Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dodging a bullet from Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy roared over the East Coast Monday and Tuesday and mostly spared Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia.
The storm was a cake walk for us compared to the summer derecho storm, which left us without power for four days. Power to our home in Vienna, Va., was out for 15 hours this time around.
The storm appears to have had a devastating impact on New Jersey and New York, in particular. But my family dodged a bullet this go-round.
We were watching “The Voice” on NBC and celebrity coach Adam Levine was just about to pick a winner from one of his Knockout pairings when the electricity went out. It was out from 9:05 p.m. Monday to about 12:05 p.m. Tuesday.
My wife had planned ahead for the blackout. She purchased head lamps for the kids and one for me that clipped to the bill of my baseball cap. She also bought glow sticks and little flashlights for the kids.
The temperature dropped to 64 degrees inside our house overnight. But we put on sweaters and sweatshirts and soldiered on.
The worst part of the whole ordeal was the kids fighting. They were off from school Monday and Tuesday and were getting cabin fever from being stuck inside while the rain and wind raged.
But the power’s back and they’re returning to school tomorrow. Praise the Lord.

Photo: Screenshot from my smartphone showing power outages in Northern Virginia as of 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to Dominion Virginia Power. We were among the unlucky 12% of Dominion’s customers in the region that lost power.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Prepared for Hurricane Sandy

Washington, D.C., and its suburbs are freaking out about Hurricane Sandy causing flooding, downed trees and, worst of all, power outages that could last for a week or more.
States of emergency have been declared from the Mid-Atlantic through New England. News media are prognosticating about how bad the storm could get. They’re saying it could be a massively destructive “frankenstorm” when the warm hurricane hits a system of cold air from the north.
Fairfax County, Va., today decided to close its schools for Monday and Tuesday. Metrorail and other public transportation in the D.C. area will be shut down on Monday.
Hardware and grocery stores were madhouses today around Vienna, Va., where we live. Flashlights, D batteries, power generators and window well covers were among the items sold out at the Home Depot in Reston, Va. Grocery stores were running out provisions like bottled water. A number of gas stations were sold out of gasoline. People were in full-on panic mode.
Having lived through the terrible derecho storm over the summer, which knocked out power to my home for four days, I’m not looking forward to a repeat.
I’m hopeful that this storm will skirt D.C., head further up the coast and leave us unscathed. As it stands now, forecasters are projecting Sandy to take a sudden turn inland (see graphic above) and hit us. I’m no weatherman but that seems like a strange divergence from the storm’s current path. I’m praying the forecasters are wrong.

Graphic: Forecast path for Hurricane Sandy as of 8 p.m. EDT Sunday from the National Hurricane Center. (Click on graphic for larger view.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Robot Hall of Fame welcomes two iRobot machines and WALL-E

The Robot Hall of Fame this week enshrined two machines built by iRobot – its Roomba vacuum cleaner and PackBot military workhorse. It also added fictional trash-collecting robot WALL-E from the Disney-Pixar movie of the same name.
The Pittsburgh-based hall, which honors real robots from science and industry and fictional robots that serve as inspiration, held a ceremony Tuesday to induct two sets of robots.
The 2012 class of inductees includes Aldebaran Robotics’ NAO humanoid, iRobot’s PackBot bomb disposal robot, Boston Dynamics’ four-legged BigDog and WALL-E. I accurately predicted three of the four selections this year.
The ceremony, held at Carnegie Science Center, also honored the 2010 class, which was never formally enshrined. That class includes NASA Mars exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity; iRobot’s Roomba; the da Vinci Surgical System; the characters Huey, Dewey and Louie from the 1971 film “Silent Running”; and T-800, the character played by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Terminator” film series.

Photos: iRobot’s PackBot at work (top) and Robot Hall of Fame poster. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

News media capture my son’s encounter with President Barack Obama

After President Barack Obama gave a speech Friday in Fairfax, Va., he bounded off the stage and greeted people at the fence line.
As he was shaking hands with supporters, he noticed my 9-year-old son Christopher. He bent down, smiled and said, “How are you doing?” To which Chris replied, “Great,” and shook his hand. I was a few people behind Chris and couldn’t get a good photo of the encounter. Thankfully, photographers for the Associated Press and UPI took some good photos. (Click on the photos for a larger view.)
The first photo is by Kristoffer Tripplaar, who was on assignment for UPI. Kris was kind enough to email me a higher resolution version of the photo that I found online. My son is wearing a blue polo with colored stripes. I’m in back to the right, wearing a purple shirt.
The AP shot below shows the moment after the woman hugged Obama. It captures my son looking up at the president. It was published on the Richmond Times-Dispatch website.

The next couple of photos are mine, showing the president talking to Chris and moving on down the line. And lastly, here’s a shot of Christopher with the president speaking behind him.

 And a picture of me and the president speaking.

Obama campaign event music playlist and other trivia from recent visit to Fairfax, Va.

On Friday Oct. 19, President Barack Obama spoke at a campaign event at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. The event received a lot of press because of Obama’s attacks on his Republican opponent Mitt Romney. (See story links below.)
I was in attendance, along with my 9 year-old son. Here are some miscellaneous observations about how the event was organized.

Obama campaign event music playlist

Once in the venue, attendees had to wait more than three hours for the president to speak.
Organizers started admitting ticket holders to the event, held on the GMU football practice field, at 8:45 a.m. The president took the stage about noon. The event featured four other speakers who warmed up the crowd.
During the down time, organizers played a mix of rock, country and R&B music. Here’s the majority of the playlist. My iPhone app Shazam didn’t recognize some of the songs, likely because of background noise.

“Mr. Blue Sky” – ELO
“Keep Me in Mind” – Zac Brown Band
“Raise Up” – Ledisi
“Stand Up” – Sugarland
“We Used to Wait” – Arcade Fire
“Even Better Than the Real Thing” – U2
“Green Onions” – Booker T. & the M.G.s.
“No Nostalgia” – AgesandAges
“Roll with the Changes” – REO Speedwagon
“Love You I Do” – Jennifer Hudson
“Learn to Live” – Darius Rucker
“Home” – Dierks Bentley
“Keep Marchin’” – Raphael Saadiq
“Tonight’s The Kind of Night” – Noah and the Whale
“My Town” – Montgomery Gentry
“I Got You” – Wilco
“You Are the Best Thing” – Ray LaMontagne
“We Take Care of Our Own” – Bruce Springsteen
“The Best Thing About Me Is You” – Ricky Martin, featuring Joss Stone

Campaign event preparations

Obama spoke from a platform placed at the 5-yard line on the artificial turf field. I tweeted that this could be a metaphor for his campaign being in the red zone or making a goal line stand. We’ll find out which on Election Day, Nov. 6.
A big focus of this event was women’s health issues, an area where Obama draws a clear distinction from Romney. Three of the four warm-up speakers were women, including Democratic Party activist and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.
For the event, the bleachers behind the president were packed almost entirely with women. That way, as Obama spoke about women’s issues, he’d have a lot of cheering women backing him. It’s all about managing the media.
Great attention was paid to the look of the speaker’s platform. It had to be just right. Flowers were rearranged and the red-white-and-blue curtains retouched several times.
Before the president arrived, one of his handlers stepped on stage to affix the presidential seal to the podium. He carried the plate-sized ornament in a cloth bag like it was as vital as the nuclear launch codes. Before Obama took the stage, he came back to make sure the seal was secure and straight.

Media coverage of the event

Obama fires up crowd in Virginia with ‘Romnesia’ speech (Washington Post)
‘Romnesia’ and the weasel factor (Washington Post)
Obama diagnoses ‘Romnesia’ (CNN)
Obama accuses Republican rival of suffering ‘Romnesia’ (Reuters)
Obama: GOP nominee suffering from ‘Romnesia’ (NBC)
In Virginia, Obama diagnoses Mitt with ‘Romnesia’ (CBS)
President Obama Accuses Opponent of Contracting ‘Romnesia’ (ABC)
Romnesia’s rise from Twitter to Obama (Politico)
‘Romnesia,’ Meet The ‘Mittmento’ Movie Poster (Huffington Post)

Photos: My photos of the event. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Obama campaign makes good

Earlier this month I vented about how I couldn’t get in to see President Obama speak at a nearby event even though I had tickets and arrived well in advance of the start time.
Fast forward to today and the Obama campaign has made me and my 9-year-old son happy campers.
After we got bumped from the last event, Virginia campaign workers took down my contact info and said I’d be put on the VIP list if Obama made a return visit to Fairfax County, Va. With the Nov. 6 election fast approaching, I didn’t hold out much hope for that.
But on Thursday I got calls and email messages from two different campaign offices offering me VIP tickets to see the president speak at George Mason University on Friday. I picked up the tickets, took my son out of school (he only missed a field trip to the Kennedy Center) and drove to the event in Fairfax, Va., this morning.
True to their word, we were treated like VIPs and given front row views of the president’s speech. It was a great speech too, instantly famous for Obama’s description of his opponent as having a position flip-flopping disease called “Romnesia.”
My son and I got to shake the president’s hand and feel like we were a part of history.
My thanks to the Fairfax County Democratic Party officials for making it happen.

Photo: President Barack Obama speaks at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Oct. 19.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Disturbing trend: TSA agents vandalizing travelers’ property

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has taken a lot of flak lately for numerous instances of thievery. But I’d like to shine a light another TSA offense – vandalism of traveler’s property.
As administrator of the Twitter account @TSArants, I’ve documented a lot of complaints about the TSA – more than 20,000 over the last 10 months. That’s just a small sample of all the complaints on Twitter about TSA.
Mixed in with the usual complaints about TSA sexual molestation and thuggery are quite a few reports about TSA agents breaking stuff. I have seen numerous reports of broken luggage and bicycles and dropped notebook computers.
But the vandalism I find most disturbing are the cases were TSA agents open a bottle of shampoo or other liquid in a traveler’s suitcase and dump it all over their clothes. This sort of behavior is mean-spirited and juvenile, to say the least.
I can picture TSA agents having a good laugh as they pour perfume over a traveler’s clothes in a suitcase they’re inspecting. Then, to top it off, they throw in the standard form that says the bag has been inspected by the TSA.
It’s bad enough that TSA agents steal from luggage they’re inspecting, but vandalizing someone’s personal items is just nasty.

Here are a few representative tweets from the last couple of weeks.

On Oct. 6, Caleb Bachman of Oklahoma tweeted that his luggage had been violated.
“Just got home and found that our checked bag was opened and subsequently pillaged by TSA. Broken/damaged items, ruined clothes, etc. Awesome,” he wrote.

On Oct. 10, Twitter user @MereMir wrote, “Dear TSA, thanks for ruining a $200 amazing bottle of perfume I got for my birthday and spilling it all over my new birthday gifts. Really appreciate and look forward to our next meeting.” She included a photo of the empty perfume bottle and a TSA Notice of Baggage Inspection. (See her Instagram photo above.)

Also on Oct. 10, Deb Roundtree wrote, “So, I wonder if the TSA purposely dumped a bottle of shampoo inside of my luggage yesterday.”

On Oct. 11, Michael Creasy of San Francisco wrote, “My bag was ‘inspected’ by the TSA. They didn’t bother to re-wrap the jar of BBQ sauce in my bag. So it smashed. Ruined clothes.”

On Oct. 13, Stephanie Reed of Danville, Va., tweeted that a shampoo bottle had been opened and spilled all over her clothes in her checked luggage. And the lid from a pill bottle also was left open. (See her Instagram photo at the top of this article.)

On Oct. 14, Craig L. Chapman wrote, “Dear #TSA this is the second laptop screen you broke. Your carelessness and ineffectiveness is a burden to this nation.” He included a photo with his post. (See below.)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Another post-apocalyptic TV drama coming

Post-apocalyptic TV dramas are all the rage right now. That has to say something about our collective psyche. Three such dramas are currently airing and fourth is coming this spring.
AMC has “The Walking Dead.” NBC has “Revolution.” TNT has “Falling Skies.” And in April, SyFy will air “Defiance,” which depicts Earth after a war with alien invaders.
All of these dramas show humans struggling to survive after a cataclysm. With the U.S. struggling to find its footing after the Great Recession, maybe TV viewers want to be entertained by the notion that things could be a lot worse.

See also:

Post-apocalyptic TV dramas proliferating. Part of Obama’s legacy?

List of post-apocalyptic TV dramas

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why no porn parodies of Mitt Romney?

Four years ago, the porn industry parodied Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in an adult movie released before the election. She was mocked in a total of nine adult movies from 2008 through 2011.
The porn industry also parodied President Barack Obama in four adult movies in 2009 and 2010.
But for the 2012 presidential election, there have been no porn parodies.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has gotten a pass from the likes of Hustler’s Larry Flynt. And I wonder why? The most obvious reasons are business considerations.
Maybe political porn parodies don’t sell well. But I find that hard to believe given how many there have been over the years. Other targets of such films have included President Bill Clinton (obviously), President Richard Nixon, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (of course) and New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (natch).
(For a list of porn movies based on public figures or real-life events, check out this censored photo gallery.)
Or maybe porn companies are just more interested in doing porn parodies of attractive women, such as Palin, than middle-aged men. That seems credible.
Or perhaps adult film companies are worried about the political ramifications of parodying Romney. If Romney is elected president, there’s a good chance he could push moral codes and try to crack down on the porn industry for obscenity.
But porn companies aren’t known for backing down from a First Amendment fight.
Most likely, adult movie studios didn’t give Romney any chance of winning against incumbent Obama. So why make a porn movie about someone they see as a flash-in-the-pan political figure?
Just in case Romney does win, adult studios should be working on some Romney porn parody scripts. If these movies even have scripts.

Photo: Romney Condoms from Say It With A Condom. (See Huffington Post article.)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Protesting TSA with T-shirts, at your own risk

Most Americans who fly for business or pleasure tolerate the TSA. They might be critical of the agency and its expanding mandate, but they don’t want to make waves. They just want to get where they’re going without getting hassled.
A small minority are willing to stand up to the TSA and what it represents. They see the TSA and its practices as an erosion of our Constitutional rights and another sign that the U.S. is becoming a “nanny state” or, worse, a police state. They see the TSA as a massive waste of taxpayer dollars and an ineffective, abusive government agency with no accountability. 
These brave Americans want to educate others about how the TSA is a threat to our freedoms and why people need to be concerned. These activists openly engage in conversations with others in person, on social media and with the press to get their opinions across. They will opt out of potentially harmful radiation scanners and submit to humiliating pat-downs in public. Sometimes they will organize airport protests or pass out anti-TSA literature. 
For those less courageous, there are other ways to protest the TSA. 
One way is to wear anti-TSA T-shirts as conversation starters. 
There are many such T-shirts available to order online. They have bold graphics and clever phrases that mock the TSA. 
But wear these shirts at your own risk at airports. You might be subjected to a full-body pat-down, intense questioning or prohibited from flying by TSA thugs. 
On Aug. 18, Arijit Guha, an Arizona State University student, was prevented from boarding a Delta flight from Buffalo-Niagara International Airport to his home in Phoenix because of the anti-TSA T-shirt he was wearing. Guha wrote about the incident on his blog. The incident also was covered by BoingBoing, Infowars and RT, among others. 

Here are some of the many anti-TSA T-shirts to be found online:

4th Amendment Underclothes has the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution printed in metallic ink for radiation scanner operators to see.

Infowars sells “End the TSA” and “TSA Groping Since 2001” T-shirts.

Snorg Tees sells shirts that say “I Got to Second Base with a TSA Screener.”

Zazzle sells a bunch of T-shirts with variations on “Don’t Touch My Junk.”

Zazzle also sells “I Was Molested by the TSA” T-shirts. (See photo below.)

Despair Inc. has shirts with the TSA logo that say “Your naked photos are safe with us.”

Monday, October 8, 2012

TSA funnies: Protesting through art

Opponents of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration have created a lot of artwork to protest the actions of the controversial agency.
What follows is another compilation of TSA protest art being circulated on the Internet through social networking sites like Twitter.
The first few focus on the agency’s reputation for molesting passengers.
The graphic above jokes that TSA agents like to touch male genitalia.

This graphic mocks the TSA for touching womens breasts.

This poster is in response to quite a few cases of the TSA hiring sex offenders.

This graphic includes photos of TSA agents patting down children. The text says, “Let’s thank the TSA for keeping us safe from these potential terrorists.”

Here’s a TSA funny from Bluntcard.com.

The Most Interesting Man in the World chimes in about the TSA.

And so does Fry from  “Futurama.”

Artwork by Banksy has been used to compare the tactics of the TSA to riot police.

Here are three funnies from Someecards.com that make light of the TSA.

This graphic makes fun of the overall incompetence of the TSA in the war on terror.

And finally, these last four graphics belittle the TSA for its policies on liquids like drinking water and shampoo.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Lego dioramas of reality TV shows, including ‘The Voice’, ‘AGT’ and ‘Wipeout’

When playing Legos with my kids, I like to make dioramas of reality TV shows. 
I’ve already done “Storage Wars,” “Finding Bigfoot,” “Billy the Exterminator” and “Hillbilly Handfishin’.”
Here are recreations of six more shows. 
Up top is NBC’s “The Voice” with celebrity judges Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green and Adam Levine.

In this next diorama, judges Howie Mandel, Sharon Osbourne and Howard Stern watch an acrobatic act on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” 

Here’s ABC’s reality game show “Wipeout,” with one contestant already having wiped out. 

The next three are cable television shows, starting with A&E’s “Hoarders.” 

Next up is Animal Planet’s “River Monsters,” with extreme angler Jeremy Wade inexplicably pulling in a swordfish.

And finally, here’s a scene from History channel’s “American Pickers” recreated in Legos. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Obama creating lots of jobs for trinket vendors

The official unemployment rate in the U.S. dropped to 7.8% in September from 8.1% in August and President Barack Obama has used the statistic to say his economic policies are working. 
The latest jobs report has proved to be very controversial though. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch and others have accused the Bureau of Labor Statistics of cooking the books. Investor’s Business Daily did a thoughtful analysis of the jobs report. I highly recommend reading it. 
On Friday, I observed firsthand that the Obama presidency has created jobs. I counted about a dozen vendors selling Obama buttons, posters, T-shirts and hats outside one of his speaking engagements. 
One vendor selling buttons said they were made by hippies in the U.S.A. Elsewhere, an artist was selling signed copies of his Obama prints. These products featured the usual iconic Obama imagery – that of a cool fellow, a transformative political figure and symbol of hope and change. 
A cottage industry has sprung up around Obama to sell trinkets that seek to influence and sustain his legacy. That industry was on full display Friday at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., where Obama was speaking. 
Unfortunately those jobs making and selling Obama paraphernalia will be lost if he doesn’t get re-elected next month. 

Photos: Vendors selling Obama trinkets at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Oct. 5.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Obama campaign disappoints 9-year-old boy and his dad

My 9-year-old son and I were excited about seeing President Barack Obama speak in nearby Fairfax, Va., today. But poor organization by Democratic Party officials prevented that from happening.
We had tickets for the event, held at George Mason University, but like a couple hundred other people who eagerly waited in line, we did not get in. Organizers had handed out hundreds more tickets than they had seats for.
While I’m personally upset that I did not get to see the president today, I feel worse about disappointing my 9-year-old son. I took him out of school for the day to see President Obama speak. My apology to him was of little comfort.
I wasted a lot of time in this futile effort. I drove to the Fairfax campaign office Thursday morning (located about a half hour away) and waited 90 minutes to get tickets to the event. Then we waited in line Friday a.m. for another 90 minutes only to get turned away.
It seemed to me that organizers of Obama’s GMU stop were much more interested in filling the seats with party faithful (campaign volunteers and the like) than with average voters like me on whom this election likely rests.
Virginia is a battleground state. It’s too close to call for either incumbent Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney. And I’m a swing voter. So, you’d think the organizers of the GMU event would want me there.
I emailed Virginia Democratic party leaders this evening about my displeasure over their handling of the event. I suggested that a better way to handle such events is to print up only as many tickets as seats and let the ticket holders in first. Then after a certain time elapses, they can open the remaining seats to standbys – people who don’t have tickets but wish to attend. That seems much more democratic than their current system, which is more like the airline model of overbooking seats – and equally frustrating.