Friday, August 22, 2003

  • THE THING: A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson, © 2003

          To see a snapshot
              of our world and our place here.
                  Humbling. Frightening.

    Bill Bryson is a pretty groovy dude. Another of his books: A Walk in the Woods is a true American journal classic. It's almost Bloggy in its frank and friendly style.

    A Short History of Nearly Everything is a bit different. Bryson has decided to take a sort of snapshot of what we know, scientifically, and dish it out in a simple organized fashion. He has become a sort of scientific translator, taking science-speak, and converting into something closer to a vernacular.

    He did a decent job.

    One of the nice things about it is that everybody will be familiar with something in this book. Some of the text will harken back to your school days, or perhaps discuss something you are interested in, or familiar with in some little way. He then fits it into the Grand Scheme of knowledge -- it's nice to see how your little nugget of info is part of the body of knowledge we have right now.

    At least how it fits into what we think we know right now.

    A few critical bits: I'm not very happy with the way it was organized. Sometimes it seemed to go chronologically according to discoveries, and sometimes it seemed to go chronologically according to what was discovered. Rarely do these things seem to jive... as our technology gets better, we tend to learn more about things further in the past. I had some problems stringing it all together. I honestly don't have a better suggestion for a layout, I was just a bit discombobulated at times.

    Also, I wish (just a smidge) that he had eliminated a lot of the wrong and disproven theories. There are many points where Bryson describes how we got to a certain way of thinking by discussing the ideas and research that was wrong first. It makes sense to do that, really... part of the point of the book is learning from past mistakes, but with a book of this scope, it just flicked bits of stuff at me that distracted me from the rest.

    It's easy to read, and I do highly recommend it. There are obviously a bunch more things in science that we know that are not included, but it is a good time capsule, of sorts, for much of current science. And it will certain give you some topics that would make good conversation starters. Necrotizing fasciitis, the reconstitutional ability of sponges, the likelihood that a civilization-ending meteor impact would give us less than a second warning, the fact that Yellowstone Park has been due to blow a choking layer of dust across most of the US for at least 30,000 years.... fun stuff like that!

Final Score on the Chris Worth Scale: $18.75. And for something that comprehensively describes most of what your college textbooks (total cost, probably around $2000, depending on your course of study -- and science books are usually the most!) attempted, that is a pretty good price!

Thursday, August 21, 2003

  • THE THING: The kid peeing in the parking lot
          I'm not a parent
              nor do I wish to be, if
                  you have to do this.
    OK, I do work with a lot of little kids. But I'm not much in the way of parenting, and I've never really had a parental urge. I just don't get kids and kid care. I cannot begin to explain how horrified I was today... Maybe if you are a parent, it's not a big deal, but for me... well, there was horror.

    I was going to the mall. The mall is a safe, innocent place to go. It has lots of shops and things to look at. It has free air conditioning when it is hot out. And today, it was HOT out.

    On the way into the mall, standing next to a van, was a mom and her son. He must have been somewhere between 1 and 2 years old. ANd he must have had to go to the bathroom. As I glanced back, he was standing there, arms akimbo. His pants were around his ankles. His mom was holding little willy at attention, and he was proudly peeing onto the parking lot. In plain sight. It was odd and horrible. That sight is going to haunt me for a long while.

    And I was totally flabbergasted! How did they get that point? Does the kid just say, "Mommy, I have to pee!", and then Mom tells him, "Well, Joey, whip out the little nubbin, and I'll point it in the right direction, and you can just let fly!"

    I don't think I could ever be a parent.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

  • THE THING: Origami Boulders

          new twist on classic
              paper folding art; brilliant
                  business idea!


    Pure genius.

    It's a rare commidty. All the good ideas have been thought of already! The sponge. The jar. The pencil. The shoelace. Q-tips. Gummi candy. Scotch tape. Dial tones. Back scratchers. Pringles. A dustpan. College-ruled lined paper. The harmonica. Those cool folding camp chairs. Frisbees. Etch a Sketch. Welcome mats. Oral thermometers. Paper airplanes. Moccasins. The Invisible Dog Leash.

    What's left? There's nothing left!

    Alas, I was wrong. Someone, whose abilities can only be described as artistic genius, designed a new must-have product.

    The Origami Boulder. It's the ultimate desktop or shelf-top design element. And room in your house will feel the feng shui emminating from an origami boulder. Each is an original hand made work of art.

    I think everyone's getting boulders for christmas from me this year.

    [And scroll down to the bottom and read the "Letters from Dumb Dumbs". I almost wet myself. People get so worked up over some silly things.]

Monday, August 18, 2003

  • THE THING: The Homestar Runner website

          ingenously drawn,
              skillfully animated,
                  and funny as hell.

    This is WAY too overdue. I have been addicted to the Homestar Runner world for a while now. I'm not exactly sure how long, but many, many months have elapsed since I first happened upon this wonderful outpost on the Internet...

    So, why do I go there? Well, go see. Peruse the cartoons... the animation comes in more styles than I can mention. There is the regular Homstar Runner gang, but there is also cartoons based on animation from the 1920's -- a sort of parallel universe. The full-length cartoons are hilarious, but the shorts are sweet nuggets of funniness, too. Strong Bad answers e-mails on, generally, a weekly basis, with humorous results!

    The characters are brilliantly built --
    Homestar Runner ("It's dot com!!")
    Marzipan ("I'm the only girl!")
    The Strong Brothers:
    Strong Bad ("You don't know it yet, but I'M the reason you're here. Check me out. No, seriously, check me out")
    Strong Mad ("KEEP IT ROLLIN'!!", and Strong Sad ("I always get locked in the bathtub.")

    There's Bubs, the concession stand owner (you just have to see him), Coach Z ("..pronounced with an 'oach Z'!"), and The Poopsmith, who does, indeed, smith the poop, and is currently respecting a vow of silence. Pom Pom and The King of Town round out the crew. Well, there is the "typo character": Homsar ("Don't look now, I'm just a friendly reminder"), who could be the funniest of all, in a surrealistic sort of way.

    The allusions riddled throughout are incredible. The Strong Bad e-mails are worth watching a few times to see the odd hidden interactive parts scattered throughout.

    There's a couple games in there, too... the Trogdor (the Burninator) game is unbelievably fun, in an Atari 2600 sort of way.

    The Homestar Runner site is exactly what web-based entertainment should be. Seriously.