Take That, Bob Park!
The list of spin-off benefits of the space program has increased by one item: battered seafood:
In January, Long John Silver's offered to give America free Giant Shrimp if NASA found conclusive evidence of an ocean on Mars. To celebrate the success of NASA's Mars Rover project, the company is going to give America free Giant Shrimp on Monday, May 10.
(Via Making Light's comments, where else?)
This is not from The Onion, despite the presence of this sentence:
"NASA is making history on Mars and Long John Silver's is making history here on earth," added [Chief Marketing Officer Mike] Baker. "Our faith in NASA has paid off. Their giant accomplishment calls for Giant Shrimp."
Damn, but marketing people are dorks.
This Inspires Confidence
After months of delay, Niagara Mohawk (our local power company) has finally gotten around to sending tree-trimming crews to our neighborhood. They're two or three houses down from us this morning, chainsaws a-blazing.
While walking the dog, I was watching them work, because it's sort of fascinating. At one point, I saw one of their crack tree removal technicians hanging forty feet up in the air, a good fifteen feet above the power lines, swing his chainsaw around one-handed and lop off a six-foot tree branch. Which he then let fall, directly onto the power lines below.
I'll be shutting the computers down now, thankyewverymuch.
Snow and Anarchy
The official arrival of spring has gone largely unnoticed by the actual weather, which has been cold and nasty for the last few days. Prior to that, though, it had actually gotten reasonably warm, and most of the enveloping snow has melted away. Today, walking back from a trip over to the campus center, I noticed that the receding snowbanks have uncovered a truly appalling number of cigarettes scattered around the grass just outside the doors of the science building. These are arrayed in a broad ring around the ashtrays/ trash cans that are placed right outside the doors, like debris from some sort of weirdly well-placed meteorite strike.
It's possible that this is the normal state of things, and I don't usually notice it in the deeper grass, or that there's some army of groundskeeping elves during the regular term that sweep the things up. I don't really think so, though-- I think it's just a depressing demonstration that even in New England, snow is an excuse for anarchy.
I mock people in DC regularly for their snow panic, but the tendency of people in the north to think that snow excuses bad behavior is almost as bad. It only takes a half-inch or so in the parking lots (just enough to cover the lines) before people start parking their cars in any damn fool manner they feel like. The number of available parking spaces on campus probably drops by 15% in the winter, as students start leaving four feet of open space between their parents' expensive SUV's.
But the huge increase in littering is even more striking. People just chuck stuff off into the snow, as if it were actually a lake of acid that will dissolve their trash, rather than a temporary covering that will melt in a month or so, leaving behind the accumulated detritus of a thousand morons. The first few weeks os spring are always depressing as hell, because there's garbage everywhere once the snow melts.
And don't get me started on the dog crap. Based on the roads in our neighborhood, it seems that Kate and I are the only people in Niskayuna who continue to clean up after our dog once winter hits.
(Yes, this is cranky and pointless. I'm one of about three people in the building today, and I spent the morning cleaning my office. If I had a cat, I'd vacuum it.)
Richard Thompson Live
I missed the tail end of yesterday's big basketball story (UAB's upset of Kentucky) because Kate and I went to see singer, songwriter, and all-around cheery guy Richard Thompson in concert last night. This was a spur-of-the-moment decision, as Kate stumbled across a mention of the show (at the Egg) a couple of days ago, and I said "Sure, let's go."
As appropriate for an impulse buy, the show ended up being surprising on several levels.
Even before Thompson took the stage, it was an interesting scene. As we milled around in the lobby area between the opening act and the main show, I was struck by how oddly familiar the crowd looked. It was a weird mix of people who looked like they belonged in SF fandom, and people who looked like they belonged in academia. (Plus one guy in black jeans, a black shirt, and a beret, because it's a law of nature that there's always at least one dink who comes to a concert dressed just like the main act...)
I'm not sure why this surprised me, given that Thompson isn't really noted for his popularity among the teenage skateboarder set, but of all the concerts I've been to, it's the one where I felt least out of place, being a slightly fannish academic. This, of course, made me profoundly uneasy.
The show itself was also fairly novel, in that I only knew about one song in four. A lot of the others sounded sort of familiar, as he has a knack for writing that sort of song, but there would aways come a point where I realized "Nope. Don't actually know this song." (Annoyingly, several of them fail to turn up on the lyrics search page. I'm not sure if that means they were covers, or if it's just not as good a search engine as it could be...)
This was only the second time I've ever had that happen (the first being the Pietasters at Toad's Place in New Haven, when I was in town looking for an apartment). I don't go to all that many concerts, and when I do go to see a band, it's usually because I've got nearly every album they've ever recorded, and know the words to most of the songs. In this case, I own three albums and a best-of collection out of Thompson's thirty-odd years of recording, so it was a different experience. (I do own (and am presently listening to) his most recent album, so I recognized those songs, and some of the older stuff was familiar, but there's a huge gap in the middle part of his career...)
The stage show consisted of, well, Richard Thompson. With a guitar, a microphone, and an effects pedal or two. And that was pretty much it. As with the John Hiatt show we went to last year, it was really striking how much sound he managed to generate with just one guitar. It was also a wonderful demonstration of what a great guitarist the guy is. You can tell that he's good on the albums, but it wasn't obvious just how good until I heard him playing by himself. I have a better idea now why really talented musicians admire him so much (beyond his obvious gift for lyrics).
(Listening to him perform really drives home how much of an influence he has on the whole "Bordertown" crowd, and Emma Bull in particular. When he played "1952 Vincent Black Lightning", Kate leaned over to me and said "Now I need to re-read Finder again...)
He didn't do much in the way of re-arranging songs, save for singing a few songs that originally had Linda Thompson on vocals. That certainly puts a slightly different spin on "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight", but it wasn't a radical re-working of the song by any stretch. Some of the new material, "Outside of the Inside" in particular, was slightly less intense in person, probably because of the change in instrumentation, but that's about it.
I was also impressed by the range of stuff he did. He's not noted for being a really upbeat guy, but he did a couple of songs that weren't depressing at all. One was a slightly silly song about Alexander Graham Bell, the other was an incredibly silly song about Janet Jackson, urging her to consider a second career as a wet nurse. His stage patter was also great-- he joked with the people who were yelling out requests (one request, which he heard as "Three Legged Horse" became a running joke), and had a great sense of humor in his song introductions.
Of course, the silly songs made for some major mood swings, as he followed happy, bouncy songs with crashingly depressing ones. It was a little like listening to a stack of his CD's with an exceptionally perverse shuffle play feature. He spanned pretty much the whole range, though, from the Janet Jackson ditty to "The End of the Rainbow", and everything in between. He closed the show on a great note, too, with "Beeswing," which was really quite lovely. That song alone would be enough to get me to buy more of his records.
All in all, a very good show. He played for about two hours, with a couple of short encores, and the crowd ate it up. It's a nice place to see this sort of show, too: the theater only holds about 1000 people, and while the seats we had provided a fairly oblique view of the stage, it's not like there were fabulous visuals that we were missing, and we were close to the stage.
Blog Comment of the Month
From a comment thread on movies, theology, and board games at Making Light (where else?), this gem from Jim Macdonald:
I have discovered a truly remarkable heresy which this margin is too small to contain.
I love the Internet.
Welcome to the Information Supercollider
In between reading depressing stories on the sports pages, I had an Information Supercollider moment this morning, one of those isn't-the-Internet-highly-neat moments where a bunch of different articles all turn up on a related topic.
First, via Arts & Letters Daily, a Joel Achenbach article about string-theory evangelist Brian Greene and his ideas on the nature of time.
Finally, via a comment at the new blog, a post by Hannah "Pyracantha" Shapero describing the literary category of Science Porn:
Invariably, the author apologizes for not putting mathematics in his book. But if he did, it would cause the enthusiasm of the potential reader to droop. It is part of the ritual of pornography that the encounter fantasy is made artificially easy. The climax of discovery gets a lot more pages than the long years of struggle that preceded it. The gossipy glimpses of life in PhysicsWorld only add to the enticement of the scene. Imagine, talking about the origin of the Universe rather than my usual boring inane conversations about the weather or what I might have for dinner.
It certainly puts an interesting spin on Greene's books, and some of what I do when I'm not obsessing on basketball. Not that I'm offended by the term-- if anything, it's uncomfortably accurate.