Friday Free-for-All #64: Shoes, car, Sci-Fi

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

What is the best pair of shoes you have ever owned? Why were they so good?

Oh, this is a fun one. When I was a freshman in college, I bought a pair of black leather boots. I think I did it through the Sears Catalog actually, and mail-ordered them to be delivered in-store. (This was just pre-internet.) Now, at the time, I paid the equivalent of what’s about $315 now, which was insane. I mean, even though I could currently easily afford to drop that much on a pair of shoes, I never would.

But there was just something about these. They made me taller, I could wear them inside or outside of my jeans, and they came two thirds of the way up to my knee.

And they sort of became one of my defining traits on campus. Apparently, to people who didn’t know me personally but who’d seen me around, I was “the guy with the boots.” I also once loaned them to a good friend when he’d been cast in the play Picnic, because one of the defining traits of his character was… ta-da, the black boots he wore.

Funny story there, too. There was an opening night party after the first performance, and he would give me my boots back after each show, which I’d return to to him before the next — easy to do when you all live on campus. So at this after party, I’m wearing the boots and he and I are standing together. One of the big-wig campus Jesuits comes over to say hello to us, and proceeds to compliment me on my performance in the play.

It’s all that my friend José and I can do to not just crack up, so we play it straight as if I was the guy in the play. Okay, sure, we were kind of the same height and similar coloration but, otherwise, did not resemble each other at all.

But the crowning moment for those boots came during senior year (yeah you pay that much for footwear, it doesn’t fall apart) when we had an orientation week magic show, and the middle act was a guy introduced with these words: “Once I say his name, you’re never going to forget it.”

And goddamn, was that true. Turk Pipkin. And he was amazing. He started out with using a jigger, an Alka-Seltzer and a condom to basically create an entirely new visual to the opening theme of 2001, then borrowed a woman’s purse and proceeded to find a tampon in a cardboard applicator and smoke it like a cigar. (Yes, she confirmed later that he’d asked her permission and planted the prop.)

Finally, he said that he could juggle anything, so toss those objects down — and all of my friends immediately started chanting, “Boot, boot, boot.” So what else could I do?

I think he wound up with a scarf, a set of car keys, and my big-ass heavy leather boot. He gave us all the look of death, but the audience went nuts — and then he proceeded to juggle all three, and I could tell by that point that he was actually grateful for the ultimate show-off challenge. It made him look even more amazing.

I know that I still had those boots for almost a decade after college, and they really came in handy once my dad gave me his old motorcycle. But, somewhere along the way, my feet outgrew them.

Meanwhile, Turk Pipkin is still around, and he’s turned his magically skills toward even better things.

What do you hate most and love most about your car?

Oh, there’s so much to love. First is that it’s the seventh one I’ve ever owned (hence its name, Señor Siete), and the first one that I bought slightly used from a dealer. While it’s a 2012 model, so doesn’t have all the modern bells and whistles, it has enough, plus it’s powerful, comfortable, and has a manual transmission.

Plus it’s also been paid off for a couple of years now, so there’s that. And bonus points for that manual transmission: That prevents 99.5% of friends from ever borrowing it because they couldn’t drive it.

What I hate most? It’s a 2012 model, which means that it’s getting older, even though the mileage is low — just over 60,000 right now. Still… it’s approaching that point where regular maintenance on major system stuff might just start to exceed the cost of buying or leasing a replacement, and I hate that. For example, I know that I’ve got about a $300 brake-job and possibly $800 shock replacement to do soon, not to mention that the tire pressure gauge batteries have started to fail ($90 a pop per sensor per tire) and then there’s also that regular X-thousand mile service stuff.

So, yeah. My tax refunds and remaining stimulus checks are getting dumped back in there. Sigh. If only they also had car insurance for maintenance. You know — like health care for cars. But they can’t even manage that one for people, even though the car version would be much cheaper.

What Sci-Fi movie or book would you like the future to be like?

This is a tough one. I mean, Star Trek: TNG would be an obvious first choice if it weren’t for that whole Borg thing. And TOS maybe, except that humanity is still at war with Klingons.

So two other universes come to mind, with caveats. One is the world of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, but note that I only cite the original trilogy. Why? Because the books beyond that sort of melded into the universe of I, Robot, brought in the whole idea of “The entire universe wants to kill us,” so the robots meddled with the multiverse in order to create the one in which humankind were the only advanced life forms to ever evolve.

Yeah, no. At least this shit doesn’t come up in the first three books, and the idea of really advanced predictive formulas to guide humanity in the right direction is very appealing. And, hell, even the Big Bad of the second and third books isn’t evil at all. He’s just got a particularly well-adapted genetic… thing.

Now, the other Sci-Fi book I’d go with is the final volume of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 series, which comprises 2001, 2010, 2061, and 3001. I’d go with the last volume, in which humankind has made all kinds of amazing scientific advances, including building space elevators, colonizing other moons within our solar system, being able to revive an astronaut dead for a thousand years, creating the ultimate human/computer interface and, finally, figuring out how to keep an ancient and powerful race of non-corporeal entities from destroying the planet. Well, at least for another 900 years.

In case you’re wondering… yes. The third book has a prologue that ends in 2101, which is just as the original moon monolith phones home, which is 450 light years away. 3001 is the year that the answer comes back.

Friday-free-for-all #53: Overreaction, sport, tech, sequel

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

  1. What’s the biggest overreaction you’ve ever seen?

January 6, 2021, when a childish bunch of uninformed, conspiracy-believing Qidiots tried to storm the Capitol, take over Congress, stop the certification of the electoral vote count, and maybe kill a few Reps and Senators while they were at it.

They’re still whining about it even now, after their self-proclaimed “deadlines” of January 20, March 4, and March 20 all passed, and there was not a sudden storm of arrests of prominent Democrats, with the former guy being put back in office.

They’ve gotten a lot less shrill online — at least publicly — although there are still the trollbots who show up on every Tweet by President Biden, all with the same cut-and-paste, no doubt bot-created comment: “Win a real election.”

It’s gratifying to see those comments get shoouted down immediately and loudly by dozens of supporters of our duly elected 46th president.

Now, of course, I didn’t see the events of January 6 in person, but I did watch them in real time, and it was an appalling display of a bunch of people being the exact opposite of patriotic.

  1. What sport would be the funniest to add a mandatory amount of alcohol to?

Well, I don’t think it’s a funny idea at all, although my snappy glib answer would be “NASCAR.” Oh, wait. That’s not a sport. It’s just a bunch of drivers repeatedly turning left while wasting fossil fuels.

Golf and bowling pretty much already seem to have mandatory amounts of alcohol. Fun factoid: Rumor has it that a golf course has 18 holes because that’s how many shots are in a fifth of liquor.

Of course, it isn’t true at all, which is why I called it a factoid, per its first definition.

Probably the funniest and least dangerous would be curling. Think about it. A bunch of drunk people, on ice, pushing around a stone by sweeping the ice in front of it — except that they can all barely stand up. It would certainly make it more popular.

  1. What piece of technology would look like magic or a miracle to people in medieval Europe?

Which one wouldn’t? It’s a perfect example of Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

We can probably leave out simple mechanical devices, like steam engines, because they don’t go too far beyond what people of the time might have been familiar with. All right, they didn’t actually have those yet, but in the 12th century, there was an organ powered by heated water, so the concept existed.

Certainly, educated clergy would have some familiarity with ancient science and technology, a lot of which was mechanically advanced and lost to the Middle Ages in general.

Of course, one big trick is this: If you take this device back in time, it has to work there, meaning that you couldn’t do a whole lot on a cellphone, although you could convince people that it’s a magic window that shows living pictures if you put enough video on it.

At the same time, with a concealed walkie-talkie and a partner, you could play all kinds of “Talking to spirits games,” although those would probably be dangerous, and more likely to get you executed as a heretic.

The real miracle, though, would be modern medicine. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to use any of our current diagnostic techniques because they mostly require large amounts of electricity — I’m thinking X-rays, MRIs, CAT and PET scans, and so on.

But for years doctors have relied on differential diagnoses using manuals in which they basically walk through a checklist of symptoms to find likely causes. They could use that low-tech method to figure out what medications to prescribe to their patients.

Surgery might be trickier, if only because true anesthesia would be difficult without proper monitors and the like. Still, bring back a few generators that run on solar power, set up your surgery in a secure tent that uses “air-lock” style entrances and positive ventilation to keep the outside out, and there you’ve got your clinic all set to go.

Start handing out the penicillin and vaccines, and you and your team will be hailed as miracle-workers in no time at all.

  1. Which movie sequel do you wish you could erase from history?

Simple. The one that did the most to piss on the legend that is my favorite film of all time, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was followed up by the film 2010: The Year We Make Contact, based on the official sequel by Arthur C. Clarke, and it could have been good, except that it was directed by a total hack.

I won’t mention his name. You can look it up. But he’s made a number of films that could have been great, but usually just missed the target. In 2010, he did nearly everything wrong.

Start with the subtitle. “The year we make contact?” Nope. Per the first film, we kind of did that in about 1999 in the first film when we dug up the monolith and, if not then, definitely by the time that Dave Bowman took his journey through the star gate.

Hell, I could argue that “we” made contact the second that Moonwatcher touched the Monolith in the opening act, in prehistoric times.

But this director’s biggest mistake in 2010, though, was tossing out everything Kubrick had established in 2001. That is, following the laws of physics and science.

Nope. Welcome to a movie with apparent artificial gravity on spaceships and sound in space. Sure, fine for most other space movies out there, but if you’re going to make this particular sequel, the scientific accuracy is something you cannot leave out.

There’s also a moment when the Russian ship sent to Jupiter with a joint Soviet-American crew (the film was made before the fall of the USSR) uses what basically appears to be a bunch of inflated parachutes to drag through Jupiter’s upper atmosphere to slow them down into orbit.

Okay, fine. That’s somewhat plausible. What isn’t is having them burst into open flames when there is no oxygen in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere or space. Those things are just going to get hot, not burn.

It would have been a much more dramatic visual to have them heat up, from red-hot all the way to white-hot. Oh yeah — this was also one of the noisier “sound in space” moments. It would have been so much more dramatic to cut between the brakes heating up and heating up, the crew inside hanging on for dear life, and then jumping back and forth from the sounds of human chaos inside to… absolute silence.

The film does try to pay attention to the science in the finale. Long story short, both ships, the Russian Leonov and the American Discovery, are going to wait a week for a launch window to open up so they can get back to Earth. However, circumstances dictate that they have to leave before two days pass.

Their solution is to use the Discovery as a booster stage for the Leonov to get it up to velocity so it can take a different route, and they do this. All of the above is scientifically accurate. You can’t just arbitrarily decide to start your trip from planet A to planet B right this second, at least not with our existing technology.

But there’s one other thing going on. Jupiter is about to be transformed into a dwarf star, which means there’s going to be an enormous explosion in the outer solar system, which will send out a rapid shock wave of high energy radiation that is going to catch up to the Leonov, which may not be sufficiently shielded to handle it.

The Discovery, by the way, somehow implausibly stopped after it was done boosting the Leonov (again, scientifically wrong), and is destroyed in the explosion that turns Jupiter into our Sun’s binary partner.

Hint: In space, if you use rocket A to give rocket B a boost, and then rocket B fires its own engines to pull away, rocket A is only going to be slowed by whatever negative thrust it picks up from departing B, which might not be that much. Otherwise, it’s going to continue onward forever at whatever velocity it had.

It could separate by firing its own forward-facing thrusters, which would slow it a bit, but that might damage the other ship, which is the one you want to keep intact.

Newton’s Laws, baby. So chances are that if Discovery didn’t make it out of the melty zone, Leonov didn’t, either.

But the director puts the final nail into his disregard for Kubrick in the last shot, when we go back to a now warm and wet Europa, which is in about its equivalent to Earth’s Carboniferous Period — think steamy swaps with giant ferns and huge insects.

SPOILER ALERT: Cue Also Sprach Zarathustra, which means we’re getting a big reveal. And we do. There’s a monolith on Europa, waiting. But how does the director get to it? Not through a dramatic and involving tilt up. Nope. He instead pans right, in a shot that sucks all of the impact out of the reveal.

Quite typical of this hatchet job, really. So yeah, it’s a sequel that should just disappear. Preferably, Clarke’s three sequels should instead be made into a streaming series, and done by producers and directors who actually respect Kubrick and can do onscreen science right.