Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Four coins

September 19, 2013

I am negotiating a coin swap with another collector. He requested high-quality scans of the coins he requested. Here they are, in the unlikely event that anyone else could have productive use of these images:

four coins obv

four coins rev

Fix America’s cash!

April 10, 2012

With Canada’s recent announcement to stop producing their 1-cent coins, there has been lots of talk of if and when the United States will follow suit. Here’s my not-so-humble opinion.

I have long believed that the hundredth of a dollar has become obsolete, no longer really meaningful in daily commerce. I think customers and merchants alike would be happy enough with the tenth of a dollar, one dime, to become the new lowest subunit of a dollar. Prices would become $4.9 instead of $4.90. (The United States used to have a one-thousandth of a cent, one mil, that has only seen sporadic use in American history. Why it persists at gas stations generations after it died everywhere else is beyond me. $3.479 per gallon…. really?)

The death of “cent” as subunit would of course kill the penny and nickel. But it leaves the quarter dollar in an awkward spot. In a world without nickels, you couldn’t offer up three quarters to pay for a $0.7 item and expect change back. As cash, quarters would only be useful in pairs. What should we do with our former workhorse denomination?

My wife points out that the quarter is still the default coin of choice for coin-operated machines like gumball machines, parking meters, car washes, and laundromats. Eliminating the quarter would put those machine owners in the bind of either relying on an obsolete coin or to make expensive upgrades to their machines. I’ll revisit this concern after presenting my proposal.

The new lowest coin would be the dime, of course. It’s small but still potent enough to bother with. We’ve minted 78.4 billion dimes since 1965, and that should be enough to get us by while the Mint increases supply to match increasing demand. Leave well enough alone.

Instead of the quarter, the next coin would be the half dollar. While most of us have never seen a half dollar in years, if not decades, we have lots of them… over 2.7 billion minted since 1971. Those halves are sitting around unused, collecting dust while the quarter does all the work. Let’s got those halves to good use. For values under a dollar, the dime and the half dollar will suffice. 2.7 billion halves won’t be enough for commerce in the long term, but it would be enough for the interim, especially while we use up our standing supply of quarters until the Mint can match half dollar output to consumer demand.

For those of you who think that the half dollar is too heavy, one half dollar weighs the exact same as the coins it would replace, two quarters, at 11.34 grams. Any currently-running commemorative design series for the quarter would transition to the half dollar instead.

The next coin up is the dollar coin. We treat dollar bills like spare change anyway, and a single $1 note is kinda useless all by itself. Meanwhile, we have billions of brass dollar coins sitting in Federal Reserve vaults waiting for consumer demand to materialize, which never has. While the vending machine industry has supported the dollar coin, and while mass transit systems have begun dispensing them in ticket machines, the dollar coin has failed to catch on in America because the dollar bill continues its zombie existence. End production of the dollar bill, and all those Sacageawea and Presidential dollar coins will be used and accepted. And with the quarter gone, there will be no more mistaking a dollar coin for a quarter anymore.

But I hear your cry…. “coins are too heavy”… “I want my folding money”…. “paper is more convenient”. Well fine, for those of you who insist on paper money, I offer as a $1 bill substitute the $2 bill. It’s more convenient than two $1 bills, and again, like the half dollar and dollar coins, we have a standing supply of them that aren’t being used. If you’re carrying two dollar coins in your loaded pockets, then you have enough to trade up for a $2 bill, and your heavy coin burden is over. You shouldn’t have to carry more than a single $1 at a time. Similarly, you wouldn’t have to worry about carrying more than one half dollar at a time, either. Having a readily available $2 bill will reduce the number of dollar coins you get back in change, too.

I think we should have a $2 coin like Canada, the UK, the Eurozone, and Australia do, but I’m not going to push my luck here. America has never had a $2 denomination of coin, no standing supply to take advantage of. $2 coins would have to be made from scratch, and that would take time and money. But we have a $2 bill we can start using tomorrow…. right now. But we should wisely expect that we will need a $2 coin in the future, and ought to be thinking about it now.

There’s another benefit to using the $2 bill. It preserves the jobs and workloads of all those employees who make the current $1 bill at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. They would simply switch from printing $1s to printing $2s. Their jobs are safe, and Crane Paper Company can keep selling the BEP their special paper too, thus preserving Crane’s precious government contract. $1 makers keep their jobs… Crane keeps their business, and we are saved from using too many heavy coins. It’s a win for everyone involved.

I see no need to change the lineup of current paper bills $5 and up. $5s, $10s, and $20s have been convenient and sufficient for everyday commerce for decades. We still have $50s and $100s, but those don’t get used much. Most of us would rather charge an expense that large, and most merchants are skeptical of bills over $20 already. If they stopped making $50s and $100 tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t notice. Would you?

And in a flash, America would have a modern and updated cash system composed of three denominations of coins and six denominations of bills. That’s simpler than the four (or six) coins we have now, so merchants would have extra room in their register drawers. We have enough coins on hand to start this scheme right away, without having to manufacture and stockpile new denominations of cash in advance. We’d have three easy to distinguish coins, and a “new” $2 bill to replace the $1 bill.

Kill the penny. Kill the nickel. Kill the quarter. Revive the half dollar. Replace the $1 bill with a $1 coin. Revive the $2 bill. Problem solved.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot… quarters for coin-op machines. Been to Chuck E. Cheese lately, or anywhere else that uses proprietary tokens? There’s usually a machine somewhere in there that can take a bill and turn it into a number of tokens for you to use on the premises. Why can’t laundromats and car washes do this with quarters? The quarter dollar would live on like a casino chip, constantly circulating but never leaving the few places that will honor them. The quarter is and will always be worth $0.25, even after the rest of commerce moves to the half dollar. Those who still need quarters will be able to find them and use them. Meanwhile, banks will probably end up with a supply of quarters to meet the demands of parking meter users for some time to come.

How I got this way… about music

November 13, 2010

When I was growing up, the music in the background of my life was comedy and novelty records courtesy of Dr. Demento, which in turn was courtesy of my father. Songs like “Fish Heads”, “The Existential Blues”, and “We Will All Go Together When We Go” filled my head. If you asked seven-year-old me who my favorite musician was, I’d answer with the only one I could name… Weird Al Yankovic. Through repetition I wore out the cassette of Weird Al’s album Dare to be Stupid. Music was something that made me laugh, that I could sing along to. I knew “serious music” was out there, but I didn’t pay attention to it until i was about ten years old.

The car radio was always tuned to Oldies, that genre of light rock and pop classics from the childhood years of The Baby Boomers. It was upbeat, inoffensive, and predictable, whimsy without the overt humor of novelty songs. I got to know the artists, very gradually… Elvis, the Beatles, the Supremes, the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, and so on. But after many many years of listening to Golden Oldies, it got too repetitive and too predictable. I knew there was more out there, that the musical development of our culture wasn’t entirely bounded by 1955 and 1975. I was ready to start exploring.

It was my mother who first took me back in time. She taught me about two genres: country and big band. Glenn Miller became the representative of music prior to the Boomer revolution. If golden oldies were saccharine lollypops, then big band was maple syrup… still sweet but with a liquid sweetness used as a topping on top of something to chew on. And by country, I don’t mean the Garth Brooks variety of country, the kind you hear today that differs from rock and roll only by vocal accents. No, I mean the kind that you might have heard prior to 1960, dominated by bluegrass and singing cowboy varieties. I heard the simple sounds of Flatt & Scruggs, and the western swing of Asleep at the Wheel. Mom’s musical legacy to me was to appreciate the sounds of the past.

Dad took me into the future instead, serving as my guide to the genres that came after the golden oldies. The style called Classic Rock crept into my life. The lyrics became more challenging and abstract. The guitars got heavier and the drums got louder. Tambourines were replaced by bassists. Fun was replaced by rebellion. i hit all the obvious ports of call frequented by all the classic rock radio stations: Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Black Sabbath. Dad’s favorite form was southern rock, which blended well with the old-time country stuff I heard with Mom. Dad took me forward in pop music up until 1980.

My parents also had a few genres that they could agree on, and those have stuck on me the strongest. One by one they came into the home as cassettes. Because of them, I lost myself in the concept albums of the Alan Parsons Project. I still listen to Alan Parsons’s works today, and I’ll probably still be doing so fifteen years from now. I became a second generation fan of Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian balladeer with a voice like a saxophone who sang of shipwrecks and railroads, simple living and the mystery of love. Jimmy Buffett’s colorful world offered alternating carnivale and wistfulness, and his album “Fruitcakes” hasn’t left my head since. And for about two years, our Saturn’s tape deck was always looping the same cassette of James Bond movie themes.

I grew up with all of that. We didn’t own a CD player until I bought one myself in 1995, years after I had been gifted with my first CD. The first genre I explored on my own was jazz, thanks to our local NPR station. My high school English teacher gave me a respect for classical, especially Mozart. The cool kids around me were listening to Smashing Pumpkins, the Wallflowers, Oasis, and Pearl Jam, but I didn’t pay attention. I never got into my generation’s music at the time. I never had a phase of teenage rebellion. No, I was loyal and obedient, and I left for college uninitiated in punk rock, grunge, techno, the entirety of the Eighties, and anything made by black people within my lifetime.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Between first and twelfth grade, I had a small but influential circle of friends. We had bonded over shared experiences with novelty songs like Weird Al and Dr. Demento. We’d all read the same Far Side cartoons, seen the same Monty Python sketches, and read the same sci-fi novels. We all had the same appreciation for older music styles, and were equally ignorant of current stuff. That all changed when we got to high school. Benny Goodman and Johnny Cash were replaced by Rob Zombie and The Prodigy. They had undergone complete turnarounds in listening tastes in a short time, while I plowed ahead in the rut of the familiar. Their tastes eluded me at the time, but it did steel my nerves for college.

During my freshman year (and my senior year of high school, too), Napster and P2P MP3 sharing was turning the music industry inside out. It was the perfect time to sample and explore genres I had never heard of before. I made up for lost time by getting to know the style stupidly known as “alternative”… whatever that meant. I sought out The Pixies, Weezer, Pavement, REM, and Marcy Playground. I dove headfirst into modern electronica… techno, trance, house, drum-n-bass, and trip hop. I loved electronica! Finally, a musical genre that sounded like the future! I couldn’t get enough Paul van Dyk, Squarepusher, Plaid, and 808 State. My parents had planted one of my feet in the past, and it firmly remains there to this day. But on my own choosing I planted the other foot firmly in The Future.

I’ve attended a few concerts over the years, too. The first one I remember was at the county fair. Dad and I braved heavy rain in our clammy vinyl ponchos to hear Ray Stevens. A year or two later, the county fair presented surf rock duo Jan & Dean. We went back for Steppenwolf, Blood Sweat & Tears, and REO Speedwagon. I got to see Gordon Lightfoot with my mother around 1998, and I saw him again with my fiancee in 2005. I’ve seen live retro acts Michael Buble and my personal favorite The Squirrel Nut Zippers.

My favorite music today is retro swing and downbeat electronica. Because of my love for music from the past, the swing revival movement of the late Nineties hasn’t died for me, and probably never will. i have many old favorites that i continue to enjoy to this day, and will take with me into my future.

I never did enjoy punk, grunge, heavy metal, or rap. One thing that most genres that rub me the wrong way have in common, and the one thing that will turn me off of a song immediately, is raw aggression and bravado. I’ve always been a mellow and calm person, and music that is angry and laced with frothing testosterone is something I’ve always tried to avoid. Life has enough bitterness in it; it doesn’t need more rage.

As I prepare to become a father in January, I’m becoming more aware of my musical tastes, and how my parents influenced mine. It will be my turn now, to share with my own children the music that I find worthwhile. I will have to be the responsible parent and filter my music for young ears and young minds, but it’s one of those areas in my life that I look forward to guiding a new person through. That and gaming, of course!

So, parents out there… how did your children absorb your musical tastes? Did they reject your influence, give you a new appreciation for something you’ve loved, or teach you anything new?

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: Langton’s Ant

Movies I’ve Seen:

THX-1138 (1971) ~ clinical dystopia run by hypochondriacs

Diner (1982) ~ I still don’t get it.

What I’m Reading:
“The Eyre Affair” by Jasper Fforde (which has been totally awesome so far!)

The Well of Uncomfortable Political Truths

November 2, 2010

As you have no doubt noticed, The Ryanarium has relocated to its gemutlich new home on WordPress. The phase-out of Live Spaces gave me an opportunity to declare the Ryanarium obsolete. Let’s face it, most everything I write is either related to my meatspace life and belongs on FaceBook, or is realted to gaming and belongs at BoardGameGeek. If you want to follow my realtime or gaming life, you should probably go looking at one of those destinations. So what does that leave behind for the Ryanarium?

But now you’re looking at today’s headline “political truths” and wondering if I’m about to declare the Ryanarium a political blog. Rest assured, I have no intention of doing that. However, with the mid-term Congressional elections coming up tomorrow, political thoughts are coming easily to me, and I will take this opportunity to write down an assorted bunch of my own political slogans and maxims as I think them up. This stream-of-consciousness political screed is by no means representative of all future Ryanarium content. Just keep these things in mind while you’re standing in line tomorrow.

We cannot afford our good intentions. The road to bankruptcy is paved with good intentions. As beneficial as welfare programs and social spending might be, the economic toll of unsustainable government debt will undo all of those gains, and more. if you care about the poor and downtrodden in our society and believe that government is the only agency that can help them, then be aware that the first priority is to sustain and protect the longevity of said government. It cannot help the poor if it cannot itself survive.

Talk radio is poison, especially if it is named after one individual.

All media is biased. There is no such thing as an unbiased media outfit. Recognize the bias in each and every media source, and think critically about anything it tells you. It is your duty and obligation as a citizen of this republic to feed from as many DIFFERENT troughs as possible. That is the only way you can be an informed citizen.

I agree with Republicans that abortion should not happen. I agree with the Democrats that it should not be illegal.

Technically, we only need two traffic laws… Dangerous Driving and Inconsiderate Parking. This covers all sources of vehicular stupidity, be it caused by drink, age, distraction, or incompetence. I understand that this would be difficult to enforce.

I can no longer justify the electoral college, but I don’t think our voting public in general is any more informed than it was 200 years ago, so maybe we still need it.

Why is it illegal to not wear a seat belt? Laws are written to protect victims, not criminals. Who is the victim of not wearing a seat belt, and who is the criminal?

Legalize pot and tax the crap out of it. Prohibition was stupid in 1919, and it’s still stupid now. Expensive, too.

Per capita, America is one of the biggest jailers among the nations. Either we are doing something wrong, or we are one of the most evil people on earth.

We need a border policy that makes it fast and easy to cross legally, especially for people from parts of the world where documentation doesn’t exist. However, full citizenship should be a thing that must be earned.

Your government will never truly represent you, since it must also represent the people who disagree with you.

Making English the official language of the United States will do nothing to stem immigration or keep immigrants from speaking other languages.

If stem cell research is all that great, then its development won’t depend on federal funding.

All the federal funding in the world will not get Johnny to learn to read as long as Johnny doesn’t want to learn to read.

Student debt is doing more the prevent couples from having kids than abortion and gay marriage. I am not opposed to college, but to the lifetime burden it imposes.

Financial default will do more to bring America to its knees than foreign terrorism could ever do.

The biggest thing that the family values camp can do to promote the American family is to bring down the cost of living.

American jobs will come back home from Asia when Americans are willing to work for Asian wages. Pay attention, unions.

Remember that the Taliban and Iran’s “Mad Dinner Jacket” were elected into power. Remember that the United States once supported Saddam Hussein and the Afghan Muhajadeen.

Either Social Security will die, the US government will die, or the Baby Boomers will die. Pick one.

I as a college trained engineer cannot understand my tax forms. If the majority of us must pay an expert to comprehend our tax forms for us, then our tax code is fundamentally screwy.

I cannot say with confidence that there are absolutely no crimes that merit the death penalty. Would you jail Osama bin Laden for life?

No nation has survived the loss of its middle class.

America’s best strength as model of world democracy is the frequent peaceful transition of power from one party to another. Our harsh words for the opposition rarely translate to violence. That is awesome.

Resource conservation is good for everybody. Waste is in nobody’s interest.

Each species is a unique solution to a unique problem. There is nothing sacrosanct about the number of species on Earth. Extinction and invasive species are nature’s way of promoting capitalism. Maybe pandas are supposed to be extinct.

Climate change is supposed to happen. The sun has more influence on the Earth’s climate than we humans ever will. The Earth’s temperature is not supposed to stay constant indefinitely.

You leave your religion out of my government, and I will leave my government out of your religion.

If America is a Christian nation, than we have failed to live up to the American ideal of being a home for all.

The economy is too complex and too transient for any person or group of persons to control it. The economy cannot be controlled any more so than the weather can.

Las Vegas is a stupid place to put a city. Like a patient on dialysis, its survival depends on the pumps to keep turning. This strikes me as unwise. Same goes for Phoenix.

Attitudes about abortion and homosexuality are directly proportional to local population density. Thus the solution to both issues must be regional.

If the North Koreans can make a $100 bill as realistic as one the Bureau of Printing and Engraving can and for less money, aren’t they doing the BEP a favor?

If race doesn’t matter, then stop collecting statistics on it.

At heart, all political arguments are about money.

Immigration from Mexico will stop when America and Mexico are on equal economic footing. Note the stability of the Canadian border.

If you bust a man whose only crime is to cross the border illegally, even if he was a model taxpaying citizen, you’ve made him an ex-con for life. Convicted criminals are the unspoken third class citizen.

Government help should be available, but the least attractive option, only used as a last resort.

One of the greatest sins a nation can commit is to prevent its people from freely leaving it.

When we think our political opponents are deliberately sabotaging our country, America dies a little.

The Star Spangled Banner hails this nation as the “home of the BRAVE”. Keep that in mind the next time you’re standing in line at a TSA checkpoint.

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: Horse musicals

Movies I’ve Seen:

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) ~ The ending wasn’t that funny.

A Hard Day’s Night (1963) ~ prototypical and trendsetting music video

The Mack (1973) ~ Made entirely of unimportant dialogue.

Liberty Heights (1999) ~ Mighty drama sprinkled with burlesque.

The Producers (2005) ~ Good musical numbers, sans LSD!

What I’m Reading:

“The Eyre Affair” by Jasper Fforde


May 20, 2010

Earlier this month, I visited Montpelier, the estate of James Madison near Orange, Virginia.

When Dolley Madison sold the home in 1844, Montpelier spent the next 140 years in private hands, and only recently transferred into historic preservation status. Over ten years, the house was slowly restored to the condition the Madisons kept it in, reversing a century of interior and exterior modifications. Very little of the Madison decor or furnishings remains, but the site curators are tirelessly seeking original Madisoniana.

The estate is a nice place to visit, and it took us about six hours to see it all. Evelyn and I tried our hands at a two-man bucksaw, sharpened an axe on a grinding wheel, watched archaeologists at work in their lab, sampled period-cooked baking, and enjoyed the very nice walking trails through old-growth hickory woods. The gazebo above was decorative, but its foundation also conceals the Madison ice house. Wouldn’t this structure look nice on the dime, along with a portrait of Madison?

This is definitely one site to revisit in the future, since so much of the historical preservation is ongoing. I am eager to see what they’ll accomplish over the next ten years.

My house now has a handsome yellowwood tree in the front yard, replacing our former silver maple. The feral rabbits have reappeared in the neighborhood following their winter dormancy, and we spotted a red back salamander near our kitchen door.

After months of inaction, I finally gave in and bought a lawnmower. My inaction was economic, not ecological. Why buy a new mower when there must be plenty of older lawnmowers out there? But, as they say about used cards, buying a used machine means buying somebody else’s problems. Apprehensive about the uncertainty of used machine reliability, and with two gift cards for Lowes on hand, I decided to get a new one anyway. If there were a hardware store or machine shop selling reputable refurbished mowers, I would have bought a mower there without hesitation!

My game Wanderlust is getting some good exposure on BoardGameGeek. I have an official French version, and will soon have a Japanese versions available. Maybe Evelyn can help me with a Spanish version.

Also in gaming, I’ve been playing a lot of Dominion. If you’re a gamer and you haven’t played Dominion yet, you’re missing out.

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: The Tempest Prognosticator

Movies I’ve Seen:

Star Wars Holiday Special (TV, 1978) ~ producers disowned for good reason

Hancock (2008) ~ blaxploitation Superman has a secret

What I’ve Been Reading:

"Timeline" by Michael Crichton

Sinking and Spelunking in Branson

April 6, 2010

In the middle of March, I went an oft-deferred road trip to visit my father’s family in southwestern Missouri. On our way westward, we completed the Mean Population Center expedition that I’ve wanted to undertake for years. We visited all twenty-four points that have been decennial National Fulcrums, including my estimate for 2010, getting as close to each point as GPS and public space would allow. Our census-themed trek was very fascinating. We stumbled upon several points of interest that we had no idea existed, and we got a four-day taste of what it was like to drive across America before the Interstate was built. Photos of our journey, and notes of our discoveries and follies, are available HERE on FaceBook.

Our ultimate target was Branson, Missouri, aptly lampooned on The Simpsons as "Las Vegas if it were run by Ned Flanders". It was in this area that my dad’s family decided to settle in, and though March is far from an optimal time to visit, we did see many points of interest.

We toured three different caves, of which the Ozarks has in plenty: Fantastic Caverns, Marvel Cave, and Talking Rocks Cavern. I rate caves by two factors: the Formation Factor (how many stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, crystals, etc, are visible in the cave), and the Crawl Factor (how adventurous the cave is to tour through, based on climbing, stooping, and general terrain challenges). From best to worst, the Formation Factor was Talking Rocks/Marvel/Fantastic and the Crawl Factor was Marvel/Talking Rocks/Fantastic. Yet, each cave had its gimmick. Fantastic Caverns is one of only four drive-through caves on Earth. Marvel Cave has a chamber large enough to fly hot-air balloons in and also features an underground waterfall (pictured above). Talking Rocks was experiencing technical troubles with their lighting, and so issued headlamps to visitors that day, which make the Crawl Factor on that cave much higher!

As an awesome cream icing on the pineapple upside-down cake that was Talking Rocks, the cave grounds also features a Speleo-Box, a wooden apparatus that simulates the contorted confines of a cavern. If you can make it through this, you can squeeze into a real cave on a spelunking expedition. Evelyn went through thte Box twice, clocking at four minutes and thirty five seconds. I’ve never seen anything like this before, and all present thought it was the highlight of the day. Here’s a video of two teen girls attempting a similar SpeleoBox challenge.

Branson seems like the unlikeliest places to build a large museum dedicated to the RMS Titanic, and yet, rising above the Branson theaters is the two-funneled scaled version of the infamous liner. The closest claim to hosting such a museum that Branson has, at least that I can tell, is that Unsinkable Molly Brown is a Missouri native, having hailed from another part of the state. At any rate, like the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia, the Titanic Museum excels at large dioramas, featuring full-size mock-ups of a first-class stateroom, and third-class bunkroom, the grand staircase, the radio room, bridge, and lookout watch station. There were sloping deck samples that you can climb, to experience the degrees of list that the ship heeled to as it sank. There was a cistern of water chilled to North Atlantic temperatures. Most people only put their fingertips in the icy water for a few seconds… my dad immersed his arm up to the elbow and held it there for nine and a half minutes. At the beginning of the museum, there was a 1:40 scale model of the ship, and at the end was an equal-sized scale model of its wreck. Upon entrance, each museum visitor is issued a dossier with the name and biography of a Titanic passenger or crewmate. It gave an interesting individual focus to the exhibits, trying to discover the fate or your assigned role. (My role was as Jack Philips, chief telegraphist, who perished.) Even a naval architect like me learned something new. Did you know that the Titanic’s sister ship, RMS Olympic, was used to determine the width and depth of the Panama Canal?

We spent one day at the frontier-themed theme park, Silver Dollar City. Evelyn and I rode three of the park’s roller coasters and watched glassblowers demonstrate their proficiency. Silver Dollar City cashiers give out dollar coins in change! That’s great!

We toured Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum, Branson’s installation of that 20th Century freak show which held its public patrons to a higher standard that P.T. Barnum did his patrons a century earlier.

On the return drive, which only took two days, we visited the St. Louis Arch. Tickets to the top had sold out long before we arrived, but we still enjoyed the 1870 mercantile’s old-timey products (we bought a pie birdie for Mom) and the excellent museum dedicated to America’s legacy of westward expansion. The museum is organized in concentric semicircles and radiating spokes. The spokes divided the exhibit by subject matter, such as farming, mining, and soldiering. The circles radiated outward from the center, and divided the exhibits by era. 1800 was at the epicenter, representing the Louisiana Purchase, and the each circle out from there was ten years into the future, culminating in 1900 at the outer rim. There was a really cool timeline, and a very balanced gallery about Indian peace medals.

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: The Queens Giant

Amusing Internet Video: T-Shirt War

Movies I’ve Seen: (part of my Blaxploitation Appreciation Night)

Super Fly (1972)

Black Shampoo (1976)

Black Dynamite (2009)

What I’ve Been Reading:

"Otis: Giving Rise to the Modern City" by Chris Goodwin

Snow and drums

January 19, 2010

Two months…. dang. You’re such a slacker, Ryan.

Okay, so I’ve been up to stuff. Bullet list!

  • I’ve found a cure for two mutual interests/compulsions: music, and drumming on stuff. That cure is Rock Band. I’ve picked up a knack for it, and can drum away for hours without noticeable fatigue. Maybe I really was a drummer in some past life (instead of the flute player I was in this one). But that blasted foot pedal will be the death of me, and maybe did in that former drummer version of me, who knows. I largely prefer Beatles Rock Band to classic Rock Band, largely on my knowledge of Beatles music. I know about half the Beatles tunes in the game’s library, whereas I sport only a 5% overlap with the Rock Band repertoire. Yes, I know I’m geeky for calculating this, but I think the world could use a few more geeky drummers. Now, bring on the Big Band installment of this franchise, so I can embrace my inner Gene Krupa. (Thanks, Ben, for introducing me to virtual drumming!)
  • Got a few surprising gifts for the holidays this year. One is the Addometer, a simple automatic adding and subtracting machine. I’ve already used it for keeping score in games, and it is now my weapon of choice while balancing my checkbook. Why? Because it has fewer stuck keys than my TI-36, that’s why. Now I want a few more adding machines for the Game Table of My Dreams. This builds on a mechanical computer bent that I’ve been on since reading about Babbage’s Difference Engine. Keen-eyed Ryanarium regulars will remember The Curta’s recent day in the Nifty Wikipedia Thing spotlight.
  • The other gift of Annus 2009 was a boardgame that had eluded detection on my radar, World Without End. Based on a Ken Follett novel I’ve never read, the players build up the town of Kingsbridge in 14th Century England, gathering resources, building structures, and treating the plague. I hesitated to break the shrinkwrap, lest I desire to return it. But as I read more reviews and opinions of the game, the more I was tempted to give it a go. World Without End may look like a hardcore Eurogame with a pasted-on medieval setting, but that ilusion is only cover-deep. The actual game is right described by several reviewers as a chaotic, random, tactical economic game where players watch out for their own backs and still manage to collectively accomplish stuff. It reminds me more of Chrononauts than anything else. If you like games with miniscule amounts of negative emotion between players, but don’t want to burn your brain with math or long-term strategic decisions, then this is a good game for you.
  • We got the heaviest snow the DC area has seen in over a decade. If you follow me on FaceBook, you can see the photos I uploaded there. The best of the photos graces to top of this article.
  • The Twentieth Annual Time Travel Movie Night went excellently! We watched 2010: The Year We Make Contact as the opener of the evening. It’s not time travel, but made for an apt film this year for obvious reasons. I’d say the film has aged well, and even if it’s not as ambitious as 2001, it sure is more watchable. Of course, the real 2010 is so far sans Moon Base and sans Soviet Union.
  • The other film, fulfilling the requirement of one new-to-me time travel film of the year, was Peggy Sue Got Married. Not bad, but Peggy’s got to be the least ambitious time traveler depicted on film. My favorite scene was when she visited her grandparents.
  • 2009 was a heartstopping year for coin geeks! The Mint drastically cut back on production of nearly everything except dollar coins. (One in eight coins dated 2009 is a dollar.) The final Mint output was less than 3.6 billion coins, a level not seen since 1962. Nickel and dime production was indefinitely halted in April, and the final mintages are the lowest since 1955. The last time the Mint halted a product line was back in 1931-1933. I only found a third of the 2009 coin types within the year, and only a handful of 2009 coins at all! Never before in my life have current-year coins been so scarce or so precious to find.
  • I made some excellent design progress on my co-op boardgame of waiting tables, Check Please. I also think I’m done with design development of The DC Metro Game (which could use a better title, by the way). I plan to release both games online as print-n-plays by the end of the year.

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: Welcome to "The Tens".

Movies I’ve Seen:

The Fearless Hyena (aka Revenge of the Dragon) (1979) ~ kung-fu comedy with a young Jackie Chan, the ghost of Charlie Chaplin, and apparantly directed by Chuck Jones.

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) ~ future children require unfaithful ex-husband

Heathers (1989) ~ Fr me, bomb threats ruined high school. Not funny, guys.

RKO 281 (1999) ~ Schreiber mimics inimitable Orson Welles

Click (2006) ~ Sandler attempts Capra’s Wonderful Life

My Name is Bruce (2007) ~ Campbell lampoons his own career

Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009) ~ awkward humor meets action parody

What I’m Reading:

"The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon

"Dave Barry’s Bad Habits" by Dave Barry

"Otis: Giving Rise to the Modern City" by Jason Goodwin

Kill Anthony!

September 5, 2009

As a collector and coin geek, I love coinage, but even I can’t love the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin. The Susan B *does* look too much like a quarter, having the same color and same style of edge. Visually, the difference in diameter between a quarter and a Susan B is not obvious, and even I confuse the two.

The Mint made a similar mistake in 1875 when they introduced the 20-cent coin. Intended as a convenience when buying ten 2-cent postage stamps, this coin was only minted for a few years before being discontinued. The reasons for failure are all too obvious in hindsight. The 20-cent coin used the same obverse (heads side) as the quarter. It was the same color. It’s diameter was 91% that of the quarter, was only 0.2mm thinner, and weighed only 0.7 grams less. In fact, the only apparent visual distinction between the two was on the reverse (tails side). On the 20-cent coin, the eagle faced to the right, while on the quarter the eagle faced to the left. to quote Wikipedia: "One would basically have had to read the small, easily worn text on the reverse in order to determine the value (TWENTY CENTS vs QUAR. DOL.) without a side by side comparison."

The Sacagawea/presidential dollars have a different color and a smooth rim, so they are sufficiently distinguishable from a quarter. (The Canadian loonie coin is identical to our dollar, and they have no trouble telling it apart from their quarter.) The only stupid thing about the current dollar coins is the government’s refusal to withdraw the obsolete and wasteful dollar bill.

The penny and dime are in a similar boat. They are very similar in diameter and thickness. Yet they are easy to tell apart because of differences in color and rim.

I think that the public anathema to the Susan B has unfairly contaminated public sentiment of the "golden" dollars. They associate the failure of this dollar coin with the failure of *any* dollar coin. Its continued circulation reminds the public of the dollar coin’s "untouchable" status, and I avoid putting Susan B’s into the hands of cashiers. Its existence damages the very cause it was designed to promote. In 215 years, the US Mint has never demonetized a coin, but in the Susan B’s case, I wish they would make an exception.

Without the Susan B still kicking around, dollar coins would not have the stigma of failure that this Carter era relic still carries. Kill the Anthony, and dollar coins might live.

Movies I’ve Seen:

Futurama: Bender’s Big Score

Futurama: The Beast With a Billion Backs (the best of the three)

Futurama: Bender’s Game

Xanadu (1980)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

What I’m Reading:

"Time Time Traveler’s Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger

"A Fine and Pleasant Misery" by Patrick McManus

"The Federalist Papers" by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay (#42)

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (who is, by the way, my idea of The Model American)

The Other Tom’s house

August 5, 2009

Last year I started a new Independence Day tradition. Each year, I will visit the home of a Declaration of Independence signer, trying not to repeat visits until I’ve been to all that still stand. (Evelyn says this would make a great historical travel guide. Anyone interested?) Last year we visited Tom’s house, and this year we visited Tom’s house. The latter is the subject of this article’s top photo. Fireworks this year were courtesy of the City of Falls Church.

On the House Front, my home now has its first mezuzah, the first one being a family heirloom piece nailed to the main doorpost. We have new lamps for the living room, and I repaired an older one. I’ve put up wooden towel bars in the master bath, and begun work on the backyard patio. The sand between the old bricks has long since washed away, leaving behind mud-filled crevasses choked with weeds. The patio has thrice been attacked with a power washer, which has blasted out much of the dirt and moss. I then applied three coats of herbicide/preventer. The last step is to sweep just-add-water cement mortar into the cracks and wait for rain, which shouldn’t take long this time of year.

Have you read my review of the new board game, Martians!!!?

For no particular reason, I’ve always wanted to light an entire box of matches on fire.

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: J002E3

Movies I’ve Seen:

It Happened Tomorrow (1944) – Tomorrow’s newspaper today! Reporter vexed!

The Ipcress File (1965) – 007 never dealt with bureaucracy

The Wild Bunch (1969) – Peckinpah invented rapid interspliced action

The Apple (1980) – disco envisions hedonistic, triangular 1994

To Be or Not To Be (1983) – see different side of Mel Brooks

Best In Show (2000) – "Zelig" remains my preferred mockumentary

Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God (2005) – serious sequel to flippant original

The World’s Fastest Indian (2005) – Humble Kiwi undergoes American odyssey

What I’m Reading:

"The Radioactive Boy Scout" by Ken Silverstein

"The Time Traveler’s Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger

"The Federalist Papers" by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay (#35)

I live here now

June 26, 2009

In the last three months, my life has

changed significantly. I bought a house!

One week after posting the game bag update

at The Ryanarium, my wife and I went trawling

for a new house, a search that had already

consumed a frustrating three years of our

lives. We visited an open house near our

apartment, and immediately felt it was

perfect for us. Finally, a house that we did

not have to compromise anything about! Great

size, great condition, great neighborhood,

and within our budget. This was what we’d

been waiting for! (Bonus: the house belonged

to a submarine captain!)

We first saw the house on a Saturday. We

bid for it on Sunday. Our bid was accepted

on Tuesday. It was fast, thrilling, a dread


We moved in at the beginning of May, and

were immediately confronted with a Herculean

list of repairs and tasks. We replaced all

the two-prong electrical outlets with

three-prong, and replaced the metal cover

plates of each. We replaced the sink

drainpipes in the half-bath by the kitchen.

We replaced a leaking hose bib (with a

frost-free). We replaced the leaking main

water valve. We installed pet-proof screen

on the attic louvers. We replaced the attic

ventilation fan. We pulled the weeds out

from between the patio bricks. We mowed the

neglected lawn, which had been growing

unchecked all spring. We bought Ikea

dressers and a loveseat, and assembled them.

We put protective felt feet on the coffee

table. We scrubbed every surface we could

find to scrub. We hung portraits and put up


During all this, I’ve been without a

stable internet connection. As much as I’m

tempted to, I will not grouse about it here;

those in my corporeal life have had to put up

with that enough already. Let’s just say

it’s been a long six weeks, and it’s still

not resolved.

I’ve also been busy Having A Life. My

father visited to help us move in. My

in-laws were here the following week. I was

a groomsman for my brother’s wedding. My

wife and I satisfied our long-held cravings

for roller coasters with a day at Cedar Point, where I was able to ride

some of my favorite coasters (The Corkscrew,

the Iron Dragon, and the Gemini) and

discovered two new favorites (The Mine Ride

and the WildCat). We visited Fort Necessity, a young George

Washington’s introductory course in colonial

combat. I have learned to play and to love a

co-op boardgame called Pandemic. My mother came to

visit, and we showed her The Pope-Leighey House and Woodrow

Wilson’s house.

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: Erdos-Bacon numbers

I fondly remember Tako the

Octopus, who will be cooking your dinner.

Movies I’ve Seen:

Blade Runner (1982)

Cashback (2006)

Die Hard (1988)

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Fatal Instinct (1993)

Flesh and Blood (1985)


Gran Torino (2008)

Lolita (1962)

North by Northwest (1959)

The Road Warrior (1981)

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Star Trek (2009)

Taken (2008)

The Terminator (1984)

Up (2009)

Used Cars (1980)

The Warriors (1979)

What I’m Reading:

"Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood

of 1927" by John Barry

"Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits" by Dave


"Questioning the Millennium" by Steven

Jay Gould