What if …

Watching the Curiosity landing last night I was in awe of the technical accomplishments on display, of course.   However in the subsequent press conference(s) I was also struck by just how desperately political our space program has become. NASA is continually fighting for it’s budgetary life and the symptoms of this are evident in just about every press release and media event they hold.

I can’t help but wonder what our space program’s history would be like if things were somehow different.  If… say… Mars was different.  The sad truth is that for the average lay person Mars became largely uninteresting as a result of our planetary exploration program.  Prior to Mariner 4 the Red Planet was a frontier of mystery and wonder.  It was the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs imagination, populated by strange mysterious aliens, beautiful women and ferocious warriors.  But, alas, the reality was disappointingly dry and sterile, and has resisted all our attempts at discovering even the most remote hint that life in even the most microbial form may have existed there once upon a time.

But, what if… what if instead of the Mars we know, we had found a verdant planet teaming with life and just such alien beings?  Would America and the world still be as apathetic as we are today?  It’s a tantalizing alternate universe … one in which I suspect the current apathy about manned space exploration would be refreshingly non-existent.

Past-her-prime celebrity dies after years of self-destructive behavior. Shocking.  Any chance we can skip the hollow eulogies about talent and brilliance, take as given the in-fighting over whatever estate is left, and move on to something more interesting?  Not hardly.

Apparently dealing with fame is harder than finding it.

Getting it right: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Ellen Degeneres, Judy Dench, Meryl Streep. Steve Earle get’s a mention for a career driven by convictions.

And gotta give a post-humous shout out to Jack Lemmon, as related via Kevin Spacey:

He [Kevin Spacey] was playing a small role in a movie starring Jack Lemmon. In the neighboring studio Eddie Murphy was filming Harlem Nights (1989). His trailer was parked next to Lemmon’s trailer. While Eddie’s trailer was surrounded by people and the door was shut, Lemmon’s trailer door was open and he was sitting inside solving the daily news puzzle; Lemmon looked up and smiled at Kevin. That’s when Kevin decided that he did not want to become a great star but instead become a great actor.

More on Lemmon from Spacey

How Not to Have Your Bike Stolen (Hint: Don’t Lock It!)

It’s been over a decade since I’ve had a bike stolen. I’ve developed a few habits that have helped prevent this; I don’t leave my bike in high-risk areas and I don’t lock my bike up in the same spot all the time, for example.  But by far the best one is that I avoid locking my bike up if at all possible!  This is counter-intuitive, but here’s why I believe this is important:

First, locks train you to leave your bike where it’s easily locked, not where it’s inherently secure.  For example, if you go to the drug store and think, “where should I lock my bike?”, you’ll look for a pole or bike rack on the street, where it’s a ripe target for any passing thief.  But if instead you ask, “where should I leave my bike?”, you’ll probably wheel it inside the store where you often don’t even need to lock it.  You’d be surprised how many businesses have convenient places to lean a bike, where it’s in sight of staff and customers.

Second, thieves are good at breaking locks, we all know this.  If you’re relying on a lock, you’re playing their game.  Sure, you can spend $50-$100 on a super-secure(???) lock, but how good will you be about using it?  It’s heavy, it’s cumbersome, you have to keep track of the key, it takes time to lock and unlock, it has a clunky chain that bangs up your paint job.  Locks are just generally a pain in the ass, and the more secure (read, “inconvenient”) they are, the less likely you’ll be to bother with them.  It’s a no-win situation.

Finally, a lock only secures your bike frame and wheels.  It doesn’t secure your seat, lights, water bottle, repair kit, pedals… or the dozen other easily removed items that comprise most of the value of your bike. Just think of all the bike frames you’ve seen picked clean with the locks still on them!  So even with the best lock in the world, you’re only securing a couple of the slightly more important bits.

Mind you, I’m not saying you shouldn’t carry a lock.  They’re good to have as a last-choice option. But pick one that’s easy to carry and use (e.g. a decent combination-cable lock) so you have a better chance of having it and  using it when you need it.  But for heaven’s sake,  don’t trust it!

SOPA Author Still Violating Copyrights?

[Updated 1-16-12: Both photographers mentioned below have confirmed they did not give Congressman Smith permission to use their work (see comments).  In a not-coincidental move, Smith’s website has been updated to remove the offending content.]

In The Author of SOPA is a Copyright Violator Jamie Taete accuses congressman Lavar Smith of violating the very law he’s pushing through congress. Taete points to an old version of Smith’s site with a background photo used w/out the photographer’s permission.  Since the photo in question is no longer on the site one might be tempted to think the congressman saw the error of his ways.  But a quick survey of Smith’s current site shows a montage of images in the banner below, which I’ve highlighted in red:

Looking closely we find that photo #2 is this Wikimedia photo of the Alamo,  which clearly states that the copyright belongs to Daniel Schwen, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. There is no attribution given on Smith’s site though.  Unless Congressman Smith has a license we’re not aware of, which seems unlikely, this is clearly another copyright violation.  (I’ve reached out to Mr. Schwen for comment. ‘Will update once I hear back from him.)

Note, too, that #4 is this Hays County Courthouse photo, which a number of sources attribute to Terry Jeanson.  All other sources I found contained a prominent attribution, and one clearly states copyright belongs to Ms. Jeanson.  That no attribution is given on Congressman Smith’s site is a bit suspicious.

As for the remaining photos, I wasn’t able to track down their creators. #3 is in Fredericksburg though, and #5 would seem to be somewhere in Austin.  If anyone has more info, please share in comments.

Katy Perry’s 15 Seconds of Fame

Photo Credit: Andrew Bosworth

One of the amusing perks of working at Facebook are the not-infreguent celebrity sightings.  Once a month or so some noteratti will stroll through the offices, getting “the tour”.  For example a couple months back I was sitting at my desk when I heard a palpable buzz among my coworkers, and noticed them starting to stand up and gawk over towards where Zuck and a tall brunette could be seen strolling towards our area of the office. This sort of excitement was a bit unusual – Bill Gates and Al Gore barely got a reaction when they were paraded thru – so I assumed it was someone pretty special.  Upon asking my nearest coworker who it was, I got an excited, “That’s Katy Perry!”

“Oh, wow, that’s awesome! I didn’t recognize her from this far away,” said I.

I then quietly sat down and hit up Wikipedia to figure out who the hell this “Katy Perry” person was. I had no fucking clue.  ‘Never heard of her before.  And, yes, I’m well aware of how firmly this cements my “old guy” status, but you’re getting off topic, and quit interrupting me when I’m talkin’!

Suffice it to say, I’ve since figured out who she is and, actually, I’ve turned into a bit of a fan.  It’s hard not to when your 2-year-old son insists on watching her Sesame Street video with Elmo a couple dozen times a day.

So anyway this was all a few months back.  She was at Facebook.  I was clueless.  And neither the twain did meet.  Which I guarantee you everyone involved is perfectly happy about.  So why bring all this up?

Well, the picture above is one taken by my boss, Boz, who delights in his role as Facebook’s on-staff paparazzi.  It shows up pretty regularly on my Facebook page (under “Photos of Group Memebers”).  It’s also been used in articlese on sites like the NY Post, Gawker, and couple b-list blogs (including my personal favorite, HipsterRunnoff.com).  I.e. quite a few people have seen this same picture.  But it wasn’t until today that I realized, “Hey, that’s my bike!!!”

Yup, that’s right. That right there, my friends, right next to the hottest singer in Hollywood and Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, is the sweet little fixed-gear bike that I ride to work every day.  Photo-documentaited proof that these two glitterattis will, one day, be able to point at and say to their grandkids, “Look, see! We used to be cool! We once almost met the guy who made that bike!”