Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Game review: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

Video games. It takes a very special game for me to pay full price for it. This wasn't one of them. With the PS3 out the PS2 game prices are falling. Especially the ones that are 6 years old already. I picked up "Sly Cooper" for only $9.99. Not a bad price. I think I did slightly better than the $1 per hour that I expect from a game. Too bad the price had to come down so far to get to that point. But I was only really playing to finish the game and write the review.

The most interesting part of this game was what they did with the graphics. Sure, lots of games lately are playing up the cartoonish angle. This one does it by giving the characters and much of the scenery dark edges like a drawn cartoon would. Makes me wish I had more experience in 3D modeling so I knew how they pulled that off in a dynamically rendered scene.

The game itself is the standard run along and collect all the [ITEMS] in the level so you can get the [BONUS]. Along the way you beat up the [VILLAINS] until you reach the [BOSS] at the end of the level. Still, it's more engaging than some games.

Completely safe for kids to play. The worst that happens when you die is that you get set back a little bit. Not a great deal of frustration. The game is very solvable.

I'll loan it to the neighbor kids who will enjoy it a lot more than me.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gas tax

I'm gonna skip this post ahead of several others because it's more time sensitive.

Way back in college I was advocating some new gas taxes because, quite frankly, you people aren't gonna cut back on your driving or invest in more fuel efficient vehicles unless you get stabbed in the wallet. And now the gas prices are climbing on their own.

Now McCain is pushing for the temporary lifting of the federal gas taxes (18.4¢ on gasoline, 24.4¢ on diesel) between Labor Day and Memorial Day. Since Obama is taking the opposite position Hillary is siding with McCain.

If that doesn't define this election I don't know what does. Obama is trying to do the right thing and Hillary is trying to do whatever it takes to win votes. Or you can be really cynical and say Obama is trying to win liberal votes while Hillary is trying to win more moderate votes.

But lets see what else is in the news.
GM Cuts Jobs amid Slow Truck, SUV Sales
GM is cutting SUV and truck production at 4 plants. They already made 100,000 SUVs less than expected due to a strike at one of their suppliers plants and much of their remaining inventory is going unsold.
GM will be cutting truck and SUV production by 138,000 (88,000 full-size pickups, 50,000 SUVs).

THANK YOU $120/gal oil prices!!!

Rising gas prices work. This is what must be done.

I thought by now that everyone would have had a chance to poke around inside a Prius. DC is littered with the damn things. But when I rented one and drove it back to Wichita for Thanksgiving it was a great point of interest since many hadn't seen one before. I drove around my grandparents and let other members of my family take it for a spin. Grandma wound up buying one herself. She immediately hated it since it wasn't the same make and model of the last 4 cars she's owned. But just meant Mom inherited a practically new, fully loaded Prius that she's practically giddy about.

Of course, the rising gas prices also effects the truckers. And by extension it impacts the price of milk, fruit... well, everything really. So I would approve of lifting the tax not on diesel, but on truckers and farmers. Yes, that means practically lifting the tax on diesel. But there's still buses, most of which are converting to hybrid and liquid natural gas anyway. Gotta keep encouraging that. And there's still small diesel vehicles who'll still have to pay.

We still need to find a way to move from semis for shipping or change what the semis run on. Higher gas prices should help with that. I can afford to pay more for food. Many of my neighbors will not.

Here's more reasons to oppose the gas tax moratorium. Used without permission from Bird Brains: Comics and Commentary.

1. The Highway Trust Fund, which funds highway infrastructure, would lose revenue. Americans apparently have short memories; the I-35W bridge collapse was less than a year ago, but the concern for the state of our bridges and highways that it created seems to have been short-lived.
2. The proposal is unlikely to pass Congress. The states would stand to lose Highway Trust Fund revenue. Representatives from large states with lots of highway miles will oppose it.
3. There's no guarantee the pump price will go down. Oil companies might just end up absorbing the extra profit. We don't have much excess refining capacity in the U.S. The lower price would create additional demand, as people drove more; this would likely cause prices to go up again as more demand chased the same supply of fuel.
4. It will worsen global warming. Lower prices, if they do appear, will discourage conservation and raise carbon emissions.
5. It will discourage the development of alternative fuels. Part of the reason investment in alternative fuels has been slow to appear is because many investors lost their shirts in the 1990s, when oil prices suddenly tanked. High gasoline prices mean these alternatives can compete. If there's uncertainty that prices will stay high, investors will be scared off.

Monday, April 28, 2008


I hate

The way I see it, every dollar I spend is a vote for this company or that company. If I don't like the way a company operates I don't vote for them.
I don't vote for Walmart because they actively send jobs to China. I don't mean that's an end result of their business practices. They tell the companies they buy from to move production to China.
I don't vote for because they make patenting things they didn't create and are in widespread use a standard business practice. Best known is their attempt to patent one-click ordering a decade or more back. They didn't create it and they didn't popularize it. It was the dawn of the internet so it wasn't terribly widespread. They did it to try to kill competition from Barnes and Noble and others. The founder and CEO of says it's immoral and should be illegal, but since it's not illegal he'll keep using it. So I take my business elsewhere.

That's why I'll never buy a Kindle. But I'm still impressed with the technology.

I've been watching the development of this electronic ink technology for years. A regular display uses power as long as it's on. But an electronic ink display only uses a burst of power when the display is changing. In the case of the Kindle it's when you "turn" the page but the suggested apps I usually see are on billboards and even paint for cars and buildings.

While I keep a few books on my PalmPilot the display suffers from glare when I try to read outside. That's the biggest advantage I see on the Kindle. There is no more glare than you'd get with a paper book.

I'm not gonna go on about the formatting of the documents or methods for downloading them or the services they provide or any of that. If you care that's available elsewhere. The only reason I'd get a Kindle is because I think the display is neat. But not neat enough for me to vote for I'm sure the tech will appear plenty of other places soon enough.

Friday, April 25, 2008

DC's TARDISes... TARDISii... um.

See these things in the picture? You see them scattered all over Washington DC and a number of other cities. They were installed shortly after the Civil War.

Some were fire boxes. There was a mechanism sort of like a music box inside. You smacked a button, tripped the release, a spring started to unwind turning a cylinder with pins on it, the pins made contact with metal strips completing a circuit, this sent a signal to the fire station who came to put out the fire. Each booth had a unique ID that was what the pins on the cylinder sent to the fire station.

Some were Police Boxes. They had telephones inside so that police could report in and people could call for help. They had rings on them so you could handcuff perps to it until the padded wagon came along to take them away. With the advent of personal radios in the 1970's these booths were taken out of service.

The Brits picked up on our Police Boxes and started to develop their own. Instead of phones on posts they made little prisons with a phone on the front. The best known model of these was made of concrete, formed on the spot, and weighed 3 tons. They were also the basis for the time machine used in the BBC television show "Doctor Who". These booths were still common enough when the show started in 1963 but were on the way out. The pilot episode had it parked in a dump.

There are still a few of these left around the greater London area. Like this one outside Earls Court tube station. They remain not because they're useful but because Doctor Who made them popular enough that tourists and locals alike object to their removal.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Yeah, I didn't talk about TARDIS origins today. Theres a picture or two I want first.

The Return of Dean Kamen

Dean Kamen is the man. Mostly he invents medical technology. He invented a portable kidney dialysis machine. He invented Dick Cheney's pace maker. He invented a self balancing electric wheelchair that will raise up on two wheels so the rider can look the non-handicapped in the eye. He took that technology and created the Segway which I ride to work almost every day. And for the last several years he, or at least his lab, has been working on a revision of the vapor compression distiller.

From the reports that I've heard he's been trying to make a vapor compression distiller, which is already super efficient, and make it so it can run on almost any energy source. Gas, electric, sun, or wood. The generator would be a Sterling Engine which uses a thermal difference to run. The point being that they can be distributed in third world countries so that everyone can have clean water to drink.

Recently Dean Kamen went on the "Colbert Report" to show off what they have. The video can be viewed on the Comedy Central website by following this link.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Doctor Who

A new season of Doctor Who has started. In England. So I'm clearly watching it illegally. But I've bought every season when it comes on DVD so they can just lay off.

In season 1 the common thread tying everything together was the "Bad Wolf" message.
In season 3 it was some character named Saxon.
The disappearing bees have been mentioned in two episodes so I'm guessing that's this season's thread.

Revived villain
In season 1 they brought back the Daleks.
In season 2 they brought back the Cybermen. They also ended the season with the Dalek/Cyberman fight we'd been waiting for since 1963.
In season 3 they brought back The Master.
This coming Saturday they'll bring back the Sontarans. Ok, not one of the better known villains but they recurred quite a few times. Warrior race. Big dome helmet. Only vulnerability is a pipe on the back of the neck. None of this ringing a bell?

Catherine Tate has been brought back as The Doctor's companion Donna this season. She made an appearance a season back in a Christmas Special.
Martha Jones has moved on. If you watched this past season of Torchwood you know that The Doctor put in a good word and got her a job at UNIT. Well, she's gonna be in at least next weeks episode and probably a couple of others.
And Rose Tyler, lost in a parallel Earth and cut off forever... or not. She made an appearance at the end of the first episode this season. Spoilers indicate that Donna, Martha, and Rose all meet up in one episode.

coming soon
This is the last season for Executive Producer Russell T Davies. He gets most of the credit for making the Doctor Who revival such a wild success.
There's been some foreshadowing that indicates that David Tennent, the tenth and current Doctor, is going to die this season. This jives with spoilers from Catherine Tate but conflicts with what Tennent and the BBC have said.
4 episodes are to air in 2009 with season 5 airing in 2010.

new viewers
I was showing off my new laptop to one of the neighbor kids and queued up this season's pilot episode. He was hooked. So last night we flopped in front of the computer and watched the first two episodes of season 1. I know he'll be waiting for me to get home tonight. Despite never having seen the show before he's asking all the questions that those episodes were meant to have viewers asking.
"What war?"
"Why is she sorry?"
"Why is he crying?"
"Why do the British have such short television seasons?"

I also took him outside and explained what the model for the TARDIS is based off of. But I'll explain that tomorrow.

After four seasons Gandolf has started to get down and dance to the Dr. Who theme. Then the show starts and she flies back to her cage. I think it's the parrot equivalent of hiding behind the couch.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Uwe Boll: The Petition

Uwe Boll is one of the worst movie makers ever. Apparently he's reenacting "The Producers" in reality. By making horrible, horrible movies that cause people to gouge out their eyes and burn movie theaters to cleanse the evil from the site he creates some sort of tax shelter for investors. But he does this by taking popular video games and adapting them for film.

He has:
3 BloodRayne movies (the third to be released in 2009)
2 Alone in the Dark movies (the second due in 2009)
A Far Cry movie due this year
A House of the Dead movie
A Dungeon Siege movie
Sabotage 1943(2009)
Zombie Massacre(2010)

And several cinematographic abortions that you've never heard of because they weren't based on games.

Uwe has the ability to take Oscar quality actors and a great premise and movies that will act as an anchor on the actors careers for the rest of their lives. But someone started a petition asking him to stop. Uwe has agreed that if it gets 1 million signatures he'll stop making movies. Of course, there's bound to be a catch. He may switch to TV or something.

I've heard about this petition in many places but I never saw a link to it until today. So I've signed it and am doing my part to help it propagate.

Follow the link

Monday, April 21, 2008

Software Review: Delicious Library

Ever since I heard about this software I wanted to try it. For most of you, I regret that this requires a Mac to run and you either need a camera or a barcode scanner.

Those of you who've read the archives clear to the beginning will recall when I ran into an old college friend on an airplane. We just happened to be on the same plane and just happened to be across the aisle from each other. She first told me about this software that allows you to hold up the barcode from a book up to the computer's camera and it'll read the barcode, look up the ISBN number, download all the information on it, and build a database for all your books.

This is a huge improvement on databases I and millions of other young computer nerds have developed over the years for this class or that. They all require you to type in all the information manually. And, quite frankly, data entry sucks.

So now onto functionality. As awesome as it sounds how well does it actually work?
About half the time it works fine. It requires a bit of practice but soon you can stick the book up to the camera, the computer goes "beep", a whirly icon shows up, and it gets information about the book from one of 6 online databases. I think they're Amazon related.
About 1/4 of the time the camera has trouble seeing the barcode. You have to stand there like an idiot moving the book to different distances and angles hoping that the software will take something.
About 1/5 of the time it reads the wrong number. The software relies on the ISBN being in the barcode. Sometimes, particularly in older books, the barcode is something else. Then the lookup fails and you have to punch in the number manually.
Roughly 1 out of 10 fails completely. Wave that barcode around all you like, the camera ain't gonna see it.
I have to assume that a handheld scanner would work better.

The data recovered includes author, publisher, release dates, genre, format, number of pages, retail price, current price, UPC, summary, similar books, cover art, how many stars out of 5 that Amazon readers give it, and a lot more.

You can sell it on Amazon with a click of a button. You can add borrowers and keep track of who has borrowed what. You can setup virtual shelves so you can record where the book should be in your house. It even puts a Widget on your Dashboard for easy lookup. But if you don't have a Mac that last bit was just gibberish.

If you have a Mac I suggest you go out to and download the demo. It'll let you setup a library of 25 books without buying it. This way you can see the functionality and features for yourself.

It also does games, movies, and music.

Friday, April 18, 2008

And now, young Skywalker, you will DIE

So we've managed to drive Pope Palpatine from DC. It's kinda hard to believe this is the same Ratzen-whatever that 3 years ago was selected by God, and a super-majority of Cardinals after numerous votes, to become Pope. I mean, Ratzinger was kind of a thug and a bully before. He was the unforgiving arm of the Vatican before becoming Pope. The last remnant of the Spanish Inquisition. It was his job to be strict and stern and come down hard on disbelievers. I guess this was so the Pope didn't have to seem like just a bastard.

But since becoming Pope Ratzie has been a different person. He's admitted that many parts of the Bible aren't actually true, but allegory. He's given Catholics permission to believe in Evolution so long as they believe it was driven by God. But he still says that humanity was not the "accidental product, without meaning, of
evolution". Yesterday he personally apologized to many of the people who were sexual abused by priests. Not that he's actually done anything about it before now.

Of course, in 1950 Pope Pius also says the evidence for evolution shows it's worth considering. And Pope JP said in 1987 that the "evidence for evolution was heavy enough to eliminate any reasonable doubt". Still, they take the attitude that at some point God pointed at a group of primates andsaid "OY! You! 'Ave a soul."

On the down side:
Famous British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking says pope told him not to study beginning of universe.
After the Vatican Astronomers released a statement saying that "Intelligent Design" isn't science and claimed "It's not like [the pope] has a magic power, that God whispers the truth in his ear" they were booted from the Vatican and relocated to a disused convent.

And while I may not be his biggest fan I will defend him from people who claim he was a Nazi I must point out that he was a member of the Hitler Youth. He was 17 when the war ended. And while not all German kids were in the Hitler Youth like some claim, it was a good way to stay out of trouble. Three generations ago he was the German equivalent of a Boy Scout. While he was the head of the Inquisition that might be a much bigger concern.

But I'm still gonna look down on him for his views regarding the roles of women, the status of gays, and the use of birth control

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Movie Review: 88 Minutes

Al Pachino is a psychiatrist whose testimony helped put a man on death row nine years ago. As the execution date comes up someone with the exact same MO starts a similar string of murders based around Pachino's students, friends, etc. Then Pachino gets a call that tells him he has 88 minutes to live. He has to solve the murders before he gets killed himself. As events unfold the evidence for the murders indicates Pachino himself may be responsible.

It's standard fare for this kind of movie. The accused has everyone convinced he may be innocent but drops hints to the star to let him know he's not. They do an unusually good job of casting suspicions on anyone and everyone so you don't really know who dunnit until near the very end.

Half the reason for seeing the movie is just to see former Bene Gesserit turned redheaded hottie, Alicia Witt.

I probably wouldn't have paid to see it just because I don't really watch the murder mystery shows. Fans of CSI and similar detective shows should enjoy it. This movie takes that sort of story line and adds a dose of suspense. Not a big one, but one that the average viewer will find palatable.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I'd been talking about getting a new portable machine for awhile. Lots of reasons really. My desk bound computer stopped talking to the TV after a Microsoft Update. Computer based DVD players are better than those in regular DVD players and PS2s. I wanted to be able to flop on the couch and develop my next website. I can no longer work on my novel off my PalmPilot and a desk doesn't aid creativity. What finally did it was my desire to see a Space Shuttle launch.

I went to the Apple store... yes, it's a Mac. I do graphics, page layout, audio and video editing. This is the best machine for the job. And if I want to use it play games I can partition the hard drive and install Windows on one. See, a Mac running Windows still runs faster and better than a PC running Windows. Get over it.

So I went to the Apple store and found all the sales people clustered up against a back wall. So I got in line. Nearing the front of the line someone asked me if I needed help. I explained that all the staff seemed to be hiding in the back room or pressed against this wall by the press of customers. She hauled someone out by his ear and forced him to help me. I told him what I wanted, what it cost, and pointed at it. He started talking about getting an AirPort (Apple for wireless hub), wireless printer (I don't print), wireless external drives (unnecessary), now just shuffle off and get me what I asked for. He returns with a disturbingly small box. He's telling me stuff I already know while read the back of the box. I hand it back and repeat my order. He goes in the back and returns with it. I swipe my credit card in his portable reader and try to leave. No, I don't need a bag. This box has a handle. I have what I want. Now go away and stop trying to sell me stuff.

The specs:
It's got a 17" widescreen monitor with 1920x1200 resolution. 200GB HD. 2GB RAM. 2.6 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo. OS 10.5.2. There's a camera above the monitor so I can video conference with others with the capability.

So one of the new computers that are supposed to show any day also has a camera. Instead of hiking to my office she can just bring me up on her screen. We should even be able to share screens so I can see what she's messing with. Actually, I should be able to share screens with all the new machines.

Probably the best new feature is Time Machine. It's basically backup software. I'm just bad about getting work stuff backed up on a regular basis.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mission is a go

They call it a "Bucket List" these days because of the movie by the same name. It's supposed to be a list you make of all the stuff you want to do before you die. My list includes

1) See a Space Shuttle launch
2) See a proper Aurora Borealis
3) Visit the Devil's Racetrack in Death Valley

I should have gone to see the Devil's Racetrack while a friend of mine was living in the American southwest. I didn't.

I tried to go see a Shuttle launch back in 2002. I even flew the previously mentioned friend to Florida so I wouldn't have to go alone. But you know NASA and their flight schedule. It ranks right up there with Santa Claus, the Weather Man, and the DC Bus Schedule in the realm of pure fiction. There were delays and we didn't see the shuttle go up.

But now... now I'm going back. There's a launch scheduled for May 31. I'm going down there and I'm going to stay until I see 4.5 million pounds of steel, explosives, and people fire off into the sky on trail of barely controlled flaming accelerant. This could take a few days or it could take a few weeks.

I bought a new laptop Friday. I'll tell you more about it tomorrow. This laptop is to travel to Florida with me loaded with work. I'll get a hotel with a good internet connection and telecommute from Orlando.

The big hurtle was getting the office to work with me. I was planning to go regardless of what they thought. But we do have a few books that I'm working on at the moment and more on the way. Bruise has proven he gets a little stupider each day and we're just trying to keep him from doing damage until he retires. My manager picked up layout pretty quick but she's really an editor and has paperwork eating her time. Some damn fool wants to modify his contract so he can telecommute for a few weeks. It's all me, baby.

The breakthrough came yesterday when we did enough rules lawyering with the contracting company to allow us to follow the letter of the contract if not the spirit.

Now to arrange a hotel and rental car.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A very DC day

Sunday was a very DC day.

Sunday morning I wake to a ringing sound. Is it the telephone or the parrot? I wait. The ringing repeats. I fly down stairs. I'm reminded that a friend's fiance is in town and needs some showing around.

I go to the nearest Metro stop. As I go down the escalator I hear someone following me. Apparently he thinks he's William Hung (bad singer from American Idle whose horrid caterwauling has reached such legendary proportions that even I know who he is). When we get to the platform I find that he is a she. I exchange glances with one of the few other people on the platform. We roll our eyes at each other and sit. The singer flops down next to us and starts talking at the other guy very loudly. She's clearly on some sort of drug. He tries to be polite but he can't keep a straight face as she offers to show him her new Brazilian wax job. I'm sure that my silent laughs behind her back weren't helping him keep his calm demeanor either. She gives him her phone number and insists he call her right then. She shows him her tits. We escape onto the train. During the trip she starts going from car to car looking for him. I don't mean she steps out onto the platform and switches cars. While moving she opens the doors at the end and walks between cars.

I hop out and go hit Starbucks for a bit of breakfast. Outside there's some people desperately trying to ignore a screaming street preacher. All decked out in a suit that some people think automatically makes one respectable. He sounds a lot like the demented preacher who used to live next door and liked to launch into screaming tirades against demonic fireflies at three in the morning.

And then the 70° weather of the day before was gone. The visitor and I hit the Hirshhorn and strolled around the Tidal Basin in the wind and the cold.

Stoners, subways, Starbucks, street preachers, and showing around visitors. It was a very DC day.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Dark side of the moon

I've had to explain this to a lot of people lately and so I'm going to explain it to you, too.

There is no dark side of the moon.

Look, the implication of that phrase is that there's one side of the moon that never gets daylight. That's simply not true. The moon is tidal locked with Earth. That means that the rotation and the orbit are the same length so that one side always faces the body it's orbiting. It's orbiting the Earth, not the sun. The fact that the moon has phases means that at some point it all gets lit. Full moon means the side facing Earth is lit. New moon means the side facing the sun gets lit. There is no dark side of the moon.

Mercury was once thought to have a dark side. But closer observation reveals that it rotates 1.5 times for each orbit. This means that a Mercurial day is two Mercurial years long.

Earth's rotation is slowly slowing. Given enough time Earth will slow it's spin, but not it's orbit, until one side always faces the cold red lump that will be all that's left of the sun by then.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Movie Review: The Forbidden Kingdom

Selling point 1:
Starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li

Selling point 2:
Jackie Chan plays Drunken Immortal

Really, if these two points don't sell you then this isn't your kind of movie. With what I've already said you'll either go see it or you won't.

I don't watch a lot of Kung Fu movies. Then again, I guess "a lot" is relative. I watch a lot more than grandma. Not as many as the central character in this movie. I see the really good ones like "Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon" and the silly ones like "Shaolin Soccer". Everything I knew about this movie going in is what I said in those first two selling points. Having now seen it I have a third selling point.

Selling point 3:
It's a Kung Fu version of The Wizard of Oz.

I won't get it on DVD, but it was still a great movie.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Perfect woman

Apparently the thing for bloggers to do this week is write about the perfect woman (or man). [link] [link] [link] So here goes.

Long red hair,
former Playboy bunny,
worked as a masseuse to pay for her education as an electronics engineer,
loves to cook,
and is crazy about me.

I used to have a better list than that.

But that's the fantasy list. My real list is a bit different.
Height doesn't matter. There's something to be said for amazons but you can't scoop one of them up in your arms.
I'm all for a large chest, but the important thing is that her waist is narrower than her chest and her hips.
There's nothing wrong with being a bit overweight. It can make her cuddly. It's more where the fat is carried on her frame than how much she has. There is a point where there's just too much. Her circumference should not exceed her height.
I like long hair in color extremes. Very blond, very dark, very red, very purple, etc.

I want a geek.
She should have been in the gifted program in school.

T-shirt and blue jeans.
Steak and potatoes.
Hates sports. I really miss the days when women hated football and baseball. I don't want to watch that crap and would rather she doesn't either.
She should read. Anything is good, but sci-fi, fantasy, and science texts are better.
Doesn't find getting drunk to be an entertainment in and of itself.
Likes to snuggle. And by snuggle I mean snuggle. We should be able to sleep a curled up together.
Has the attention span to play a long game of Risk or Monopoly even if she hates those specific games.
Would rather find a new use for something than just throw it out.
Notices that my ears lifting a bit IS a smile.
Knows more than me in some worthwhile area. Reality shows and what famous person is dating who are not a worthwhile areas.
We can feed off of each other's jokes.
Can get me to open up without months of dating.
Understands that just because I'm not trying to maneuver her into bed doesn't mean I don't like her.
Doesn't want to raise kids.
And she should be able to give and appreciate a good back rub.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The fishing expedition

This was written some time ago.


Three young boys sit along a wooden sidewalk, their legs hanging in space, fishing poles in hand. They face out towards the open ocean, the sun hanging over the horizon. They sit quietly.

BOBBY: So that's it, huh? It's over?
RALPH: You know which of your parents you're gonna live with?
TOMMY: Not really. Penny Smithers says it doesn't matter. The judge'll axe me but he's only being polite. They'll put me with whoever they feel like.
BOBBY: Penny Smithers is a jerk. She's just tryin' tuh scare you. She don't know anything about it anyway.
TOMMY: Yeah.
RALPH: What if you have to move away?
BOBBY: Why would he do somethin' like that?
RALPH: Both his mom and dad can't both live in the same house. Someone's gonna have to move. Lil' Henry Jenkins? His mom moved to Chicago and took him with him.
BOBBY: Then why's he still hangin' around here?
RALPH: Dunno. 's just what I herd.
TOMMY: Don' wanna move. All my stuff is here.
RALPH: Dummy, yuh git to take your stuff ...
(Tommy's pole twitches for a moment and starts to jerk violently)
TOMMY: I GOT ONE! I got one!
(The boys jump to their feet. Tommy waves the pole up and down while reeling in the string.)
BOBBY: Look at the size of that it's huge!
RALPH: WOW! Look at it thrash! I've never seen one fight like that!
TOMMY: Get the net! Someone get the net!
BOBBY: I got it! Bring it up!
RALPH: Don't lose it! Don't lose it!
(Bobby reaches down with the net and brings up a huge, wet, brown, rat.)
RALPH: Quick! Get it in the box! Oh, man, they're never going to believe this at school.
TOMMY(awed): I've never seen one this big before!
(Bobby drops the net on the ground and smacks it with a frying pan. He dumps the unconscious rat in a box.)
ALL(awed): Wow.
TOMMY: Where'd you put that bologna? I want catch another.
(the boys procede to hook another slice of bologna on Tommy's fishing pole.)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Book sale

The Friends of the Arlington Library book sale is coming. It starts Tuesday and runs through the weekend. It's located in the first level of the parking deck under the central library (1015 North Quincy Street). You have to be a member to get in but you can become a member at the entrance for $15. Or, at least that's what I paid last year.

That may seem like a lot of money to get into a used book store. But the selection is pretty impressive even if you don't get in on the first day. Last year I walked out with $101 in books at an average cost of ~$1.75 each. My Krode came away with several times that and needed several trips to get all the books to his car. His daughter had a good selection of her own and made a good sherpa for hauling his books. (That's a joke Mrs. Krode)

Friday, April 04, 2008

Book Review: The World Without Us

There's a couple of subjects that I stop and ponder from time to time.
1) What would happen if every human just vanished one day.
2) What did this place look like before people came.
3) How would you introduce Abe Lincoln to the world if he showed up one day.
4) Whatever happened to women hating sports? I liked those women better than the football fans.

One day I got a link to this site.
Move your mouse over the squares to find out how the artifacts of civilization would break down in those time spans.

Later I got a link to this video.

These both address the first question. I was pretty much sold on the book right there.

"The World Without Us" poses the question of what would happen if everyone vanished one day. Maybe aliens kidnap us all, maybe there's a 100% fatal plague, who knows. The point is we're gone.

Most of the book covers how things were before people and then addresses how well we'd return to that.

Chapter 1 talks about a forest in eastern Europe that was protected by one dictator or tyrant for centuries and how the introduction of democracy means that this forest primeval is now getting raided for corporate interests.

Chapter 2 talks about your house, it's vulnerabilities, and how it will crumble over 200 years with nobody to tend to it.

Chapter 3 talks about New York City and how it'll fall apart

Chapter 4 talks about ice ages.

Chapter 5 talks about Thomas Jefferson's fascination with fossils and how he sent Lewis and Clark to look for Mammoths. It goes on to talk about all the mega-fauna that once inhabited North America until they were killed off by the Native Americans. Turns out they didn't live in tune with nature as much as grade school taught us.

Chapter 6 tries to explain why the African mega-fauna lived while it was wiped out everywhere else humans expanded.

Chapter 7 talks about a part of Cyprus where a peace deal keeps people from going and how the hotels and homes there fell apart.

Chapter 8 goes on about artifacts of older times that survived until now.

Chapter 9: It's all plastics these days... and will be until the end of time.

Chapter 10 talks about all the oil refineries in Texas and the big kablooie they're gonna make. It also talks about the different ways that oil is refined into different products.

Chapter 11 talk about what'll happen to the farmland. It pays attention to some research done long ago into what helps and what hinders crops. That researcher also set aside land just to see what happens when fields treated different ways are left alone. That experiment has been running since 1882.

Chapter 12 talks about great wonders. Pyramids, the Great Wall, and the Panama Canal.

Chapter 13 talks about the developments inside the Korean DMZ.

Chapter 14 talks about how birds respond to our presence and our technology.

Chapter 15 talks about our radioactive "nature preserves".

Chapter 16 talks about our impact on geography.

Chapter 17 talks about how we preserve our bodies.

Chapter 18 talks about what we've sent into space.

Chapter 19 talks about life in the ocean, our impact on it, and how it might recover.

The Coda talks about population control.

The fun chapters are 2, 3, and 10. The book is worth it just for those chapters. But the rest of the book is interesting and readable, too.

This goes on my highly recommended list. I just wish I'd found it a few months earlier when the author was in town signing them.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Event Review: Electricity –Use it or Lose it?

On the first Tuesday of every month The Ballston Science and Technology Alliance hosts Café Scientifique. It's a talk about some scientific point of interest. This week they had Dr. Imre Gyuk from the Department of Energy talk about energy storage systems.

The talk started with a history of energy storage and generation systems. Starting with a pot to hold grain through today. There was an interesting battery of sorts found in Baghdad dating from between 200BC and 250AD. The best anyone can figure is that they used it for electro plating.

Things got more interesting when he started talking about huge batteries for storing energy.
In electronics you can use capacitors to smooth out irregularities.
For smoothing out quick rapid spikes in power consumption the cycles of the electrical system can be slowed from 60 cycles per second to something less. A cycle refers to how often the power reverses directions in an Alternating Current (AC) supply.
For larger spikes, like a clumsy squirrel on the power lines, you can get a UPC for your computer or a massive battery in the case of a whole building. This is used more in factories where that hiccup can cause the system to gum up and require several hours to clean and restart.
For whole towns there's hefty multi-megawatt batteries that are sometimes installed along side the older power relay stations. This is for when the town is growing faster than transmission capacity. You don't want to wait through 3 years of brownouts while another relay station gets built.
In huge cases, like Fairbanks, Alaska, the power is all sent several hundred miles from Anchorage. With all the towns and the distance between points A and B power in Fairbanks is pretty iffy. So they installed the world's biggest battery (40 MW I think) to keep things on more of an even keel.

What the speaker was proposing was that more of these sort of systems get built. As demand in the mornings and evenings is greater than the middle of the night these batteries could be charged at night, during the 25% lowest demand, and used during the day, during the 25% greatest demand. Individual factories could save money by storing the night power for use during the peak hours. But whole cities could also benefit. And, of course, this would solve the common complaint that solar power doesn't work at night and wind power doesn't work when it's still.

For $1 million dollars I can get a 1MW wind turbine at the farm. For $1 million more I can get a 1 MW battery so that it generates electricity at a constant rate all day long. Do you have $2 million I can borrow?

Then there's other storage systems. We can use extra power to pump water behind a dam and then use it to run turbines when the demand is greater. Or pump air into an underground reservoir and then let the pressure drive turbines.

The purpose for all this is to make renewable energy more useful as well as make our power grid more reliable. In the age of computers power flow can't take even little twinges.

Me? I want to build a 20 story dippy bird drinking from a lake. Just harness the power of the liquid running up and down the neck and put a generator on the pivot point.

If you want to get on the mailing list for future Cafe events I'd suggest e-mailing kbreen at arlingtonva dot us. I don't think that's how I did it, but it's the best idea I can find at the moment.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Movie Review: Run Fatboy Run

"Shawn of the Dead" was a really good movie. The British TV show "Spaced" was also pretty awesome. I'm really looking forward to the next Star Trek movie. In fact, I think I can say I'm a fan of Simon Pegg as writer and an actor. Enough so that I went to see "Hot Fuzz" and "Run, Fatboy, Run" based just on his involvement.

Much to my surprise, "Run, Fatboy, Run" is a romantic comedy. I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise. He did a zombie flick and a buddy cop movie. What's next in line? But the trailers I saw didn't include that part of the film. They focused on Simon Pegg trying to work out.

Several years ago Dennis left his pregnant fiance at the alter. He's still in her life as her kid's father. He'd like more but women have trouble forgetting that kind of thing. Now she's dating Hank Azaria. Rich, handsome, runs marathons for charity, all that good stuff. So Dennis decides to run the marathon, too, just to prove that he can change from the irresponsible bum he is. He's trained by his best buddy and his landlord.

The ending is the predictable one where he finishes the race despite an injury and wins the girl.

It's a funny movie. I liked it more than "Hot Fuzz" but not as much as "Shawn...". But there wasn't much in the way of laughing out loud and I won't be getting it on DVD.

Still, I'll be going to see him play young Scotty in "Star Trek 11". Pegg's enough of a geek that he must have flipped when he got that role.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Movie Review: 21

Back in 2002 I read an article in "Wired" about a long running card counting jag in Las Vegas. Apparently some MIT students had worked out a multi person card counting system that the casinos couldn't catch. I read the article and thought it would make a great movie.

That article is available at

Apparently somebody wrote a book that was a fictionalized account of this story. That book was made into the movie "21". For the movie they simplified the con run in the article. They added a Kevin Spacey character as the professor and ringleader. But some of the fake names were kept from the "Wired" article.

The movie focuses on a kid at MIT who has been accepted to Harvard Med but lacks the money to attend. He's recruited for the team and agrees to join, but only until he makes the $300,000 he needs. That and the fact that there's a girl on the team that he likes. From then on the movie is rather predictable, but no less entertaining for that.

Naturally, the thrill and the money change things a bit. Parties, nice clothes, limos, etc. Eventually our main character screws up and loses a lot of money. There's a falling out. He gets busted by security. Things fall apart. Things come back together. There's an obvious and predictable twist. Another twist. And things work out for our hero in the end.

My attitude toward this movie is kind of like my attitude toward "Hitman". I wanted this to be a good movie and it is. But my desire for it to be a good movie isn't enough to make it good enough to get on DVD.

Read the article I posted above. That's the best sales pitch for the movie. If that doesn't make you say "that'd be a good movie" then don't see it.

Correction: The Wired article was also based on the book. It was embellished for the movie.