SimCity as inspiration for tax reform?

Herman Cain 999 Plan: Did It Come From SimCity? :

Long before Cain was running for president and getting attention for his 999 plan, the residents of SimCity 4 — which was released in 2003 — were living under a system where the default tax rate was 9 percent for commercial taxes, 9 percent for industrial taxes and 9 percent for residential taxes. (That is, of course, if you didn’t use the cheat codes to get unlimited money and avoid taxes altogether.)

(Via Huffington Post)

East Coast gently rocked by earthquake

It’s the biggest news of the day, a story that’s gotten far more media attention than it deserved, given the outcome; but I think it’s worth at least a passing mention on this blog.

I refer, of course, to the Great East Coast Earthquake of 2011.

Let the mockery begin, first courtesy of the Daily Beast and Storify:

And here’s a gallery of the devastation from Buzzfeed.

God, aren’t we jokers all going to feel like heels if this quake was just a precursor to something far more serious and devastating tomorrow?

Scientists consider possible outcomes of alien contact (in a published paper, even)

Cover of "Sphere"
Cover of Sphere

Scientists from Penn State have published a paper in the journal Acta Astronautica detailing various scenarios that could play out if humanity came into contact with extraterrestrial life.

No kidding, it’s actually published. You can even download the PDF and read the whole thing. I intend to read it this weekend, but I just had to share this find with you as soon as possible.

Here’s the abstract:

While humanity has not yet observed any extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), contact with ETI remains possible. Contact could occur through a broad range of scenarios that have varying consequences for humanity. However, many discussions of this question assume that contact will follow a particular scenario that derives from the hopes and fears of the author. In this paper, we analyze a broad range of contact scenarios in terms of whether contact with ETI would benefit or harm humanity. This type of broad analysis can help us prepare for actual contact with ETI even if the details of contact do not fully resemble any specific scenario.

To hear the Guardian’s reporter describe the scenarios, it sounds like the authors summarized every plot of every alien-invasion/-encounter film from the past century. I’m sure there must be more science to it than that… though sometimes you never can tell.

In all, it reminds me of the paper written by the Norman character in Michael Crichton’s Sphere, remember, the one that got him assigned to a secret underwater project that happened to be a crashed spaceship? The authors of this study had better watch out for federal agents coming to spirit them away to crash sites in the middle of the night.

I look forward to reading it.

CMS learning curve

I’m not sure where this image came from, but I know the feeling:

I have certainly felt that way about Drupal the few times I’ve tried it.

In more pertinent news, our CMS at the Chronicle is due for an upgrade this week. What does that mean for you, reader? Not a lot. What does that mean for me? Loads of new tweaking opportunities.

This should keep me busy for a week or so. Huzzah!

Appearing in court via Skype

skype.jpgChronicle reporter and blogger Jodi Hausen wrote a post on her blog a couple of days ago that is worth a click and a few minutes of your day. Jodi is our cops and courts reporter, and on her blog she tries to write down a few of the light and tender moments that don’t make it into her daily reporting.

This light moment happened to involve technology, which is, of course, why it caught my eye.


In a Gallatin County court hearing today, when her case was called, a defense attorney marched up to the judge’s bench and placed her defendant on the bench in front of him in the form of her open laptop. The man, who was in Provo, Utah, was appearing via Skype — the internet video communication system.

My favorite part is the last line, a quip from the judge:

“You know, if we had one of these all the time, I could just stay home,” he said grinning broadly.

But don’t just take my word about how charming Jodi’s post is. Give her some link love and read the full post on her blog.

Happy Fun-time Wednesday

I don’t do a lot of fun posts here (Oh, but they’re all fun, Mike!) so I thought I’d expend my elections today on things that amuse me lately. In fact, I might even make this a weekly thing. I think Happy Fun-time Wednesday has a nice ring to it…


I’m a Lego fanatic. I have been ever since I was a kid and I got way too many Lego sets from my parents and grandparents. Now, I have given (read: “lent”) those way-too-many Legos to my son, who who starts out his childhood with several thousand bricks to his name.

A problem I’ve run into is the cost. Legos, for those of you who haven’t spent a lot of time in the toy aisles lately, are expensive. And while I would love to spend all my liquid assets on Legos, my significant other rightly notes that food for the family is a higher priority.

The solution for me — as is often the case — was in the software. Specifically, Bricksmith. Bricksmith is open-source 3-D design software for the Mac. It just so happens that instead of building things like houses or cars, it builds Lego models.

Bricksmith draws from the LDraw library of virtual Lego bricks — providing you with a model of almost every Lego brick that’s ever been injection molded. You simply download the software (a measly 12.1 MB with the brick library, 1.5 MB without) and get to building.

Did I mention it’s free?

Granted, it takes about a minute to position each brick on your model, and you can’t hold it in your hands or drop it down the stairs when you’re done, but it does give the cash-strapped Lego enthusiast an outlet for his or her brick-based creative energies.

There are probably some Windows-based programs out there that do the same thing, but I don’t have a Windows computer, so the Microsoft-dependent among you will have to fend for yourselves.


Of course, I mean World of Warcraft. If you don’t know what that is, I feel sorry for you. You have a great hole in your life that can only be filled by a highly addictive massively multiplayer online roleplaying game.

I have played WoW for years. I’m not one of those “my true life is lived in Azeroth,” 12 hours at the computer at a time types, but I enjoy an hour or two of gaming when I can.

This week, I transferred my character, a level 80 paladin, to a new game server so that I can play with some of the other WoWers here at the Chronicle. So, if you’re hip and you’re on the Grizzly Hills server, look me up. My character’s name is Keeanu.

Originally his name was Kirke, which means “church” in Middle English, a very appropriate name for a paladin or holy warrior. However, that name was taken on my new server, so I chose Keeanu, which  also starts with a K and is awesome.