September 18, 2014

September 18, 2014

Resistors

I’m in the middle of reading a short story collection about the takeover of humanity by technology (Robot Uprisings, edited by the guy who wrote Robopocalypse). And while that concept remains fiction—FOR NOW—I’m more convinced than ever that humanity’s days are numbered. It’s less a matter of “if” than of “how.” There are a number of possibilities, some abrupt and others gradual.

- Technology becomes self-aware without humanity’s consent. In one story, a Roomba used by government coders in their classified workspace escapes, docks with a networked charging station, and uploads world-changing information. A ROOMBA, you guys.

- Technology becomes self-aware with humanity’s consent. Imagine if Rosie one day decided to kill the Jetsons. Breakfast with a side of death.

- Tiny tech, banding together. One story involves nanbots invented to clean up nuclear waste. Another has dust-sized robots that “infect” a smart house and turn it against its owners. Regardless, robots work much better together than people ever could. I suspect it’s because we get so angry when we’re hungry.

So now I’m looking for—and seeing—the signs everywhere.

Just today, some people were trapped for 20 minutes in a Metro elevator when a “random” “power surge” shut the elevator down. An almost brand-new elevator. Egad.

Yesterday, TheBoy told me about a problem he had with some code at work. He tested and tested. Isolated the line that was causing the problem. Verified that the line was in fact correct as-is. Tested again and found that IT WORKED.

For those of you concerned about such things, think carefully before strapping computers to your wrists, wrapping them around your foreheads, and splicing them into your houses and cars. (Though I myself personally am too cheap to do any of these things, I do dislike people on principle. It’s a start.) Also, don’t take it personally the next time your phone/computer/sexbot mysteriously and randomly malfunctions. It is neither mysterious nor random. It is an opening gambit in the robot wars, which humanity is likely to lose.

Have a nice day!

September 15, 2014

September 15, 2014

The State of the TV Schedule: Fall 2014

Though summer television is still going, fall shows are starting to trickle in. Boardwalk Empire showed us that even Nucky had a childhood. Only Connect remains as inscrutable as ever despite moving to BBC2. Ken Burns has 14 hours of Roosevelt goodness ready to pour into your eye- and earholes.

I say BRING IT ON. My plan of action:

Monday
Scorpion

Tuesday
NCIS
New Girl
The Mindy Project

Wednesday
Modern Family

Thursday
Scandal
How to Get Away with Murder

Friday
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Shark Tank

Sunday
Madam Secretary
Boardwalk Empire
The Newsroom

I’m most anticipating How to Get Away with Murder—can Shonda pull off another Scandal? I’ve liked Viola Davis since Doubt, so I think she can do great things with good material.

On the other hand, I think Modern Family is starting to show its age…natural with any show featuring kids. Idea: Mitch and Cam adopt another Asian baby.

Scorpion (or as TheBoy corrects me, “closed tag Scorpion”*) could be something, despite the presence of Katharine “I Prefer Husbands” McPhee. It’s got Robert Patrick, and that has to count for something.

What will you be watching?

*Honestly, I don’t remember exactly what TheBoy calls it. Closed Scorpion? End Scorpion? Only one of us is a computer scientist. GUESS WHICH ONE.

September 8, 2014

September 8, 2014

Lucky Number

In preparation for the District Trivia finals, I’m studying a number of lists. Gemstones, moons, trophies, and other random objects are starting to merge together? What’s the traditional present for a 40th anniversary? A Stanley Cup made of emerald and named Phobos? I think?

At least a recent XKCD showed me that I’m not alone. The strip itself is great, and the caption is even greater. Behold (click to enlarge): 


A lot of good trivia to parse here. How many do you know?

Snow White’s Dwarfs
Doc
Grumpy
Happy
Sleepy
Bashful
Sneezy
Dopey

Ranks of Biological Classification
Kingdom
Phylum
Class
Order
Family
Genus
Species

Continents
Asia
Africa
North America
South America
Antarctica
Europe
Australia

Deadly Sins
Wrath
Greed
Sloth
Pride
Lust
Envy
Gluttony

Seven Layer Dip (n.b. This one seems to vary.)
Refried beans
Guacamole
Sour cream
Salsa
Cheese
Black olives
Lettuce

OSI Model of Computer Networking
Physical
Data link
Network
Transport
Session
Presentation
Application

Wonders of the Ancient World
Great Pyramid of Giza
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Statue of Zeus at Olympia
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
Colossus of Rhodes
Lighthouse of Alexandria

Days of the Week
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday
Sunday

Seas
Arctic
North Atlantic
South Atlantic
North Pacific
South Pacific
Indian
Southern

Seven Sisters Colleges
Barnard
Bryn Mawr
Mount Holyoke
Radcliffe
Smith
Vassar
Wellesley

Colors
Red
Orange
Yellow
Green
Blue
Indigo
Violet

Pleiades
Maia
Electra
Taygete
Alcyone
Celaeno
Sterope
Merope

Habits of Highly Effective People
Be Proactive
Begin with the End in Mind
Put First Things First
Think Win-Win
Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Synergize
Sharpen the Saw

Seals of Revelation
First Seal (White horse)
Second Seal (Red horse)
Third Seal (Black horse)
Fourth Seal (Pale horse)
Fifth Seal (Souls of martyrs)
Sixth Seal (Great earthquake)
Seventh Seal (Seven angels)

August 27, 2014

August 27, 2014

Pencils Down

Once upon a time, aspiring Civil Servants in the United States had to take a test to be admitted. As someone who enjoys a) being a Civil Servant and b) taking tests, I’m devastated that the Civil Service Exam is no longer administered. Obviously, if I ever get my hands on a time machine, this is the fourth thing I’ll rectify.*

Hope is not lost, however, for I learned today that some countries still administer an entrance exam for hopeful government workers. India’s is one of the most difficult, with less than 1% of applicants getting selected. Let me blow your mind with some sweet, sweet Wikipedia:

The examination is one of the toughest examination in the world with success rate of 0.1%-0.3% with more than 500,000 applicants. It is conducted in two phases - the Preliminary examination, consisting of two objective-type papers (General Studies and Aptitude Test), and the Main examination, consisting of nine papers of conventional (essay) type followed by the Personality Test (Interview). The entire process from the notification of the Preliminary examination to declaration of the final results takes roughly one year.

Did you get a thrill of excitement while reading that? ‘Cause I sure did. Hundreds of thousands of applicants? Eleven tests? One year? YES PLEASE.

It is not immediately clear to me what subjects are available for the nine essay papers, but I’m hoping at least two or three are related to literature, film, television, or food. I’ve spent a lifetime curating knowledge of those areas.** The personality test would obviously be the hardest part, but I assume that’s why they save it until the end.

(When I imagine myself as a Jeopardy contestant, the part that really makes me sweat is the interview with Alex. I’d much rather just sing the state capitals or something.)

Do the highest scorers get the best jobs? That would be nice, though that certainly isn’t how other standardized tests seem to work. The highest ACT scorers didn’t get the best dorm rooms at my college or anything.*** But imagine a world in which only the best and brightest are selected to work in government, with the greatest of those put in the most important jobs.

I need a number 2 pencil and a ticket to Delhi. (Also, a working knowledge of Hindi.)

* After visiting the Great Exhibition (1851), the Chicago World’s Fair (1893), and the Titanic (1912). I’ll get to killing Hitler at some point, but PRIORITIES, GUYS.
** Related: If you got on Mastermind, what would your subject be? I think mine would be Jello.
*** I got a 33 on the ACT, roughly equivalent to a 1450-1500 on the SAT. And I got stuck in the dorm on the edge of campus, next to the railroad tracks. So.

August 26, 2014

August 26, 2014

Welcome Class of 2018

Each year, Beloit College (yay Wisconsin) puts out the Mindset List, explaining how college freshmen see the world. For unless you’re a great deal younger than I think you are, you have very little in common with the Class of 2018. Born mostly in 1996. That’s right, middle aged people who think *I* am young. People born in the mid-90s are full-fledged adults now. Deal with it.

The full list is available at http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2018/, but here are some that stuck out to me:

1. During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center.

18. Joe Camel has never introduced one of them to smoking.

29. They never tasted the “texturally enhanced alternative beverage” known as Orbitz. (I’m with them on this one. Isn’t Orbitz a gum?)

40. They have no memory of George Stephanopoulos as a senior White House advisor.

46. They have probably never used Netscape as their web browser.

Of course, I have to also post my favorites from my own list, the Class of 2006:

14. A "Hair Band" is some sort of fashion accessory.

23. Mrs. Fields' cookies and Swatch watches have always been favorites.

27. Fox has always been a television network choice.

34. Cherry Coke has always come in cans. (Did it originally…not?)

Kids these days, eh?

August 25, 2014

August 25, 2014

Wisconsin State Fair 2014

The 2014 Wisconsin State Fair did not disappoint, you guys. I was particularly counting on this to be a good year, since it was TheBoy’s first visit. The State Fair is almost like a crazy family member: it must be accepted no matter what, but things are a lot easier if it behaves itself.

I stacked the deck in my favor by carbo-loading early and often.

Saz’s Sampler Platter. I would stab for those fries.

I like to hit the Expo Center first thing, before its aisles are crammed with deal-seekers, slow-walkers, and quadruple-wide strollers. Once the place gets crowded, it’s a lot harder to see the miracle mops and wonder choppers. And your ethnic glues: 

Will invade your Polish and Russian glues.

The Sky Hunters: Birds of Prey talk is also one of my favorite things, because how often do you get to see a bald eagle IN YOUR FACE? 

Too young to have the white head and chest. Come back next year.

At this point, I’d been at the Fair for almost two hours. Time for more food. 

Shepherd’s pie on a stick.

The animals were pretty much the same, with one exception: the rabbits and poultry were relocated from their beautiful barn to some sort of jerry-rigged situation and I can’t even.

Where the rabbits and poultry were SUPPOSED to be.

Where the rabbits and poultry actually were. WTF IS THIS.

Also, I was pretty confused to see animals from another state on display.

Stick to your own freaking fair.

New this year, Australian animals on display. The Outback and Wisconsin are actually very similar, in that they are not at all similar.

My delight at this kangaroo was ironic considering what happened next.

While at the north end of the Fair park, I stopped at the Exotic Meat Grill.

Couldn’t decide between a python spring roll and kangaroo potstickers, so I got the combo platter.

And you know what? The kangaroo was DELICIOUS. I believe I’m now a good one-third of the way through eating Pooh and his friends.

The prize-winning baked goods, produce, plants, etc. were impressive as always. The decorated cakes continue to be my favorite.

They’d be even more enjoyable in a free sample situation, I’m just saying.

At this point, about five hours in, I was starting to lag a bit. Even a cruller on a stick wasn’t getting the job done.

"Wisconsin State Fair Gothic"

So I tried again with some shark:

Tasted like your typical flaky white fish. #SharkWeek

Had to settle for finishing the day with a ride on the SkyGlider.

“Eat all the things! For those of us who are too full!”


Until next year.

August 18, 2014

August 18, 2014

Lunch Trays: Another Item Made for the Right-Handed

Milwaukee Public Schools—the system responsible for my education from K-4* through fifth grade—has announced that it hopes to offer free lunch to all students this year. When I heard, my first thought was of course to reminisce about my personal favorite MPS lunch, the mock chicken leg. I’m tickled to discover that I’m not the only one.

Overall I’m quite pleased with the lunches I got at MPS, not least because they were less than $2. (I did get a second milk, though. That was a thing some of us did and I don’t remember whether it was because we were really thirsty, big fans of dairy, or just trying to be cool. Possibly all three.) Also, you never actually paid in money at the cafeteria. You had to give money to your teacher (or, if you got your lunch for free because you were poor* your name got crossed off some sort of list) and she gave you a lunch ticket. Extra milks were a separate ticket. And thus began my first experience with specie.**

(For the last few years of my MPS experience, our milk came in pouches rather than cartons. We were told this was more environmentally friendly. Getting the straw in without puncturing the whole setup was impossible, sort of like with a Capri Sun or drawing blood.)

But that’s just the payment. Let’s talk about the food. Other than the mock chicken leg, I remember very little of it…except that I had one of those weird childhood aversions to the sub sandwiches, and that the tacos hurt my mouth. That’s right, kids: When I was your age, we ate HARD TACOS.

Now, though? Here is an actual listing from the August 2014 MPS menu:

TURKEY AND CHEESE SANDWICH ON WHOLE GRAIN BUN
SWEET CARROTS
CUCUMBER SLICES
BUTTERMILK RANCH DIP
MAYONNAISE
NECTARINE
CHOICE OF MILK

Never mind that the condiments are listed separately. There are probably legal reasons. Let’s focus on the fact that this meal includes two vegetables, and the meat is—one assumes—identifiable as turkey. What the what?

Here’s another:

FRENCH TOAST STICKS
TATER TOTS
BABY CARROTS
SYRUP
KETCHUP
WARM CINNAMON APPLE SLICES
CHOICE OF MILK

Breakfast for lunch? Are you kidding me? Again with the carrots, though. They must have a shedload of carrots, and are trying to offload them at every meal. “Pizza? Add a side of carrots. Sandwiches? Let’s throw some carrots on there. French toast? WITH CARROTS IT IS.” Unless carrots for breakfast is a thing that I’ve just been missing out on lo these many years?

Anyway, now it looks like everyone will get their mock chicken legs, tater tots, and carrots for free. Not that many kids ever brought their lunch to my recollection—why pack a sandwich when you can get the whole kit-and-caboodle for a couple of bucks? But still. There is now literally such a thing as a free lunch at Milwaukee public Schools. Hometown heroes, indeed.

* The actual term was probably something like “economically disadvantaged” but I’m calling a spade a spade here, people.
** Others include Bible bucks at Vacation Bible School and the points schemes at casinos. Those have resulted in far less food, alas.