Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: Google Maps edition

Most people have tried Googling for themselves. For example, if you Google for my name, the first hit brings you to this blog, as you might expect. If you instead Google for Benji Milanowski’s name, the first hit brings you to, um, this blog again.

But have you ever tried searching for your name… on Google Maps?

If you try searching for my name on Google Maps, you get exactly one result.

For Kent Hovind.

How exactly does that happen? Kent Hovind and I are nothing alike, with the possible exception of both of us being carbon-based life forms largely composed of water. For example:

  • My last name begins with a K, whereas his first name begins with a K.
  • I wrote a program that tries to use genetic algorithms to play Nintendo games (what ever happened to that anyway?), whereas he operated a young-earth creationist theme park called Dinosaur Adventure Land.
  • I got a federal tax refund this year, whereas he got sentenced to ten years of prison for federal tax evasion.

So yeah, that search result couldn’t possibly be more wrong. It doesn’t even have Kent Hovind’s current address (Federal Correctional Institution, Edgefield, South Carolina).

[Editor’s note: Thanks to Phil “Bad Astronomer” Plait for coming up with the idea.]

Are you pondering what I’m pondering?

This may be the most important YouTube video ever:

Problem Light

Most vehicles nowadays have a check engine light that’s supposed to light up when your car is about to explode. The theoretic underpinning of the light rests on two axioms: the driver is too stupid to realize when something is wrong with the car, and the driver is too stupid to understand what is wrong with the car. When it lights up, you’re supposed to take the car to a mechanic so they can reverse the polarity of the neutron flow (or whatever it is they really do) so that it works again.

(I’ve been led to believe that certain space stations have a similar feature.)

Some cars, mine included, also have a “Maintenance Required” light (or technically “Maint Req’d” since they don’t want to have to dedicate a third of the dashboard to it) that serves no other purpose than to nag you when some internal timer triggers. Seriously. The dealer sets it to go off when you’re supposedly due (in the chronological sense) for your next service.

Given that some check engine lights are labeled “Service Engine Soon”, unless you’re intimately familiar with your car’s manual, you could easily mistake one for the other.

Guess which one of my lights came on recently?

Luckily, instead of running (i.e., driving) to the nearest garage, since everything seemed to be going fine and the timing was suspiciously close to three months after the car’s last major service, I borrowed a engine diagnostic code reader thingy from a coworker. Unluckily, it didn’t seem to work with my vehicle. That is, I’m pessimistic enough to assume that the “E” message stood for “Error” and not “Everything’s OK”.

Fortunately, I had the insight to RTFM and realize that everything was in fact OK, since it was the nag light instead of the “your car a splode” light I thought it might be. So now I’m just staring down a fake warning light while driving instead of risking my life every time I turn the key.

I mean, more so than normal, given some of the drivers around here.

Plus, as a bonus light-that-looks-bad-but-apparently-isn’t, you know that disk activity light on your computer? Well, the one on holly (my former desktop PC turned home-brew Tivo and named after Holly) has been on 24/7 for, oh, about a month now. The hard disk itself is behaving normally, however; if you listen, you can tell it’s not actually grinding away any more than a hard disk normally does, so it’s just the light itself that isn’t working.

So apparently, the moral of the story is, ignore dangerous-looking warning lights and you’ll be OK. It’s a moral we can all live by. Hopefully.

Fourth of Julycola

This Independence Day, it’s easy to find symbols of patriotism. But what if you’re looking for examples of patriotism and Nintendo logic? Then you’ll want to take time out between barbeques and fireworks and play StarTropics.

Chapter 5 of the game in particular is a transparent allegory for the American struggle for independence from our British oppressors. In Chapter 5, your character, Mike Jones (representing the Founding Fathers) needs to get through a narrow strait running through an island, so he can find and eventually rescue (i.e., liberate) his uncle Dr. J (i.e., the 13 colonies) from his alien abductors (i.e., taxation without representation).

However, a British ship (i.e., Britain) is parked right in the middle of the strait, preventing anything from getting through! Supposedly, Captain Bell had put it there to stop pirates from getting through hundreds of years ago. Of course, we all know the real reason was to maintain British hegemony and pass Stamp Acts and whatnot. This will not stand!

Bellcola Strait

Now, logic would dictate that since you’re in a submarine, you would just be able to, I don’t know, go under the ship and be on your way. But of course, you can’t do that. And don’t even think about just going around the island, because there’s shallow water that you can’t pass through to the east and west of the approach to the strait, and guess what, it continues on infinitely far south.

This is all symbolic, of course. Signing the Declaration of Independence alone wasn’t enough to effect de facto independence from the crown, as the usage of 1776 in-game as the code to submerge the sub demonstrates.

ID code 1776

Instead armed conflict was necessary. That is to say, you need to go find a worm to feed to the descendent of Captain Bell’s parrot …

Feeding the parrot

… to get him to tell you the sequence of notes you need to play on a giant pipe organ hidden in a cave …

Captain Bell’s organ

… to open the way to another cave filled with traps such as killer pencils that pop out of the ground …

Pencil traps

… to activate a machine …

Machine to sink Captain Bell’s ship

… that sinks the ship …

Captain Bell’s ship sinking

… while My Country, ‘Tis of Thee plays in the background. This obviously symbolizes America’s inevitable triumph over the British Empire, freeing the colonists from British rule and allowing them to go on and fight alien invaders.

Fighting aliens with a yo-yo

One might ask why there was enough room in the strait for the large ship to sink, but not enough for your little sub to get through under it. One might also ask why the alleged pirates didn’t just fire some cannons at the ship to sink it. One might further ask why Mike Jones is the first person in three hundred years or so to need to pass through the strait.

Do not question Nintendo logic.

Happy birthday, America!

“Where do you come from?  Americola?”