Archive for March, 2020

A motley crew of galaxy-hopping heroes attempt to restore civilization in the syndicated TV series ‘Andromeda’

March 30, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 30, 2020

One of the things I’ve been doing to pass the time during my Covid-19 quarantine is streaming Andromeda, the syndicated science-fiction series that aired 110 episodes from October 2000 through May 2005. I watched the 22nd and final installment of the first season last night.

The show centers on Dylan Hunt (Kevin Sorbo), a member of the High Guard, a military service that patrols three galaxies united under the banner of the peaceful Systems Commonwealth. Near the beginning of the pilot episode, Hunt’s starship, Andromeda Ascendant, stumbles upon a covert rebel fleet that’s about to launch a surprise attack. Hunt orders his hopelessly outnumbered crew to abandon ship but stays at the helm in an effort to save his damaged vessel by maneuvering around the edge of a black hole.

Hunt’s gambit fails because he’s forced to confront a traitorous officer. Because of Einsteinian time dilation, three centuries pass in the rest of the galaxy during the second that it takes the battered captain to blink his eyes.

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Short takes: ‘The Last Stone,’ ‘Bird Box’ and ‘The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek’

March 27, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 27, 2020

Lloyd Lee Welch, the prisoner at the heart of Mark Bowden’s 2019 true crime book The Last Stone, is a repellent figure. A seventh-grade dropout who spent years abusing alcohol and drugs, Welch is a chronic liar who insists that the lengthy sentence he’s serving for child molestation is largely the result of bad luck.

And yet it’s almost impossible to turn away from Welch, a member of an impoverished Southern clan rooted in the Virginia mountains. As an 18-year-old, Welch had spoken to police about what he’d seen on March 25, 1975, at a popular Maryland mall from which 12-year-old Sheila Lyon and her 10-year-old sister, Kate, had vanished. The disappearance, presumably a kidnapping, remained unsolved for more than three and a half decades.

Near the start of The Last Stone, members of the Montgomery County, Md., police department travel to Dover, Del., in the fall of 2013 to speak to the then 56-year-old Welch. Although local police had deemed the information they got from Welch on April 1, 1975, to lack credibility, the county’s cold case squad now wanted to question him about the man with a limp whom he’d reported seeing at Wheaton Plaza on the fateful day. And after some initial evasions, Welch indeed confirmed to questioners that Ray Mileski, a known pedophile and murderer with a permanent leg injury, had been at the mall the day the Lyons were abducted.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 3

March 25, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 25, 2020

When I woke up on Tuesday, March 24, I felt slightly feverish. I went to what I still think of as the orange bathroom, even though its colors are now predominantly brown after a renovation in 2018, and again opened the closet. This time, I was searching for a thermometer.

I found what I wanted almost immediately. However, after I pulled the silver tip from beneath my tongue, I saw that it registered my temperature as… nothing.

After fiddling with the thing for a couple of minutes, I determined that, yes, in fact, this thermometer seemed to be entirely out of mercury. Where did it go? Good question.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 2

March 24, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 24, 2020

After about two hours of passing New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway electronic signs referring me to covid19.nj.gov, I was nearly at my parent’s home. I had given a lot of thought to how I was going to get out of my car and into the house safely in this pandemic.

I don’t display any of symptoms of Covid-19. Unfortunately, that seems to be true of many of the people who have been spreading the disease. Still, I could make an effort to avoid bringing in any coronavirus that I might have picked up during my rest stop.

I called ahead and, editing my to-do list on the fly, asked my Parental Unit to confine the dog and unlock the front door. After parking in the driveway around 10:30 p.m., I pocketed my phone, which was already powered down. When I got out of the car, I shouldered my duffel bag and my computer backpack and then walked inside.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 1

March 23, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 23, 2020

On the afternoon of Thursday, March 12, I did some shopping at a home-improvement store and picked up a pizza. Then I headed home and went inside, where I would stay for nearly 72 hours straight. With a very few notable exceptions, which I’ll probably write about later, I remained in the house until Sunday the 22nd.

Around 2:30 that afternoon, I started up my car and drove to a nearby automated teller machine. After withdrawing some cash, I hopped on Interstate 85 for the long drive to my parent’s home outside New York City.

In this still-early stage of the American coronavirus pandemic, everything I do outside my home — and even many things I do inside — is worrisome. When I reached to put my ATM card in the slot, part of my bare finger brushed against the housing. I cursed myself, because I’d taken out a pair of disposable gloves prior to pulling up to the automatic teller. I sheathed my hands in order to complete the transaction.

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It’s all fun and games until somebody gets shot: My very short, very upsetting attempt to play pinball early one Wednesday morning

March 19, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 19, 2020

Author’s note: Although this post is not graphic, it involves violence. It also includes some foul language and refers to drug usage. As such, it may not be appropriate for sensitive readers.

Worth noting, perhaps, is that I started writing this blog post several days ago but put it on hold as concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic surged. I apologize for the delay. MEM

Around 10 minutes after midnight on the morning of Wednesday, March 11, I walked into a Durham establishment that I will refer to as Pinball Oasis. Pretty much right away I noticed that something was off.

A strange grouping of people was arrayed near the high-top tables on the far side of the pinball cluster. Two men were facing each other; behind each, a few people were fanned out. After I showed my identification to a staffer at the front desk, I took a moment to study this formation.

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Humanity prepares for a looming life-or-death struggle against a superior foe in Cixin Liu’s ‘The Dark Forest’

March 10, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 10, 2020

Author’s note: Beginning in the second paragraph, this post has spoilers for the novel The Three-Body Problem; these were inescapable in discussing the book’s sequel. MEM

Chinese writer Cixin Liu made a splash at home and abroad with his novel The Three-Body Problem, which originally was published in serial form starting in 2006 before appearing in an English-language translation in 2014. The Dark Forest, the second volume in the trilogy, was published in English the following year, with Joel Martinson replacing Ken Liu as translator.

The sequel opens with a prologue set during the action of the first novel but soon forges ahead into new territory. At a moment in the first half of the 21st century, all humanity has been alerted to the threat of the Trisolarans, an advanced alien civilization that evolved around a nearby solar system despite radical temperature swings caused by exposure to the system’s multiple suns. The Trisolarans have launched an invasion fleet; it’s purpose is to eradicate Homo sapiens and install their own species on our very hospitable planet.

Humanity has ample preparation time, since the aliens will need centuries to reach Earth. But that edge is severely blunted because our enemies have sophons. These essentially invisible and massless multidimensional particles allow the Trisolarans to hear or see anything and everything, even though they’re physically separated from Earth by more than four light-years. The sophons, which can hold conversations with willing human collaborators, were responsible for blocking the progress of scientific research in a strange plot that the protagonists of the earlier book were able to uncover.

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Super Tuesday aftermath: It looks like we’re down to Biden vs. Sanders, plus — maybe? — Democrats vs. Trump

March 5, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 5, 2020

Joe Biden swept the South on Super Tuesday and did well in the Northeast and Midwest, taking the delegate lead and becoming the Democrats’ clear frontrunner. Bernie Sanders won Colorado, Utah and possibly California and finished a close second to Biden in Texas and other states, positioning him as the party’s most viable alternative to the former vice president.

Elizabeth Warren finished third behind Biden and Sanders in Massachusetts, her home state; her 22 percent share of the vote there was her best showing, leaving her campaign in serious jeopardy. Michael Bloomberg, who spent half a billion-with-a-B dollars, dropped out Wednesday after winning the American Samoa caucus and nothing else. The media mogul and former New York City mayor endorsed Biden.

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More than you (or I) ever wanted to know about USB cables

March 4, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 4, 2020

I wanted to add some odds and ends about the computer stuff I’ve been posting about.

First, USB ports on Macintosh laptop computers — that is to say, the MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. I wrote on Friday that these machines had had USB Type A ports since the line was introduced in 2006 up until 2017. If you’re a Doubting Thomas, you can click the links in the first sentence of this paragraph, which will lead you to the appropriate pages on the website EveryMac.com.

The MacBook’s USB Type A ports came in two flavors; the receptacles initially conformed to USB’s 2.0 standard before being upgraded to the 3.0 standard. The early version transfers up to 480 megabits per second, while 3.0 can transfer 5.12 gigabits per second, which is roughly 10.7 times faster. By contrast, USB 1.1 — the version that made the Universal Serial Bus a popular connection standard starting in the late ’90s — topped out at a measly 12 megabits/second.

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Surveying the Democratic presidential campaign

March 3, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 3, 2020

As the rain fell this afternoon, I drove to a nearby elementary school and cast a ballot in North Carolina’s primary election.

I am not a Democrat; back in the spring of 2004, shortly after my move to the Old North State, I registered as an unaffiliated voter. But since I’ve resided in two heavily Democratic counties over the past 16 years, I’ve now voted in eight Democratic primaries. In even-numbered years, there typically aren’t enough candidates for local Republican, Libertarian or nonpartisan — meaning county and school board — offices for there to be a contested primary.

I’ve cast zero Republican or Libertarian ballots and five nonpartisan ones in primary elections; those five were all in odd-numbered Durham city races, which formally eschew political parties.

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