August 14, 2012
Kids on the Slope

Kids on the Slope

Shinichirō Watanabe (2012, noitaminA)

That’s really the heartbeat of Kids on the Slope, the love and influence of jazz as it affects friendships, love affairs, and other teenage melodrama.

Higgs Boson and the Goodness of Scientific Discovery

My latest Christ and Pop Culture looks at the recent Higgs Boson discovery, and how Christians should react to such scientific discoveries.

…it’s tempting to see endeavors like this as frivolous and unnecessary. While reading various article on the Higgs discovery, I inevitably came across trolls who would post comments like “Millions of people are starving in Africa and these scientists spent billions of dollars searching for a subatomic particle? What a waste!” Trollish-ness aside, the comments raise a good point. We live in a world where there are many problems with practical and immediate solutions, e.g., hunger, crime, poor education. So why do we “waste” time, money, intellect, energy, and other resources to delve into these most obscure areas of knowledge? What does it really matter, in the end, if we know about the existence and purpose of bosons, Higgs or otherwise?

These are good questions, and it’s careless to simply brush them aside because they do speak to real human issues and dilemmas. And yet, I think it behooves us to keep two things in mind when we consider scientific advances like CERN’s recent discovery. One is pragmatic, the other more theological.

10 essential “MST3K” episodes

A good place to start, but no similar list of mine would be complete without Agent For H.A.R.M., The Deadly Mantis, and Space Mutiny. And of course, The Giant Spider Invasion.

August 12, 2012

Americans celebrate Japan’s Olympic soccer loss with racism

Asshats, every single one of them.

August 11, 2012

Why Explore Space?

In 1970, a nun named Sister Mary Jucunda wrote to Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, who was trying to develop a manned Mars mission at NASA, and asked him how he could justify spending billions of dollars on that when there were children starving in Africa. His gracious and thoughtful response is well worth reading, especially in light of the recent landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars.

Among all the activities which are directed, controlled, and funded by the American government, the space program is certainly the most visible and probably the most debated activity, although it consumes only 1.6 percent of the total national budget, and 3 per mille (less than one-third of 1 percent) of the gross national product. As a stimulant and catalyst for the development of new technologies, and for research in the basic sciences, it is unparalleled by any other activity. In this respect, we may even say that the space program is taking over a function which for three or four thousand years has been the sad prerogative of wars.

How much human suffering can be avoided if nations, instead of competing with their bomb-dropping fleets of airplanes and rockets, compete with their moon-travelling space ships! This competition is full of promise for brilliant victories, but it leaves no room for the bitter fate of the vanquished, which breeds nothing but revenge and new wars.

Although our space program seems to lead us away from our Earth and out toward the moon, the sun, the planets, and the stars, I believe that none of these celestial objects will find as much attention and study by space scientists as our Earth. It will become a better Earth, not only because of all the new technological and scientific knowledge which we will apply to the betterment of life, but also because we are developing a far deeper appreciation of our Earth, of life, and of man.

The nun’s response? “Thank you — from now on, I firmly believe in the profound value of the space program.”

August 8, 2012

Wikipedia Redefined

An interesting attempt at redesigning one of the world’s most popular and well-known websites. I’m not a fan of the branding per se, but the ideas for the Wikipedia website itself are intriguing, particularly the concept for the “Connect” functionality. One of my favorite things to do on Wikipedia is to just click on links and follow the trail of how the various articles and bits of info are related, much like how I loved flipping through the pages of my family’s World Book Encyclopedia set when I was a kid, and this would definitely scratch that itch.

5 Things You Might Not Know About Brad Bird’s “The Iron Giant”

If you’ve never seen The Iron Giant, then you’re really missing out. It’s a true modern classic.

August 7, 2012

Why do the families of America’s Olympic athletes go broke?

It’s easy to talk about the sacrifices that athletes and their families make in hopes of making it to the medal stand, but I never thought much about the amount of money that goes into such an experience. Turns out, it’s quite a bit.

Parents of gymnasts, for one, can expect to fork over upward of $1,000 a month to training facilities to get their child in Olympic shape. Travel costs force that total to skyrocket. Leotards and warm-up suits can run $300 to $500 for a complete set. There are entry fees for each meet and competition. When a gymnast is chosen for the U.S. national team and begins traveling internationally, USA Gymnastics begins picking up the cost of training and travel for the gymnast and his or her coach, but any family member who jet-sets with them does so on his or her own dime.

Of course, only gymnasts training at what’s called the “elite” level rack up that kind of bill. Then again, the most promising athletes begin training at that level when they’re 12 or 13 years old, says Karla Grimes, the general manager at the Gage Center training facility in Missouri. That means six years, at least, of 30-hour gym days and, at Gage, $600-a-month training costs.

Eye-popping expenses are par for the course for nearly every Olympic sport. Membership costs at an elite swim club can run $1,500 to $3,000 annually, says Tom Himes, who coached a young Michael Phelps at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. Equipment can cost $500 each year. Those slick Speedo Fastskin3 swim trunks Phelps wears? They retail for $395.

The easy answer might be for America to foot the bill for its Olympic athletes’ training, like China does. But as the article points out, that’s not without its own problems.

C.S. Lewis: “The sweetest thing in all my life…”

C.S. Lewis, from Till We Have Faces:

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.

Wired’s Mat Honan explains how he lost everything to an “epic” hacking

As our more of our lives move on-line and into the “cloud”, it’s becoming increasingly important to be proactive about our security and privacy. Honan’s story is scary, to be sure, but it should also be a wake-up call.

…what happened to me exposes vital security flaws in several customer service systems, most notably Apple’s and Amazon’s. Apple tech support gave the hackers access to my iCloud account. Amazon tech support gave them the ability to see a piece of information — a partial credit card number — that Apple used to release information. In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification. The disconnect exposes flaws in data management policies endemic to the entire technology industry, and points to a looming nightmare as we enter the era of cloud computing and connected devices.

At the very least, make sure you have Google’s two-step verification enabled.

Update: This is encouraging. Both Amazon and Apple have responded to Honan’s hack by making changes to their security policies. Also, Wired has posted a list of steps you can take to avoid becoming the next Mat Honan.