Monday, August 31, 2009

The Explorers Club
No. CXLIII - The first flight over the South Pole, by Richard Byrd (1888-1957), Bernt Balchen (1899-1973), Harold June (1885-1962), and Ashley McKinley (1896-1970) in the Ford Trimotor Floyd Bennett, 29 November 1929.

The Stars My Destination
I both love and lament how quickly the extraordinary becomes commonplace. For only the second time in the whole of history, there are thirteen persons currently in outer space, orbiting this good Earth: STS-128link. There's no room for triskaidekaphobia in manned spaceflight. Go boldly!

This Week in Motorsport
More about how Formula One works. Every F1 car has a number, with each team's two race cars being issues consecutive numbers based upon the order of that team's entrance into F1. Upon the withdrawal of the Honda Racing F1 Team at the end of 2008, Force India was entitled to move down from Nos. 20 & 21 to Nos. 18 & 19, but, pleading that they had already placed merchandising orders featuring the numbers 20 & 21, Force India were allowed to keep those numbers. So, the two cars of Brawn G.P., a brand new team and yet also the remnants of Honda, were issued the numbers 22 & 23, leaving no 18 & 19 cars on the F1 grid. But, wait, there are only twenty cars on the grid, yet the numbers go all the way up to 23? We know what happened to 18 & 19, but accounting for that still leaves us with twenty cars numbered up to 21. Byeh?

Jaime Alguersuari of Toro Rosso drives No. 11 and his teammate Sebastien Buemi No. 12. Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull drive Nos. 14 & 15. In F1, there is no car No. 13. There's room, alas, for triskaidekaphobia in motorsport.

13 12A
And now completing a troika in triskaidekaphobia, the apartment shared by K. Steeze and The Professor in Los Angeles, B.T.WesTwo (read "B-T-W-West-Two"), is Apartment 12A. No other apartment in their building has a letter, the sequence is Apt. 12, Apt. 12A, Apt. 14. Confound the intersection of superstition and superintendents! I wonder if they could successfully offer their landlord a premium to allow them use of B.T.WesTwo's rightful number, Apartment 13?

Titus Pullo says, "XIII! XIII! XIII! XIII!"

Vote For Kodos
Polite society considers it bad form to speak ill of the dead; so, regarding the demise of Senator Edward "Ted "Kennedy, I shall confine myself to fact. Whether you extol or rue his long career in the Senate, this is indisputable: the Senator, may he rest in peace, lived for forty years and one month more than Mary Jo Kopechne.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
The Lovin' Spoonful, "Summer In the City" via iTunes (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: And thus we begin the week-long R.B.D.S.O.T.D. farewell salute to the Summer of '09, both the Summer of Crime and, to my supreme delight, the Summer of Speed. I chose "Summer In the City" to kick off this series last week; the lyrics speak of the unspeakable heat of summer in the city, and yet in an amusing twist today was quite chilly. For August, even the last day of August, today was colder than a widow's bed.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

This Week in Motorsport
Holy smoke, the Belgian Grand Prix was unbelievable! 'Twas the most thrilling Formula One grand prix yet! Spa is now my favorite circuit, and I cannot wait for the 2010 Belgian Grand Prix. More, much more, to follow.

Next: the Gran Premio d'Italia! Monza! Monza! Monza!

The Rebel Black Dot Songs of the Day
Johnny Socko, "They Know Us At the Spa" from Full Trucker Effect (T.L.A.M.)

Samstag, 29 August
The Cardigans, "My Favourite Game" via iTunes (T.L.A.M.)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

This Week in Motorsport
The Formula One grid's been turned on its head. Qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix was mad, gloriously mad! Giancarlo Fisichella of Force India, a team that has failed to score a single point in eleven grands prix so far in '09, was the fastest man around the famous (so I am told) Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Lewis Hamilton, World Champion in '08, will start in twelfth; Fernando Alonso, World Champion in '05 and '06, will start in thirteenth; and Jenson Button, winner of six of the first seven grands prix of '09, will start in fourteenth (all in a field of twenty cars). Slow pokes ran like greased lightning in qualifying, the best of the best were as slow (always a very relative word in the world of F1) as the rest, and no one has the fogged notion of how it will all play out in the always mercurial weather of Spa, where quite often (again, so I am told) one end of the track will be engulfed in a monsoon while the other end is bathed in blinding sunlight. The Belgian Grand Prix is going to be great!

I would like to entice one or more of you to join me as fans of the F.I.A. Formula One World Championship; so, I thought I might explain a little about how the sport works, to make its complexities seem less Byzantine. There are currently ten teams competing in Formula One, each running two cars. The 2009 World Championship will be determined by the results of seventeen grands prix, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on 29 March and ending with the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on 1 November, All Saints Day. And there are actually two separate championships in F1, one for individual drivers, one for the teams, called constructors; both are scored according to the following points system, which only awards points to the top eight finishers among the field of twenty:

1st place = 10 points
2nd place = 8 points
3rd place = 6 points
4th place = 5 points
5th place = 4 points
6th place = 3 points
7th place = 2 points
8th place = 1 point

F1 rules require each team to build its cars in their entirety, with the exceptions of engines and tires. All the teams use identical tires, supplied by Bridgestone, and the supplier also decides beforehand which two of the four grades of dry-weather tires will be used in each grand prix: hard, medium, soft, and super soft. There are also intermediate and full wet-weather tires, available (so it seems, I've yet to see a grand prix run in the ran, though I have high hopes for Spa) purely at the discretion of the teams. Though each team must construct its own car, adhering to scrupulous F.I.A. regulations, of course, there are only five approved engine manufacturers. The ten constructors are listed belong, categorized by which engine manufacturers they use:

B.M.W. engines
B.M.W. Sauber

Ferrari engines
Toro Rosso

Mercedes-Benz engines
Force India

Renault engines
Red Bull

Toyota engines

It is interesting to note that so far in the season the Renault-powered RB5 of Red Bull Racing has been scoring far more points than the identically-powered R29 of the Renault factory team. The engines are key, but not as important a determining factor as the chassis built by each constructor and the drivers chosen to sit in the cockpit. (Yep, where the driver sits in an F1 car is called the cockpit.)

There's even so much more detail into which I'd love to delve, because I'm practically gushing with fascination at my newly-discovered love for Formula One, but you've plenty enough to absorb as it stands; so, I'll leave you with only one or two more bits of knowledge. This summer, B.M.W. announced that they are exiting Formula One at the end of the '09 season, leaving only four authorized suppliers of F1 engines. Team USF1, due to begin competition in 2010, is publicly dedicated to have an (almost) all-American team: American designed and built cars, an American pit crew, and American drivers, certainly the most difficult to achieve since only one American has driven in a Formula One grand prix since 1993. Yet USF1 concedes that they will have to field an engine not of American manufacture, an Italian Ferrari, German Mercedes, French Renault, or Japanese Toyota.
Scotland Loves Terrorism
One of the reasons cited by the "Scottish Government" for freeing convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds was that Megrahi had dropped the appeal of his conviction, a move Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill used to try and deceive the world into believing Megrahi was remorseful for his murder of 270 innocent souls. Of course, this turned out to be just another one of the tricks MacAskill used in his drive to free the Libyan terrorist at all costs: Scotland Loves Terrorismlink. The Libyans promised MacAskill a quiet homecoming for Megrahi; instead, the Scottish flag was flown by a cheering crowd, grateful for Scotland's capitulation terrorism. Megrahi accepted his guilt for the Lockerbie bombing; so, from "the large villa in Tripoli" where Megrahi's now living like the conquering hero he is to the Libyan people, he's once again proclaiming his innocence and calling for, to use O. J. Simpson's infamous phrase, "the real killers" to be found.

But, you might protest, isn't it a little harsh to say all of Scotland loves terrorism, especially since the government the released Megrahi is a minority one? Not at all. MacAskill refuses to show the slightest remorse for his support for terrorism, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has given MacAskill his complete support, and in the next round of Scottish elections, whenever they come, I guarantee MacAskill's and Salmond's party, the Scottish National Party (S.N.P.), will not be made to suffer for their endorsement of mass murder and terrorism. If Scotland rebuffs the pro-terrorism stance of the S.N.P., I will apologize profusely and do all I can to help the image of Scotland recover from this service as a pawn of Colonel Gaddafi, but I assure you that will not happen. The Scots will back the S.N.P.'s tacit endorsement of terrorism, mark my words. Why? Because:

Scotland loves terrorism.
The Stars My Destination
Man oh man, blast off never gets old, especially watching it live: and Godspeed, Discovery. I can't wait for the day I see a launch (obviously not a shuttle launch) in person!

Unfortunately, Thursday's planned static test of the Ares I first stage was scrubbed: Areslink. Let us hope everything gets sorted in time for the rescheduled test, next Tuesday.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Explorers Club
No. CXLII - The first Transpacific flight, by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1897-1935), Charles Ulm (1898-1934), Harry Lyon (1885-1963), and James Warner (1891-1970) in the Fokker F.VII Southern Cross, 31 May-9 June 1928.

I prefer not to use the same images as appear on a given topic's Wikipedia page, if for no other reason than to give you, the reader, exposure to a wider variety of photographs and drawings. But in this instance I had little choice; the book cover above is quite simply the only graphic I could locate depicting the route of the Southern Cross's flight.

'Tis very curious to me that Transpacific is not as widely recognized a word as Transatlantic. "Trans-Pacific" abounds, but few have the gumption to adapt in into the Transpacific form. Now, I admit that Transatlantic and Transpacific are themselves unusual, as addition of a suffix is often insufficient to remove the capital letter from a proper noun, but there are only four oceans (there is no "Southern Ocean," it's the southernmost reaches of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans); so, I'm willing to grand them special dispensation (and await the opportunity to break out Transindian and Transarctic!). However, because Atlantic and Pacific are proper nouns deprived of their rightful capitalization, I dislike the terms transatlantic and transpacific. They should be capitalized as Transatlantic and Transpacific in deference to the proper noun status of Atlantic and Pacific.

This Last Week in Motorsport
I did it! I took me six races, but I finally did it! I didn't know the winner of the Grand Prix of Europe before I watched the race. Finally! Take that, time difference between Europe and North America and the instantaneous worldwide transmission of new that is, for the most part, a boon to our modern society and culture! Hooray, Rubens Barrichello's win was a surprise!

There were interesting developments in light of the previous "This Week in Motorsport" post. I wasn't disappointed to see McLaren's one-two start result in a two-four finish, because as much as I've come to love the process of qualifying, it's not the most exciting thing in the world for a driver to start from the pole, lead the entire race, and win the grand prix. However, I was disappointed in the way Lewis Hamilton's (McLaren) no. 1 start resulted in a no. 2 finish. The race really was only between Barrichello and Hamilton, once Barrichello passed Hamilton's McLaren teammate Heikki Kovalainen to assume second place in the running order.

Barrichello's Mercedes-powered Brawn was running on the "soft" tires, Hamilton's Mercedes-powered McLaren on the "super softs." Heat seems to be key factor of the performance of tires in F1 racing (heat equates to improved grip, apparently), and the thinking was that the heat in perfidious Spain under the Accursed Sun would favor the softest tires; however, this proved not to be the case throughout the first stretch of the race, as Barrichello kept pace with Hamilton, who was carrying less fuel and so had to pit sooner than the Brawn. With the super soft tires not providing a speed advantage and yet being more susceptible to tire degradation, I thought it obvious Hamilton's MP4-24 should be equipped with softs during his pit stop. To my dismay, another set of super softs were installed and off he went. Not very many laps later, Hamilton's tires began to degrade, forcing him to ease off his pace. All the while, Barrichello drew ever nearer on his harder tires. But there was yet hope for McLaren: F1 rules require each car to make use of both types of tire during each grand prix; so, at the end of the European Grand Prix Hamilton would have to be on the faster soft tires and Barrichello on the slower super softs.

And that's when disaster struck. Hamilton dove into pit lane for his second and final pit stop, but his pit crew wasn't ready for him. The team engineer has radioed Hamilton to drive for one more lap before entering the pits, but didn't transmit that message until Hamilton had already turned off the race track onto pit lane. The new tires had not been unwrapped from their warming blankets, adding devastating seconds. The times I'm about to mention are going to seem trivial, but having been raised in the world of swimming, where victory and defeat can be separated by tenths or only hundredths of seconds, I like this about racing. A typical pit stop, including fueling a a full set of four new tires, should take about eight seconds; Hamilton's stop took thirteen seconds, and when he "finally" emerged from the pits he was over six seconds behind Barrichello.

For the remaining laps of the European Grand Prix, Hamilton was faster on his soft tires than Barrichello was on his super softs, just as Barrichello had been faster when he'd been on the harder tires. Lap after lap, Hamilton was catching up to Barrichello, but there just weren't enough laps left in the race. Hamilton's Mercedes-powered McLaren crossed the finish line two-seconds-and-change after the checkered flag had dropped for Barrichello's Mercedes-powered Brawn.

After the race, to their credit, the McLaren team said that their slow pit stop hadn't cost them the race, that instead Rubens Barrichello had simply been too fast. (I'm a big fan of Joe Paterno's praise your opponents school of sportsmanship.) And perhaps the pit stop alone didn't lead to Hamilton's second-place finish.But, why oh why didn't the McLaren engineers recognize the superiority of the harder soft tires sooner? If Hamilton had switched from super softs to softs during his first pit stop, he would have had a much larger lead over Barrichello when the time came for the second pit stop and its retarded pace (note: I use retarded according to the definition of the word, not as a hateful slang term for diminished mental capacity). Given that Hamilton finished only two seconds behind Barrichello, a remarkably close pace given that they'd each done fifty-seven laps around an over three-mile long street circuit, an earlier switch to the faster type of tire would have been enough to surmount Barrichello's supposedly insurmountable speed.

I was sorry to see Hamilton lose this race, but for which reason? Was I sorry that Mclaren hadn't won? Was I sorry that Hamilton hadn't won? Was I sorry that Barrichello had won? On that score, I can speak definitively. Absolutely not, I hold no ill will toward Rubens Barrichello, usually the oldest man on the F1 grid, at age 37. Was I sorry simply because the path to victory had been easy enough for even a novice like myself to see, and it was a shame to see McLaren foul it up so badly? Even almost a week on, I'm not certain. I've got to give a lot more thought to the question of becoming a fan of any particular team or driver. And, of course, that's another question, Should I become a fan of a team or of a driver? As we near the end of the 2009 Formula One season, there is a great deal of speculation about driver changes, whom will be driving for whom next season?

This is the second of two consecutive weekends of F1 overload. There is ever so much more to come!

The Rebel Black Dot Songs of the Day
The Forces of Evil, "Vague Love Song" from Friend or Foe? (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: The astonishing thing about The Forces of Evil, a side project of Reel Big Fish front man Aaron Barrett's, is that their lyrics are even more cheerfully cynical than R.B.F.'s. Not the right band for the earnest and forthright.

Donnerstag, 27 August
The Peacocks, "I'm Not Around" from It's Time for The Peacocks (T.L.A.M.)

Mittwoch, 26 August
Ingrid Michaelson, "The Way I Am" via iTunes (T.L.A.M.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The last two days have not gone at all to plan. The surprises have been pleasant, but plans have still gone awry, resulting in planned tasks remaining unaccomplished. Feh.

The Rebel Black Dot Songs of the Day
Jefferson Airplane, "White Rabbit" from Platoon: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Songs From the Era (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: When they listen to radio, my parents listen to oldies stations; so, I've heard "White Rabbit" since I was wee, but I never really listened to the lyrics until it was played to excellent, and very plot-appropriate, effect over the climax of tonight's episode of Warehouse 13. Boy howdy, that's a good show.

Montag, 24 August
Fountains of Wayne, "Fire Island" from Welcome Interstate Managers (T.L.A.M.)
The Explorers Club
No. CXLI - The wreck of the Italian semi-rigid airship Italia, 25 May 1928; the debatable cowardice of Umberto Nobile (1885-1978); and the tragic, selfless death of Roald Amundsen (1872-1928).

A tragedy, the lamentable counterpoint to the triumph explored in episode No. CXXXIX: Wayback Machinelink.
I only got off the phone a few minutes ago; 'twas a glorious confab, but I'm bushed and overdue for my forty winks. So, there's time for neither subtlety nor tact.

Scotland Loves Terrorism

Man alive, I wish there wasn't cowardly Scotch blood in my veins. A Scot isn't as craven and duplicitous a creature as a Spaniard, but that's the best thing I can say about that vile race of Caledonian blackguards. To Hell with Scotland.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Prelude to Project PANDORA
My apologies to all and sundry for much ado about nothing. The Most Dangerous Game has a beau, newly acquired this very weekend. She accompanied the lad to a wedding in July, as friends, at his invitation, but reason suggests something other than friendship was already in the works; by the same token, 'tis all but certain that my overtures would not have been received favorably. But dash it all and curse my lazy bones, I wish I had acted! Down in flames though I would have gone, at least then I would have known decisively, I would have had that specific interaction to study for the future, for the proper commencement of Project PANDORA. Temerity should have been my guiding principle! All that's left to me now is the cold comfort of speculation and probabilities. "Blast," he hissed, clenching a fist.

Please, spare no worry on my account. (I'm appalled by the arrogance of that sentence, as if you'd waste your worry on such a triviality.) 'Twas not my intention in the previous "Prelude to Project PANDORA" post to suggest that I was preparing to abandon the pursuit of The Most Dangerous Game, but looking back I perceive how easily the following might have been misconstrued to mean just that: "Well, if she thinks she's calling the shots she's sorely mistaken. I'll walk away from this in thirty seconds flat and never look back." To really understand those sentences, I suppose you'd have to be acquainted with the context in which they were written, the entire I.M. chat between Skeeter and me, but in light of recent events there doesn't seem to be much point in delving into that line of discussion. "Thirty seconds" before I walk away and never look back.

Question the first: Do I have any continuing romantic designs on The Most Dangerous Game? There is a tremendous moral hazard in stealing another fellow's girl. The hazard isn't found in the stealing itself; this guy isn't a friend of mine, I don't know him from Adam, and I'd be sundering a mere boyfriend-girlfriend coupling, not anything substantial and important like a marriage. (I hold with Dan Rydell's refusal to interfere in another man's marriage, even if that man is a tool.) But such an enterprise would be inherently underhanded, and would almost certainty become a nasty, convoluted business. I'm as wretched a sinner as the next chap, but would I be willing to embark upon so underhanded an undertaking, one so fraught with moral compromises? Even if I liked the chances of success, I don't think I'd have the stomach for what might be required.

Question the second: Do I wish to continue being her pal? My instincts were not entirely wrong, The Most Dangerous Game certainly likes me. Not, alas, as the apple of her eye, but as a pal, my old familiar role of the eunuch, the asexual friend. The easiest thing to do would be nothing, to continue on as before and pretend we were always the pals she thought we were and never the paramours I hoped we'd become. Yet I find this inaction somehow repulsive. If we are to be friends, I must be frank with her and apprise her of my erstwhile intentions, even if that itself creates an awkwardness from which our association never recovers. Or, I can desist from all contact with her, never breathing a word about the cause even if this paints me as a bastard. I refuse to take the easy way, even though it seems most in accord with social norms. This time, personal probity must trump strict propriety.

I know the two alternate answered to the second question, but I cannot yet choose one over the other, not with any conviction. Regardless, the first question is answered a very affirmative negative; the romantic pursuit of The Most Dangerous Game, the third Jessica, is at an end. I've walked away from the prospect of she and me as "us" (not entirely of my own choice, mind you, stark reality played its ugly part) and I'll never look back. I'll never look back? Right, sure, never. I'm too much Epimetheus not to look back. But I will try not to look back too often nor for too long.

Every ending I devised was horrible claptrap. So, instead of ending I'll just stop.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
The Proclaimers, "The One Who Loves You Now" from Restless Soul (T.L.A.M.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

This Week in Motorsport
I've got a little bit of time on my hands. Not tons, mind you, not with the merciless nature of that most ominous of Latin axioms, tempus fugate—time flies, but more consecutive days without any scheduled commitments than I've had since returning to the academic life last September. This liberty coincides with the return of Formula One racing after a four-week "summer break;" so, I've decided to immerse myself in everything F1 has to offer. Or at least immerse myself as much as I am able from a distance, without journeying to Europe and seeing a grand prix with mine own eyes. (In due time, my friends, in due time.)

Yesterday morning, I tape recorded SPEED's live broadcast of the second practice session for Sunday's Grand Prix of Europe from Valencia, perfidious Spain. Yes, I taped practice. Last night, I watched Inside Grand Prix, a frivolous little look at F1 and Formula One Debrief, an hour-long evaluation of the last race, the Hungarian Grand Prix (Magyar Nagydij)† of four weeks hence. Obsessive of me, I know, but at this still very early stage of the game there is ever so much I simply don't understand about F1 racing; so, I am glad for any and all additional information. This morning, I taped SPEED's live broadcast of the three rounds of qualifying for the Grand Prix of Europe. I first taped qualifying before the German Grand Prix (Grosser Preis von Deutschland) last month, though I didn't have the chance to watch it until nearly a week after the race itself; nevertheless, it was thrilling. But not nearly so thrilling as today's qualifying!

Watching qualifying, something altogether unexpected happened. I was trying to find a way to differentiate reliably Nico Rosberg from Nick Heidfeld (I confuse them frequently, but not without reason: both are German, they have similar Christian names, and their team liveries—Rosberg drives for B.M.W. Sauber and Heidfeld for Williams—are beguilingly similar, both blue and white), when reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) posted the fastest lap time, putting him in position to start Sunday's grand prix from the so-called pole position, the number one and most advantageous spot on the starting grid. That wasn't the unexpected part, the McLaren MP4-24 has been a completely different car since the German Grand Prix than it was during the early season mediocrity. What was unexpected was that I cared. Obviously, I care, I find the whole exercise thrilling, and if I didn't I wouldn't bother to tape record and watch qualifying, but this was different. I was glad Hamilton put himself on pace to take the pole. Shortly after, Rubens Barrichello ran a faster lap, and I was chagrined. But Hamilton kept flying around the Valencia street circuit, eventually surpassing Berrichello's pace. In the closing seconds of qualifying, Lewis Hamilton sat at no. 1, Barrichello at no. 2, with Hamilton's McLaren teammate Heikki Kovalainen tearing around the track on pace to snatch the first position away from the World Champion. A slight mistake around the last corner cost Kovalainen the pole, but his lap time was still second best, putting McLaren one-two for the start of Sunday's European Grand Prix: qualifyinglink. I was exhilarated. Hoorah!

Hoorah? Am I now a McLaren supporter? Specifically McLaren, not just McLaren the way I root for the entire grid? I'd hate to be a McLaren supporter for two reasons: {a} Lewis Hamilton is the reigning F1 champion, and won the most recent race, the Hungarian G.P. I paid no special attention to McLaren early in the season when Hamilton and Kovalainen routinely finished in the bottom half of the race results. Admittedly, I wasn't paying attention during the first five grands prix of '09 (Drat and double drat!), but no McLaren car was in the running during three of the five grands prix I've watched so far. So, beginning to support them on such an upswing in performance smacks of fair weather capriciousness. {b} Even before I began following Formula One with May's Monaco Grand Prix (Grand Prix de Monaco), I knew that McLaren had been given an enormous fine in '07 for industrial espionage, stealing secrets from rival Ferrari. I'd hate to root for a team of bottomfeeders and cheaters. But, as I wrote the other day, loyalty is an intense emotion the rational mind can never hope to fully comprehend; so, only time and more grands prix will tell whether my heart belongs to McLaren. Mayhap today was an aberration, a one-off fascination with any team other than Brawn or Red Bull dominating.

In any event, not even my hatred for Spain and the Spaniards can dampen my excitement for the Grand Prix of Europe. F1 is back and there are only seven grands prix left in '09. Formula One fever: contract it!

†Pardon the awkwardness, I am experimenting with presenting the name of each grand prix as officially presented on the Formula One website, more often than not rendered as "X Grand Prix" instead of in the language of the host country.
The Rebel Black Dot Songs of the Day
The Suicide Machines, "Islands" from Destruction by Definition (T.L.A.M.)


"But everybody's telling me
I've got to move faster,
And everybody's telling me
That I'm a fuckin' bastard!
All my dreams were just islands in the sky,
All my dreams were just islands in the sky,
All my dreams were just islands in the sky,
All my dreams were just islands in the sky!"

Freitag, 21 August
Student Rick, "Meet You Halfway There" from Soundtrack For a Generation (T.L.A.M.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Explorers Club
No. CXL - The first solo non-stop Transatlantic flight, by Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974) in the Spirit of St. Louis, 20-21 May 1927.

I am tempted to dedicate an entire episode of "The Explorers Club" to answering the question, What exactly was it that made Charles Lindbergh the most famous man in the world? But I doubt there is any adequate answer, anything more specific than he was the right hero with the right achievement at the right moment. I fear one could spend a lifetime chasing after a "better" answer to that question, and surely that way lies madness.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Sarah McLachlan, "Building a Mystery" (live) from Mirrorball (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: Why I love "Building a Mystery" is itself a mystery, because I hate that song. Why do I love it if I hate it? Or perhaps the better question is, How? Why do I own both studio and live versions of "Building a Mystery," on Surfacing and Mirrorball? Because I love that song. And I hate it. Mystery.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Prelude to Project PANDORA
The farce continues. This afternoon's meeting lasted hours, far longer than I'd anticipated, and turned into a promotional work effort, preparing materials to attract new members to the club at a pair of upcoming "welcome back to campus" events (like Festifall, for the Wolverines in the audience). The Most Dangerous Game and your humble narrator worked side by side for hours, but always in the company of others; I was mightily impressive as always, by turns funny and a fount of knowledge, but never found the chance to have a private word with her. I continue to be plagued by the two persistent fellows mentioned in the previous "Prelude to Project PANDORA" post, one week hence. When at last we headed outside toward the parking structure, we were accompanied by a fellow who always wears one of several patterned Trilbys; once at the structure, I headed down the stairs to Lumi, they headed up toward their motor cars. Curses, foiled again!

I'd have more to say, but I vented much of my frustration earlier in an I.M. chat with Skeeter. At this stage, I don't know what more to do but wait and watch for an opportunity to present itself, and start taking steps to create such an opportunity. As Skeeter rightly pointed out, The Most Dangerous Game certainly isn't doing anything to help me create an opportunity. Doom seems increasingly likely, but the asking has always been the singularly important part of this undertaking, her acceptance a dearly wished for but distant second. Also, let me address a fear that exits in my head, even if not in yours, that I am right there, flirting on the edge of being a sad sack. Instead of looking for wisdom in "Withered Hope" by They Might Be Giants, I'll repeat what I typed earlier today: "Well, if she thinks she's calling the shots she's sorely mistaken. I'll walk away from this in thirty seconds flat and never look back."

I want to take her out, I freely admit I want to kiss her and feel her touch, but I don't need this. I'm Mike Wilson, I'm The Last Angry Man, and this is but a prelude to Project PANDORA.

This Week in Motorsport
The verdict on my first American Le Mans Series race, the Road Race Showcase from Road America: not quite as much fun as the incomparable 24 Heures du Mans or a Formula One grand prix, but loads more interesting than a moribund IndyCar race. I really like Le Mans-style racing, with multiple classes of vehicles competing on the same track, the lightning-fast Le Mans Prototypes having to navigate around the still-quite-speedy Grand Tourers. I am going to make an effort to watch at least two of the three races remaining on the '09 A.L.M.S. calendar: the Grand Prix of Mosport (Ontario) in less than a fortnight's time and the Petit Le Mans (Georgia) in late September.

One interesting development from the Road Race Showcase: without a moment's hesitation or contemplation, I rooted for Corvette Racing in the GT2 class. Not as much a digression as might be supposed: The L.A.W. and Brother-in-L.A.W. visited this past weekend. On Sunday, I helped my father erect a booth at the Genesee County Fairgrounds, a task I thought would be more physically demanding and dirty than it turned out to be (the ease of construction surprised him as well); so, before the drive out to the fairgrounds I changed into an old grubby T-shirt, in this case a Detroit Lions shirt that I used to wear as a fan, but now use mostly for lawn mowing. Upon our return to the house, Brother-in-L.A.W. took note of my shirt and mentioned the results of an N.F.L. pre-season game. He knew that I'd quit the Lions and asked if I'd adopted a new team. I told him I hadn't, in part because I have no idea what criteria I might use to make such a selection. My sports allegiances are all firmly rooted in geography: the valiant Michigan Wolverines—across the broad spectrum of sport, the goonish (thanks to the rueful return of the monster Bertuzzi) Detroit Red Wings, and for purely civic reasons, the Detroit Pistons and Detroit Tigers. Brother-in-L.A.W. echoed my confusion over how else to choose a one's own team; a transplanted New Englander, he still roots for the Patriots. Though he intends to spend the whole of his working life in Washington, D.C. (and I do not know if he and The L.A.W. would move, or to where, upon their retirement), he just can't make the leap to supporting the Redskins.

So, for what reason did I immediately and unquestioningly support Corvette Racing? Geography, guys and gals, geography. For good or for ill, you can't spell Michigan without G.M., and the Corvette Racing team is based in southern Oakland County, suburban Detroit depending on how broadly one defines the term. It was a completely instinctual reaction, rooting for the Corvettes against the B.M.W.s of Rahal Letterman Racing and Porsches of Flying Lizard Motorsports, et alii. My family was rootless for most of the twentieth century, few children remaining in the same state as their parents, but I intend to make the twenty-first century different. I'm a son of the Mitten, I mean to stay, and I believe in the mystique of the Chevrolet Corvette. (And the cool skull logo, "Jake," incorporating the famous Corvette crossed flags for the eye sockets.)

But what, if any, bearing will this unexpected but hardly surprising loyalty to Corvette Racing have on my attitude toward Team US F1's entrance onto the Formula One grid for the 2010 campaign? I am unsure. Yes, Team US F1 will be a principally American effort, but there are Americans aplenty in the A.L.M.S. and only Corvette Racing received my enthusiastic support. Both David Letterman and Bobby Rahal are Americans, but I desperately wanted their B.M.W.s to fail; only a few minutes ago did I learn that their racing team is based in suburban Columbus, Ohio, so unless I am possessed of heretofore unknown psychic powers, the Buckeye Connection played no part in my judgments. Perhaps it was because the other competitive GT2 teams all drove German cars, but I didn't notice any affection for the Fords and Dodges, only the Corvettes. Of course, I'll naturally gravitate toward General Motors in a field lousy with my countrymen, but Team US F1 will be the only U.S.-based F1 team, and if things go to plan will field the only American F1 drivers.

So, will that be enough for team US F1 to win my loyalty? In fairness, that can't be fairly adjudged beforehand; I had not anticipated that I would take so quickly to Corvette Racing, loyalty being an intense emotion the occurrence of which the mind cannot hope to predict with any great accuracy. At this point, I feel no inclination to even pick an F1 team to be my own, in part because like Brother-in-L.A.W. I still have no idea what would be the right criteria for such a choice, but mostly because I can see nothing vile in rooting for the entire field, may the best match-of-man-and-machine win.

The Summer of Crime
As a society, we would be well-served by the resurgence of shame: Armadillolink.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
The Starting Line, "Up & Go" from Say It Like You Mean It (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: Ampersand!

"Here it goes, and this won't take long,
Just let me dedicate a song,
To a girl who turned this boy to stone.
And you know who you are,
Here's a hint, she doesn't have a car,
Or the time to be in love with me."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Tally Hall, "Just Apathy" from Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: "I don't even know why I bother."

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Victors & Banzai Beard Bonanza II: Bonsai's Revenge
I am, in this year's slogan, "All in for Michigan," and I am sorely tempted to do this, but I just can't: Mustaches for Michigan. Since first I learned of this fantastic fan effort late last week (Thanks, MGoBlog!), I've shaved twice. There are for this two reason: {a} the second Banzai Beard Bonanza begins at Thanksgiving, and will be followed by the Massive Mustache Mistake. I've been waiting five years for this reoccurrence of the B.B.B. and, much as I'm excited for it, I'll be bewhiskered soon enough and until then would like to spend as much time as possible clean-shaven (with the exception of my imperial). {b} Fun and fanatically loyal to the Maize and Blue as Mustaches for Michigan is, I do not approve of the campaign's derisive attitude towards the mustache. The mustache isn't kitsch, it's Kitchener!

The mustache isn't the exclusive province of pornographic "actors," sad sack teenagers, and dastardly cartoon villains. Gandhi sported a mustache, for gods' sake! The mustache is Tom Selleck. The mustache is Rudyard Kipling. The mustache is Howard Hughes. The mustache is mother-lovin' Robin Olds! The mustache is Groucho Marx (at least the fictionalized public persona of Groucho Marx). The mustache is Freddy Mercury. The mustache is, in fiction, as fearsome as Fu Manchu and—as "moustaches," plural—as righteous as Hercule Poirot.

The mustache is Sir Edward Elgar.

Fearful as I am of looking more like my father, I'm terribly curious how I'll look during the Massive Mustache Mistake. Throughout the B.B.B. and M.M.M. I'll keep photographic records with the X-700, and also with a digital camera, and I shall periodically post the latter's images here at The Secret Base. You can't claim you weren't warned.

The Stars My Destination
The future is inflatable: aeroshelllink. If there is one organization on Earth that knows how to harness the power of balloons, 'tis N.A.S.A., with the really neat bit being that their uses for balloons are not of this Earth: the soft landings of the Sojourner, Spirit, & Opportunity rovers on Mars; and now the I.V.R.E. If nothing else, I'll wager this hyperlink features the best use of the word aeroshell you'll encounter all day.

Housekeeping: this post should have been categorized as "Science!" not "The Stars My Destination" since it doesn't directly involve manned spaceflight, but I am most excited by the idea of inflatable heat shields on manned spacecraft like the forthcoming Orion, or the proposed manned variant of the E.S.A.'s robotic A.T.V. cargo capsule. Plus, I am the only person who even remotely cares about the distinction between "Science!" and "The Stars My Destination;" so, the decision falls squarely and solely within my bailiwick.

Attack! of the Planet Smashers (not the Canadian ska band): and Wow! My only issue with both articles is the treatment of the Theia hypothesis, a.k.a. the giant impact hypothesis, as scientific fact; I find the evidence for a cataclysmic Earth-Theia collision quite compelling, but that is leagues away from "the Big Whack" being the definitive account of the Moon's formation. But that's neither here nor there. An impact between two baby planets? Around a star one hundred light-years distant? Only a few millennia ago? Holy smokes!

Elsewhere in exoplanetary high jinks, attack! of the W.A.S.P.(-17b): retrogradelink. There are multiple moons in the Solar system in retrograde orbits around their planets, and the Venerean rotation is retrograde, but a whole planet in retrograde orbit of its star? Astonishing! The more we learn about the Milky Way, the more we realize there is no such thing as a standard solar system.

Let's complete the hat trick with the latest addition to my bookmarks: PlanetQuest: Exoplanet Exploration. I just installed the widget on my Dashboard, and I cannot stop grinning and giggling. "What a time to be alive!"


The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Less Than Jake, "Conviction Notice" from GNV FLA (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: "Money can't buy happiness, but it sure can pay the rent!"

The trained economist knows, of course, that money can buy happiness (utility). Not all the utility you'll ever want, but some level of utility, and certainly more than you could buy without any money. And that is L.T.J.'s point, expressed in other words.
The Stars My Destination
The Ares 1-X test rocket has been assembled: and Now begins the countdown to the eve of All Saints Day and the next crucial step of Project Constellation. "Go Ares 1-X!"

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Explorers Club
No. CXXXIX - The first confirmed flight over the North Pole, by Roald Amundsen (1872-1928), Umberto Nobile (1885-1978), and Lincoln Ellsworth (1880-1951), et alii, aboard the Norwegian-Italian semi-rigid airship Norge, 11-14 May 1926.

I know that I am being unfair. Last week's Episode CXXXVIII featured pictures of explorers Byrd & Bennett before their aeroplane, the Josephine Ford, yet this week the airship Norge floats above the heads of explorers Amundsen & Nobile; the inequity is not in the placement of machine before men, but in the inconsistency. What can I say in my defense? I could put forward the following arguments: In my judgment, Admiral Byrd is more famous than his plane. Also, the Josephine Ford cannot be held responsible for Byrd's dodgy navigational claims; so, it is fitting to put the man at fault first, to deserve his comeuppance. But I shan't advance those arguments. The simple fact is that I am powerless before the magnificence of airships such as the Norge; the leviathans of the sky are first in my affection, and so given pride of place. I am unfair, and unrepentant.

Perchance to Dream
I only recall my dreams if they occur after I have woken up and fallen back asleep. The frustrating component of this is that I am most likely to oversleep in precisely this manner; during my dreams, I am vaguely aware that I am dreaming—I know I'm neither awake nor in the oblivion of unconsciousness—but not so aware that I can realize I've fallen back asleep and might be sleeping in. Self-awareness without self-awareness, damnably frustrating. But I digress.

I fell back into sleep this morning and dreamed I was a member of what seemed to be a cartoon-style super spy/secret commando team based in a stately mansion-cum-high tech lair; I didn't see any machines, but the atmosphere was such that I suspect my teammates and I deployed into action through secret tunnels, piloting exotic vehicles, Voltron-style. Curiously, my real life intruded into the dream in a most atypical fashion: The Most Dangerous Game was one of my teammates.

I was walking through the mansion-lair; I have no idea where I was headed in my shiny uniform, but I wasn't strolling, I definitely had some destination in mind. Suddenly, I noticed The Most Dangerous Game beckoning me over to her. She was in her quarters, a ridiculously spacious space age design done all in pink (but for the color, Ken Adam could have designed this place). She was sitting up in her bed, her shoulders bare and the sheets pulled up to her armpits, one finger extended into the air, curling repetitiously to draw me in. I climbed onto the enormous bed and sidled right up to her. She had something on her laptop that she wanted to show me, and as I craned my neck to see our faces nearly touched. She was so lovely. In the dream, I remembered that I had a plan to woo her, but decided that this opportunity was too perfect to pass up; so, I turned my head and kissed her. And that's when the sky fell. She jerked her head away and asked the most devastating question in the world, "What are you doing?" I knew in that moment that she didn't want me, I was no more than a friend to her, she wanted the lantern-jawed leader of our team, with his wavy black hair and dimpled chin. Blessedly, the real world chose to reassert its dominion before things got any worse; my mom knocked on my door to tell me brunch was ready.

What does this mean? Fortunately, not a thing, dreams are meaningless flights of fancy, random mental activity, not signs and portents of the world that's coming. Still, it may be that deep down I believe The Most Dangerous Game will react unfavorably to my proposal. However, what does it matter if I believe that? I'm going to ask her regardless, because I've been wrong before and there's only the one way to be sure. The fears and the insecurities of the subconscious may favor paralyzed inaction, but the conscious mind knows that simply asking her is far more important than her reply. And what is Man but the struggle to conquer primal fear with reason and inquiry?

Plus, I'm not a member of a mecha-driving super action squad, and neither is she. The Most Dangerous Game was not the girl in my dream. Pretty face, though.

The Rebel Black Dot Songs of the Day
Spike Jones and His City Slickers, "Yes! We Have No Bananas" from The Spike Jones Anthology (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: "What's that, an half a banana? Now, what good is a banana split?"

Samstag, 15 August
Korea Girl, "Reunion" from Korea Girl (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: The L.A.W. & Brother-in-L.A.W. were here for her fifteen year high school reunion.

"Why would I spend more time,
With people that I hate
And couldn't wait to leave behind?
Would we dance, make a toast?
As you boast about the things
That you haven't done?
Oh joy, what thrills! What fun fun!"

The only strange thing is that 'tis not at all hard to believe that 1994 was fifteen years ago. Fifteen years, that was all? Really? Half my life away, and 1994 feels even more distant than that.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Eye of the Tiger
Tiger is an indoor cat. Aside from the fact that she is truly a 'fraidy cat, my parents decided before she arrived that she'd be an indoor cat. Our previous cat, Sam, had been the great white (and gray) hunter, depopulating our backyard of birds and shrews, and driving off a once-resident population of rabbits. Sam was an unholy terror, picking fights with cats twice his size all over the neighborhood; he was declawed and undersized, but up until he was very long in the tooth he won every fight he started. There was one last fight, though, that my parents credited greatly with the decline of his health. After that, Sam was kept indoors the remainder of his life. Not that Tiger has anything like Sam's magnificently ferocious temperament, but even before that was known my folks were resolved to keep their next cat inside the house.

But even though she's lived her whole life inside human dwellings, Tiger likes to look at the outdoors. And, weather permitting, she likes to sit on open window sills. The month of August has been living up to its fearsome reputation, with daytime highs well into the 80s almost every day, and a few brushes with *gasp* 90° Fahrenheit. But at night temperatures have been plunging back to more reasonable levels, and I've been sleeping with my bedroom window open. Tiger likes to be in my room late at night (but she refuses to sleep in here overnight, slipping out through my just-open doorway between 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning), and enjoys sitting on my open window sill and looking out into what seems to my pitiful human eyeballs to be impenetrable darkness. The air's taking its time cooling down tonight; so, my window's still closed. Pause here a moment and take a guess at what you think is going to happen. Tiger jumped up onto my window sill… and bounced off. Poor kitty! I heard a gentle thump, and turned to see a clearly surprised Tiger getting up from having landed definitely not on all fours.

She's sleeping peacefully on my bed as I type this, and with her goldfish-like memory I'm sure she won't remember a thing. Poor stupid kitty.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Reel Big Fish, "Turn the Radio Off" from We're Not Happy 'Til You're Not Happy (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: This one goes out to The Sardine, who's been plagued at work by the crumminess of internet radio stations.

The song "Turn the Radio Off" should not be confused with the earlier R.B.F. album
Turn the Radio Off. I wonder if more bands should do that: not title an album after one song on that album, but title a later song after a previous album. I'd wager Real Can of Yams could write a song called "Good or Suck!" that would either be really good or, you know, suck.
Vote For Kodos
Kowtowing to bloody-handed dictators, change you can believe in: Burmalink. It must be wonderful to be a Democrat, to be totally unencumbered by conscience or morality.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Queue
The Guy and I came to a startling conclusion whilst strolling through a bookseller's on Monday: the old saw, "Never judge a book by its cover," is a load of dingo's kidneys. There is no way to adjudge properly the worth of a book until it has been read from cover to cover, but there are too many books in the world simply to read them all. Clearly, some manner of screening or sorting process is urgently needed, and judging a book by its cover is no worse a sorting system than any other. I'm not praising the practice of judging a book by its cover, it is a horrible, vapid way of choosing what books to read, but the sorry fact is that it is no worse than any other sorting method of which I am aware.

Consider the alternatives. I adore my friends and prize very highly their puzzling affection for me, but fondness has no inherent bearing on compatible tastes in books. Book reviews? A book critic's opinion has no more validity than a dear friend's, but even less value since you know nothing about the critic's preferences, petty jealousies, or other biases. Promotional cover blurbs? Promotional, enough said. (Which is not to say there's anything wrong with promotion, the aims of promotion are simply different from the aims of the book recommendation-seeker.) Selecting which books to read and which to consign to the oblivion of remaining on the shelf, then, is a chaotic flirtation on the edge of madness, most certainly not for the emotionally fragile. And in such a world, a world without order, as arbitrary a selection criteria as a book's cover is as good as any other.

Plus, from a marketing perspective, the entire point of the cover, incurring all the expense of an artist and art director, is to bait readers into judging the book by that cover. So, in the end, "never judge a book by its cover" has no more validity than "stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." We all learn, in time, that broken bones heal, but the words, the wrong words by the right person at the right moment, can mar a lifetime.

Agatha Christie, Cards on the Table
Henry Chang, Chinatown Beat (abandoned)
Francie Lin, The Foreigner

Agatha Christie, Cat Among the Pigeons

Agatha Christie, Murder at the Vicarage
Karen E. Olson, The Missing Ink
Agatha Christie, After the Funeral

I was going to savage The Foreigner, but I've been distracted persistently by online chatting. Francie Lin will suffer the wrath of my poison pen another time.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Tally Hall, "Welcome to Tally Hall" from Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum (T.L.A.M.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Explorers Club
No. CXXXVIII - The disputed first flight over the North Pole, by Richard Byrd (1888-1957) and Floyd Bennett (1890-1928) in the Fokker F.VII Josephine Ford, 9 May 1926.

Prelude to Project PANDORA
My pursuit of The Most Dangerous Game is teetering on the edge of descending into farce. I spent several hours composing, typing, and editing last night's "Prelude to Project PANDORA" post, and when I awoke this morning I was a bundle of nerves. All else is unnecessary prologue, the lecture we share arrived and I was prepared. A few timely observations, my preferred method of jocularity, had her and everyone else within earshot in stitches before the professor began, and several times during the lecture I caught her, as happens every class, stealing a few glances in my direction. All was in readiness. As lecture ended, I paused to speak to our professor while The Most Dangerous Game was finishing the afternoon's quiz, determined not to let this chance slip through my fingers. She finished and joined in the bull session, along with several other students. After some minutes, the professor took her, followed by the only other distaff student present, leaving me with The Most Dangerous Game and two fellows who stubbornly resisted my telepathic commands to "Scram!" At last we all drifted out of the lecture room, the two fellows finally going on their way, and The Most Dangerous Game ducking into the ladies' W.C. I ducked into the gents' W.C. for only a second and was out again lickety-split. I occupied myself with some fliers on a nearby wall and awaited The Most Dangerous Game's appearance.

But then the most baleful thing happened: nothing. After some minutes, a dreadful thought crossed my mind, I might have missed her while I was in the water closet. But how? For her to have exited before me and disappeared from sight down a hallway that's lengthy in both directions, she must have made the fastest pit stop in history. I had missed her… or she was still in there. Confound it, what could I do? It seemed somehow wrong to be waiting outside the W.C. when she didn't know I was waiting for her. I began to fear I was waiting in ambush. I had missed her or I was lurking in hallways, skulking about waiting for her; honestly, I preferred the first option. My presence just down the hall from the ladies' room seemed less and less acceptable, not that I could even be sure she was even still in there. By Lucifer's beard! I was trapped between the Devil and the deep blue sea. I could not defend my continued loitering in the hall, not and remain within the bounds of propriety. Woe is me, I sulked back to Lumi with an abundant lack of all deliberate speed, fostering the absurd hope that somehow she'd appear behind me and I could reasonably pull up and wait for her, though I knew with Gospel certainty that this was not to be. Another chance had slipped through my fingers like smoke.

What now? My least favorite part of the space program is what happened to the Space Shuttle Endeavour last month, the repeated scrubbing of planned launches and the helpless waiting for the next launch window. Such is my frustration that I am toying with the idea of asking her over the telephone, though I strongly feel that these things should be done face to face. I should have two opportunities next week, or rather one and a half. The first (the half) will be our final exam on Monday; I am habitually the slowest exam taker in almost all my classes, pausing frequently to ensure I've read the most challenging questions correctly and summoning up from the recesses of the mind several unconventional ideas with which to infuse my answers. (This deliberate pace no doubt contributes to my exemplary marks.) The odds that The Most Dangerous Game will still be around when I finish up are remote. Next Wednesday, 19 August, there is a meeting of a club to which we both belong, completely coincidentally; such a meeting was where I first spied her, being enchanted by her beauty and intrigued by her laugh before we ever had Labor Economics together. That will be my chance.

My thanks to all who commented for their well-wishes, and I apologize if the melodrama of this affair has caused you any consternation.

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Albert King, "Born Under a Bad Sign" via iTunes (T.L.A.M.)


"If it wasn't for bad luck,
You know I wouldn't have no luck at all."


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Prelude to Project PANDORA
First, allow me to thank you all for your intense interest in this affair; the response to the initial "Prelude" post was overwhelming and deeply encouraging. Second, please excuse the interminable delay since that first frenzy-fomenting post, this adventure is of great significance to me and in such matters I have yet to overcome my tendency to dilly-dally before setting down in words my thoughts and feelings. Third, the convergence of the first and second points has resulted in Dylweed, The Guy, and Skeeter all contacting me individually, specifically inquiring as to further developments. So, enough with the preamble, let's get down to the meat and potatoes.

I have been twice thwarted, but not yet defeated. I declared that I would ask Jessica—henceforth codenamed The Most Dangerous Game, inspired by something she wrote on her Facebook page and Richard Connell's classic short story—to accompany me on a date "on one of the next two occasions I see her," but this has not come to pass. The class we share meets once a week, on Wednesday afternoons, for two hours forty-five minutes, generally bifurcated into roughly equal halves by a ten- to fifteen-minute intermission. I declared my intentions on Wednesday, 22 July, having made up my mind in the afterglow of the conversation I shared with The Most Dangerous Game while leaving that afternoon's examination: Wayback Machinelink. The end of the next Wednesday's lecture, 29 July, could best be described as jagged: instead of one collective exodus, the class drifted out by twos and threes. I was engrossed in a series of bedeviling problems that I wanted to finish on-site and hand in for grading so as not to have to bother with them over the weekend, causing me to miss The Most Dangerous Game's exit, and with it my chance. The fault was mine. The following Wednesday, 5 August, I was robbed of the opportunity to act; I left the lecture room during the intermission to use the W.C. and returned to find The Most Dangerous Game's seat empty and her possessions absent. She'd been present during the first half of the lecture, and I'd been psyching myself up for the asking, but ran afoul of Harold Macmillan's bête noire, "Events, my dear boy, events." That which I claimed on 22 July to be "set in stone" turned out to be built on a foundation of sand.

But this changes nothing. I spoke with her before and during lecture on both days, but did not use those specific moments to propose our date as we were in the presence of and sharing our conversation with several of our classmates. It might seem an inconsistency on my part, as I am discussing asking out The Most Dangerous Game in so a public forum as a password unprotected bloggy blog, but I hold that such transactions should be conducted in private; this need not mean one of former Vice President Cheney's undisclosed locations, merely the privacy and propriety of two people engaged in a confab outside of anyone else's hearing. She and I have had regular interactions via Facebook over the last fortnight; I decided to take the chance of "friending" her after the lost opportunity of 29 July, and that choice seems to be paying dividends. In all our interactions, I am striving to be charming, but in no way false; I'm being myself, the effort is in trying to be the best version of myself, to put my best foot forward while not putting a foot wrong (nor in my proverbial mouth). I've been blind in the past, I've needed to be hit over the head to notice what's right in front of me, but painful experience has yielded at least a modicum of wisdom: she likes me, this I know to be true. I cannot say for certain that she likes me the way I like her, the way I wish her to like me, but she likes me. She finds me interesting, if not outright fascinating.

Now, let's return to your favorite topic: you, specifically, the counsel you generously furnished in response to 22 July's "Prelude to Project PANDORA": commentarylink. Again, I thank you all for your suggestions and advice†. I have been shunted off into the Sargasso Sea of "being friends" all too often and all too easily; I daren't permit any ambiguity. Unless I trip over my tongue, I intend to include the word "date" in my proposal. I mean to ask her out to dinner, yielding to the wisdom of counsel and eschewing any specific activities until subsequent dates. I prefer dinner to drinks on three grounds: {a} Again, I daren't permit any ambiguity, and simply getting together for a drink might leave her the wiggle room to convince herself we're just "hanging out." Nein! {b} I don't begrudge anyone a drink, but I take a dim view of drunkenness. My legendary tolerance, which amounted to practical imperviousness to intoxication, is not quite what it once was, but I can still drink like a fish with minimal ill effect. The Most Dangerous Game has mentioned her own ability to put it away, and I don't dispute her claims, but the fact remains that she is a thin girl, tall and by no means skinny, but thin. Were we to drink, surely she would be more impaired than I, and where would that leave me? I could not trust anything she said, I certainly could not make a physical move, not with her in a reduced state. No, the sauce will have to wait until I know where I stand. {c} This last bit is slightly embarrassing. I do not know The Most Dangerous Game's precise age; there is a chance that in seeking to date her I may be violating the pop cultural half-plus-seven rule of thumb, which at thirty dictates I may not date any girl younger than twenty-two. (And I do not use "girl" to ascribe any particular trait of youth, I consider girl to be a highly complimentary way to speak of any woman, derived from usage in "the girl of your dreams.") Though she drinks, I cannot be sure that she does so legally. Those wishing to pillory me as a creep are potentially on solid ground doing so, and I shall bear them no ill will.

The long and short of it is that tomorrow's the day, there's no getting around it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained; fortune favors the bold; and all that rot. I have been so long out of the game, so long in self-imposed semi-retirement, that in merely asking her, regardless of her answer, I will have advanced my cause. It would be ludicrous at this stage to think of The Most Dangerous Game as a candidate for Project PANDORA, and thus these posts are titled as preludes, but for Project PANDORA's eventual success I will need skills and expertise I have heretofore never possessed. And there's no other way to acquire them but through the accumulation of experience, the hurly-burly of trial and error. Tomorrow I ask out The Most Dangerous Game; only time will tell if she recognizes her good fortune. On that note, wish me luck. Wish me luck, damn you!

"Who dares wins."

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
The Puppini Sisters, "We Have All the Time in the World" from The Rise and Fall of Ruby Woo (T.L.A.M.)

†As a thirty-year-old virgin who has kissed only four girls, gotten to second base with two, the shortstop position with one (beyond second base, but not as far as third), and never dated any girl longer than a couple weeks, I am in no position to refuse any aid, advice, or admonition. A more thorough, but still awkwardly prudish, discussion of my preposterously limited experience is in The Secret Base's future; you can't say you weren't warned.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Ben Folds, "Zak and Sara" from Rockin' the Suburbs (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: Choosing "Zak and Sara" as the R.B.D.S.O.T.D. isn't as accurate as usual, since I spent a lovely pair of hours in the company of The Guy but did not see The Gal, who departed yesterday, but I don't have any songs titled "Zach," "Zack," or "Zak," just "Zak and Sara." It's been mentioned before and it'll be mentioned again, but the differing spellings of Zach and Sarah aside, what are the bloody odds? There's no song titled "Tim and Lisa" nor "Jim and Julie" nor "Dylan and Kristy," but there it is, "Zak and Sara." How extraordinary!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"I walk around in the summertime saying, 'How about this heat?'"
—Denis Leary

The Explorers Club
No. CXXXVII - The first Transatlantic flight, by A. C. Read, W. K. Hinton, E. F. Stone, E. S. Rhoades, J. L. Breese, & H. C. Rodd, crew of the U.S. Navy flying boat NC-4, 8-27 May 1919.

My apologies, dear readers, that the flight of the NC-4 was not Episode No. CXXXIV of "The Explorers Club," I really should have featured this flight before Alcock & Brown's, the first non-stop Transatlantic flight. Only too late did I really decide to feature these aviation milestones in strict chronological order. Remember 1919 in aviation:

8-27 May: NC-4
14-15 June: Alcock & Brown
2-6 & 10-13 July: the
12 November-10 December: England to Australia

This Week in Motorsport
It doesn't matter if the races are run on oval tracks or road courses/street circuits, the IndyCar Series can't compare to the excitement found in a Formula One grand prix. Some, but not all, of the fault lies in the television broadcast. Though it might be irksome to seasoned fans, the commentators on SPEED go out of their way to explain the idiosyncrasies of F1 to the uninitiated: for example, explaining the differing characteristics of the hard compound "prime" and soft compound "option" tires, both of which each F1 car is required to use during every grand prix. The Versus crew discussed "red" and "black" tires—they were visually distinguishable as the reds had very visible red stripes on the tire walls—but did not once mention what particular advantage one type of tire might offer to a race car and its driver. (F1 "option" tires sport a bright green stripe on the tire wall. They offer better grip at a lower temperature than the "primes," but also degrade faster, especially if there is clag or other debris on the track.)

The paramount reason, though, must surely be that there simply is not enough difference between the series. There is a world of highly visible difference between an open-wheel, single-seat F1 car and a closed-wheel, two-seat Le Mans Prototype, and in the types of races run by each type; so, my new-found love for Formula One does not threaten my new-found love for the 24 Heures du Mans. An F1 car is massively different than an IndyCar, er, car, but when all is said and done both are open-wheeled single-seaters, replete with front and rear aerofoil wings and an air intake positioned directly above and behind the driver's head. The inevitable conclusion, considering both the technological sophistication of the cars and the presentation of the races, is that IndyCar racing is simply an inferior version of the same entertainment offered by Formula One. Call me unpatriotic if you wish, but I choose the international F1 over the mostly American IndyCar Series.

This does raise a question, however: Should I support the forthcoming Team US F1, due to join Formula One next year, simply because of the "Made in America" ethos? From sea to shining sealink. Certainly I'll "support" them, I say more-the-merrier, but should I adopt them as my team? To this point in my inaugural F1 season, I don't have a team. I haven't felt as if I know enough to favor knowledgeably one constructor over another, one driver over another. Will I regard the 2010 campaign differently, after I have a dozen grands prix under my belt*, after I have months and months to read up on F1 history and regulations? Is it necessary that I even choose a team? I have found that I have virtually no interest in the N.F.L. since abandoning my support for the Detroit Lions, but I don't imagine any meaningful comparisons can be drawn between this and F1; I was raised on the Lions, I bled Honolulu blue and silver, and even before I quit them I had grown increasingly disgusted by the year-round hype and mass media domination of the N.F.L. Is it in anyway morally objectionable to embrace a sport but not back any particular participant? Matters on which to ruminate in the months ahead.

IndyCar is a bust, but if I can find the time next weekend (we're going to have guests) I intend to watch the Road Race Showcase from Road America in Wisconsin, part of the American Le Mans Series, on SPEED. I also plan to sample the World Rally Championship when it comes to H.D. Theater in October; I can't know for sure until I've seen it, but I've got a good feeling about rallying. I'm a 24 Heures du Mans and Formula One fan for the foreseeable future; will I become a fan of motorsport in general?

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Michael Giacchino, "True Heart of Racing" from Speed Racer: Original Motion Picture Score (T.L.A.M.)

*A curious turn of phrase, that.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
Dan Potthast, "Sharks" from Sweets and Meats

Commentary: And so we bid a fond farewell to Shark Week '09, what we'd all been waiting for since Shark Week '08.

Operation AXIOM
Remember 8 August last year (8.8.08, 8/8/08, 8-8-08) and the endless vapid babbling on about the verdammt Beijing Olympics? By Lucifer's beard, I loathe the Olympics. I hope Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer Games fails, I sincerely do, for 'tis my great hope that the United States will never again suffer the indignity of hosting that accursed carnival of hypocrisy and corruption.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Something's going on, but I'm not sure quite what. I'm not driving faster than I have for the last few years, almost always five-over on the freeway, but I'm definitely driving more aggressively. I'm switching lanes more frequently (though, I assure you, not at all recklessly; I always signal and check my mirrors), pressing more slowpokes to get out of the leftmost lane; I'm driving mush more like I used to. Like I used to before I moved back home for the first time, before I got really, really lost. The question facing us now is this: am I finally beginning to act like Mike Wilson again, to shake off this years-long malaise, or is something altogether more mysterious afoot?

Or, option C (the gripping hand, if we were using the hand progression), am I aping what I've seen on the F1 track, albeit adapted for the Eisenhower Interstate System?

The Summer of Crime
Last weekend, I chanced upon a few reruns of Sons of Anarchy on the FX cable network. From what I have been able to glean from the television listing, FX is rebroadcasting the first season ahead of the debut of the second next month. I remember being intrigued by the advertisements for the premiere of Sons of Anarchy last summer, but for some reason I never watched the show. I have to say I quite enjoyed the three episodes I saw last weekend, and I am very much looking forward to seeing more.

This of course dredges up the questions that always appear when engaged with a work of fiction primarily concerned with criminals. A separate set of questions crop up when considering a work that deals with crime, but primarily focused on lawmen and sundry detectives, both civilian and deputized: Is the attraction the chance to see the crime solved, the guilty punished? To have our faith in justice reaffirmed? But when seeing such a story from the villain's point of view, I always wonder if I am doing something essentially immoral. After all, I hold with 1940s radio and pulp vigilante the Shadow's famous and moralistic admonition, "Crime does not pay. The Shadow knows!" Am I participating in the glorification of those who thumb their noses at the rule of law? Am I supporting the criminal's basic attitude that might makes right? In the case of the television show Breaking Bad, for example, those questions have been definitively answered in the negative; the consequences of protagonist Walter White's (played by Bryan Cranston) criminal activities are proving to be horrifying and utterly devastating. A perfect realization of the Shadow's altogether more unnerving warning, "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit."

And note that I am a fan of the Shadow, a merciless killer absolutely opposed to crime but in no way beholden to the law. The Shadow was a cold-blooded murderer, one driven by a notion of justice rather than a regard for law. So, it is not crime to which I am opposed, if crime is defined as any behavior in contravention of the law (at least in works of fiction). I am opposed to crime, that which results in harm to innocents, and criminals, those who profit by harming innocents. Veronica Mars often breaks the law, but only very rarely would I say her behavior constitutes a crime (and even then, often inadvertently).

So, what about Sons of Anarchy? Does it glorify the clearly criminal activities of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original (chapter), a.k.a. "Sam Crow" (S.A.M.C.R.O.), or is it a morality play about the destructive dangers of living outside of society's order? Only time shall tell; so, for the nonce I'll keep watching.

What happened to Charlie Hunnam? He used to be such a nice boy on Undeclared. Of course, that was before the least likely thing in the universe happened: Seth Rogen became a movie star. So, in this new topsy-turvy universe in which black is white, night is day, and anything is possible, well, anything is possible. Including a nice English chap doing a grand job playing a Northern California-bred outlaw biker alongside Hellboy, the incomparable Ron Perlman.

Clothes Make the Man
Though I have no desire to embrace anything as abominable as Amazon's Kindle, I have no objection to anyone else using the device; the world is chockablock with things I despise, but would be a dreary and sadly uniform place if they were all done away with. The following has nothing to do specifically with the Kindle, I simply will not brook the words "better than books."
Amazon's Kindle book reader… is better than books. The form factor and light weight are better and the reading experience is better.
I have removed the men's style (distinct from fashion) blog A Suitable Wardrobe from my "bookmarks" and shall never again sully my conscience by supporting its fiendish proprietor, a pox upon him! I hyperlinked to that debased monstrosity of a website back in March; please forgive my poor judgment, dear readers. Had I only known the louse was a biblioclast! Outragelink.

Does anyone else find the name of the Kindle disquieting? Sure, sure, you can kindle an interest in a new field or an enthusiasm for an endeavour, but my mind always goes from Kindle to kindling. So, it always seems to me that Amazon is trying to encourage book burning, a chilling thought. I'm sure Will Boehlke would be an avid book burner, given but the removal of the social stigma.

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?"

The Rebel Black Dot Song of the Day
The Blue Van, "Independence" via iTunes (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: An abbreviated version of "Independence" is the theme song of the new U.S.A. Network show Royal Pains. The band's name, The Blue Van, conjures up for me nothing else but memories of my family's old blue 1988 Chevrolet Astro minivan, with which we finally parted in 2006, alongside the legendary Mousemobile. I once raced Saturday Night Latham, driving his parents' lighter blue Astro van, up Saginaw Street in Grand Blanc in the middle of a snowstorm. We reached speeds in excess of eight-five miles per hour… in the middle of a snowstorm; I have no idea how we weren't all killed. Good times.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The new season of Psych and the final season of Monk premiere tomorrow. It's time for murder to be funny again.

The Explorers Club
No. CXXXVI - The first flight from England to Australia, by Sir Ross Smith (1892-1922), Sir Keith Smith (1890-1955), J. M. Bennett (1894-1922), and W. H. Shiers (1889-1968), 12 November-10 December 1919.

The flying Vimy is, alas, a replica.

The United States of America's new anti-terror policy: surrender at every turn, defeat at any cost. "Soft power"-link. I would love to hear President Obama explain his advisor's remarks; what exactly are al-Qaeda's "legitimate grievances" with the United States? Or how about one of you who voted for Mr. Obama, what do you think al-Qaeda's legitimate grievances with this country are? This should be fascinating.

I would be enjoying the parade of horrors so much more if President Obama's recklessness wasn't going to get so very many innocents killed and maimed by legitimately aggrieved butchers.

A pair of items concerning Mars: the Mystery of the Martian Methane and Red China & the Red Planet.

Turning now from astronomy to archaeology, the unearthing of a treasure trove that won't interest Skeeter, who maintains that Mongolia is as mythical a land as Shangri-La: buried Buddhalink.


The Rebel Black Dot Songs of the Day
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, "Isn't She Lovely" from Take a Break (T.L.A.M.)

Commentary: Not lyrics from "Isn't She Lovely," originally by Stevie Wonder, but a wee mantra of my own device:

"A short skirt,
A Gimmes shirt,
A Jones Soda,
Ain't life grand?"

Mittwoch, 5 August
The Wombats, "Moving to New York" from A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation (T.L.A.M.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

M2K4†… 5… 6… 7… 8… 9…
The Red Planet is a harsh mistress; our plucky rover Spirit has been in a mayday situation since May Day, 1 May '09. The scrappy little robot is stuck in devilishly loose soil, no doubt an ingeniously disguised Martian booby trap. Fear not, the big brains at N.A.S.A.'s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are already simulation testing solutions in a faux Martian sandbox in sunny Pasadena: Free Spiritlink.

Elsewhere on Mars, another magnificent mechanical minion, Opportunity, has chanced upon a potentially non-Martian rock: meteoritelink. "Block Island" was spotted during Opportunity's lonely trek to the crater Endeavour, total transit time to which will amount to nearly two years. How fantastic would it be if we send those marvelous machines to Mars only to have them find a wayward piece of the Earth?

†"M2K4" was devised by N.A.S.A. for the originally 90-sol Spirit and Opportunity missions, M2K4, Mars 2004. A sol is a Martian day, the duration of a single planetary rotation, lasting twenty-four hours thirty-seven minutes; both rovers landed in January 2004 so had things gone as planned the mission would never have lasted beyond 2K4. The Mars Exploration Rovers have endured for ever so much more than those ninety sols. M2K4 has given way to M2K9, and there is every reason to believe Spirit and Opportunity will continue their expeditionary scientific research into 2010 and beyond. M2K∞?
Police Farce
Riddle me this: How can there be the Massachusetts State Police when there is no State of Massachusetts? There is no legal entity extant in the U.S. called the State of Massachusetts, what we call Massachusetts is formally the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. What is the legal distinction between a U.S. state that is "the State of X" or "the Commonwealth of X"? None at all. Massachusetts is a state the same as any other (well, worse than most, slightly better than a very few), but it isn't called a state; how then can those chowderheads possibly justify having the Mass. State Police? "It hardly matters," you scoff. But, imagine the reverse, imagine if the State of Michigan had not the Michigan State Police but the Michigan Commonwealth Police. The hoi polloi would howl with laughter, "There's no Commonwealth of Michigan, you dolts!" Yet all four of the U.S. states styled as commonwealths—the Commonwealths of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Virginia—have state police agencies officially named "the X State Police." This is no less ridiculous than the hypothetical Michigan Commonwealth Police. For shame, Mass., Pa., Ky., and Va., for shame!