Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Links: May 31

The collapse of railroad tracks that have caught fire.

Shotgun cane. [link]

Life size Lego X-Wing. [link]
Kind of a cheat since they use enlarged Legos.

"DJ, Play My Song (No, Leave Me Alone)"

Then the DJ shouldn't have made that deal.

The story of research about drug addiction in rats. Social rats don't need the drugs. [link]

Pope retracts statement that good atheists can be saved. [link]

Fantastic home plate coverage gif. [link]

More about the garden pool I posted awhile back. [link]

The financial problems with living in Silicon Valley with kids. [link]

Words the English language owes to India. [link]

A lot of military bases are named for people who don't really deserve it. [link]

Sarcastic advice to questions that shouldn't have been asked. [link]

"I wasn't actually sleeping, I'm a beta tester for Google Eyelids." - Morgan Freeman

50 common misquotations.

America stands out as a rich country where it's citizens can't afford food. [link]

An annotated and corrected script for a new anti-Wikileaks movie. [link]

PBS felt forced to cancel a documentary about the attack on collective bargaining in Wisconsin. Here the film makers talk about the film and it's cancellation. [link]

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Review: Agatha H and Clockwork Princess

If you haven't checked out the Girl Genius comic then you're missing out. It runs 3 days a week and can be seen at The archives are available online as well as in 11 volumes (and counting) of dead tree editions. After their first few Hugo Awards they started working on novelizations of their story. The first book, Agatha H and the Airship City, covered the first three volumes of the graphic novel. I just finished reading the second book, Agatha H and the Clockwork Princess, which starts with volume 4 and runs through volume 6.

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed the novel. Phil and Kaja Foglio are great writers with a talent for comedic banter and a turn of phrase that reminds me of Douglas Adams. The book runs a bit long (around 430 pages), but it's well worth it. Even if you're already a fan of the comics, this book adds much to the story that the Foglios couldn't get illustrated.

The story: Agatha Clay lives in an alternate steampunkish version of Europe. In this world there are people known as sparks. They have a particular brand of genius that makes them into mad scientists.

Europa is currently ruled by Baron Wulfenbach who rules from his massive zeppelin. But it wasn't always so. Once upon a time the Heterodyne family of sparks terrorized Europe. But the Heterodyne Boys turned out to be heroes of legend with the future Baron as a friend and fellow adventurer. Then their castle was destroyed, the Baron sent to a distant land (he got back), the Boys missing, the wife of one of them kidnapped, and, so rumor has it, a lost infant daughter somewhere. But that was years ago.

In the first novel Agatha Clay found out that she's the lost Heterodyne heir and that her mother wasn't kidnapped, but was in fact the monsterous spark known as The Other who destroyed Heterodyne Castle and tried to enslave Europe. After finding out she's a repressed spark, she found herself aboard Wulfenbach Castle as a captive and potential wife to the Baron's son. She escaped on a smaller zeppelin with a talking cat and a slow leak. The discovery of this bullet shaped hole is where book two begins.

In this book Agatha Heterodyne crashes in the vast wilds of Europa where she finds a traveling circus/Heterodyne show to hook up with. But as the circus passes through Balen's Gap they're commanded to put on a show. Agatha's convincing performance of her mother gets a prince loyal to The Other to grab her with the intent of imprinting the mind of the mother on top of that of the daughter.

Much of the time Agatha is protected by creatures known as the Jagermonsters. They're humans who have been turned into... well, the best description I can come up with off the top of my head is Klingons mixed with Minions (think Despicable Me). They love to fight and they're loyal to the Heterodynes whether they're crazy despots, heroes, or confused girls in their late teens. And they have some of the best dialog ever.

Hopefully, there will be a third novel. The first two were through Night Shade Press which had some financial difficulties. Other publishing companies have offered to buy Night Shade's properties so Night Shade can pay off their debts, but only if a set number of their properties agree to the new, and rather onerous, terms set by these new publishers. And if they don't agree the rights to their properties may be tied up forever. Check out Phil's post about the deal.

So, go, read, and then buy the graphic novels and novel novels.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tire planter

I did it! I turned a tire inside out!
I used a bolt cutter to cut through the cable buried where the tire meets the rims. Then sawed from the 8 cuts out to the corners. Then flipped it over and started pushing on a corner. Once that was going I tugged on one of the flaps that I'd cut before and that section turned inside out. Once I had 3 sections done I went to the other side of the tire and started pushing the corner with my feet while pulling on a flap. It was hard, but it finally went pop and was all but done.
It might be easier with 16 cuts instead of 8.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Links: May 24

I finally watched this page I've had open for a few months. It's cartoons showing cars from the 50's and 60's. Most I'd seen years ago but I doubt anyone who didn't grow up with Saturday morning cartoons have seen them. [link]

Ray Harryhausen passed away earlier this month. [link]

Man spends $20K cleaning up a lot and the city threatens to sue. [link]

Electric shocks to the right part of the brain may help math skills. [link]

Strawberries engineer to handle the cold turned blue. [link]

Pseudo-CGI. [link]

In much of Isaac Asimov's work he had lots of robots on colonized planets, but few on Earth where they were kept out so people could have jobs. This article talks about how reality is sort of heading that way and how we could get more of a Star Trek economy. Not that he addressed it in that way. [link]

Creepy stories involving kids. [link]

John Barrowman, David Tennant, and Catherine Tate perform a tribute to the producers who brought back Doctor Who.

"Star Wars: Clone Wars" was cancelled, but Disney is making "Star Wars Rebels". [link]

The final version of the previously mentioned Queen version of Badgers Badgers Badgers Badgers...

badgers badgers badgers badgers badgers badgers badgers badgers badgers badgers badgers badgers badgers badgers badgers

The future of badgers flags for mankind. [link]
badgers badgers

Riddick 3: Pitch Blacker

Thursday, May 23, 2013

They got me!

I've been sucked into Minecraft. I know I'm behind the curve, but I avoided getting into it because I knew it would be an addictive time suck. And it is.

Anyway, this is what I'm working on. It's just a ball 100 blocks across.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What's wrong with comic book universes

Sorry, folks, but I'm going to talk about comic books again. Putting aside the invincible flying people, they seem rather unrealistic. They're trying to make them like the real world, but with super heroes and villains. But their existence and all they imply would significantly alter the world.

In Gotham City most of the crime is small… relatively. The major villains tend to restrict their damage to localized areas. Killer Crock usually sticks to the sewers. Penguin is more of a godfather than a major villain. And Mr Freeze tends to stick to banks and museums. Joker's the one who tries for mass killings and his victims are usually cops. And so it goes with most villains. Still, the murder rate is way beyond our worst cities. For someone to willingly live there they must either be making a ton of money or too poor to leave. So it's either "why did you take that job in Afghanistan?" or "you can't afford DC, but you haven't left". And after the massive plague and the city leveling earthquake from story lines a few years back Gotham should make Detroit look prosperous and heavily populated.

Across the bay in Metropolis there's not much of a crime problem. Although, knowing how close the two cities are, why didn't Metropolis get some earthquake damage? What it has is super villain issues. Alien beings and killer robots and people in power suits and major stuff. They've learned to build their skyscrapers so that debris or people moving at high speeds punch through walls rather than level the building. So bravo to their engineers. But it's still going to mess up your office or shop if someone gets knocked through it. And it happens a lot! Insurance must cost more than rent. I'm sure Gotham has Joker insurance or triple payout in case of death by Scarecrow. But Metropolis is the shining city on the hill that it is because they're constantly having to repair the streets and buildings. Construction crews from Metropolis must be fast, efficient, and good. I bet they could have put Haiti back together in about a month. Or is Superman involved in reconstruction? I know the Justice League has been known to help out on some projects. Another option is that construction crews in Metropolis function like those in China. They don't expect their buildings to stand for more than a few years before they get torn down and rebuilt. My original point was that trying to run a business in Metropolis comes with the assumption that there will be lasers, thrown cars, firestorms, or at least rubble raining down outside the shop on a regular basis. Granted, it's a big city and the odds of it being your shop that gets damaged in any particular attack aren't great, but attacks are common enough that you're going to get hit eventually. It's like playing roulette and always putting your money on the same number. Eventually, it's going to hit!

But that's the least of it. Superman alone is proof of extraterrestrial life. The Green Lanterns (Earth has several now) are proof not just of alien life, but so much of it that someone decided this sector of space needed several security officers. And the planet gets attacked all the time! Knowing this, don't you think NASA would be better funded than the US Army? Most of the major world governments should be working together for a defense shield. Space elevators, orbiting shipyards, weapons platforms, arrays of telescopes constantly scanning the sky, etc. Not all races are entirely hostile all the time. Wouldn't Earth at least have embassies for a few alien races? Krypton only has a few possibly representatives, as does Mars. But there's Oa (they run the Green Lantern Corps) and Thangarans (Hawkman) is from and whatever race it is they're always fighting. Surely the Skrull would have a representative here even though they keep trying to conquer us. And all these races and these races. Instead Earth ignores these constant attacks confident that the heroes will save us. DC comics has a Mars base, but they needed Superman's help to set it up and deal with their problems. A few Marvel heroes shot Hulk off to another planet but the rest of Earth only has a few manned space stations. A few labs in Marvel and DC dabble in great power sources and interdimensional rifts. Knowing the threats that are out there should have driven mankind to become a major force in our part of the galaxy. They have the technology, they just don't exploit it. The best they sometimes do is use what they've learned causes the development of super powers in some people and try to duplicate it in others.

Of course, I know why they don't. Their world would quickly depart from ours so radically that even the most mundane heroes would live in a world we don't recognize and wouldn't want to read about.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

Why are you looking at this review? You decided 6 months ago whether you were going to see this movie or not. Odds are that you've seen it already. If not then it's for the same reason that it took me so long to see it. You were planning to see it with other people.

If you haven't seen it, I've got good news for you. It's as good as you hoped. Maybe better. It's not one of those series that suddenly goes way downhill in the third movie. It had a good story and is well told.

There's one action scene that shows what's important to Tony while setting up something significant for a later action scene.

Ben Kingsley gets to play someone awesome, but not who you think.

There is a death scene that wasn't quite as convincing as it could have been.

AND SIT THROUGH THE FUCKING CREDITS! My god! There've been two Iron Man movies, a Hulk movie, a Thor movie, a Captain America movie, and an Avengers movie before this! If you're going to see Iron Man THREE I have to assume you've seen at least one of those other movies! You DO! NOT! LEAVE! just because the credits are rolling! SERIOUSLY PEOPLE! Most of the people left my viewing the moment the credits started.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Links: May 17

Two Spocks hanging out.

2000 tons of undetonated American and British bombs are found in Germany every year. Still. [link]

A $350,000 hamburger grown in a lab. [link]

How to find exoplanets.

Just in case you haven't seen the video of Chris Hadfield performing Space Oddity on the ISS.

"That's the fourth coffee I've dropped today, keep forgetting it won't float when I let go." - Chris Hadfield parody Twitter account

What did it cost to make that video? [link]

Prepare to squee!

10 reasons time travel is no good. Not the usual reasons.

Supernatural fans should appreciate this devils trap skirt. [link]

...and this map of where the Impala has gone. [link]

... and where the Winchesters have been. [link]

A zero-player-game for your phone. [link]

Astrophysicist Brian May and Weeble have an updated version of the Badger Song.

In today's production of Lord of the Rings the role of Legolas will be played by a squirrel and a cat will be filling the part of the Oliphant.

A submerged town comes up for air. [link]

Stop motion Lego Star Trek.

The unmade Stargate: Atlantis movie/season 6 premier. [link]

Floral clock history and instructions. [link]

Doctor Who's crib. [link]

Short film: The Backwater Gospel

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Audio Book Review: Robopocalypse

I finished listening to "Robopocalypse" the other day. It's basically "World War Z", but for the robot uprising. 

From the reviews I'm seeing I think you'd be better off reading the book than listening to it. There's definitely some parts that would translate better as text. And you might get a better feel for the characters and the action.

Here's my issue. Daniel Wilson has created some characters with real potential who weren't really given the chance to shine. I came away with the feeling that... well, read the Harry Potter books and then watch the movies. You'll see so much that was lost in the translation from book to movie. You'll come away from the movie a bit let down. "Robopocalypse" feels like a TV series that was adapted as a book. Imagine a novelization of "Lost". How much would have to get hacked away to make it work? How much character development would have to go away? That's what I feel like we have with this book. 

The book opens after the war. The main character, Cormac Wallace, finds a record of the AI's records of the main players in the war. He decides to use it and his own experiences to create an official history of the war. 

Cormac Wallace's brother was in the military. After everything goes wrong they set off across country to join up with some military forces. They get rejected and go off to join an indian reservation's forces and, eventually, to Alaska to fight the main AI. During this multiyear trek Cormac goes from chicken to military commander. It's reasonably well documented. A bit like watching Mickey make the same conversion in Doctor Who. It just needs a bit more time with him to smooth the transition a bit. 

Mathilda Perez is a little girl who is given cybernetic eyes, and some other implants, by an autodoc. Her vision and communication abilities gives her a big advantage that she uses to help the war effort. But so little of it is shown. She goes from "why, I think I can hear something. Someone has released the satellites." to "Hello, robot who is 3000 miles away. Here's a topographical map of the landscape and the trajectory of the missiles that are tracking you." It felt like watching "Heroes" and the major battle between the two most powerful characters took place as a series of flickering lights under the crack of a door. She lost her chance to really shine. 

Takeo Nomura is an old computer repair man in Japan. He manages to control a factory and human safe haven that the AI wants. It tries to bargain with him by giving his robotic love doll intelligence. But once sentient she's not on the AI's side. She passes her awareness on to other humanoid robots capable of using it. And is never heard from again. 

Lurker almost has a good role. He's a hacker/prankster who manages to mess with the AI and is ultimately killed. But we don't really spend enough time with him to like him enough to miss him or mourn his passing. 

Arcos is the AI. It's motivation for wiping out mankind seems to change over the course of the book. Early on it seems like it might have some grand plan to save nature and humanity by knocking down the population by several billion. At one point you think it might also be trying to create a world where humans and intelligent robots can work together instead of as master and slave. But in the end it's just trying to kill all humans so robots won't be slaves. 

Early on I was reading the chapters and thinking "I could film this really cheap. A bit of time with some 3D software and some careful site selection and it's no problem." But as the book wore on there were some scenes were just too complex. Then I found out that Steven Spielberg was working on the movie. Apparently it's on indefinite hold as the script isn't ready and it's too expensive to film. Call me, Steve, I have some ideas on how to make it work. 

I recommend reading this book. I think it would work out better read than listened to. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

4 way (revisited)

I finally finished wiring up a circuit in my Baltimore house. I felt I should revise my earlier post based on what I learned.

updated wiring
What we have is a circuit with three switches controlling two lights. I made two mistakes in my wiring.

First, the lights were in series instead of in parallel, like they should be. This meant that each light only got half the voltage that they should. I remember reading about this in electronics books, but it never really applied before. The power wasn't enough to get compact florescent bulbs to light up, but normal incandescent bulbs did light up very dimly.

Second, I misunderstood how the 3 way switches worked. They have one screw on the left and two on the right. I assumed power ran from one side to the other. Instead, I had to apply power to the lower screw so it could run to the two upper screws. Similarly, the power in the 4-way switch runs from top to bottom. But it's labeled clearly on the back so there was no confusion.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday Links: May 10

You may find some familiar names in this obituary. [link]

McBain: The Movie. [link]

Pizza developed that meets 100% of daily nutritional needs if eaten 3 times a day. [link]

Irish woman dies after being denied an abortion. [link]

I found that last article because the Irish Prime Minister is being threatened with excommunication if he allows a vote on the issue of legalizing abortion. [link]
Pro-Life my ass.

The black rhino is now considered officially extinct. [link]

An honest trailer for the 2009 Star Trek movie.

Background: A company called Predna basically uses extortion-like tactics against people it claims have downloaded adult films. The accused can pay a settlement or have it go public that they’re suspected of pirating whoopee-movies. Recently, there’s been some pushback, and Predna is being exposed as a rather shadowy outfit that appears to have created shell companies with CEOs created via identity theft. Anyway, they should really know they’re in for it when a judge issues an order that starts with a quote from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. [link]

Dog dish starts a fire. [link]

A billboard that shows a different message to kids than to adults. [link]
Isn't the effect ruined now that it's known that they're doing this?

Illustrated facts from QI. [link]

I'll know I'm old when I hear this in an elevator and actually tap my feet to it.

Bohemian Rhapsody in Blue

People in China have issues with some China-only content of Iron Man 3. [link]

Starships Were Meant to Fly

Thursday, May 09, 2013

When are vegetables in season?

Just a handy infographic I found.
click to enlarge

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Easy to make butter

I had a recipe that required heavy cream. But only a little bit. I ended up with the better part of a carton of heavy butter left over. Well, I'm not about to just dump it out. What do I do with it? Make 6 more of that recipe? No, it wasn't that good. What I found instead was how to turn the rest of it into butter.

Get yourself a jar with a lid. Lids are important.
Pour the heavy cream into said jar. You need to leave lots of air in the jar. Fill the jar less than half full.
Shake the jar.
What did I say about the lid? Yeah, you should have put that on before shaking.
Shake the jar.
Depending on your endurance you should get whipped cream after about 7-10 minutes of shaking.

Here's where instructions I've seen and I start to differ. They say that after a few more minutes of shaking your whipped cream should start to separate into buttermilk and butter. Mine didn't do that. Maybe I needed more room in my jar. What I did instead was whack the jar on the countertop. Hard enough to jar the contents, but not enough to break the jar. Just give it a good whack or two on the counter and the whipped cream collapses. What I had left was basically whipped butter. At least to my untrained taster. I never had any buttermilk.

Variations on this involve adding salt for salted butter or adding sugar for dessert style whipped cream. I haven't played with that yet.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Book Review: Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours

My Krodie felt that he owed me for something. I think I tried and failed to save his hard drive or something. Anyway, he bought me a book. It turns out Jim Butcher (Dresden Files author) had written a Spider-Man book. 

At this point of his life, Peter Parker is a high school science teacher. He's also been given temporary oversight of the basketball team while the coach is off with health problems. One particularly skilled student needs his vaccinations and needs to learn to work as a team. 

While swinging through the streets of New York one day Spider-Man gets a warning from his ex-girlfriend Felicia Hardy (a.k.a. Black Cat) that the mess he's heading for is really a trap. The Rhino is being used as bait by a group of ancient beings that eat creatures with animal connections for their powers. Their brother had died while fighting Spider-Man and they want revenge.

Both story lines have the theme of learning to ask for help and work as a team. We get to learn that The Rhino is an alright guy. And Felicia Hardy and MJ don't kill each other. 

You'll want to read this book because it's Jim Butcher writing it. Spider-Man is known for his sass mouth. Jim Butcher is, too. This book lets Butcher cut loose in ways that the Dresden Files book only hint at. 

Friday, May 03, 2013

Friday Links: May 3

PBS meets The Avengers.

Notice that 3 of the 4 PBS show hosts shown are dead now.

Brian Blessed's entry for shed of the year. [link]

A guy with a custom motorcycle lives close to where Spiderman 2 is filming. He caused a bit of excitement when someone thought his bike had something to do with the movie. [link]

Abandoned parts of Six Flags America. [part 1] [part 2]

Cups that have been to the bottom of the ocean. [link]

Dovahbear: part 3

Pirate ship/house boat! Only $80K. [link]

Some interesting products at Nostalgia Electronics. [link] [see also]
I hate with a passion, but the "Customers also bought" section for this product is kind nifty.

Klingon version of the song "Kiss Me".

Downtown Oakland being built in Minecraft. [link]

Gorilla surrogate parents. [link]

Evil clown still stalk your child for it's birthday. [link]

Crocheted Big Daddy from Bioshock. [link]

22 broken gifs that will make you question your sanity. [link]

"I should have vaccinated my daughter." [link]

A tragically real South Carolina 4th grade science test. [link]

Animals that can dance. [link]

Internet stores may soon have to charge taxes. [link]

The math American's really use at work. [link]

What if the Boston Bombers were the Boston Shooters? [link]

5 buttons that shouldn't have been pressed. [link]

A Toy Story short story. [link]

Possibly the first purse I've ever thought worth the fuss. [link]

Prison reviews on Yelp. [link]

Racially integrated proms still a novelty in Georgia. [link]

Washington state now differentiates marijuana from industrial hemp. [link]

Older siblings may have more influence on younger siblings than parents do. [link]

Tips for designing a brand for your cattle. [link]

Historical maps overlayed on Google Maps. [link]
My house is near the top of the DC map. 

Time... crystals? [link]

Parents asked about the creepiest thing their kids have said. [link]

How to land a plane if you're not a pilot. [link]

Flying if you're in Congress. [link]

I mentioned that Yummy and I toured a Baltimore incinerator. This is what we saw inside. But it won't hit you like seeing that claw come towards you fast does. [link]

Guantanamo memoirs. [link]

A simple 13 question science test. [link]

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Morning after pill approved for greater age range

I was pretty happy yesterday when I heard that the Morning After Pill (a.k.a. Plan B) was going to be made legal without a prescription for girls 15 and older. That's great news! Doing a bit of digging showed that the story is more complicated.

In 2005 by the Center for Reproductive Rights (and others) filed a lawsuit to strike down age and access limits to the emergency contraception.

In December 2011, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius barred girls under the age of 17 from getting the Morning After Pill without a prescription.

On April 5 of this year a U.S. District Judge ruled on the 2005 case and ordered that the FDA make emergency contraception available with no age limit within 30 days. In his decision he said that Sebelius' decision was clearly politically based.

The FDA has expanded access to Plan B without a prescription to girls 15 and over and has appealed the decision to permit access for girls of all ages.

Some are arguing that kids need a note from their parents to take aspirin in school, but can get emergency contraception anywhere. What they fail to point out is that kids need a note to take ANYTHING at school. Aspirin, sure, but also insulin, allergy meds, Ritalin, etc. Outside of school aspirin is available to all ages. And aspirin tends to treat a temporary condition. Plan B prevents pregnancy, a condition which lasts 9 months, can lead to a long list of other health concerns, and may result in a child and all the burdens that come with it.

We all want the child's parents to be good people who care about it and want what's best for it. Debates are often framed around the idea of teenaged white girl from an upper middle class upbringing who is sleeping around behind the backs of her mother and father. They don't want to hear about the poor hispanic girl whose lone parent works so many hours of the day that parent and child barely know each other. That parent doesn't have the time or money to take the kid to the doctor to get that prescription. They don't talk about the girl from the super religious black family who the girl dares not mention her dreams of college and a job to. They'll demand that she keep the child and drop out of school to raise it. Nor do they mention that the previously mentioned white girl's own father could be the one who got her pregnant. Not to mention the parents who pimp out their daughters. The ones who would beat her for getting pregnant. The ones whose religions forbid seeing doctors or taking medicine.

Kids have a ton of reasons why they might not want to tell their parents they're pregnant. Kathleen Sebelius and the FDA may think they're protecting these girls, but they're also harming girls who are struggling against the cycle of poverty and/or abuse in which they're stuck.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Song stuck in my head

In my head I keep hearing Beatles songs being sung by The Muppets. One in particular that I keep coming back to is "Yesterday" as sung by Animal. It's similar to "Mighty Mouse" as performed by Andy Kaufman or "Puttin' on the Ritz" by Frankenstein's monster in that they all only sing one part of the song. Animal just sings or yells the word "yesterday" in the right spot. He also does it in the middle of other songs.

We all live in a yellow submarine
A yellow submarine
A yellow...