Wednesday, October 28, 2015


So here's a question: why can't I watch the GOP debate? Like, I'm not saying that I think anyone's going to have anything interesting to say, but sometimes it's fun to watch them claw each other's eyes out over who's the most Reaganesque.
I guess if I had to pick, the Reaganiest one would be...wait,
does that banner read "YOUR MONEY YOUR VOTE?" Seriously?
Set up an account? Why not? What's
another user name and password?
But when I try to stream the debate, the site asks me to verify my cable provider and the account isn't in my name and, well, you don't care. The point is that in order to watch, you kind of have to jump through some hoops. Hoops I'm unwilling to jump through. I don't want to be one of those smug jerks bragging about how I don't watch television, but I don't. Not technically. I watch tons of streaming things, but the television is for Xbox, not sitting through commercials and paying for three hundred channels I don't care about. Cable can suck it.

The upshot here is that instead of watching the debate tonight and then posting about how ridiculous they all sounded not believing in dinosaurs and moaning about Obamacare, I'll uh, not watch. And that's fine. I don't need to actually watch the debate to make fun of it.
Tonight in safe bets...Carson will say something anti-scientific, Trump will
say something misogynistic and then they'll all have a big laugh about Benghazi.
Above: The other half. What? It's the
GOP debate, who do you think's watching?
Look, I don't want to tell the GOP how to run their debates...wait, that's not true, I'd love to tell them how to run their debate, but they probably wouldn't listen to me. I guess the thing is that this is essentially a three-hour commercial for their candidates, and it seems like if you wanted people to watch you'd make it less of a gigantic pain in the ass. Unless of course they don't really care if we can watch it, which, I can understand. I mean, half the viewership is probably people like me who are only watching to see who spouts the most bullshit so they can go make fun of them on their blog.

Anyway, I did discover something while looking for photos to caption for this post. Did you know that if you do an image search for 'GOP debate' you get this:
Look close, upper right... 
...there it is. You got zinged GOP. Zinged by Google...

Monday, October 26, 2015

Today in things that are slowly killing us...

Bacon. Yes, goddamn bacon. The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (or IARC, if you're in a hurry) announced that red and processed meats cause colorectal, a.k.a. bowel cancer. As in cancer of the bowels.
Oh don't look so shocked, you had to know you
wouldn't come back from something like this.
Bacon is ranked as the #1 cause of
death among hipsters (source: science) 
They didn't say 'might' cause cancer or 'could possibly be a contributing factor' to cancer but instead in an unusually profanity laden statement said:

'Hey if you don't cut down on that greasy, carcinogenic smoked pig fat you've all been shoveling into your food-face, you will fucking die you stupid hipster schmuck.'

-The WHO
(direct quote)
"Mo'meat, mo'problems."
-Another direct quote
from Dr. Straif
Well, ok, to put the IARC's warning into numbers, 50 grams of processed meat per day increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18%. That's eighteen percent. Holy shit, right? In fact, the WHO is putting processed meat up there with asbestos, tobacco, diesel fumes and plutonium. Plutonium, as in the transuranic radioactive element we use for nuclear bombs and time machine fuel.

"For an individual, the risk of developing [bowel] cancer because of their consumption of processed meats remains small, but the rest increases with the amount of meat consumed."

-Dr. Kurt Straif from the IARC
not making us feel any better 

"Lunchables makes lunchtime fun! 
Until the test results come back..."
Wait, what? The risk 'remains small'? So it's just a small risk of bowel cancer? Ok, so eating processed meat every day doesn't actually give you an 18% greater chance of colostomy bags and an early, agonizing horror show of a death. It just raises your statical likelihood of developing bowel cancer from 5% to 6% which, through math, works out to be like an 18% increase. Since 18% is a way the hell scarier number, news sites go with panic and overreaction.* And I'm kind of ok with a little panic and overreaction. I just don't love cold cuts that much.

Did they really think they could say 'bowel cancer' and we wouldn't freak out about it? Like you can't just compare something people take for granted with smoking and the fires of a nuclear armageddon and then say 'but a little's probably ok.'
If bacon came with an 18% risk of venomous
snakes wouldn't we all kind of take pause?

*Correction! Yup, originally I used the 18% figure from the Huffington Post article because it was terrifying and therefore funnier, but then I was contacted by a scientist, an actual scientist who knows stuff and he explained why that number is kind of bullshit. Onward Stranger Fiction, now with 87% more science! (source: accurate science)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The future of yesterday is here tomorrow!

Look out internet, today is Back to the Future II Day! Yeah, what's that? Today's the day Marty and Doc travel to in Back to the Future Part II in order to do something about Marty and Jennifer's kids. Something has got to be done about their kids.
"Because fuck causality."
-Doctor Emmett Brown,
deranged time-meddler
The hell with Mars, let's be the
first country to colonize Gabargia.
Anyway, even though Marty and Doc come from 1985, the movie came out in 1989 and predicted events of 2015. Still with me? Great. A lot has been made about how we're here in 2015 and hoverboards are far from ubiquitous, cars are completely non-flying and non-garbage powered. Oh, and speaking of garbage, instead of simply tossing ours into the nearest Mr. Fusion, we just add it to the floating garbage continent in the Pacific. In many ways, the future as it unfolded turned out to be kind of disappointing.

On the other hand, it's a small
price to pay for hoverboards...
But I'm not sure we're not better off. Hoverboards look cool but they're really just a frictionless recipe for broken collar bones. And at first glance flying cars seem super-convenient. They combine the speed and efficiency of air-travel with the comfort of not having to sit in a sealed compartment next to someone with swine-flu on a five-hour flight. But they also add a third dimension to driving when most people seem to barely be able to handle two. Look, I'm not poo-pooing Robert Zemeckis's glittering utopia of holo-sharks and Regan/Max Headroom duels, but the real future's not so bad.

Finally, a reason to live.
I mean, the Cold War's over, we have the internet and smart phones and consequently the sum of human knowledge at our fingertips at all times. Also, there's a new, probably not sucky Star Wars coming out soon, so we have that to look forward to. Sure, we have climate change, people who don't believe in climate change and gun laws that make it basically legal to shoot anyone you want, but we also have streaming video. The future turned out ok, didn't it?

Oh, and not to keep picking on Zemeckis, but is it me or is handing everyone in America a car with a built-in fusion reactor the absolute worst idea ever?
Above: a minor collision on the 101, thanks Mr. Fusion...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

He had me at robots...

"No, we're huge fans, we've even crafted a simple,
 wooden digital projector just for the occasion."
-Some Amish guy
Hey, did you know that there's a new The Star Wars movie coming out in December? Yes. Of course you did. Unless you're dead, living in North Korea or are maybe Amish or something, it's been impossible to escape the constant barrage of hype, advertising, tie-in merchandise and nerd-citement that's been bathing the Earth for the last few months like some kind of marketing background radiation, penetrating deep into our cells and leaving us giddy and nauseous with acute anticipation sickness.

"Let's see, five trillion, one hundred fifty-two
billion, six hundred million and-ok that's all of
it, all the money. Pull the movie, we're done."

-Some Disney exec
As of yesterday, you can even buy tickets. Well, could. The demand was so great that fans immediately crashed Fandango and a couple other sellers within minutes causing freak outs and anger across the land from people who were unable to buy tickets. The movie is two months away and is going to be playing six or seven times a day on like three or more screens per theater in like every movie theater in the country, but still, I guess some of us are worried that we might somehow not get to see it. Like Disney is going to make enough money and then shut it down or something.

Above: Darth Vader, noted whiner and
child-murderer (source: prequels)
But that's ok. We're excited. It's been ten years since episode III, and three decades since the last decent installment so it's understandable that fans are anxious. The trailer released yesterday was, in its two-minute runtime, more interesting and cohesive than the last three prequels combined. And J. J. Abrams's last Star Wars movie (you heard me) was pretty great so really unless The Force Awakens is just two-hours of cosplayers dueling with plastic lightsabers, it's not likely to disappoint. Not impossible, just not likely.

Look, I have every confidence in the world that the new Star Wars will be better than the prequels, but what if it's just ok? Can anything really live up to the expectations we've heaped upon it? What if after all this build-up it's-hey look, robots!
"Yup robots. Adorable robots. One of them's even orange.
Face it nerd, I've already got your eleven dollars..."

-J. J. Abrams, not being wrong

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Let's (belatedly) Celebrate Federation Day!

Now Columbus has ruined two holidays.
Hey, do you know what today is? Alaska Day and Azerbaijani independence Day. But since neither you nor I live in either of these places (probably) we're going to say it's Federation Day. How come? Because I missed it this year. Yeah, with the run up to Canadian Thanksgiving and complaining about Columbus Day still being a thing, I totally let the holiest day on the Geek Orthodox calendar pass by unremarked upon and that cannot stand.

Fortunately, because travel at super-luminal speeds causes relativistic time dilation effects, and because our concept of time is limited by our primitive linear minds, I'm going to go ahead and declare today to be Federation Day. Oh, and fair warning: we're going to be talking nerdy from hear on out, so if that's not your cup of raktajino, maybe skip this one.
Oh please, like that made any less sense than any
of the technobabble Geordi LaForge came up with...
Back to the Future didn't lie to us, it just
grossly exaggerated hoverboard availability.
Since this year's Federation Day is something of a lie, and because the internet is awash with people complaining about our lack of hoverboards on this, the eve of Back to the Future II Day, I think it's important to examine the many ways Star Trek has lied to us about the future. Well, lie is a strong word, I mean, as science fiction, the writers were never really concerned about accurately predicting the future, just plausibly predicting the future. Sometimes they overshoot, sometimes they undershoot and sometimes they predict a terrifying dystopia run by Ricardo Montalbán.

Above: The unchallenged ruler of one
quarter of the Earth (source: history).
Yeah, remember how back in the 1990's our species was nearly overthrown by a race of genetically-enhanced super-clones? No, of course you don't, because this was probably Star Trek's stupidest prediction. Introduced in the 1967 episode Space Seed, Khan was an exiled tyrant from the Eugenics Wars of the 1990's who escaped prosecution by hopping into his cryogenic sleeper-ship and jetting off for parts unknown only to be discovered by the Enterprise crew. This in itself wasn't so bad, but then Khan came back in 1982's The Wrath of Khan which, ok, even then was looking a little ridiculous, but it was a good movie, so we let if go.

There were a couple of non-specific references to Khan and the Eugenics Wars in later Trek series, but writers were careful to avoid any specific dates. After all, the 1990's came and and went with nary a single genetically-engineered coup d'etat. But then Into Darkness came out in 20-goddamn-13 and ripped off the Wrath of Khan right down to Khan's ridiculously dated warlord of the 90's origin story.
"Captain, you don't know what it was like. The chaos, the
violence. Have you ever heard of Ace of Base? If you had,
you would understand that I did what needed to be done..."
-Benedict Cumberkhan
You can even flap them open and shut
and make them talk like a high-tech puppet. 
Ok, so Khan was probably a misstep, but they made a lot of accurate predictions too right? Cell phones are like communicators, 3-D printers are essentially early replicators. But then you have tricorders. I mean, what the hell? They're the swiss army knife of the future and can do goddamn anything.  Anything! Run analyses? Check. Scan for life forms? All over it. Projecting holographic messages of peace and cooperation hidden by ancient humanoids in our junk DNA? No problem, because they're basically magic.

Spock even once used his to record all of human history including searchable newspaper articles from alternate timelines. I realize we have iPhones now with all kinds of apps, but tricorders transcend plausible functionality and fall squarely into the category of 'because the script needs this to happen.'
"Fascinating, I'm detecting high levels of narrative expedience and lazy writing..."
"Command not recognized, please
clarify: 'bite me you stupid, addle-
minded, isolinear-dipshit."
It's weird then for as impossibly useful and sophisticated as the tricorders were that the computers were so useless. The Enterprise's super-sophisticated think-box, which is presumably capable of the complex calculations that keeps the ship from warping through a star or bouncing too close to a supernova, has to shout WORKING in a loud, grating Dalek voice before executing what amounts to even the simplest Google search. And the computer on The Next Generation wasn't much better. It was constantly confusing the crew's offhand remarks and under their breath utterances for commands.

In fact, the most prescient computer technology suggested by Star Trek was probably the gear crammed into the humanoid skull. Yup, spoiler alert: we're turning in to the Borg. Constantly sharing our thoughts with each other on our smartphones is just the first step, next up is wearable tech followed by implantable tech. Seriously, what are we, fifteen, twenty years away from waiting in line at the Apple store for the next iBorg neuro-link?
Sure we're probably condemning ourselves to a meaningless existence
as a planet full of tech-addicted automatons inextricably linked to the
hive mind, but at this point will we notice much of a difference?

Because fardels are for chumps...

Well this is just not ok. Did you hear about this? Click here. No? Ok, fine, I'll explain: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon is going to stage Shakespeare's plays, like all of them, in contemporary English.
"Oh shit Horatio, this is Yorick's skull! He was a
nice guy and now he's dead. Man, life's weird..."

-Hamlet, Act V scene 1
"Pfft...Shakespeare. What'd he know?"
-Bill Rauch
Why would anyone, much less a respected company like the OSF want to strip Shakespeare's plays of their rich, poetic language and replace it with the way we all sound in real life? Do they hate things that are good? Did they lose a bet? According to the festival's artistic director Bill Rauch, the project, called Play On is intended to offer something new and accessible, but I'm not so sure. This whole idea sounds to me a little like 'Shakespeare's plays are hard, so we fixed them.'

The translations aren't meant to replace the original works, Rauch insists, pointing out that we have both Romeo and Juliet and Westside Story. And he's right. Shakespeare's plays are adapted and updated all the time. Like, did you know that 10 Things I Hate About You is Taming of the Shrew or that The Lion King is Hamlet with lions instead of Danish people?
It's also Kimba the White Lion because
originality is for people who can't afford good lawyers. 
Don't judge, it was a
world before Wikipedia.
A lot of people find Shakespeare's language archaic and hard to follow, and that's fair. I mean we don't really say 'thee' and 'thou' anymore, and we've replaced thumb biting with far more sophisticated finger gestures. And Shakespeare can be intimidating. Play On is sort of based on the idea that once people see a version in contemporary English, they might be more inclined to try the original text. According to Rauch: "It is our hope and expectation that these translations will inspire audience members to return to Shakespeare's original words, ideally with even greater enjoyment and understanding." You know, sort of like how in grade school we'd all use Cliffs Notes to get through a book report, but then we'd get all inspired to go back and read Crime and Punishment in the original Russian. Ok, wishful thinking maybe but their hearts are in the right place.

But I guess what's weird about Play On is that it sounds like they're taking out the thing that makes Shakespeare Shakespeare. Sets, costumes, indoors, outdoors, you can do pretty much anything you want to one of his plays and it's still Shakespeare, but take out the 'fardles' and the 'by my troths' and you just have a bunch of sociopathic kings and horny, self-destructive teens soliloquizing their every waking thought.
"Sometimes, when I'm alone, I like to explain my machinations
out loud to no one in particular. It's just a little thing I do..."

-Richard III

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Expect a proportionate culture gap...

I don't want to get everybody's hopes up, but seriously, everybody raise your hopes. Like a lot, because a post-doctorate student at Yale called Tabetha Boyajian may have just discovered an alien Ringword. Holy shit, a goddamn ringworld.
Pictured: a goddamn ringworld.
Ah, yes, I see...
(note: no I don't)
Here, click on this and read Boyajian's paper. Can you believe it? Proof of aliens. Amazing, right?
Ok, so the paper doesn't mention aliens anywhere. It's just math, thirteen pages of complicated math.

"The STFT is presented in Figure 3. This shows that the 0.88 day signal is present in most of the Kepler time series, with the strongest presence occurring around the day 1200."

-Tabatha Boyajian, blinding us with science

Pictured: astronomers out having a
good time while we're all home pouring
over the Kepler's data like chumps.
From what my primitive non-math brain can gather, the Kepler telescope stares at stars and waits for the light they emit to dim briefly and regularly as something passes between it and us, suggesting that there's an object in orbit. Because it looks at so many stars and astronomers are busy people with rich social lives, they crowdsource (is that even a word?) the drudge work to us, the little people, through a website called which lets amateur astronomers try and spot patters in the data which might indicate a planet.

<cough> aliens <cough>..."
-Tabatha Boyajian

After a particular star has been flagged by enough armchair planet-spotters, the real scientists step in and seize all the glory. One star in particular, KIC8462852 showed some crazy light patterns that aren't so easily explained as natural phenomena. It's an irregular dimming that goes 80% dark and stays dark for 5 to 80 days at a time. Boyajian and her co-authors ruled out the usual explanations  (usual for space that is) like planets, dust rings, crap on the telescope's lens, everything but comets, but even that, according to Boyajian and her team, doesn't fit the data perfectly. Boyajian told Ross Anderson of The Atlantic that there were other, non-natural causes they were looking at as well.

Should be the last hypothesis,
but what the hell right? Aliens!
No really, serious science people aren't ruling out aliens. Astronomer Jason Wright from Penn State is going to be publishing his own paper about the findings in which he will suggest that the pattern could be the result of alien mega-structures passing between us and the star. 

"Aliens should be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looks like something you would expect an alien civilization to build."

-Jason Wright, Penn State,
totally considering the alien
hypothesis, like first thing

Non-natural signals, prime numbers, the
light jazz and soft, comforting tones of
public radio hosts. That sort of thing.
I'm not sure we can expect aliens do do anything, that's why they're aliens, but the idea is that mega-structures (mega being derived from the Latin for 'big' and structures meaning 'things') like a Dyson sphere (sort of a swarm of solar collectors), or my personal favorite theory, the aforementioned goddamn ring world, might cause the weird patterns we're seeing. Boyajian and some of her colleagues want to point some radio telescopes at KIC8462852 next in the hopes that, we can pick up some kind of signal consistent with an advanced, technological civilization.

Above: so this, but on a scale at which
our entire civilization could disappear and
a new one rises before we get a response.
Anyway, this is science, so evidence of aliens must invariably followed by the loud, open-hand face-slap of reality. Mega-structures or no, KIC8462852 is still 1,480 lightyears away and this poses some problems. First of all, if there are aliens there and we want say hi we're going to have to wait 1,480 for a signal to get to them and then another 1,480 to get one back. You know how annoying it is when someone won't return a time-sensitive text? Now factor in a 2,960-year wait at minimum. Yikes, right?

Of course at that distance the light we're seeing is from the sixth century, so these aliens were building orbital structures capable of blotting out their sun at a time when humans were busy kicking off the middles ages. Even if we could communicate with them, we'd be a planet full of snarling savages by comparison, what could we possibly have to talk about? Faster-than light travel? Game of Thrones? I suspect more separates us from whatever beings might inhabit KIC8462852 than just a few light years.
"Sorry, I don't watch it, my people have evolved beyond the need for HBO.
But hey listen, I've really got to get going, we should hang out sometime, maybe
drop by? You guys have warp drive, right? No? Oh, well, we'll see you around."

-The KIC8462852-ian ambassador,
saying we'll totally hang out, but
we both know he doesn't mean it

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Print is dead!

Pictured: Flanders and some women he
pays to pretend to find him interesting.
Uh-oh, bad news for the five or six people who haven't heard of internet porn: Playboy Magazine has announced that they will stop printing nude photos, ending more than 60 years of sexual objectification of women. How come? The aforementioned internet of course.

"You're one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it's just passé at this juncture."

-Scott Flanders, Playboy CEO,
pointing out the flaw in his 
company's business model

Oh, did I say that Playboy would no longer be objectifying women? Sorry, that's not entirely true, they'll just no longer be objectifying naked women.
"I got the idea for Playboy back in 1953 when I realized that
men are hormone-driven idiots and that women are objects."

-Some elderly cruise ship captain
And a 4% chance that your next search
is some combination of these things.
Well, that's not true either. They'll still have a centerfold, it's just that she'll be partially covered up. So, hey, progress, right? No. Anyway, they feel that they just can't compete with the overwhelming preponderance of sexually explicit material on the internet. According to my calculations, the internet breaks down as 27% pictures of cats, 33% out-of-context inspirational quotes people post on their Facebook timelines and the rest is porn. Furthermore, I predict an 80% chance that porn will be your next google search after reading this.

Back? Great. So the internet has finally driven Playboy out of the puerile hootenanny photography business, what's the plan now? Less nudity, more liquor ads and investigative journalism. No, really. That's what they got.
"Don't judge me, I only read it for the liquor ads..."

Monday, October 12, 2015

Let's Celebrate Canadian Thankslumbus Day!

"We're really very sore-y aboot this."
(source: hurtful stereotypes)
Hey everybody, do you know what today is? It's Indig-huh? Well, yes it is Canadian Thanksgiving, which, if you didn't already know, is just like ours except that by tradition, everyone apologizes to the turkey before eating it. Oh, and then they all watch hockey. Get it? Because Canadians like hockey. And apologizing. It's ok, I'm a quarter Canadian, I'm allowed to make fun. Anyway, that's not where I was going with this, so let me phrasing it another way: Hey everybody, do you know what today isn't?

Yup, it isn't Columbus Day. At least depending on where you live, today might be Indigenous People's Day instead. Cities including Albuquerque, Portland, St. Paul, Minnesota, Olympia, Berkley and Seattle have all ditched Columbus Day in favor of celebrating the civilizations he encountered and was ultimately responsible for destroying.
"Look, you crossed the ocean on a boat and that's great, all I'm saying is that our ancestors came
on foot and fought saber-tooth cats and hunted woolly mammoths, so maybe loose the attitude?"
-the Indigenous People
(source: history)
Besides, only like .001% of the population
identifies as Genoese imperialist fuckhead.

'But wait,' you say-ok, not you but some hypothetical nay-sayer who has a problem with all this-'why change an 80-year tradition when only 2% of the current population is Native American?' Because you insensitive prick (again not you), celebrating Christopher Columbus is racist as hell. Sure, he did pull off a feat only a few hundred Vikings (and they already have a day) had managed before, in that he white-discovered the gigantic landmasses to the west, but he also kicked off centuries of murder, theft and disease so not everyone's on board with it. From the minute he set foot on the not-the-Indies, he was spreading small pox (not his fault) and exploiting the weapons technology gap (totally his fault) to steal all their gold and land.

Above: noted explorer Steve Shanklesberry,
wearing his famous saucy sea-voyage cap.
(source: alternate history)
Huh? Yeah, the not-the-Indies. Let's not forget that he discovered the Americas by accident. Fans of Columbus like to get all frothy at the mouth about how Indigenous People's Day is white liberal guilt run amok, but really Columbus Day is just a celebration of some greedy merchant who got incredibly lucky. If he wasn't the first European to bring back word of the 'new' world, someone else probably would have. I mean, the planet's an oblique spheroid and everybody knew it so it was only a matter of time. If Christopher Columbus became a cheese monger instead of a sailor, we'd just be re-naming someone else's holiday instead. In some alternate reality our goatee'd doubles are probably talking about abolishing Steve Shanklesberry day.

What the-well, I'll be damned...
(source: maps)
Ok, since you brought up the Canadians (yes you did), you're probably wondering where they are on the question of Columbus Day. After all, they're also a part of the Americas, so why don't they have a Columbus Day? Is it out of respect for Native Americans? Doesn't seem that way, does it? I mean, instead of celebrating Indigenous People's Day like several progressive American municipalities have grudgingly started doing, they're sitting around gorging themselves on turkey and cranberry sauce (yes, they do that too) and apologizing. What jerks, right?

Wrong. Say what? Yeah, it turns out that Canada has never bothered celebrating Christopher Columbus and has recognized National Aboriginal Day since 1996, beating most of America to the punch by two entire decades, so now who's the jerk?
This guy. This guy's the jerk.*
(source: most of the terrible shit that happened in the last 500 years)

*Also me for making fun of Canadians. Sore-y guys.