Staring at the Sun and other Follies

As I got on the highway driving home last night, I was heading west and looking right into the sun around sunset. This is fairly normal. What isn’t normal is that there was a solar eclipse going on. A fairly amazing one with about a quarter of the sun’s disc covered. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m not supposed to look directly at the sun. But it’s unavoidable when the sun is that low in the sky and you’re driving straight towards it. Besides, how can looking at 75% of the sun be any worse than looking at 100% of the sun which I have to do on most days?

Anyway, it confirms my theory about astronomical events. The more they are hyped, the less worthwhile they are to see. Things like Halley’s comet which was hyped all my life as supposedly being the most amazing thing that man would ever see, turned out to be so obscure that you could look right at it and not even know if you saw it or not. Most other highly promoted astronomical events turn out to be a similar waste of time. I’ve seen many previous solar eclipses that were allegedly “the last eclipse that will be seen in 20,000 years, etc. etc.” (and used appropriate filters to look at them, of course). They were all rubbish. And usually, if you read the fine print, they’re really saying something like “the last eclipse that will be seen in 20,000 years that covers exactly 63.5% of the sun and can be seen on a Tuesday in the month December during the Reagan administration” or somesuch.

The really spectacular things I’ve seen in the sky I usually don’t hear much about before hand. Like the eclipse last night that I had no idea about until I saw it. Or a couple of years ago when I watched an event that turned out to be the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in the sky – the nighttime re-entry of a space shuttle over Texas. I just happened to see something on the local news about it and we walked outside a few minutes later and there it was.

The other interesting event today is that Microsoft found some goofy “think tank” that it could pay to issue a “study” claiming that all us Open Source and Free Software folks are a bunch of communists out to destroy the American way of life by standing up to poor, helpless corporations like Microsoft. I’d never heard of the “Alexis de Tocqueville Institution” prior to this but it appears to be one of those a “money for bogus research” places. The author seems to barely even grasp what software is, so it’s hard to take seriously his opinion that sharing my source code with others is a threat to the free world. As people stop laughing at the thing, I suspect a few rebuttles will be springing up across the web. The Roaring Penguin already has one up.

Movies and Car Shopping

I’ve fallen a bit behind on my news lately. Most of July went by in a flash. We were very busy at NCC. I’ve gotten email from a couple of loyal readers asking what’s new, so I better try catch up on news for July.

One of our projects at NCC during July was building a new web site for Frames Per Second, a local video post facility. The web site update was planned to coincide with an open house event they were having. Susan and I attended and got to see quite few friends and acquaintances from the video world that we hadn’t seen since Susan got out of the business. After the open house we went with some friends to hear a Celtic band at The Tipperary Inn.

We also saw a couple of movies during July including AI, which was an unfortunate combination of the worst aspects of Spielberg and Kubrick with none of the good. After AI we saw Atlantis, an animated Disney film copied (surely not plagiarized?) from a 1990 anime series called Nadia: Secret of Blue Water. It was an okay film and much more anime-like than most Disney stuff. It also fulfilled the important role of making us forget about AI.

You may recall that I’ve been planning on getting a new car and to that end have been doing test drives of cars that made my short list based on acceptable mileage (they had to get at least 30mpg), good looks (obviously a subjective measurement), and reliability. I already posted my feelings on the test drive of the Honda Insight back in January (basically it’s really cool but I don’t want to buy one until the second generation comes out – maybe this will be Susan’s next car). During June and July, I test drove the remaining cars on my list, including the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Volkswagon Jetta, and the new Acura RSX. So anyway, here are the reviews:

The newest Mitsubishi Eclipse is a big improvement over prior versions but still not good enough for serious consideration. Like previous versions of the Eclipse, it’s a bit cramped inside. The radio had an overly complex system of soft-keys and up/down buttons rather than straighforward knobs, making it much too time consuming to use. It does look nice but doesn’t seem to rate as well for reliability as the other cars on my list. So, while possibly a fun car to drive, it’s off the list.

The Volkswagon Jetta was next. (I almost bought a Volkswagon GTI back in the early 1980’s but opted for a Honda CRX instead. I’ve never regretted that choice and that first CRX was my favorite of all the cars I’ve owned.) The new Jetta was one of the few cars that meets my gas mileage requirements but only in the 4 cylinder model. After a test drive, it became clear that the 4 cyclinder Jetta was too underpowered. I did a second test drive in the 6 cylinder Jetta and it, on the other hand, had plenty of power but got crummy gas mileage. The power/mileage dilemma was really my only serious complaint with the Jetta but was important enough that I couldn’t make this my first choice. I decided the V6 Jetta would be the runner-up if I couldn’t find anything better.

The 2002 Acura RSX was the last car to test drive. Like the Jetta this was really two test drives – one for the RSX and one for the RSX Type-S. The RSX Type-S was first and it was immediately apparent that this was likely to be the number one choice. The 4 cylinder engine got just over 30 mpg while still putting out 200hp, it looked good, had all the latest safety features like side airbags, and was definitely fun to drive. The regular RSX was almost as nice and got a few more miles per gallon at the cost of a few hp but had one serious flaw. The regular RSX doesn’t handle as well as the Type-S; particularly on curves at higher speeds.

So in the end I decided on the RSX. Problem is, it may be hard to get one. The RSX is both very new and highly anticipated so there’s a waiting list.