Saturday, January 19, 2013

Another musing on the Sandy Hook tragedy

Like many people, I keep thinking about the massacre of the students at Sandy Hook last December. I'm not saying it occupies every waking moment of my life, but it would be accurate to say that not a day has gone by since the event that I have not pondered some aspect of it.

Of course, there are currently many prompts for these musings -- it's hard to run on the radio, pick up a newspaper, or go online without seeing or hearing something about the massacre. Probably the most wretched thing I've encountered of late are the conspiracy theorists who are claiming that the whole thing was contrived by anti-gun activists to allow them to successfully pursue their agenda of taking our guns away.

Yeah, that sounds sane.

But what I wanted to talk about was something specific, something in part inspired by the controversial suggestion by the NRA that the solution to events like the massacre at Sandy Hook is not to have better controls on who is able to buy what kinds of guns, but to have at least one armed guard in every school in the country, using their somewhat tenuous logic that "what stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun". Under certain circumstances, I guess that's true -- IF, for example, the "good guy" is right there on the spot, not taking a cigarette or bathroom break, and the "good guy" is a great shot and always hits his target instead of what's AROUND his target, and if the "good guy" isn't the first target of the "bad guy", who can then add the "good guy"'s gun to his own arsenal… or if, as in the case of the Columbine school shootings, there is more than one "bad guy". And so on.

There are all kinds of potential problems with this idea, not the least is that it is the classic "slippery slope" conundrum -- where would you stop? Schools like Sandy Hook are not the only potential targets for scum with guns -- what about libraries, town halls, theaters, and so on? And what about colleges, like my alma mater UMass over in Amherst? There have to be several dozen buildings on that campus, each one a potential killing zone for a demented shooter. Do we put an armed guard in each and every one of those buildings as well? Some of those buildings are huge -- do we need more than one guard for those? How many? And who pays for all of this?

And ultimately, is this the kind of world we want to live in?

However, I see a small nugget of possibility in the idea put forth by the NRA, but it doesn't involve installing guards armed with guns at every school. And in part, this idea was also inspired by my trying to imagine what it must have been like for the adults in the Sandy Hook school who tried to deal with the shooter. I believe the principal -- who had no weapon or body armor herself -- tried to get the gun away from him, and was shot dead. That kind of courage is hard to comprehend, but what is fairly easy to imagine are some thoughts which might have gone through her mind, such as "If I only had something with which I could stop this lunatic!" -- other than her vulnerable, unshielded body, which succumbed to his bullets.

So that got me thinking. What if, instead of adding MORE guns and guards to all the schools in the country, we instead supplied them with what is widely considered to be the easiest to use non-lethal defensive weapon available today -- the Taser*. Each classroom and office could have a Taser, mounted in a secure locked box which would be easily accessible by a person with the proper key (the teachers and administrators). Each teacher would receive training in the use of the device.

I'm not saying it's a perfect solution, and there are probably problematic angles I'm not considering, but it has significant appeal in this sense -- it would give those in the situation another option, something other than running, hiding, or confronting, unarmed, bare-handed, a killer with a gun and the proven willingness and intent to use it. -- PL

*Yes, I know that there have been some fatalities associated with Taser use, but from what I have been able to ascertain, those instances represent a very small percentage of total uses. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013


One of the many magazines I often buy is "SFX", a British movie mag which features lots of great photos and decent writing, and like several other British magazines I find on the racks at Barnes and Noble, it is lushly printed.

I picked up the January 2013 issue last week, and started to look through it, and was startled to see that there was a piece in it about the Ninja Turtles. (If I'd looked more closely at the fine print on the bottom of the cover, I would have realized it was in this issue.)

Basically it was an interview with Kevin, which was mostly fine except for one glaring error having to do with a trip I supposedly took to Brazil, where, deep in the Amazon rainforest, I saw a native lad pretending to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, this anecdote illustrating just how the TMNT meme had permeated the globe. The problem with this -- and in the article, it is written as if I am telling this story -- is that I have never been to Brazil. That incident actually happened, but it happened to an associate of mine who related the story to me, following which I repeated it a number of times over the years, as I thought it was a nifty tale. But I've NEVER said that I was on that trip to Brazil. 


… what I really wanted to write about here is yet another stupid typo, this time in an advertisement for a "Gandalf" collector's statue, one of a number of "Official Weta Collectibles" released to go along with the new "Hobbit" movie. It's not a Weta ad per se, but rather one for an online store called It's a full page ad, in full color, on page 8 of the magazine. I suspect it cost quite a bit to place it.

And at the top of the ad, Gandalf's name is spelled wrong.

Holy cow.

I have great sympathy for whoever put together that ad, knowing the kind of sinking feeling likely felt when he or she finally saw how it appeared in this magazine (and perhaps other places as well). --- PL

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bows and arrows

I've always been intrigued by archery. When I was a little kid, my brothers and I would make our own bows and arrows out of sticks we found in the woods near our  parents' house, and some string my father had in his workshop. These bows never worked all that well -- I think they were accurate to about a foot -- but they were fun. Many imaginary "Robin Hood"-type adventures were enjoyed using these simple, makeshift weapons.

And we never put our eyes out.

We lived right next door to a small cemetery, and I recall that occasionally we would scrounge through the wilted, cast-off flower arrangements, looking for the little green plastic arrowhead-shaped things which were used to keep flowers in their proper place in the foam blocks employed by the florists for such arrangements. We would stick these on the ends of our primitive arrows. It didn't improve the accuracy of these missiles, but they definitely looked cooler.

All my life, I have been a fan of the tales of Robin Hood and his band of merry men in Sherwood Forest. In fact, I recently purchased a Blue-Ray edition of the Errol Flynn movie version, "The Adventures of Robin Hood", and a couple of nights ago watched all the special features, including some cool demonstrations of expert archery by a gentleman whose name I forget at the moment. He did most if not all of the stunt shooting in the movie, for those instances where it was important to show a character getting struck by an arrow… which shows you how good he was, if these various actors were confident that he could shoot them precisely in the spot where hidden padding would protect them from harm.

And after watching "The Hobbit" for the second time, I decided to re-watch the three "Lord of the Rings" movies (wonderful films, and I was once again struck by what an incredible job of realizing the world of Middle Earth was accomplished by the folks at Weta). There is quite a bit of nifty bow and arrow action in those movies (even if some of it is digitally realized).

Combined with some discussions about archery with a new friend who is writing a fantasy novel for teens in which archery plays an important part, I was inspired to do something I have thought about for a long time, but never acted on…

… I decided to try my hand at self-taught archery.

I bought a bow (an inexpensive plastic long bow-style item) and some practice arrows, as well as a foam target, did a little research on the Internet about proper form, and started shooting. We are fortunate to have a fairly large (and mostly empty) basement, and -- after trying shooting outside in the snow -- I decided to move into the much warmer and drier basement. 

I quickly discovered several things.

Those target arrows I had bought were too short -- even at the thirty-five foot distance I was using for practice, they just didn't seem to fly straight enough to suit me. So I went out to the local Dick's sporting goods store, and picked up some longer aluminum arrows with screw-in steel target points, and those worked much better.

(Of course, I also discovered in short order how easily aluminum arrow shafts can BEND, especially after they strike a concrete wall at speed.)

Though the bow I had bought was perfectly adequate for my initial explorations, I was intrigued by what I was reading about compound bows, and within a week had purchased one of those -- again, an inexpensive ($60) model meant for older kids. And about a week after that, I succumbed to the desire to also own one of the lovely laminated wood recurve bows I saw in an online catalog.

So I've been practicing for the last few weeks, and it's been a lot of fun. I am gradually learning how to use these bows, and to figure out what I need to wear to protect my fingers and forearms from bruising and abrasions from the bowstring. I'm also realizing what a cool exercise this is -- it takes some strength to pull those bowstrings back to the proper distance, and then hold them there while you line up your shot. (Not so much with the compound bow, which I guess is one of the reasons they have become so popular.)

A few nights ago, I accomplished a modest goal -- I got all of my group of arrows into the target, with no misses! I'm not saying they all went exactly where I intended them to -- a few did, but not many -- but at least none of them veered away from the target. Here's a photo of the result:

I think I am soon going to try shooting at a longer distance -- there is a hallway in the basement which is about sixty feet long. I'm looking forward to the post-winter weather so I can get outside to practice. That should be interesting. -- PL

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


        I've never been a big fan of the "holiday" of New Year's Eve. I suppose it stems in part from my distaste for being around large groups of very-likely-inebriated people, but it's more that I don't really see the point. I mean, you're basically celebrating the fact that one day has ended and the following one begun. And except for perhaps some tax issues, and I suppose remembering to write the correct year when you have to, there is not a heck of a lot of difference between December 31 and January 1. Why not celebrate the end of, say, June and the beginning of July? 

So rather than throw together a few cliches about hoping you have a happy new year*, I thought I would muse -- or possibly rant -- about something else regarding time.

Emily got a new Mac laptop for Christmas, and I offered to help her set it up. I've done this "migration" thing a number of times before, using Apple's "Migration Assistant" utility software to copy everything from an older Mac to a newer Mac. It's a good idea to use that program, because unlike just "drag and drop" copying everything on one Mac over to the other Mac, using "Migration Assistant" ensures that everything will be in its proper place -- all those little files which make your favorite programs function as they should.

Typically, the way it's worked is that I would connect the two computers with a Firewire cable, and the transfer would take perhaps a couple of hours. However, the last time I did it was with Jeannine's MacBook Air, which has no Firewire port, and thus the transfer had to be done wirelessly, using our home network. It took quite a while -- more than a day, I think -- and during that time baffled me with a phenomenon which I'd forgotten about until I started to do the transfer for Emily on Thursday evening.

Briefly stated, the phenomenon in question relates to the display on the two Macs' screens of the process of the transfer. You might expect that there would be a steady, linear progression of the transfer of data from the old Mac to the new Mac, at whatever speed is possible for that setup.

Instead, the transfer time varies wildly over the course of the time it takes (and in this case, it took almost two whole days!), sometimes even seeming to go BACKWARDS. I was irked by this enough to write down, every so often, the time of day and what the display was saying as far as hours and minutes left to go. Here is what I wrote down -- the time of day on the left, and the remaining time on the right, in hours and minutes.


8:12PM         30 hours/30 minutes
8:40PM         31 hours/22 minutes
9:00PM         30 hours/33 minutes
9:25PM         39 hours/32 minutes
9:53PM         39 hours/26 minutes
9:57PM         36 hours/49 minutes
11:18PM 32 hours/24 minutes


9:40AM         24 hours/24 minutes
9:44AM         25 hours/37 minutes
10:17AM 24 hours/41 minutes
11:43AM 23 hours/02 minutes
12:00PM 22 hours/22 minutes
12:14PM 31 hours/04 minutes
1:40PM         16 hours/53 minutes
5:05PM         14 hours/02 minutes
6:17PM         13 hours/42 minutes

As you can see, to use one example, between 9PM and 9:25PM on the first day, the amount of time remaining actually INCREASED by about nine hours.

I don't get it.

I mean, these are computers, after all -- number crunchers par excellence. How difficult can it be to (a) calculate how many bytes of data there are to be transferred, and then (b) figure out how long that will take?

I suppose there might be some fluctuation due to the fact that the transfer was dependent upon the speed of the wireless network… but… NINE HOURS???

Seems a little wacky to me. 

Fortunately, the process did reach completion on Saturday morning… in time for Em's flight back to California. 

Whew! -- PL

P.S. The image I used at the top of this entry is a quick photo I shot through the windshield of our car as we drove back home from the airport.  The drive down and back was pretty awful, with the combination of heavy, blowing snow and darkness being one of my least favorite for car travel. There were moments on Interstate 91 when we could see no headlights behind us nor taillights ahead of us -- just seemingly endless curving lines of snowflakes rushing towards our windshield, and an empty void beyond.

We did see one cool thing -- well, cool visually, anyway -- as we drove alongside two large snowplow trucks on the highway. Their metal blades were intermittently scraping against bare roadway, throwing up huge showers of briefly glowing sparks, quickly extinguished in the wet, cold darkness. If (a) I had not been driving, and (b) I had brought my Nikon with me, I would have tried to capture that image.

*Just to be clear, I DO hope you have a great new year, now and for as long as you encounter new years.