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What Tony Stark should *really* be doing

In the worlds imagined by Marvel and DC, those with special gifts (derived from accidents of birth or lifelong dedicated work) often choose to dress up in special outfits and Fight Evil. Sometimes, they band together in organizations to Fight Evil more effectively.

In this world, wouldn't it be nice if people with special skills got together to Fight Stupidity?

For example, as near as I can tell, the folks who built the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig decided to put multiple redundant valves on the well, so that if one failed, another could still be used to shut the well down. That's good. Then they bought multiple identical valves, each with the same failure modes, from the same manufacturer. That's not so smart.

Wouldn't it be great if there were some organization of super-engineers, folks of Tony Stark's caliber, who were paid to notice problems like this in advance and draw up plans for how to stop a hypothesized oil leak using technology and tools that currently exist? "Hey, Buckaroo, did you see this oil rig design?" "Yeah, Tony, I did -- someday, if that runs into problems with methyl hydrates, it could leak millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico." "Do you think they could stop a leak, if one happened, by plugging the hole with mud?" "No, you'd need a containment vessel, too -- who do we know who has a reinforced dome 200 feet across that can handle the pressure at that depth?"

It's nice to imagine Buckaroo Banzai, Tony Stark, a few of the materials scientists who support Batman, and Reed Richards drawing a salary to deal with problems in our world.

Failing that, though -- could we have skilled engineers and scientists draw a salary funded by philanthropists to work out answers to "what if" problems?

Or could there be some way to identify and brainstorm problems a little bit at a time, similar to the way the "SETI at Home" divided up data analysis tasks? If volunteers with appropriate background knowledge each worked on problems in their "spare" time in ad-hoc teams, linked by wikis....
OK, with less than a month to go before the last book in the series is released, I've got some questions. No, not "Who is Snape really working for?" -- that's something that everyone wonders. My questions are more idiosyncratic.

  • When Harry's parents were killed, he was taken to live with his aunt and uncle. We're told this was because Harry got some protection from living with his relatives; plus, if he had grown up among Wizards, he would have had a swelled head early on. My question: what about his grandparents? Do any of the books come out and say that all four of Harry's grandparents were dead or incapacitated? Lily's parents were Muggles, so he would have grown up without contact with the Wizarding world -- but at least they weren't virulently anti-magic, the way his aunt and uncle are.

  • One early summer, Harry let the Dursleys think that he could do magic at any time; they were surprised (and quite pleased) to eventually find out that under-age wizards aren't allowed to do magic unless at school. Petunia, having grown up with her witchy sister, should have remembered that important fact from her own childhood.

  • Dumbledore apparently collected the invisibility cloak from James Potter's effects after his death, and held it aside for Harry. We are given to believe that it is a rare object, even among wizards; no others have been encountered (even Draco Malfoy, whose family is quite wealthy, doesn't seem to have one -- if he did, he would have used it at some point in Year 6!), and people rarely take precautions against being spied upon by invisible watchers. So where did James Potter get it? He used it during his time at Hogwarts, so it could not have been the result of any money he earned after graduation. Together, James and Lily left behind a tidy sum for Harry to inherit -- did they have that money during their lives, or are the contents of Harry's vault at Gringott's the result of a good life insurance policy? (Related question: who was dumb enough to write insurance policies for members of the Order of the Phoenix?)

  • Another question about artifacts: wouldn't Hermione's teachers have been aware of the oddities in her schedule the year she had the time-turner? Wouldn't they have compared notes about the smartest girl in her year? Which means that when Snape suggested that Harry had something to do with Sirius Black's escape, and Dumbledore suggested that would be impossible unless Harry had a way to be in two places at once, Snape stopped arguing because he understood Dumbledore's subtext: yes, Harry did do it; it was an action I authorized, now be quiet.

  • And am I the only one that thinks that Hogwarts is, at its heart, a puffed-up Vo-tech school? All of their classes are about how to use their main "technology": magic. Even the history class is history of magic. Where are the classes on general history (given that Dumbledore defeated a noted dark magician in 1945, there's a chance the wizarding world was involved in WWII), literature, or art? I feel sorry for the teachers -- reading homework essays by 16-year-olds who haven't been taught anything about grammar and composition since they were 10. [Of course, the Muggles have their own glorified vo-tech: medical school comes to mind!]

Feel free to suggest your own answers, or to jump in with more questions of your own.

Edn of the World

Check out this picture from the National Spelling Bee...

...and let me know if mere cynicism is the correct response, or if I need to proceed to soul-sucking depression.

Recalls of tainted food make my cats happy

Yes, my cats are happier now that over 40 brands of cat food have been recalled.

Canned cat food is part of their daily diet, ever since Umbra was weaned. At first, he couldn't eat kibble -- so we had to give him canned -- and then Sandalwood realized that she could get some too.

Since it has historically been the case that a recall that starts for one product eventually finds problems with others, P and I have decided that it would be best not to give Umbra or Sandalwood any canned cat food until the situation is better understood.

Why does this make our cats happy?

Because now they get food intended for humans -- tuna! sardines! more cheese! mackerel!

(Yes, I'm completely pwned.)

No connectivity

Saturday was a big day. P borrowed a pickup truck from work and we (including lionessprite) loaded it up with bed, bookshelves, books, and other Stuff For The Apartment. Drove out to Pennsy where we were met by another friend. Help was much appreciated, especially since the bed, mattress, and omg-this-is-heavy dresser had to get schlepped to the third floor! Unloaded the mess, had dinner out, and then back home. Today we get to repeat the same theme -- except that tonight I'll be sleeping in the apartment, and tomorrow morning I head off for Orientation for the new job.

The contract arrived overnight express yesterday. As the saying goes, it's all pigs fed and ready to fly. But this is a good day to start new ventures, at least for English speakers: after all, today is March Forth.

There's no net connectivity in the apartment yet, so I probably won't be able to read or post for a while.


Some people shouldn't be allowed to...

P has often said that the guy who owned our current home before we did should have a radio ankle-bracelet. If he gets to the front door of Home Despot, Lowe's, or other hardware store, some uniformed aides would appear and politely escort him to the edge of the parking lot. "I'm sorry, sir," they'd say, "you can't come in here. With the contents of our store, you'd be a danger to yourself and to others. We can't allow that to happen."

Today's example: shelf standards. You know, the metal railing with little slots in it? You attach two parallel vertical strips to your wall, slide the brackets into the slots, then drop a piece of planking across the brackets. Quick, easy, functional -- until this guy did it.

Seems he wanted to be sure that the standards wouldn't come away from the wall. Did he use wall anchors? Noooo. He curved the metal and buried it under the plaster!

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to find a Dremel tool. And tea. Tea, dammit, tea!


Blackberry typing?

I just got a new PDA. This one has an itty-bitty QWERTY keyboard at the bottom, Blackberry-style, instead of handwriting recognition.

I've been touch-typing on a real keyboard for years, and suddenly I'm reduced to hunting and pecking with my thumbs.

Is there such as thing as a typing tutor for thumb keypads? "Mavis Beacon Teaches Crackberry," perhaps?

Dec. 28th, 2006

That'll do, Jeneralist. That'll do.

Which movie was this quote from?

Get your own quotes:


From Family Practice News (not peer reviewed -- more of a trade magazine)

A small group of physicians and investigators plan to market a removable tattoo ink next year, and if the ink lives up to the inventors' expectations, physicians will be able to remove permanent tattoos with a single laser treatment.
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