Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mark's sports column

I had a(nother) great idea this morning as I drove to work. I heard sports writer Frank Deford discussing the Olympics, and mentioning that it was kind of needlessly squashed together in one venue in the tradition of the ancient Greeks; he said that they might as well, in this age of television, hold the different events in different places.  He may have been mentioning it tongue-in-cheek, but it's an opinion I've heard before.


Deford also mentioned that Sochi, Russia, which is the site of the 2014 games, had temperatures in the 70s last week—even warmer that it was in Vancouver.


This got me thinking about how we should revamp the Olympics.


For one thing, I think we could digitize the athletes. If we took all the athletes and ran them through thorough biometric-recording drills, we could get accurate measurements of their strength, stamina, and dexterity and enter the numbers into a sophisticated database. We could also do the same thing with results of psychological profiling. While doing all this, we can hook them up to Hollywood's motion-capture technology to get fully digital avatars for computer generation.


You can see where I'm going with this. Yes! A fully digital Virtual Olympics. Once we have all the data, Virtual Olympics organizers can run the digital athletes through events in any order and combination they want.  Courses, slopes, and half-pipes can be programmed into the computer in an infinite number of combinations. You could actually make the luge run as lethal as you want, with a pit of flaming crocodile-hyenas over which the sledders must jump.  Hell, you could even program the snowcross athletes to carry swords and hack at each other as they race.  The International Virtual Olympic Committee would verify that the physical stats for each virtual athlete accurately portray those of a real athlete.


Then this could be turned into a weekly show, and the different nations would buy each individual show and create the parameters under which they think their athletes have the best chance. If Russia wants it mandatory that all figure skaters must perform a quadruple super shin fling during their routines, then that's what will be on the show for May 4.


Another great idea: A Wiilympics! Hook every single Wii in the world up to a single display.  The athletes for each event are an average of all actions performed by all the game players using their Wii consoles in their living rooms (the American skier, for instance, is a mass hybrid of all Americans who are standing on their special Wii pads at that moment, playing the game.) That's very democratic, and the little Wii guy who appears on the screen would truly be a representative of the nation.


If you think that wipes out athletic excellence in favor athletic averages (which it would), and you think that's a problem (an understandable sentiment), then we could still hook the Wii controllers up to real, talented athletes. We could also just randomly pick people from across the country.


Go ahead and laugh! But I'm telling you, it's just a matter of a few Olympiads before the virtual cybernetic descendants of today's video games are on the Olympic agenda. Cyborgs might require their own Olympics in the same vein as the Special Olympics and the Paralympics, but that won't last long. In 40 years, the Quaint Olympics for the Unenhanced Humans will seem as old-timey and anachronistic as the original Olympics (bring back the chariot races!) would to us now.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Cold rabbit

 The rabbit ears were my idea; creating hair by jamming sticks into the rabbit's head was not.
(By the way, the forehead jewelry on the less-icy individual is a sticker bindi from the India booth at the Girl Scouts' Thinking Day.)

Recent questions from my youngest

I think I'm getting a dozen of these per day:

What makes seasons change?

How can you tell by looking at them who are boys and who are girls?

What do our insides look like?

Why does it get dark at night?

What comes out of volcanoes?

How do they make Cheerios?

Why do they call it [the meat] turkey?

Why are they so many kinds of food?

How does the picture on the TV walk and move?


Saturday, February 20, 2010

This afternoon we all went for a walk in the sunshine.


Hannah, our snow woman, is looking a little bedraggled. This is what snow people look like when they spend several days exposed to an unfathomably huge nuclear furnace at a range of 93,000,000 miles.

Hanging on through winter

I noticed yesterday, as the snow melted away near the house, that my late-season cilantro is still alive. I know it was a cool-weather plant, but I didn't realize it could survive a winter like the one we have had. The stem base seems very thick, and there is a tight pack of fresh greenery forming in the center. I suppose that as soon as the temperatures are regularly above freezing, it will grow into a big healthy cilantro bush.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

More digital horsing around.

 I'm impressed with how much it looks like paint, and this is just a basic came-with-the-computer program.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


This picture is my weather forecast for next week. It will start with a sniff of spring, then BAM! boney old winter will try to kill us and destroy our houses. Those who survive will have to fight crows and rats for what little food and warmth is available until mosquitoe season begins.
(I drew this with my new computer art program, which is fun to play with.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

 We didn't stay out too long yesterday. The wind was strong and blew snow right into our faces. You can see the drifts against the house and around the garden plants in the photos.

Ice formation (see post below)



A few days ago Kim and I went by Target, where we were mystified by an ice formation on the pharmacy sign outside. There was a long icicle—more than three feet, we estimated, and perhaps close to four—curving out from the middle of the sign. It was more or less perpendicular to the wall.   There were some smaller icicles attached to it, pointing in the same direction.


Viewed from the front, one could see that the ice was also very thin (a few inches across at its base, but only an inch thick in its other dimension, forming a very flat oval "footprint.")


We tried to get a photo, but it was dark and all we had was Kim's Blackberry, so the picture was poor.


I was back again the next day and took better photos, although the ice was broken and didn't protrude as far.


This presented several mysteries, all tied to how such a formation could be created.  Most obviously, how could the pointed icicle be sticking out from the wall?  It was slightly curved downward, like it had bent or formed with a polite nod to gravity, but it was convincingly horizontal.


Another mystery was how that much water got there in the first place. There would have to be a lot of snow on top of that sign to create that ice formation, it seemed to me; and why would it all go right to the middle of the sign?


I was there again yesterday, after more snow, and solved at least part of the mystery.  It turns out that the wind really whips the snow off of the store's roof, and it all collects atop the pharmacy sign.


As for how the icicle became perpendicular to the wall, I have three theories:


1) There is an air vent inside the sign to cool the lights, and it blows melted snow outward where it reforms into a jutting icicle; or,


2) The icicles form against the sides of the letters (in this case, the M) and then break loose and are twisted outward by the weight of the snow slowly melting, flowing, compacting, and refreezing close to the wall.


The second explanation seems most likely, even though I have a hard time visualizing the mechanics involved.


Kim and I both thought it was really bizarre, but I told her it was just as bizarre that I was spending so much time puzzling over it.


Friday, February 05, 2010

Book Review

I just finished reading The Last Train from Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back, by Charles Pellegrino, and even though it was horrifying and heartbreaking on almost every single page, it was also thoroughly fascinating and very hard to put down. The book has been weighing on my mind since I started it. It's equal parts enthralling thriller and apalling glimpse at the end of the world.

I don't think it was perfectly written. It might actually be a little bit too broad in scope, although the inclusiveness of experiences is one thing that makes it so fascinating. The huge cast of characters sometimes gets a little disorienting. There may have been a few times the author stretched a little too far and a little needlessly to describe connections between events. However, these are minor faults.

This book is full of things I feel like I should have heard about, or should have been taught; yet I can understand why I never did, because so many of the stories and details are so dreadful that relating them could be an ordeal in itelf. Countering this, however delicately, are the people who exited the physical and metaphorical fires of the nuclear attacks (and their aftermaths) and used their stories to teach peace. Communicating these stories seems to me to be the most fitting memorial possible to the victims, the best means of honoring the people who have worked hard for peace, and important means of ensuring that the nuclear attacks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the last. Pellegino's book serves those ends well, I think.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Art Stores


I've been twice to Clifton Art Supply, the new place on Frankfort Avenue, and now I can review it as a pretty good store. I'm glad that there is a decent, locally-owned art store closer to my side of town. They have a respectable selection of art supplies; not quite as broad as Artist & Craftsman Supply or Preston Art Center, but still a hundred times better than a place like Michael's.  It's nearer my home, the sales clerks have been helpful, and the prices seem to be on par with the other art stores, so this will now be my preferred local spot for art supplies.


The other two stores are really good, too:


I went to Preston Art a few months ago after not having been there in a long time. They are locally owned, too, with one store on Bardstown Road and one store in New Albany. They have a broad selection of materials and a helpful staff.


Artist and Crafsman Supply is a national chain with a store located conveniently close to my parents' house, on Barret Ave.  Although I prefer to "shop local," I've been impressed with the store.  Their selection is fantastic, with their store space crammed full of a great range of supplies in various brands. Their paper selection is about the best I've ever seen, with many papers stacked in the walkways, tempting me to flip through and inspect and drool over them. They also have a very impressive range of…well, pretty much everything I normally use: acrylics, oils, pens, brushes…everything except relief printing ink.


Relief printing ink is sort of a problem in all the stores. Everyone carries the Speedball brand inks, which (in my experience) is nearly unanimously regarded as inferior to other brands by printmakers. Yet Speedball is the only brand that any of the stores carry.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Punxutawney Phil be darned; spring is closing in, it's a fact. January, the worst month of the year, is past, and we're on the steep downhill counter-clockwise slide into vernal rain and sunshine.


Yes, it is still cold. Snow is still in the forecast. But now, the bitter sting of winter air when I walk out the door in the morning feels less like a persistent fact of life to be born with gritted teeth, and more like a spiteful last slap from a defeated foe. We won! There will be miserable weather between now and the first of May, but it's much easier to laugh off now that we're done with January.


Sunshine, when we can get it, feels different now. It's not as watered-down and chilly feeling.


I'm not yet excited about the garden this year. I think I was at this time last year, but right now I feel like scaling back from what I've done previously.  We mostly want corn and tomatoes this year.  In about a month, maybe less, I can probably plant some cool-weather vegetables like peas, spinach, and broccoli. I still really want to grow some big pumpkins, but by the time I get to the point where I can plant them I usually don't have room.  The few I had did very poorly last year.


I noticed a few weeks ago that my mint has escaped the submerged plastic pot I buried it in.  There are little mint sprouts (I suppose they came from seeds, although I guess some roots might have made it out) coming up out in the yard a few feet away from the parent. Once they're out, they're out, or at least that's what I've heard. I'll have mint invaders coming up everywhere now.