Screaming Into The Abyss

Curiosity Landing
By Ben Zvan
On August 06, 2012 at 09:11

So we made it to Mars again and geeks like me everywhere stayed up extra late to watch the live event. We were not dissappointed. To see the first photos come back seconds after langing, even though the dust cap was still on the camera was an amazing thing.

I stayed up. I was excited. I wasn't quite as excited as the people in the video, but I was excited.

Here's what really gets me though. When Curiosity touched down after the sky-crane manouver, I was struck by just how excited the people at JPL were about this. My first thought: "Holy crap! It's like the opening of a Microsoft store ... except they're all wearing the same color shirt."

It's been 50 years since we first put humans on the moon. In 50 years, airplanes went from a tentative unpowered glider in North Carolina to the supersonic Bell X-1; why haven't we done the same for space flight? I mean...should we be this excited by going to Mars? Shouldn't it be old hat by now?

Don't get me wrong. I'm excited. The science that's going to come out of this mission will enrich our lives for years to come and the new technology that went into creating the mission is probably just hitting our cellphones and clothing stores. I just think we're missing out on a lot of opportunty. Heck, we spent the entire budget of this mission in less than a month in Iraq...Just think what we could be doing with more balanced priorities.

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The Debunk Files
By Ben Zvan
On July 23, 2012 at 09:38

I just wanted a place to keep handy links to debunk common misconceptions.


Global Warming

Volcanoes produce more CO2 than humans

Turns out the USGS has an artice on that one here.

Gas studies at volcanoes worldwide have helped volcanologists tally up a global volcanic CO2 budget in the same way that nations around the globe have cooperated to determine how much CO2 is released by human activity through the burning of fossil fuels. Our studies show that globally, volcanoes on land and under the sea release a total of about 200 million tonnes of CO2 annually.

This seems like a huge amount of CO2, but a visit to the U.S. Department of Energy's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) website ( helps anyone armed with a handheld calculator and a high school chemistry text put the volcanic CO2 tally into perspective. Because while 200 million tonnes of CO2 is large, the global fossil fuel CO2 emissions for 2003 tipped the scales at 26.8 billion tonnes. Thus, not only does volcanic CO2 not dwarf that of human activity, it actually comprises less than 1 percent of that value.



Human Embrionic Stem Cells

Adult stem cell therapy exists, embrionic stem cell therapy does not

Turns out there's some promise in human embrionic stem cells. You can even start new lines without destroying the fetus (which was probably going to be destroyed anyway.) RPE therapy.

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Uncharted 3: Consumer's Deception
By Ben Zvan
On December 07, 2011 at 08:48

Uncharted 3So...I finally finished Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception last night. Overall, I'd have to say it's a worthwhile game, but it has some severe issues.

Story: B+
The storyline of Uncharted 3 follows a wandering path across the globe to discover secrets of imense wealth and power hidden a long, long time ago. This is a familiar story for anyone who has played Tomb Raider or the other Uncharted games. It works, it's fun, and it doesn't have to be too closely interwoven with the gameplay, so it's easy to implement. In this case, it tied in well enough with the puzzles that you could almost believe the storyline and gameplay were developed with some collaboration.

Nearly every chapter had me wondering what crazy plot point would come out next and I mostly cared about the characters and what happened to them. Unfortunately, the plot is often driven by stupidity. It's not as bad as Tomb Raider's Angel of Darkness episode which could have been entirely avoided in the first minutes of the game, but I couldn't help thinking a few times during the game that 'that was a dumb thing to do.'

Art: A+
Creatively, this is a beautiful game. The color palates are well-conceived and appropriate, often bold. The environments are immersive and give a real sense of being there. The architecture is as detailed as any I've seen in a game this year, interrupted only by bright yellow 'hang or climb on this' objects. The character modeling is impeccable and just in the right spot to avoid too much of the Uncanny Valley.

There's one environment (you'll know it when you see it...lots of water) that just blew me away when it was revealed. I've seen other game levels with similar concepts, but this one was just amazing. I felt like I should be able to find it on Google Earth.

Gameplay: C-
The actual game is where this title falls on it's face. The climbing puzzles are great. The environmental puzzles are great. The ability to shoot a gun while hanging from the side of a building is quite handy. The fight animations are nearly on par with Batman: Arkham City in their creativity and satisfying takedowns. The problem comes with the controls.

Drake has a clumsy walk, as he pretty much always has, which surprises me for a motion-captured animation. Was their actor hit by a truck before they did that one? His tendency to touch walls and pillars as he passes them is endearing at first but then made me think he was drunk, and by the end of the game I thought he was Adrian Monk's long lost twin. I can't count the number of times I died because I dive-rolled off a ledge instead of hanging from it (same button). Or dive-rolled past a wall instead of taking cover behind it (same button). Or hung off a ledge instead of taking cover behind a wall (get the picture yet?)

You like those fight animations? Like smashing your opponent into a wall and taking his gun? Get ready for timed button mashing with little blinking triangle, circle, and square icons on the screen. I hated this mechanism when it was introduced and I hate it still today. Sometimes it's done well, but it's still annoying no matter how well it's done.

And on top of all that, there was the overarching problem that once I broke my cover, I was stuck in an epic gunfight with no way to go back and try being stealthy again. The stealth kills were great, but I almost never got to use them because I'd slip up at some point and hundreds of gun-wielding thugs would run into the room. Not to mention that for a thief and explorer, Nathan Drake has an epic body count.

Verdict: Buy it, but don't rush. Used is soon enough.

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Too Many Laws?
By Ben Zvan
On November 16, 2011 at 10:31

I don't gamble, but I do play poker. In fact, it turns out I'm pretty good at poker despite still having to sit and calculate the odds sometimes. One thing that playing poker has helped me learn is that people do stupid things to get ahead. Consequently, there are stupid rules to keep them from doing it.

For example, if a player puts in only one chip and that chip is worth more than the current bet, unless they announce that they are raising that chip is considered a call and they are owed change from the pot. This keeps the player from getting information from other players' reactions prior to deciding if they will call or raise.

Lewis Black has a similar rant on the topic:

They needed to do this because as the Jews were wandering around willy-nilly in the desert, one of them no doubt led a camel up to a rabbi and said, "I met her at an oasis and it's been wonderful. She looked at me in a way that I've always wanted to be looked at. We're in love and, well, Rabbi, we want to be married."

And the rabbi said, "Perhaps you didn't notice, but she's a fucking camel." Then he went back to the other rabbis and informed them, "Son of a bitch, we have to come up with another rule! Today a guy came back with a camel and yesterday one of them showed up with a snapping turtle. God knows what's going to happen tomorrow. We've got to get these people on track." Hence, the man-woman marriage rule in the Bible.


So when you complain that a law is stupid, realize that it's because someone did something stupid to cause it to become a law. When McDonalds started labeling their coffee as 'hot' because of a 'frivolous lawsuit,' realize that the person who brought that lawsuit suffered 3rd degree burns from 'hot' coffee. When you think that helmet laws infringe on your right to let your hair blow in the wind on your motorcycle, realize that it frees others from the trauma of killing you in the event of an accident.

Not that there isn't such a thing as a truly stupid law.

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Venison Is Like Goat, Right?
By Ben Zvan
On November 09, 2011 at 09:29

Venison MocettaThis weekend was a surprisingly successful deer hunting trip to the great brown north of Minnesota. After sitting for the morning on opening day, I was not expecting to see any deer all weekend. I was pleasantly proven wrong when two fawns walked into sight and hung out long enough to be gutted and dragged out of the woods.

In years past, we've spend the week after deer opener processing meat and freezing it for long-term storage. This has always included removing all the fat and as much of the silver skin as possible prior to freezing. This year, we decided to try timeshifting some of that processing by freezing large pieces of less-processed meat that we'll finish processing when we thaw it out to cook. We're hoping that what this lacks in convenience later will be made up with a lack of frustration now.

I also decided to try another project. I heard about Mocetta last winter from JCC at You Have To Cook It Right. He used the recipe from Hank Shaw at Hunter Angler Gardner Cook after he roasted a whole goat for Frustrated Farmer Rick's fall farm festival at Caerwyn Farm and Spirits. The original Mocetta is a Northern Italian, cured, spiced, air-dried goat leg. Now...I don't have any goats, but I figured that venison leg would be a reasonable substitution.

After cutting up two of the hind legs for roasts and the front legs for burger and sausage (I'm going to try another of Hank's Recipes there) I set aside two of the legs, hopped on my motorcycles and headed over to Penzey's Spices to get some juniper berries. Making the rub was simple enough; Hank's recipe made exactly 1 pound, so splitting it up into two parts was simple. After half an hour of preparation, the hams are sitting in a plastic tub in the refrigerator and I'm waiting not very patiently for the first two weeks to pass and the second application of rub.

I still have some kinks to work out as far as where to hang it when the time comes, but this is an old meat product and I'm sure it, like beer, has been prepared under a wider variety of conditions than I can imagine. Only 6 months to go...

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Sexualization Of Who Now?
By Ben Zvan
On August 22, 2011 at 15:04
Stupid People Tricks

This was just a few words too long for a tweet.

Exhibit A: The University of Buffalo is about to publish a paper "Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone," in which they examined over forty years of Rolling Stone covers to determine that women are more objectified than men and that women are more objectified than they were in 1967 on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Exhibit B: Psych Central posts an article about the paper in which they use one photo. This photo is not a Rolling Stone cover and shows two women who are clearly quite willing to be comfortable with each other for the camera.

Exhibit C: Business Insider posts an article sourcing the Psych Central article that uses many Rolling Stone covers for illustration, clearly showing women being sexualized.

Exhibit D: Tease.TheDailyWhat picks up the Business insider article exclusively for the photos. They were formerly Hawtness after all.

Exhibit E: I had to dig to find the photo of a sexualized male subject on the cover of the Rolling Stone to use for this post.


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Freedom Versus Safety
By Ben Zvan
On August 22, 2011 at 08:56

Safety FirstI'm afraid you might be in for a bit of a rambling rant.

On 19 August, 2011, 4 people died at a the Pukkelpop Music Festival in Hasselt Belgium, just 5 days after 4 people were killed by a collapsing stage at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis.

To me, this is a fine example of "build it cheap, get it done, and damn the consequences," a mentality that penetrates any money-making operation. It is also a fine opportunity to discus why we have safety regulations and why they should be enforced.

I would think that restaurants would welcome health inspectors, that factories would welcome safety inspectors, and that construction contractors would welcome building inspectors. I would think that these companies would understand that injuring or killing their customers or employees would not be the desired outcome of their business transactions.

Sadly, as @arclight said on Twitter last night "Every industrial safety regulation can be traced back to at least one headstone."

And from @CaerwynFarm: "You would be surprised how often I have to answer a request at work with "Cuz it is F'ing illegal!"

In the US, it took until 1971 for the government to set up the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Since then the rate of reported serious workplace injuries and illnesses has declined from 11 per 100 workers in 1972 to 3.6 per 100 workers in 2009. There are no accurate statistics from 1970, but it is estimated around 70 workers were killed on the job per 1,000,000 US residents. That number fell to approximately 14 per 1,000,000 in 2009.

If you're a Republican or Libertarian (and if you are why are you reading this?) you'll be about to say something like "I guess you want to live in a nanny state. I, quite frankly, am tired of the one I live in." Which...I your least to say...but it also makes you a complete ass. How can you possibly feel that employers have the "freedom" to kill their workers or that builders have the "freedom" to kill their customers? The plain fact is that people who profit from cutting corners need nannies to stop them from hurting people for profit.

I find it ironic that the ideology that feels employers should be allowed to maintain unsafe workplaces is the same ideology that feels workers should not be allowed to collectively bargain. Most of the people buying a company's two-bit products probably care less about the people who made them than the company does.

Your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose. Your right not to wear a motorcycle helmet ends at your family suing me for your death in a crash. Your right to build with cheap materials ends at my right not to die when your building falls on me.

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Dear Jon Stewart
By Ben Zvan
On August 16, 2011 at 09:07

An open letter to Jon Stewart and The Daily Show that they will probably never read AKA slacktivism extraordinaire.

Dear Jon Stewart,

I am a liberal and I love the way you mock hypocrisy even when that mocking is directed at the hypocrisy of other liberals. I am an atheist and I love the way you mock the hypocrisy of religion, even when that mocking is directed at the hypocrisy of others with no religion. I believe that it is a hallmark of liberals that we are able to see both sides of the debate and through that vision have come to side with the most correct side of the debate.

Recently, however, you mocked the American Atheists desire to be free from religious symbols at the September Eleventh Memorial in New York. This moves beyond the mocking of hypocrisy and into the mocking of what minorities already endure on a daily basis.

I agree that the American Atheists could have made their comments more sensitively and they could have avoided openly mocking religion in this context; that's really your job, not theirs. But I can't help but wonder why you are in favor of having a Christian symbol at a national memorial where Christians, Jews, atheists, Muslims and others were killed in a horrific, religiously-driven attack against the United States. In other contexts, you seem to be in favor of the First Amendment separation of church and state, why are you against it now?


The Daily Show - Culture War Update - The Dividening of America - American Atheists vs. Ground Zero Cross
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

Atheists endure daily threats of death, violence, rape and vandalism simply because they don't believe in a god. They face daily reminders that the majority of the United States sees them as outsiders. You ask that atheists to 'just think of it as a metal t-shaped thingy.' That is akin to asking blacks in the south faced with the KKK standing on their front lawn to 'just think of them as campers making s'mores with that t-shaped burney thing' or to ask Jews to think of neo-nazi skinheads as 'just clean-shaven history buffs.'

I am happy that this cross currently rests at St. Peter's Church and hope that it will not be moved and included in any state-sponsored memorial or museum. Those i-beams may have been just a t-shaped thingy at one point, but once it has been raised on a concrete plinth and blessed by Christian leaders it becomes a cross, and that cross could only serve to make non-religious visitors to the memorial feel unwelcome.

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Mac In Exile - Part IV
By Ben Zvan
On March 02, 2011 at 12:09
Product Reviews

I have a problem with the Gnome Keyring. A Keyring is supposed to be a secure place to store passwords for your applications so that you don't have to remember them all, but malicious users and applications won't have access to them. I think Gnome fails on this point.

When I log into my Fedora 14 box in the morning, I'm prompted for my Keyring password so that 'an application' can have access to it. What application? Why? Is this some malware? Is Firefox trying to run a Javascript function to send my passowrds to Romania?

And why is the dialog so freaking huge?

When an application wants access to the Mac OS Keychain, the Keychain is very specific about what application wants it. That way, I can at least know that the application wanting access is 1. something I've opened, and 2. something that needs access to my Keychain.

I'm hoping that Linux will be a good desktop OS someday. It's definitely better than Windows, but sheesh!

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You Say She Was Asking For It?
By Ben Zvan
On February 25, 2011 at 09:24

I woke up early today to get in a couple hours of exercise before starting my normal routine. One of the first things I saw was a link to this article about a convicted rapist who won't be doing any time because Judge Robert Dewar in Manitoba said his victim was 'asking for it' by dressing suggestively and kissing her assailant.

Of course, the first thing I thought of was the Not Ever campaign and their advertisement.

I wonder if Judge Dewar would tell a man wearing a Rolex who was robbed at knife-point that they were 'asking for it' by dressing smartly. Or if he would tell a mother who's child was kidnapped that she was 'asking for it' by having an adorable family. Or maybe he'd tell the family of a pedestrian who was killed by a drunk driver that he was 'asking for it' by being out walking after last call.

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New Pictures 8: Sarah Jones
Minneapolis Institue of Arts
04/18/2013—02/02/2014 - Free

31 Years: Gifts from Martin Weinstein
Minneapolis Institue of Arts
11/02/2013—08/31/2014 - Free

New Pictures 9: Rinko Kawauchi
Minneapolis Institue of Arts
02/20/2014—08/10/2014 - Free

Finland: Designed Environments
Minneapolis Institue of Arts
05/10/2014—08/17/2014 - Free


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
at State Theatre
06/21/2014 \ Doors 8:00pm


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