Thursday, March 31, 2011

Prayer Rug from St. Matthew's Churches

Last week we received a prayer rug in the mail from St. Matthew's Churches.[1] It is a mail-based evangelical church based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This means that they access the majority of their 'members' through the postal system, though they do have two physical churches (one in New York and one in Texas).[2] They use public records to target the poor and elderly, who they deem more susceptible to their tactics.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Movie Review: Angels and Demons

Dan Brown published the book Angels and Demons in the year 2000, which featured the character of Robert Langdon, a teacher of symbology at Harvard University. Three years later he published  a sequel, The Da Vinci Code, which became a huge hit. Since fewer people read the first book, the filmmakers decided to make the Angels and Demons film a sequel to their production of The Da Vinci Code, rather than a prequel.[1] Where The Da Vinci Code was about the Holy Grail, this book/film is about the mysterious organization known as the Illuminati.

Movie Review: 21

Imagine that you knew a way to consistently beat the house at a gambling establishment. That is the premise of 21. It is loosely based on the MIT Blackjack Team [1] which operated during the 1980s and 1990s.  They developed techniques for winning at blackjack and used their skills all over the country. The movie is about Ben, a brilliant pre-med student at MIT who doesn't think he'll be able to pay for Harvard Medical school. He's recruited into a blackjack team that travels to Las Vegas and regularly wins hundreds of thousands of dollars. The teacher who organized the team tells Ben that card counting isn't illegal, yet a major subplot of the movie involves their efforts to avoid detection by casino security.[2]

Movie Review: The Librarian 3: Curse of the Judas Chalice

I'm almost certain that The Librarian series, produced by the cable channel, TNT, is a ripoff of Indiana Jones.[1] The library is a safehold for powerful artifacts; the Librarian is in charge of collecting them and protecting them. In the first film (Quest for the Spear) the Librarian, Carsen, must retrieve a fragment of the Spear of Destiny [2] which has been stolen from the Library. In the second film (Return to King Solomon's Mines), the Librarian works to prevent (evil men) from acquiring the grimoire of King Solomon. This installment, like the previous one, was directed by Jonathan Frakes.[3] This time the Librarian's vacation is interrupted by a search for the Judas Chalice—an anti-Holy Grail formed from the 30 pieces of silver Judas Iscariot was paid for betraying Christ.

Movie Review: Megamind

Olo, dear readers. The initial premise of DreamWorks' Megamind (a supervillain forced to become a superhero) is surprisingly similar to that of Universal Pictures' Despicable Me.[1] The similarities don't end there—both were released in 2010, both featured a member of the Frat Pack voicing the title character, the title character talks funny, the motive for the ideological reversal is comparable, both feature final battles in the sky, etc. You almost have to wonder if one company has a corporate spy inside the other.

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Director Tim Burton's denials notwithstanding [1], this movie functions as a sequel to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Free-spirited Alice is now of marrying age and is faced with some tough life decisions. At this moment the iconic white rabbit shows up with his timepiece and beckons Alice to follow (which she does). The tumble down the rabbit hole quickly follows suit. But Wonderland is much changed

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Good Samaritan

I think many of us have heard the maxim "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions." I see two ways to interpret this. The first is that though we have good intentions, if we don't follow through with them, we'll have actually done no good and thus merit residency in Hell.[1] The second is that even though we mean to do well, sometimes our actions result in pain and misery for others.[2] In 2005 I lost my jump drive while walking from a computer lab to my Creative Writing class. I went back looking for it, but it wasn't in the computer lab, in the classroom, or anywhere in between. Someone had to have picked it up. I checked the BYU Lost and Found daily for a month, but it never reappeared. I composed the following poem for the person that I presume picked up my jump drive.[3] It demonstrates both interpretations of the maxim: a kind act unfinished (and thus better left unstarted) and a thoughtless kind act with terrible consequences.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Realigning Elections

The Founding Fathers of the United States did not envision that the politics of the new nation would fall naturally into a two-party system.[1] However, a two-party system is an inevitable outcome of the concept that every person should have one vote.[2] This, in turn, leads to parties which devote most of their attention to courting centrist voters in order to defeat the opposition during elections. As party ideals move to the center of the political spectrum, eventually the party rank-and-file become dissatisfied with the party leadership.[3] This leads either to the formation of a third party which eventually displaces one of the original parties or to the reinvention of an existing party. This is known as a realigning election.[4] There have only been a handful in the history of the United States.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Woes of Packaging, Part II

That's right. The long-awaited sequel to my complaints about poor packaging design.[1] I know that the companies that provide the products I'm pointing my fingers out won't likely stumble across my rants and change their erring ways. But there's a certain cathartic satisfaction to be had in airing my grievances.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Miscellaneous Maps

I told you I was done drawing distribution maps [1], but I found one more. At BYU's Bean Museum is a display of several animals from the North American taiga and tundra. It includes animals such as polar bears, arctic foxes, and caribou. Unlike most of the displays at the museum, these taxidermized animals had little signs that indicated their distribution. Most of them already had distribution maps created for them on Wikipedia. The only exception was the Rocky Mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus). So I made a map for it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Movie Review: The Forbidden Kingdom

The Forbidden Kingdom is a wuxia film set in ancient China. Wuxia (Chinese: 武俠) refers to a genre of Chinese martial arts fiction.[1] It is comparable to Japanese chanbara (samurai fiction), European chivalric romances (knights-errant fiction), swashbucklers (sword-fighting fiction), and American Westerns (cowboy fiction). Despite its setting in ancient China, this is an English language film.[2] In fact, the majority of the actors—including two of the most recognizable martial arts performers in Hollywood, Jackie Chan and Jet Li [3]—don't speak English as their primary language.

Television Review: EUReKA, Season 1

EUReKA is a SyFy show about an ordinary-guy sheriff who is in charge of the town of Eureka, somewhere in Oregon. The town is populated by highly intelligent people who conduct top-secret research for the United States government.[1] Most of the characters are rather quirky and their absent-mindedness often leads to disaster. Despite the high intelligence of the majority of the characters, it is often Sheriff Carter who divines the solution to the problems that beset them.

Television Review: White Collar, Season 2

The second season of White Collar [1] continues with the crime-of-the-week format while continuing to delve into why Neal escaped from prison in the pilot episode. Layered on top of that is the mystery of the explosion at the end of the first season. This provides for lots of interesting new developments. At the same time, the fragile tug-of-war relationship between Neal and Agent Burke is further developed and we finally get to see Agent Burke when he had a mustache.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Gone Fishin'

Last week Leann's brother, David, and his family came up to Utah to visit. On Friday, he and some of his nephews went fishing at Salem Pond. They had a great time and caught lots of fish. In fact, David said he was pulling out twenty-four-inch trout using nightcrawlers. Well, that sounded too good to pass up, so yesterday Leann and I cut out of work early and drove down to Salem with one of her co-workers.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More Doodles

While digging around in my closet, I found more doodles.[1] But this time instead of being from seminary, they were doodles I'd drawn during my sophomore year of my undergraduate education (I know this because I wrote the year on all of them).

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Television Review: V, Season 2

The second season of V quickly moves to diffuse the cliffhanger that the first season ended on. The producer of the series, Scott Peters, was the creative force behind the television series The 4400.[1] While The 4400 was an intriguing series with a lot of potential, it carefully shied away from any developments lasting longer than three episodes. V is true to that spirit. Rather than have red sky change the relationship between humans and visitors, it was just explained away as something inconsequential, using shoddy science.[2]

Movie Review: The Faith Trilogy

Film critics often refer to three of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's films (Såsom i en Spegel, Nattvardsgästerna, and Tystnaden [1]) as his 'Faith Trilogy'. This is a rather egregious misnomer since the three movies represent Bergman's disaffection from Christianity and eventually from morality. All three films are bleak and are almost spiteful of their treatment of the concept of Deity. If disrespect of Deity bothers you, then you probably shouldn't even read my review since I'll be describing the attitudes conveyed in Bergman's films.

Video Game Review: LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues

Rather than feature a main hub for all the levels, this LEGO installment has six smaller hubs, three for The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and one each for the previous three movies. Each hub features five levels, five replay levels [1], and five bonus levels. You recover treasure chests during the replay and bonus levels. Once you have all ten, you unlock a super bonus level. Of the five regular levels, for each hub, one was always a driving level where you have to go around and destroy enemy vehicles (usually by crashing into them). Another was always a brawl level—once you've beat up enough enemies, the level is over.[2]

Friday, March 18, 2011

Distribution maps V: Hypsiglena torquata

Here is the final set of distribution maps from the posters on the sixth floor of BYU's Widtsoe Building.[1] This last one comes from Daniel Mulcahy, who is now a professor at Utah State University. He produced a poster about North American night snakes from the species, Hypsiglena torquata. It is comprised of several subspecies populations (though Mulcahy argues that several represent distinct species [2]). His poster included a map showing the ranges of most of the subspecies. The rest I was able to deduce or find on the internet.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Well, for the second time this week I'm composing poetry. This time around (today being St. Patrick's Day), I'm composing limericks. Limericks have a very defined structure. The rhyming scheme is a strict a-a-b-b-a. And the meter consists entirely of anapaests or (less frequently) amphibrachs.[1] Anapaests consist of two short syllables followed by a long ( ˘ ˘ ¯ ) while amphibrachs consist of a long syllable flanked by short syllables ( ˘ ¯ ˘ ). The first two lines and the fifth line have three metric feet and the third and fourth lines have two metric feet. The last line is usually expected to be funny or clever.[2] Now that you've been properly instructed, let us proceed to my compositions.[3]

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Find It: St. Patrick's Day

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I'm posting some pictures of clover. This particular variety, called Bronze Dutch Clover (Trifolium repens var. atropurpureum), has more purple in the leaves than normal clovers. Apparently that mutation also makes them more likely to have leaves with supernumerary leaflets.

Monday, March 14, 2011


In honor of π Day (3/14 [1]) I composed some πkus. A πku is like a haiku, but instead of having three lines (5 syllables, 7 syllables, and 5 syllables), a πku has five lines: 3 syllables, 1 syllable, 4 syllables, 1 syllable, and 5 syllables—corresponding to the first five digits of π.[2] So, without further ado, here are the πkus that I composed:

Friday, March 11, 2011

Distribution maps IV: Bufo

Besides working with reptiles (lizards, in particular), Dr. Sites has also done some work on amphibians. One of the posters on the sixth floor of the WIDB is a study of toads from the genus Bufo (subgenus Incilius) found in Central America. It also showed the range of the tiny genus Crepidophryne.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Distribution maps III: Liolaemus

Down the hall from Dr. Crandall (whose crayfish maps I've recreated previously [1]) is Dr. Jack Sites. His area of expertise is herpetology (mouse over for definition). Several of his students have made posters about a South American genus of tree iguanas, Liolaemus. They are also known as snow swifts because they're often found in cold areas.[2] I drew distribution maps for each of the species mentioned on the posters (though this does not represent the entirety).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Movie Review: The Last Airbender

I first heard about the television series Avatar: The Last Airbender from an undergraduate in my lab who had immigrated to the U.S. from India.[1] Later I learned that my little brother, Nathan, also liked the series. When I saw the teaser trailer for the movie I thought it looked pretty good. But I never got around to seeing it at the theater. I've been waiting to watch the television series until I watch the movie since (I'm told) it will be less disappointing that way. Now that I've seen it, I guess I can put the television show in my instant queue on Netflix.[2]

Product Review: Tim's Sea Salt and Vinegar Chips

I definitely buy tangy potato chips (i.e. vinegar or lime) more often than I buy more conventional flavors of potato chip (i.e. sour cream and onion, barbecue, or plain). I also buy them more often than I buy Doritos. I've previously reviewed Lay's kettle-cooked sea salt and vinegar chips and Kettle brand sea salt and vinegar chips.[1] This time around I decided to try the bag which looked like part of a barbershop quartet (it's only missing the straw boater).

Product Review: Boar's Head Smoked ButterKäse Cheese

It's kind of silly that Boar's Head labels this as ButterKäse Cheese, since Käse means "cheese" in German.[1] I found this at Orem's Sunflower Farmer's Market. I generally try to avoid them because they're purveyors of "organic" food.[2][3] However, I heard that they have some cheeses that can't be found elsewhere. That much, at least, was true since this is the first time I've ever seen Butterkäse.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Distribution Maps II: Euastacus

In a previous post I presented the distribution maps I drew for the crayfish family, Parastacidae.[1] For one of the genera found in the Parastacidae, Euastacus (the "spiny crayfish"; see image to the right), there was another poster which showed the distribution of several of the different species. So, I made distribution maps for all of those, too!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Puzzle: Golden Gate Glory

This weekend Leann and I put together a puzzle that was given to us by our friends Ben and Carolyn Andersen. They're moving to Las Vegas, soon, so they're getting rid of some of their things. The puzzle, called Golden Gate Glory, was a 550-piece affair produced by Hoyle:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Book Review: Watership Down

The first time I read Watership Down was in Fourth Grade. The other kids in my class were impressed that I could read a book with over 400 pages in it.[1] It tells the story of some rabbits in Hampshire, England who leave their warren to start up a new one. First they must find somewhere suitable and then they must find some does so that their warren can persist. Leann and I just finished reading this together and I'm surprised at how different it is from what I remember.[2] I probably didn't detect it the first time I read Watership Down, but there seems to be an allegory about different types of governance.

Music Review: Paycheck

Despite poor acting performances by Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman, the movie Paycheck was quite enjoyable. The score was done by John Powell, who also scored the music for the Bourne trilogy and The Italian Job. In fact, this score has a similar sound to his music for those films. It also seems to be informed by the soundtrack to The Fugitive. Much of the music is somewhat bizarre—exactly what you would expect from a film based on the writings of Philip K. Dick.[1]

Book Review: Peter and the Starcatchers

This children's book was written by Ridley Pearson (whom I've never heard of) and Dave Barry (a humor columnist for the Miami Herald). Thus I had no idea what to expect. Would it be simplistic? Poorly written? Hilarious and yet disjointed? I've never seen it in paperback which was a deterrent [1], but then I found a copy on sale at one of the BYU Book Store's outdoor progressive inventory sales.[2] Even though it was quadruple what I would pay for a paperback at a thrift store, I decided to buy it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Distribution Maps I: Parastacidae

I spend most of my day in Dr. Griffitts' lab [1] on the 7th floor of the Widtsoe Building (WIDB), on BYU campus. Sometimes I have to take DNA samples down to the sequencing center on the sixth floor. Many of the labs on the sixth floor do phylogenetics (mouse over for definition). I walk past their posters and see drawings of the organisms they study and where they (the organisms) live. I felt like that kind of information should be available, so I made .svg maps using Inkscape [2] and uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons (the media repository for Wikipedia). Allow me to introduce them:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Custom Halo: Reach Map Variant: Lost Forest

While browsing a website called ForgeHub, where you can find Halo 3 and Halo: Reach maps built by other gamers [1], I ran across a custom map variant called Lost Woods, which was created for Halo 3.[2] The concept is relatively simple—it's just a room full of pillars. You have to dodge through the pillars looking for your opponents. Since Halo: Reach came out we don't play Halo 3 anymore, so I decided to recreate Lost Woods for the newer game. I named the recreation Lost Forest.[3]

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Movie Review: The Invasion

Back in 1954 an author named Jack Finney serialized a novel in Collier's Magazine.[1] It was a science fiction tale that involved the arrival of strange pods from outer space. These pods began replacing people with zombie-like lookalikes. The name of this book was The Body Snatchers. Since it was released, it has been translated onto the silver screen four times. The Invasion, released in 2007, is the most recent incarnation of The Body Snatchers.

Movie Review: The Day After Tomorrow

First of all, let's just all admit that this is a great title. It accurately conveys the level of hysteria that the filmmakers want you to feel about Global Climate Change. At the beginning of the movie, Earth's plunge into a new Ice Age is first predicted to occur in the next 100 to 1000 years.[1] Then they revise that to six to eight months. Oops. That was six to eight weeks. Scratch that. It's now six to eight days before—never mind. It's already here. Apparently this and other glaring inaccuracies prompted NASA to refuse to help with the movie—perhaps when Roland Emmerich (the director) went to see them, he shouldn't have worn his The-End-Is-Near sandwich board.

Movie Review: Sky High

In the world of Sky High, superheroes comprise a thriving, but clandestine subculture. One aspect of this culture is that side-kicks are second-class citizens. The plot follows the growing pains of Will Stronghold, the son of The Commander and Jetstream, the two most popular and accomplished superheroes in the world.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Recipe: Pelmeni

The first time I had pelmeni (Russian: Пельмени) was in Logan, Utah. I'd gone up to go on a double date that my friend Ben was setting me up on. When I went to pick up my date, her roommate was eating pelmeni with a guy who served his mission [1] in Russia. They had more than they could eat, so they offered us some. They were pretty good. Often translated as 'dumplings' [2], pelmeni are similar to and possibly derived from Chinese wontons.[3] They are traditionally eaten with a cucumber and tomato salad (but we ate ours with chopped spinach). Be warned, it took Leann and me over three hours to make these.