Flannery Correspondence

September 9, 2011

The lottery is a voluntary tax, like most taxes

Filed under: Ever Wonder, Good News for a Change, Joy — Tags: , , , , , , , , — BrianOFlan @ 17:33

I turned 19 on 9/9/1999 (that is, 1999-09-09).
So I bought a lottery ticket.  

Random numbers? No way.
I picked my own numbers: 9, 19 and ….
Shoot, what else goes with 9 and 19?
1?
3?
6?
I needed six or seven numbers to play this lottery.
I picked the last few numbers at random, hoping the 9 and 19 would matter the most.

I went to the liquor store to buy my lottery tickets.
I went with my cousin who was worldly wise but similarly underage for a liquor store.
The liquor store guy asked, “How old are you?”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I just turned 19.”
He was unimpressed but let me buy lottery tickets if I was quick about it.
I took forever to figure out what numbers go well together.

I won!
My cousin who had played the lottery regularly, almost religiously, bought a handful of tickets.
He had never matched more than two numbers.
I matched four that night.
He was mad.

The next day I went to King Soopers to cash in my winning ticket.
“Excuse me. I have a winning lottery ticket.”
The lady looked at the ticket. “Okay, so do you want that as more lottery tickets or just cash?”
“Look lady, I’m not an idiot. What are the chances of winning the lottery again? Quit while I’m ahead: Cash, please.”

Guess how much I won?
Four dollars, burning a hole in my pocket.
And to think, I could have had four more lottery tickets instead!

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July 4, 2011

How Terminator 2 Taught Me How to Live

Filed under: Ever Wonder, Funny or Odd, Survival — BrianOFlan @ 16:00

Chin-ups on an upturned hospital bed.  Desert cache of weapons.  Artificial intelligence and advanced computer chip technology.  Minimizing civilian casualties.  Bilingualism and friends who will help you when you’re on the run.  Tough women who approach motherhood with the same tactics they use to avert nuclear apocalypse.  How to treat unstoppable opponents.  What to do when a sniper opens fire on your family home.  How to prove you’re from the future.  How well a shotgun fits in a box of long-stem roses.  How to outrun a semi-trailer.  How to run backwards in bare feet on a smooth floor.  How to save time by checking for injuries while hugging.  How to spend your last breaths saving lives while controlling the explosive demolition of a corporate headquarters.  How to pump a shotgun with one hand.  How to love a machine enough to kill it slowly.

No fate but what we make.

(more…)

May 28, 2011

Trip to Chicago, Part 5 and last

When I tell Christa how much I want to visit the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI), she rolls her eyes.  She expects a series of murals, charts and tables describing the statistics and physics behind locomotive efficiency or how a drill press works or why gas mileage is so hard to improve.  After comparing all the other things we could see (zoo, aquarium, other museums, tours), she consents to the MSI because it is pretty affordable.

We have a compulsive way of visiting every single last exhibit when we go to museums together.  (When we have the kids with us, one or two exhibits is enough.)  We are proud to say there are at least one or two corners on the top floor balcony where we do not go.  Everything else we drink in with unexpected fascination.

There’s a big, silver train in the entrance called the Pioneer Zephyr.  You can learn all about it for free before you buy your ticket to the museum.  We don’t wait for the guided tour that reenacts a record-breaking trip from Denver to Chicago (there may be some extra fee).  The train and its exhibit feels like it comes straight out of The Rocketeer‘s Art Deco prop cabinet.  The museum store is also admission-free but all the stuff costs money.  We briefly consider lounging here, reading all about the museum and then leaving with minds full and hands empty for an expense-free day.  Aw, why not splurge?  We fork over $30 to a kid called Number 8.  Tickets in hand, we ascend by escalator into the greatest museum we have ever encountered.

I’m very scientific about maps.  The best way to see everything is to follow maze rules:  Always go in one direction (for example, always turn left, bearing right only when forced by dead-end).  So we walk through the space suits, Circus Circus [1, 2, 3], Pioneer Days [1, 2, 3], and Eye Spy.

The map shows a short hallway to the left with a small room labeled “U-505 Submarine”.  The map is not to scale.  The short hall becomes a long, winding path, descending down a few flights into an enormous room filled with an actual submarine captured in World War II.  Restored to spotless condition, you can tour it, learn all about it, all about submarines, control a submarine simulator, see how a torpedo works by looking at one cut in half, learn how the German Enigma machine encrypted messages, test your claustrophobia in a submarine bunk room and galley (separate from the submarine itself).  You could spend days in this one exhibit.

Back in the maze, we head toward the Smart Green Home exhibit:  Alas, an extra charge!  The Henry Crown Space Center is a nice consolation prize.

At this part of the story we regret not having little kids around.  Without them we are forbidden entrance to the Idea Factory.  Kids are going bananas in there with hands-on learning fun like Willy Wonka meets Mr. Wizard.

We move on to Farm Tech.  Who knew agriculture could be almost as cool as science?  (Did you know that pigs are no longer fed slop but rather a finely tuned diet of top nutrition in a sanitary environment?  Workers pass through an airlock, shower and change clothes before gaining access to the room with the pigs.)

Hidden in the corner behind the Energy Lab is an exhibit about how household plumbing works.  We spend way too much time watching the toilet half-sections flush and refill, drain and vent.

A display of firefighting history leads us to Christa’s delight:  Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle.  A doll house worth millions built by an early silent film actress, some of its microscopic artifacts are kept in a vault because they are too valuable to display to common folk.

We pass the science theater without watching the show (“Poop Happens” is playing; we know plenty about poop).  Who has time to sit when there’s two more floors of museum to cover?

We watch the Earth turn thanks to Foucault’s Pendulum (pronounced “foo-koh” for some reason).

Past the Ships Through the Ages and Racing Cars, we smuggle up a stairwell to learn about Imaging (digital and otherwise) next to a presentation on a therapeutic baby harp seal robot.

A planetarium-scale 3D history of our planet tempts us on our way to Networld.  Christa finds a place to sit down while Brian reads the history of the internet.

Bearing left, we are flabbergasted by Fast Forward… Inventing the Future.  Shirts that can hug you, coffee tables that make music according to the position of the coasters, a teenage boy in Africa makes a windmill from scratch that provides electricity and running water to his village, vertical farms, lifespans increase and mankind defies death indefinitely thanks to robots and tomorrow’s medical science.  The whole place is about inventions and inventions-to-be.  The next room is Out of the Vault, a mixed collection of museum relics — past inventions!

Cuteness overcomes the creepiness at the Genetics exhibit, thanks to a baby chick hatchery.

The Great Train Story is a toy train set dominating the museums largest room, encircling a model representing cities, mountains and plains.  Surrounding the train set is a collection of transportation artifacts, including the first vehicle to break 100 miles per hour (a train, just like Back to the Future Part III).  The train set and its model setting are full of subtle jokes and amusing situations plus an impressive replica of Chicago’s architecturally-rich downtown.

Yesterday’s Main Street is a cobble-stone walk down a Chicago street in 1910.  A silent film theater plays an animation about a dinosaur.

We traverse Petroleum Planet as hydrocarbons.

We dive into business and industry with three successive exhibits:  ToyMaker 3000, Enterprise and a hands-on business office including executive board room, marketing department, financial department and other realistic business roles.  The last room was closed and little information exists about it but it looks like an amazing idea, kind of like Young AmeriTowne.

In the middle area between exhibits is a large rotunda.  Behind the rotunda rises an industrial icon:  A mine shaft, complete with elevator leading deep into a basement-turned-cave.  The tour costs no extra and immerses you in coal miner living.  Our tour guide was visibly passionate about mining and knowledgeable.  (She spends her free time visiting actual mines around the country.)  After the tour is over we stand around asking her questions and reading the display until she’s late for the next tour.

The only big exhibit left is Science Storms.  Learn about rock slides and avalanches, tornadoes and tsunamis, how light works and how waves travel and reinforce or cancel out.  We spend so much time learning about wind and lightning that the museum is about to close.  We race up to the balcony, the third and top floor.  There are more science storms up here.

We make it to “YOU! The Experience” when they start telling people to leave.  We try to act oblivious and accidentally see more of the exhibit while “looking” for the exit.  They point us straight to the nearest stairwell.  That leaves a few corners unexplored:  The Wright Flyer, Flight Simulators, 727 Take Flight, Reusable City, Chemistry and the Education Labs.  There are five live science experiences, one impatiently-avoided science theater show, one Earth Revealed show, and five laboratory experiences (including liquid nitrogen).  Ah, well.  We’re exhausted and our minds are throbbing.  Time enough to digest.

In contrast to the art museum we visited earlier, the MSI is more tangible:  Physical objects, interactive displays and touch-friendly exhibits (instead of untouchable paintings and statues with velvet rope keeping you distant).  Form your own tornado: either at three small, individual fog machines with a single controllable fan — or at a two-story walk-in tornado controlled by 20 huge fans controlled by four separate stations.  Dress in 19th century clothes for a photo opportunity in a recreated city scene circa 1899.  Walk in an enormous hamster wheel and watch your biorhythms respond.  Stand on either side of a parabolic room to hear inaudible whispers from the other side.  Body Worlds is showing in two separate rooms but costs extra.  You can see why someone would want to live here for a month.

After being evicted (Christa stood in the gift shop for about 45 minutes after they were supposed to be closed), we walk slowly around the beautiful building containing the museum.  Hop a bus to rest our ankles.  One final stroll down the Chicago Riverwalk to bathe in architecture and the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Plaza.  We call the kids from a Chipotle.  On our way home we take a detour past our usual crosswalk where two thugs are pushing each other and yelling.  Our last night is restful and air-conditioned.  We enjoy the walk to the train in the morning.  Chicago weather has been divine — perfect for walking everywhere with a heavy backpack.  A plane takes us home the next day to Denver, Colorado, where the rain has been drowning everything for days.  A few days later we finally have some photos up.

Postscript:

How did we afford a trip to Chicago at this time in our lives?

  • Free plane tickets:  Last summer we traveled for a wedding; the airline bumped one of our flights so they gave us vouchers.  We don’t even check any luggage.  If it doesn’t fit in two small backpacks, we don’t need it.
  • Cheap lodging:  There are cheap hotels near Chicago.  These run about $150 per night.  Cheaper hotels are hard to find but you may get them around $100.  Cheapest is where we stayed, about $60.  We got what we paid for.
  • Had we paid the higher price (almost three times more), we would have spent as much on our lodging as we ended up spending total.  All expenses totaled just shy of $800 and we had generous gifts before we left that covered $250 of that.  Christa gets the credit for pinching every penny.

May 25, 2011

Trip to Chicago, Part 2

Thursday, May 19th

In the morning we shower. The bathroom has no fan or vent except a large grate that looks right into the shower next door at eye-level. We cover it with a washcloth before bathing. The tile is falling off the wall and the shower is built for midgets. Brian has to kneel to get under the flow of water. Christa doesn’t. Fixtures are mounted for a towel rack but the rack is missing. You have to walk around the room dripping to get your towel or else drape it over the bathroom door. (But that door has rusted through so the top and bottom corners fan out into disintegration.)

We make an early start to catch the train to Wheaton. As we leave, we notice the hotel has some breakfast supplies: bread, cereal, coffee, even bagels, all on one small countertop. We didn’t expect that much. We grab a piece of bread to eat as we walk.  The “L” takes us to the center of Chicago where we walk to the Ogilvie Transportation Center to catch a Metra train to Wheaton.

Waiting for our train, we descend to the level of hobo.  A security guard approaches us: “Oh, I’m sorry.  There’s no sitting on the floor here.”  We go to a coffee shop to avoid panhandling.  Caribou Coffee has amazing music, a fireplace and a quiet corner.  Their cups and napkins have creative content related to their theme, “Life is short.  Stay awake for it.”  When we walk up to order, I’m eating an enormous red apple (genetically modified).

“Your apple smells delicious,” says the barista.

“Thanks.  Your coffee shop smells delicious.”

“Do you want your coffee light or dark roast?”  I don’t know the answer to this question.

“Dark.”  I forget to use my usual line (“black as my heart”) and Christa says black coffee has nothing to do with light or dark roast.  Why does she know more about coffee than me?

I enjoy the coffee but can’t drink very much of it before it makes me dizzy.  The train ride is green with trees.  There’s a lilac garden in Lombard near the tracks.  It’s strange to be away from the kids.  I keep looking around me for little people to take care of.  The teenager on the train says, “Stop looking at me.”

The Wade Center used to be two small rooms:  One with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, full of books from the personal collection of Lewis and Tolkien.  There are two desks in the middle of the room, facing each other:  The actual desks from both authors.  In the corner was a wardrobe, built by Lewis’s grandfather and used as a hiding place by Lewis and his brother when they were children.  The other room was a small reading room where you can examine a collection of first editions from the seven featured authors and even some letters of their correspondences.  When Brian visited in 2001, it shared a building with other campus resources.

The Wade Center has a new building all its own now, lamppost ever-glowing out front.  It still has two main rooms but now it also has a coat closet (the wardrobe is only for fur coats and Narnia); a main lobby with resources for free and purchase; a hallway full of information about Marion E. Wade and the history of the center; a second floor balcony with workstations for staff and a meeting room; an archive room for dissertations, articles, periodicals and the growing collection of letters; and side offices for staff and resources.

The two main rooms are much larger.  Instead of bookshelves surrounding the two desks, there are murals and mini-exhibits.  Each of the seven authors (Owen Barfield, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dorothy Sayers, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams) has artifacts on display and biographical information.  The reading room is much larger — a great hall lined with books, filled with tables and chairs, and ending in comfortable love seats and ottomans by a fireplace.  Tour it yourself through the magic of the internet:  official virtual tour or flickr.

We spend hours combing through the precious old books.  Christa’s favorite is reading some of the letters between Lewis, his wife Joy and her ex-husband, William.  Joy was pretty sassy.  Brian intentionally avoids the Tolkien section as long as he can.  MacDonald, Lewis, Barfield instead.  Lewis tended to dominate Inkling conversations but the soft-spoken Barfield was the only one who would consistently stand up to him when he disagreed.  They had some lasting disagreement about something way over our heads called anthroposophy.

Running out of time, Brian leaves Sayers and Williams for another time and finally cracks open the Tolkien treasure chest.  Here’s a short poem called Goblin Feet in a rare book called Oxford Poetry 1915.  Here’s another children’s book called Mr. Bliss about a man who collects tall hats, keeps a pet girabbit (giraffe-rabbit), buys a motorcar since his bicycle only works downhill, and has adventures with his neighbors and some bears.  Here’s a book collecting the letters he wrote his children every year as Father Christmas.  Ah, heaven.

Overstimulated at the Mecca of British wonder-literature, we pause only for a short lunch at 2:30.  At one point we shake hands with the center director, Dr. Christopher Mitchell.  The center closes at 4 PM and we leave a large stack of books for the generously accommodating archivist, Laura Schmidt.  (You are not supposed to re-shelve books.)  Deeply fulfilled and blinking with eye strain, we walk slowly through the beautiful Wheaton campus and wait for our return train.

We meet a nice man and talk with him a bit.  Turns out he is homeless and needs $5 to buy a ticket.  For no good reason, I hand over the cash and he disappears.  New rule:  No more handouts.  Also:  No more talking.  The only people who want to talk to you are the ones who want money for free.  He hit us up at just the right time:  Glowing with contentment and benevolence.  Plus he didn’t look like a hobo.  Took me off guard.  The event steels us against future beggars.

When we come back to our hotel room we are surprised to find all of our possessions intact. We had taken everything valuable along with us. (If the robbers want some old clothes, papers and travel gear, they can have them.) We expected the room to be ransacked. It isn’t. What a relief. Our respect for our lodging grows.

We research the next day’s events, have one of those grumpy, exhausted, married-people fights and go to bed. Asleep by 9 PM.

(Tomorrow: Surreal Segways, Lincoln, coat check and a canary.)

May 9, 2011

Color

Filed under: Ever Wonder — Tags: , , , , , — BrianOFlan @ 02:01

Color’s an important aspect of design.  It can subtly make or break the feel of a good visual design.

Last year the xkcd genius, Randall Munroe, asked everyone to weigh in on what colors were what:  http://blog.xkcd.com/2010/05/03/color-survey-results/

He even addressed the way men and women care about colors differently. A popular joke[1][2][3] is how men know the basic six ROYGBV colors but have no idea what mauve or taupe are.  xkcd mentions one comic that inspired him to research this aspect of gender-distinguished color sensitivity: http://www.thedoghousediaries.com/?p=1406

Despite studies indicating a physiological difference in how many colors each gender perceives (and how much distinction between them)[4], the xkcd study found them to be more comparable than the usual gag allows.  Feels good to know there’s hope for design-dumb color-bland males like me.

(xkcd is a comic strip.  The color study was featured on the weblog related to the comic strip and indicates more seriousness than the comic strip itself.  Still, consider the study with healthy, scientific critical thinking.)

References:

[1] http://maddisonhamil.blogspot.com/2011/04/looky-here-color-spectrum.html

[2] http://unreasonableorder.tumblr.com/post/4694712872/studies-of-color-perception-suggest-that-women-are

[3] http://www.healthytimesblog.com/2011/04/facts-about-color-blindness/

[4] http://www.ijpp.com/vol54_4/366-370.pdf

.

November 7, 2010

Round World

Filed under: Ever Wonder, Good News for a Change, Round World — BrianOFlan @ 05:30

10:30PM on a Sunday night and I’m instant-messaging my coworker in Singapore.  (Instant!  Singapore!  Brave new world.)  His Monday has already begun so we are scheduling the week’s meetings.  We try to talk early in the morning or late at night — a passing of the guard.  Someone is always working while you sleep.

October 7, 2010

How I match my colors

Filed under: Ever Wonder, Good News for a Change, Ideas — BrianOFlan @ 07:00

I’m wearing red and blue today.  Bright red shirt, dark blue slacks.  My wife tells me they don’t go together.  I should have black slacks, especially with a black belt and black shoes.  (Fashion is a Churchillian Russia to me.)

Why am I wearing red and blue today?  Because I dressed in the dark?  Perhaps.  But more importantly, because sometimes we try so hard to dress up fancy and follow the rules like Clark Kent that we forget to be Superman.

June 6, 2010

Then how does it work?

Filed under: Ever Wonder, Funny or Odd — BrianOFlan @ 00:58

Somewhere in the middle of a long, boring summer, a child will resort to rummaging through a dusty old attic and discover a secret but timeless boredom cure.

Speed Bump

http://comics.com/speed_bump/2010-05-30/

June 5, 2010

Lana’s recitation of Narnia

Filed under: Ever Wonder, Family and Friends, Good News for a Change — Tags: , , — BrianOFlan @ 03:19

“In Narnia, there was a boy who was very, very … English! And angry. And then he was really big. And there was a little guy who helped him. And one of the boys says, “Hiya!”, and they fought and just won.”

May 1, 2010

Newlyweds

Filed under: Ever Wonder — BrianOFlan @ 22:50

Notes, 2009-07-19:  So Christa says to me, “It’s fun to be around newlyweds and remember what it was like to actually be passionate.”

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