June 2010

You may not remember back in 2006 when scientists nearly destroyed the planet. In fact, you might not have even heard about it.

The Z Machine at Sandia National Labs.
The Ghost of Global Destruction Past

What happened was this: the smart guys over at Sandia National Labs were running a ‘routine’ test when they incidentally created gases in excess of 3,600,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s three point six billion degrees). For reference, that’s seventeen million times what it takes to boil water, or one point four million times what it takes to melt steel, or one hundred and thirty times as hot as the core of the sun. In short, it’s really stamping hot.

As if that wasn’t dangerous enough, this phenomenal heat wasn’t actually produced during the test, but after the machinery had been turned off—when it was supposed to be cooling down. As far as the scientists could tell, the heat was sustaining itself, generating more energy than had been initially put in. That is to say: they didn’t try to make it happen, and they weren’t able to stop it. I find that really scary. They found it ‘puzzling.’

“At first, we were disbelieving,” said project leader Chris Deeney, his English reminiscent of a 419 scam. “We repeated the experiment many times to make sure we had a true result.”

They repeated it. They had accidentally created an incomprehensible amount heat over which they had no control, and they kept doing it to see what would happen? I’d hate to have been a fly on that wall:

“Think it will grow bigger this time?” Tweedledee, PhD asks. “Maybe eat up the whole planet?”
“Nah,” Tweedledee, ScD replies. “But how cool if it seared through the dimensional barrier, loosing demons and bringing hell to Earth?”

So that was 2006, and somehow we’re still here. But, like a speeder that’s never been caught, science is still on the march. This timeLIFE project at the National Ignition Facility
The ironically named LIFE,
the cutting edge of apocalypse technology
they’re building a ‘miniature sun’ right here on the surface of the Earth (you know, the planet that every complains we’re destroying). The idea is simple: take a 1.4-megajoule laser system, split it into 192 individual beams and then use those to ignite a forty ton block of uranium. Woah, yeah, nothing scary about a giant hunk of burning uranium.

You know, it’s always touching when those peace-loving scientists gather around their death-clock to moan about global warming, but the truth is, they’re the truly dangerous. We might be trashing this planet, but they’ll chuck the whole thing away for the chance to find something ‘neat.’

I can’t help but think that the reason why we Americans are getting Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy novels a year behind the rest of the world is to give Hollywood time to prepare their own version of the movies. But if you don’t want to wait, the Swedish version of the first installment is in theaters right now. I went to check it out this weekend, and here’s what I’ll tell you.

Noomi Rapace as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Noomi Rapace as The Girl With
the (very sexy) Dragon Tattoo

Normally, I’m quick to advise against the Americanized version of a foreign film, as they tend to range from the unnecessary (Insomnia) to the offensive (Vanilla Sky). But even though this film is Swedish like the book, it’s still an adaption, and one without the benefit of the author (Stieg’s dead). So what’s the draw? Why bother?

It’s hard to predict what the American version will be like, but at least it will be filmed in English, meaning you won’t have to scan between the subtitles and picture. It’s also certain to have prettier actors, though I’m not sure I’d list that as a benefit. Me, myself, I am always excited by a movie where the people look like people, not like the plastic mannequins that line Sunset Boulevard. Not that Noomi Rapace is hard on the eyes, mind you. She’s a bit of a crime, really, being far more attractive than the character described in the book.

No doubt the biggest difference will be in realization of the book’s theme. A literal translation of the original title would be, “Men Who Hate Women.”movie poster -The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo In the Swedish movie, this is realized in a fair number of shocking scenes (right out of the book) that I can’t imagine any American producer signing off on. This violence, and how women deal with it, was the whole point of the book. We should expect, however, that like the original title, it will be lost in translation. So if you’re hoping to see the book faithfully realized onscreen, it’s probably worth living with the subtitles.

That said, perhaps the best argument is that the Swedish version is both good and in theaters right now. Considering how terrible this summer’s movie line-up has been so far, that alone should be a winning argument.
Noomi Rapace as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

On this appropriately gray California day, it became official: our next governor is either going to be Mr. Jerry Brown or Mrs. Meg Whitman.

Jerry Brown - 1976
Former governor Jerry Brown

As anyone in the country can tell you, California is in an extreme financial crisis right now. This would seem to favor Harvard MBA-holding Whitman, as it’s hard to imagine J. Brown even balancing his own checkbook. But, while on the surface of it, Meg’s (may I call you Meg?) track record is impressive (read: eBay), dig deeper and you see that she built a company that’s plagued by bad decisions, and is right now being choked by a plethora of lawsuits. And what exactly did she do to contribute to the company’s financial success in the first place? She didn’t found eBay, and she didn’t do anything particularly creative that people attribute the company’s success to. In fact, her successor’s first job was to clean up several billion-dollar mistakes she had made that would have sunk any other company.

The reality is, eBay survived in spite of Whitman’s helmsman-ship,Meg Whitman at eBay
Meg Whitman, eBay employee
which is a testimony to the strength of the idea behind it. As for Meg herself, she’s the Ben Affleck of CEOs: just in the right place at the right time.

So why, at the time of California’s greatest need, do we get stuck with two such miserable gubernatorial candidates? Why would financial wizards like Carly Fiorina choose the senate when her talents are so desperately needed in the Sacramento?

Well, not for nothing, our reward to the financially talented Schwarzenegger—who practically killed himself trying to balance our budget—was to dump on him mercilessly for not making enough progress. And, knowing that prospects ahead are even grimmer, no one with half a brain would seek a job that, at best, will make you the subject of constant ridicule.

So guess who that leaves us with.

Apple has been doing a lot of advertising for their iPad here in the San Francisco region, and we’re all quite sick of it. But one modern-day Ethan Allen decided to take some action:

Destroyed iPad advertisement

You can’t quite see it in picture, but they smashed a hole in the plexiglas to rip the poster out.