Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Recently I reviewed the book "Starburst" [here].
Later I came back to talk about Gödelize Encoding that I learned about in that book. (here)

I never really got why it was a simplified transmission. I have a theory but it could be a load of crap. Feel free to jump in an point out the flaws in my thinking.

Lets start out with a basic radio wave.
This isn't what they actually look like. It's just the standard model to illustrate the concept of how they work. It's supposed to illustrate fluctuations of the electromagnetic field.
The waves have amplitude and frequency. The amplitude is the distance between the middle of the wave and the peak. The frequency is the distance between peaks.

AM radio stations fiddle with the amplitude of the wave. Thus AM means amplitude modulation.
FM radio stations fiddle with the frequency of the wave. Thus FM means frequency modulation.

The greater the distance from the point of transmission the greater the signal degrades. I don't just mean that it disperses and gets weaker. I'm talking primarily about static. Static is fluctuations caused by non-controlled sources. When you hear static you're listening to supernovae, pulsars, quasars, solar flares, vacuum cleaners, blenders, and even the electric windows on your car as they open and close. They add noise to the radio waves so they look more like this.

Which your radio interprets as something closer to this.
Those spikes make up the popping and hissing sounds. As long as the main signal is strong enough to overcome the popping and hissing signal you're in good shape. As the main signal fades... well, we've all driven out of range of our favorite radio station before. A big honking antenna would fix that. With a big enough dish antenna you might be able to pick out your favorite station on the moon. Or you might get every station on that side of the Earth that uses that frequency.

Now, a radio station needs a good dose of power to broadcast a long distance. The NPR station I listened to in college covered about 150 miles of Kansas flatland and it was a pretty powerful station at 100,000 watts. With a directional transmission they could have cut the power for the same distance, but only in one direction from the transmitter. A tight beam would cut the power even further but only people on a very specific path could get it. A spacecraft would be transmitting on a very tight beam back to Earth to get the most out of the power they're pumping into it. Even so, the further from Earth they get the weaker the signal and the more static we hear. The heroes of our story wanted to conserve power so they further enhanced things.

So, I'm thinking about why they used the numbers. What if instead of a curve they divided the wave into ten well defined energy levels? All the pops and noise outside of those levels would get filtered out. You could tolerate a lot more static before losing the signal completely.
Here I'm trying to show a curve with the ten energy levels, the curve squared off, zero through nine at set intervals, and then what the signal might look as when transmitting irregular numbers.

One could take it one step further and transmit in binary so there's only two states to worry about.

You could even go with a lower power setting.
Or, instead of alternating between (for example) 99.1 and 99.2 you just transmit at 99.1 and nothing. But I suppose that at high speeds the signal would be hard to differentiate from static.

Anyway, this is just me talking out of my educated, but non-professional, ass. Feel free to tell me so.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Beyond help

There was another post that I planned to go up today. It'll come up tomorrow. Today I need to try to apologize.

See, I needed new jeans. I had 3 good pairs and one with a stain on one leg. That fourth pair I try not to wear too often. I asked Yummy to come help me pick out a couple of pairs. I ended up being kind of a jerk.

She suggested we try The Gap. In my mind The Gap is the Starbucks of jeans places. Let me correct that. In my mind pretty much every clothing store is the Starbucks of jeans places. Not just yuppy, but preppy. The clothing is over priced but identical to what you'd get at JC Penneys or Kmart except for the label. I said OK, but I must have twitched because she then suggested Old Navy. I have an objection to Old Navy based just on the commercials. A commercial almost never gets me to shop at a particular place, but they can convince me to never step foot in their store. Besides, I didn't know that Old Navy sold things other than fleece. But I said OK. I realized that I was being a jean snob and I should go into the store. I also resigned myself to Gap prices so I'll say nothing more about them.

In the store we start looking at styles. Do we want to go to the baggy pants section or the fitting pants section? Yummy showed me a picture of what was meant by baggy pants. I can make an effort to make sure my pants don't ride above my hip bone, but those pants were too low for me. It's not that the fashion derived from people trying to wear clothes that covered up their shoplifting so much as I like to keep my ass covered.

It wasn't long before someone asked to help us. My normal reaction is a polite brush off. Basically "I'm here to do some shopping, now shove off." They're sales people. I just assume they're trying to make a sale and never trust a word they say. It's much like how I never believe a waitress who flirts with me.
Yummy, however, told him what we were there for. I told him I was looking for stuff that didn't look like Dad had driven over it with the tractor. He picked out a couple of pairs of jeans to help figure out what size I wear these days. We got something a couple of inches longer than I have at the moment. What I have is long enough when I'm standing, but shows socks when I'm sitting. One pair was the standard faded jeans while the other looked filthy and was fraying at a couple of points.

I know that the filthy, damaged look is in fashion and has been for quite awhile. I just can't do it. It was just earlier that morning when we were talking about throwing out a shirt because it had similar damage along the collar. The fabric was the worn and faded blue that I'm used to, but the fibers weren't the color of the fabric or the fading blue dye. It was a kind of brownish green. Yummy insists it's the dye and I believe her. But it still looked remarkably like a pair of jeans that I was judging as if to say "well, I wore them to the field yesterday. Since they're already covered in dust and barn grime I might as well wear them to the field today. I'll have to remember to change before I hit the comic book store later." That's what I saw when I looked at the jeans. Jeans that I'd always feel needed to be thrown in the wash again. Jeans that needed to be replaced because they're wearing out.

Yummy and the sales guy also picked out a shirt that they liked. It was a button up off-white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a strap to hold them in place. I was just barely aware enough that this was how the shirt was supposed to look that I didn't undo the strap and roll down the sleeves. It was a flip of the coin, however. She said it looked hot on me, but I couldn't picture any time or event where I'd actually wear that shirt.

Yummy insisted that they looked good on me. She insisted that these were in style. I asked for her help and then insulted the stuff she picked out. I still believe she knew what she was doing to make me look good. But I got worked up and rude when they were presented to me.

We did get a couple of pairs of jeans. I'm wearing one to work today. I really do appreciate the help that Yummy provided and I'm sorry I was such an ass.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday links: March 27

Pictures of the exploding undersea volcano near Tonga. [link]

Rapping flight attendant. [link]

Soft drink can maker. [link]

Mad props to My Krodie and his crew for putting together this collection of this ever growing collection of images from the National Museum of Health and Medicine right here at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. [link]

While I'm at it, let my point you at their blog, A Repository for Bottled Monsters. [link]

I need to spend more time poking around this steampunk site. [link]

Game: All white jigsaw puzzle with increasingly difficult levels. [link]

"Japanese Spiderman" - a truly awful show. [link]

Season 1 of "Cosmos" is available on Hulu. [link]

Teaser for Stargate: Universe

How to take pictures of LEDs. [link]

Damn kids! Stay off my roof! [link]

Just kinda awesome (and creepy).

Pollution hunting robofish. [link]

When I was a kid Mom and Dad got me an Atari 400 and two cartridges - PacMan and BASIC. If I wanted to play anything other than PacMan I had to write it. At the time there were lots of BASIC programming books and almost as many types of BASIC. I had to learn how to read the code, figure out what they intended, and translate the command to the BASIC my computer used.
Now China and India are coming up to where we were when I was 5. You can get the technology they used here [link].
It comes with BASIC.
You can get it to play your old Nintendo games by adding this. [link]

Or you can play your old Nintendo and Super Nintendo games with this. [link]
But with this one you can't program your own stuff.

Sheep art.

There's such a thing as too much information about the President.

So Richard Dawkins was asked to speak at the University of Oklahoma. The State Senate objected and passed a condemnation of Dawkins speaking there. He came anyway and waived his fee just because he knew it'd piss off the state politicians. Now they're launching an investigation of Dawkins and the circumstances around his visit with the intent of finding something to press charges with. You can find more online. This link just hits the tail end of it. [link]

Ways that science might destroy the world. All are more convincing than CERN making black holes. [link]

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gödelized coding

I was reading Frederick Pohl's "Starburst" recently. You may recall I reviewed it.
One of the things that intrigued me was the subject of Gödelized Numbering. The people on the ship planned to use it to encode their message for transmission back to Earth. They said it would use less power to transmit. I don't know about that, but from a purely mathematical point of view it caught my attention.

Here's a layman's version of this idea.
First, you write up your message.
Then count all the characters, including the space. Please don't ask me about punctuation.
Make up a list of prime numbers1 with as many numbers as you have characters. Yeah, those numbers get big pretty fast.
Associate the prime numbers list with the characters list. The first character has the first prime, the second number the second prime, the third the third, etc. etc. etc.
The characters have another number associated with. A more familiar one. A=1, B=2, C=3, D=4...X=24, Y=25, Z=26, space=0. You make this number the exponent of the prime number.

Yeah, I know. It's like reading board game rules. You don't understand what's going on until you actually start to play. Let me show you with a short word with letters at the beginning of the alphabet, cab, and hope that it makes more sense.

CAB = 23 * 31 * 52
CAB = (2*2*2)*(3)*(5*5)
CAB = 8 * 3 * 25
CAB = 600

Did you get all that?
C is the first letter of the message so it gets the first prime number, 2. C is also the third letter of the alphabet so 2 is raised to the third power (a.k.a cubed). 23
A is the second letter of the message so it gets the second prime number, 3. A, being the first letter of the alphabet, isn't multiplied. 31
B is the third letter of the message so it gets the third prime number, 5. B, being the second letter of the alphabet, is only squared. 52

At this point you're wondering what the point of all that is. You have a meaningless number. Well, not quite. You can see a zillion ways to take it apart but only one way is right. Get your calculator and follow along.

To get the first character out of the number you want to start dividing by the first prime number until you no longer get integers (i.e. whole numbers). Count the number of times you can divide it.

1) 600 / 2 = 300
2) 300 / 2 = 150
3) 150 / 2 = 75
4) 75 / 2 = 37.5

It successfully divided by 2 three times. The third letter of the
alphabet is C. The first letter of the message is C.

Repeat for the second prime/character.

1) 600 / 3 = 200
2) 200 / 3 = 66.666~

It successfully divided by 3 once. So the second character of the
message is the first letter of the alphabet.

One more with the third prime.

1) 600 / 5 = 120
2) 120 / 5 = 24
3) 24 / 5 = 4.8

Two divisions by 5 means that the third letter is B.

For a message like "Ibid Rules"

The question quickly arises why anybody would want to use this technique to send a message.
I tried converting this number to binary.
It went from 83 characters to 274 characters.

Monday I'll make an educated guess why they'd want to encode a number like this. I tried sounding it out to someone when I had a dry erase board handy. The graphics helped. I need to draw something up.

1A prime number is any number that can only be evenly divided by 1 and itself without resulting in a decimal point. Ex. 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Gandolf enjoying being out at a previous Cherry Blossom Festival.

Conversation from yesterday:
Gandolf: (poops) Don't eat that.
Me: Good advice.
Gandolf: Thanks, man!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Museum review: National Museum of American History

Yummy and I went to the National Museum of American History, better known as the American History Museum, this weekend. This museum had been closed for about a year and a half for major renovation. I waited awhile to miss the crowds (and because Yummy and I get around so slowly that they'd be trying to close as we got there) and just now got to see the place.

A couple of years ago there was a large room with the massive American flag spread out. That flag is the one being sung about in the song "The Star Spangled Banner". Visitors could look through a large window to see the work being done. A long motorized walkway ran over it while people would lie on the walkway and clean the flag a bit at a time. When the flag was finally cleaned they needed a proper way to display it.

We didn't get to see that display.

The line is still just too long. As is the line into the Hall of First Ladies or whatever it's called [First Ladies at the Smithsonian]. I'm guessing they must have added some of Michelle Obama's stuff. I've been in there and it was dead. You go in there just so you can say you didn't miss anything.

We entered on the Constitution St. entrance and immediately saw dramatic changes. Glass walls line the entry way showing a variety of artifacts from their collections. Some only a few years old while others date back for centuries. Yummy, is a furniture fiend, but her delight with some of the furniture on display was blown away with the C3-PO costume from "Return of the Jedi".

We moved from there to the right when I saw a huge telescope that was used by a female astronomer and her class. This wing seemed largely untouched to me. However, Yummy hadn't been there as recently as I and it had changed radically for her. Julia Child's kitchen is still in place but she hadn't seen it. This area also contains a couple child oriented hands on science areas. There's a nice display about the Manhattan Project, the atomic bomb, a couple of small cyclotrons (with a non-working simulator), a bomb shelter, and a home from the 50s.

We went up to the second floor and didn't like what we saw. It was packed with people either trying to get in to see the Star Spangled Banner or the First Ladies exhibit. Being one of the first nice, sunny days of the year the climate control hadn't adjusted right. Between that and the crowd it was just too warm. We went back downstairs.

We wanted to hit the Air and Space Museum gift shop, but we still had some time to kill. We went through the "Lighting a Revolution" exhibit. This exhibit is interesting if you have a certain amount of engineer buried in you. We looked at models of massive steam engines, several interesting light bulbs, and some great toasters.

Somewhere on the first floor we came across a room dedicated to the DARPA Grand Challenge. They have the winning car on display as well as a fan favorite that didn't do well. It's a great display that we both enjoyed a lot. But there's some supplementary material I think you need first.

I can't test these links because I'm behind the firewall at work. But I know they used to work. This video is NOVA's coverage of the DARPA Grand Challenge from several years ago. It was a competition to try to design the best self-steering car. Hulu.com has it at http://www.hulu.com/watch/23347/nova-the-great-robot-race#x-0,vepisode,1
or at Google Video at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8719876587754396524.
It's a great video on it's own and makes seeing the display that much more exciting. There's a video in the display that expands upon the making of two vehicles in the room with you. The car was able to drive as well in blinding rain as it was in perfect weather. In that circumstance at least it's a better driver than people.

Anyway, if you haven't been to the American History Museum since it reopened then you should go. I'll have to go back just for the second floor.

Also, if you've read this far, the Cherry Blossom Festival starts Saturday and runs for two weeks. We had to hit the Air and Space Museum so we could pick up a kite for the kite festival. More at http://nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/cms/index.php?id=390
The Kite Festival is on the first day. Weather permitting, you'll see us down there with Gandolf on a shoulder.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Arc Attack

I found a band (I use the term loosely) called Arc Attack. They make music using a carefully modulated Tesla Coil.

Disclaimer and Imperial March.

Dr. Who

Creepy Circus Song

A touch of classical music

And if you're REALLY ambitious you can build a home version. Directions available at http://capperlabs.dyndns.org/midischv2.html

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Equinox

For some reason, today is the Spring Equinox. I'm used to it being on the 22nd. But this year it's on the 20th.

Yea! It's spring!

Friday links: March 20

A woman is testing to see if eggs can be incubated using the human body. So she's jammed some eggs in her bra. Follow the experiment at the link. [link]

Make everything as clean as coal.

If you're using Firefox 3 then type "about:robots" into your address bar.

Prototype mosquito killing laser defense system appears to work. [link]

Quadruple Saturn transit picture taken by Hubble. That's 4 moons passing in front of it at once. [link]

Winged car successfully driven... er, piloted... um, It works! [link]

Bat clings to outside of launching Space Shuttle. [link]

5 ways common sense lies to you. Or 5 steps to critical thinking. [link]

Powered exoskeleton.

Game: Death vs Monsters [link]

Game: The Space Game [link]

Dice from old keyboards. [link]

New record set for electric lasers. It means that aircraft mounted high powered lasers for taking out missiles can move beyond the chemical six shooters they have now. No, really they're limited to 6 shots. link

Neil Gaiman interviewed by Stephen Colbert. link

Watchmen/Wall-E trailer

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Brick press

My parents live on a farm.
To answer your first question, there are no cows, no chickens, just dogs and some wild critters.
To answer your second question, we grow wheat, milo, and the occasional soybean.
To answer your third question, milo is mostly used as animal feed.

None of that is what I want to talk about. We have renters in the old farmhouse. A little while back one of their kids needed to make a brick for school. He went to my dad for some help. They got straw and mud and some other stuff, made forms, and I believe they even baked it. The kid's brick rocked the classroom.

My question was why they didn't use the old brick forms that I'd seen years before. The obvious answer was that they didn't know where they were. This subject burned at me for awhile. There's some great old stuff on the farm that I've been trying to bring in and clean up. So when I was there a few weeks ago I went looking for the brick forms. Dad also explained what the strange object behind the shop building is. I spent years thinking it some form of press. It is, but instead of letters it presses bricks.

It's the piece of rusty metal in the middle.

Wait. What is that word?

Wow, when I see that word I am not thinking about bricks.
It actually refers to Climax Machine Company, now Climax Portable Machine Tools.

Here is one side of one of the brick plates presented along with some bricks that were made with it. It's still a perfect fit.

Could use some cleaning, however.

From what I'm told, the bricks in those last few pictures were made by my great grandmother. When dealing with farm work you sometimes have to throw out the concept of woman's work.

We didn't get to this until late on my last evening, however. Otherwise I would have drug the brick press into a building and started cleaning and oiling it.

I keep meaning to contact the Climax Company and see what they can tell me about it. What parts are missing, how to use it, care and feeding, etc.

Eventually, what I hope to do is use it. There is a barn that needs to be replaced. OK, there are several, but I have a specific one in mind. I'd like to put down 3 or 4 rows of brick at the base of the new wall. It'd make the new barn match some of the other buildings better and keep rot and termites from eating the very bottom.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I've been doing a lot of papercraft in the last year or so. I prefer origami since it's kind of a puzzle to try to figure out how to make a small piece of paper become a three-dimensional shape using only strategic folds. But there are bigger and more elaborate things that can also be created when you allow yourself scissors and glue.

You can start simple with a paper ceiling cat. [link]
He has a few more things if you go back through his archives at http://tubbypaws.blogspot.com/.

Or, there's a simple blank robot you can decorate yourself at http://www.instructables.com/id/Instructables-Robot-Paper-Model/.

Video game based papercraft can be found at http://papercraft-world.blogspot.com/.

Blocky characters with massive heads can be downloaded from http://www.cubeecraft.com/.

Canon printers has a good selection of things to make at http://cp.c-ij.com/en/contents/1006/. I recommend you spend a few minutes clicking through categories.
I created this Cheetah and this Eiffel Tower for Yummy.

There's an interesting looking zeppelin (and other stuff) at http://www.currell.net/models/mod_free.htm.

I'm looking at tackling some of the creations from sci-fi lore at http://www7a.biglobe.ne.jp/~sf-papercraft/Gallery/Gallery.html.

Not sure if this counts as papercraft, but if you're one of the people still keeping Starbucks in business you can make a tie-fighter from coffee supplies by looking at the directions at http://howto.wired.com/wiki/Create.

I have an awesome paper TARDIS in my office that someone designed so his son would have one scaled to his Dr. Who action figure. But, alas, I can't find the link back to it. There are others, but they're just not as good.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

DVD Review: Futurama - Into the Wild Green Yonder

Yes, I'm late. I picked this DVD up on the release date and fell asleep watching it. This fact may cause some skepticism about this next statement. It's also the best of the Futurama DVD movies so far.

"Futurama" is a sci-fi cartoon made by Matt Groening, the creator of "The Simpsons". It ran on Fox for years, but was put in that early evening time slot where football kept preempting it. Thus, only people on the west coast got to see it. Cutting out 3/4 of the viewers was hard on the ratings. Since it became unpredictable whether the show was gonna be on or not it also hurt the ratings on the rare evening when it was actually on.

Finally, it was canceled.

But the reruns on some cable channel (Cartoon Network? Comedy Central?) got great ratings and the DVDs sold well. The cable network running the reruns wanted more episodes. Rather than try to produce regular episodes again somebody made the decision to develop full length movies, release them straight to DVD, and then chop them up into episode sized bits. Five DVDs were initially planned with "Into the Wild Green Yonder" as the fourth.

It really doesn't matter that much what I say about the movie. You're either interested enough that you have bought it (or plan to) OR you're not into it and calling Groening the love child of Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock wouldn't sell it. I should mention that Groening is not actually their love child.

"Into the Wild Green Yonder"'s main storyline is about Amy Wong's father Leo who wants to build the biggest miniature golf course in the galaxy. A par 2 involves firing a huge ball out of a cannon and trying to get it in a hole located on a moon. A moon on another planet. The 18th hole is supposed to have a black hole at the end so you can't get your ball back. But to make that black hole he has to blow up a Purple Dwarf star.1

One parallel story line involves Fry developing telepathic powers and being drawn into a secret society of tin foil hat wearing loons who carry the secrets of the origins of life in the universe and want to stop the destruction of the Purple Dwarf.

In another Leela joins an extremist, feminist, environmentalist group to protect all the life forms that would be wiped out by the building of this golf course.

Bender and Fry also face off in a poker competition where Fry's telepathy faces down a Lucky Mafia Donbot's foot that Bender stole.

The movie ends with a bit of foreshadowing2 when an alien implies that humanity is endangered. I have to presume this is the lead in for the next DVD/

As I said before, of the four Futurama DVDs released so far this one is my favorite. It has the fewest self-referential jokes and made me laugh the most.

1Yes, I know that's not how you make black holes. There's no such thing as a Purple Dwarf star either.
2Who thought back in middle school when they taught you words like "foreshadowing" that you'd ever actually use it?3
3I have still never diagrammed a sentence outside of a classroom.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Little known Muppet fact

Before starting his job at Muppet Labs, Beaker provided the voice for heart monitoring machines.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pi Day

Happy Pi Day tomorrow.

Pi Day is March 14 or 3-14.

Go eat a pie at 3-14 at 1:59.
Better yet, eat a square pi.

Because Pi = 3.14159...

Friday links: March 13

Regulating Genes - a DNA rap

Dilbert creator Scott Adams talks about how he manages his restaurant. [link]

More thoughts on cleaning orbit paths. [link]

National Geographic pictures make computer wallpaper. [link]

Why video game movies suck. [link]
Supplemental: Behind the Scenes with Uwe Boll. [link]

A trailer for a "Stalin vs. Martians" video game. So friggin' weird. [link]

How to destroy the world with nanobots.

SpaceWeather.com is worth checking every so often. Those of you far to the north should be getting some nice aurora tonight. [link]

Get a cheap telescope or donate one. [link]

Chimp acts with foresight. [link]
There's a lesson here. Mess with the man and he'll take your balls.

Monkey kills abusive owner with coconut. [link]
There's another lesson here. If the rock is big enough the man can't come for your balls.

Some kid developed Super Mario Brothers for the TI-84 graphic calculator. [downloads link instructions link video link]

Night of the Living Dead Pixels

You're standing in front of a 100 story building with two identical bowling balls. You've been tasked with testing the bowling balls' resilience. The building has a stairwell with a window at each story from which you can (conveniently) drop bowling balls.

To test the bowling balls you need to find the first floor at which they break. It might be the 100th floor or it might be the 50th floor, but if it breaks somewhere in the middle you know it will break at every floor above.

Devise an algorithm which guarantees you'll find the first floor at which one of your bowling balls will break. You're graded on your algorithm's worst-case running time.

iDaft [link]
If you don't get that then you need to see this. [link]

Nissan - Just Stay Out of ItWatch in HD so you can read the disclaimers at the end.

My god. It's full of comics. [link]

Pictures documenting the decay of Detroit. [link]

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I'mma be on the TVs!

OK, not actually me, but one of my books.

We got a call a bit ago from the people at "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation". They were asking permission for my "Medical Aspects of Biological Warfare" book to be carried by Laurence Fishburne.

What the hell is with my arm?

Before my trip to Kansas I found five old wooden Coke bottle crates next to the sidewalk on my drive to work. I stopped and picked them up. One, or both, is a gift for Yummy. Not only will she love them but she can no longer scold me for eyeballing the inventory of the Sidewalk Economy.

Upon my return I tried to transport one of the crates home. Instead of carrying them home as I did when taking them to work I tried another method. I took one of the plastic bags in my office and tied it onto the handle. The knot was inferior and I knew it. And yet I did nothing. I put the bag handles over the Segway handles and headed out.

I could have hung them on the handlebars. I could have tied a better knot. I could have tied the bag to my backpack. I could have left them in the office until I got a ride. I could have left the Segway and carried them home on the subway. Instead I drove down 16th street (on the sidewalk) with a Coke crate dangling in front of me.

A couple of miles down the road the knot came untied. It dropped the crate right in front of my right tire. As wipeouts go it was rather spectacular. I was impressed and I was the one doing it.

Someone crossing the street came scurrying over to see if I was OK. I hopped up, opened the visor on my helmet, pulled out my glasses, took off the helmet, and proclaimed what a great crash that was.

Then I broke with tradition. Instead of hopping back on and taking off I decided it was a better idea to take off my coat and backpack and sit for a minute or two.

My left arm was bothering me so I ran a series of diagnostics.
I hopped up and down a bit. A twinge.
I wiggled my fingers. A prickling sensation but full movement and tactile response.
I rotated my wrist. Ooh. OK. It works. Don't do that too much, though.
I bent my arm. Bending is possible but it hurts.
Any further motion from the elbow up was possible but the angry badgers discouraged that.
Even so, nothing broken, nothing dislocated, nothing torn. Just badgers.

I very carefully put my coat back on. I very carefully put my backpack back on. I very sternly tied a much better knot in the bag. I continued my trip home. It sucked.

As did sleeping that night. I mean, it wasn't bad. But if I tried to move in my sleep I got a warning. That morning Yummy found a kitty outside. (see a few days ago)

Yummy was kind enough to drive me to work the next day. I didn't feel like riding the Segway or the Subway. I just tried to not move it. If it needed moving I'd try to move it with my right hand or by having the fingers on my left hand walk it places. I resembled that German guy in "Dr. Strangelove".

I took the subway home and stopped at CVS for an arm sling. A slight bruise had started to work its way to the surface by bedtime.

I wore that sling all weekend and to work on Monday. Monday night I took this picture of the bruise. I don't think the picture does it justice. Some of the colors are muted by the shadow.

Tuesday and Wednesday I went slingless. I have most of my range of motion back. Stretching is the biggest no-no. There's still an ache deep in the muscle. Like a knee that needs to pop but won't.

Another week and I should be fine.

If it'll put your mind at rest, my boss is a hand surgeon. She repeated my diagnostics and did a few that I don't know. She said an X-ray would be nice, but concurred with my diagnosis.

p.s. - Seriously? Only one person suggesting books yesterday?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Book recommendations

Yummy is looking to fill her shelves with the really good books of various genres of book. There's lists of best books put out by various publications but I'm not looking for lists produced by people trying to get readers or English teachers and librarians spouting their favorites.

Think like this: Moby Dick may be a great book, but it sure isn't a very good one.

I want the books that people actually enjoy reading.
I want the books you are glad that you read.
I want the books you'd be willing to read over and over.

Or, failing that, I want the books that you think everyone should read once. The movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" may be a masterpiece of cinematography that I think everyone should see once, but it's too dull to watch more than once. You get what I'm saying?

I'm also breaking the categories in to older greats and newer greats. Exactly how to define those ages is a bit tricky. I find the lists I'm coming up with in my head tend toward being roughly pre-Ibid and post-Ibid but the line is kinda blurry. Place them as you see fit.

Feel free to add categories if you have some recommended reading that doesn't fit. I left out comedy as a category since most everything that I could put in it also fits elsewhere. Feel free to point out exceptions.

I have my own lists. I'm keeping them to myself for assorted reasons.
I don't want to influence your lists with my ideas.
My lists are incomplete and I'm wanting top 10 lists.
Others give a list and get people to pick it apart. I'd rather give you a blank space and let you fill it.

Science fiction
Classic -

Modern -

Classic -

Modern -

Classic -


Classic -

Modern -

Any submissions are greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Book Review: Fool

I could have sworn I'd read stuff by Christopher Moore before, but I see nothing on my shelf with his name, nothing in my electronic library, and I've only heard of the stuff listed under his name. But "Fool" was a great place to start.

"Fool" is based, deliberately crudely, on Shakespeare's "King Lear" with shades of some other works by Shakespeare, Thoreau, and others. He freely admits he made a hash of it so that people couldn't get on him for his particular interpretation of their favorite story. That, and he likes being able to tell literary critics that the particular passages of prose they're griping about are actually lifted straight from Thoreau.

The central character is, naturally, the fool for King Lear. He heaps abuse and truth on anyone and everyone while safely protected by the King's favor. But the youngest princess, and the one Fool was hired to entertain and is smitten with, is being married off. The King is also dividing up his kingdom among the daughters who can prove they love him with flowery words. Thus, the youngest gets no land and a gay husband. Plus the intern fool is being taken by a neighboring Duke.

Fool, with the help of a cryptic ghost (there's always a ghost), plots and schemes and works to win back his love, get his friend and intern back, and restore the kingdom.

It's a good story, well written all by itself. Christopher Moore makes it better still by making it a comedy. Alas, I was out of town when he was here signing stuff. I will be raiding Yummy's stash of Moore books.

Cat home

A home has been found for the cat. Thanks for the help.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Cat emergency!

Yummy showed came into my room Friday morning with a kitty she found crying in the street. But she can't keep it and neither can I.

Her post on the subject is available at http://green-canary.blogspot.com/2009/03/sitting-upon-hot-stove-lid.html. If you or anyone you know wants a kitty please e-mail her.

Movie Review: The Watchmen

The graphic novel from the 80s that they said couldn't translate to the big screen did. "The Watchmen" is as close an adaptation to the source material as you can expect. They didn't even try to move it from the 80's to the present. There are a few things that got cut, but nothing terribly important. They may even show up in the extended DVD.

There are several story threads that run through the movie. One about how costumed vigilantes were made illegal nearly a decade before. One about a investigation into attempts on the lives of some former heroes. One about the breakup of one super relationship and the start of another. A background story about building tensions in Afghanistan.

If you haven't read the book I don't want to say too much. You can see my review of the book here if you want to know more.

The movie runs a bit over two and a half hours. I will be getting in on DVD. I highly recommend this movie.

p.s. I just wish to reiterate the opinion that this movie rocked.

p.p.s. This movie is rated R for a reason. Do NOT take your kids. There are people exploding in very juicy ways, topless women, and a blue guy who rarely wears pants. I'd hate to be the CGI guy who had the job of making Dr. Manhattan's third leg.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Friday Links: March 6

Samuel L. Jackson signs on for 9 more movies as Nick Fury. [link]

Back to the Future alternate ending.

Exerpts from the Bunny Suicides books. [link]

There's what you see and what your kids see.

First dog to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. [link]

The danger of powerful magnets. [link]

Religion 101 Quiz. [link]

Electric motorcycle. [link]
I might consider this if my job really moves from DC to Frederick, MD.

A plane trying to land in a cross wind.

Battlestar Swine Trek: The Battlestar Galactica theme done with Muppets. Because everything (on TV) is better with Muppets.

Firefox crop circle. (note: go to the A. I don't know why there's a B, C, and D)

View Larger Map

Dalek found on bottom of pond[link]

Sleepwalking dog

Star Trek colognes released. [link]

A blend of new an old Battlestar Galactica. Be sure to read the end credits. They're the best part. [link]

How to moderate a panel. [link]

Mini- robotic- bulldozers being considered for Moon work. [link]

Brits to explore a lake located under 3km of ice. [link]

Super Soldier suit demonstration for US Army.

And for some reason, Two Angry Camels in a Car.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Kennedy / Nixon

We all know the story about the Presidential Debate between Nixon and Kennedy. On radio Nixon came off as the winner while on TV Kennedy came off as the winner because he looked better. Turns out there's more to the story.

Excerpt from a forthcoming pictorial history of Walter Reed Army Hospital:
At the beginning of its sixth decade, Walter Reed would play a little
known role in the historic presidential campaign and election of 1960. Vice-President Richard M. Nixon who was running against Senator John F. Kennedy injured his left knee in August 1960; the knee ultimately became infected with Staphylococcus aureus and Mr. Nixon was admitted to Ward 8 at Walter Reed. Treated with intravenous antibiotics for only 10 days, he left the hospital in early September to begin the campaign in earnest. A few days later he experienced high fever and chills and was again treated with antibiotics. Nixon never fully recovered before the first televised debate on September 26, 1960; his general poor physical condition and appearance was apparent to the nation compared to the apparently robust Kennedy. Nixon did ultimately recover from his septic knee joint but never recovered from the poor showing in the debate and lost a close race to John Kennedy.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Book Review: Starburst

For some reason I never read any Frederick Pohl until a few years ago when he came to the Library of Congress Book Fair a few years back. He was 87 or so and had just come out with a new book. He's one of the grandfathers of science fiction. He was a writer and a magazine editor back in the day. Asimov and Clarke read his stuff and took his advice. In short, the man is old. He's 89 now.

In the 1982 Pohl published "Starburst". It's not a long book, but it's very busy. Perhaps "action packed"? The point is that he keeps the story clicking along.

The global economy is shot. International tensions are high. America has discovered an inhabitable planet orbiting the nearest star to the sun, Alpha Centauri, and is sending an eight man crew to go and investigate. Shortly after the launch the Soviet Union announces that the planet doesn't exist. While America argues and presents their evidence we discover, behind the scenes, that all the evidence is faked. We've deliberately sent those eight people off to die.

Former Nazi Youth, Dr. Dieter von Knefhausen, determined that the greatest innovation comes from a lack of resources. Given a pile of material to help them cross a room without touching the floor kids will use it all. Given the same pile with some stuff removed the kids will find another way to cross the room and usually cross it faster. Thus, with the resources of Earth cut off he expects the astronauts to make great discoveries.

He's not wrong. Boredom soon sets in. Lots of chess is played. Soon they're making great use of the math books that were sent along. In a matter of months they're casually talking about stuff that have troubled mathematicians for centuries. Some work with the IChing using a coin to make their predictions. They perfect acupuncture and gain good enough control of their own bodies to easily heal wounds. They each cut off a small toe to have the proper bones to throw for the IChing and then regrow their toes. They develop a new propulsion system. Someone dies when they fire it up, but that's OK because he didn't really need that body anyway. And, using the IChing, they discover that the planet they're heading for isn't really there.

They decide to push on and start mining what orbiting debris there is to expand their ship. Until now they had done so by shaving metal off of bulk heads and supports to provide extra material.

Oh, and they have a dozen or two kids by now. Most of the adults have stopped talking in a way that can be understood by you or I. Only the ghost and one astronaut are still comprehensible. The kids are genetically engineered as are the plants that act as the wombs for them.

Someone on the ship sends a wave of koans back at Earth as punishment for sending them to die. Another someone radios ahead to warn them, but by the time her message is translated it's too late. The koans destroy all radioactive material on Earth.

One of the astronauts transcends the need for sustenance for her body. She hovers out the door and into space. Finding a good orbit she draws material to her to start forming a planet with her as the core.

Eventually, needing more genetic material an expedition is launched to return to Earth. They'll bring new technology to Earth and Earth will give them seeds and tissue samples. Or that's the plan. America has broken into several countries. Who knows what's happening overseas. The guy in charge of the Washington, D.C. area wants to retake the country and wants to use the weapons ("what weapons") and ships brought by the astronauts to retake the country and then the world. Getting word of this they flee to a Canadian country on the west coast. They don't want the new technology or the "help" that the visitors think they bring.

In the end, relations are reestablished with certain friendly parts of Earth and new ships with the new drives go out to colonize other nearby stars.

I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who like hard science in their science fiction. Particularly those who lived through the 70s.

Sometime soon I hope to expand upon Gödelized coding. It's one of those things that is talked about and expanded upon in the book. I need to talk to some mathematicians first.

Frederick Pohl recently started a blog in which he talks about his experiences with various famous authors he's known and worked with over the years. You can find it at http://www.thewaythefutureblogs.com/. I recommend going to the beginning to read about he and Arthur C. Clarke.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Oh, hey! It's Monday!

Hi. I'm in Kansas and didn't get around to writing something for today.

Grammie is turning 90 and she just got moved from the nursing home back in to assisted living.