Sunday, December 30, 2007

Soar Like an Eagle

Illustration Friday: Soar

Happy almost 2008! May your Baby New Year's diapers be free of poop!


Friday, December 21, 2007

New Horizons

Illustration Friday: New Horizons

This image is slightly different than the one I uploaded this morning- it suddenly hit me that the moon goes BETWEEN the clouds and the stars, not in front of both of them. DOH!


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Children's Acting Contracts in the Digital Age

Regular FOTs (Fan's Of Tony. Like it?) know that I have a son named Joe, and I put his accomplishments up here from time to time. Earlier this year, I posted a video of an elementary school dance festival where he & his classmates performed "Cotton Eyed Joe." Sad to say, this is the most popular thing I have on my YouTube account, but at 19,000+ hits (so far) it really makes him feel famous - and not in a "Star Wars Kid" way.

A guidance counselor from his school called this morning. She said a teacher found the video when Googling the school's name, and that she was concerned because a) someone could know our son's personal information from it, and b) the other parents have no idea that their children have been on YouTube. She said that they couldn't ask me to take it off, but they had concerns.

I removed all references to the school's name on my blog, Joe's blog, and the YouTube account. I told the guidance counselor that I had no idea how long it would take for the search tag to get out of Google's system. She seemed kind of half-happy with that solution (I'm pretty sure she wanted it taken off,) and again told me her worries about Joe's personal information (his name?) being on the internet. I thanked her and hung up.

Now, I am sure that this call was made out of genuine concern for my son and his classmates - though of course there's a bit of CYOA on the school's part involved. So here's a question. If you were a parent and you found out your kids were on YouTube from a school play without your permission or knowledge, would you be angry or would you shrug it off? If any parent contacted me and said they wanted it off, I'd do it. It just seems a very common thing on YouTube- people putting up their kids' school recitals, dances, plays, etc.

Anyone want a FOT t-shirt?


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Analyze Tony Yet Again

I dreamed I was walking down a dark cobblestone street in the middle of the night. I was drawn to a rock sitting on top of a wall. I took it down and breathed on it. It glowed, and then grew features. I thought of how Jen liked cats and I stroked it. It began to grow hair, turning into a small kitten. It kept growing, eventually turning into a sort of golden cat-woman, but with a long black horn-billed beak for a mouth. She stood up, and wanted to go walking with me.

Any ideas?


Monday, December 17, 2007

Happy Birthday Jen!

Today is Jennifer's - my funny little honey's - birthday. Thank you for being so special & always being there.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

More Proof New York City is Going To Hell in a Handbasket

You often hear people deriding President Bush's No Child Left Behind program, and standardized testing. No, I'm not a teacher, and I understand their complaints that they are now only teaching for the test. However, when some schools are pumping out illiterate, futureless kids year after year, something needs to be done. Yes, being left back hurts a kid's self esteem, but how does it help his self esteem when he's in the eighth grade and unable to read at the fourth grade level? No Child Left Behind might have its major faults, (for example- the idiotic way that schools who don't need money receive more than schools who do,) but I don't see anyone else coming with an alternative.

Well, there's one school right here in New York City that is quite happy to put their kids on the fast track to working at McDonalds. Wanting his teachers to dumb down their standards, Central Park East High School's principal Bennett Lieberman passed this memo out last month:

"If you are not passing more than 65 percent of your students in a class, then you are not designing your expectations to meet their abilities, and you are setting your students up for failure, which, in turn, limits your success as a professional."

Another quote:

"Most of our students come from the lowest third percentile in academic achievement, have difficult home lives, and struggle with life in general. They DO NOT have a similar upbringing nor a similar school experience to our experiences growing up."

How do assholes like this even get to be a principal? Don't they have some sort of psychological screening to weed out the nutjobs?

I would love to see some teachers' thoughts on this. (If you're not a teacher, feel free to chime in as well.)


Friday, December 14, 2007

"Wah, They're Not Using My Browser!"

For those who don't know, the makers of the browser Opera are suing Microsoft, saying that it is not fair that Microsoft includes its own Explorer browser with its Windows operating system. (I don't get it. I want Windows to come bundled with more programs, not less. Also, I cannot conceive how one company can dictate what another company may or may not include with its own software.) What I really do not understand is what difference it makes. Does Opera, Netscape (are they even still around?) or Mozilla make any cash at all from people using their free browsers? Are there some sort of advertising kickbacks I'm unaware of?


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Lucid Dreaming 101: Distractions

As I've mentioned on here before, from time to time, (average about once a month,) I have a night when I have lucid dream after lucid dream. The rest of the time, try as I might, it just doesn't happen. Go figure. Maybe the moon has to be in the right position for it's gravity to pull in just the right direction on my brain. Yummy.

I've also mentioned that my preferred method of travel is by doorway. I usually say, "I want to go here or there," a door appears and... well, sometimes I get to where I want to go. More often than not, however, I wind up sidetracked. (People have mentioned to me before that I should just demand to be taken where I want to be, but that doesn't work for me as well. Maybe my willpower just isn't strong enough.) The main thing that sidetracks me is other people. No matter where I go in my lucid dreams, there are always three or four people wanting my attention. I wonder if this is just me, or if there is something to the gestalt mind theory, and because I live in an apartment building, my dreams overlap with other peoples'. Food for thought.

In one lucid dream, I entered a room where Doctor Whos 2, 3, & 4, (Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, & the greatest of them all, Tom Baker,) were waiting for me! My initial annoyance at being sidetracked from my purpose was quickly replaced with delight. "Oh, we get together from time to time," Jon Pertwee said with a slight smile. (Jon Pertwee & Patrick Troughton are sadly dead, while the incomparable Tom Baker is very much alive.) Immediately, Tom Baker jumped up & insisted I see his new stereo. He led me to another room, where a few more people were admiring his impressive setup. Patrick Troughton grabbed my arm. "Don't you understand?" he said, looking into my eyes. "They're trying to distract you- trying to keep you from doing what you have to do- trying to fill your mind with gibberish!"

It was a moment of clarity, one I reflected on when I awoke. I was rather annoyed that that was my final lucid dream of the night, because I wanted to make sure I was focused when the next one happened. (I also want to try to stop relying on doors- and do I have to go to a certain location to do what I want to do anyway?) But upon reflection, I realized that my subconscious was trying to get a message across to me: My life is filled with distractions. My apartment is cluttered with shit I don't need (Please see George Carlin's classic routine on "Stuff.") My mind is also so crammed with useless shit, I'm overflowing. I can't let a few minutes go by without playing some sort of internet game or watching TV online. (I'm addicted to Tower Defense games,) solitaire, Sudoku, Escape the Room games... the list goes on and on. I'm constantly checking news feeds, blogs, Adult Swim cartoons, I-am-bored... My life and mind are cluttered beyond belief.

There's a Zen story that goes something like this. A guy goes to the Zen master to seek wisdom. The Zen master offers him a cup of tea. He fills the guy's cup with tea, and then some. He just keeps pouring, ignoring the fact that the tea is pouring out of the cup, onto the table, onto the floor, and then finally onto the seeker himself. "Stop it!" the poor tea-soaked guy finally shouts. The Zen master looks up and says, "You are this cup. How can I fill you if you are already overflowing?"

(That's the way we electricians do it.)

I'm trying to rectify this. I'm trying to do what I have to do on the computer with only instrumental jazz in the background. I'm trying to keep away from games, from feeds, from digg this or thats... let's see how it goes. In the meantime, I'm happy you came here to be distracted.


Monday, December 10, 2007

"I Believe in Little Things..."

Illustration Friday: Little Things

According to the article Creationism in the Classroom in Wired Magazine, the battle of religion vs. science continues. The Discovery Institute is continuing its medieval quest to push evolution out of the science classes and wedge religion in in the form of Intelligent Design. Now, if there was a science teacher who was being censored for saying that he felt God created the world, then I would support his right to say so. If these Bible-Belt states wanted to include a religion class elective for students in public schools, that would be fine with me as well. Instead, creationists are trying to use religion to disprove science. Science is what can be proven, a way of understanding the universe and how it works. Religion is God created in Man's own image. Faith in God can coexist with science, religion cannot. God gave you a brain to use, not to ignore the evidence around you because those with religious authority tell you to.

What really cracks me up about the whole evolution vs. creationism war is that the theory of evolution has absolutely nothing to do with whether God created the world, or the existence of God! It has to do with how life adapts. God- if you choose to believe in Him, Her, or It- could have very well created evolution. The two concepts are not in any conceivable way at odds. The problem is that the theory of evolution debunks myths- specifically that the world was created in six days only 6000 years ago, and that every creature was created exactly as they are today- that were written thousands of years ago by goat herders who believed the Earth was flat, at the center of the universe, and surrounded by a great ball of water until Noah's flood. (I don't mean to "diss" the Bible here, just the idea that the book of Genesis is historically and scientifically accurate.) For that matter, I deplore the whole Adam and Eve story for the same reason Ayn Rand did: it says that seeking knowledge is the original "sin," rather than a triumph, and that the world is an evil place because the first humans didn't do what they were told. If that's not a story meant to control people, I don't know what is.

"But, evolution is just a theory," is the usual straw-grasping of the creationists. This too, cracks me up. A scientific theory is a hypothesis which has been proven through testing. Here is a Muppet News Flash: Gravity, electromagnetism, & quantum physics are all scientific theories as well. Intelligent Design is NOT a scientific theory, as there are no tests which can prove it. Therefore, it does not belong in a science class. If you want proof that evolution is real, look at the world around you, and how nature is adapting to all the chemicals we've pumped into it, how viruses are adapting to immunizations, etc, etc, etc. Also, please don't tell me that you "didn't evolve from a monkey." No one ever said you did- otherwise there wouldn't be any monkeys around, would there? Rather, evolution suggests that we and apes evolved from a common ancestor. (And, as the great late Robert Anton Wilson suggested in his Schroedinger's Cat Trilogy, the reason why humans portray so many primate behaviors.)

Why, in the 21st century, is this dark-ages movement even possible? The nearest thing I can figure is what I call Tony's Political Pendulum Theory. (That's not a scientific theory, mind you!) It works like this. In the 1980s, the country's political compass pointed slightly to the right of center. In the 1990s, the compass was swung as far as possible to the left, as quickly as possible. The people on the right found themselves marginalized, mocked, and bitter. In the 00s, (what do you call this decade?) those in power used the political climate after 9/11 to push the compass as far to the right as possible, again, as quickly as possible. Yep- it's all about revenge. This is why I think the best thing for the country is for someone who has had NOTHING to do with politics for the last thirty (or at least twenty) yeas to be elected.

I'll just settle for anyone but Hillary.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Epiphany #9

I was feeling unlucky after losing a few games of Spider Solitaire when it hit me: The purpose of solitaire is not to win or lose, it is to make a pattern out of chaos.



Friday, December 07, 2007

Lemurs & Tigers & Armored Bears, Oh My!

Jen & I saw The Golden Compass this morning. I'm not going to get too much into it. We had a lot of fun, but it was very rushed. There was a lot of explaining going on. ("This is a truth-telling machine. It kind of looks like a compass. Now, it's never actually called a compass in the book, because the original name of the book in Britain is Northern Lights. But as everyone knows, Americans need a snappy title to buy a book. So American publishers, not even reading the book, saw what looked like a compass on the cover, and decreed that the American publication would be called The Golden Compass. But since Hollywood made a movie of it, we have to explain a few times that the truth-telling alethiometer kind of looks like a compass, and that's why we're calling this movie The Golden Compass. Got it?") Blech. The editing is a bit choppy, and the music is nothing memorable. (Cue up the fighting music! Now... cue up the scary music! Now... cue up the sappy music!) But that's all just nitpicking.

I didn't feel that the novel's more controversial elements had been watered down too much, (I think everyone knows by email or by news column that the evil Magisterium of the novels represents religion, and "The Authority" is, (not really, if you've actually read the books,) God. What pissed me off is that for some bizarre reason, the film cuts off the whole climax of the novel. Imagine Star Wars ending with the X-wings flying off to attack the Death Star. Cue voice over from Mark Hamil: "Well, we were going now, we had what we needed, and we- me, Biggs, Porkins, and R2, we were going to go with the spirit of Obi Wan, and we were going to bring that Death Star down!" -Cue sappy music, cue credits. The only thing I can figure is that- as with all Hollywood adaptations- the film was written with for the purpose of luring in as many new fans as possible at the expense of existing fans, so by leaving off the "dark" ending of the novel, they changed it into a hopeful one. Again, Blech.

(An almost completely unrelated note: every message board on line is claiming that the ending of the upcoming Watchmen movie will be changed from that of the original graphic novel. If this is true, I will hunt down everyone involved with the film and personally feed them their own spleens. Try me.)

But apart from all these, things, the movie was all in all a bit of fun. I had a good giggle over the fact that Nicole Kidman is starting to show her age. And OMG- it's Clare Higgins- the hammer-wielding, skin-stealing, undead-loving, sexy, sinister, singles-bar-hopping stepmom from Hellraiser & Hellbound! (wow, she got old too!) So, have fun, go and see it, then read the books and see what you missed. Just don't let anyone grab your dæmon.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Metaphysics 101: Does My Higher Self Get High?

My last post about simulism prompted some interesting responses, both here and in my email box. A friend suggested that I "get in touch with my higher self." The theory works like this: we are all projections into this reality, extensions of higher selves, which live in a higher dimension or reality. (If you want to combine this theory with simulism, perhaps our higher selves are the players in the gOd simulation, and we are the online characters.) When we are lost or hurting, or our lives are going wrong, it's because we are out of tune with our higher selves. To use a common phrase, we should, "Let go and let God."

I lay awake last night thinking about this. There have been times in my life where everything has gone my way, and there are times, when, in the words of the late great Jim Croce, "I keep a waitin' for my ship to come in/ And all that ever comes is the tide." The times when everything has gone my way, everything in me was of one mind & purpose. The times it hasn't, everything in me was working against me. Here's an example: those who know me in real life know I've always had a weight problem. There have been times when it's been very easy for me to get back in shape, there are times when nothing I do will work, or when I simply don't care at all. The same goes for writing. There have been days when I've spent every free second writing, there are days when there is nothing in the world that will get me to put anything down. At these times, there is a tiny portion of me that cares (call it consciousness, superego, or whatever,) and the majority of me just doesn't care anymore. (subconsciousness, id, entropy) Now- as that part of me is stronger than the rest of me, and as nothing I can do will overcome it, does that make this part of me the "higher self"? To quote Bill Cosby- when told that cocaine enhances the personality- "Yes, but what if you are an asshole?"

So, if this I can follow this line of reasoning, then- the times that I'm hurting- it means that my higher self is hurting. And if that's true, there's nothing I can do about it, because it's like a toenail trying to cure the foot of a spurred heel. But then, that means that when my higher self hurts, that its higher self must be hurting, and so on and so forth, all the way back up to "The Source," "God," "gOd," "The Flying Spaghetti Monster," or "Bob," (If you're old enough to remember the Church of the SubGenius.) Considering the state of the world today, there's a lot of angels in heaven who need therapy. And I have to stop eating Chinese food before going to bed.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Paranoid Thought Experiment #3058: is God a computer?

Thought Experiment (noun): What unemployed insomniacs come up with when they lie awake in bed after eating too much Mei Fun with boneless pork spare ribs & extra duck sauce, & should not be taken seriously by anyone.

Nick Bostrom of the Department of Philosophy, Oxford University published a paper in Philosophical Quarterly in 2003 (read it here) postulating that life as we know it may well be a computer simulation. (This line of thinking is referred to as Simulism.) In August 2007, John Tierney wrote an article in the New York Times about it, Our Lives, Controled from Some Guy's Couch. Tierney goes on to suggest that if we are living in a simulation, the world may end if we ever come up with a computer as powerful as the one supposedly running the universe now. (I'm going to call it "gOd" for the rest of this thought experiment.) Creating such a computer would put exponential strain on gOd's processor to the point that it would crash, causing the end of the universe.

Perhaps this is what The Forbidden Tree of Knowledge stands for in the book of Genesis.

Now, this is nothing new. There was a whole crappy movie series (with admittedly cool special effects) about life being a computer simulation called The Matrix (which was itself a rip off of the 1976 Dr. Who episode, The Deadly Assassin. Nyah.) But lets look at some possibilities here. Keep something in mind- we don't actually experience the world; we experience a model that our minds make of the world from our senses. All gOd would need to do to run our simulation is to provide our brains with the sensory data when needed. Lets take this one step further. To sum up the whole Schroedinger's cat shtick in a nutshell, things only exist as probabilities & possibilities until you observe them. Therefore, gOd wouldn't need to simulate every atom or even every cell in your home. They would only need to be simulated when looked at through a microscope. Heck, it wouldn't even need to simulate the dusty Atari 2600 in the back of your closet except for the times you opened the door and saw it. As far as cellular activity that was going on unobserved (let's say cancer,) - that's something gOd could calculate on a probability basis. This all may also be the reason that scientists have not yet come up with a "Theory of Everything."(If you don't know, the Newtonian laws of physics don't apply at the subatomic (quantum) level, which really drives physicists apeshit. They've been trying for the last century to come up with some sort of theory that holds everything together, so far with no success.) Quantum particles jump from one electron shell to another instantaneously, their distance apart possibly marking the limit of gOd's processor's ability to divide.

Ok, lets get out of the very tiny and into the very large: Space, the final frontier. Well, if gOd is running the universe, it would be! Ask someone if they beleive there is life on other planets, and they'll probably say that as there are- according to the ESA- about 1 x 10^23 (thats 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) stars in the known universe, (space is infinite, after all... isn't it?) it would be pretty darn silly for only one of them to have intelligent life on it. But isn't it rather convenient that planet Earth is so isolated from the rest of creation? Why is ours the only planet in our solar system capable of supporting Life As We Know It? Why do our bodies have such physiological needs that is it logistically impossible to send a manned mission to the even nearest planet, Mars? (I could get into it, but there's an article that explains it all here. To make a long story short, a two year round trip, 3 million pounds of supplies, atrophying muscles & brittle skeletons. I'd love to see my geeky sci-fi dreams come true, but it just ain't happening.) Why does E=mc^2 make the speed of light an impossible velocity to achieve, keeping humans and the residents of other solar systems apart forever? Could it be so that gOd does not have to waste processor power & memory on a detailed simulation of other planets and civilizations? Hmmm...

OK, enough of the paranoid science stuff. Let's get into the paranoid paranormal. There are schools of religion & philosophy that believe that we are all one with the universe, & that with meditation we can get closer and closer to the "source." What if prayer/affirmations is the ability (or attempt) to influence gOd's programming through the subconscious? What if it was possible to actually re-write your own history, or at least your current "character stats"? Would you get away with it, or would there be some sort of "reality police" that would discourage & even eliminate (say with freak accidents, acts of nature, or even reprogramming the offender's mind with thoughts of suicide) such deliberate reality reprogrammers? Are those who are "lucky" people with more natural control over gOd than others?

What happens when gOd crashes? Or when the mother of the geek playing Sid Meyer's gOd tells him to shut it off, it's time for dinner?

I'm off to bed. Feel free to add your own ramblings, paranoid or otherwise.


Sunday, December 02, 2007


"I used to think the brain was the most interesting part of the body... Then I realized, well, look what's telling me that!" -Emo Philips

EMO IS FINALLY DOING A SHOW IN NYC! (Check another one off my "things to do before I die" list!)

Joe & I saw Beowulf in IMAX 3D yesterday. It was a lot of fun- I enjoy watching monsters rip people in half and the blood splattering out at my polarized glasses. A rather boring epic poem I had to read in 11th grade English, Beowulf obviously required a bit of rewriting to make it to the big screen. For example, Grendel's mother (a CGI Angelina Jolie) is now a seductress, luring in both the king (Grendel's father) and Beowulf. The ending was changed... the list goes on and on. And was the addition of Christian-bashing really necessary? Of course it was- this is Hollywood we're talking about.

Other notes:
1) I really don't remember Beowulf being naked when he fought Grendel in the poem. It was actually kind of funny, the way they "Austin Powered" out his genitalia with various silhouettes, props, strategically placed helmets, etc. Maybe this was the effect they were going for, I don't know. I just kind of thought the filmmakers were wandering from their target audience on that one.

2) Kudos for sloppy breasts! Whenever you see CGI breasts, they're always silicone-firm. I was impressed at the jiggliness of the peasant's breasts as she scrubbed the blood out of the tables. (Of course, Angelina Jolie's CGI mud-covered ones were rock hard. And mud-covered. But then again, if I wanted to see her real ones naked, I could find them on the internet in a second.)

3) Why didn't they just use real actors in a CGI enviornment instead of spending millions of dollars trying to motion capture and animate them? As an animator, I was quite impressed by the life-like textures (and facial hair) on the characters, but they still looked like puppets when they talked. Very Shrek-ish. Weird.

All in all, it was a lot of fun. (And a million times better than Chris Lambert's 1999 version.) If you're a High School student, however, just make sure you don't see the movie instead of reading the poem, or your teacher will probably have a lot of laughs at your expense.