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This blog has a comment ranking system. Let's have some fun with it by having our own presidential debate. Pick a side, either Obama or McCain, and leave a comment explaining why your pick would be the best president.

Then be sure to vote for the best other comments that aren't your own. Let's see which arguments float to the top.


You are not required to be brief, but my guess is that people will vote you down if you can't make your case in a paragraph or two.


The challenge is to support your argument. For example, saying one candidate will vote for some particular treaty is just a fact, not an argument, unless you can include a link to an article saying most experts disagree with the treaty.


Go.

 
 Do you remember the fellow who was fired for posting a Dilbert comic at work? It made national news twice. The first time was when he got fired, and the second time was when I did a series of comics about it:


http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/WaterCooler/story?id=4323900


Later I posted Dave Steward's story and his resume on my blog, hoping someone would offer him a job. He just e-mailed to say something good came of it. Dilbert blog reader Bob Buchholz offered to help Dave with his resume (which needed help), and a company with a sense of humor gave him a job a month ago. Dave thinks Bob's help on the resume made the difference. He's working security again, this time within walking distance of his home.


I don't know Bob personally, but apparently he is a generous guy.

 
 

People who love to read physical newspapers often cite "discovery" as one of the advantages over the Internet. Your eye scans the entire page and you notice interesting items that you wouldn't have otherwise known about. The problem is that many of those interesting items are total downers. Most news involves unpleasantness of one sort or another, so the more you see of it, the unhappier it makes you.


This got me wondering how the Internet handles all the bad news, since I see headlines many times a day online and never come away feeling sad. Today's news headlines on yahoo.com were interesting because they are mostly couched in upbeat terms.


  • McCain, Obama plunge into 5-month general election '08 race

  • Clinton: 'I am committed to uniting our party

  • Group: Somalia is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in a decade

  • Fire may cost Universal Studios tens of millions

  • United Airlines reportedly plans to ground 737s, 747s to save fuel

  • Astronauts to fix international space station's broken toilet

  • World War II veteran, 83, graduates from Texas high school

  • NBA Finals Stanley Cup MLB French Open NFL Olympics

The toilet on the space station isn't "still broken"; it's being fixed! Clinton didn't lose a primary in which she stayed too long; she's uniting the party! United Airlines isn't in a death spiral that begins by grounding lots of airplanes; they are saving fuel! And that feisty 83-year old World War II veteran is graduating high school! And hey, what about those sports!


Even Yahoo couldn't fix the headline about Somalia, but there are no photos on the home page. And "humanitarian crisis" sounds much better than starving by the truckloads. It seems like maybe the problem could be fixed with good paperwork.


I wonder if anyone has studied whether the Internet has generally more upbeat takes on the news compared to physical newspapers.

 
 

Yesterday I flew to LA, after just being there on the weekend and sighting a few minor celebrities. (See yesterday's blog post.) This time I was traveling with my wife, and I was alert to spotting additional celebrities, or at least people who looked like celebrities.


After we got off the plane in LA, we ended up on the escalator behind a guy who seemed to be someone important. He wore clothes that you can't get in Macy's, and a haircut you can't get at Supercuts. We guessed he was an ultimate fighter type, based on his build and the way a guy in a business suit was sucking up to him. I just found his picture on Google Images to confirm who he was. Apparently he's one of the most famous ultimate fighters, Tito Ortiz.


http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Gallery/Fighting/2007/07/08/Ortiz3.jpg



Later in the afternoon, back at the airport, we got in the Southwest Airlines ticket line to try and get an earlier flight. I noticed that the guy in front of us looked a little like actor Danny Glover, but older and scruffier. For fun, I decided to tell my wife it was indeed Danny Glover and let her enjoy the thrill-by-proximity until she realized I was full of shit. So I discretely tapped out the message on my Blackberry: "You are behind actor Danny Glover" and showed it to her. Shelly wasn't going to fall for that, and dismissed it quickly. After all, the guy in front of us was schlepping his own bags, shabbily dressed, and standing in line at Southwest with the common people.  He clearly wasn't movie star material.


But when we got a glimpse of his full profile, it sure looked like Danny Glover. I convinced myself it really was. Shelly noticed the initials on his luggage were DLG. As we walked from the ticket area to the gate, she suggested I use my Blackberry to figure out what Danny Glover's middle name is, to confirm the initials. I argued that the odds of spotting a guy who looks like Danny Glover, in a city where Danny Glover works, boarding a flight to an area where Danny Glover lives (The Bay Area) with two-out-of-three confirmed initials for "Danny Glover" on his luggage was sufficient confirmation. Shelly wasn't so sure.


Coincidentally, we ended up next to this potential Danny Glover fellow as we lined up in our designated waiting place at the gate. He was on his cell phone talking in a perfect Danny Glover voice to a business contact about his next movie that begins production in September. I asked Shelly if she still needed me to check his middle name, but she was now ready to accept this as a bona fide celebrity sighting.


The interesting part was watching the reaction from the other passengers and flight crew to this huge star: none. As far as we could tell, no one else in the terminal was aware of his existence. Or if they were, they weren't letting on. Maybe that's how they roll in LA, where there is a celebrity on every corner.


All I know is that when we returned to my celebrity-free suburban town, I felt a little empty knowing it could be weeks, even months, before I saw another famous person from a distance. I already miss my good friends Tito and Danny.

 
 

Last weekend I attended the BEA convention, an event for publishers and book sellers. One of my duties was to sign books for an hour at my publisher's booth. Hordes of authors were doing the same, at different times, throughout the show.


I got to the show early and decided to walk around and see if I ran into anyone famous. I've been to a few of these conventions and you can usually count on seeing a minor celebrity or two. To me, celebrity watching is like bird watching, but better because celebrities rarely crap on your head.


The last time I went to this convention, a number of years ago, I talked to Oliver North and saw Heidi Fleiss from a few feet away. Not bad. But on this day all I saw was Jackie Collins. She's famous enough, but I've run into her twice in LA on other trips - once at a restaurant, and once on a TV set. So that was disappointing. I was hoping for something new. And I wondered if Jackie has a house of if she just wanders around in public hoping I see her.


As I rounded a corner, I noticed a long line of people who were obviously waiting for a well-known author. I had about 15 minutes to spare, so I jumped in the line, hoping to see the celebrity before I had to go do my job. I listened to the people ahead of me and tried to figure out who I was waiting for. Man, was I disappointed. They were in line waiting for me. Luckily I am virtually invisible in crowds, so no one noticed me slink away and go to the head of the line to sign books.


The next morning, at the Burbank airport, I was in a gift shop buying a Snickers. A woman asked the guy next to me if she could take a picture with him. It was Mario Lopez. He was flipping through a People magazine, presumably looking for pictures of himself. So I guess that counts as a decent celebrity sighting. But Mario was flying Southwest Airlines, so I couldn't get too impressed. Not that I am competitive, but my boarding pass was an A3, and I doubt he could top that.

 

I'm in LA today, signing Dilbert books at the BEA (bookseller convention), from 1-3 pm, in the Andrews McMeel Publishers booth. If you want something signed, find a friend who knows a friend who knows someone at the show.

 
 The problem with being a tyrannical dictator is that there is no career path and no practical way to retire. If another dictator takes over, the first item on his agenda is turning your head into a bird feeder for his guest house. If democracy breaks out, sooner or later the mob will want to execute you for crimes against humanity. As a tyrant, your only rational strategy is continued brutal suppression of your peeps. That's a lot of work for the tyrant, and no fun for the peeps.

What the world needs is a program that allows graceful retirement for tyrants, so they have some incentive to step aside. Justice would never be served, but it would be best for the country.

I imagine the tyrant retirement program would provide some sort of international security guarantees and permanent amnesty for the tyrant. That might require some U.N. forces to guard his mansion or island fortress or wherever he decides to retire. And he would have unrestricted travel rights, in case he wanted to get out of the country for his own safety.

Second, the tyrant would be written into the history books as some sort of founding father type. He would be, ironically, the father of democracy, having stepped aside to allow it to happen. The history books would be modified to show the tyrant did many good things in terms of national stability, and then stepped aside to allow democracy to flourish. His multiple genocides would be downplayed. No tyrant wants to get bad press after retiring.

The tyrant would also be allowed to keep much of the money he stole, say up to a limit of $5 billion per tyrant. That's enough to keep him in helicopters and hookers.

You could add some extras, such as putting the tyrant on stamps and currency, or agreeing to keep him on the ones already in circulation. The point is that retirement has to look like a safe and honorable thing.

The story line for the country would be that while a dictatorship made sense while the tyrant was in power, it only worked because of the force of his amazing personality. And since his country couldn't be expected to find another dictator of such compassion and skill, democracy is the best succession strategy. That spin might sound preposterous, but when you consider the things your own government tells you, it's not that different.

I know it will never work. But waiting for tyrants to die takes too long, and killing them is too expensive. There has to be a better way.

 
 

My comic on 5/24/08 raised some questions. In the third panel, Dilbert makes a reference to "churning my own butter." Readers wondered if that was intended to be a naughty double entendre. Read it again if you care to refresh your memory.


http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2008-05-24/



This comic was written in my usual way. I started with a premise and drew the first frame hoping I would eventually figure out how it ended. I had a notion that it would end with a reference to something old-fashioned, and I expected to cycle through lots of options before landing on something funny. As it turned out, "churning my own butter" was both the first thing I thought (it's the most obvious) and also the funniest, precisely because it does suggest a darker joke. The boss's line, "You make it sound creepy" was the frosting, so to speak.


Wait, I think I just did it again.

 
Today's post was eaten by a bug in the software. It was quite interesting. But I don't have time to retype it.
 
Yesterday I wrote about a rare earth material called gadolinium that loses its attraction to magnets when it reaches room temperature. And I wondered if you could use this strange phenomenon as the basis for a generator. I thought it was obvious that a device depending on outside heat was not a perpetual motion machine any more than a wind mill is, but but many of you left comments to clarify that point. Apparently my writing was sloppy because the earlier paragraphs were about perpetual motion and I didn't call out the transition to non-perpetual motion and the gadolinium generator. In the interest of clarity, the rest of this post is NOT about perpetual motion in the strictest sense.

Someone pointed out that gadolinium doesn't lose its attraction to magnets; it just becomes less of a magnet itself, but would still be attracted to magnets like metal. There appears to be some conflicting information on the Internet on that point. The stuff I read indicates that a warmed piece of gadolinium wouldn't be attracted to a magnet in any fashion. Your unreliable strangers might be more reliable than my unreliable strangers.

But here's the interesting part. When you expose gadolinium to a magnet, it heats up. That property has been used to create refrigeration, although I don't see any recent articles about it. http://www.eurekalert.org/features/doe/2001-11/dl-mrs062802.php

So if what I read on the Internet is correct (which seems hugely unlikely) you could build a (nearly) perpetual motion device using a natural magnet and gadolinium as long as you could control the room temperature without any extra energy. Here's how it would work: Imagine a natural magnet suspended over a piece of gadolinium in a room that is just below room temperature. The gadolinium is attracted to the magnet and jumps from its resting point to attach to the magnet. Now the gadolinium is experiencing a stonger magnetic force, and according to its natural and unique properties, it heats up. That extra heat puts it above room temperature and it becomes suddenly unattracted to the magnet, falls off, and begins to cool. And repeat, forever, or until someone opens a window.

I suppose you'd use more energy keeping the room at the right temperature than you'd create by the process. But still, if it worked outdoors for half an hour every day, as the world went from cool to warm, in certain climates on certain days, it would still be nifty.

Clearly this won't work, or you'd have a toy like this on your desk as a novelty item that only operates when the room temperature is in a particular range. So I assume I am misinterpreting the qualities of gadolinium. But that doesn't make it any less fun to think about.
 
 
 
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