Airy Persiflage

Airy Persiflage

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Six Word Stories

If you don’t have much time to read for pleasure, you should check out Six Word Stories. (Warning: some strong language.)

It all began when someone bet Ernest Hemingway he couldn’t tell a complete story in just six words. Hemingway won the bet, with this:

For sale: baby shoes, never used.

Lots of astonishing stories at the site.

Airy Persiflage

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Fly By

The intro is from the 1986 Hollywood Movie Top Gun. The real flyers who follow are a lot more daring (warning: strong language):

Yeah, it’s all fun until somebody loses an eye.

Airy Persiflage

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Time Flies

Via email: a friend found this advertisement for bread from England.

That kid sure took the long way home.

Airy Persiflage

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I Want My…

I was recently telling somebody about this old commercial. I think this is where “I Want My MTV” and other similar slogans got their start.

We spoiled baby boomers are getting old now. Expect “I Want My Poligrip” and “I Want My Hip Replacement” ads any moment now.

Airy Persiflage

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You Remember Daddy?

Dogs get to say things that humans have to be too cool to say:

Airy Persiflage
Computers

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Black Belt

Back in high school, I had a friend who was deeply interested in the martial arts. He told a story of a martial-arts student — I’ll say a karate student — who had started out as a “White Belt” and earned different-colored belts as his skills progressed — yellow, orange, green and so on — until he was finally awarded the coveted Black Belt. When he received his Black Belt, the student said, “Now I truly know karate!”

His teacher said, “No, the Black Belt means you are finally ready to begin learning karate.”

I’ve remembered that story for decades, now, but I never really understood it until I was learning to program computers. I’m a “self-taught” programmer; I never took classes, but I read books, studied programs printed in magazines, and talked to a more knowledgeable friend when I got stuck. I started with the BASIC programming language, but eventually I learned assembly language, which is much closer to the native ones and zeros that are the computer’s true native language.

With assembly language, I could create routines that worked ten, a hundred, or even a thousand times faster than similar code written in BASIC. That’s a good way to impress a BASIC programmer.

If you don’t know how to do it, assembly language programming is a dark and mysterious art, and the people who can do it look like wizards. When I set out to learn it, I thought it would make a pretty lofty capstone to my education in programming. But when I’d learned it, and used it for a while, I realized assembly language wasn’t a destination; it was a starting point. Everything I’d learned formed only a foundation on which to build a real education. Assembly language was a Black Belt; it meant “Now you are ready to begin.”

I’ll bet it’s the same way in many other fields, as well: the apparent goal is only the starting point. I’d guess that, even if you attain the top rank beyond Black Belt in karate, you look at what you’ve learned and say, “Oh, now I see how to begin.”

It doesn’t end.

Airy Persiflage

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Letterman’s Top Ten for Obama

I don’t often watch David Letterman, but I know about the Top Ten lists. But when I tuned in on Monday night to see President Obama, there was no Top Ten list. Turns out it was a “Web Exclusive,” which must mean they were too embarrassed to do it where Obama might hear or see it.

I think reason #2 probably hits the nail on the head.

Airy Persiflage
Science

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You’re in the Pepsi Generation

The world of the future? It’s on the way:

The first-ever video advertisement will be published in a traditional paper magazine in September.

The video-in-print ads will appear in select copies of the US show business title Entertainment Weekly.

The slim-line screens – around the size of a mobile phone display – also have rechargeable batteries.

The chip technology used to store the video – described as similar to that used in singing greeting cards – is activated when the page is turned.
Each chip can hold up to 40 minutes of video.

I think Jetsons. BBC thinks Harry Potter. Either way, Pepsi will be getting a lot of buzz, and not just from poorly-connected batteries.

Airy Persiflage
Computers

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I’m Cool Enough

I’ve gotta get me one of these:

“Those who really understand what we do here at Apple are going to love this new product,” Schiller continued. “Unless, you know, they happen to be totally lame.”

When you’re using something this advanced, some people look at you as if you were crazy, which just shows that they don’t “get it.” I feel sorry for those people.

Airy Persiflage
Music

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Because It Is Hard

There’s more than one Michael Collins.

There’s even more than one famous Michael Collins.

So, when I saw a song titled “For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me” on Jethro Tull’s Benefit album, I never seriously imagined the song was about the astronaut Michael Collins, who orbited the Moon in the Apollo 11 command module while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin flew the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) down to the surface and walked on the Sea of Tranquility.

I played the record a number of times without ever paying much attention to that song. But I had it playing softly one night as I fell asleep, and in a lucid moment between sleep and waking, I heard this:

I’m with you, LEM,
Though it’s a shame
That it had to be you.

The mother ship
Is just a blip
On your trip made for two.

I’m with you, boys,
So please employ
Just a little extra care.

It’s on my mind,
I’m left behind
When I should have been there
Walking with you.

That was how I felt about the entire Apollo program: I wanted to be there. I wanted to experience zero gravity in orbit, and on the way to the moon. I wanted to glide in lunar one-sixth gravity over the rocks and craters of an alien world. I wanted to see the far side of the moon with my own eyes, and see the earth — the entire earth — as a blue marble floating in black space.

I think I missed the point. I think almost everyone misses the point.

One-sixth gravity is fun. Lunar rocks answered persistent questions about the origin of the earth and the entire solar system. The miniature on-board computers were technological breaththroughs. The earth, seen whole from a quarter million miles away, is poetry.

But I think the most important thing about Apollo was not the fun, the science, the technology, or even the mind-altering change of perspective it made possible. All those things are by-products.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade,” said John F. Kennedy, and to confront other difficult challenges, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Should we return to the Moon now? Should we set a goal of landing a man on Mars? I don’t know. How hard are they?

Is it possible to find a challenge here on earth that will demand the best we have to give? Can we find a challenge that we are willing to accept, unwilling to postpone, and which we truly intend to win? Can we do anything with the realization that this planet, our home, is a small jewel in a vast emptiness?

Happy Moon Day.

Airy Persiflage

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Self-Referential? Perhaps

He who says of others, “They only understand one thing,” only understands one thing.

Airy Persiflage
Politics

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Republican Strategy Meeting

Saturday Night Live gets inside the thought processes of congressional Republicans:

Airy Persiflage

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Relentless Manhunter

With O.J. Simpson in jail for 15 years, who will look for the real killer?

Airy Persiflage
Politics

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Black Heart

Doctors say Dick Cheney’s heart is healthy:

US Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a history of cardiac trouble, underwent a routine medical checkup on Saturday and his heart was declared in stable condition, his spokeswoman said.

And here I thought Cheney’s heart was black and hard as a lump of anthracite. I guess I should forget about medical school.

Cheney’s black heart — speaking figuratively, of course — is steadily pumping blood. For more than five years, it has pumped American blood into the sands of Iraq.

As vice-president, Cheney has helped pump billions of taxpayer dollars into the pockets of Halliburton and its subsidiaries.

Reporters, when you say this man has a clean bill of health, remember to put quotation marks around “clean.”

Airy Persiflage

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We Distort, You Decide

We Distort: Photo FakeryIf you get your news from Fox News, it’s really time to stop that:

On the July 2 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade labeled New York Times reporter Jacques Steinberg and editor Steven Reddicliffe “attack dogs,” claiming that Steinberg’s June 28 article on the “ominous trend” in Fox News’ ratings was a “hit piece.” During the segment, however, Fox News featured photos of Steinberg and Reddicliffe that appeared to have been digitally altered — the journalists’ teeth had been yellowed, their facial features exaggerated, and portions of Reddicliffe’s hair moved further back on his head. Fox News gave no indication that the photos had been altered.

Click the link and watch the video there to see this in context.

The only thing you can be sure of with Fox News is that there is no no-spin zone there.