February 9th, 2014



The Things You Never Think About

It wasn't til last week when I was working on my Things To Do weekly list that I had to actually write down the name of the Olympics host city. Without thinking about it, I wrote down Socchi. Then this week I realized that it wasn't six letters, but five. Sochi. Which the Kindle Fire HD desperately wants to changed to Sichuan.

But now the competition has begun and finally I realized that Sochi isn't five letters, either. It's four.


And now you know.


Cross-country skiing plus rifle marksmanship. I adore biathlon. Didn't get to see much. But there was a nice piece on the change in strategy. Everything used to be about slowing your breathing, even as you skated to your shooting position. Now? The training has changed its focus.


Gold medalist's first run in the finals did it. This is the extreme snowboarding latest assault on the Olympics. Some feel these crazies are breathing new life into the Olympics -- others have railed against all these new events. They may not use English vocabulary, but there's no doubt in my mind that these people are working hard.

This after lots of complaints about the course. Except this is the Olympics. Go big or stay home.

But sliding, excuse me, grinding on railings? In the Olympics? These kids these days... (grin)

5000 m

The ice looks beautiful for speed skating. There was something about a redesign of the slick suits I think by some Lockheed engineer. Used to have a zipper straight up the front. Hit the guys in the Adams apple. The women crowding the neck under the chin. The new zipper runs up diagonally to the side of the neck. Much more comfortable.

This year's rail mounted camera has a much longer run around the curve and seems to have a tighter, closer view. Feels like you're skating next to the... as hell, no it doesn't. It just looks cool.

Ski Jumping

Short hill prelims. Women get to fly in the Olympics this time, too.

Figure Skating

Team events. One of the U.S. women skaters managed to get on the team, despite a disastrous event. Hey, she's like the reigning U.S. champion. But the justification from the skating federation? "We select the most dependable, consistent skaters who can win." Uh, like the person who didn't?


The defending gold medalist from American got HUGE air on the first jump. Much higher than the others. Alas, she got knocked sideways by a bump on the landing and lost valuable time and points recovering. Took the bronze, which in her immediate post interview, she wasn't taking well.

The pressure to repeat. The pressure to win gold and only gold is intense.

A 19-year-old Canadian won. She jumped up and down and ran screaming out in front of the crowd, then struck a hard rock bassist down strum pose with her skis. This is X-Games rock star stuff.

Oh, and her sister? She took the silver. Go Canada.


86.5 mph? This course is bloody FAST. Welcome to the Olympics.

More tomorrow.

Dr. Phil

Nobody Home

A poignant story of space exploration via Jay Lake's link salad. ICE/ISEE-3 to return to an Earth no longer capable of speaking to it.
I've periodically reported on the status of the International Sun-Earth Explorer (ISEE-3), a spacecraft that was launched in 1978 to study Earth's magnetosphere and repurposed in 1983 to study two comets. Renamed the International Cometary Explorer (ICE), it has been in a heliocentric orbit since then, traveling just slightly faster than Earth. It's finally catching up to us from behind, and will return to Earth in August. It's still functioning, broadcasting a carrier signal that the Deep Space Network successfully detected in 2008. Twelve of its 13 instruments were working when we last checked on its condition, sometime prior to 1999.
The funny thing is that ICE/ISEE-3 shouldn't even be broadcasting a signal. It was supposed to be shut down. So the equipment needed to understand it and send it orders was decommissioned in 1999. Fifteen years later, the cost to reequip the Deep Space Network is prohibitive. As opposed to keeping in touch with Voyager 1 and 2 as they head into interstellar space -- we expected to be able to communicate with them even at over fourteen billion miles.

It's a shame, really, because there'd otherwise be the possibility of getting even more out of this mission. Added value. Dang we've built some good equipment. Some of this stuff works longer than we care or can afford to use. And I'm thrilled to have an 18-year-old Blazer running well with 309,000 miles.

Space travel is hard. Some missions go awry and never work. Some rovers go on forever, like Curiousity, others freeze up like Jade Rabbit. It's a high stakes crap shoot and one we take too lightly at times.

One wonders whether Randall Monroe of xkcd will immortalize this moment in human exploration history as he did with the Mars rover Spirit. Or if this abandonment will be one more reason for Skynet to hate us come the Singularity. (grin)

UPDATE 3/3/2014: He did! (grin) http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/hack.png I am happy now.

Dr. Phil

This Isn't A Happy Musical, He Said Way Too Cheerfully

We had to take a brief afternoon break from the Olympics to go the closing show of the latest musical at Grand Valley State University. All student cast of over twenty, including dual casting of the leads as they had so many audition, with no Actors Equity ringers.

GVSU Louis Armstrong Theatre 2:00pm Row E Center 13-14

This 2001 Broadway show doesn't show up often, but that's a shame. This is the most meta musical I've ever seen. Think Les Miserables love child with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Into The Woods, with healthy side orders of Rent, West Side Story and Firefly -- which should just confuse you.

Urinetown is about a terrible drought and the evil corporation which controls the pay toilet racket, centered around Public Amenity #9. Urinetown The Musical, as we are constantly reminded by the narrator Officer Krupke, er... Officer Lockstock, is about Urinetown the state of mind. He channeled Clancy Brown's Captain Byron Hadley from The Shawshank Redemption and tells Little Sally that he's safe because they can't kill the narrator -- obviously he hadn't ever seen Into The Woods. Little Sally was as short as he was tall, but this worldly little girl, whose job is to ask As You Know Bob questions of the narrator, held her own and belted her numbers with abandon.

This is the story of greed and fear denying basic human services to the population at great profit -- a metaphor in today's terms of all those 1%-ers who want to gut the ACA and can't see why anyone would sanely propose raising the minimum wage, even while their compensations soar. Also a story of the ultimate abject failure of the socialist revolution. Oh, and love. Also bunnies. (Don't Be The Bunny)

Our heroic and hopelessly innocent and romantic couple Bobby and Hope were played superbly. Hope's father, the CEO of Urine Goods Hands, is deliciously reptilian and evil. Amazingly, the actors doing Bobby and the CEO swapped roles over the two weeks. All the voices were strong and well matched. The over-the-top choreography was simply stunning and everyone I think had a terrific time.

And in the middle of the chaos, there was a dog. An old heavy incredibly calm in the face of madness Bassetthound, even when pushed around in a shopping cart or carried. I have no idea if the dog is called for in the script -- he's never mentioned in any of the dialogue. But he was very, very good.

Urinetown is unique. Equal parts social commentary and spoof of the musical. If you EVER have a qhance to see this show, please do. Cole, are you listening?

Dr. Phil

*** Update 11:40pm -- In case it's not clear, despite the claim by the narrator that this isn't a happy musical with a happy ending, Little Sally is right that the music IS happy and the whole show is fun. The revolutionaries adopt a gospel/revival style and the CEO's exhortation to Don't Be The Bunny is hilarious. -- Dr. Phil