Friday, April 30, 2010

Fill-out your census and win a Stradivarius!

- What makes a Stradivarius violin so valuable?  Even though they were manufactured over 300 years ago, are they really the best violins?

- The reviews for Iron Man 2 have started hitting the net.  The comment I am reading most often in these reviews is "definitely not as good as the original."  As of 12:36PM Pacific time, Friday April 30, the movie on rotten is at 74% with a 6.4 average rating.  Ugh.  If you are a fan of tracking movies via rotten tomatoes and via their box-office totals, here are some things to remember:

1. The best reviews for a movie always come out when the movie is first screened.  The big-time fans and favorable movie critics get invited to the initial screenings, so naturally they will be more likely to write glowing reviews.  The majority of bad reviews come days or weeks after a movie has premiered to a wide audience.  I expect Iron Man 2 to finish somewhere from 60 to 65% on rotten tomatoes.

2. For a movie like Iron Man 2, and in fact most comic-book based movies in general, a huge portion of their ticket sales will happen during the first weekend.  The original Iron Man didnt follow this trend because it was not a highly anticipated comic book movie.  Good word of mouth brought in the cash for the original Iron Man.  Iron Man 2 will follow the regular comic book movie principles.  Insiders expect Iron Man 2 will come close to breaking The Dark Knight's opening weekend box-office records.  I think this is unlikely, but I would love to see it happen.  Word of mouth travels fast, real fast.  With the modern internet, instant messaging, and social networks, people share their opinions instantaneously.  I think the reactions to Iron Man 2 from the Thursday midnight showings and Friday showings will have a small, but noticeable impact on ticket sales for Saturday and Sunday.  I expect $145 million for Iron Man 2's opening weekend, just short of The Dark Knight's opening weekend, but well ahead of the original Iron Man's opening weekend (which was about 80 million.)  Right now its a wild guess, but I am going to estimate that Iron Man 2 will make a total of $390 million.  The original Iron Man movie made about $318 million.  By the way, all of the numbers I am talking about are for domestic box-office.  International box-office is meaningless to me and I rarely follow it.

To chart the critical/box-office progress of Iron Man 2, and other summer movies, follow these links.  The link to the box office derby, on the website is the best messageboard on the internet if you want to learn more about movie box-office totals:

- I am a huge proponent of personal privacy.  I can understand why many people refuse to fill-out their census, but that doesn't mean I agree with it.  At least five states are in danger of losing representation in the house of representatives.  Ten years ago, the most red state in the union, Utah, lost a representative because not enough people filled out their census forms.  Obama's healthcare travesty passed by one vote in the house.  Because they inherently fear government intrusion in their lives, libertarians, conservatives, tea-partiers, and Republicans form the political groups least likely to fill-out their census forms.  Consequently, these important political groups could be under-represented in the next congress.  Suck it up, and fill-out your census!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Was Ada Lovelace a looper for the Dalai Lama?

- Perhaps you have heard of the term "South Park Republican"?  It's really just another way of saying someone is a libertarian.  Since libertarians tend to lean more towards conservatives than liberals, Republicans like myself flock towards the libertarian South Park TV show.  Here is a list of my top five favorite South Park episodes:

1. Chicken Lover (respect my authority!)
2. Professor Chaos
3. Marjorine
4. Woodland Critter Christmas (unbelievably twisted.)
5. Imagination Land (Parts 1, 2 and 3)

Use the comments section to add your favorite South Park episodes to the list.

- Computer science enrollment in U.S. universities is up 9% this year.  Computer science tends to get more students when the economy is bad, and CS enrollment drops when the economy is good.  However, U.S. colleges still aren't providing enough CS graduates.  I can attest to this first-hand...

A few weeks ago I spoke to a member of the computer science student council at my university.  He said there are roughly 480 computer science students at my university.  He said 60% of those students will drop-out and never complete their degree.  Given these statistics, approximately 200 of the CS students at my university will at some point get their degrees.  It seems reasonable that 1/4 of these CS students are seniors (it's probably even lower, but let's use 1/4 since it helps generate round numbers.)  That means my university will graduate around 50 CS students this year.  There are over 60,000 undergraduates at my university, and it's one of the largest colleges in the country.  My school will only graduate 50 CS students this year!?!?  That seems really, really low.  Now you know why the business sector so desperately wants computer scientists.  Here is an article with more information about national computer science enrollment:

- The first computer programmer was a woman.  Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, was born in 1815.  Ada had an amazing mind for mathematics and logic.  She worked with Charles Babbage (also a famous computer scientist) to create algorithms to use on Babbage's theoretical analytical machine.  A popular computer programming language, which flourished during the 1980s, was named after Ada.  Now Ada is coming to the silver screen.  Zooey Deschanel may play Ada in a movie helmed by the same people who made Driving Miss Daisy (a movie in my top 30 list.)

- Is Bill Murray the greatest comedic actor of our generation?  I will say yes.  I put Murray just ahead of Steve Martin.  Is Bill Murray the greatest comedic actor ever?  Hmmm.  Not sure I can give him the nod.  Chaplin and Jerry Lewis were insanely popular for their time.  A few tid-bits about Bill Murray you may not have known:

1. At the age of 20, Bill Murray was arrested for drug-smuggling.  The dumb-dumb tried to transport several bricks of marijuana on a flight home. During the flight, he foolishly made a joke to a passenger about a bomb.  Naturally when the plane landed, the authorities searched his luggage and found the pot.  He served probation and was kicked out of college.  He never completed his college degree.

2. Bill Murray has six kids, all boys, with two different wives.  The odds of having six straight boys is 1 in 64.

3. Bill Murray agreed to do Ghostbusters only if the movie studio agreed to first fund his pet-project, The Razor's Edge.  The Razor's Edge tanked at the box-office, and Murray avoided almost all movie roles for the next five years.

4. Bill Murray replaced Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live.  Chevy Chase was on SNL for only one year.  The second year of SNL, Chase returned to host an episode. Literally moments before the live show started, Murray and Chase got into a full-blown fist-fight.

A wonderful article about Bill Murray:

- Americans are shifting back to U.S. made automobiles.  Ford seems to be leading the way back.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Neil Armstrong and Morgan Freeman's college grades stored in a data center

- The world's largest data centers:

- When the Christopher Columbus of the 20th century, and a dedicated recluse, publicly rips your future NASA plans, you know you have done something horribly, horribly wrong.  Neil lets loose of Kush for just a moment to criticize Obama:

- Top five actors over the age of 70. I like this list. I had no idea Hoffman was over 70:

- I returned to college a few years ago after a long hiatus.  I should graduate in a few weeks.  During the first day of my first class (it was a freshman-level American history class, 1860-present) the teacher quoted some statistics about typical college students at my public university.  She said twenty years ago, 60% of all people who started at my college would never finish.  She added that today, 40% of people who start at my college will never finish.  She then asked the class why a higher percentage of people are graduating from my college today than twenty years ago.  I quickly raised my hand and said, "money?"  She said correct.  Universities have more competition for students than they did twenty years ago. Online universities, community colleges, private colleges, and home-learning have increased dramatically in the past two decades.  Twenty years ago, if a student took a difficult class and failed, the student would probably try the class again.  Nowadays, the student may drop-out of that particular college or re-take the class in one of the manners I mentioned earlier.  Modern universities cannot afford to fail students.

According to the following article, private universities inflate grades even more than public universities.  If you believe my hypothesis from the preceding paragraph, then you can understand why private universities would dramatically inflate grades.  Private universities are even more dependent on student tuitions than public universities.  Private universities must do everything they can to keep students happy:

Are universities doing the right thing by inflating grades and making college easier? We are graduating less educated students, but more students are staying in school, so we are educating more people. Which is the right track to take? Use the comments section to voice your opinion.

- A conservative entertainment TV network? Devoted to conservative comedies, dramas, reality-shows, etc? Sweet lordy please let this be true. Heck, there might even be two of them in the future!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bye bye polio, the depression, and worth-while PC roleplaying games

- In 1994 the U.S. government declared the eradication of polio from the natural environment.  In other words if you contract polio in the U.S., it's because a terrorist stole it from a lab and slipped it into your coffee.  

Even one hundred years ago, it was rare to become infected with polio, very rare to suffer paralysis from polio, and almost unheard of to die from polio.  Nevertheless, considering the type of people polio usually struck (children) and how it affected them (paralysis) the disease made it easy to stir people towards the cause of eliminating polio.

Ironically, the major reason why human life-expectancy has sky-rocketed in the past one hundred years is the reason why polio flourished in the early 20th century.  Your great-grandmother, your great-great grandmother, and all your ancestors before them had antibodies for polio.  Your ancestors passed those antibodies to each generation, but if a person is not exposed to polio while the antibodies are fresh in their system, that person will not generate their own antibodies later in childhood.  With the improvements in sanitation and hygiene during the early 20th century, newborns had their mother's polio antibodies, but never generated their own antibodies.  Consequently, later in childhood when a child became exposed to polio, they sometimes contracted the disease.

A few more facts about polio:
- Jonas Salk believed using a dead-polio virus would create a vaccine faster than using a live polio-vaccine.  Salk was right.  Salk went down in history as the person who cured polio, but his rival Albert Sabin created an oral live polio-vaccine a few years after Salk's success, and all future polio vaccines were based upon Sabin's vaccine.

- In 1953, Jonas Salk first tested his vaccine on prisoners and mental patients.  He didn't need any IRB hearings or government permission to test on these patients.  Such testing would be considered barbaric nowadays.

- Adults were much less likely to get polio, but the effects were also more severe for adults (kind of like chickenpox.)  Roosevelt caught polio at the age of 39.

More about polio:

- Speaking of FDR, your history books and history teachers were wrong. FDR didn't bring us out of the depression. In fact, he may have made it worse. Shortly after Roosevelt passed away, congress passed sweeping tax-cuts, and it's those tax-cuts that brought long-term relief. Proof:

- My top five greatest PC roleplaying games:
1. Ultima 4.  The first RPG that didnt require slaying a dragon or defeating an evil wizard.  The game was long, completely non-linear, difficult, and required enlightenment.  Game companies cannot make games like that anymore.  Would cost too much.
2. The Bard's Tale
3. Fallout
4. Knights of the Old Republic
5. Tie: Baldur's Gate/Ultima 7  

Another opinion on the top all-time PC roleplaying games:

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Brackett and Tolkien didnt use C#, but they should have!

- A review of the original Empire Strikes Back script, written by Leigh Brackett.  Leigh died of cancer shortly after she gave George Lucas her first draft.  Fascinating read:

- Ten acclaimed authors who only wrote one book.  Not sure why this kind of website has this list, but it's a good list:

- Supercomputer facts and figures:

- Ten things you should know about J.R.R. Tolkien:

- The most popular programming languages, as of April 2010:

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Treadmills, aces, U.S. States and the earth's rotation

- When you run on a treadmill, you try to keep your speed the same as the treadmill, so you don't slip off the treadmill or move too far ahead on the treadmill.  What if an airplane on the ground did the same thing on a treadmill? Could the airplane get off the ground?

- While playing a game of cards, during the first hand you announce to everyone that you have an ace.  Later in the night, during another hand of cards and playing the same card game, you announce that you have the ace of spades.  For which hand did you have a greater chance of getting a second ace?  It seems like they would be equal, but they are not:

- U.S. States that might have been:

- I watched a TV show on National Geographic last night about what would happen if the earth stopped rotating after a few years.  The bottom line: you're dead.  Yes, even you.  Fascinating stuff.  You don't realize how much of our survival depends on the earth rotating at roughly 1,000 MPH.  The earth is very slowly losing its rotation. The earth wont completely lose it's rotation for another 28 billion years.  The earth is due to be swallowed by our Sun, which turns into a red giant in about a billion years, so I wouldn't get too worked up about it:

- Facebook figures for the United States:

Friday, April 02, 2010

Visit the Stark Expo and meet Robert Leckie

- One of the best uses of the internet is viral campaigning or Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG.)  I love when movies create websites based upon events that take place in the movie.  A new viral website has been posted for Iron Man 2.  Check out the 2010 Stark Expo!  Make sure you watch the video of the 74' Stark expo.  If you are a fan of the TV show Mad Men, you will get a kick out of it:

- Ten stupid things people say to start a sentence.  Let me add two to the list:
1. "It is what it is."  Of course it is!  You are saying absolutely nothing when you say this phrase.  It's meaningless.  Please stop wasting our time.

2. "It's all good."  Stop saying this!  I am on my hands and knees, begging you.  Please stop.  We know the situation just as well as you do.  If it wasn't "all good", we would know it too.

- I have been watching the HBO mini-series, The Pacific.  It's good, but not as earth-shattering as Band of Brothers (my all-time favorite mini-series.)  Robert Leckie is the main character in The Pacific.  Leckie fought in every single major battle of the Pacific, except for Okinawa.  He wrote over 35 books after the war ended.  You exist because of men like Robert Leckie. That is not an exaggeration.  A youtube video and a wikipedia article about Robert Leckie: