Inside this cubicle the air is thick as honey, with asphyxiating flecks of the mundane bracing against the irrefutable promise of a golden weekend. Outside these pin-cushion partitions – and indeed inside as well – every tiny molecule in the universe is saying its goodbyes to its neighbors and preparing to splash into the unknown permutations of a distant someday. My fingers hammer at these tiny plastic letters, fully ignorant of what’s to come.
Or are they? The hallowed fingers of esteemed science – no doubt similar in size and shape to my own, only tasked with a far more specific purpose – have combed back the hair of the observable now and picked at the scalp-nits of projection. The fields of astronomy, physics, mathematics, and a cabinet full of –ologies have given us a map of what’s to come. A timeline of time’s last hurrah.
And the best part? If any of these predictions are wrong, every record of them will likely be destroyed before anyone finds out. That’s my kind of science.
Within 10,000 years, human genetic variation will no longer be regionalized. This won’t mean we’ll all look the same – the blonde gene will still speckle crowds and set up offensive jokes, but it will be distributed equally worldwide. This forecasted panmixia is far more optimistic than astrophysicist Brandon Carter’s Doomsday Argument, which places our present at roughly the halfway point of humankind’s civilized journey, and projects a 95% likelihood that we’ll be wholly extinct in 10,000 years.
If global warming hasn’t already soaked us into a Kevin Costner-esque hellscape by then, we may also be facing the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will raise the sea levels by 3 or 4 meters above wherever it will be once we lose the rest of the polar ice caps, which should happen long before then.
Long term forecast: buy a big-ass boat. Read more…
One of the television landmarks of my childhood involved magicians/dissectors-of-bullshit Penn & Teller, performing the classic splice-the-assistant trick. They then performed the trick once more on a transparent stage with transparent props in order to reveal the gadgetry and choreography that had effectively deceived us. My mother loathed the bit; to this day her stalwart faith in pure magic remains uncompromised. For me, it was an awakening.
I saw Penn & Teller’s commitment to debunkery as an invitation to question the unexplained, and to search for the truth tucked under the throw-rug of perception. This curiosity need not be an omnipresent obsession – I would much rather share in the astounded guffaws of David Blaine’s close-up audience than pry into the secrets of his masterful sleight-of-hand – but when trickery is but a front for a more nefarious purpose, this well-worn skepticism is a handy frock.
James Randi has been an activist for truth and an intrepid explorer of paranormal hucksterism for decades. When Copperfield transformed the Statue of Liberty into furtive air on national television, Randi made no effort to deflate our collective entertainment. But when pseudo-psychics make ludicrous claims of otherworldly powers in their pockets, James Randi is there to reach in and show us the lint of deception.
Naturally, he has pissed off a lot of people along the way.
The Amazing Randi rose to fame as a magician in 1956 when he broke Harry Houdini’s submersion record by having himself locked inside a sealed coffin beneath the surface of a hotel swimming pool for 104 minutes on The Today Show. But while Randi was happy to entertain a gawking audience, he was always critical of the mysticism that people would invite into their lives as fact. While employed by the Canadian tabloid Midnight, he penned a recurring astrology column by simply rearranging horoscopes from other publications and pasting them randomly under each sign. Read more…
While ruminating on beer and movies and the mighty Cleveland Browns may fuel the tip-tap-thump of my dancing fingers, every so often I owe it to myself and to my rapt and generous audience to dip into the unknown. A project such as this is by necessity a learning experience, and I pride myself on the days when the scope of my learning extends beyond “man, writing a thousand words takes a lot out of my day.”
To wit, I give you the Current Wars. My entire life I’ve taken for granted those two or three metal prongs that when plugged into a wall socket can generate electrical functionality. I know there’s a difference between AC and DC, but I never cared much what it was. The plug enables my stereo to play Hall & Oates really loudly. That’s all that matters.
And while part of me is swiftly stomping upon the piece of my brain that decided a history of Hall & Oates would be too fluffy a topic, the rest of me is on board for hearing all about the scraps and scuffles that shaped our electrical standards. Let’s load up our Big Gun, then Shoot to Thrill at Hell’s Bells while a little TNT Shakes Me All Night Long and leaves me Thunderstruck at the Highway To Hell that was the Current Wars. To those about to read, I salute you.
Thomas Edison waved the proud flag of Direct Current (DC), and helped it to become the early standard for the United States. It was simple – a power plant fed the power outward, and each street lamp could tap into it, as could anything else that required around 100 volts to operate. If you needed something a little oomphier or a little less mighty, different lines would have to be run for those things. As long as every area built their own plants to their own needs, everyone would be serviced and no corporate monopoly would run everything. Read more…
Tomorrow night your little angel may be hitting the streets, going door to door to beg for candy like a gin-soaked hobo with nothing left to lose but his last shred of dignity and the Tinky-Winky costume his mother had bought him. But tonight your angel’s older brother or sister could be up to something decidedly more sinister. Tonight they might be dancing on the dark side of the law.
The ‘trick’ side of trick-or-treating gets very little attention these days. Buying bulk boxes of mini candy bars and quietly judging the quality of each little kid’s costume as they come to the door is practically routine. Once when I was indulging in the ritual as a child someone asked me to sing a song. I’ll never forget, this guy wouldn’t give up the goods without being entertained. I was offended. Fortunately I was also unusually formidable when it came to belting the German rap verses of “Rock Me Amadeus.”
Also, I dressed as Falco every single year.
So where were the TP’ed trees and egg-stained houses of my childhood? Was it strange that I never felt a tremendous urge to deface some stranger’s property? Sure, I probably would have splattered my rebellious mark upon one or two walls had I anything resembling talent with a spray paint can. But that yen to inflict senseless damage simply wasn’t there.
Well, I shouldn’t imply that it was never there. I oozed a bit of irresponsible behavior in my day. But there was never a calendar-designated reason for it. If only I had been told of the wonders of Mischief Night. Read more…
In 2007, The National – one of Canada’s nation-wide nightly news broadcasts – ran a competition to track down the Seven Wonders of Canada. I’ve written a few articles on the various incarnations of the ‘Seven Wonders’ concept, but this one truly irks me. Canadians voted – I didn’t, but many of my countrymen who actually cared did – then a panel of CBC ‘experts’ voted on which Wonders made the list.
I don’t know why they bothered to poll the nation, only to hand the list over to a trio of talking heads to make the pick. They selected Roberta L. Jamieson, the first woman to receive a law degree in Canada, Roy MacGregor, who covers hockey for the Globe & Mail, a national paper, and the guitar player from Trooper.
Totally not joking. The guys who sang “Raise A Little Hell”.
Why these people had a greater say than the citizens of this country, I have no idea. But they did, and the end result was that they selected only two of the top seven voted upon by Canadians. Among the other five chosen, three don’t even make sense. The canoe? Prairie skies? The friggin’ igloo? Read more…
As a symbol of unrelenting persistence in the face of a seemingly unconquerable goal, you’d be hard-pressed to find a greater role model than Wile E. Coyote. My dad used to tell me this, and though he passed away before ever having achieved his own ultimate goal (total dominion over the world’s supply of pelicans), I think the lesson is valid.
Wile E. wasn’t the underdog – he was the dog completely devoid of hope. We know he’ll never achieve his goal: the capture and subsequent butchering of the one lone Road Runner who haunts his dreams and taunts his soul. Yet we know he’ll continue to try.
So who do we root for? The Road Runner is the cock-sure jock, sure-footed and impossibly agile, flicking his tongue at his nemesis and out-maneuvering him at every turn. Wile E. is slower, but methodical and elaborate in his schemes, intent on demonstrating his mental dominance over his foe, yet always neglecting that one tiny detail, that microscopic loophole through which the Road Runner inevitably prevails. I rooted for the coyote. I wanted him to win – not because I wanted the Road Runner to die, but because I wanted to see smarts prevail over flashy speed.
Also, he was kind of a dick.