Inhuman Swill : Cool Shit
            

Herald of King William the Irritable
Be it hereby known to all peoples, species, and intelligences that upon the morrow I do ascend to my rightful seat as monarch and ruler of Ireland's Sensible Castle, and do take upon me the moniker of King William the Irritable.

Be it also known that my coronation shall take place at exactly 10:57 am EDT (9:57 am CDT), after which time I shall issue three royal decrees of utmost urgency and aptness, one per minute, decrees which my subjects-to-be disregard at their peril.

Be it further known that after three glorious minutes shall my work as monarch be complete, and at precisely 11:00 am EDT (10:00 am CDT) shall I humbly abdicate my throne, stepping aside to permit another to rule Sensible Castle in my stead.

Be it finally and forever known that all and sundry are encouraged to observe and bear witness to my deathless yet brief reign at whoisthekingrightnow.com, at which site shall my royal decrees be made known and propagated around the globe.

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curiosityshadow.jpg
One of my earliest memories is of standing with my father after dark on the front lawn of our home in Highland Park, Los Angeles. He pointed at the moon and told me, "There are men up there right now."

The Apollo 11 mission reached the lunar surface on my mother's 24th birthday. I was still weeks shy of my second birthday, so I find it doubtful that this memory (if, indeed, it isn't wholly apocryphal) comes from that first landing. Maybe it was Apollo 12 later that year, or Apollo 14 in 1971 (though that date seems too late). Doesn't matter. I remember feeling a childish awe that people had flown to that distant bright sphere.

No humans landed on Mars last night, just a robotic rover, but the wonder and awe I felt were perhaps even greater than on that Vietnam-era night. Because, in a sense, we all traveled along with Curiosity on its thrilling, harrowing, lonely plunge to the Martian surface. NASA brilliantly sucked us into the narrative by walking us through its "7 Minutes of Terror" in advance, then let us hang out with the gang in mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to live those seven minutes with them. Yes, this is something like the seventh time that humans have landed devices successfully on Mars, but never before have we observers all been able to experience the event with such immediacy, unmediated by professional reporters. I'm not ashamed to say that I burst into tears when Curiosity was reported to have landed safely, and I know from the conversation taking place on Twitter that I was far from the only one who did.

Kind of a silly reaction to the fact that we humans (or some of our smartest representatives) had fired a hunk of metal and glass through space to a soft landing on a neighboring ball of rock, right? Not really. Those first couple of pictures, featuring the wheel or shadow of a human-made object on Mars made clear that, even if most of us had long since come to terms with the fact that we would never set foot on the Red Planet ourselves, an emissary could still go there for us and make its first task upon arrival to send us back photos. And that was almost as wondrous as being there.

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I learned something very cool yesterday. Of course, I'm a science geek, but I still thinks it's cool enough to share.

I'm in Los Angeles this week, doing what I hope will be ongoing programming work for a new client. The client is a big printing facility that spits out reams of paper by the minute, sorts, collates, folds, stuffs, and meters. If you've ever received a one-page explanation of benefits from your health insurance company, or a huge booklet with all the legalese for your policy, this is the kind of place that produced it.

I went on a tour of the facility yesterday afternoon. Among the huge laser printers and folding/inserting machines chained together like a mechanical version of the Human Centipede was a big blue roll printer. It was fascinating to watch in action. At one end was a giant roll of white paper, about six feet in diameter and 17 inches wide. The paper was fed at high speed into a unit that printed two pages side by side. As it emerged from that unit, the continuous paper strip went through a complex series of rollers, some set at a 45-degree angle, that turned the paper over so the blank side was facing up as it went into the next printer. As the paper emerged, now printed on both sides, a blade sliced it lengthwise. The two narrow side-by-side strips were then brought together, one on top of the other, and fed into a cutter that chopped them up into perfectly collated stacks of 8.5 x 11" duplex-printed paper.

That was cool enough, but I noticed that as the paper emerged from the machine that sliced it lengthwise, it passed beneath a piece of wire that had obviously been juryrigged. The wire was wound with a spiral of tinsel, the kind you'd use to decorate a Christmas tree. The tinsel brushed the paper as it sped past.

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This past Sunday my father-in-law turned 71. He used to be (and quite possibly I will get this wrong) a Formula Four racer and has always had a thing for cars. In planning for this birthday, he found a Groupon for an exotic-car driving experience at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet. The country club is exactly what it sounds like—a place where, instead of golfing, members get to race their high-performance cars on one of the private tracks. And for a few weeks every year, an outfit called Imagine Lifestyles puts on events there where reg'lar folks like you or me can drive Lamborghinis or Ferraris or Maseratis or what have you.

It was supposed to be my father-in-law, my brother-in-law Tom, and me, but it so happened that my father-in-law was ill on Sunday so he offered his slot to Laura. (Our friend Barbara Lynn was in town from New York, so she tagged along with us to the track, too.) I was very nervous about driving, especially after the quick safety-training session we had to go through, which explained all the flags you might see around the track and how to use the orange and green cones to guide you through the execution of each curve.

Tom drove a Lamborghini Gallardo (I believe that was the make). Laura drove a Mercedes SLS with gull-wing doors. I drove a Ferrari F430. Four cars would go out at a time, led by a souped-up Mustang as the pace car. My Ferrari happened to be the first car after the pace car, and I was pretty worried about not keeping up and ruining the experience for the three drivers behind me. Fortunately, there was a coach in the passenger seat beside me, and though I lagged a little through the first lap, I managed to keep up pretty well through the next two. My knuckles were white, though.

There was a video camera mounted in every car, so we each got an SD card with our cockpit video on it after the "race" to take home. Here's mine, if you want to hop into the Ferrari with me for a little spin:

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When Flash animations attack!

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Animator vs. Animation by Alan Becker

(Thanks, Gordon!)

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Smile and say "Nautilus!"

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Speaking of giant squid ... giant squid!

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

Signed editions
cheaper than your
local Mormon
missionaries.

Order yours now!

William Shunn

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