Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Favorite Books of 2014

Yes, it's time for the first of two inevitable "year in review" posts. This one is about the books I read this year and enjoyed the most. Please note that I make no claims about these being "best" nor were these books published during 2014. They are literally the books I enjoyed the most.
  1. Eric Scholsser's Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety combined an in-depth retelling of the 1980 Damascus incident (during which a Titan-II missile exploded in its silo due to a maintenance accident, expelling its 9 megaton warhead which obviously did not explode in northeast Arkansas) and a historical treatise on accidents involving nuclear weapons. A couple of takeaways. First, despite all these accidents a nuke never detonated unintentionally. Second, while you never want an accidental detonation when the time comes to use a nuke you don't want anything that's going to delay its use unnecessarily.
  2. Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire: Book 2 of the Millennium Trilogy (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard), the 2nd book in the trilogy that began with the more famous Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, gave me the biggest and best plot twist I've come across in a long time. Plus, I felt it was the strongest of the three books. Too bad we'll never read what else Larsson might have had in store for Lisbeth Salander. 
  3. Vincent Bugliosi's Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy could've made this list simply for the amount of time it took me to finish this 1,000+ page tome. But it was worth it to read him present the case that leads to only one conclusion: Oswald did it.
Honorable mentions:
  1. It seems that I re-read William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury: The Corrected Text every year or two. And why not? In my opinion, it is the finest example of written English language I have yet encountered.
  2. And then there's Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Simply fine literature.
  1. Michael Crichton's Micro should have been left unfinished. In fact, that's how I left it.
  2. Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich. Creepy books like this give wealth a bad name.
If you're curious, here's a list of the 40 books I read in 2014.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A children's story which is only enjoyed by children...

Have you pre-ordered yours yet? The Aristocrat's Culture Clash Live album.

Not your cup of tea? How about Music for Pieces of Wood? (I think this was composed by Steve Reich.)

The obligatory Xmas-related post. This one about Chuck Jones and Dr. Seuss and the Grinch. Did you know that the film was Boris Karloff's last performance before his death?

Gene Davis, Black Grey Beat, 1965. source
Have you heard about bulletproof coffee? It's coffee with butter and coconut oil and is said to provide a high-performance buzz that also suppresses your appetite (i.e. weight loss). Of course, nothing's as easy at it sounds because they offer their own line of coffee beans, there are specific types of butter and oil to add, there's a diet plan, exercise plan, etc.

Classic animation with a science bent: Cosmic Clock.

This map of the states by how easily they're remembered is from a page of 25 maps of various stats.
Bonus map: each state's favorite artist as measured by eBay searches.
You know how scifi always portrays alien species as being superior to humans. Here's another way to look at it in Danger: Humans.

For my DFW friends, a week or two ago the Star-Telegram ran four great articles.
  1. A review of the 2014 craft beer scene
  2. The top 10 new restaurants. (Of which I've eaten at precisely one: Bird Cafe.)
  3. The 10 best meals. (On which the inclusion of Matt's Rancho Martinez makes me incredulous.)
  4. The restaurants that are no more. (Of which I had visited precisely zero.)

 photo sassy-hitler_zpsziqh8buz.gif
Sassy Hitler: source

Ever want to pretend you were an air traffic controller? Now you can with the online ATC simulator. a bad children's story. ~C.S. Lewis

Saturday, December 20, 2014

There is nothing so easily made offensive...

Two more folks have added their voices to the annual pop-music mash-up genre: Isosine and Danthology.

For my Fort Worth friends, consider coming to visit the Near Southside.

Merry Xmas. This is my personal snowflake. You can make your own here
Kennewick Man (no, not Kristin) reveals that humans came to North America thousands of years before we thought and not just by strolling across a land bridge.

Ever see a cloud inversion before? Ever see one in the Grand Canyon?

Read all about the mission patches from the National Reconnaissance Office. This one for NROL-49 in January 2011 is my favorite.
The so-called spinners clock.

As a bowler I find the automated pin setter to be a marvelous contraption.

They don't even have a color on this map for how early I go to bed. And like most statistics, it leaves out something very important. Like a companion map illustrating what time people wake up.
While we're doing the map thing, here's a state by state map of the USA showing what each state is worse at. (Yeah Texas, lower number of H.S. graduates per capita.)

At least one of our Russian friends thinks this is how the USA will be split up after it collapses. There are more fantasy maps at this link.
32-bit computers, your days are numbered. Literally and figuratively. You have until 19 January 2038.

In no particular order, here's a sampling of various 2014 "best of" lists.

If you've never seen the film Dr. Strangelove, at least you can see some behind-the scenes photos of directory Stanley Kubrick in action.
And since we're on the topic of films, what do you think of Owl?

What else would you call chocolate covered gummy bears? good reasoning. ~Sir Arthur Helps

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bloomberg's 85 Ideas

Just a few quick comments on 85 Years 85 Ideas, an article in the 08 December 2014 issue of Bloomberg Business Week celebrating "the most disruptive ideas" of the 85 years since the magazine's founding.

83 Denim: I wear denim virtually every day. Fashion choice or sloth?

78 Smartphone: This device needs a new name because who makes phone calls anymore?

69 Twitter: My favorite social medium. A great way to share ideas. #140chars

58 The Innovator's Dilemma: Clayton Christensen's book redefined "disruptive."

53 PowerPoint: Perhaps the most unfairly maligned piece of software on the planet. (Sorry Edward Tufte.) 'Tis a poor musician who blames his instrument. Coincidentally, the last slide in the magazine's article is one I tweeted about just yesterday as a pet peeve.

41 Atari: We had an Atari 2600 when I was a kid and it was indeed my introduction to gaming.

29 Open Source: When the software source code is open versus closed (proprietary) the business model changes.

23 HTML: The language of teh interwebs.

8 The Manhattan Project: The development of nuclear weapons changed WWII, largely drove the Cold War, and still impact foreign policy today.

1 The Jet Engine: For an aerospace engineer (by degree) this is close enough for validation of my career choice.

See the entire list here. Then come back here and share in the comments which of the ideas resonated with you.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Etymology & ToPaRaMa

What's in a label?
Instead, seek the origin,
the essence, of sound.

In an attempt to disguise my laziness I'll say I'm combining these two unrelated albums into a single post because of one common factor. Etymology is driven by two guitarists and the artists on ToPaRaMa are two percussionists. How might the music created by these two duos differ?

With that bit of justification out of the way, let's hear what we have.

Etymology is everything that Jon Durant said in an interview: "Alive, Atmospheric, Loud(!), Introspective, Fluid" and in my opinion, the last two especially. Durant's processed guitar effects weave beautifully through Colin Edwin's melodic bass playing and together they shape a sound that's accented by the three drummers used on the album. It's pointless to try to assign a genre to the result and that kinda goes back to the album's name and a quest for the origin of a word, or in this case the origin of a sound.

Enough talk. Give the album's video trailer a listen.

A few web resources for you:
  • Edwin and Durant give track-by-track insight into Etymology here.
  • Colin Edwin's website
  • Colin Edwin's blog
  • Jon Durant's website

As precise as a
fine timepiece, as fun as a
Rube Goldberg device.

On ToPaRaMa we hear the collaboration of two percussionists, Pat Mastelotto and Tobias Ralph, where rhythms are the main course that drive the songs forward with deviously intricate and precise performances. Because of that, and the "Who's Who" of accompanying musicians, the sound is one that's open and inviting, an aural spaciousness as opposed to a tight embrace. These two also exhibit quite a sense of humor throughout the album but especially on the closing track Bad Ass Van, Man.

Again, since I can't describe it well you should have a listen to the track NY5.

ToPaRaMa is available on Bandcamp. Pat Mastelotto's website is here and Tobias Ralph's is here.

I received no compensation of any kind for these reviews.

Zero Day by David Baldacci

Why just send one guy
to investigate murder?
That's the real issue.

David Baldacci's Zero Day is the first in a new series of books centered on character John Puller, an Army CID (Criminal Investigations Division) man. Puller is a tough, decorated, but haunted veteran of wars in the Middle East who declines promotions in order to stay in the field hunting down criminals. He also has a pedigree as the son of a storied General and has an Air Force brother with an even more interesting background (not yet fully revealed).

In this first entry in the series, Puller is dispatched to middle-of-nowhere West Virginia to investigate the execution style slaughter of an DIA officer and his entire family. He teams up with the local police sergeant who also happens to be related to the town's coal-mining mogul who somehow might be entangled in this mess. The book also coincidentally touches upon one of my favorite topics.

While Zero Day features many of the attributes of Baldacci's writing, what he's done is create his own, chattier version of Lee Child's Jack Reacher (a character whom I really enjoy). But while, in my opinion, not necessarily unique, Puller is a character worth reading more about.

The audiobook version of Zero Day is very well acted by a two person cast: Ron McLarty and Orlagh Cassidy. Also, the audiobook achieved a first in my experience: one scene actually startled me and caused me to jump in my seat. Which isn't necessarily a good thing when you're driving while listening.

Baldacci's website is

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

You'll find boredom where...

It's real. None more black. A UK company has created Vantablack, the darkest substance ever created. It's said to be so black the human eye cannot figure out what it's looking at. It's also more conductive than copper and stronger than steel.

Adolph Gottlieb, Cadmium Red Over Black, 1959. Sought out after reading the New American Painting catalog from 1959. See also this more playful look at the work. 
Hipgnosis, the studio behind iconic album covers (how many young readers just glossed over that phrase) of the 70s and 80s (e.g. Dark Side of the Moon), has a book coming out called Hipgnosis|Portraits.

Attention readers younger than 35. Arlington, Texas is the 2nd best place in the country for you to live. Other notable cities on this list are #5 Austin, TX, #9 Madison, WI and #12 Fort Worth, TX.

Even Google is getting into the periodic table business.
How much do you like Sesame Street's The Count von Count? Do you like him reciting the first 10,000 digits of pi much?

The short film Wanderers - depicting possible future human exploration of our solar system - has developed quite a fan base, perhaps in no small part to Carl Sagan's narration. See more from the filmmaker here.

Animated film news: Annie Award nominees, film lineup for 2015.

The so-called Racial Dot Map supposedly shows one dot per person colored by their race. 
It's a close call but Al Pacino thinks the first Godfather is the better film.

What's old is new again. In this case, the new Bond film Spectre.

What's old is now digital. All of Einstein's Papers are being put online.

It's easy to laugh at this collection of vintage Xmas ads but then if you think for a minute about current advertising the situation hasn't changed all that much.
Science has spoken. The perfect donut has an 11 mm diameter hole.

Play Entire Screen of One Game. Slowly lose your mind.

...there is the absence of a good idea. ~Earl Nightingale

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill

There's nothing wrong with
earning a lot of money.
Unless it's creepy.

On a brief layover at Chicago's ORD I was hunting for something to read on my next flight when I saw on the shelf Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich. Just a few days prior this book had been recommended to me by a highly regarded business expert who placed it on par with Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Originally published in 1937, this book lays out 13 steps to riches that anyone can follow should they be interested in accumulating wealth. For example, Step #8 is all about persistence.

The edition I read was updated in 2005 but despite a few anecdotes about FedEx and Microsoft the overall book read like something from the decade of the Great Depression. Which isn't necessarily bad.

But things took a turn for the creepy with Step #10, The Mystery of Sex Transmutation. Yes, using your sexual energy (mojo?) you can transmute mediocrity into genius. Whoa.

That was followed by a chapter that included at its beginning this statement: "every human brain is capable of picking up vibrations of thought released by other brains."

Rather than wait for the 3rd strike, I flipped through the remaining pages and put this one on the shelf.

Oh well.

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

Blogs I Always Read

In case you haven't noticed, there's A LOT of stuff on the internet. Even when discounting all the gibberish there's a lot of stuff worth reading, either for education or entertainment or edutainment.

Of course, there's a difference between a) stuff worth following, b) stuff worth reading and c) stuff that you should never, ever miss.

I have about 300 blogs in my RSS feed but there are only a few that I always read when they appear. Here they are, in no particular order.

Wayne Hale's Blog

The former Space Shuttle flight director and program manager ( gives us historical and sage insight into space flight that only someone who's "been there" and "done that" can do. Hale doesn't write only about the machine and its technology; he tells you what goes on in the minds and hearts of those involved.


Whether you're an armchair or professional scientist, anyone with an interest in the secret life of fluids should be reading the blog with the name I can't repeat to my mother, FYFD ( Fluids do some crazy things and with a video or a photo and just a paragraph or two FYFD lets you in on their secrets without killing the wonder.

Animation Anecdotes

Every Friday the Cartoon Research blog posts another in their Animation Anecdotes series ( . This weekly post delivers paragraph-sized stories about the people and productions from the world of animated films. There's always something interesting, always something new. Like the one about Speed Racer and Kurosawa.

The Aviationist

The Aviationist ( never fails to delivery quality aviation glamour, news, and stories. Come for the pics and videos. Stay for the news and analysis.

Restricted Data

It might seem morbid to be a fan of a blog about "nuclear secrecy past and present" but my non-fiction book reading largely feeds my interest in the Cold War of which nukes were a big part. Whether it's about bomb design or the bomb's designers, Restricted Data ( covers it all. And let's not forget NUKEMAP. (See the link at the site.)


Wajobu ( writes about music like it's nobody's business. Fortunately, he also writes about music I like such as progressive rock and ambient. And yes, he's a friend of mine.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

To fake it is to...

I'll give this 3-minute video and audio remix of the film 2001 an A for effort and a B- for execution.

For you programmers, here are tips for effective code reviews. (#8. Reviewing more than 400 lines is virtually pointless.)

See what it's like to fly solo in the Thunderbirds.

With all the excitement yesterday about Orion's flight, maybe you'll like to read an astronaut's impressions of being in space.

If you are a huge fan of either the movie Alien or typography you must read this analysis of typography in Alien.

The trailer for Terminator Genisys looks cool but it has me really confused.

I've seen a lot of stupid things but the Swash Express Clothing Care system has to be one of the stupidest. It has to be a joke because who'd pay $499 for the ability to "wash" one garment at a time?
Here's a very nice 1-minute video of Fort Worth's Kimbell and Modern art museums.


I say it every year. If you listen to only one mashup each year this is the one: DJ Earworm's United State of Pop.

Brian Eno has re-issued four of his albums from the 1990s: Nerve Net, The Shutov Assembly, Neroli, and The Drop. I haven't ordered them yet. Why not? (They're all now on my wish list.) At the bottom of the linked page you'll find a great Eno/Clark mix.

Radio New Zealand has a six-part interview with Eno that you can listen to if you want to learn more about the man.

Here's a brief piece about Daniel Lanois' latest album Flesh and Machine that I have yet to queue up.

If your favorite kind of music is free, you can thank Markus Reuter for his give of the album 6 Reflections,

Finally got around to ordering the 4 CD remastered box set of Brand X.

Anthony Phillips has released a 5 CD anthology box set titled Harvest of the Heart.

You might also be interested in XtraKcts and ArtifaKcts, a remix of bits and pieces of Pat Mastelotto's work.

After watching several of Steven Wilson's live performances on YouTube I had to research his keyboard player, Adam Holzman, who I'd never seen or heard of before. Turns out he's got quite the pedigree, going back to performing with Miles Davis.

Tench Records is having a $5 CD sale during November including Marcus Fischer.


Pianogram visualizes key presses in music for piano, in this case Rachmaninov. You can upload your own MIDI files.
This seems like a bit of good news for Cleveland. Siemens is interested in the city as a hub for manufacturing and health care. It doesn't help that the company's USA CEO is a northeast Ohio native.

Here's a long but interesting tale about being an American and living and doing business in Japan.

I had never heard of Rick Cattell until I ran across his slide presentation on Things I Wished I Learned in Engineering School. #66 Learn writing, speaking, negotiating, and business skills.

As seen in this recent history of Pantone's color of the year, for 2015 we can look forward to everything looking like a blood stain: Marsala. (RGB = 150,79,76 and HEX = #955251)
It's beginning to get hard to keep track of all the tiny devices you can buy these days like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Now there's Spark, a tiny wifi board.

Time waster of the week: Plink, collaborative music generation.

I see your Turducken and raise you a LambPigCow.

Dyed. Armpit. Hair.

...stand guard over emptiness. ~Arthur Herzog

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Music is the cup which holds...

He calls it Science vs. Music but I'd call it the Science within Music: Cymatics.

This kinda makes the Raspberry Pi look like a toy: the Neutron is a palm-sized Windows PC. Fully funded on Kickstarter, it's said to be shipped in time for Xmas.

To be fair to the Raspberry Pi, they've got a new, $20 version called the Model A+.

Speaking of Xmas shopping, have you heard about Amazon Smile? Just start your shopping visit at and 1/2 percent of your purchase will go to the charity of your choice.

But you probably just want to browse, but not shop at, the Sky Maul. (Where you'll find the Personality Alert Bracelet and when you do you'll see why I should have one.)

Howard Hodgkin, A Small Thing But My Own, 1983-1985
By now we've all seen flight tracking software, but's mashup with Google maps makes it easy to find out exactly which flight is above you.

If you're gonna offer your software for beta testing, here are 7 rules to live by. But 10-12 weeks of beta for a year's worth of development?

While we're on the topic of programming, Software Carpentry got inspired by the Joel Test and comes up with a series of questions for judging your teaching efforts. #2 Does each lesson solve a problem your learners think they have?

Oh, and your job is not to write code. Your job is to improve our product for our users.

Worth watching: Michel Gagne animates Gheorghe Costinescu's "Dots, lines, and patches for recorded electronic sounds" and the result is Synesthesia.
Pointless: driving an F-1 car under a 18-wheeler that's gone over a ramp.

The ideal length of everything (in social media). Some examples: 40-55 words per paragraph, 6 words per blog headline, 3 minute YouTube videos.

The separation of past, present, and future is a stubborn illusion. Thoughts about time.

A 250-million year old fossilized skeleton of an amphibious ichthyosaur is getting people excited.

Behold the Tracy-Widom distribution which pops up everywhere and seems to correlate to weak and strong coupling of related variables.
NASA is on Soundcloud and all their stuff is free for you to download and reuse. They've included all the stuff you'd expect (rocket sounds, radio chatter) but also things like the sound of interstellar plasma from Voyager.

Speaking of space-age sounds, check out the Yaybahar.

Did someone say outer space? This time lapse video of the Sun's surface must be watched.

How big is your vocabulary? According to this online test mine is 32,500-35,500 words (97th percentile).

This chromapoem is a way to visualize the complexity of Shakespeare's Sonnet #18. See more at the link.
"Creation is embarrassing" and other thoughts on the process ideation by Isaac Asimov.

I suppose this isn't a "duh" moment for everyone, but Pixar uses a lot of math in making their animated films.

Kinda related: Bezier clock.

After reading Schlosser's Command and Control I'd really like to tour the Titan Missile Museum. (And while I'm at it, the Pima Air and Space Museum.)

This wouldn't be funny if you weren't thinking of a specific kid right now.
For everyone who's wanted their poo to smell like avacados. is a game that should be easier than it is: draw a rectangle of a given size.

...the wine of silence. ~Robert Fripp

Quote continued: "Sound is that cup, but empty. Noise is that cup, but broken."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Not Knowing & 4.30.2014 by Nicholas Szczepanik

Pulsing brooding drone
gets inside your body and
takes over your brain.

One of the better aspects of social media is the direct interaction of musicians and fans. Back in the day, performers were virtually untouchable - you bought their albums, listened to them on the radio, and saw them perform live. Maybe you joined their fan club and obtained a little bit of "insider" status and the truly lucky won backstage passes in a contest and could actually speak to them.

Now musicians are just a post, like, follow, or tweet away.

One of those musicians is Nicholas Szczepanik. I was introduced to his work by a friend (Thanks, wajobu!) with the album Please Stop Loving Me (my comments). That's when I started following Nicholas on Twitter. One day he tweeted that he had a few extra CDs of a live performance 4.30.2014 from earlier this year in case anyone wanted to buy one. Hell yeah. A few tweets later he added a CD of his studio album Not Knowing to my order.

Normally that'd be the end of the story. But our friends at the U.S. Postal Service turned this into a tale of perseverance. The first shipment arrived with a chunk bitten out of both one corner of the envelope and the jewel case for 4.30.2014. Not Knowing was simply Not Found. Nicholas kindly resent Not Knowing. (The CD for 4.30.2014 was undamaged and I told him I'd keep it because the gnarly jewel case made for a good story.) That second shipment simply disappeared into the snail mail ether. Gone without a trace. Not Extant. Again, Nicholas resent the CD for Not Knowing which, thankfully, arrived unscathed. I felt bad about the extra postal expenses and the loss of one of his CDs. But I really appreciate the effort he put in to getting his music to me. Thank you, Nicholas.

Back to the music. Not Knowing is 52 minutes of brooding and pulsing low tones through which a crystalline high tone weaves and builds like a fleeting idea through one's resting body. Must be played a high volume to be fully appreciated. The live performance 4.30.2014 consists of 5 tracks, one by Nicholas, three by Coppice ( and one by Mykel Boyd ( Speaking only of Nicholas' track, it's an open, church-like drone with a sense of place.

You can find Nicholas online here:

Thank you, U.S.P.S.
I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The fundamental cause of trouble is that...

In which I tentatively dip my toes back into teh interweb pool of gibberish...

Oscar buzz: contenders for best animated short, and animated feature film.

Find out the time and learn a fact every minute with FactOClock.

NOW I see these 10 tips for improving your presentations. #3 Have a solid structure. Oops.

Four of Brian Eno's albums from the 1990s are being re-issued and not only are the original mixes being cleaned up but a large amount of bonus material is being added. Nerve Net (1992), The Shutov Assembly (1992), Neroli (1993), and The Drop (1997). My backlog of new music prevents me from buying these now, but soon... Preview tracks Fractal Zoom from Nerve Net and Prague from The Shutov Assembly are available at the site.

Here's a cool way to listen to King Crimson's Frame by Frame: only the rhythm and backing tracks.

Pierre Soulages, Peinture 324x181 cm, 17 November 2008, 2010. I recently began following the Abstraktion Blog and that's where i discovered this painting that reminded me of both Rothko and Innes.
And Pink Floyd's new album, Endless River, a tribute to deceased band member Rick Wright, is now available and previews can be heard at the band's website.

Why should rhythm be visualized using the common linear bar notation. How about a circle?

OK, Star Trek fan bois, get out your drool buckets for Star Trek Axanar.

Imagine The War of the Worlds spliced into vintage WW I footage and you've got Great Martian War. Very nicely done.

And Blue Skies is for aviation lovers - an "art film" made from footage of the Chisinau Airshow 2014. And while you're at it, watch the Wolfe Air Reel for "glamour shots."

Friggin. Ketchup. Fountain.
I have also begun following the Painter's Table blog for news about painting (duh), especially abstraction.

Every want to print your own paper with certain templates like crosshatch, dots, or grids? Checkout Printable Paper.

I've been keeping my Aviation Pr0n on my Pinterest album but this photo of a Special Ops CV-22 Osprey was too cool not to share.
Have a project that needs a codename? Use the Codename Generator. My codename is Aqua Copper.

Try not to laugh while watching this 4 minute clip from The Penguins of Madagascar. Or this one of All Hail King Julien.

Lettuce tops the list of America's favorite sandwich fillings. (My mother used to make me peanut butter and lettuce sandwiches for my school lunches because the lettuce kept the peanut butter from sticking to the roof of your mouth.)

How the hell does a pastrami or corned beef on rye end up at #42 on a list of best sandwiches? And at #1 is a very tasty sandwich that's too regional IMO to be at the top.

How old is my hearing? I have the hearing of a 50 year old which, I suppose, isn't all that bad.

But my sight isn't bad enough to question Voids, A Retrospective, an exhibit in Paris' Pompidou Centre which consists of 9 galleries completely void of works of any kind. I hope the entrance fee is equally void. But how did mustard fall to #4 and who the hell puts ketchup on a sandwich?

During my lifetime the earth's population has risen by over 4 billion. This and other factoids from the BBC's your life on earth.

Again with the maps. Here we see zip codes colored by affordability: blue is more affordable, red is less. Look at that blue swath up the nation's midsection. My zip code seems to be almost right in the middle: 15,330 out of 28,135.
And a big huzzah! for the wealthiest suburbs in America.

And one last map: ZIP code lookup for all sorts of stuff about where you live.

What a load of crap this is. What museums need to know for the future. "#1 Most adults are not interested in looking contemplatively at art. They want to be active, loud, and visibly engaged." Well then, they either need to STFU or stay home and look at art on their cell phones.

Blood bank. Sperm bank. And now Poop bank. Gives a whole new meaning to making a deposit.

And now your time-waster: Inspirograph.

...the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. ~Bertrand Russell

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Command and Control by Eric Schlosser

Like a cork from a
bottle, 9 megatons flies
through the Ark. night sky.

There's nothing like a couple of plane rides for finishing a big book. Eric Schlosser's Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusions of Safety has been on my bookshelf for a while and it was nice to finally have a chance to finish it.

The book centers around the 1980 explosion of a Titan II nuclear-tipped missile in its silo in Damascus, Arkansas. The explosion, caused by the simple but unfortunate dropping of a tool that punctured a fuel tank, caused extensive damage including ejection of the warhead which, fortunately, did not detonate.

When you have complex and dangerous machines maintained and operated by kids in their late teens and early twenties the odds of accidental death, injury, and property damage go way up.

Wait, that's for automobiles, not nuclear missiles.

While the book is centered on the Damascus incident, its main thrust is a dialogue on the the lack of true control over the U.S. nuclear arsenal and goes into quite a bit of detail of the history of nuclear weapons development and deployment and accidents along the way. According to the author and some of the experts he cited, it's almost a miracle that we haven't yet had an unauthorized nuclear detonation due to how the weapons are designed, maintained, and deployed.

This illustration of the potential effects of a 9 MT ground burst at Damascus, Arkansas is from NUKEMAP.
On the other hand, there hasn't been an accidental detonation despite all the accidents. So one might say that the existing controls have worked. That might seem a bit cavalier since we're talking about nukes. The debate here, if there is one, is that you want to be 100% certain (OK, odds of 1 billion to 1) that a nuke will never go off unplanned. But when you need to launch one you want to be certain you can get that done quickly before the enemy's missiles take out your leadership, communications, or missiles. Those needs are, to a certain degree, incompatible.

A knife needs a sharp blade which makes it inherently dangerous.

Same argument is made in the intelligent community when dealing with human sources. If you act quickly and resolutely on every bit of intelligence they provide you risk revealing their identify. But if you hold back to protect your source, you're letting good opportunities go to waste while putting your source at risk.

Read Command and Control for nuclear history, for the tales of weapons accidents, and to engage in the debate about how to best control them. Then consider the fact that, despite the history of accidents in the U.S., other nuclear powers like Pakistan have even fewer and looser controls over their devices.

You can read more about Schlosser at his publisher's website.

"Insisting on perfect safety is for people who lack the balls to live in the real world."

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Counterfeit Agent by Alex Berenson

Only John Wells knows
who's trying to start a war.
We wait for part 2.

I like Alex Berenson's series of books centered around CIA operative John Wells including the first part of his latest, The Counterfeit Agent.

My problem is with the ending. The book closed with absolutely nothing resolved. Nothing. We're not talking cliffhanger here. We're talking simple dead stop.

To me it smells like Berenson's publisher took a long book and simply split it into two.

This wouldn't be so bad except that it's his latest book meaning I can't even go to the library and start reading part 2 immediately.

Berenson's website is

Supercollider by Stick Men

Stick Men's new album
is a super collision
of sweet crunchy grooves.

Stick Men's Supercollider is the place for those new to this trio to start listening. The Stick Men are Tony Levin (Chapman Stick), Markus Reuter (Touch Guitar), and Pat Mastelotto (percussion). If you recognize those names from their other bands and solo work that alone should be enough for you to buy this album.

Disc 1 of this 2-disc set is best-of collection from their previous albums. Because I already have all those albums, Disc 2 was my sweet surprise because it consists entirely of live improvisations from the band's 2013 tour for the DEEP album. It's simply mind boggling what these guys can play.

Here's a video that gives you a taste of their sound.

Stick Men's website is where you can find 3 more videos.

"Aside from purely technical analysis, nothing can be said about music, except when it is bad; when it is good, one can only listen and be grateful.” -W.H. Auden

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

On Hiatus

This blog is on hiatus, on hold, suspended, taking a vacation, going on walk-about, enjoying a holiday until mid-November due to life in meat-space's propensity for getting in the way of life in cyber-space's self flagellation.

Tired and wired, if that's even possible.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Levin Brothers

What more can you say
about music other than
it's enjoyable?

Brothers and acclaimed musicians Tony (bass) and Pete (piano) Levin have created an album of original, classic, cool jazz. The self-titled Levin Brothers recording can best be described as sweet, nice, and thoroughly enjoyable. There's an underscore of emotional vibrance between the two main performers.

Standout tunes for me are Cello in the Night, a luxuriously flowing ballad with a hint of Oscar Peterson and a down-tempo redux of King Crimson's Matte Kudasai with beautifully phrased bass taking the lead.

Here's a taste of their work, the bouncy Not So Square Dance. You can also hear other audio samples here.

You can find more about the Levin brothers at their website,

"Aside from purely technical analysis, nothing can be said about music, except when it is bad; when it is good, one can only listen and be grateful.” -W.H. Auden

Updated 14 Oct 2014 to correct replace the word cello with bass, an error caused by thinking about one song while writing about another.

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

Truth and roses...

Burnt Relief, the duo of Colin Edwin and Jon Durant, have a new album called Etymology due for release soon. You can pre-order at the previous link and listen to the sample track, Precis, here.

If you yawn when you hear the phrase "string quartet" and think dusty old farty music, think again. The Kronos Quartet plays modern, classic, fresh works. If nothing else, watch the video for the visual effects. (See there website at

Callum Innes, Exposed Painting Red Oxide, 2013. "The paintings pretend to be neat and tidy but they're really quite chaotic."
One of my favorite painters, Callum Innes, was a nominee for the 1995 Turner Prize. This year's candidates don't include a single painter - video, photo, and other arts are represented.

"Teaching biology without evolution would be like teaching chemistry without molecules, or physics without mass and energy." A college biology professor has The Talk with his students.

A photo gallery of Betta fish.

For sleepy beer drinkers comes Goodnight Brew, a playful sudsy nighttime tALE.
Another Xmas gift idea for those with $5,000 to spare: a human skull carved from glass scavenged from the Manhattan Project's Hanford site where uranium was enriched. (Note: $5,000 for an object that's around 1.5 inches cubed.)

A blog about Fort Worth: Hometown by Handlebar.

I only recently learned what the word "polymath" means but I would definitely say it applies to this post from Ribbon Farm on flow-pacing as it includes fluid dynamics, music, and software updating among other things.

Cave paintings recently discovered in Indonesia are 40,000 years old and challenge the Euro-centric viewpoint of the development of art.

Pop Chart Lab has something for the architect on your Xmas list: a poster of schematics of structures.
Secret rules for Disney employees? I don't think some of these are all that secret like the fact that characters signing autographs are all trained to do them identically. Not being allowed to say "I don't know" is an interesting one.

Ten really bad opening lines of novels.

Can you tell the difference between a line of Hemingway and a line from a children's book? (I only got 8 of 15 correct.)

Own a piece of sci-fi film history by bidding on original artwork from Star Wars
Here are a couple examples of craft pr0n video: making bass guitars and wax food.

The guys from the classic Genesis lineup got together for their new documentary's premiere and were all smiles. But Steve Hackett doesn't like it. And speaking of Genesis, Rolling Stone lists several of their songs that only "hardcore" fans know. I must not be hardcore enough because I'm not sure I'd call some of these "insanely great."

Pink Floyd's new album, The Endless River, is coming in November and here's the trailer and the track Louder Than Words.

Check out the well-being indices where you live.

...have thorns about them. ~Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The King's Deception by Steve Berry

A Yank named Cotton
must solve an English riddle
before someone dies.

Steve Berry's The King's Deception is his 8th centered on the protagonist Cotton Malone, a retired (?) Justice Dept. agent. In this installment he's stuck inside a deadly riddle: what if one of the British monarchs wasn't who everyone thought they were?

This was a solid and enjoyable story but my lack of historical knowledge (my fault) left me frustrated with the litany of enumerated Georges and Henrys and Elizabeths and so on. After a certain point, tales of Henry the Xth's sister-in-law or whomever just became a swirling sea of names.

Steve Berry's website is

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

For two years two months
Henry lived in solitude
with insights for all.

Finally after 3 airplane trips I finished Henry David Thoreau's Walden. As you can see from the link on the left, I read the free version on my Kindle.

I wouldn't have written a blog post except for one lengthy quote from the book that I'll cite here.

"No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America. They are rare in the history of the world. There are orators, politicians, and eloquent men, by the thousand; but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence for its own sake, and not for any truth which it may utter, or any heroism it may inspire. Our legislators have not yet learned the comparative value of free-trade and of freedom, of union, and of rectitude, to a nation. They have no genius or talent for comparatively humble questions of taxation and finance, commerce and manufacturers and agriculture. If we were left solely to the wordy wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the people, American would not long retain her rank among the nations."

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Jane 12-21 by Harold Budd

No note out of place.
Something this simple is so
complex to compose.

Harold Budd's Jane 12-21 is the sequel to last year's Jane 1-11 (my comments). Both are exquisite examples of the composer's gift for minimalist, improvisational piano.

I'll imperfectly analogize by saying these songs are like sonic architecture, not in the incomplete sense but in the sense of sketching out a framework full of pregnant open spaces.

Listen to Jane 16 (For Pale Saints), the only track with a title other than Jane and a number, to get an idea of what I'm trying to say.

Jane 12-21 is available from Darla Records.

"Aside from purely technical analysis, nothing can be said about music, except when it is bad; when it is good, one can only listen and be grateful.” -W.H. Auden

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

The two most powerful warriors are...

This review of Steven Pinker's new book The Sense of Style begins with the curse of knowledge - the inability to properly communicate because you are unable to put yourself in the audience's position of not knowing what you know - and ends in a way that made me put the book on my Amazon wish list.

Super geeky: before slide rules there were Genaille-Lucas Rulers for doing math.
What books influenced Tolstoy? Read the list he wrote that covers his entire life. Lots of bible stuff but also Homer and Dickens.

Today's the last day of banned books week, mocking attempts to protect our children from Captain Underpants.

This would take all the fun out of hunting for sea glass but it's really not fair - California's Glass Beach is a protected area.
Need to work with PDF files? Here at 10 handy how-to ideas.

Speaking of good ideas, the Stand Up is a simple, disposable product that lets women pee easily while standing. HOWEVER, the first thing I'll tell the ladies is that no guy drops his trousers around his ankles while tinkling so the photos on the web site are misleading.

Bill Snyder, Horsehead Nebula (IC 434) - Winner in the Deep Space category for Astronomy Photographer of the Year.
Using this live earthquake map I see that the most recent temblor (I word I dislike) was a 2.9 near Mammoth Lakes, CA.

More maps? OK, here's U.S. states and cities with the best weather.

More? How about the brands most googled in each state? (Why in the hell are people googling Facebook?)

The award-winning Prism Table.
They say behind every successful man there's a good woman. Science tells us that may be truer than you think, especially if your spouse is conscientious.

Fascinating reading: The Smithsonian Magazine gets a tour of the CIA's museum.

This alphabet made of human body parts is creepy. It's from a book about how typography is all around us.
...patience and time. ~Leo Tolstoy

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Nothing is so firmly believed...

Here's an audio head-scratcher to get things going. Vexations by Erik Satie consists of a simple part repeated 840 times. Just so you think this isn't a product of new-age music, it was composed in 1893. Pianoless Vexations is therefore self-descriptive; artists play Vexations on any instrument other than piano.

For something a bit more traditional and jazzy, here's the track Not So Square Dance from the Levin Brothers CD.

Anoka Faruqee, 2014P-06, 2014
You've got about 50 days to contribute to Adrian Belew's Kickstarter campaign for FLUX, his music app that never plays the same thing twice. I just made my pledge so this ought to be interesting.

And if you're an iPad user and a Genesis fan you might want to download the free, interactive version of Armando Gallo's book Genesis - I Know What I Like.

Leave everyone you meet drooling with this mouth-watering Cincinnati 3-way (spaghetti, chili, and cheese) Chili t-shirt.
I think C.S. Lewis nailed it with these words on true friendship. "That is the kingliness of Friendship. We meet like sovereign princes of independent states, abroad, on neutral ground, freed from our contexts. This love (essentially) ignores not only our physical bodies but that whole embodiment which consists of our family, job, past and connections."

For Cold War buffs:

  • You can read about Operation Washtub, an 8-year program that trained stay-behind agents in Alaska in case the Soviets invaded that state.
  • You can try to read a redacted report about the NSA and the supercomputer industry.
  • And then there's this trove of documents, The Original Wizards of Langley, about analysis of Soviet science and technology.
  • The Able Archer 83 Sourcebook (i.e. the war games in Europe in 1983 that got the Soviets all riled up thinking it was a prelude to an actual nuclear first strike)

They made a movie about painter Gerhard Richter.

Ladies, you might want to rethink your fixation on six-pack abs. Science has proven that men with bellies are better lovers.

Let's make buying beer easy with can colors that match the contents. 
If you'd like a little art in your Twitter feed try following one of these museum bots.

Enjoy Dripped, an animated film that wonders if you can enjoy painting with senses other than sight.

And now waste away the afternoon by making your own visual music with SUPER-LOOPER. that which we least know. Montaigne