Monday, July 29, 2019

The Far-Reaching Effects of the World's Fairs

You've probably heard that the world isn't fair.  I don't know who said it had to be, but people are obsessed with this idea of "fairness."  Of course, they're less obsessed now than they were in 1939.

1939 was the year of the largest World's Fair on record (by attendance).  World's Fairs were a cultural phenomenon spanning about 150 years, and while we don't think of them much today, we are still affected by the legacies they've left.

The first World's Fair is largely considered to be the 1791 Prague exhibition on industry held by King Leopold II of Bohemia.  (Not to be confused with King Leopold II of Belgium, who reigned in the late 1800s and was better known for being a total fucking monster responsible for the genocide of 10 million people in the Congo.  For more info about what a horrible person King Leopold II of Belgium was, I highly recommend the book King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild.  I came to know about King Leopold II from an infamous picture online of a Congolese man contemplating his child's severed hand and foot, delivered to him as punishment for not meeting a rubber harvest quota.  View at your own risk.)

World's Fairs erupted in popularity, with over 100 fairs or "expos" being held throughout the 1800s.  They reached their heyday in the early 1900s, but tapered off after WWII.  Massive affairs showcasing industry, technology, and architectural prowess, they faded into obscurity, leaving behind monuments taken for granted in the modern era.

The Unisphere was commissioned for the 1964 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, NY.
You might remember it from Iron Man 2; Stark Expo 2011 was held in Flushing Meadows.

The reason I have been thinking of World's Fairs is that I recently re-read a book that wasn't, thankfully, about King Leopold II of Belgium.  The book is called Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson, and much like King Leopold II of Belgium, it's terrible.  This book was part of the curriculum for one of my journalism classes and I can't stress enough how much I loathe it.  (The book, not the class.)  It's a sensationalist piece of garbage that's full of wild speculation and unwarranted medical diagnoses from an author wholly unqualified to give them.  The book focuses on two stories in tandem: the story of H.H. Holmes, considered America's first true "serial killer," and the building of the 1893 World's Fair.  

The parts about the fair were dry but informative.  The parts about Holmes were titillating only in their morbidity.  In fact, for our first assignment, here is an abridged version of what I wrote: 

I would like to begin my analysis with a disclaimer: I had already previously read this book, and loathed it.  As such I have a strong bias against the material.  (On re-read, I continue to loathe it.)

The  titular "Devil" referenced in "The Devil in the White City" is H. H. Holmes, the infamous doctor, con artist, and serial killer.  

My opinion of the characterization of Holmes ( Mudgett) is that, frankly, the author did a poor job.  As far as physical description goes, if Larson were taking this class, I wonder if he would not get a lot of feedback reminding him to "show, don't tell."  He is constantly describing Holmes as "handsome" without stating why (unless you count reminding us that Holmes has blue eyes every three pages or so).  We are treated to virtually no physical descriptions whatsoever; the only emblem we see through part 1 is Holmes's surgical valise on page 12.  Aside from this, we get vapid descriptions such as "he was handsome" or "he was charming," and little to substantiate it.  My favorite parts were mentioned above, wherein we see Holmes doing something instead of simply being told how he was.  On page 35 we get a strange physical description written by Capen that actually seems at odds with Larson's descriptions of handsomeness, in which Holmes is said to have thin lips, very wide eyes, a very thin frame, and tiny ears.  On page 63, it states Holmes is "handsome, warm, and obviously wealthy" without any more info (except, of course, reminding us that his eyes are blue).  Again on page 87 Larson states that Holmes is "handsome and clean and dressed well," without elaboration, unless you count the bit about how his gaze is "blue and forthright." And on page 91 Holmes is described as "good-looking, almost delicate, who conveyed an air of confidence and prosperity."  The very next line?  "He had striking blue eyes." 

Holmes isn't the only character who gets this treatment by Larson.  The other main character, Burnham, is constantly being described in such vague terms as "candid, direct, and exuding an air of leadership" (page 94) without explaining how or why.

Frankly a lot of it seems like conjecture on the author's part.  In the incident with the skeleton, for example, the author spins a completely imagined tale in which a young Holmes gazes coolly upon a skeleton and then back at his bullies, causing them to run away in terror.  That little piece of fiction had me rolling my eyes.  (At least the author, in this portion, restrained himself from reminding us that Holmes's eyes were blue.)

I believe if the author had spent half as much time describing the characters as he did the city, it would have been a much better book.  The city of Chicago is treated to beautiful, fantastic, detailed descriptions of color, smell, sound, and movement.  The characters are little more than talking heads.  At first, I thought the lack of descriptions of Holmes's outfits, movements, or voice were because of the author's unwillingness to speculate.  But then we get the skeleton scene and it struck me that the author doesn't mind speculation whatsoever.  (We also get speculation about Mudgett killing animals and keeping skulls as trophies, and speculation about the photography incident.)  The author simply doesn't care to describe any of the people aside from occasional flights of fantasy.  His first and only love is the city of Chicago, which gets ample description and demonstrates an ability to describe, making it all the more frustrating when the author fails to every time he introduces a character.
This book would have better been titled "The Blue-Eyed But Otherwise Nondescript Devil in the White City (Descriptions of Which Account for 60% of the Text)."

It is my belief that this book would never have been made into a best seller if not for the subject matter.  (Who doesn't love a good serial killer story?)  The sad part is, there were a lot of incredible people who attended the fair who (probably) weren't serial killers, including Thomas Edison, Buffalo Bill, Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Clarence Darrow, George Westinghouse, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, Nikola Tesla, Helen Keller, Alexander Graham Bell, Marshall Field, and others.

The other shame of the book is that, if you can get past the piss-poor writing, the book contains a wealth of incredible information on the World's Fair, the accomplishments of which are really overshadowed by Holmes's gleeful killing of bright-eyed young women.

 There is truly a meme for everything.

My familiarity with the concept of a World's Fair, before reading this book, was severely lacking.  In fact, I could think of only two real things associated with it, and both were fictional portrayals.  One was the Stark Expo in the first Captain America movie, where Steve and Bucky go see a flying car, and the other was a short cartoon from my childhood about the World's Fair that was included on a video cassette called "101 Cartoons."  I hadn't thought about that fanciful little cartoon for years but it came flooding back to me when I was reading.  Made in 1938, I was struck by how clearly influenced by the famous 1893 Fair this cartoon was.

The 1893 Fair came on the heels of the Paris Fair of 1889, and there was a lot riding on its shoulders at the time.  Long before the Space Race of the mid-20th century, countries competed in World's Fairs trying to outshine each other with their exhibits.  As the Olympics was to sports, so these fairs were to industry and architecture.  The 1889 Parisian Fair gave us the Eiffel Tower; the 1893 Chicago Fair gave us the Ferris wheel; the 1962 Seattle Fair gave us the Space Needle.

I had had no idea that these monuments had come out of fairs, but indeed they did.  The 1893 Chicago Fair (officially titled "The World's Columbian Exposition") resulted in over 200 buildings being built and drew a crowd of over 27 million people during its six-month run.  (It's also the reason we have Columbus Day.)  Though all the buildings were originally meant to be temporary, some still stand today; Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, which is the largest in the Western hemisphere, was originally the Palace of Fine Arts.  To give you some idea of how goddamn big the fair was, here are modern pictures of the Museum of Science and Industry.

 Jackson Park today.

Jackson Park, the vicinity of the fairgrounds, is now a major hub in Chicago, and it was completely revitalized for the fair.  The lagoons were all man-made; the 200+ buildings were all built up in less than a year; Chicago's L train system was expanded and an intramural rail system was built solely for the fair, being one of the first to use electric traction motors.  A/C electricity was showcased, helping push the eventual adoption of A/C over D/C, and this was due for purely bureaucratic purposes: General Electric's final bid for the rights to illuminate the fair was $554,00, and Westinghouse undercut them with a bid of $399,000.  The world, and Chicago in particular, were never the same after the 1893 fair.

And then there's the Ferris wheel, a staple of pretty much every modern fair.  One of dozens (if not hundreds) of proposals, the wheel was suggested as a centerpiece for the Chicago Fair as an answer to the Eiffel Tower.  Also considered were a 9,000-ft. tower you could toboggan off of, a 1,500-ft. log cabin tower with a restaurant on top, and a 4,000-ft. tower with a bungee-jumping car. I'll let the stupidity speak for itself:

"... R.T.E. envisioned a tower four thousand feet tall from which he proposed to hang a two-thousand-foot cable of "best rubber." Attached at the bottom end of this cable would be a car seating two hundred people. The car and its passengers would be shoved off a platform and fall without restraint to the end of the cable, where the car would snap back upward and continue bouncing until it came to a stop. The engineer urged that as a precaution the ground "be covered with eight feet of feather bedding." (Larson, p. 156-7)

The late 1800s were wild. Thankfully for the attendees of the fair, the Ferris wheel was chosen over the bungee car proposal.  It turned out to be the right decision; the wheel raked in a gross profit of $726,805 in 1893 money (about $20.5 million, today).  After the fair, was relocated to the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, where it was later demolished using dynamite, because people back then knew how to fucking party.

Squint.  That's the original wheel at the 1904 St. Louis Fair, in the far distance.

Nowadays you'd be hard-pressed not to find a Ferris Wheel at a fair, World or otherwise.  Like the Midway, the Ferris Wheel became an iconic staple of fairs thanks to its impact at the 1893 Fair.  (The iconic midway of this fair was the first in which "amusement" attractions were separated from more educational "exhibit hall" features.) 

It would be easy to criticize World's Fairs as opulent displays of wealth, their extravagance a waste of time, money, and brilliant minds.  But I would argue the opposite.  Fairs inspire and influence and educate, and are perhaps one of the most fantastic peaceful achievements of our modern era.  The 1893 Fair provided tens of thousands of men with work in the midst of a massive recession or "Panic," as it was then called, and their work was limited to eight-hour days and included healthcare (to prevent them from unionizing, God forbid!).  The 1893 Fair had far-reaching effects on architecture, industry, technology, and labor that we are feeling even today, even if we don't know about it, and I find that a hell of a lot more interesting than some blue-eyed serial killer.

 There was a ghostly beauty to the construction of the fairs that had nothing to do with serial killers.

Why aren't we still having World's Fairs today?  Perhaps because of globalization.  The world is a smaller place, and you can get a lot of it from the internet.  But I don't know... is the internet really a good substitute for the awe-inspiring, inconceivably grand scales of a World's Fair in real life?  I doubt it.  No, I think that the arguments against World's Fairs are unsubstantiated.  In my humblest of opinions, having competitive, peacetime displays of industrial leadership and technological dominance are a good thing.  Like the Space Race, they have unintended and far-reaching effects that tend to benefit mankind.  (The Space Race gave us memory foam, freeze-dried food, ear thermometers, and a superior ballpoint pen.)

 Another shot of the 1904 St. Louis fair.

So what gives?  I say we should have another World's Fair here in America.  If we didn't in my lifetime I would really feel that I had missed out.  (The last one in America was four years before I was born, in Louisiana.  There was supposed to be one in 1992 in Chicago, but it was cancelled.)  I guess it's true what they say: life really isn't fair.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Name Game

Recently I was hanging out with a friend of mine, Si, who is Chinese, and she said she thought it was interesting how, in English, we have dedicated "names."  In Chinese, words are names.  This is why translated Chinese names often come back as "Sunshine" or "Lucky."

I pointed out to her that most English names do, in fact, have meaning, though they may not be well known.  My legal first name means "youthful," for example.  An apt description, considering that I look like a 13-yr-old boy.

Lately I've been putting a lot of thought into names because of the upcoming baby.  Andrew and I had already chosen names some time ago but now I'm in doubt.  A name for a person is a big decision.  This isn't like naming a cat.  (My cat's name is Mabel Syrup, but she responds to "cat.")  There's a lot of factors to consider: the meaning, the sound of it, what nicknames they'll go by, whether or not the initials spell out a swear word, what sort of jokes you can make with it, et cetera.

I don't want my kid to get teased (for their name, at least).  So I've been spending a lot of time going over names to try to figure out what I want.

If it's a girl, we have our name locked and loaded.  Evelyn Lorelei.  This sounds good, and with my last name, spells out "Elm."  I want her to grow up strong like a tree... a person who bends but won't break.  Elm trees have very cool symbolism; in Celtic lore, they have special association with fairies and the underworld, and they were a symbol of hope during the revolutionary war.  Nowadays in America they've retained their status as a tree of war and hope, which is super badass.

As for the first name, "Evelyn" (Evie for short) means desired or desirable.  Lorelei is a rock at the head of the Rhine river where mermaids famously lured sailors to their death.  I guess my thinking was that I wanted lil' Evie to be someone who desired life and was desirable to others but would also not hesitate to drown any rowdy sailors who messed with her.

We also considered "Ladbrooke" or "Rowena" in place of "Lorelei," but for "Rowena," the initials would spell out "Erm," dooming Evie to a life of incisiveness.

Kids with weird names can end up in trouble, is what I'm saying.

Speaking of indecisiveness, boy, are we having issues with boy (names).  The original name we'd chosen was Calvin but now I'm having second thoughts because almost everyone I've spoken to HATES Calvin.  And it's been hard to come up with a middle name to go with, one that sounds okay.

 I will never not post this clip when the situation allows for it.

Below is the narrowed-down list of boy names we've been considering, with the pros, cons, and meanings.  Needless to say, we are leaning toward a girl right now, just to make the naming decision easier.  Also I have a friend who believe they are psychic and claims to "know" the baby is a boy and I just desperately want them to be wrong.  A petty reason, to be sure, but still a reason.

In alphabetical order, the final eight:


As: probably a middle name, after "Calvin."

Meaning: "Priceless."  Roman origin.

Significance: After me, obviously, and my favorite guy in the world, Tony Stark.

Pros: "Tony" is just a freaking great name.

Cons: No one likes being a "junior."  Also we'd end up with two Tonies in the house.  If it's a middle name (like mine) then I suppose it wouldn't matter much, though.  Still, seems a little narcissist to name the kid after me.  Also, being fair, as cool as Tony Stark is, he's sort of a terrible role model.  And even though I like Tony Stark, there's no guarantee my kid will.

Artist's depiction of my future child.


As: probably a middle name, after "Calvin."  Less likely as a first name.
Meaning: "Son of the Right Hand," from ancient Hebrew.

Significance: Andrew's father's name.

Pros: Honors someone who passed away.  Utterly inoffensive.  Liked by most people.

Cons: A little bit dull and basic.  I like old-fashioned names that won't be repeated and "Benjamin" is a little too common for me.  Also, I'm worried that my only interest in this name lies with my fascination with The Umbrella Academy, which features a character named Ben.  I don't want to name my kid based on a hyper-fixation.

"I was named after a tentacle monster superhero my parent thought was cool."


As: first name.

Meaning: "Bald," from Latin.

Significance: None. 

Pros: Andrew and I actually agree on this name.  We can call him "Cal" for short.  Easy to spell, pronounce, and despite being well-known, is not likely to be shared by any classmates.

Cons: Means "bald."  Disliked by most of our families.  Lacks significance.

You said it, Cal.


As: middle name.

Meaning: "Lucky," form Latin.

Significance: None.

Pros: Has an "X" with it, which goes nicely with Calvin's "V."  (Our kid's name is starting to look like a prescription heart medication...)  Has a good meaning.

Cons: Lacks significance.  On the rise as a popular name and we don't want to come across as basic hipsters in naming our child.  Possibility for teasing.

Felix the cat is the stuff of nightmares.


As: middle name.

Meaning: sheltered or near a meadow.  English in origin.

Significance: None.

Pros: I like it.

Cons: Andrew doesn't.

Pro: kid could become an astronaut.  With dogs!


As: Middle name.

Meaning: "Goodness of God," from Hebrew.

Significance: None.

Pros: I like it.

Cons: No one else does.

Cons: "Tobey" was one of the most awkward of the spider-men.


As: middle name.

Meaning: of Scotland.

Significance: None.

Pros: Solid middle name.

Cons: Basic, common middle name.  Also, neither Andrew nor I are Scottish.


As: middle name.

Meaning: conquering / conqueror, Latin.

Significance: My father's name.

Pros: Honors someone who died.  Badass meaning.

Cons: I don't want to be overly sentimental about my dad just because he's dead.  I mean, I loved my dad, but we had a slightly rocky relationship, and if he were alive I'm not sure I'd consider it as strongly.  Maybe I'm just being influenced by Andrew's suggestion of "Benjamin."

 My dad was a complex man.

After looking over the list I feel like I can easily eliminate a couple, such as Tobias and Scott.

In the end, I think we'll go with Calvin Benjamin if it's a boy, but I'm definitely stressing out about the decision.  There's only four more months to make it... a period of time that seems like a lot but will no doubt go by in the blink of an eye.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Two Minutes to Talk: IPAHW Speech

I just got back from Indianapolis, where I spent the weekend at IPAHW, or the International Pup and Handler Weekend.

For those just joining us, there's a subculture of people called "human pups" who enjoy emulating dogs.  I hold the title of LA Pup, which is a "feeder" competition for the International Pup title.  I went out to represent my city but without any intention of winning.  (I would have liked second place, though.)  With a baby on the way I really can't commit to a year-long title that requires a lot of international travel.

 Contest aside it was a really wonderful weekend.  
I met so many people who had heard of me and it was very flattering.  
This guy was insanely excited to meet me and his joy was infectious.

There were 16 of us competing and although I did not want to win, I wanted to perform well.  The contest for the title was broken into four parts: a private interview with the judges, a couple of "pop" questions, a two-minute speech, and a performance.  For me, the speech was the most important.  I was being given a platform of two minutes to communicate to an audience of hundreds whatever I wanted.  I wanted to make those seconds count.

Below is my speech, but first, I want to talk about how it went down.  The contest was somewhat disorganized, but it was no one's fault.  Sixteen contestants is a lot, twice as much as prior years, because there used to be two international titles and they were just combined into a single mega-contest.  As a result, things were a bit of a hot mess.  I had drawn #2, putting me right at the beginning of all of the segments.  On Saturday night, I was in my room practicing my speech, when my phone went off.  It was one of the producers, who informed me that due to an emergency schedule SNAFU, the contest had started an hour early.  They had shot off a text message but I had missed it; the contest had already started ten or fifteen minutes ago.

 The contestants.

In a blind panic, I dressed and ran down to the ballroom.  I flung open the doors just in time to hear the MC saying, "Tony Bark isn't here, so--"

"OH, YES I AM!!" I yelled, striding through the audience.  The applause was thunderous; who doesn't love a dramatic entrance?  I climbed onto the stage from the front and reached for the microphone; everyone was laughing, clapping, absolutely delighted.  The timing could not have been more perfect.

I made a joke about being panicked, something about being glad I was wearing dark pants, and then launched into my speech.


Here is is, below.  You might recognize much of it from previous posts where I've said uplifting crap.  This is no coincidence; I combed through this blog for material and tried to distill my best pieces of wisdom into 120 seconds, removed from my own ego, applicable to all experiences. Enjoy!

The "class" of 2019 onstage together.


It’s not a secret that I love superheroes. What’s not to like? The good guys always win. The right people triumph. Justice is served. Unfortunately, we all know that life isn’t quite like that. Life throws us a lot of curveballs. Fortunately, as pups, we love it when balls are thrown.

What being a pup has done for me is helped me realize the best parts of myself. I’d like to take my time to day to talk about those parts. Hope everyone here is ready to hear about my parts!

Being a pup has helped me grow as a person. In a world where the only thing I truly control is myself, I have found that being a pup allows me to emulate the best qualities that I want to see more of within my community. Here are some of those qualities.

It’s helped me find my voice, and know when to use it. It’s taught me to take the time to communicate, learn to ask for help or clarification when I need it, and to consider other viewpoints. It’s given me the courage to admit when I’m wrong. It’s helped me learn that even when I’m angry at or disagree with someone, I can treat them with respect, not as a reflection of who they are, but as a reflection of who I am. It’s kept me fiercely kind and kept my anger from turning to cruelty. It’s taught me to transform regret into action, and to avoid self-judgement and self-abuse. It’s allowed me to avoid taking things personally, and to forgive unintended harm; if you’ve ever stepped on a dog’s paw, you know how easily they can brush off unintended hurt. And for those who wish us intentional harm, I’ve found the strength to fight them in a dignified way, and wish healing instead of hurt.

The best part about pups is that we’re a pack and that every one of us matters. We’re all capable of being great, and doing great things. Some of us haven’t found our capes yet. But we all have that potential, and when we shirk off our doubt and self-consciousness, we can become something truly amazing. It lies in the heart of every pup.

Being loving, forgiving, accepting, and open is to be vulnerable. It’s in being vulnerable that we armor ourselves. It’s in being pups that we find our humanity. And it’s in these moments of uninhibited, inclusive passion for life that we become heroes ourselves, and show the world what it means to live invincibly.

Side note: the kicker to this speech was subtle advertising for my run pins. Traditionally title holders sell "run pins" for the year that they hold a title, to help offset travel costs.

 Available in two designs!  Collect 'em all!

In the end, between my dramatic entrance (which several people thought was staged, though it wasn't) and my speech (which got a TON of applause and so many compliments), I left feeling that I had done my duty in representing my city and bringing something to the table.  The judges were all enthusiast and encouraging, and had a lot of kind things to say.

But I'm glad to be home and relieved to know that my title is drawing to an end, which will let me focus a little less on the "pup community" and more on my own life, including journalism school.

Many congratulations to Sirius, the pup who won.  He's an incredibly active, involved, insightful, and pleasant individual, and I feel that I lost fair and square to the best.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Superhero Science, and the Best Thing to Do While You're in Vegas

If you've known me more more than about 10 or 15 minutes, then you probably already know that I like superheroes.  Like, a lot.

Today I'll be talking about one of my favorite places in Las Vegas: S.T.A.T.I.O.N.

STATION is located in the Treasure Island casino, and it stands for Scientific Training and Tactical Intelligence Operative Network.  STATION headquarters is basically a big interactive/immersive Marvel museum.  They have props and wing-wangs from the movies, with a lot of superhero "science" to explain how things work, in-world.

For example, Hulk's secret is that he's always angry.

No, but seriously, there's a part in the Hulk exhibit about which areas of his brain change.  In Thor's exhibit, there are star maps.  In Captain America's exhibit, you can see the prop motorcycle he rode in the first movie and also learn about Alaskan wood frogs, a creature that, like our own Captain America, freeze solid and then somehow come to life when they thaw.  (The answer?  Lots and lots of glucose in the blood, for one thing.)

 The entrance to the "bio lab," 
where information about how the Hulk works is mixed in with actual biology and anatomy facts.

 Information about the real-world Hadron collider is included with the exhibit on the Tesseract portal from the first Avengers movie.

 Both real and "Asgardian" star maps are in the Thor exhibit.

 3D renderings of Tony's suits show how they would be modeled and built.

Aww yiss.

The whole place is just an incredible piece of world-building and superhero science, and I love it.  The exhibits include a lot of movie props but mix in actual information.  It's a spectacular place to bring your kids, in my opinion.

Comic books have long inspired people to broaden their interests, and are many people's first experience with the STEM fields.  You've got Riri Williams and Lunella Lafayette working as mechanics and engineers, and Squirrel Girl going to college for computer programming (she reasons that she already knows everything about squirrels and it's best to study something she doesn't know anything about).

You've got cool people doing math.

That's right.  Math is cool.

And in my (admittedly biased opinion as a recovering scientist), that's really, really important.

This was my desktop background at work for several months.

Mind you, it's not just about inspiring kids to become scientists, although that's part of it, nor about making learning fun, although that's also part of it.  (Shout-out to Disney for opening a STEM center in Oakland for kids and pledging $1M to a STEM program following the success of Black Panther, which features, yep, more badass scientists.)

I'm not gonna lie, I, as an adult, have probably learned more from Marvel than from any other institution.  I'm a veritable encyclopedia on real-world trivia thanks to the Marvel universe, from what M&Ms looked like in Steve's lifetime (they contained purple and tan ones, and were sold in a cardboard tube) to how Tony's palladium arc reactor was poisoning him (the beta decay of palladium produces toxic rhodium and silver byproducts).

And I'm not the only one.  People have written whole books on the "science" of Marvel's fictitious world.

Although I've done my fair share of dabbling.  Putting aside the ridiculous amount of research into time travel for Divergence, I once stayed up all night researching nuclear warhead payloads to figure out why Tony wasn't blinded by the blast in Avengers 1.  (I'm probably on some lists now.)

 New iAlbatross drinking game:
Take a shot every time I needlessly plug Divergence.

In case you were wondering, fifty percent of a weapon's power is in the blast radius, and maybe a third is thermal radiation.  A B53 is nine megatons with a blast radius of three to four miles. The blast effect would kill any unprotected person in about a ten-mile radius, though Tony, in the suit, had some form of protection.  And within two-and-a-half miles, he would probably be getting a dose of about 500 rem ion radiation, which had a fifty to ninety percent chance of killing him, too.

The missile, (probably a Titan II or something similar), had a max speed of fifteen thousand miles an hour.  The bomb had been traveling at at least half that, though it had definitely lost some of its speed when Tony had snagged it and altered the course.  Half and half meant it had been going about three thousand. One or two thousand, conservatively, but certainly more than the sound barrier, at 767 mph.  So if the missile was going 1000 mph when Tony entered the wormhole and he'd been there for, say, thirty seconds, again being conservative... meaning that, when it went off in space, it was already five hundred miles away from Tony, well outside of the blast range.

Also, in case you were wondering the math about Tony being thrown from the tower, I learned from Avengers that he probably definitely should have been killed when he was flung out of Stark Tower.  At 93 stories tall, the building would be just under 1,000 feet, and Tony would have had less than 15 seconds before he smacked into the ground.

But enough math.  No, the reason I love comic book science is that it inspires actual science.  Life imitates art all the time.  You think people haven't been looking at Bucky's prosthetic arm and saying, "You know what, we could do that."  People are already building hydraulic Hulkbuster armors and jetpacks for themselves, and these aren't traditional "scientists," but armchair amateurs who have been inspired. 

Science fiction has long inspired new technology.  Star Trek gave us cell phones and automatic doors, and now it has a page on the official NASA website.  The word "robot" was popularized by a sci-fi fiction play.  (The play was about robots.)

 "Real" scientists:
Guys with garages: Hold my beer.

It's easy to dismiss comic books as flights of fancy that rely on fantastic, magical thinking to convey plot lines, but Clarke's Third Law states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  And that's what science, and comic books, are to me: magic.

Do yourself a favor.  Take your kids to S.T.A.T.I.O.N.  And if you don't have kids, take yourself.  You just might learn something.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Travels to the Emerald Island! An Ireland Vacation Photo Dump

Guess who's got one thumb, a cup of coffee, is featured in the photo below, and just got back from Europe?

This guy!

This week's post is a low-effort photo dump chronicling my adventures on a family trip to Ireland for one week.

It was a semi-guided tour around the south of Ireland, a package deal that hit up a bunch of the major historical markers one wants to see when they go to Ireland, such as Blarney Castle and the Cliffs of Moher.  In attendance were myself, Andrew, my mom, my brother Nate, and his partner, Also Andrew.  (To be clear, he is a distinct and separate Andrew; we aren't sharing.)

Part of my father's family hails from Sligo, so Ireland had long been on a must-see travel list for us.

The vacation immediately began on the right foot when our airline (taking Andrew and I from Los Angeles to Chicago) lost our luggage.  Well, not "lost."  Just... sent on a worldwide tour.  It went on to Orlando, Cancun, and possibly Dallas before arriving in Dublin, by which time we had already left for Galway.  In the end we had to tell the airline to ship it back to Chicago, where we would meet it at the end of our vacation.

The trip over was rough for me.  For reasons I can't fathom, I got violently ill on the plane and spent the last few hours of the trans-Atlantic flight vomiting myself stupid, sweating, crying, and moaning in pain.  I took some pride in getting a guy in first class sick, too.  (His seat was located by the restroom and separated from the other cabin by only a curtain, so he basically had front-row seats to watching me die from dysentery Oregon Trail-style.)

When we arrived in Dublin, the first thing that struck us was that everything was in both English and Gaelic.  Once considered a dead language, Gaelic is now the national language of Ireland and there's a big push to use it again.  Indeed, throughout our trip, we heard many people speaking it, which was fascinating.

We arrived at Dublin airport and went into County Meath with a brief swing through the city.

Leinster House, the seat of Irish parliament

The first day we were in town was all about getting settled and fighting jetlag.  It wasn't until the second day that we began touring in earnest.

Day 2 began with a guided tour of the city called "Viking Splash Tours," which was held in an old WWII car that had been outfitted with aqueous capabilities for Normandy beach, and was led by a man with a magnificent braided beard who shouted a lot.

He gave us hats.

If you're wondering why the hell there's a Viking tour in Ireland, it's mostly because Norwegian culture had a MASSIVE influence on Ireland.  Ireland, an island, has ample interactions with other seafaring cultures, so Norway and Spain both spent a lot of time conquering Ireland back and forth.  (You can see the Spanish influence as well; most cities have a Latin Quarter.)

The city is largely made up of row houses with the occasional incredible gem like this.  
I looked up what this building was and all I could find was a review for the bar on the street level:
"Phenomenal, got into a bar fight and didynt [sic] her kicked out. But told Sir.. please stop and sit."

Once the morning tour was over, we got a few hours to roam the city. It wasn't nearly enough, but I already knew what I wanted to do: see Trinity College, which houses the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript from the 9th century.

The interior of Trinity College.

Trinity College's "Long Room" is a gorgeous and indescribable old library packed with ancient tomes. 

Don't worry, this is only a facsimile.  
Photography of the real book is prohibited, but I did see it!

It also houses Brian Boru's famous harp, a national symbol of Ireland, dating back to the 1400s or 1500s.

After seeing the wonders of Trinity College, we promptly got lost like dumb American tourists and spent about an hour trying to locate the tour bus. We met them at the famous Ha'Penny Bridge, which was built in 1816 and extends across the Liffey, and was famously a toll bridge for over 100 years.

I have no pictures of the bridge but lots of our lost wanderings.

After a night's rest, we set off to Cork.  The countryside was as picturesque and stereotypical as you could imagine, with farms, small churches, tiny towns composed entirely of bars, and the occasional castle.

A random castle, seen from the road.

We arrived at Blarney Castle, which has an impressive, expansive grounds.

The castle itself is maintained as authentically as possible, without any props.  There are signs strewn about warning you that the stairs are VERY steep and VERY slippery.  They are all single-file and have no hand rail.  This is not a castle designed for people who love Medieval Times, but a castle for those who want to see an actual medieval castle from 1446 as it exists today.

The wood floors have long-since rotted away, leaving huge, tall rooms that have "floating" hearths like the one above.

Above is another view of how several stories end up looking like a single "room" because of the lost wooden flooring that would have divvied them up.

The bell tower at the top.

Yes, I kissed the stone, which apparently exists in a big hole on the roof 
and requires you to dangle your body into the hole to kiss it.

Because of the ridiculous climb to get to the top of the castle (signs everywhere warned not to bother even trying if you had a health condition or mobility issues), my mom opted to stroll around the poison garden.  Outside, a lone bagpipeman played.  It was a lovely day, bright green and just as picturesque as you could imagine.  I wish we would have been able to spent more time there.

But we had to meet the tour bus.  This time we didn't get lost; the town of Blarney is fairly small.  There's a giant village green in the middle of Blarney, where we hovered while we waited, watching locals play hurling there.

The next day, we set off for Cobh, a fishing town in Cork.

St. Colman's cathedral, as seen from the Spike Island Ferry.

We went to Spike Island, a famous ~100-acre fortress island often likened to the USA's Alcatraz.  Once a military stronghold, later a prison island (with a tiny ghost village where all of the guards and their families lived), it's now a historical location you can tour.

Afterwards, back on the homeland, we explored the fishing town of Kinsale, which like all other towns, was filled with small shops plying sweaters and sheep-stamped paraphernalia, interspersed with pubs.  It was a cute little holiday town and we swung by the local churchyard, where I found a snail.  This isn't really a remarkable note on Ireland's culture but snails are cool.

After Kinsale, we went back to the hotel for a rest before setting out the next day for Adare.

From the bus.

The fifth day was almost entirely dedicated to going to the famous Cliffs of Moher, in County Clare, which offer a sweeping view of the Atlantic from about 700 feet up.  Crisp, windy, and wild, a path along the cliffs offers virtually no safety, assuming people will be smart and not lean over the edge.

For more pictures of just the cliffs, taken while my mother yelled in the background for me to "not get so close," you can visit my Instagram album here.

That night, we made our way into Galway, where we stayed at the Glenlo Abbey hotel.  Famously, the traincar where they shot Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" is located here, and you can have dinner in it.  It's a great experience but all the travel was making me sick and I ended up retiring early.  Andrew and Nate opted to go play croquet on the grounds that evening.

Glenlo Abbey

The next day, feeling refreshed, we took a ferry to the largest of the three Aran Islands, Inis Mor (or Inishmore).  Twelve square miles, with a population of under 1,000, Inis Mor is a rocky little outcrop covered in stone cottages.  Horse carts pass through the streets regularly.  It's a place out of time.  The main "village" features a couple of bars and a couple of sweater shops, and not much else.  (There's a seal colony on one of the island's beaches.)

The most Irish photo every taken.

Like many of the tiny islands surrounding the mainland, Inishmore was once a historical stronghold.  At the island's peak is Dun Aengus Fort (Dún Aonghasa), or what's left of it.  This prehistoric fort is 100 meters up, perched on the edge of a cliff, and a decent hike.  I had flashbacks to the Cliffs of Moher as I leaned over the cliffside to get pictures while my mom warned me not to get too close.  It was windy and there was, again, no guard rail.  I have to say, I sort of like the Irish sensibility of "buyer beware" when it comes to exploring ruins.

 Me and my mom.  She bought a sweater.

Back in Galway, we finally got some free time and city wandering.  Having learned our lesson in Dublin, this time we took note of various landmarks so we didn't get lost.  We had dinner at The King's Head, a pub established in 1649 following the execution of King Charles I.  (Note: I was not a huge fan of the food, actually.)

The Aran Islands are famous for their knit sweaters, with different patterns representing different clans.  This sheep, for example, represents the clan of "tourist souvenirs."

After another night at Glenlo Abbey, we went to Rathburn Farm.  There's nothing especially historical about Rathburn Farm.  It's just a farm. But our tour guide had astutely and correctly determined that American tourists would like to see a sheepdog herd some sheep and eat scones in a cottage.  (I got to feed a lamb with a bottle!  My mom has pictures of this that I need to ask her for.  It was a delight.)

That evening we went into Shannon for our final day.  We spent the vast majority of it at Bunratty Castle.  Bunratty Castle includes a whole fake medieval town where you can visit different shops and see Irish Wolfhounds.  (Again, there's pictures, somewhere, but they are not in my possession.)  Unlike Blarney, Bunratty has decked out many of the rooms to give you an idea of what they looked like a few hundred years ago.

The stairwells are still steep and single-file, though, so if you plan to climb any of the towers, prepare not to use a handrail.  The Irish don't believe in them.

I could have spent one or two days at Bunratty, but only got to see a few animals and the castle itself before we were bustled back onto the tour bus, taken to a pub for dinner, and then told good-bye.

The next morning we made our way to the Shannon airport and back to Newark.  Here, United canceled our flights back to Chicago, St. Louis, and Los Angeles.  Over 600 people ended up stranded; like the others, we were told we'd have to hang out in the airport all weekend.  My mom ended up camping out; my brother called a few rental car companies to see about driving from New Jersey back to St. Louis (the closest place with available cars was Atlantic City).

Andrew and I opted to take the Metro into New York City, where we stayed at the Umbrella Hotel in Queens before going to JFK and taking a separate airline back to L.A.  This was in the midst of Pride weekend so Union Station was its own show.

Despite the stressful and upsetting end to what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation, it was overall a great experience, and the main draw wasn't really Ireland itself, but the people we explored it with.  My favorite attractions were Trinity College's Long Room, the Aran Islands, and Bunratty Castle, but in all honesty, getting to spend a week with my mother, brother, and husband would have been special, even if it was at an Ikea.  That being said, Ikea probably wouldn't have produced so many great pictures.

Andy and I

My brother Nate and I.  (He's a whole foot taller than me.)

All three of us: me, Mom, and Nate.
Nate wouldn't wear the hat.