25 May, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

For citizens of the United States of America, today is the day we set aside specifically to remember the men and women who have throughout our history fought and died to earn and preserve the freedoms we enjoy today. May their courage and bravery never be forgotten and may all of us strive to be worthy of the heavy price with which our liberty has been purchased.

Graphic is by Cox and Forkum

22 May, 2009

Tim Burton's "9"

If you're a Tim Burton fan, as I am, you'll probably be as excited as I to see this trailer of his newest film, a computer-animated movie titled simply "9", slated for release on September 9th (09.09.2009, as it happens). It is a feature-length adaptation of a 2005 academy-award-nominated short film, of the same title, by student director Shane Acker. It tells the story of 9, a sentient rag doll in a post-apocalyptic, post-human world struggling to survive and "protect the future" (in the words of the trailer). The animation looks superb and the story one to which Burton could certainly do justice. I'm certainly looking forward to it!

19 May, 2009

VIP/Loyalty Card Overload?

I've got perhaps a dozen or so of those loyalty program or membership cards that retail establishments give out. Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Office Depot, Best Buy, Jos. A. Banks, Brooks Brothers, Dick's Sporting Goods....the list goes on. And if I want the discounts or perks that go along with those programs, I need to present the cards whenever I make a purchase. That means, of course, that I've got to either carry them all with me OR remember to put the relevant card in my wallet before leaving. The first option leaves me with either a bulging wallet or an overloaded keyring and the second often leaves me without the discount (as I'll likely forget to take along the card). ARGH! What to do?

Lifehacker to the rescue! KeyRingThing provides a free web-based service whereby you can enter up to six of your membership/barcode numbers and it will allow you to download and print out ONE card with all of them on it. You can use that card just as it is, take it to your local Kinko's and have it laminated or for about $3, KeyRingThing will mail you a higher quality plastic credit-card-sized version. You could conceivably reduce 12 loyalty cards to 2 thus saving a great deal of wallet space (no version for keyrings, but you would ostensibly be removing 12 from your keyring and saving space there).

The website also provides a means of downloading the generated barcode for each program as an image to a cell or smartphone. That means that you should be able to simply use the image on your phone screen as you would the card so you wouldn't have to carry the card at all!

I think that's an even better option. I always carry my cellphone, so I would always have my loyalty/membership info with me. In fact, someone else thought of this as well:

CardStar (via Crave) is an application for the iPhone that allows you to enter the membership/barcode numbers of all of your cards and it will generate bar code images that can then be used in place of the cards. You can select from dozens of pre-loaded merchants and the company logo will appear as part of the display. If your merchant/company doesn't appear it's not a problem; you can simply enter the name and store the data under that. The app also provides a means of "fine-tuning" the displayed barcode image to ensure that the code displayed matches the one on the original card (as there are several different encoding methods actually in use). Normally the app sells for $0.99, but right now it's free at the iTunes store, so hurry out and download it if you're an iPhone user. Unfortunately, there currently isn't a version for Blackberry or any other smartphone, but the company is working on one so keep checking their website if you're interested.

I've downloaded this app and have entered several of my card numbers in it, but haven't yet had a chance to test it out so I've no idea how readable the image is to barcode scanners. It looks pretty clear to me on my screen, but those scanners can often seem pretty particular as to their requirements. I'll try to remember to post a follow-up after I've tried it out.

14 May, 2009

God On Trial

The embedded video above is the first of nine parts of a BBC-produced movie titled "God On Trial". Released in 2008, the film tells the story of a group of Auschwitz inmates who decide to put God on trial for breach of the covenant he made with his "chosen" people.

The film is a fascinating and moving exploration of various familiar themes in the philosophy of religion: the problem of evil, theodicy, divine hiddenness, and the Euthyphro dilemma (among others), but in the context of a real-life drama rather than in dry academic papers.

The film opens with the prisoners being divided into two groups (left & right), one of which will be taken to the gas chamber on the following day. This is being done in order to make room for new arrivals (who, as it happens, arrive earlier than planned and thus become part of the drama as it unfolds). The action of the film takes place during the night while the prisoners wait sleeplessly to learn their fate in the morning.

The film's most powerful sequence comes toward the end when a learned rabbi, who has been praised by another prisoner as a living saint due to his knowledge of Torah and Law (he is said to have memorized all of the scripture) delivers a powerful speech in which he concludes that "God is not good".

The film is a moving indictment of the rather naive view of God held by a great many modern people. As the philosopher Wes Morriston recounts, the writer very nearly lost his faith during the research and writing of the script. For myself, the contextual perspective on philosophical issues with which I am more than passingly familiar provided me with fresh insight; a more personalized way of seeing some of these problems. More importantly, however, the arguments employed by the inmates who serve as God's "defenders" show a more nuanced and balanced view than that generally employed by religious (read "Christian") apologists. Indeed, this "inside look" at the Jewish apologetic approach reveals a more humanistic, deeply conflicted view than the "false bravado" one generally sees from the neo-Calvinists so ubiquitous on the internet. They realize the deep inconsistencies in their faith, yet still they persist. Indeed, when some of the men are being led off to the gas chambers, one of those who had been most virulent in his condemnation of God, and who before learning his fate spoke bravely of the ultimate meaninglessness of life, asks another, "what do we do now?". The second man replies, "we pray". And in the face of death, the defenders and accusers alike are united in prayer; not because they believe they will be saved (for they have, after all, found God guilty of breaking the covenant), but because they realize that for them, their identity as Jews is one of the things that gives their lives meaning. There is a great truth to be found here, beyond prayer, beyond the question of God's existence or his character: that there is meaning to be found in life regardless.

Understandably, this is not an "action-packed" film. The drama proceeds through character exposition and development accomplished through dialogue and speeches. But beyond the philosophical wisdom, there is a good film filled with great writing and wonderful performances (the great Stellan SkarsgÄrd among them). I don't know how long it will be up on YouTube, so watch now or order a copy from Amazon. This is a "don't miss" for lovers of Philosophy AND cinema.

07 May, 2009

Mmmm...business cards...om nom nom?

"Wow, it was great talking to you, but I'd like to consider your offer carefully. May I call you later?"

"Sure, here's my card."

"But...but...that's a piece of beef jerky!"

"No, it's business card made by laser-engraving my contact info into a piece of beef jerky."

"Oh...I see what you did there!"

We start with 100% beef jerky, and SEAR your contact information into it with a 150 WATT CO2 LASER.

Screw die-cutting. Forget about foil, popups, or UV spot lamination. THESE business cards have two ingredients: MEAT AND LASERS.
'Cause that's just what this world needs more of...meat and lasers...

via Uncrate

Weapons of Music Distortion

Who knew that iTunes was so versatile?

via FailBlog

01 May, 2009

The Amazing Dr. Howser?

I've always enjoyed watching close-up and card magic tricks. I've found a couple of interesting sites on the web, but videos (either on YouTube or elsewhere) remain a good resource for tips and tricks by both professional and amateur magicians. It's always interesting to watch someone perform a trick and then try to figure out how they might have done it.

To wit, witness the video below of Neil Patrick Harris (who's apparently an accomplished amateur) on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:

It seems to me that Harris must be employing a card force, but exactly how does he do it? He fans the deck beforehand so he doesn't have a deck comprised of Aces. Is he taking from the bottom or top to give to Fallon? It's not obvious, but I don't see any other possibility.

This, to me, is the real fun in watching magic: driving yourself nuts trying to figure out how it's done!