Friday, February 27, 2015

Things I Learned in Costa Rica

Last week I was in Costa Rica.  Here's a quick (visual) run down of what I learned

This is where Costa Rica is.
No, seriously.  I didn't know until I got on the plane.

Zip lining isn't all that exciting.  Also, the outfit you wear squeezes your testicles until they are roughly the shape of bananas.
It's pretty much the same outfit you wear while skydiving.
Costa Ricans have a serious smoking problem.  These are actual packs of tobacco products (mostly cigarettes) with legally required pictures of cancerous mouths, women undergoing chemotherapy, and a few other choice images.
One form of tobacco is made of dead frogs.

"And this cigarette cures impotence!"
And yet, Costa Ricans smoke.

Special Bonus Wisdom: Cream soda is made from pineapples, bananas, lemons, and grapefruit.
It has to be true.  They wouldn't put it on the label if it wasn't!
This last bit of knowledge comes from the lollipops I gave my kids during takeoff and landing to help them deal with change in pressure.  Anyone in the cream soda (or lollipop) business want to explain how they get cream from a pineapple?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Trek Film Abrams Should Have Made

"Why don't they remake bad movies instead of good ones?"
-Someone I thought was Roger Ebert, but I can't find the quote so I'll just attribute it to everyone on the internet.  Everyone.

JJ Abrams directed Star Trek: Into Darkness, which was a terrible movie made worse because it ripped off Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  I could go on and on about how terrible a movie it was, but I already did that once.  Instead, I'm going to go on and on about The Trek Film Abrams-

Huh?  You read the title already?  Oh, fine.

While watching the beautiful snooze fest that is Star Trek: The Motion Picture I was struck with an idea; why didn't Abrams rip off this movie instead of Wrath?  He could have done wonders with the pacing and soporific nature of that movie.
And its lack of lens flares.
But Khan is such a popular character, Abrams wouldn't be able to resist using him.  What if he used both!  And behold!  A new film treatment.  We'll call it

Star Trek: Into Light
A giant energy cloud is destroying everything in its path, including planets.  It barrels through the Klingon Empire (leaving them weak and vulnerable). 

Several admirals want to take the opportunity to invade the Empire, but just as a group of starships embark, they realize the cloud is headed towards Earth.  The fleet tries to communicate, but are destroyed, leaving only the Enterprise to save the day.  Kirk is given a mission to figure out how to stop it.  He takes the Enterprise, which has a new XO he's not comfortable with (although they grow close over time) and Dr. Carolyn Markus, a theoretical physicist (whom he grows incredibly close to).
If you know what I mean.
As they approach the cloud, Dr. Carolyn Markus invents a doomsday weapon that could destroy the cloud.  The XO attempts to dissuade her, but she insists on presenting it to the captain.  The XO, revealing himself to be Khan (in the employ of rogue Admirals who want him to try to direct the cloud at the Romulan Star Empire), picks her up with one hand and throws her against the wall, killing her.

Kirk, devastated, starts a crazed investigation through the ship to find the murderer.  His behavior allows Khan (and his compatriots seeded throughout the ship) to mutiny.  When they reach the cloud, Khan successfully communicates with it, and the ship is pulled in.  He then reveals he isn't planning on directing the cloud to follow Starfleet's whims, but use it to rule the galaxy.

Kirk manages to regain the Enterprise, but not before Khan escapes to the center of V'Ger.  Khan is horrified to find that it isn't a massive weapon of war, but a machine with the mind of a child, yearning to merge with its creator to become "something with a soul."  Khan tries to merge with V'Ger, to become godlike in power, but V'Ger finds his soul horrifying.  V'Ger, its hopes of becoming something more dashed, self-destructs with Khan trapped inside.

The Enterprise barely gets away in time, but an alien probe arrives, following V'Ger's path.  They discover it's looking for humpback whales.  Kirk is forced to launch Markus's doomsday weapon at it.  Meanwhile, the Klingons have killed their own chancellor and framed Kirk for the crime.  Fearing their vengeance, he flees with the Enterprise beyond the Great Barrier.  There he finds out that God is really the V'Ger/Khan hybrid-

Too much?

Okay, not my best effort, but better than Into Darkness.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Harry Potter is a Selfish Prick

I'm going to complain about Harry Potter.  Yes, I've done it before.  Yes, I'm going to spoil the book The Deathly Hallows.  Yes, it's about eight inches long.

What?  I mean the new iPad!
Oh, sorry, what was I talking about?  Right, Harry Potter.

The focus of Book 7 is the eponymous Deathly Hallows: three unusually powerful magic items destined to be mastered by Harry.  Why?  Uh, it's never really explained.  He's just destined to be that guy.  Stop asking questions.

The magic items are:
  • A magic cloak of invisibility. 
    He uses the invisibility cloak several times during the series to (gasp) turn invisible.  Why is it so much more powerful than other invisibility cloaks?  It's bigger and it doesn't wear out.  Much like me.
  • A stone that can bring back the dead, but only kinda, so you can talk to them but that's about it. 
    He uses the stone to see his dead loved ones who help him to die in the right time and so not die because he's really a Christ figure and you're asking questions again, aren't you?  Stop it!  Stop.
  • A wand that is "unbeatable" (like mine). 
    He uses the super wand to repair his old, broken wand.  How is it unbeatable?  Well, you can't defeat anyone using it.  Except Dumbledore, who defeated Grindlewald.  How?  I don't know!  What did I say about asking questions?!

Harry decides he doesn't need to keep all the Hallows; he just keeps the cloak.

What. A. Total. Dick.
Never thought I'd be the nice one, did you?
Wait, you don't see it?  Really?  Okay, I'll write this real slow so you can follow: what if someone else needs them?

What if someone else broke a wand?  What if someone else had to make a noble sacrifice?

J.K. Rowling tries to make an excuse for tossing off the wand by saying it's a curse.  He has to hide it away in Dumbledore's grave or else people will try to kill him for it.  There's only two problems with that:
  1. Harry becomes an auror, meaning he goes off and fights bad guys for the rest of his life (because he hasn't had enough of that as a kid).  People are bound to try to kill him anyway.
  2. He tells Voldemort the secret of the wand in front of everyone at Hogwarts.  Everyone knows they can just disarm Harry and go dig it out to master it.

"Just don't tell everyone they just have to disarm me to win it! Okay?  Should I say that again?!"
In any case, he never thinks "Hm, I needed it once, what about other people?  What if I secretly gave it to Olivander so he could make everyone's wands super powerful?  Think of all the good that would do!"

That's not the worst part.  The worst part is the stone.  The magic stone brings his loved ones back to help him through the toughest decision in his life, his own death.  When he's done with it, what does he do?  Does he save it so it can be used by people trying to reconnect to their lost loved ones?  Does he hand it to someone else facing a difficult decision?  Does he think about anyone else?  No.  He throws it away, leaving it lost in the forest.

What does he keep?  The invisibility cloak.  What use is an invisibility cloak now that he doesn't have to sneak around a school?  None.

Harry just assumes he's the only one who will ever need the Hallows.  Fuck all you with broken wands, uncurable diseases, lost loved ones, difficult decisions.  He's got his cloak and can go sneak into girls locker rooms whenever he wants.

Of course he uses it to sneak into locker rooms!  What did I say?  Harry's a dick.
"Wow!  Look at Romilda Vane!"

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Blame Star Trek for the Measles Outbreak

As measles, which used to kill hundreds of children every year before we eradicated it, comes roaring back, America is trying to find a scapegoat.  Time for a multiple choice quiz.  Why aren't parents vaccinating their kids? 

Is it the fault of:
a. The doctor who published the fraudulent paper linking the MMR vaccine and autism?
b. Jenny McCarthy who publicized it?
c.  Pharmaceutical companies who failed to explain the science and necessity of vaccines? 
d. Star Trek?
If you picked d, you've obviously read the title of this post.  Let me explain why, though.

And it's not because Kirk has space herpes.
Science is hard.  Really, really hard.  You may think learning the clarinet is hard, but that's just peanuts to science.  Listen...*

Students doing sciency things in a science library. Science
If you want to even begin to understand science, you have to not only be smart, but determined.  There are hundreds of books on the narrowest of scientific disciplines.  That doesn't count journals, papers, conferences, and all the other little bits you have to get to understand it.  Almost nobody but the most intelligent and studious men and women go into science as a career, building up the storehouse of human knowledge.

Shouldn't they all be in yellow?
A few of them try to explain science to the rest of us.  It doesn't usually work.  Sure, you took chemistry and physics in high school, but you probably only remember a few bits of terminology here and there.

That's the problem.  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing as Alexander Pope said.  I bet you don't remember him.  Ha!  Science isn't the only thing we lose from High School.  Anyway, many people think they know something when they don't.

They vaguely remember Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle and decide nobody can never know anything.  They hear about the butterfly effect and think a butterfly really can cause a storm or change the whole world.  Some scientist theorizes cold fusion and they put it in a terrible movie.

A terrible, terrible movie.
Speaking of Star Trek...

Star Trek is responsible for popularizing science to a lot of the general public.  People learned about antimatter, computers, robotics, subspace, and wormholes.  Of course, Star Trek is a fictional show and the science has to fit into the framework of the story.  Transporters, for example, will probably never be invented.  Sometimes they had to make up science-sounding explanations to justify their stories.

They invented technobabble.  Some examples:

The writers of Star Trek realized you can make anything SOUND reasonable if you throw sciencey words in.  A lot of Here's one of mine from my book, Pinhole
“Instead of using gunpowder to make an explosive charge to suddenly and forcefully propel a bullet, a gauss pistol uses a string of electromagnets coiled along the barrel. As each magnet in the coil charges, it silently pushes the bullet along, turning it, and adding velocity. When the bullet passes the last magnet in the coil and leaves the barrel, it has achieved approximately the same speed and spin as a bullet from a traditional, gunpowder-based gun, but without the noise and the smoke.”
I have no idea if any of that would work in real life.  I just had an idea in my head and threw in the words electromagnets, coil, and gauss to make it sound reasonable.

Turns out I'm not the only one who uses technobabble to make myself sound reasonable.  We have movies (masquerading as documentaries) that use it to convince audiences of their spiritual views.  We have television personalities who use it to sell snake oil.
And we have the antivaxxers.  Here's a quote from a very-well written antivax site:
"They [babies] also are born with their immune systems in a “special” mode. If their immune systems were like normal adults or older children, then their mothers’ bodies would reject them as foreign. Their immune systems don’t come out of this special mode until at least 6 months, and some think not until 2 years (and every illness or vaccination overwhelms the immune system because it is unable to react properly, which delays this switch to normal functioning, and can eventually prevent it, leaving the child immuno-compromised).  What all of this means is that anything that is injected into a small child can pass the blood-brain barrier and can potentially cause neurological damage."
Compare that to Star Trek's:
"A few months ago I was running a neural scan and noticed some anomalous protein readings. I thought there must be some mistake, so I ran an amino acid sequence to be sure. But there it was again, the prion mutation rate had spiked. I couldn't believe it. It meant the anomalous proteins had to have a strong quantum resonance."
What's the difference between these two examples?  Well, one is complete bullshit and the other was a television show.  Also, neither of the people who said or wrote them said "Is that backed up by peer-reviewed academic journals?" or "Aren't you cherry picking data and misinterpreting facts?" or "Seriously, dude, do you hear the shit coming out of your mouth?"

And that's why measles is resurging.  When the next child in the United States dies (it killed over 15 million children in 1980, but not in the US because we were vaccinated), we can write "technobabble" as the cause of death.

*42 bonus points if you get the reference.