Monday, May 30, 2011

On Memorial Day, Remembering Those Who've Fallen in Sci-Fi's Wars

This being Memorial Day, after honoring our servicemembers who have died our nation's real wars, let's take a moment to remember those who've sacrificed their lives in adventures both honorable and futile during science fiction's military conflicts:

* The U.S. Colonial Marines who died on a rescue mission to the LV-426 colony. Hampered by poor intelligence, inexperienced leadership, inappropriate rules of engagement, and civilian interference, the entire unit was wiped out in close quarters hand-to-hand combat and also a thermonuclear explosion:

Pictured: Colonial Marine dropship pilot Corporal Colette Ferro meets her end at the hands of a xenomorph suicide attacker.

The lone Marine survivor, Corporal Dwayne Hicks, subsequently died in the sequel due to questionable artistic choices.

 Game over, man. Game over, indeed. [Aliens (1986)]

* United States Marine Corps Space Aviator Cavalry, 58th Squadron, "Wild Cards." May this unit of elite aviators/ground-pounding grunts (depends on the episode) rest in peace. Well, those who died -- it ended in a cliff hanger, it's hard to tell:

Aren't we about due for a reboot now? [Space: Above and Beyond (1995)]

* The Black Knights of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 (VMFA-314), vital in their role responding to, getting stomped by, and eventually repelling an alien invasion. Plus Randy Quaid.

Harry Connick was a fighter pilot. He dies. Not much more needs to be said. [Independence Day (1996)]

* The U.S. Air Force's Stargate Command, for their tireless dedication in protecting the Earth from internal and external threats across a movie, like 3 different TV series, and some more movies, at least one of which was not direct-to-DVD.

None of the characters on the left side died. Except for Daniel, who kind of did. For a while. Dr. Janet Frasier on the right died, and actor Don Davis, playing General Hammond, actually died, or as we like to say, "Went to the White Lodge." [Stargate SG-1 (1997)]

* The American Forces / Fuerzas Americanas, indoctrinated from birth to fight in many references to Blade Runner that went mostly unnoticed because not many people saw the movie. Sir.

 [Soldier (1998)]

* Federation Mobile Infantry, which suffered massive casualties in the Bug War, with many of the survivors going on to die of sexual exhaustion in the co-ed showers. Would you like to know more?

[Starship Troopers (1998)]

* "E" Company, 2nd Battalion 5th Marines. Er, I can't really say anything because I haven't seen Battle: LA yet. Aaron Eckhart is pretty cool, I hope he lived.

[Battle: LA (2011)]
In summary, it seems like Marines get featured, and subsequently get killed in, a lot of sci-fi movies.

Any other suggestions? (including the movies and TV shows that I specifically left off the list, because they suck.)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

My Name Is Indeed a Saving Word (For Hurricane Preparedness Supplies)

If you saw my blog entry from Thursday (and chances are, you didn't -- Facebook Notes were being flaky again), you would have seen my entry Say My Name and Save During Hurricane Preparedness Week (for Real), which explains how saying "Joe Loong" during checkout will save you 20% off your purchase (excluding car batteries) at 3 Batteries Plus locations in Virginia, now through May 31.

Well, it's true -- after getting my car's intake hose replaced and my tire repaired this morning (apparently, I've been driving around with a nail in it for a few months), I stopped off at the Batteries Plus store in Fairfax:

Corvette not included.

After doing some shopping (to be honest, I'm pretty well set for most batteries and lights right now -- they have light bulbs and other stuff, though), I went to check out, and after saying my name and giving an explanation, came away with "my" 20% discount (looks like tax was still charged, though, and batteries and flashlights are supposed to be exempt):

Subtotal is 20% off. However, looks like tax was charged.

I bought a hand-cranked/solar flashlight, as well as an A23 battery for one of my odder lights:


In summary, see the original post, and through the rest of May, save 20% off your purchase (excluding car batteries) at Batteries Plus locations in Alexandria, Fairfax, and Manassas by saying my name (Joe Loong) at checkout.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Say My Name and Save During Hurricane Preparedness Week (for Real)

This is kind of odd, but 100% confirmed and true: During Virginia's May sales tax holiday for Hurricane and Emergency Preparedness Equipment, May 25-31, 2011 (which ties into National Hurricane Preparedness Week), at Batteries Plus store locations in Alexandria, Fairfax and Manassas, say my name (Joe Loong, duh) and save 20% off anything except car batteries.

What in the World?

A few days ago, I posted 5 Quick Rules: Choosing a Flashlight for Your Emergency Disaster / Go Kit to the blog. Purely by accident, I realized it was also National Hurricane Preparedness Week, so I posted it to Facebook (my Notes import isn't working currently).

Jason Mitchell, one of AOL's original three webmasters, used it to plug the Batteries Plus stores that he owns and operates -- here he is below, in the right:


In Virginia, for hurricane preparedness, there's a sales tax holiday until May 31, where you don't have to pay state sales tax on disaster preparedness supplies like batteries, duct tape, flashlights, weather radios, first aid kits, generators, blue tarps, etc. -- see the full list of tax-exempt items [PDF])

I asked Jason if he was doing any specials at his stores on top of that. Here's his response:


I confirmed via Facebook message that this is for real -- the discount is in the system and the employees at the 3 stores have been told.

So, my name is a saving word.

If you're looking for batteries or flashlights or other related disaster-preparation materials and you're in Virginia, go to Batteries Plus locations in Alexandria, Fairfax and Manassas, say "Joe Loong," and you'll save 20% off in addition to the sales tax saving.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

5 Quick Rules: Choosing a Flashlight for Your Emergency Disaster / Go Kit

Now I usually have a flashlight or two on me at all times -- when I have my keychain on me, I have a light. After all, it's guaranteed to get dark every night, and they are darned useful things. But even if you're not like me, here are five quick rules for picking lights for your emergency kits:

Rule the first: The crappy flashlight you have on you is better than the awesome flashlight you don't.

Okay, I lied: Have a flashlight on you whenever you can. Emergencies don't always happen in the comfort of your own home. Tiny keychain flashlights may not be very bright and they might run on hard-to-find coin cell batteries that you need a jeweler's screwdriver to change, but having a crappy light on your keychain can help you get to a better light (like the one in the trunk of your car or your desk drawer.) And in an emergency, any light is better than no light.

Even if it moos:

Mooing cow keychain LED light.

Non-mooing coin cell keychain lights:

Coin-cell keychain LED lights

Corollary to the first rule: Your cellphone doesn't count as a light.

But, you might say, I already have a light: my cellphone screen lights up -- I even have a iPhone app that turns my phone into a flashlight! And you just said "any light is better than no light"!

Other than the ridiculousness of using a $500 phone to imitate a $0.99 flashlight (and poorly at that), save your phone so you can use it as a phone. Not only do you not want to run down your battery in case you need it to actually communicate during an emergency, but the more you wave your phone around trying to use it like a flashlight, the more likely you are to drop it, which means you're out both a phone and a light.

Rule the second: Brands don't really matter, but batteries do.

As a flashlight aficionado/geek, this one actually pains me a bit to say, but unless you're in a public safety profession where you need a fancy specialty light (weaponlight, hazardous environment rated, dive light, something to cut through smoke or forest, etc), pretty much any modern light that you can get these days at CVS, Sears, Target, Home Depot or Wal-Mart will serve you in an emergency.

Yes, using a modern flashlight with LEDs (no bulbs to worry about burning out or breaking), power regulating circuitry and ruggedized/waterproof casing is helpful. But (and this is important), as long as it uses easy-to-find batteries (no watch or camera batteries), you'll probably be okay.

In an emergency situation, easy-to-find basically means AA and AAA batteries. For us oldsters who didn't grow up with eBay and DealExtreme, C and D batteries are still ingrained as "flashlight batteries," which means they disappear from stores pretty fast. From anecdotes as recently as the Northeast blackout of 2003, C and D batteries were cleaned out, but AA and AAA batteries were available.

Cheap, good 1 AAA pocket LED lights from Wal-Mart

Rule the third: Go hands-free

A good quality LED headlamp can do pretty much anything a handheld can do, at least for what a typical person would need in an emergency.

Headlamps tend to have wider flood and lesser throw, but you can hold them in your hand (wrap the headstrap around your wrist) as well as wear them on your head (duh) to keep your hands free when you're making a sandwich or changing a tire. (Just try not to shine them into the eyes of the people you're talking to, it's annoying.)

Selection of LED headlamps

Rule the fourth: In emergencies, output is okay, but runtime rules

In an emergency that leads to an extended power outage, unless you're in one of those aforementioned specialty occupations, most people will find that runtime is far, far more important than brightness. When it's truly dark out, a light can become "too bright" to be usable pretty quickly.

LED, cold fluorescent, or even electroluminescent lanterns are plenty fine for typical indoor use -- adjustable settings will also let you find the right balance between usability and battery life.

Small LED lanterns

Rule the fifth: More is usually better

You don't have to be like me (a mostly-reformed, formerly unhinged flashlight collector -- but you should see those other guys), but you should have a couple of lights, so you don't have to cannibalize your emergency kit for a light for the kids on Halloween.

Preferably, have a light in each one of your emergency kits, one in the glovebox of each of your cars, and a few others in the house (master bedroom, kitchen drawer, utility room -- preferably enough so you have one for each member of the family so the kids don't fight.)

Bigger, brighter LED flashlights

No matter how many flashlights you have, check them periodically to make sure they still work, especially if you store them loaded with alkaline batteries, which can leak acid and cause flashlights (especially modern LED ones) to break. Lithium batteries are more expensive but don't have this problem.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Weekend Review: Rapture, Mullet and Other Disappointments

The Rapture didn't occur. Or maybe it did, and we all got left behind. Or maybe we all got taken, and this is the best of all possible worlds.

The Scotch experiment, wherein I sought to change things around a bit and expand my palette by sticking to Scotch in bars, is suspended indefinitely. I was in such rough shape by Friday that I basically didn't drink (well, almost, at least not effectively), and instead cut out early (after walking out on my tab) and finished my second PhotoVenn, highlighting the Road to My Mullet:

PhotoVenn: A photographic Venn diagram of my mullet: short hair pic from 2001; mullet from 1993, long hair from 2006.

Saturday, my car passed inspection without incident, and I went to a barbecue, where we toasted the non-Rapture at 6pm ET (though with some nervous laughter when the power went out), and watched the Preakness on TV.

I went home to take a nap (read: pass out), and was awoken at 11pm and convinced to go to the Reston Town Center to hang out with a visiting rugby team from Boston, at Jackson's and McCormick & Schmick's, which turned into something of a shit show (an opinion offered even though I was observing and not participating).

Sunday, went to the Town Center again for the arts festival, ditched when it looked like rain, went for a bonus workout and then when it got nice again, returned to M&S Grill for a workout-busting three-dollar-burger and some beers.

That was pretty much it. Did not get very far with the three goals of encountering more people I didn't already know, the alternate drinking regimen, or getting down to a hard-cut 130. There's always this week, though I can't say I'm really looking forward to it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Terrible Names: Standard and Reliant

Instead of posting what I really want to post about (which would be insanely self-defeating and self-destructive, and also I'm not drunk anymore), I will talk about the worst-named modern weapons system I can think of: The Standard Missile, manufactured by Raytheon:

Aegis_2006_march_b[Image by Flickr user US Missile Defense Agency, used under Creative Commons license.]

Seriously, it's such a bad name, that even the Raytheon underwriters' message spot on WAMU (or was it an ad on WTOP, I forget), where the very self-conscious tagline is, "there's nothing standard about it."

Of course, there are many connotations of "standard" that are complimentary (or that at the very least, don't suck) -- the standard by which others are judged; a naval or military flag. And, really, anything's got to be an improvement over the system it replaced in the 1960s -- the Tartar.

However, when I hear "Standard", I think: "What, was 'Adequate' already taken? How about the 'Meets Requirements'?"

Reliant: Reliable or Relying?

I'm reminded of the ship name, "Reliant" (yes, the USS Reliant from Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan), for which the favorable definition of the word "reliant" (confident; trustful) has been long since overshadowed by its modern meaning, "having or showing dependence." (In fact, Websters online only lists the nonfavorable definition, "having reliance on something or someone : dependent").

It doesn't help that, to me, the other modern use of Reliant (if you can call the early 1980s "modern") was the Chrysler Reliant K, a crappy vanilla econobox that has an inexplicably favorable Wikipedia writeup. (Not being a Texan, I have no connection to Reliant Energy, a company which was founded in 2002, which is just inexplicable to me.)

Does anyone actually use "reliant" as a synonym for "reliable"?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I don't know if it's the increased speed with which time seems to pass, but I feel like I'm changing burnt out headlight bulbs on my car all the damn time.

I've been buying my bulbs in 2-packs, so I can keep a spare in the glove compartment, and I don't change both headlamps at the same time. So maybe it's like the Olympics, where the winter and summer games are 4 years apart, but since they started staggering them, something happens every 2 years, so they feel more frequent.

On the other hand, for a while, I've been buying the second-cheapest Sylvania bulbs, which are supposed to be brighter, but don't last as long (according to the bar chart on the back of the package).

Now, on my Mazda, changing the bulbs used to be incredibly annoying, since the coolant and windshield wiper reservoirs are behind each light (so no room to work), and the retaining clips that held the bulbs in place were real thumb-killers.

The past few times, it's only taken a few minutes to change the bulbs. Either I've gotten a lot more proficient, or the spring tension is coming off the retaining clips.

Anyway, the point of this fascinating story is that I went to buy a replacement bulb at the local auto parts store -- $15.63. I gave the clerk a $20.63, and I think the exact change threw him, because he thought I'd given him a hundred, and started counting out change accordingly:


I'm all for Bank Error in Your Favor, but I've worked a cash register and know how much it sucks when your drawer doesn't tally, and an $80 swing is pretty bad. So I actually did stop him as he was counting out twenties.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Video: Elephant Trapped in Friendship Heights Metro

In Friendship Heights this weekend for Transparency Camp, I was startled to hear an elephant trapped underground in the Metro. I took a video:

Evidently, it's quite annoyed. Not to mention annoying.