American Idol is Over Already?!

What the — American Idol is over already?! Ah man, I was just getting into it. At first I thought it was kind of stupid, you know, how so many people were getting killed in such a small town? But one day I just decided to go with it, and after that I was totally hooked. Angela’s great (although I don’t know when her character found time to write books!), I like Sheriff Metzger a lot, and the endings always surprised me. But then, today, someone tells me that the last American Idol episode was yesterday. What a bummer.

Oh well, at least my other favorite show, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is still on the air. I love dolphins!

Lactose Intolerance

Story told to me by my mother:

“When I was pregnant with you, your father and I took prenatal classes to learn how to care for a newborn. And in the class with us was this couple who were very young and obviously from a rural area. The husband, especially — all this guy needed was a piece of straw sticking out of the corner of him mouth and he would have been the very picture of the Country Boy.

“So one day we learned about breastfeeding. And at the end of the class, this young guy raised his hand and said ‘But what do we do if we’re not going to breastfeed?’ And the teacher looked surprised and said ‘You’re not going to breastfeed your child? Why not?’ And the kid replied ‘We can’t, because my wife is allergic to milk.'”

Rapture Snarls Morning Commute

Rapture Snarls Morning Commute

SEATTLE -- Morning traffic ground to a halt this morning after The Rapture left dozens of vehicles abruptly unoccupied. At 8:38 AM an estimated 47 faithful Christians floated through the tops of their cars and ascended to heaven, leaving their abandoned automobiles to touch off accidents and pileups throughout the region. Although towtrucks were immediately dispatched to the affected areas, the traffic on all major Interstates had not yet resumed as of press time. Mayor Greg Nichols assured Seattle residents that he was doing everything in his power to return things to normal, but many commuters found themselves frustrated by the standstill. "Of all the days for Christ to return, he had to pick a Tuesday," complained commuter Janice Fent, who had been struck in traffic for nearly an hour. "The secretary brings donuts on Tuesdays, and if I don't get to the office by 9:00 all the good ones will be gone. What, he couldn't return on a weekend? You'd think Christ, of all people, would have shown a little courtesy." When asked about the impending Tribulation, when God will come to earth to pass judgement on non-believers, motorist Calvin Aniello replied "You want Tribulation? Check out my supervisor if I don't make it to this 10:30 meeting."

Movies: The Good Girl

Oh, so you don’t wanna see The Good Girl because is stars Jennifer Aniston? Well, I got three rebuttals for that argument:

Three movies, each starring an actor I don’t particularly care for, each excellent in its own way. (Yes, even Galaxy Quest. It’s hilarious. Seriously.) Plus, we’ve already seen a preview of Aniston’s performance, as the put-upon waitress in Office Space. This, combined with the fact that Good Girl is by the same team that brought us Chuck & Buck (Mike White, writer; Miguel Arteta, director), got me into the cinema.

Like Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl is not a cheerful movie. In fact, the word “bleak” sprung to mind about halfway through and stuck around through the end. Which isn’t to say there aren’t some laugh-out-loud moments — a couple of times my guffaws echoed in the near empty theater — but I was chuckling mostly because I was surprised that they managed to cram any humor into this story at all. Aniston plays Justine, a run-down clerk at the Retail Rodeo, a woman who hates her job, hates her husband, and isn’t too keen on life itself. She probably shouldn’t be flirting with her 22 year-old misfit coworker — both because she’s 8 years his senior and because he is consumed by sullen melancholy that he calls himself “Holden” in honor of Catcher in the Rye — but Justine sees him as a kindred soul, someone as unhappy as she. They eventually wind up together, but they never seem to especially like each other — they’ve just joined forces to dislike the world as a team. The problem is that they are coming at their misanthropy from different angles: Holden is overly idealistic, viewing himself as a tortured genius and others as dullards who don’t “get him,” while Justine is utterly pessimistic, convinced that life has already passed her by. Well, the real problem, I suppose, is that depression and adultery are not the world’s solidest foundations for a fulfilling relationship.

Both the clumsy affair and its muddling consequences feel achingly real. Aniston is as far removed from her Friends persona as possible, with an expression of perpetual exhaustion and a voice filled with weariness. Even her motions seem bereft of energy. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal (who starred in Donnie Darko and looks like a store brand Toby Maguire) manages make Holden come across as both wild-eyed and sedate. And John C. Reilly, in the role of Justine’s husband Phil, stumbles blearily through the film as a poster boy for those warning that pot will renders you witless. Only the character of Bubba — Phil’s workmate and best friend — seems contrived. But in a movie so unrelentingly realistic, the offbeat buddy is not an unwelcome addition.

I’ve been wondering where this year’s knock-me-down-fantastic films are, the Mementos and Mulholland Drives. Everything I’ve seen in 2002 has been “good but not great,” and The Good Girl is no exception. That said, it’s the best I’ve seen all year (tied, perhaps, with The Endurance). Last year I might have dismissed it and pointed you to Ghost World instead. This year I recommend it highly.

Labor Day

Sure, you can squander your Labor Day celebrating Labor — “Woohoo, I sit behind a computer screen for nine hours a day!” But me? I prefer to celebrate the Labor Saving Mojo of Simple Machines!

Let’s ramp up with the Inclined Plane! About as simple as a Simple Machine gets, the Inclined Plane converts a small amount of force applied over a long distance into a large amount of force applied over a short distance. You dig? Imagine you have a 500 lb. box. It’s unlikely that you could lift this box onto a 6 ft’ ledge unaided, but you could probably push it a ways. So you set up a ramp (that is, an Inclined Plane) which begins 15 ft. away from the ledge. So what we have here is a triangle, with one side of 6″, a second side of 15′, and a hypotenuse of the square root of (6^2 + 15^2); i.e., the square root of 261; i.e., 16.12′ (thanks Pythagoras!). You still have to expend the same amount of energy as you would to lift the box straight up 6″ (actually a bit more, because now you have to overcome the friction of the ramp), but now you can apply this force over a distance and over a period of time — sort of like paying a $2000 monthly mortgage for 30 years rather than coughing up $300,000 all at once.

Everybody enjoys a Screw! The Screw is simply an Inclined Plane wrapped around a cylinder, and it converts rotary motion into forward motion. Instead of pushing something up an Incline Plane, the screw allows you to push the Inclined Plane into the something — imagine each turn of your screwdriver as a push on that box. Thinking up a nail was no great feat, if you ask me; but the brainiac who came up with the screw was a friggin’ genius.

The Wheel turns me on! And speaking of things I’m glad someone invented … The Wheel and Axle is, in essence, a rolling Inclined Plane. And why is it useful? Well, you’ll recall that (a) the more surface contact two objects have the more friction you’ll encounter when you try and move one, and (b) a circle only touches a tangential line at a single point. So moving an automobile forward with only four points touching the pavement (i.e., the four spots where the rubber hits the road) is a helluva lot easier that trying to move the thing forward with its entire underbelly scraping along the pavement.

Update! Reader Henry Stafford calls me to the carpet: “Ummm…you should do some googling on surface friction. Surface area has zero effect on the friction between two objects. For example, take a deck of cards lay it flat on the table, and push it. Now stand it up on one side (the deck of cards should still be in the box – did you just make a huge mess?) and try to push it across the desk. If you have properly calibrated finger-pushing-force sensors, you’ll find you need the exact same amount of force to push the boxed deck of cards, whether it’s on edge, or laying flat. A wheel is great because it isn’t sliding at all, not because it’s surface area is small.” I strongly suspect that, unlike myself, Mr. Stafford actually knows what he’s talking about. So listen to him, okay?

Wheels can also be given teeth and function as Levers — that, my friend, is what we in the weblog business call a “gear”. And what, pray tell, is this this mysterious thing called a “Lever”?

We’re all pulling for you, Lever! The lever kinda does the same thing as an Inclined Plane: converts force over distance into increased quantity of force. Or it just changes the direction of force. It all hinges on the fulcrum, which is the point at which the lever pivots. Take a seesaw. Here we have a lever with a fulcrum at the exact center, so the machine just changes the direction of force (one kid goes down pushing the other kid up). That’s your first-class lever right there. A second-class lever is one with an off-center fulcrum (such as a crowbar), allowing you to move the end farthest from the pivot point a greater distance to move the side closest to the fulcrum with greater force. The closer the fulcrum is to the end of the lever, the greater the multiplier of force. So with, say, a bottle opener — where the fulcrum is just millimeters away from the end — you can push your end down a long way and pop that bottle cap right off. Without levers we couldn’t open microbrews, leaving us to consume naught but canned beer and Budweiser. And that’s why the Lever is one of the most important tools in the Simple Machine repertoire.

I can’t think of a good pun for the Wedge! The wedge converts downward force into lateral force: that is, when you strike the top of a wedge, the force you apply is redirected so that it is perpendicular to the blade. If you hit a log with an axe (which is essentially just a wedge on a stick), the downward force of your swing is instantly converted into outward force radiating from the blade, thereby splitting the wood in two. Or when someone pulls up on your underwear with great force, that effort is converted to lateral motion, pushing your buttocks outwards. Okay, this paragraph is bringing back a lot of repressed memories so I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.

Bully for the Pulley! Hey, here’s another use for the Wheel. A pulley changes the direction of force — you pull down on the lanyard and the flag moves up the flagpole. If you connect a series of pulleys, you can lift a heavy object using less force — the trade-off, as always, is that you must apply your lesser force over a longer distance. It’s pretty sure I just misused the word “lanyard,” there, but it’s okay — no one read down this far!

Ready for some slightly less simple machines — like, you know, the Space Shuttle? head on over to How Stuff Works.