Man’s (Mad) Ingenuity

I read somewhere that the only difference between men and apes is the former’s ability to use tools. So were it not for our simian friends’ lack of access to a Tool Depot credit card, we could see chimpanzees driving down the freeway or flying planes1. And although we have seen rudimentary behavior by apes using branches or twigs to extract ants out of the ground, they still have a long way to go before they invent an air-compressed bolt extractor.
Which brings me back to Man: is tool-invention still part of our mental process? Since every tool has already been invented, do we still strive to create new ones? The following pictures show that the answer is a resounding YES.   These are creative uses for everyday items and are sometimes referred to as Life Hacks2.

But call me an apostate, I don’t believe everything I read on the Internet.  My comments follow each life hack below, and there’s even a fun video presentation that is a lot more entertaining than my dry prose.

lifehack1

 

My take: If you use the lid as a coaster, you can now spill your drink.  And if you pick up the cup, the coaster comes with it.  Looks strange, but it would work.

 

lifehack2

 

The proposal: All pots are designed to allow you to rest your spoon on the handle.

My take: The pan hole was made primarily to hang the pan on the wall.  You could use it to hold a spoon, but only if you found a spoon that fits the hole.  I suspect that some “creative” whittling was done to make it work.

 

lifehack3Was the soda can designed to hold your straw in place?

My take: Soda can tab was modified in order to save material.   It just happens to also function as a straw holder, if you rotate it.  But then, why was it  made to rotate?  The rotation serves no purpose.  I suspect it’s a manufacturing side effect (to attach tab to can)  and not intended to facilitate your straw holder configuration.

 

 

lifehack5The proposal: Tic Tac boxes were expressely designed to dispense *one* Tic Tac at a time.

My take: I believe this one.  But could someone tell me what happened to the “Toe” in tic-tac-toe ??  Someone got paid really well to come up with this name, incredibly.

 

 

And here is a video that will put it all in perspective.  Enjoy.

 

POSTSCRIPT:  I promised that I would add a life hack of my own so that you can promote/criticize it. Turnabout is fair play, as they say !

 

lifehack8My proposal:  Cut an empty tube of toothpaste in half and clean out the bottom part (throw away the part that has the cap).  You can now flatten the other half and put it in your pocket for a handy-dandy drinking cup.   As a kid, I loved the telescoping plastic drinking cups and bemoaned the fact that you cannot find them anymore.  But this flexible, unbreakable, plastic tube becomes a nice drinking cup.  You can make it shorter for convenience and you can fold the top to prevent it from getting cruddy with pocket lint (yuk).

  1. They were admirable astronauts in the Mercury program, but that’s another story []
  2. visit www.lifehacker.com for more of these []

The London MI6 North Face Red Bag Mystery

“Ahh. Well… Bring out The Gimp.”

You remember that guy in the trunk, in Pulp Fiction?  Right?

And now there is the unfortunate guy from MI 6 whose death is looking like some sort of misadventure. He was found naked inside a locked bag.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Gareth_Williams

The North Face red bag was locked with the paddle lock from the outside, and the keys were found inside. The Crack Team Intelligence Unit has been actively investigating behind the scenes, and so far no one has found out.  These investigations have not been disclosed.

Until now.

 

The North Face Red Bag
The North Face Red Bag

Here is some data on claustrophilia:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/30/did-claustrophilia-kill-u-k-spy-gareth-williams.html

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stuck/201205/turned-tight-spaces

The key to the padlock was found inside the bag.  Maybe it was just one of those things that the other person locked the padlock, and everyone forgot about the key until it was too late. In other words, maybe it started out as just an innocent game, locking the padlock, and everyone forgot about having the key to the bag at the ready.

He would be dead in about 30 minutes.

But do we know for certain that there must have been somebody else there, with the deceased?

The court saw videos of people who tried to climb in and lock themselves inside the bag, and they did get inside, but they failed to lock the lock.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tb6YKX_Hy40
http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=_ZyEHlj78hg

But the Crack Team Investigation Unit has discovered another video demonstrating principles on how a highly motivated person could actually do it all alone.

But of course, why would he want to?

The method would be to first lock the zipper tags together, then force open the zipper a few inches from it, open it wide, climb in, and then when inside, use the round end of the padlock key to slide the zipper tags, first to one end, entirely closing the zipper, and then back to the center position as when found.  This would account for the keys being inside.  So, it’s physically possible that there was no one else involved. The demo:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MDxzcjTrkY

Conclusion: someone, all alone, without any help could get himself killed like this, but only if he’s really smart.

Wait.  There must be something wrong with that conclusion, but I am not sure what it is.

However, not yet revealed is where the keys were found inside the bag.  I mean, if the keys were underneath him, and not available to either hand, then it would change the evaluation.

In 2007, Mr. Williams was found alone and helpless in his apartment.  That time, a neighbor answered calls for help and found him all tied up.  Was there another person who left?  Or did he do it himself?

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/mi6-spy-gareth-williams-tied-himself-to-bed-says-landlady-7678328.html

So at least once before, Mr. Williams was in a helpless situation, alone and in his apartment.

It’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma!

Here is a timeline:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/9240639/Gareth-Williams-timeline-how-the-mystery-of-the-spy-in-the-bag-unfolded.html

And a summary of the problems of the case:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/may/02/gareth-williams-key-unanswered-questions

Crack Team agents everywhere are advised to keep their eyes and ears open and report to the secretary if new information is found.

Good luck.

Do not fail.

Yes, It’s Canceled (2011-2012)

Maybe it’s me, maybe I’m watching too much TV, but it seems like there have been a ton of canceled showed this past year. Here’s what we’ve lost:

  • House: Ongoing, but final season. Getting too expensive to produce, mainly from actors’ salaries.
  • Chuck: Painfully overt Subway promotions couldn’t make up for low ratings. At least they had lots of time to lead to a real series finale.
  • Terra Nova: I really enjoyed this one, but the ratings didn’t support the high filming costs. Netflix was in talks to save it, but bowed out. Another reason to not go back to them.
  • Alcatraz: Yet another one season wonder, ending on a cliffhanger to boot.
  • Pan Am: spies and stewardesses in the swinging sixties. How did this not catch on? I’m a Christina Ricci fan, but Margot Robbie was just stunning in this show. Prettiest face on TV. Expect we’ll see more from her.
  • Bored to Death: Read it was canceled to help pay for Luck.
  • How to Make it in America: Again, was unLucky, even with lots of nudity added in the second season. At least we got to see Lake Bell topless.
  • Luck: Ha! Two shows killed for this and they cancel it because show also killed horses. Actually, the last horse died walking back to the barn and wasn’t at all related to filming, but there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Honorable mention to:

  • Hung: Honestly, I didn’t make it past the second season. The show didn’t make it past a third.
  • Men of a Certain Age: I liked the first season, but never made it to the second, so I’m in part to blame.

Here’s what a lot of producers don’t get: if you acknowledge the bad ratings and tie up the loose ends at the end of the (probable) final season, you can actually get some DVD sales, which might justify a return season (see Family Guy, Arrested Development). I know it interferes with your perfect 5 year story arc, but you can always come up with a good plot excuse for keeping it going. The alternative, putting your head in the sand or being overly optimistic, leads to cliffhangers that just piss off your core audience. Alcatraz followed in the steps of Flash Forward, which was the worst series finale in history.1 If your fans yell, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” at the screen when your series ends, you have not done a good job. I will give exceptions to shows like Luck, which filmed all its episodes before the first aired, not to mention it was actually renewed before the sudden cancellation.

At this point, I just hope the following actors get jobs on something I want to watch:

 

Yvonne Strahovski
Margot Robbie
Christina Ricci
Allison Miller
Lake Bell

 

  1. Best series finale goes to Good Times where, for once, good things happened to everyone in the show. []

Best Films of 2011

It’s the 8th anniversary of The Crack Team blog! To celebrate, I’ve once again gone through the list of Oscar-eligible films and selected the best of the bunch. I don’t believe in ranking them since many are hard to compare with each other, but I’ll break it down for you in terms of quality, enjoyability, and longevity.

Drive
Upon seeing this, I realized I’d just witnessed a new cult film, an homage to the gritty crime dramas of the 80’s. Gosling and Brooks give standout performances and the soundtrack is fantastic, but none of these will be recognized by the Academy due to oversight and technicalities. To be honest, I was a bit turned off by the trailer, mainly because Bryan Cranston looked like he was overacting. Truthfully, I’m not thrilled with his performance here, but everything else about this film rocks.

The Artist
Here’s a film that has already been honored with Golden Globes and Oscars are in the works. I’m a classic film buff and felt this was exceptionally well done. While a silent film, it is scored very well. I also recommend the OSS-117 films from the same director/actor team. They’re a farcical French take on 60’s James bond (more like In like Flynt than the over the top Austin Powers). Very funny.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
A riveting story with fascinating characters. I’d seen the Swedish version already and found this to be a faithful remake, but there are some subtle but interesting character interpretations. Another selling point for fans of the original is that director David Fincher brings along his fantastic cinematographer and Trent Reznor for the score, so it looks and sounds beautiful. This movie convinced me to start reading the books.

The Guard
This is another film that people are granting cult status, although I don’t think as strongly as Drive. First thing to note is that in Ireland, Garda is police, so the American translation would be The Cop. It’s a dark comedy about a dirty cop (Brendan Gleeson, aka Mad Eye Moody of the Harry Potter films) and a straight laced visiting FBI agent (Don Cheadle of the new Showtime series House of Lies). If you enjoyed In Bruges (you did), then you’ll enjoy The Guard (you will). If you didn’t see In Bruges, fix that right away.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The final chapter in the immensely entertaining and well crafted Harry Potter series. You either saw it and loved it, you’ve written off all things Harry Potter, or you’re putting off watching them all until you have time. Not much I can say to sway you either way. It won’t pick up any accolades for writing, directing, or acting (not that it shouldn’t, it’ll just never happen), but the beautiful art direction and special effects can’t be denied.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
A great psychological thriller and another Oscar surprise that Elizabeth Olsen wasn’t nominated. She does a tremendous job, and I might point out that some of that job is performed sans clothing, which is rather nice since she doesn’t suffer her more famous sisters’ eating disorder. Or lack of talent. John Hawkes also does a great job portraying the creepy yet charismatic cult leader.

Midnight in Paris
A fun, thoughtful comedy about appreciating the present. I’m a pretty huge Woody Allen fan so it’s no surprise this is on my list. It’s also his most financially successfully film to date, so if you’re not a fan of Woody you may still like this one. If you are a fan, I highly recommend the American Masters’ Woody Allen: A Documentary.

Our Idiot Brother
A great cast in a great comedy. I loved the tone of this film. In fact, I’m kind of surprised to see it has an R rating (although I can quickly recall the scenes that earned that rating) because its heart is in the right place. That said, you’re still laughing out loud throughout. A very recommendable film.

Super 8
This is the most enjoyable and easily recommendable film of 2011. It’s ET meets The Goonies (it even takes place in 1980), only ET is bigger and angrier. J.J. Abrams directs, but Spielberg produces, and the classic Spielberg style is all over this. The kids in this are pitch perfect, too.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I was a fan of the original BBC miniseries, which runs over 5 hours, so I wasn’t sure how it would survive its run time getting chopped in half. But I didn’t miss a thing. The screenplay is very well crafted so the plot isn’t convoluted and doesn’t run at a breakneck pace. Of course, the acting is superb.

Young Adult
Diablo Cody followed up her Oscar winning screenplay for Juno with the awful Jennifer’s Body. Maybe that was the director’s fault, I don’t know, but she redeems herself with Young Adult (she may have redeemed herself with The United States of Tara, but I don’t watch that). She’s once again teamed up with Juno director Ivan Reitman and we have 2 more Oscar snubs for Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt (plus one for the screenplay). At a minimum, it has the best single line of any of last year’s films.

Honorable Mentions

We had some very good sci-fi films last year:

Hanna - would love to see a sequel to this
In Time - from the director of the excellent Gattaca
Source Code – from the director of the excellent Moon

And a couple top dramas:

The Ides of March
Moneyball
Margin Call – terrific screenplay, reminded me of Aaron Sorkin or Stephen Gaghan

Then there are the films that are just plain fun. These are the films where, if you liked the trailer, you’ll like the film:

X-Men: First Class
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Thor
(actually, I wasn’t stoked by the trailer, but really enjoyed this movie)
Hugo

Steve Jobs 1955-2011; too soon for jokes?

Logo created by a Hong Kong student. Click for more information.

It’s true, I never was a big Apple fan. I got my kids iPods because they relentlessly kept on asking. Oh, and the players were free when I signed up for a bank account (back in the day).

I inherited the old iPods and am using one today. They are not bad devices: easy to use and pretty to look at. But they are overpriced and I hate having to use iTunes to access my music. I hate being sold new material at every turn. I would love to have a simple drag-and-drop interface.

Sure there were MP3s before the iPod. I don’t blame Steve Jobs for making lossy music palatable. But I don’t share in the global outporing of grief that’s on every TV, computer and iPlatform in the world, either.

And Steve Jobs has a family that’s going thru the grieving process. So why start these tasteless Steve Jobs jokes? We may as well ask why we climb Mt. Everest. It’s because we can.

And you have to admit that it takes talent to make a clever joke about a sad, troubling situation. Sort-of like those improvisation shows where a performer is asked to make a joke about starving Somalians. A very poor-taste request, but also a challenge.

So here’s some jokes about the death of the iconic founder of Apple and the creator of the greatest devices in the world:

  • I hear President Obama has been implicated in the passing of the iconic Apple founder…
    his economic policies killed jobs.

 

  • Steve Jobs’ funeral will feature a private viewing for his many fans.
    As each person passes in front of the casket, they’ll pay 99 cents.

Nobel Prize Update

You may remember the story of our hapless Nobel Prize Hero, Doug Prasher. He lost his job in science and ended up driving a courtesy van at a Toyota dealership, but his research allowed others to win the Nobel Prize in 2008.  Things are looking up for him, we are glad to report. You can read about it here, starting with this excerpt:

 

After joining the Toyota dealership, Prasher applied for a couple of science-related jobs in Huntsville, but nothing worked out. On one occasion he had an encouraging meeting with the hiring manager at a local company working on microfluidics; when the interviewer learned that Prasher drove a courtesy van, his interest cooled. There is no way to know how many other potential researchers were driven from their studies for similar reasons, or how many potential discoveries were never made because of the psychological and practical difficulties of the scientific lifestyle.

Finally in June 2010, several weeks after my visit, Prasher’s luck changed. He e-mailed me to say he’d been offered a science job at Streamline Automation, a local research and development company. Staffed by about 20 people, the company does work for NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Defense. Prasher’s first task when he started in late June was to help develop technology to sense toxic industrial gases.

He began cautiously. “There was none of the tremendous relief you might expect,” he says. “I had been so discouraged over the years that my attitude was, this may work out and it may not.” Gradually he settled into the job. At home he occasionally took science reading to bed, something he hadn’t done in years. “A lot of the hangdog is gone,” Gina told me. 
In December Prasher won a six-month, $70,000 grant from the Department of Defense to develop a field technique for categorizing tick specimens according to their mitochondrial genes, in hopes of limiting the diseases a doctor might diagnose. It brought a sense of accomplishment that had been missing from his life for a long time. In January he told me that the cloud of depression he had lived under for years was finally lifting. Science gave him a sense of purpose.

Vacation Dining – Las Vegas and OC

It’s been a while since my last post, been busy working and eating. It would be nice if I could say that I’ve also been working out, but mostly I’ve been eating. I had a chance to go to Las Vegas a few times and also hung around with the family close to home. In both instances, I took a chance to try a few new food items and also to remind myself why I like some items in the first place. And here are my random musings — definitely not a comprehensive list, but hey, I was on vacation !!!

Las Vegas

I definitely wanted to have a good Pastrami sandwich in Sin City (I mean, every cardinal sin is represented there, so why not gluttony?) As it turns out, I found a place that had a very nicely put-together sandwich and did not leave me feeling stuffed: Greenberg’s Deli  in the New York, New York Casino. They had matzo ball soup, which was a very nice touch to accompany my pastrami. I passed on the yummy potato salad, I was feeling somewhat full. This place was recommended by CT team members as better than the Carnegie Deli elsewhere on the strip and it delivered the taste. And better priced too….

I also took my son to the Las Vegas Grand Prix  and besides having 3 tracks of go-karts (kiddie, medium, expert) they also had a pretty good deal on cheese pizza ($5.00 for a large with 1 topping). Heck, given the price I would overlook bad taste, but it was actually pretty good !! The trick is to ask them to put extra cheese as the free topping. And the crust was nice and thin; you can’t go too wrong when you have thin NY-style crust.

I also tried another comfort food, Smash Burger Las Vegas . This is another burger joint in the In-N-Out price and quality category; more so, they are actually located about 100 yards from In-N-Out !! Now that’s confidence. As it turns out, these 2 restaurants are so good that they actually support each other by providing a destination hamburger experience. Why go to a cheap hamburger place when you can try a better burger for a little more cash? Smash Burger offers choices of toppings and flattens their patties so that they overlap the bun. Not sure if this improves flavor (I would think it would make them drier) because I prefer to order their Chicago dog. But their rosemary fries are the best I have tasted. Ever. Even better than my all-time fast-food favorites at McDonalds.

Finally, I had dinner at Prime at the Bellagio; I wanted to try their dry-aged beef. Would it compare to my experience at Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Paris last year?? Sad to say, the answer is no. The view of the famous Bellagio water fountain show is definitely better at Paris, across the street. And the beef, despite the premium price, was not a totally memorable experience. It was very tender and the taste was good, especially when coupled with the various chef’s sauces that were proferred. But the experience did now compare favorably with the Roast Duck I had at Paris. But hey, I’m comparing apples and oranges, so it’s not really fair. Still, I will be going back to Eiffel Tower Restaurant next year. The Eiffel Tower is also cheaper, although not as nicely decorated as Prime; but you never notice the decor because you are staring out the window panes: the view is what Paris is selling and it is pretty nice.

Back Home

At home, I’ve been doing the Food Truck circuit. I was able to visit 2 events where several food trucks were present but I still ended up eating at Grill Them All Burgers both times. At the Fullerton Food Truck RoundUp  it was tough to pass up all of the other trucks but I was interested in trying the H-100 tater tots at Grill Them All. Seeing someone eating a $12.00 lobster tail on a stick was a pretty tempting suggestion, but I stuck to my guns.1

At today’s Din Din Food Truck Event, I had to pass Central American tapas and Lomo Arigato food truck to complete my tour of the top 3 burgers at Grill Them All. But I’ve now had the three that I wanted: Waste ‘Em All, Molly Hatchet, The Behemoth. You can read more about them here.  You may not be a burger aficionado, but you should be able to find other delicacies at these gourmet food trucks. They also post their locations on Twitter and on their own websites, so you can find them easily.

  1. The picture shows a really long line in front of Grill Them All; they tend to be one of  the more popular truck in the circuit. []

The most famous covert organization in the world.