined that if the console was tilted, discs inside became "unchucked" and collided with the drive's optical pickup unit, leading to deep circular gouges on the discs.

Because of the complaints, Microsoft considered three possibilities to fix the problem, but rejected all of them.

One solution would have increased the magnetic field of the disc holder, but it was dismissed because it could have interfered with the disc opening and closing mechanism. Another solution -- slowing the speed at which the disc was rotated -- was rejected because it could have increased the time required for a game to load. A third solution, installing small bumpers, was too expensive. It would have cost between $35 million and $75 million.

Eventually, Microsoft did institute an Xbox 360 disc replacement program that sends out new discs to customers if their discs are damaged for any reason. The program only applies to Microsoft titles and costs $20 per disc.

A warning was also included in the product manual, telling customers to "remove discs before moving the console or tilting it between the horizontal and vertical positions."

But, according to the motion, Microsoft employees deemed in an internal e-mail that the warning was insufficient.

A warning label was also affixed to the Xbox 360's disc drive.

More than 55,000 customers have complained about broken discs as of April 30, according to a Microsoft employee quoted in the motion.

Plaintiffs in the case also include a statement from an engineering consultant who says that other electronics makers, including Sony and Nintendo, almost always incorporate the possibility that a console could be moved while a disc is rotating inside in the designs of their products. Read his declaration here.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said Friday the company would not comment on pending litigation.

The Xbox 360 has been hampered by hardware glitches. In July 2007, Microsoft took a $1 billion pretax charge to extend the Xbox 360 warranty to three years from the purchase date for cases where hardware failures are accompanied by a red flashing in the "ring of light" around the console's power button.

At VentureBeat, Dean Takahashi has detailed how Microsoft prior to the launch of the Xbox 360 knew that the console could fail but went ahead with the release anyway so that it could get its console quickly to market.

Posted by Joseph Tartakoff at December 14, 2008 5:45 p.m.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dolphin Stampede!

Church is Scary

You'd think by now I would have grown used to this strange occurrence, but it continues to surprise and unnerve me. The once small church down the road from my house recently erected a large addition complete with garish windows and an imposing steeple. They also added lights that illuminate the edifice with a light blue-green glow.

Every night, without fail, as I turn onto my road to return home after a long day at work, the church jumps onto my rear view mirror. The really strange thing is that the light and the darkened windows are in such an arrangement that the first thing my brain interprets the reflected image is of a CREEPY PALLID GHOST GIRL in the backseat of my car!

It doesn't take my eyes long to adjust, but that church has given me several brief frights over the last few months. And I am utterly baffled as to why my brain keeps making the mistake.

If there is a God, just what is He or She trying to tell me about churches???

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mentalist Derren Brown on His Religion

Renowned mentalist and magician Derren Brown recalls his journey from devout Christian to rational skeptic. (Part one of the interview)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

New Song - Piano Improvisation "Doodley"

Actually, this is an old song from many moons ago. But since piano improvisations seem to be all the rage on the youtubes these days, I thought I'd post one. So here it is: "Doodley," a musical doodle featuring some of my favorite, drawn doodles.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Orchestral Game Concerts

Between 1991 and 1996, 3 Japanese orchestras performed 5 amazing concerts featuring arrangements of famous video game music.

I've just discovered a website that is hosting complete music files for all 5 concerts. Check it out and download some of these wonderful tracks. Need some help getting started? I've included a few direct links to some of my favorite songs below:

Super Mario Bros - Medley (Classic)
Legend of Zelda - Main Theme (Rivals any John Williams theme)
Kirby's Super Deluxe - The Gourmet Race (Better than the SSBB arrangement)
Visiting the Harbors of the World (Wonderfully varied, like a trip around the world)
Donkey Kong Country (Becomes surprisingly sad and beautiful)
Theme of Chrono Trigger (Adventurous, Reminds of Johny Quest)

While I'm on the subject, I recently listened to some music from the critically acclaimed video game "Psychonauts" and was greatly annoyed at how blatantly the composer borrowed from Danny Elfman's Beetlejuice theme. The fact that no one else out there on teh internets has made the same accusation angers me further. It's so obnoxiously obvious, like James Horner's theme from Honey I shrunk the Kids. (Powerhouse, for comparison)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Kill Bot Kills

Just as I've argued the tremendous life saving reality of applied science, the dark side rears its ugly head. And sure, maybe something like a hovering Multiple Kill Vehicle might ultimately save more lives than it takes, but the cost to our sense of humanity is troubling.

Science Saves!

I want to make a t-shirt with a message along the lines of "Science Saves" because, let's face it, when it comes to modern medicine, agriculture, technology and natural disaster management, science actually saves lives. However, I can't think of a clever image to add to the text. Any ideas?

Maybe I should just buy one of these t-shirts:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Andes Mint Hot Chocolate

I've made an exciting discovery:


Just make a cup of hot chocolate, add an Andes mint, stir until dissolved, and serve. I'm not sure if I could ever go back to boring, old hot cocoa after this. Mmmm...

Friday, December 5, 2008

The World Wide Internet is Funny

Time for another random smattering of funny pictures and .gifs I've mined from the bowels of the web.

Skater Kid Just Can't Win


But Kitties Always Do


g2g lol


Remember Moms:




Flawless Victory


Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Beyblades, Let Me Show You Them

Okay, this may be too "niche" for any of my readers to enjoy, but I'm cataloging this for posterity because I am crying with laughter.

Some of you may be aware that I lurk and occassionally post on Neogaf, a videogame message board that is populated by gamers, geeks, and, believe it or not, industry insiders. In fact, there seems to be an intimate relationship between game creators, critics and Neogaf, which some developers would probably rather forget (Denis Dyack, I'm looking at you).

The community can be brutal. But in general, Neogaffers are insightful, witty, and enthusiastic about games. If ever a member does get out of line, he or she is usually dealt with swiftly and justly.

Now to the meat and potatoes of this post. I've only read about 5 pages of the thread entitled "Beyblade (anime where they cursed and had blood and partial nudity, mofos!) is back!," but I can already see why gaffers are hailing it as one of the funniest moments in gaming this year.

It seems an adolescent-minded gamer (brandonk129) stumbled onto Neogaf thinking he would find fellow superfans of a game and series called Beyblade, which involves spinning two Beyblade tops and "battling."

Like chum to a school of sharks, Neogaf is whipped up into a hilarious frenzy of biting wit and in-jokes. (SFW)

UPDATE: An interesting article on the Neogaf phenomenon

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Proposition 8: The Musical

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Roger Ebert and I Are Homies Now

Ebert allowed my comment on his blog. That means we're like best friends now, right?

The consummate film critic recently reviewed Ben Stein's odious tract Expelled and dutifully ripped it to shreds, albeit with a somewhat strained metaphor. (Read my review) And since I get such an ego maniacal kick out of reading my own words, I thought I'd reproduce my comment here:

The forced connections between Darwin, an agnostic, and Hitler, a Catholic who dabbled in the occult, are so strenuous that it is utterly baffling that they continue to be made by creationists and intelligent design proponents. Darwin taught us about the way nature selects evolutionarily beneficial traits for survival; Hitler and his insidious regime sought an artificial genocide to select their own favorite traits. Artificial selection has been understood and practiced long before Darwin ever came to the scene. To conflate evolution by means of natural selection with the racist, homophobic, and antisemitic prejudices that have been around since the dawn of civilization is simply shameful.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I Learned a New Word . . .

And I'm probably worse for it. The word is pretty offensive. Of course, I found it quite amusing. I overheard its use in an employee's conversation at the theater.

"...he's kind of a Christfag, but he's all right..."

I had never come across this particular conflation of words before, but I confess, I think I know exactly the kind of person the term is intended to describe. I've frequently met people (especially in Indiana) that I would have pegged for gay, only to discover that they are, shall we say, flamboyantly devout, effeminately excitable, gay-for-god Christians (not that the two are mutually exclusive).

Pastor Ted Haggard preparing to receive, er, something from the Lord

The incident reminded me of a comedian's joke about the similarities between church services, papal attire, sex scandals, fraternities and certain elements of a stereotypically gay lifestyle, but I can't for the life of me remember the bit or the name of the comedian. Sound familiar to anyone else?

Bah. In somewhat related and also quite hilarious news, a clergyman has been hospitalized after a potato became stuck in his anus.

The clergyman, in his 50s, told nurses he had been hanging curtains when he fell backwards on to his kitchen table.

He happened to be nude at the time of the mishap, said the vicar, who insisted he had not been playing a sex game.

Rigghhhttt Father...You're a regular Frank Costanza...