Tuesday, November 29, 2011

He's Dead, Jim

I know a woman who recently lost her partner.  His name was Jim. In the weeks to follow her loss, she noticed a message on her computer, "He's Dead, Jim," when she shut down her computer.  Her first inclination was "spooky," the second inclination was that someone was playing a very cruel joke.  Because she couldn't consistently reproduce it, I asked her to take a picture of it so that I could troubleshoot it.  It was flashing on her screen so even getting a picture wasn't easy.  This isn't exactly what it looked like, but close enough:

After googling the message I figured out that this happens when you are using Google Chrome as your browser.  If you shut down your computer while Chrome it is still open, this message comes up.  I couldn't reproduce it on my PC but it does happen consistently on hers now that we know what is causing it.

Apparently, an engineer at Google thought that it would be funny to use Dr. McCoy's words (when talking to Jim Kirk) in this message without considering how many people out there know someone named Jim and who will some day die.  Stumbling on this at the wrong time, could be a very shocking experience.  

I found this on Youtube.  It is a compilation of all Dr. McCoy's death pronouncements from the original Star Trek: He's Dead, Jim.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Titanic Sky

James Cameron's Oscar winning film, Titanic, is famous for being accurate.  Everything from the design of the ship, the chandeliers, gown design and plate settings are historically accurate.  The film is supposed to be scientifically accurate as well.  For example, how the ship sank was a painstaking detail that Cameron wrought over ... the angle of the ship as it sank, the speed of the sinking and the affects of the impact.   When you go around claiming how accurate your film is, there are going to be people looking for things that are wrong.  One of those people is Neil deGrasse Tyson (my favorite astrophysicist), the director of the Hayden Planetarium.

The HMS Titanic sank in the Northern Atlantic on the 14th of April, 1912. There is only one set of stars that should have been visible on that night.   Yet this film, that totes scientific and historical accuracy, had the wrong set of stars in the sky.  Not only were they the wrong stars, but that star pattern that hangs over Kate Winslet shoulder at the end of the film, just doesn't exist.  Only half the pattern exists, the rest of the sky is a mirror image of the first half of the sky.  He got lazy here perhaps hoping that no one would notice or care.  

It is nice to have some pull.  In 2012 a revised 3D version Titanic  will be released for the film's 15th anniversary.  The correct sky is in the new release of the film.  James Cameron has bumped into Tyson a number of times.  I think Cameron might just be sick of Tyson bringing it up.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Romney in '68

In 1966 Gallup polls there was a Romney at the top of the pack.  Not Mitt obviously, but his father George.  He was ahead of the ex-vice president Richard Nixon by almost 10 points and was considered a shoo in for the Republican nomination for presidency.  With Johnson not running for reelection and the Kennedy's out of the picture, the Republican nominee would sail to the presidency.  So why didn't he defeat Nixon for the nomination?  It appears that Mitt and George have something in common .. their inability to adhere to a political position.

George Romney was the Governor of Michigan and a successful businessman.  He was popular and handsome but had a tendency to go off on tangents.  Also, his Mormon religious affiliation was an issue with a largely Protestant populace.  The more Americans got to know Romney, the more Nixon gained in the polls.  Nixon was not popular but he was a known entity.  It wasn't until an old interview with Romney was released that he plummeted.  He was asked by a Michigan newspaper reporter about why his opinion on the Vietnam War had change.  He was pro war until he flipped to anti-war.  He explained his initial support of the war as being "brain washed" by the American military.  He was a staunch anti-war candidate from there on end.  It wasn't the anti-war stance that sank him, but the use of the term "brain washed."  Both Nixon and the Democrats road this to Romney's easy defeat in the primaries.  You could say it went viral in an era prior to the Internet.

Romney came in fifth in the primaries and polled 40% below Nixon by November.  At the convention, he refused to give his delegates over to Nixon.  This is something that Nixon never forgot.  If not for this move, Romney may have been VP over Agnew and Ford and may have eventually been president.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Film Rating System

I don't pay a lot of attention to the ratings on films.  Whether a film is rated G, PG, PG-13, R or NC-17 has little affect on me.  I am in my 40's and I don't have any children.  But sometimes I have to scratch my head as to why a film is rated what it is.  If you are at all curious about this, I suggest you check out the film This Film Is Not Yet Rated which you can stream via Netflix or IFC's web site.

This film is about the MPAA (Movie Picture Association of America) and spends a lot of time on the decision process involved in rating a film NC-17 which is the rating that they give films that children are not allowed to see in the theater. They are not quite as explicit to warrant an X rating (aka pornography) and generally have more of a plot than an X rated film.  NC-17 means no children under 17 admitted under any circumstances. There are not a lot of hard and fast rules about ratings.  They are decided by a group of anonymous parents who watch the film and decide who should be able to watch it.  The difference between an NC-17 rating and an R rating can mean millions of dollars because the NC-17 rating can limit the distribution of the film.  Sometimes the offending scene is a few second long while other times, the entire film would need to be re-edited.

I find some of the decisions made by the MPAA to be very odd.  They seem very concerned about sexual content and have little concern over violence.  Boys Don't Cry, Blue Valentine and The Cooler, good films with relevant social commentary, were initially given an NC-17 rating due to some fairly innocuous sexually content. The Cooler received the rating due to the exposure of Maria Bello's pubic hair.   Yet, the film Scary Movie is rated R and depicts a cheerleader being decapitated and her head thrown in a lost-and-found bin.   If I were a parent, I'd be more concerned about gratuitous violence against woman (or violence in general) than a pubic hair.

This wouldn't be a problem with me if the MPAA didn't have a monopoly and since their raters are anonymous they are beyond scrutiny.  If there were other pre-distribution rating agencies, people (parents in particular) and theater owners could choose the rating system that better suited their values and/or tastes.  Until then, I don't take the ratings from the MPAA very seriously.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Napoleon at Elba

My knowledge of 19th century European history is rudimentary at best.  For the longest time, I thought that Napoleon had spent the end of his days in exile on the island Elba.   While he did spend time exiled on Elba, it was for a short amount of time and before his defeat at Waterloo.  His end days were spent in exile on another, far more remote, island named St. Helena.

Napoleon went to Elba after his loss in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813 and abdicated from his title of Emperor of France.  Elba appears to be a beautiful place. If I were exiled, it would nice place to spend my time.  It is in the Mediterranean not too far from his native Corsica.   He lived in a villa, no prison cell.  He was given an escort of a 1000 men and the title of Emperor of Elba.  In the nine months he was there he formed an army and navy, he ruled over the 110,000 people, developed the iron mines and resided over the island's social calendar.

After he escaped from Elba, he returned to Paris and was greeted by the people with cheer and was reinstated as Emperor.  He then took up arms again and returned to the battlefield and met his biggest defeat at Waterloo in what is now Belgium.  When he was sent to exile this time, it was not a cushy exile.  No one wanted to ever see him again.  He was sent to St. Helena because it was the one of the most remote islands in the British Empire.   It was damp, windswept and mostly desolate.  He spent the last five or so years of his life depressed and sickly.