Monday, July 7, 2008

Sea Change - Bicycle Commuting

Well, there's no turning back now. I've committed myself to commuting by bicycle. 10 miles. Uphill both ways.

It all started a month or two ago when I mentioned to a couple coworkers that I had this brilliant idea; I was going to save money on gas and parking and reduce my carbon footprint all while getting in great shape and rediscovering my sanity, which has long been adrift in a sea of cubicles.

One simple idea. So much benefit. Of course I am by no means the first person to think of it. But no one else in my office commutes by bicycle so I feel like I've invented the goddamn Swing Wing. In other words, I think there's a good chance it's going to catch on.

The first time I mentioned it, I'm pretty sure I wasn't serious. I was just testing the waters. But having been met first with incredulity, and then bewilderment when it seemed that I might not be joking, I knew I was on to something.

Everyone I talked to had their own reason why it was a bad idea: impractical, too far, too dangerous, personal hygiene, Pittsburgh weather sucks (granted, it sucks), it's unprofessional (bullshit, your tank driving lazy ass is unprofessional!), time consuming, etc.

Was I bluffing? Maybe. Probably. And I got called out on it, hard.

Just to make sure I hadn't the slightest shred of credibility, I didn't even have a bike.

Me: "Hey Chet, I think I'm going to starting cycling to work. Whatdya think?"
Chet: "That's ridiculous. What kind of bike do you have?"
Me: "Pardon?"
Chet: "Your bicycle. What kind is it?"
Me: "I'm not sure I understand your question."

But, I got bold. I asked the office manager if he'd let me park my bike in the basement... hypothetically of course. I began speaking with more confidence about the idea, to the point where the term 'maniacal' may or may not have been used to describe my behavior. I borrowed my dad's old clunker (which squeaks and wobbles a bit and tends to shift gears only at unexpected and inappropriate times) and started riding in the evening and on weekends with a gusto not seen since before I turned 16. Surprisingly, it only took a few rides before I was able to manage 10 miles of rolling hills.

Anyway, long story short, after a few weeks of threatening, I went out and ordered this:

(Redline: Conquest)

I realize that I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, seeing as I haven't actually made the commute once. I haven't even picked up the bike yet. But I'm super-stoked to get started and I don't care how lame "super-stoked" sounds. It's been a long time since I've been this excited about something.

Welcome to Pilot Into Space: a bicycle commuting blog.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I'm Raising My Kids Right, Right?

I see this car everyday on my walk to work:

(I'm raising my kids right)

I'm taking suggestions on how I can enhance this bumper sticker. I was thinking of taping an addendum onto it. Something along the lines of:

"...because independent thought is overrated."

Or, perhaps a more direct approach, i could simply use a sharpy and replace the word "right" with "wrong." Then again, vandalism isn't really my thing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Coach-Pitch Little League - An Orwellian Dystopia

My six year old son was on a losing baseball team this year. Wait, more than that. They lost every game (except one, miraculously), and when they lost, they lost big... Double digits... In spite of a 6-runs-per-inning limit.

I couldn't care less. My son had a good time and learned a lot about baseball and, far more importantly, he learned about teamwork and the value of practice.

Now here's where it gets good:

One of the other parents, predictably, did not share my casual attitude (they are only six years old. Six! for crying out loud) and so took it upon himself to write a hilariously disgruntled email to the head of the league of which I happen to have received have a carbon copy. I would like to share parts of it with you.

But first, a little background: The league is for kids 6-8. There are four teams. The four teams in our league play against each other and also against teams from other leagues from around the area. As I have mentioned, our team was by far the worst in the area. The other three teams in our league fared much better and apparently some of the parents of the kids on our team suspect corruption in the drafting process! None of our kids were chosen for the allstar team. As a result, our coaches and parents voted to boycott the end of season tournament. All in all, a real fiasco.

So now to the email. Let the hilarity ensue:

Quote 1:(The Boston Tea Party)

"The Red Socks, will not be playing in the end-of-the-year league
tournament. The [coaches and parents] opted for a display of civil

Well, I'll be the first to admit that nonviolent protest is indeed a viable option for addressing the issue. And it sure beats pitchforks and AK-47's as some of the other parents suggested. But what ever happened to good old not-giving-a-shit? I mean, we're not talking about life and liberty here. This is coach-pitch baseball for kids, half of which can't even tie their own goddamn shoes.

Quote 2: (Corruption in the drafting process)

"Many episodes of unfairness have occurred since the onset of the season.
First, the teams were not selected equitably. This is apparent because Team#1
has six “all stars” but Team#4 [our team] has zero. [This is] 'team

Well, he's right about one thing. We sucked. Bad. I'll grant him that. But I don't think this constitutes irrefutable evidence for "team stacking." In fact, the only thing "apparent" here is that this guy is a psychotic asshole. Now, I'm not sure where the burden of proof lies, but he's looking at a pretty weak case unless he can uncover an incriminating memo or something.

Quote 3: (A plea for a constitutional amendment and salary cap)

"An amendment must be put into place next season to avoid what has happened
this year. Even professional sports teams enact a salary cap to maintain a fair
and level playing field."
Go ahead. Read that again if you need to. I had to read that part four times before I could convince myself I hadn't gone completely bat-shit crazy. First of all, I don't even know if our league has a constitution to which an amendment can be made, but if it does, let me go on record as saying that I question its necessity. And second of all, a salary cap?!? My son didn't get paid at all! I demand an audit of the 50-50 raffle revenue. We can discuss a salary cap as soon as someone forks over our share.

Quote 4: (A philosophy to live by)

"These young boys are told day one that 'It’s not about winning and losing;
it’s about having fun.' Well, everyone knows that losing is not any fun."

All I can say to this one is:

Quote 5: (The art of exaggeration)

"This absurdity is reminiscent of an Orwellian dystopia where 'All teams are
equal, but some teams are more equal than others.'"
Get out. You're kidding, right? You're really going to compare a few kids having a lackluster season to the abject misery, poverty, and despair of a dystopia? I think it's safe to assume you're not up to date on your current events if this is the most outrageous societal error you can imagine.

Quote 6: (Waaaaah!!!!)

"I can’t explain to [my son] why his team lost all but one game even though
they diligently practiced and 'tried their best' each and every outing."
Here, let me try to explain it to him for you: LIFE ISN'T FUCKING FAIR! LEARN THAT AND GET OVER IT!

Join me next time when i discuss the mind-numbing phenominon of sports being considered a socially acceptible topic for smalltalk and the frustration of being the only man in the United States who doesn't care about ridiculously obscure sporting statistics.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Economic Stimulus Package: Not The Massive Bamboozling Initially Feared... Sort've

It was speculated here that the Economic Stimulus Bill (which congressed passed on to the White House on Thursday by a vote of 380 to 34) may in fact only be an advance on 2008 tax year refunds. In other words, taxpayers would be given a loan on next year's refunds that they hadn't asked for in first place.

While I certainly wouldn't put it passed our government to do something so extraordinarily heinous as to dump $152 billion dollars of national debt directly into the laps of low-middle income families, this doesn't appear to be the case.

The payments are actually going to be advances on a one time credit against 2008 income tax. In other words, they are going to send you a check now, for a new credit that will be applied against 2008 income tax. And since you will have already received the credit when it comes time to file your 2008 tax return, it will be as if the credit didn't exist. Your 2008 tax return will not be affected (besides aesthetically) for the credit.

It will look something like this:

Tax before credit - 1,000
Less: stimulus package credit - (600)
Add: credit already received - 600
Tax after credit - 1,000

Having said that, don't be a clown; put whatever money you get from the government away for retirement.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Flowchart: Untangling Atheist Dogma

It has been said that atheism is as much a dogma as any religion; That atheism is itself a religion with a strict "belief system" that is accepted without question by its adherents.

As an atheist myself, and being sympathetic to the theist's struggle to comprehend the complex workings of the "atheist dogma" I could not shake the sense of compulsion to shed light upon the matter.

It has been a wild journey, these past few months. Many tireless days and long, sleepless nights have gone into the production of this, my most greatest acheivement. And if I gain nothing else from my efforts, I hope that I may find satisfaction in the knowledge that I have provided the religious world with a key that will unlock the cipher of atheism. A rosetta stone, if you will.

A big effing neon sign to illuminate the mass of dim, vacant minds that pass beneath.

I present to you, Flowchart: Untangling Atheist Dogma

I hope it is clear enough.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Product Review - Amplitube 2

(click the picture for a larger view)

Aplitube 2 is an effects plug-in processor for digital audio recording. It emulates, remarkably well, a wide variety of guitar pre-amplifier and cabinet sounds along with quite a few stomp pedal effects and digital effects processes.

The idea is that you can basically build your own set-up without the need for spending thousands of dollars on expensive, bulky equipment. Amplitube retails somewhere between $300 - $400.

I'll give you the pros and cons:

Pros - It sounds fantastic. And with an assortment of interchangeable rigs, the possibilities are nearly endless. And anything you can tweak on your real set-up, can be tweaked in amplitube: bass, middle, treble, presence, gain, spring and/or digital reverb, distortion, chorus, modulators, compressor, decompressor, etc. You can even adjust the placement of the (imaginary) microphone and how much ambience to allow from the (imaginary) room. Amplitube also includes a few bass pre-amps and cabs as well.

Cons - Unfortunately there is simply no substitute for the real thing. While technically, the combinations and possibilities are limitless, digital effects can go only so far, no matter how brilliantly designed, in achieving what analog recording can achieve effortlessly. You may find yourself blown away, initially, by how unbelievably real it sounds. But you will eventually realize that it is likely because your expectations were low in the first place.

Besides that, my only other complaint is that the quality of the effects from the stomp pedals are a bit lacking and although there are 21 different stomp effects, most of them turn out to be a disappointment.

Conclusion - I recommend it as long as you understand that what you are getting is a great, versatile, and wildly entertaining digital effects plug-in. You are not a getting the real thing.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Star Trek: A Temporal Anomaly (part 1)

*This is Part 1 of a 2 part series. I will add a link for part two when it is finished*

Why did we love Star Trek: The Next Generation so much? What was it that captivated us and kept us on the edge of our seats through all 178 episodes over the course of seven seasons?

Was it the cast? Were we interested in whether Riker and Troi would finally get together? Did we care whether Geordi would get his sight back or whether Data would finally get his emotions? (I guess we can all agree it had nothing to do with Whoopi Goldberg)

Was it the technology? The replicator, the warp drives, the holodeck? Perhaps the seductive voice of the Computer?

Or was it the faint sense of grandeur and pride we felt from seeing ourselves in the future, not as the vicious and intolerant people we are today, but as humans united in a single purpose: to boldly go where no one has gone before?

Of course not. We loved it because those bumbling fools couldn't travel three parsecs without doing a face-plant into a temporal anomaly of one sort or another.

Data: Captain, it appears to be a distortion of the space-time continuum.
Picard: Let's check it out. Engage!
Data: Captain, it appears to be a distortion of the...

That's quality programming.

So I took it upon myself to compile a list of some of the best episodes involving time travel, time warps, and basically any kind of disruptance in a continuum I could find.

Enjoy the nostalgia.

Time Squared - (Season 2, Episode 13):

The Enterprise encounters a shuttle hurtling through space which, as it turns out, is carrying Captain Picard from 6 hours in the future. Picard from the future is in a restless state, unable to communicate with the crew. They learn from the shuttle's camera log that Future Picard traveled through, get this, a temporal anomaly and was sent 6 hours backwards in time.

Out of nowhere the anomaly appears. Present Picard orders the crew to escape at warp speed but the ship is held by the anomaly. As they approach the 6 hour mark, Future Picard begins to regain a sort've semi-conscious state in which he insists he must get to the shuttle. It becomes apparent that Future Picard must have entered the anomaly in order to save the crew from destruction.

Wishing to avoid an infinite loop, Present Picard orders the Enterprise directly into the anomaly. Future Picard and the anomaly vanish.

Yesterday's Enterprise - (Season 3, Episode 15):

The Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) encounters another Enterprise (NCC-1701-C) believed to have been destroyed in the past. They learn that 1701-C, in its own time period, was on the verge of destruction after being attacked by Romulans while responding to a Klingon distress signal.

In the present time period, the Federation has been involved in a bloody war with the Klingon empire. Guinan's (yes... Guinan's) instinct tells her that the 1701-C does not belong in this timeline and should be sent back through the rift.

They decide that the Federation's current war with the Klingons is perhaps the result of the 1701-C's presence in their own timeline and that its correct fate, i.e. its destruction while defending a Klingon outpost, would have prevented the war, since it would have been seen as an honorable gesture by the Klingons.

The 1701-C travels back through the rift. The 1701-D's timeline is instantly altered to one in which the Klingons and the Federation are not at war. The crew is unaware of the events transpired.

Future Imperfect - (Season 4, Episode 8):

After a failed away mission, Riker awakens in the future, unable to recall anything for the past 16 years. He learns that he is now Captain of the enterprise, has a son, and had a wife who has been dead for two years. He is also told that the Enterprise will be escorting an ambassador from the Romulan empire to a Federation base in the Neutral Zone where they will conduct negotiations for a peace treaty.

Suspicious of the situation, Riker discovers that he is part of a charade. He confronts the Romulan ambassador and suddenly finds himself on a Romulan holodeck. He is told that he was captured by the Romulans on the away mission.

Riker is taken to a cell where he finds a boy who looks like his son from the charade. The boy says he has also been captured by the Romulans. The two of them escape together, but Riker eventually becomes suspicious of the boy as well.

Again Riker discovers that none of what he sees is real. This time, however, he finds himself in a cave with the boy on the planet where they had conducted the away mission. The boy, now in his true alien form, explains that he had been alone on the planet and wished the companionship of Riker. Riker convinces the boy to come with him aboard the Enterprise.


Roll credits.

Cause And Effect - (Season 5, Episode 18):

- This one is my favorite -

The Enterprise is stuck in an infinite time loop:

Riker, Data, Worf and Dr. Crusher play poker and experience a slight feeling of deja vu. Crusher is called to sickbay where she examines Geordi. Again Crusher and Geordi have deja vu. Crusher goes to bed and hears voices in her sleep. She discusses it with Picard. The Enterprise encounters... wait for it... an anomaly. Engines fail! Red alert! The Enterprise is on a collision course with another Federation vessel. Picard consults Riker and Data for suggestions and takes Data's advice. The two ships collide.

This same scenario happens three times. Each time, however, the crew's sense of deja vu become more pronounced to the point where they can anticipating events before they happen. On the third cycle through, they realize that they are stuck in a time loop and that the voices Dr. Crusher is hearing in her sleep (which she recorded this time) are actually echos from previous loops.

Data manages to send a message back before the ships collide for a third time.

On the fourth time through the loop, everything happens the same except that the number 3 keeps showing up. When they are faced with the anomaly, Picard again chooses Data's advice over Rikers. At the last minute, Data notices the 3 pins on Riker's collar (representing his rank as commander) and realizes that the number 3 must represent Riker. Data tells the captain to follow Riker's suggestion.

The Enterprise avoids the collision and both ships exit the time loop. They discover that the ship they nearly collided with had been stuck in a loop for 90 years and was captained by none other than Kelsey Grammer.

Americans all across the country lament for years to come that Kelsey Grammer was ever allowed to escape from the time loop.

Much of this information was provided by Check them out if you get a chance. You will find a detailed synopsis of every episode from every season there.