Monday, December 31, 2007

Movie Review: Aliens vs Predator: Requiem

As one reviewer said, this movie wasn't made to attract new fans.

"Aliens vs Predator" (the first word has an "s") picked up right where "Alien vs Predator" left off - with an alien bursting out of the chest of a dead predator. The creature quickly trashes the ship and it crashes in the mountains of Colorado. A bunch of facehuggers in jars escape and start some fresh chaos with a few hunters and homeless people living in the sewers. A distress signal was sent before the ship crashed and a lone predator comes to deal with the mess.

I liked the first movie enough to get it on DVD. This movie, however, I won't. Not unless the third one is really good. See, the first movie worked really hard to tie in with the other Alien and Predator movies.
The expedition was sponsored and attended by Charles Bishop Weyland of Weyland Industries. He was played by Lance Henriksen who played the role of Bishop the android in the first Alien movie. The droid and the missions in the Alien movies were under the control of Weyland-Yutani. We now know that Bishop was modeled after the company founder.
A history was established for the existence of Aliens and Predators on Earth. The Predators behaved according to what has been established as their hunter's code of honor. The Aliens stuck to their known life cycle.
At the end an alien pops out of the chest of the deceased predator. This alien's physiology has adapted to reflect that of the host.

The second movie picks up exactly where the first movie ends. The predator-alien hybrid trashes the inside of the ship and it crashes in Colorado. The rest of the movie plays out like a teen slasher flick. The Alien and Predator movies all had adult cast trying to face down an alien threat. The first AvP movie did the same thing. This movie had a few adults but the focus was on the teens getting chased down. More Freddy vs Jason than Alien vs Predator.
The only nod to it's roots was when the military handed over a predator's energy weapon to Ms. Yutani at the very end.
The alien life cycle is disrupted for the sake of the story. Normally you need a queen to lay pods which release facehuggers which plant an alien in the chest of a host which bursts out and goes around killing. In this one a normal alien impregnates a pregnant woman who then explodes in lots of little aliens.
The predators are supposed to self destruct when they know they've lost so the aliens don't destroy everything. It's hard to tell if one of the predators was trying to self destruct or send a distress signal early in the movie. But a single alien shows up and neglects to blast the area from space. Instead he comes down in person. I'm thinking that he finds the challenge of fighting the predator/alien hybrid too tempting to turn down.

Aaaanyway. I hope they do better on the third one.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Solstice

I'll be gone the week of Christmas. Merry Whatever.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thief 3

I'm going through old e-mails and weeding things out. I wrote this after playing a level of one of my favorite computer games ever.

Fiddle dee dum,
Fiddle dee dee,
The old gray lady is after me.
-Children's nursery rhyme

I had a chat with the Hammerite inspector. He's been investigating an ancient murderer commonly known only by nursery rhymes and bedtime stories. Most people don't even believe in her. Until last night I was someone who you'd count among the non-believers. Watching someone bring statues to life and send them in search of your head tends to do wonders for ones faith.

So now I find myself standing staring up at the abandoned orphanage and sanitarium. Very Chas Addams meets Frank Lloyd Wright. The inspector grew up here. It was here where he saw her kill his best friend. It's no surprise he's terrified to come back here. I'm just standing in the front yard and my nipples are telling me that they'd prefer to wait here for me.

The front door is very well boarded up. Someone cleared an old growth forest to keep these doors closed. Its curious. All the boards are on the outside of the door. Whoever did this was more concerned with keeping someone in than keeping people out.

With the doors sealed, the windows barred, and the walls unclimbable, I'm only seeing one possible entrance. No, this isn't a trap, not at all. They just don't like salesmen. At least that's what I try telling myself.

I open the cellar door and start down.

For an abandoned building it's very noisy in here. Like a strong wind through the trees. You almost want to believe there's something trying to whisper to you.

Pretty much everything is made of stone. Don't want those dangerous orphans breaking out. The floor is covered with crud. A fungus or mildew or some such filth coats the walls. I take a deep breath, drop into a crouch, and proceed. Slow and silent is the order of the day. Why? I don't want to be detected by ... whatever.

Down the hall I find a room. Remarkable to find these two old candlesticks sitting in a place otherwise empty. They must have left in a hurry. I take the candlesticks. In the distance a baby starts to cry. On my shoulder a parrot growls. I consider putting the candlesticks back.

I continue to creep. I go downstairs. There's about a foot of water on the floor. Old generators, shelves full of bottles, ... a cage. The wind carries the sound of someone screaming, of mad laughter. I start back upstairs clinging to the shadows. I ask myself again what I'm hiding from. If there really is something here do you think it ... she? ... doesn't know you're here? I continue to creep through the shadows for much the same reason you turn down the car radio when looking for an address. Because.

I continue to search the building room by room. I collect loot. I see nobody. There are noises, but I'm pretty sure whatever is making them doesn't fit any of the usual definitions of alive.

In the Lobby there two staircases. Metal. Noisy. They curve around nothing and disappear behind a wall. I start up the stair on the left. More noises. I stop. The noises don't. A rhythmic sound. Footsteps? A child playing jump rope? The staccato bang bang of a firing squad? Whatever, it's not me. I continue.

Creep, creep, creep. Another stair. It's a spiral staircase wrapping around a stone column. Blind corners. I fucking hate blind corners. Behind me the bird grips the back of the chair. She's peering over my shoulder at the screen ... hissing.

I start up the spiral stair. Step by step I take that stair. Something is very, very wrong. I can feel it. I don't want to know what's ahead. I keep moving.

The bird paces back and forth along the back of the chair. She peers around my neck on the right, then the left, then back again. The stair seems to have been going up forever when ...


This isn't the memory of some sound being carried on the wind.
This is loud.
This is happening.
This is coming from right around this turn.

I force myself to press that button. A few more steps. The stair ends
in a very solid wood door.


I can't tell if the door is shaking or if it's my imagination.


Is there somewhere else in the building I could be looking right now?
What weapons do I have handy? Maybe I should come back when it isn't
10:30 at night.


I mean, really, it is past my bedtime.


I press F10. Quick save.


I take a step. Then another. The bird stops and watches.


I open the door.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

a preschool mystery

Some nonsense that I wrote some time ago.

It was raining that Tuesday morning in May and the playground was closed. Worms were crawling on the sidewalk, puddles were begging to be jumped in, and here I was, trapped in a classroom with the four walls slowly closing in on me. A dark mood had settled over the room. Somber games of checkers, a few quiet puzzles, even the umbrella sword fight seemed forced. Nerves were on edge and the locals were getting twitchy. Maybe it was that our underwear was still riding up from splashing in the gutters this morning, maybe it was the knowledge that the end of school was so close we could kick it in the shin, or maybe, just maybe, it was the waiting, the uncertainty, the knowledge that at any moment...

The window panes rattled with the shock of the blast. I don't know what was worse, the thunderclap or the screams of little Betsy Widderschmidt. It didn't take much to make Betsy scream. Girls like her made me wonder why guys put so much value on large chests. To me it just meant more screaming power.

When the screaming didn't stop I looked up from last Thursday's comics page to see what was the matter. There lie Jimbo Smith, in the ruins of a Lincoln Log cabin, with a suction dart stuck to his head. Someone in this classroom had shot him and it was my job to find out who.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The day after tomorrow

I've been saying I'd be able to tear up the carpet and put down the new flooring the day after tomorrow for the last week. I think I've finally been able to upgrade it to tomorrow.

It's been a little while so I'm going to repeat the back story.

There's been a leak in my roof for a long time. It only really shows when it's been raining pretty heavy or when it's been raining for a long time. The odd thing was that it would drip on the first floor ceiling instead of the second floor.
According to city records my house was built in 1890, which due to some old muddle in the paper work means 1870-1890. Back then they used lime based mortar which the rain has slowly been dissolving over the last 117 years. So if I try to anchor stuff in the wall, such as a hammock, it just rips right out. So I thought that a channel had been cut so that rain water would run down between the bricks.
The back wall was in particularly bad shape due to a series of idiotic repairmen. This led to me having to have the whole back wall replaced. While they did that I had to move all my stuff from the back rooms into my bedroom. Since one particular room was empty I started work there.
I've taken all the cement off the wall and routed out all the old mortar. It was softer than it should have been almost everywhere. In many places it felt like drilling through Rice Krispies(tm). In some places I went so deep that the whole brick came out. I then repointed the bricks with fresh mortar.

Now you're up to speed.

The last of the mortar was supposed to be pushed last Friday. Then I'd clean the bricks, cut the loose bits of ceiling down, remove the extra screws from the joists, and dust the beams. Then the next day I'd tear up the carpet and put down the flooring.
But I ran out of mortar. I cleaned the bricks Friday with a bunch of sandpaper flaps attached to my drill. The bricks all became a lot brighter even if I didn't get all the mortar I slopped about cleaned off.
Saturday I ran out and got another 80lb bag of mortar. I only needed 10lbs or so, but they don't sell that. So I'm open to ideas about what to do with the rest. I finished mortaring that night.
I think I killed Sunday by playing Pikmin and making another Home Depot run for glue.
Last night I took down all the screws, cut away enough ceiling so that some prudent use of moulding should cover the mess, dusted, shoveled out the room, and moved out everything I reasonably could and still get out of the room again. The plan was to come home tonight and rip up the carpet.
But then I looked at the old ceiling joists. I like them... mostly. They're dark brown with age and whatever they were treated with. They look old. But those same idiot construction people who screwed up the back wall also splattered stuff on these beams leaving light spots. Plus there's some light stripes in some places where the old wooden slats were once attached. Some discoloration is fine and can add to the place. This doesn't. I took the drill sander to it. The wood gets lighter but still looks good. The spots fade but still remain. So I have to paint. Hunter Green I think. It should go well with brick.
But the little voice in my head screams. It wants to put the flooring down. I tell it that I paid good money for that flooring and I don't want it dripped on. It says that we can put down a curtain or a tarp or newspaper. I say there's already carpet there. It really, really wants to put down flooring. I'm telling it we can still get this down before leaving for Dougmas. So now it's sulking and wanting me to rant about how the floor is ALWAYS two days away.

There will still be work to do, but I will get that floor down before I leave Saturday.

Still to come:a.k.a. the 2ish year plan
Flooring for the newly discovered storage space and a hatch in the bedroom
Sleeping in a bed again
Ripping down the kitchen ceiling
Putting up lighting and translucent ceiling in the kitchen
Modular Plyboo wall covering
Deck out back
Deck on roof
Hammock on roof

Monday, December 17, 2007

Movie Review: I am Legend

"I Am Legend" is an awesome movie that I will be getting on DVD.

The overall premise is that scientists altered measles to attack cancer instead of people. It mutated and killed 90% of the population, turned 9% into "dark seekers", and left 1% alone. They're not vampires, they're not zombies but they share characteristics of both.
Will Smith is some brilliant military virologist who had immunity and continues working on a cure after everyone in the world is dead.

There was a lot of little stuff they showed that I found interesting and some stuff that they'd normally use as product placement that they didn't show close enough to really identify.
For example, at the beginning of the movie when he's hunting deer from a car I was flashing on some Native American riding a horse to hunt deer. Suddenly I really wanted that car to be a Mustang. Someone else who knows cars better than I said it was.

Then when he moved to running so did the camera.

In Times Square you saw the usual posters - Avenue Q, The Producers, Wicked, etc. - but there was also a poster for a Batman/Superman movie. I really hope 2010 brings us that movie.

The dog gave a great performance.

Will Smith has to trap dark seekers to do human trials of his vaccines on. When he catches one the leader of the dark seekers stands in the door glaring at Will. The lead seeker clearly wanted to charge down the hero when he trapped the female seeker. I'm taking it that she meant something to him. I'm also taking it that the lead seeker was extra motivated to kill the man who took his woman. Thus the relentless attack on his house was as motivated by revenge as food.

The seekers clearly had a leader, they had domesticated seeker dogs, one was opening holes in the roof to allow others in instead of moving on to kill. Clearly there was more to them than your standard zombie.

For as much as I focus on the creatures and the cure that's only part of the movie. There's Will's memories of his family still tormenting him. There's his own guilt for allowing humanity to die off. There's the isolation and the madness that has been building but really comes out as the movie progresses. There's the way that nature is taking back New York. There's the fixed routine that he goes through every day in a world where everyone is gone. And there's his search for survivors that he doesn't really believe are out there.

They pack a lot into this movie and do it well.

All in all it was a very Rod Serling movie.

Friday, December 14, 2007


This stuff is called milo. It's one of the more obscure crops since people don't eat it. Well, they can, but if you do it probably means you're living somewhere without much else to eat. The stuff Dad grows, that's him in the combine in the background, typically ends up being feed for chickens, cows, pigs, and other farm animals. It can be fermented into alcohol. I've only seen that done accidentally when rain collected in a barrel of the stuff. The squirrels were tipsy for a few days following.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Waste of time

There's a Health and Wellness center on base. Apparently on Wednesdays there's free massages, acupressure, and acupuncture. So me and a few of the ladies around the office went there. We sat in a circle and got needles put in our ears.

Then we waited.

And we waited.

And we waited.

One of my co-workers got her needles removed.
Someone who arrived after us got moved to a massage table.
The co-worker got moved to an acupressure table.

And we waited.

Finally we flagged someone down and got the needles removed.

Turned out we weren't in a line for the tables like we thought. We had to be a bit pushier.

The needles didn't do anything for any of us. The co-worker said the acupressure was pretty lame, too.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Now that Dad has retired he's doing some stuff around the farm that I've wanted to do for awhile. When I went home for Thanksgiving he had cleaned up the old corn husker from Grandma's farm. He'd also grown some indian corn to run through it.

Just drop the ears of corn down the trough on top and turn the crank. The kernels drop out the bottom and the empty cob comes out that hole in the front.

See? Corn off the cob.

note: be sure to let the corn dry before running it through the corn husker or you'll have creamed corn dropping out the bottom.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Movie Review: Enchanted

I had to get motivated to go see this movie. It could have been really sappy. But I remember how my old boss viewed the Princess Bride even though he's never seen it. Still, I went out to get supper as much as to see the movie.

The movie starts in a knockoff of an old Disney cartoon. Classic art styling for the characters and background. Think "Bambi", "Snow White", and "Cinderella". We meet the handsome prince, his wicked stepmother who rules in his place, her servant, and the beautiful maiden who calls the animals with her song. If the prince and the maiden ever meet they'll fall in love and the wicked stepmother will lose her throne. Of course, they meet and plan to wed the next day. The stepmother dresses as an old crone and shoves the beautiful maiden down a well that leads to real world New York.

In New York the princess doesn't know how to function and finally ends up beating on the door of a castle on a billboard. There she's helped by a jaded, single father. Despite his wishes she crashes on his sofa, makes her own dress the next morning, summons the creatures of New York to help clean, gets him in hot water with his girlfriend, and follows him to work.

The prince follows and begins searching New York for the princess. The wicked stepmother's henchman follows to try to poison the princess. A chipmunk follows and loses the power of speech. The princess breaks into song in the park, as do some musicians, sewer workers, and half of New York.

Naturally the jaded father learns that there really is such a thing as love and the princess learns that love involves more getting to know each other than just a chance meeting in the woods.

See? Sappy. What I'm leaving out are the details that make this something that an adult can enjoy as well as a princess obsessed 4 year old. Just make sure you have some insulin handy.

I won't get it on DVD, but I'm glad I went to see it.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Our department had it's 20th anniversary party yesterday. That's why there was no post. And I'm busy at the moment so instead of the pictures of the farm that I intended to post you get a doodle I made while waiting for web tracking logs to upload.

That's right. I doodle in Illustrator.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Movie Review: The Mist

I'm not a huge Stephen King fan, but I've always loved his short story/novella "The Mist". I've read it twice. Every time a movie called "The Fog" comes out I think they finally got around to adapting the story and every time I'm wrong. That said, it's been a long time since I read it and the end of the story is rather obscured in my mind.

From what I can recall the movie is a pretty true adaptation. The unnecessary sex scene was cut. There's a few things that happened that brought back bits of the story. I'm not sure if the very, very end was right or not but I liked it.

Here's the premise. A lake shore community has a bad storm. While people are in the grocery store stocking up on supplies a thick fog rolls in. There's something in the fog. Lots and lots of somethings of various species who were beautifully rendered or crafted. Really, I'm not sure if they were puppets or digital creations. Probably both.
So the movie becomes the story of a people under siege. Some have compared it to the episode of the Twilight Zone called "The Martians Have Come to Maple Street". The local churchie is stuck in the store and starts preaching Revelations and the anger of the Old Testament God. The freaked out people follow her and things go poorly. You begin to understand why tossing these people to the lions wasn't such a bad idea. But her boogity-boogity story gains strength as the group faces one type of monster after another.

Near the end of the movie our leading characters make a run for the car and drive as far as the gas will take them. This gives us the opportunity to see what has been happening outside their grocery store fortress.

The director makes sure not to screw up the suspenseful parts by trying to put a soundtrack where it should be quiet. He also directed the other good Stephen King movies "The Green Mile" and "The Shawshank Redemption". His next work is a remake of "Fahrenheit 451" which should be pretty good.

I'd like to see it again, but I'm not sure if I'll get it on DVD.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Movie Review: Beowulf

It's been so long since I've read the story of Beowulf that I keep wanting to confuse it with Gilgamesh. They're both epic historical tales that I read at about the same time.

What I remember about Beowulf is that there was a great Norse drinking hall and kingdom that had fallen into misery and suffering because of attacks from a creature called Grendel. Many heroes had come to save them and all had died. Then Beowulf comes, fights Grendel in the nude and wins, then has to go kill Grendel's mother. Not terribly creative. Sounds like standard warriors boasting around the mead cooler.

This covers the first half of the movie. A few minor changes and then the story becomes much grander, longer, and more interesting.

One of the main things to note about this movie is that it's completely digital. People are hard to make digitally. They look fake. You may remember "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" tried really hard but fell short. "The Polar Express" tried but also came up short. If you saw "The Animatrix" you may remember one short film called "Final Flight of the Osiris" where the digital people were fabulous. The fight scene at the beginning was particularly good. Well, "Beowulf" was on par with "Final Flight of the Osiris" for realism. I think we're only about a decade from George Lucas making digital Luke, Leia, and Han and making new Star Wars movies.

Lots of nudity. Beowulf always has something in the way while fighting in the nude. Grendel's mom is based on Angelina Jolie with the naughty bits minimized so that you'd get a similar look if she were in a bikini. I've no idea how much they tweeked her body. I'm also assuming that the king's ass was not really based on Sir Anthony Hopkins' ass.

And action, action, action. Beowulf fighting sea monsters, Beowulf fighting Grendel, Beowulf fighting a dragon, but with a respectable story holding it all together.

I'll probably get this on DVD. I expect this will be the movie that HD-DVD/BluRay owners must have just like "The Matrix" was the movie DVD owners had to have.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dougmas Jar

It's December. That means that Dougmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, please put a penny in an old man's hat. If you haven't got a penny a ha' penny will do. If you haven't got a ha' penny then I'm not terribly surprised. I don't think the American mint ever made such niggling small change.

The point I wanted to make was that it's well past time you put out your Dougmas jar. From December 1 through December 31 all good Dougintologists have a jar set by where you empty your pockets. Each evening when you empty your pockets you're supposed to dump your change into this jar. Then, on New Year's Day, you count up the change and send a check for that amount to your favorite charity.

Why? Why should you put your change in a jar at home? Because fuck the Salvation Army. That's why.

The Salvation Army is one of the most universally recognized charities. They provide food and shelter for the homeless whether due to poverty or disaster. Seems like a good cause, right? Alas, they are also a religious organization. Their giving is based on whether or not you believe what they believe or are at least willing to sit through their services. It's not out of the kindness of their hearts that they're helping people. It's just a tool to try to manipulate the most vulnerable into their beliefs.

And then there's their stand on gay rights. They do hire gays, but only because they're legally required not to discriminate in their hiring practices. They've spent several years spending your donations to lobby the Bush administration to give them a waiver on having to not discriminate. They've spent donation money to fight equal rights for homosexuals laws in Scotland. They refuse to provide aid to poor gays. They refuse to provide equal benefits to gay employees.

The Church of Dougintology frowns on any kind of discrimination and use of carrot or stick to manipulate people into sharing your beliefs. It encourages everyone to find their own beliefs even if that belief is no belief.

Doug's preferred charities include:
• Solar Electric Light Fund (
• Trees for the Future (

For our patron saint, Douglas Adams, I include:
• Dian Fossey Gorilla Foundation (
• Save the Rhino (

Friday, November 30, 2007


I've finally told Mom about this so I don't have to keep myself from writing about it here anymore.

Today is my V-day. It's the seventh anniversary of my vasectomy.

You may have gathered that I'm childfree. This means that I've made a decision never to have children. I get along with them alright. I was almost a grade school teacher. It's just that too many of my fellow elementary education majors were blithering idiots and spending the rest of my life working with them would have motivated me to inspect the tread of a moving semi long ago.

I'm not going to go into my motivations or debate my evilness unless some commenter really wants to get into it. That's all for another post. No, I'm mentioning it because a guy I used to work with in Kansas City, I'll call him Mr. Lager, is in the hospital right now getting his own vasectomy done.

We both got what's called a "no-scalpel vasectomy". It's kind of a misnomer. There really is a scalpel involved. Instead of opening things up and really rooting around in there the doctors just make a 3mm incision or two and pull the tubes that need cut, poisoned, cauterized, and tied to the incision to get the work done. Then you go home, flop down, and spend the rest of the day with one cold beer in your hand and another down your pants. You'll need some extra support down there for a couple of weeks and walk like John Wayne for a few days. You should go back for three sperm count tests three months apart. After that you don't need to worry about birth control ever again.

It cost me about $300 from Planned Parenthood. There's all sorts of videos, reading, and counseling you have to go through first. They want to make sure you really want this and to dispel any myths and questions you might have in mind.

For me it got rid of the need for birth control, convinces women that I'm serious about this and will not be changing my mind for her, and keeps some particularly evil (yes evil) woman from trying to "oops" me.

Mr. Lager, have a frosty one on me and another on your privates.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Planes, Trains, or Automobiles

This is the question I have to ask about how to get back to Smallville for Christmas. Do I fly, drive, or take the train.

I used to fly all the time. My parrot would go in a cat carrier and slide under the seat in front of me. But the government is worried about the bird flu so I can't take her on flights anymore.

For the last three trips I've driven. Last Thanksgiving I carpooled with a friend in New York. Last Christmas I rented an SUV so I could bring my new Segway back. This Thanksgiving I rented a Prius. It's a 21 hour drive no matter what. Any time I shave off the trip, for whatever reason, gets lost by pulling over for naps.

I was thinking about leaving Gandolf with a bird sitter this Christmas and taking a train back. But the closest the train comes to Smallville is about an hour away, stops between three and four o'clock in the morning, costs more than renting a car and takes even longer.

I haven't ridden a train before so I'm still tempted. It's just asking someone to drag themselves out of bed at some gawdawful hour to pick me up isn't really me.

Before I write it off completely let me see what plane tickets cost this close to Christmas.

I waited too long. The plane tickets got me, too. There's so many people grabbing those last few seats that I had to restart several times.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

DARPA Grand Challenge

I've mentioned the DARPA Grand Challenge and DARPA Urban Challenge competition a few times.

DARPA is short for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. They're the mad science wing of the Department of Defense. They were founded in response to the launch of Sputnik.

About 1 out of every 10 projects yield something useful. This includes the creation of the internet. Yes, it started as a network between a bunch of universities on the west coast but it was planned and paid for by what was known at the time as ARPA and the original network was called the ARPANET. The extra "D" was added during the Clinton Administration.

My original point was to show you the DARPA Grand Challenge episode of "NOVA". "NOVA" also has an episode for the more recent Urban Challenge, but I still don't know when it'll air.

Solar Decathlon: The Germans

Sadly the German house won the Solar Decathlon. The lines were huge, the house crowded, the engineering certainly unique, but I don't think they deserved first. Not for the stuff one could see anyway.

Here's a few pics of the inside. I'm sorry they're not better. The house was small and crowded so it was hard to get a good shot.

This is the bed. Instead of folding up into the wall or being up in a loft, like some previous years, it's recessed into the living room floor. The floor can be closed up on it during the day. Impossible to fall out of and a good use of space. However, I have enough trouble getting out of bed when I just have to swing my legs around. You want me to have to pull myself up off the floor too?

The description is gonna have to do the work here. The kitchen counter is level and a table fits over it. The table is on casters. The legs go around the counter and the table top just clears the sink and stove. You pull it out and swing it off to the side. It blocks that end of the kitchen but you now have counter space and cooking space. Also, it requires that you clean up properly so the table can be put away and the passage cleared when finished.
What you see here is the table pulled out about a foot so you can see under it.

There's already a stove, but I'm pretty sure this isn't a microwave. Not sure just what to call it. You can see me pushing a button. These buttons move a platform up and down. When up the platform is the bottom of a cooking box with a vent. All the waste heat gets pumped elsewhere. Instead of opening the front you just lower the bottom.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Book review: The Golden Compass

Apparently this is a book that I should have read 20 years ago or so. The people I know who were big readers as kids all did.

The story happens on an alternative England where people have beings that are tied into their very being and can change shape until the person reaches puberty.

There's a little girl who thinks she's an orphan being raised by her uncle on the campus of a prestigious university. Of course, she's the chosen one. She can't know it or what she's supposed to do won't happen.

Children are disappearing all over England including a friend of the girl's.

One day a woman comes along to take her off to a proper ladies school and make the girl her assistant. Of course, the woman is one of the "Gobblers" who have been kidnapping children.

Before leaving the Dean, or something, gives the girl a golden compass that can tell you the truth if you know how to ask and how to read.

Once the girl finds out that this woman is responsible for kidnapping her uncle and the children she runs away. She flees with some gypsies whose kids have been taken. They head to the north to free the uncle who is being held captive by talking, armored, polar bears and the children who are being held, not completely against their will, in a school/laboratory. In this school/lab the kids are tested regularly to see if they're attracting a strange substance called Dust that is attracted to you when you hit puberty. Then their spirit creature thingy is cut off so the Dust isn't attracted to them. This is very traumatic for the kids and they're never quite right after that.

The Gobblers are a church based group that thinks the Dust has something to do with original sin. They're trying to find the source of the Dust and stop it.

The book is written for kids to young adults. Not just in subject matter, but in the way things are worded. Like the reader is simple. The story ticks right along and should convert well to a movie.

Some people are complaining that this book and the pending movie are anti-christian. Not so much. It doesn't attack a belief system. However, one of the significant bad guys is an unnamed, Old Testament based, church. It's the church that's bad, not the faith.

I think the movie should make better use of the story than the book. The book is best for reading to kids before bed.

There's two more books. I'm not rushing them to the top of the stack, but I hope to get them read and reviewed in the next few months.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Movie Review: Hitman

First I need to tell you about the game "Hitman". I love this game. Not everyone does. Some people I know don't have the game playing skills or strategic skills to play this game. Others prefer more shoot-em-up games. Me (and my parrot) love "Hitman", "Thief", and other sneak around games. Instead of running along a set path and shooting everything that moves you have an open area, a mission, and you get to solve it however you like.

In the "Hitman" games you play Agent 47. You're one of a legion of cloned super assassins. However, of all the clones you alone rebelled against their control and went off on your own.

To describe the game play I'll describe level one of "Hitman 2". A priest who was giving you shelter as you tried to leave the life of an assassin has been kidnapped. You got in touch with "The Agency" and they'll help you find him if you do a few jobs for them.
As the level starts you find yourself outside the compound of the guy who took your friend. There's a large front gate with two guards, a side gate with a guard inside, and a side-rear gate with two guards inside. A delivery boy is bringing groceries in the side-rear gate. A mailman is coming to deliver flowers to the front gate. The guard in the side gate will come out to pee in a little bit. You need to check the basement for your friend and kill the guy who owns the place.
You can play the level one of several ways. Get a loud gun, kill the guards in the front, and let everyone rush you.
You can get a quiet gun, quietly kill all the guards along the perimeter, work your way inward killing everyone and everything until the boss is left undefended.
You can kill the delivery boy, take his clothes, walk in the side of the house right past the guards.
You can wait for the guard to come out the side door to pee, kill him, take his clothes, hide the body, go into the garage, get the sniper rifle, leave, go up on the hill across the road, snipe the boss as he's practicing his golf swing. Go look for your friend while everyone is running around looking for the sniper.
You can knock out the mailman, take the clothes and the flowers, hide the body, put your guns in the grocery crates, approach the front gate, get frisked and waived on, deliver the flowers, when they turn their back you sneak into the kitchen, take your guns out of the grocery crates that have been delivered, sneak upstairs, go out on the balcony, peer through the keyhole, wait for guards to pass, go inside, kill a guard, take his clothes, kill the boss and his guard, get the car key, go downstairs, see that your friend was moved, get to the garage, steal the car and drive away.

In the trailer they play up the religious aspects mentioned in the second game. It leads you to believe they really did it up for the movie. But there's no mention of it anywhere. They also play up the music and many other aspects familiar from the game.

In the movie we meet someone who is what Bruce Wayne would have been if he'd become an assassin instead of a vigilante super hero. He knows how to fight, plans carefully, avoids personal entanglements, doesn't get emotionally involved, and doesn't want others doing his job.
He's one of many children kidnapped from around the world and trained as assassins. After pulling off a job killing a promising Russian presidential contender he finds that the man he killed is still alive and now there's a hit out for him. He and the hooker/girlfriend of the Russian politician are on the run for their lives while trying to solve the puzzle of who is trying to kill them and why the man 47 killed isn't dead.
The makeup, costumes, and cinematography match the game. The music is played in the beginning but ignored after that. The movie is shot like a series of game levels cut down to show only what's needed in 2 hours. They do the fight scenes without resorting to Matrix-type effects. They show some of the setup like you might do for a level but not enough for my tastes. I would have expected a few mini "Oceans 11" or "Thomas Crown Affair" type scenes.

For an action movie from 10 years ago this would be considered pretty damn good. But we've had "The Matrix" and a couple of "Bourne Whatever" movies to spoil us.

What really makes me keep from giving a glowing review is the fact that there's a few scenes that got re-dubbed badly so that the words and the lips start to give you a translated kung-fu movie feel.

Not sure if I'll get it on DVD. I want to like it more than I did.

Friday, November 16, 2007

WHAT!? What do you want!?!

Sorry, it's been one of those mornings.

The 20th anniversary of this department is this year so the boss lady wants to have a party next month. She wants the carpets cleaned and today is the one and only day that this is gonna happen.

At the same time we're trying to get another medical book off to the printers today before we all start doing Thanksgiving stuff.

These alone I could do. But the old boss has been working on this war atlas that should have been done a year and a half ago. He comes in for a week or two every other month or so. He was supposed to leave yesterday morning but the new boss wanted him to stay and talk about something. So he's still occupying the place where the cleaners NEED to start. We can't get his stuff off the ground. I told him flat out that he needs to go. He's still asking me to do mindless little tasks that any two year old could do.

"Burn this disk."
"Print these files for me."

I told him to print his own files. He's an idiot but I know he can do that. I told him I'm busy trying to do stuff for the person really in charge. Stuff that must be done today or not at all. He screams at me and tells me that I don't set the schedule. I told him he's right. "I don't set it, you don't set it, she doesn't set it, the cleaning staff sets it. They're here now or never and YOU'RE in the way."

Boss lady was right there and didn't say a damn thing either way.

sigh - the test pattern above means I'll be away for the next week. American Thanksgiving holiday and all that. I'll be back on Monday the 26th.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Return to roof

I gotta give Eric and his boys credit. They went up on my roof Wednesday morning, tore the surface off the roof, replaced the bad wood, put down insulation, covered the insulation, and got the rubber sheeting all put on in one day.

When I got home around 5:00 I saw someone on the roof waving a torch around. When I stuck my head through the newly re-opened hatch I saw them sealing around the pipes that stick through the roof. Everything else was done.

I'm used to tar for roof work. They used the torch to melt rubber sheets together and to make them stick to most everything else.

They had an extra guy or two up there to speed things along because they knew that today was gonna be a wet one. Really, if you're not in the area you don't know, but today is a real stress test for any roof.

They do have to come back Friday. They need to seal over the walls I share with my neighbors. Don't want water getting between the walls. Then they're gonna silver the rubber. That's when they paint the roof with a highly reflective material so birds flying over the house have heatstroke instead of the sun heating the roof.

I highly recommend using Eric and his crew at "CCI" for any serious housework. There's none of that starting a job and then vanishing for a few weeks. The work is solid and fast. He does it like he was working on his own house.

I posted his phone number after he finished my back wall. You can look it up for yourself or ask me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Solar Decathlon: window slats

First, the fundamentals. We've covered this before. The Earth's axis has a tilt of 22.5°. This is why we have seasons and why the days get longer and shorter as we orbit the sun. We here in Washington DC are located at a latitude of 38° (rounded for ease of math). So the sun never passes directly overhead even at the height of summer. Over the course of the year the angle the sun hits the southern exposure of the buildings changes from 38° at the Equinoxes... Equinoxii... Equinoxen?... Sept 22 and March 22 to 16° at the Summer Solstice (June 22) and to 60° at the Winter Solstice (Dec 22). By putting slats over your windows you can see out, keep out the summer sun, and let in more winter sun.

This side view of window slats shows how they offer varying protection based on the angle of the sun.

So obviously these would be popular at the Solar Decathlons.

These metal slats protect the deck. You can see that the slats are at an angle to allow in more winter sun than a standard horizontal model.

These two pictures show a fixed horizontal model modified to allow windows to open. A cable runs through the metal tubing that connects the slats.

These fixed horizontal slats are on tracks so they can be slid aside.

These were designed for shielding sliding glass doors. The whole thing slides aside and has the added feature of allowing sections to swing up to become huge slats that are spaced further apart.

QOk, but why would you want one on your house? Won't awnings do much the same thing?
AAwnings don't typically stick out far enough to provide the same solar protection and do very little except right around noon. Mostly they keep the rain off.

QI have blinds that can be easily lifted out of the way or adjusted to let in more light or block it completely.
ABut the sun has to come into the house before the blinds work. The outdoor slats keep the sun from getting in and heating the house.

They also offer the benefit of acting as shutters during storms. Hail and hurricanes are much less likely to smash your windows with slats over the windows. The rest of the house, however, is on it's own.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Roof stuff

As I mentioned on Oct 30 my roof leaks. Mostly in one particular spot but there's little spots all over. I called my handymen over and we went up on the roof last Thursday to have a look. Their conclusion was much the same as mine. The pea gravel, which they say should never have been put on this roof, makes it impossible to see where the leaks are and rule out just slapping on a new surface. So the surface is going to get torn off, insulation installed, new surface, rubber, tar, and then silvering on top to reflect the sunlight. It should have an insulating value of 25R even before I start putting on my multi-ceramic paint on the underside.

I suppose I should tell you about the multi-ceramic paint. I'm no expert. I've just discovered it myself. Even a Google search comes up pretty empty. It looks and acts like white latex paint. The difference is that it has a pretty high K value.

OK, K value. R value is a deceptive way to measure the insulating value of something. See R value was created as a marketing tool of OwensCorning. They define what it means so that their stuff always meets the guidelines. It typically assumes no wind or humidity at all so that the insulation can get shot to hell when there's any moisture in the air or a breeze. But it's what we know so it's what we use.

K value is a scientific definition for the thermal conductivity of a substance. The higher the number the more it resists transfer of heat.
More at

That said, I have no idea what the K value of the multi-ceramic paint is. It's about 20R, however. So a simple coat of paint under the new roof should bring me to 45R. More if I stick with my plan to attach a face to the roof joists and paint one or both sides of that.

The downside is that the stuff costs $100 per gallon.

I also picked up my bamboo flooring the other day. When I finish the wall, which should be done between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I'm gonna rip up the carpet in that room and put down bamboo flooring.

Some of you are gonna protest. This is because you probably picked yours from Home Depot. I almost made that mistake, too. I only dodged that bullet because they stopped selling bamboo flooring.

See, there's soft bamboo, hard bamboo, and a medium bamboo. Home Depot was selling the soft stuff because it's cheap. People would get home, install the soft stuff, bring in their furniture, roll across the room in their desk chair, and leave grooves. Then they'd scream and yell at Home Depot for selling them crap. Home Depot had to offer lots of refunds and make lots of replacements. They lost money by selling that stuff so they stopped offering soft or hard. I got the hardest stuff available. It can be dented, but you'll need a 300lb woman in stiletto heels to do it.

In other news, I had to reprogram my digital thermostat. I went all summer without AC and went without heat as long as possible. But I did finally break down about a week ago. But last winter I had it topping out at 60°F when I was at home and awake. This winter I've had to reprogram it to top out at 65°.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Solar Decathlon: drains

When you have a 2GB memory card you take more pictures than you might otherwise. Including some lame stuff. I'm trying to skip the really lame stuff, but leave the only slightly lame.

These first two pictures are of a custom dish rack for drying your dishes. It's a stainless steel trough that runs along the wall behind the sink. There's wooden blocks that can be placed to cover the trough when not in use.
You can see in these pictures that it's elevated above the counter. So if you have the room you can put one in as an after thought instead of redesigning the kitchen.

Not really an environmental improvement so much as just something different that I thought looked cool. Same with these next two pictures.
Nifty shower drain, but I think walls around it would still be appropriate.
This is kinda slick, but I think I'd want the faucet on the other side. When cleaning the sink I don't want to have to keep hauling water up to the upslope side.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Solar Decathlon: Enough of the plants already!

Let's finish up the Solar Decathlon plant features

This house channeled all the rain to one point. From there the spout shoots it into a basin. From the basin there's three gutters with holes in them that run off to the sides to water plants. They said there's a basin under the deck to hold more water for dry spells.

The house with the scaffolding around it had a trellis clipped to the scaffold. The plants grow up and shade the house. My problem is that it also allows a place for mosquitoes to hide when the little bastards should be dying from heatstroke under the beating August sun. DIE YOU LITTLE BASTARDS! DIE!

A nice greenhouse for people with good knees.

A lovely water feature was built into this deck. I believe there were goldfish in there if for no other reason than to eat the mosquito larve that the standing water will attract. Stupid mosuitoes. I hate them so much.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Solar Decathlon: plant walls

A popular feature in this year's Solar Decathlon were plant walls. They're much like green roofs but more visible and easier to water. Some ran the runoff from the roof through the plants.

A close up of a plant panel.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Movie Review: Bee Movie

I'm gonna rip off an old post by Barry Smith. He provided the pics and the inspiration, but I'm rephrasing what he wrote.

Look at these Pixar posters. What do you notice?
They're colorful, they show the title, they show the characters, in small letters there's the company name. So what?

Now look at these Dreamworks posters. What do you see?

They're colorful, there's the characters, there's the company name, and in big letters there's the name of the voice actors. In the Shrek poster the names are bigger than the title.

This tells you something about the priorities of the studio. Pixar places the importance on the story. This is something Disney forgot how to do which is why Disney finally paid Pixar to take over Disney animation. They paid the owner of Pixar to become the majority stockholder in Disney. Pixar IS the star.

Dreamworks places the importance on the actors. Their movies aren't really bad, but they can't compete with Pixar. They need the famous actors as a crutch.

Barry goes on about it. Go read his post at
Be sure to read his now defunct comics at

This brings me to my review of "Jerry Seinfeld: The Movie" also featuring Renée Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Jerry Seinfeld, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, Chris Rock, Kathy Bates, Jerry Seinfeld, Barry Levinson, Larry King, Ray Liotta, Jerry Seinfeld, Sting, Oprah Winfrey, Megan Mullally, Rip Torn, Michael Richards, Carol Leifer, and Jerry Seinfeld.

The hype behind this movie makes you think they're trying to start a religion, not pitch a movie. Most of the commercials were based around Jerry instead of the movie. Going in you knew that there was a bee that talks to humans and that Jerry Seinfeld was the voice of the bee. Other than that you knew almost nothing. Not even the other voice actors.

"Bee Movie" seems to be an attempt to get back some of the success they had with "A Bug's Life"... er, that was Pixar, I meant "Antz". You remember "Antz", don't you?

A bee is getting ready to enter the working life but can't pick a job. One thing leads to another and he gets the chance to see the outside world. There he discovers that humans are stealing massive quantities of honey from the bees. The bee sues humans and wins. This ruins bee society and endangers the planet as a whole.

The whole thing is amusing, but there's only a few laugh out loud points. It's very colorful.

I seem rather scornful of the movie but it's not as bad as I'm making it. It's a good story about someone trying to find their place in the world. A different director would have made the exact same script funnier where it should be funny and more horrific where it should be horrific. Even the environmental slant is really only visible if you're already aware of it.

It's not worth all the hype they put into it. I won't get it on DVD. But if you really miss "Seinfeld" or have kids then go see it.

In related news, Pixar's "Ratatouille" comes out on DVD today.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Solar Decathlon: Hydroponics

Hydroponics. I love hydroponics. It's growing crops without soil or having to get out in the beating, burning, Kansas summer sun. There's no problem with droughts or having harvest rained out. It'll be the major source of food if we ever get to Mars.
I wanted to buy my neighbor's house largely to have a place to install a large (for a residential area) hydroponic garden and grow fresh veggies all year long. That and I wanted a place to put a pool table.

I forget which school built this house, but they put a rather nice hydroponics system right outside the front door. Just step outside, get the morning paper, and pluck a salad. But being outside means that it's still seasonal. I'd want a wheeled rack that I could move indoors for the winter.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Book Review: The Years of Rice and Salt

Another book by Kim Stanley Robinson. This author is not for the young reader or the weak reader. Nothing particularly violent or sexual. He's just really hard to read at times. But this is one of his easier books.

This is a book in the alternative history genre. Instead of a simple "What if the South won the Civil War?", "What if Hitler won WWII?", and "What if we lost the Revolutionary War?" this book asks "What if the Black Plague wiped out 99% of Europe instead of just 30%?" and covers history from then until the near future. It tells the story in 10 novellas with each covering a different point in history.

Book 1
A scout for an invading Mongolian Khan discovers eastern Europe is devoid of life. The villages are all empty. Upon reporting the plague the Khan tries to have him killed so he can't infect the army. He flees and gives us a tour of Europe down to the Mediterranean where he's captured by slavers. He's taken around to China where he meets up with a black slave. Together they escape, find work in a palace, and are eventually executed together. They meet up again in the afterlife and are reincarnated.

These two are the connecting thread that connects all the stories. Sometimes it's clear who they are and other times it's not.

Book 2
We attach ourselves to a guy whose life is saved by a tiger. What with one thing and another he leaves his home and goes to wander the world. He finds work with royalty, he's fingered by former friends who are now rebels, he is sent to Medina, and eventually finds himself with a group going to colonize Europe. In Europe they try to establish a multi-faith community that follows the laws of the Koran as they're written instead of how they're interpreted by tradition.

Book 3
Having just fought off an invasion from Japan, the Chinese launch an attack on Japan. As is typical, the weather doesn't cooperate. Instead of a storm the wind just dies. The ship eventually lands in what seems like San Francisco. They meet the natives, train a young interpreter, and accidental give the natives smallpox.
Very apologetically they leave and head south. They go along Baja California, cross the equator, and end up in Peru. They meet the Incas who try to sacrifice their young interpreter friend. They return home.

Book 4
This book covers mostly the scientific revolution in the Middle East. Optics, gravity, the scientific method, anatomy, ballistics, metallurgy, and much more. This is cast in front of a background of an impending invasion from China.

Book 5
Japan having been thoroughly beaten a Ronan (Samurai without a master) has fled to the new world. We find him in the New York area. He's warning the natives of the threat from China. They're not the friendly traders they've seen. When there's enough they'll try to own the land and make the natives obey their laws. So the Ronan teaches them to make guns and immunize themselves against smallpox by rubbing smallpox scabs on wounds.

Book 6
A more philosophical chapter. This covers more of the faiths, interfaith conflicts of the age, and efforts to make a more uniformly acceptable faith.

Book 7
India has the great technological advantage. They've harnessed steam. They're the closest, in the old world, to gender equality. They're the most American nation. They have trains, steamships, and hot air balloons among other stuff. Then they send people into China to try to stir up revolution.

Book 8
World War 1. It's hard to figure exactly when it starts, but it seems to be between our own two world wars. It then lasts 67 years since there was no Spanish Flu to end it.

Book 9
Late 20th century/early 21st century. Nobody really won, but the Muslims have lost worse than others. Nobody is happy with how things sit. But scientists are figuring out Uranium and the danger of a bomb made of it. An international coalition of scientists unify to standardize weights, measures, the length of years, make sure nobody makes the bomb, and work toward peace.
Some hints about what happened in the Americas.

Book 10
Sort of a wrap up chapter. It takes place not long from now. History, philosophy, and the meaning of life.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Solar Decathlon: Plant rack

One of the houses at the Solar Decathlon had this great plant rack and watering system.

The full rack.

The water tank and closeup of the spigot.

Closeup of the actual pot holder.

The watering system is just a drip hose run back and forth at the high point of each pot.

Come on, Dad. You've got enough scrap metal around the farm. You can whip out one of these.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Two posts in one day. Mark it on your calendar!

My Halloween costume. A bit of touching up to make the text stand out more.


I'll eventually get back to Solar Decathlon stuff. But this is Halloween so I felt the need to write something more relevant. Today I want to address the misunderstood Lucifer since Venus was so prominent in this morning's sky.

Lucifer was one of the few Greek angels. He's also known as the "morning star" or Venus. But as the Christians slowly crushed the Greek polytheistic belief Lucifer became one of the angels who challenged the Christian god and was cast down to Hell.

Movies have made Lucifer synonymous with Satan. This is just one of those Hollywood things. Satan was the leader of the rebellion against the Christian god. Lucifer was just one of the many angels who followed. Let me repeat that. Lucifer and Satan are not the same being. They just both happened to tell Yahweh where he could stuff his prayers when he demanded that they worship and obey him.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Home Repairs: The Continuing Saga

I'm busy. Read this.
Since nearly the beginning of this blog I've been regaling you with periodic tales of this man's struggle with home repair. Well I'm gonna do it again.

Last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday the weather realized it was sorely behind in providing DC's rain quota for the year and tried to make up for that shortage. Friday in particular was a soaker. So Friday night, as I was contemplating sleep, I heard a familiar drip-drip-dripping coming from the ceiling above my couch in my first floor living room. I realized now that I had really opened up the ceiling in my former geek room and torn out the sheetrock covering the ductwork and other half of the chimney. I should now be able to see the leak that has plagued me these last three years.

Sure enough there was a steady drip-drip of water coming from the darkness above. Sometimes it hit the ductwork I was trying to remove and sometimes it dropped onto the sheetrock of the ceiling in the living room below.

I grabbed a flashlight, leaned a ladder against a ceiling joist, and proceeded up into the shadows. I could see water marks where it had been running down the outside of the chimney and down the plaster that covers the shared wall. Up and up I went stopping several times at places I thought the leak should have been coming from but wasn't. Finally, I found the origin of the drip coming not from the chimney or the brickwork but one of the boards that makes up the actual roof. It could be the water running down the roof until it hits the chimney where it hesitates long enough to come through. But the drip was from the lowest point on the board which means that it could be coming from nearly anywhere from there to the front of the house and running down to that point.

Of course, up on the roof the next day I could see where my previous expeditions had tried filling holes and applying patches. I got everything that looks like it should be got. There's no visible reason that water should get through. But isn't that always the case? Even in programming you sometimes have to retype a faulty line character for character to fix a problem that has no visible cause.

So I guess I'm gonna call up Eric, the handyman, again. I'm good at a lot of stuff but slopping around hot tar is not on the list. I'm expecting the old surface to be torn up and a new surface put down. Any water damages and/or rotting surfaces to be replaced in the process. Not a complete replacement. Just problem places. And since Eric knows he'll be putting the mythical deck up there eventually he can have any modifications to the room that he'll need to make while they're there.

So I've replaced one whole surface of the house, I'm having another one stripped and resurfaced, and I'm personally routing out and repointing part of a third surface. Any bets on when I do the front wall?

If I had more money stuffed away I'd spend the next year getting my house rezoned and have them put a third story on.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Jack and Jill

Blogspot isn't letting me upload pics at the moment so you get this instead.

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.

What the hell was the well doing on the top of the hill? Whoever dug it just had that much more soil to dig through. Wells are at the bottom of hills where they're closer to the water table and you have to haul the heavy pail of water back up the hill.
Then again, I'm assuming that there was a well. The poem doesn't actually say there was a well. It's just that all the art in the nursery rhyme books show there was a well at the top of the hill. The poem doesn't say they went to the top either. They just went up. We just accept that because of the picture. Kinda like how we assume that Humpty Dumpty was an egg despite the fact that the rhyme never mentions an egg.
No, Jack and Jill could have been going up the hill to where the river water was still fresh, clean, glacier runoff and easy to carry downhill because the river water further downstream is polluted by sewage runoff from the city.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Solar Decathlon: Visible utilities

Since the schools at the Solar Decathlon were permitted such small footprints for their houses they had to make do with what room they had. Instead of stuffing their hot and cold water tanks in a utility closet they incorporated them into the house. They wrapped them in translucent cylinders with colored LEDs around the top and bottom. Red for the hot water tank and blue for the cold water tank. My camera artificially enhanced the red and diminished the blue

The same school, from Colorado, built their own radiator. It's the divider between the kitchen and living room. It makes for a psychological barrier between the rooms while still leaving things open. It's also decorative. They pump either hot or cold water through the pipes to heat or cool the room. Someone asked about condensation. But being from Colorado they don't have enough humidity to worry about it. Lucky bastards.

Another school tore apart some old refrigerators for parts. The grill from the back that radiates the heat became a dual purpose decorative light cover and temperature control system. They lined the living room with lights like you see in the picture below. There's similar units on the roof. This way the house becomes a big refrigerator. They can circulate the heat in or out as desired.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Movie Review: Wristcutters: A Love Story

I hadn't heard about this movie until I won tickets. This movie will probably show at the independent theaters so you Wichita-area people are out of luck.

"Wristcutters: A Love Story" opens with our main character, Zia, cleaning his apartment and then killing himself. He wakes up in an afterlife just for suicides. It's not the Dante suicide land where you become a tree where harpies tear your branches off. This one is just like our world only worse.

The landscape looks like Southern California (pre-fires). It's all desert and scrub brush, the occasional tree, and mountains in the background. Everything looks like it's from the 70's. Every building has fluorescent lights. When you go outside it looks like the sun must also be fluorescent. There's no stars, you can't smile.

Zia finds out that the ex-GF that he killed himself over committed suicide a month later. He and a Russian friend get in the car and go looking for her. The car's headlights don't work no matter how many times they fix them. And there's a vortex under the passenger seat so anything that you drop down there is gone forever.

They pick up a hitchhiker who is looking for the authorities because she thinks that she's there by mistake. She died by her own hand but not on purpose.

They find a camp where minor miracles happen all the time. This leads them to a neighboring cult leader who is promising to get people to a better place.

You can see the trailer at

The movie is amusing all the way through. Grinning but rarely laughing out loud.

I liked it but won't get it on DVD.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Solar Decathlon: Barn wood

This particular entry is directed more at my parents than the rest of you. Ok, not this part... or the next bit... but we'll get there.

My parents live on a farm. There's a stone chicken coop that needs the foundation jacked up a bit, a stone garage designed for a model-T, a stone cow milking structure, a huge wooden hay barn, and a less huge wooden barn that happens to have hay, a boat, and a styrofoam castle in it. These wooden structures are in less than ideal condition. Now that he's retired Dad has expressed some interest in replacing the huge hay barn with something that better fits their existing needs instead of those from fifty years ago. Some interest. Not a lot. Not as much as me. But some.

Anyway, what I want to do is tear down the old barn and sell off the old wood to raise money to pay for the new barn. I detected a bit of skepticism at my plan. However, to further prove my point that there is a demand for barn wood I present Exhibit A.

A barn wood ceiling

A close up of the same ceiling

Three of the houses at the Solar Decathlon used barn wood in their house. Or rather, three houses talked about it. Most of the time you couldn't tell. Only in this house was the wood clearly from a barn. As you can see, they ran it through a planer to get rid of the warping but didn't cut so deep that it would lose the cracks and some of the surface oxidation that gives it the barn wood look.

Also, I'm revising my sketches of the replacement barn to incorporate a shipping container or two.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Solar Decathlon: Aerogel

A popular material this year was a translucent polycarbonite material. We had some sealing the windows in the office while the old windows were off being cleaned and repaired. I've seen them in greenhouses (Solexx) and plan to use them in my kitchen ceiling... eventually.

Solexx greenhouse panel

This is spiffy material, but not a great insulator. Probably better than the office windows they replaced, but then what isn't?

Aerogel is a substance developed by NASA. (more)
-It's used in the Martian Pathfinder,
-it was used in the Stardust mission to catch comet and other stellar debris,
-it is 99.8% Air,
-provides 39 times more insulating than the best fiberglass insulation
-is 1,000 times less dense than glass

Georgia Tech, and possibly others, put Aerogel in the holes in the greenhouse stuff and probably put a bit more between two sheets of the greenhouse stuff. The inside of their house looked like this.

The walls, the ceiling, everywhere. It lets light in while maintaining your privacy. And at night your house appears to glow.

I'm not sure how I'd apply this technology to my existing house. I suppose I could make a couple of window inserts to put up during the winter to better insulate the windows without loosing too much of the natural light.

Also cool...

I've been planning to do something similar with my kitchen ceiling. Cover it with the greenhouse stuff and then put lights behind it. I'll probably use ropes of white LED lights instead of a couple of blue lights like done here. Mine will never look this cool but it was nice to get an idea of how my idea will play out.