Thursday, July 24, 2008


I'm off to a friend's wedding and I'm taking this as my summer vacation. I may post a time or two while I'm gone, but don't count on it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The hammock

I've mentioned before that I'm trying not to use the air conditioning. It's been easier this summer than in the past. It's been raining a lot so it hasn't gotten up in the 90°s until just this last week.

Now that the deck is finished I got a frame for my hammock and have been trying to sleep outside.

It worked OK for one night. I set out a citronella candle half an hour before I went out. It was warm and clear. The star was out. I'd run out an extension cord and had my radio alarm set quiet enough not to bother the neighbors the next morning. Of course, when the morning traffic started there was no need for an alarm.

The next night I realized that a hammock is for sleeping on your back. Kind of obvious in retrospect but it's just not something you think about. And, well, I've got these allergies that mean sleeping on my back is a problem some times.

On the third night there was no air moving. Not a breath. After a few hours I went back in. I was better off in a bed with the ceiling fan on high.

On the fourth night it was raining. And my ankles itch from all the mosquito bites from the last few nights.

I've got new mosquito killing doodads coming in a few days. And it's not as bad as if I were sleeping on the ground floor.

So it's working after a fashion. The worst part is the mosquitoes. But that's what I expected.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Review: The Scar

The author China MieVille came to DC some time back. I'd never heard of him, but My Krodie had and convinced me to go along. China was pitching his new book "Un Lon Dun".
China MiƩville speaking at Politics and Prose.
My Krodie photographer.

While there My Krodie convinced me to pick up "The Scar". It went on the pile of books that I plan to read. I picked it up a few times and got through the first chapter or two. Then I'd put it down and read something else.

This is not an easy book to read. It's not quite as much of a struggle as Lord of the Rings or Frank Herbert's later Dune novels. This just takes some determination. That said, it is a good book.

This is like the two series I mentioned before in that the author has created a whole new world. There are human but there are also modified humans. The general level of technology is a couple hundred years behind us in many ways. But they have learned how to graft parts from other animals onto humans. You can have tentacles and gills grafted on. Machinery can be implanted but they're steam powered so you must keep your boilers stoked. There are walking talking cactus people and an island of giant mosquito people. Vampires walk the lands, but where they are not feared they live in fear. Some human looking people have blood that clots easily and use this to create armor by making strategic cuts and letting it harden on them.

The bulk of the action takes place in a unique kind of city. It's made up of ships that have been captured and pirated over many centuries. They're tied together with a series of bridges. A fleet of trading and piracy ships go out for supplies, people, and more ships. The rest of the world is unaware this city exists. It moves about by way of an armada of tugboats. Much of the story is about the leaders trying to find a way to make the city move much faster. But what that turns out to be is one of the points that is best unraveled as you read it.

Where they want to go that needs this extra power and speed is another secret that must be uncovered. But it takes up another great chunk of book.

The best thing to do with this book is adapt it into a TV show. A movie would lose way too much. It needs to be half a season (12 episodes) long to do it justice. An American budget but with British writers. Sci-Fi Channel and Sky One, just like with "Battlestar Galactica".

If you liked LotR or Dune you should take a look at this. Just get through page 50 or so before giving up.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Movie Review: The Dark Knight

It's hard to know what to say about this movie. By now you've either decided to see it or decided not to. No, that's not quite true. There's some of you who don't like superhero movies but loved "Batman Begins". I guess this next bit is for you. The bit after that is for the rest of you.

"Batman Begins" was liked because it made Batman more real. It did things that the comics have been doing for years but movies and TV shows left out. You got to see how he became Batman. And not just the story of how his parents were killed. That's old hat. It covered some of his training and where he got all the neat toys from. It dealt with villains that aren't normally touched on. And it ended by telling how the introduction of costumed vigilantes to the war on crime led directly to the introduction of costumed villains.

"The Dark Knight" deals with more fallout from the existence of Batman. He wanted to inspire people to be better. But he also inspired average people to dress up like a bat and fight crime. It had a bit with Scarecrow to show that those villains don't just go away. Small fries like him just become part of the background noise of villainy that permeates Gotham City.
One of the great things about The Joker in the comics is that he's every bit of a mystery as Batman tries to be. He's the Anti-bat. Equal and opposite. He's not the guy who killed Bruce's parents. He's just a psycho. In the comics he was once a villain known as the Red Hood. In the movie he wasn't even that. We don't know his real name. We don't know how he got to this point. When he tells about his past he's making it up just to mess with you. He has no ID, no fingerprints on record, he doesn't even buy his clothes in the store so you can't track down a background that way. He's not interested in money or in power. He just wants to bring chaos to everything. He wants to make people break their own internal rules.
And the part of the movie that the trailers leave out is Two Face. Tommy Lee Jones was probably the worst possible version of Two Face there could be. The first movie was the origin story for Batman. This movie is the origin story for Two Face. It was fire instead of acid, but the movie gets that it was mob boss Moroni that caused it. And most if all it shows who Harvey Dent was before he fell. It show him for the hero that could save Gotham and free it from the need for Batman.

Now for the rest of you. You already know if you're gonna see it or not. So let me tell you instead about what happened to poor Heath Ledger.
Upon taking the role Heath had a chat with Jack Nicholson. Jack played the Joker opposite Michael Keaton's Batman. To do the Joker right you have to make yourself a little crazy. It's not all that hard to do. What Jack told Heath was that the hard part is coming back afterwards.
What Heath did was lock himself in a hotel room all alone for a month. There he was free from all the little rules and niceties that go along with having to be in public. You can play up all the little oddities and quirks without fear of humiliation or peer pressure to be normal. You can get down right deranged.
But it can also shatter your internal clock. We force ourselves to keep a 24 hour internal clock. Left to itself I think mine runs 26 hours or so. When filming was over Heath had a terrible case of insomnia. He just couldn't make himself go to sleep. So he started taking sleeping pills. In the end he overdosed on those pills and died.
The question is whether the overdose was accidental because he wasn't sleeping with proper dosage or whether the madness was just too well ingrained and he did it on purpose.

It's a great movie. If you're a fan of the comic you'll like this. What I can't say for sure is if the people who liked "Batman Begins" but not "Spiderman" will like it.

I will be getting it on DVD.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Moisture Vaporator update

A couple of weeks back I posted my notes about various moisture vaporators. I've exchanged a few more e-mails with the President of Planets Purest Water™ that makes the C-21 Rain Cloud. I wanted to know what impact their device would have on the humidity in my house. Here's what he said.

Dear Douglas,

I just returned from Mexico so I apologize for the delay in my response.
However while in Mexico (very humid) we discussed the topic you have brought
up. Dehumidifiers are typically power guzzlers, high decibel levels and the
water extracted is unsafe to consume because of uncoated aluminum and/or
leaching alloys and unsanitary holding tanks.

Our C-21 will lower humidity levels and the amount of humidity reduction
will vary from region to region. Typically you will see a 4 to about a 10%
reduction in home humidity.

Keep in mind no matter how much the units may retail for there is always the
break even point and then a profit point over using bottled water or RO
systems as the units produce their own water. The ability of the unit to act
as an Air purifier and hot & Cold water dispensing are also a positive
points. The biggest advantage is from a health standpoint as this water has
incredible hydration abilities and also a natural 31 PPM oxygen count.

I hope this answers your questions and obviously having a unit in person
will show you what engineering marvels these units are.

Best regards,

Robin Larson, President & Founder
Planets Purest Water™

reprinted with permission

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Someone needs to buy me this.

Douglas Adams' typewriter.

For a bit over US$25,000 you can buy me a first edition copy of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" with the typewriter that Douglas Adams used to write it. It also comes with the box that Adams shipped it in when he donated it to a charity auction. It's the box that was used to send him copies of "Starship Titanic".

The Dougintology Museum of Antiquities promises to seal it in an alarmed glass display case in the main showroom (my living room).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Movie Review: War Inc.

John and Joan Cusack are back playing the roles that you're used to seeing them in.

John plays a reluctant assassin. But this isn't a sequel to that other movie where he played a reluctant assassin. He kills a few people at the beginning of the movie just to establish that's who he is.

He's been sent to take out the president of one of those Middle Eastern nations that we do so love to control. He's building a pipeline or something like that and we disapprove. John is posing as the organizer for some big American weapons and rebuilding expo. In the meantime he falls for some progressive reporter and has to deal with a wild and whorish pop star.

The movie is a political satire. If you liked "Idiocracy" then you'll probably like this. If you liked "Thank You for Smoking" you'll like this. If you think "Scary Movie" is cutting satire then you won't get this at all.

I'm glad I saw it. Haven't yet decided if I want the DVD.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Movie Review: Mongol

The movie "Mongol" is about Genghis Kahn's rise to power. It stops when he defeats his friend and rival and clears the way to becoming the Kahn of all of Mongolia. This is about where most history books pick up since that's about where what he did started it impact the rest of the world. It also means that the movie misses all the really big battle scenes.

Temudjin was the son of a not terribly powerful Kahn. His father died when he was 10 or so. Poisoned by his enemies. With the Kahn dead they came and took all of the tribes sheep and horses. They stopped short of killing Temudjin although they wanted to. Tradition says you don't kill children.

Temudjin spends most of the next 10-15 years on the run, in chains, and either rescuing or being rescued by his wife. A friend who becomes Kahn of another tribe and helps him in a rescue slowly turns against him as they both vie for the role of great Kahn.

It's not a movie for the general public. Kind of a laid back "Conan the Barbarian" but not really. If you're into this kind of thing you'll like it. It's in Mongolian and is subtitled.

It was nice to see but I won't get the DVD.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Movie review: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

For some movies I have a lot to say. For some movies I don't. My muse is not coming this time.

If you like Hellboy 1 then you'll like this one. If you didn't, you won't.

It was directed by the same guy who did "Pan's Labyrinth" and the character design shows it.

You can enjoy this movie if you haven't seen the first. There's a quick blurb at the beginning explaining that Hellboy was found and adopted by the US Army back in WWII. Then you're pretty much up to speed. There's a flashback to Hellboy's youth where he learns about The Golden Army of mythology. Then they get into the movie. They explain why a few characters don't return while taking a stroll through complete paranormal chaos. Hellboy has been making himself too public for someone in a top secret organization. They bring in someone to keep tabs on him. Of course, they immediately don't get along.

So there's the typical storyline about saving the world from supernatural beings. There's the parallel story lines about Hellboy's love life and Abe Sapien's love life. Liz and Abe try to take similar paths to protect their loves with radically different results.

But there's these threats that seem to go nowhere.
Hellboy's press coverage makes him a big name but the next time he appears he's insulted, yelled at, and pelted with stuff after saving the city. It could have taken an X-Men type theme about outcast heroes but after Liz has a chat with him about how others shouldn't matter as long as she likes him the thread just drops.
The villain tries to tell Hellboy that he's more like the elves and goblins and whatnot than he is like the humans. Hellboy ponders this but never addresses it again.
At the end everyone quits for some reason that wasn't well setup.

There's a good deal of setup for the third movie.

I'm reluctant to buy it on DVD. I liked it but I'm not sure I'd watch it again and again. I think I'll probably delay until I see how the third movie is.

I think I've gotten a bit spoiled by all the good super hero movies. Compared to either Fantastic Four movie or Spiderman 3 this movie is brilliant.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fan art

I got some more of my fan art used.

Making a daily cartoon can be a grind. I used to try coming up with a couple per week in high school and doodle them in the margins of my papers. But if I ran dry nobody really cared. Once you start posting online and have readers you have even more pressure. This cartoonist tries for 5 days a week and suffers periodic dry spells. The first time he said he was taking a break I suggested he put out a call for fan art.

He liked my joke enough that he unintentionally recycled it a couple of weeks ago.

Seeing how my art looked the first time I went through his archives and pulled some of his own art to piece together in Photoshop with my own text. Extra bits, like the ring, I drew in Illustrator.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Early geek discovers woman

The ape man stopped just beyond the clearing. Peering through the underbrush he tried to figure out just what this strange new figure was. Was it dangerous, was it ticklish, was it hostile, was it intelligent, would it hurt him, could he cuddle with it, if he quoted Monty Python at it would it laugh or just give him a strange look. The only thing he knew about it was that it wasn't there yesterday. Gathering up his courage he shuffled out of his protective cover in the trees. Taking a deep breath he addressed the monolith.

"TARZAN, JANE, ME, YOU!" he babbled.

Turning a bright crimson hue he wondered if there was an all night dignity store in this neighborhood.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Folk Life Festival

I almost missed the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival this year. They didn't advertise worth anything.

On the last day I loaded Gandolf onto my shoulder and we hiked down to the National Mall. The first thing I saw was the Texas display. Now, typically you go to these things and they have various craftsmen building boats, working a forge, demonstrating masonry techniques, etc. Texas has just two things to offer the world. They make good BBQ and they gots Opry and Country music. Granted, that's my perspective of Texas as well. They have only two things to offer the world and their music is pretty awful.

So I blew past that to the Bhutan exhibit. This focused on Buddhist monks and their crafts. They have great clay workers. There were some that took tiny clay disks and arranged them in interesting patterns. They got the disks to blend together in peculiar ways. They are Play-doh masters. There was also a piece of sand art up on a table. It was intricate enough that a fly that had landed on it the day before had left visible footprints.
I had to explain several times that the African Grey is not from Bhutan, isn't part of the exhibit, but is just my pet that I'm taking for a walk and am letting people pet.

Then came NASA. NASA made up the overwhelming majority of the show. It's their 50th anniversary this year and they're trying to publicize their new rocket program.
As I've said before, the Shuttles are retiring next year. The final schedule for the remainder of the program is now up. I just don't have the link at the moment. Originally there was supposed to be a variety of shuttles. Different ones for people, cargo, low orbits, high orbits, leaving orbit, etc. Instead they just got stuck with one all purpose SUV shuttle.
They're finally getting around to using the multiple specialized vehicles. The Ares I is shorter, thinner, and is for moving people up and back. It's heavier than the Shuttle but uses less thrust for some reason. It should be able to use a launch pad similar to the Shuttle pad but with a taller gantry. Unmanned testing for these rockets begins next spring. Manned missions are scheduled for 2015.
The Ares V (II-IV were skipped so Ares V would sound like the old Saturn V) is much bigger and heavier than the Ares I. It'll need a dramatically redesigned launch pad so it doesn't get blasted apart like the overloaded Shuttle did on the most recent launch. These rockets will be unmanned and used for hauling heavy stuff to orbit.

They had an EVA (space walk) outfit sitting in a chair with someone explaining the components. The NASA PR people got Gandolf to sit on the suit's shoulder while they took some pictures and video. I got a patch and they're gonna send me a copy of the picture. Gandolf was giving the helmet a very uneasy look.

I had to explain several times that the African Grey has nothing to do with NASA, isn't part of the exhibit, but is just my pet that I'm taking for a walk and am letting people pet.

Finally, I got to meet a man in an iBot wheelchair. You may know it better when it and the Segway were codenamed Fred and Ginger. Dean Kamen, the inventor, is a Fred Astaire fan. He made the iBot first and then adapted the tech for the Segway.
See, what the chair does is run on four wheels like normal, but then the platform with the wheels rotates up on two wheels to lift the passenger up to talk eye to eye with other people. The platform with the wheels can turn over and over to climb stairs. Kamen demonstrated by climbing the Eiffel Tower with it.

As soon as I get the picture from NASA I'll be sure to post it here.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Game review: Disaster Report

There's a reason you've never heard of this game. It's not that good. I picked it up out of the used games bin. Lots of old PS2 games in that bin these days.

You're a reporter heading to Stiver Island to start your new job. The island was constructed 10 years ago or so and is now a thriving city. But there was an earthquake shortly after you landed. You wake up in the ruins of the subway a day after the initial quake. The island is coming apart and sinking. Your job is to navigate the ruins, avoid stuff falling on you, figure out why the island is sinking, and get you and a few other people you meet to safety.

It's a different type of game than you're used to playing and deserves a look just for that. The challenge is in figuring out where you're supposed to go and what you're supposed to do.

The graphics are kinda lame by current standards. The characters move in a jerky manner. The dialog is poorly timed. The camera controls are often automated so you kinda have to know where stuff is gonna fall in order to avoid getting hit. This means running through a section several times to memorize the pattern.

You're permitted to make choices through the course of the game but very few make any difference how it plays out. There are a few different endings depending on your actions.

I think it was worth the five bucks or so that I paid for it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Movie Review: Hancock

One of the things that appeals about the Spiderman comics over so many others is that they're not just about a superhero fighting villains. It's also about Peter Parker and his personal trials and tribulations.

"The Incredibles" appealed for much the same reason. With super powered vigilante actions banned they just try to get by in the world and blend in.

"Hancock" has a similar appeal. A simple person with super powers. How he came by these powers he doesn't know. If he has a weakness he's not found it. But society rejects him and he, in turn, rejects society. He drinks a lot. He has no friends. He does a lot of damage while protecting his city. He lives in a trailer on a distant hilltop instead of living in his city. It's a surprise to find he has a home since he appears to be homeless.

This movie has a couple of heroes and a couple of messages.

The first hero is Hancock himself. The second is an idealistic public relations agent who thinks that Hancock can be reformed and made into a respectable public figure if someone just treated him with some respect. This is done by having Hancock show some respect for the law and going to prison. This also makes the city realize how much they really need him. Plus, Hancock changes his look and how he treats others. This last bit is made easier once people stop yelling at and insulting him.

A couple of controversial messages if you care to view the movie this way.
The movie treats love as a weakness. Most movies or TV shows will have the villain make this statement and the hero reject it. But in this story it's the literal truth.
The second ... well, it'll make me sound racist to say it. It's a message that has gotten Bill Cosby and Barack Obama in trouble with the black community. It's that if a black person would just alter his behavior he (i.e. stop acting anti-white or anti-society) can become a success. That's putting it bluntly. But the difference between a successful person and an unsuccessful one is more than simple education. How they act, how they present themselves, and the effort they put in makes all the difference. This is true regardless of race.
I'll stop there. You either understand what I'm saying or you don't want to. That's a debate for another post.

There's another point to think about after the movie. But it might give away too much to talk about it here. Check the comments.

Messages of the movie aside it's still a good movie. I don't mean a good superhero movie. I mean a good movie. The trailers play up the comedic aspect. It starts that way and then becomes more serious with moments of levity.

I will be getting this movie on DVD.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Particle accelerator

You may have heard that it's about time to fire up the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). If you haven't I should explain that the LHC is the world's largest particle accelerator. It's purpose is to zing subatomic particles around in a huge underground circle until they reach nearly the speed of light and then smash them together. This causes them to break down into smaller particles that haven't existed outside of a laboratory since a few seconds after the Big Bang.

There's been some controversy about this. Some people with very litte idea what they're talking about have claimed that this machine could generate black hole matter and consume the Earth.

Let me explain to you what a Black Hole is.

You start with a star. A really BIG star. See that one outside your window? The one that blocks out all other stars? You might call it The Sun. It's huge. It would take more than 100 Earths strung together like pearls to reach from one side to the other. It's not nearly big enough. It's only a medium sized star.

So, once you have a truly massive star you have to sit around and wait for it to die. For a star that big it shouldn't take long. The big ones burn out and die faster than the smaller ones. A few hundred million years should do the trick. First it'll get bigger and then it'll collapse. Then it'll collapse some more. Then it'll keep collapsing until the individual atoms that make up this dying star get crushed under the weight. The whole thing gets pressed down to the size of a couple of pixels.

Anything with enough mass to crush itself that small is also massive [def. massive: containing lots of mass] enough to pull in light. Light and most anything else that gets too close. Earth would be just a tasty treat. That's a black hole. If it doesn't have enough pull to keep light from escaping then it's not a black hole and will fall apart.

To put it another way, if you took the entire Solar System and put it all together it wouldn't be enough mass to form a black hole.

So, back in the lab, by some highly improbable fluke the two particles slam into each other but don't break into pieces but form a super dense particle like might be expected in a black hole. It would evaporate immediately. On the off chance that it doesn't evaporate immediately - which is so unlikely as to be definite proof of the existance of God - it would be a black hole with the overwhelming gravitational pull of two whole electrons.

So just don't worry about it. The only thing to concern yourself with is the best way to mock the people who are worried about it should you meet them on the street.

see also:

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

God's Toolbox

It's been a long time since I've mentioned one of The Ten Bumperstickers used by The Church of Dougintology. I'm only really doing it today because my planned post had some technical issues.

The Sixth Bumpersticker says "Science: God's Toolbox".

Remember this old Far Side cartoon?

Like that cow, God has a toolbox. And like that cow, we can't figure out what those tools are or how to use them. We can figure that God used what's in the toolbox to create the universe. As scientists study the universe we slowly figure out how the tools work and hopefully come closer to understanding the God that uses them. Some tools we understand. Some we don't.

The toolbox includes such useful and necessary items like Gravity, Magnetism, Strong and Weak Nuclear Forces, Entropy, Momentum, the Laws of Thermodynamics, Fission, and Fusion just to name a few.

There are things in there we still don't have a clue about. Some would call those tools Miracles. It's just another word for "unknown". It covers a wide range of tools that are still under investigation.

We know that the world wasn't created 5,000-6,000 years ago. We know that it took billions of years and the use of the items in the toolbox to create the known universe.

There's still some question about whether there was someone operating the tools or whether they are natural forces that don't need manipulation. Which ever way you believe you should take an interest in the study of these forces instead of opposing these studies. They'll either bring you a greater understanding of your God or a greater understanding of your universe.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Moisture vaporators

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away there was a budding young Jedi living on a desert planet with his aunt and uncle. They were moisture farmers. They put moisture vaporators out in the desert every quarter mile or so. The moisture vaporators collected what little water there was out of the air and processed it for human consumption. The Skywalker family would then sell the water in town.

No, really, that's what the Skywalkers did for a living.

Now you can get a moisture vaporator of your very own.

I always thought the idea was a neat one. I've wondered how to make one. You can see how window air conditioners tend to drool all over the place. So clearly condensation is one method. Then filter the water and run it under an ultraviolet light to kill any bacteria. I'd take note of different developments that made it more efficient. There's special fabrics that can collect and shed water without condensation.

Last summer I started looking more seriously. See, I'm trying to stop using the air conditioner. I've been successful for two summers and am working on a third. But the house gets uncomfortable. Not hot. Not really. In the low 80's. But the humidity kills ya. I could run a dehumidifier but I'm told that it uses just barely less power than the AC. I may as well be running the AC. I have to wonder what the power consumption of a moisture vaporator is.

Here's what I'm finding.

AirWater Corp has several models. Alas, they all seem to be focused on making water for large groups. They run from 5,000 liters for irrigation and 1,000 for villages down to 100 litres that makes water and ice and 120 liters for ... I guess offices. These work on the scale of the Star Wars models but I can't see using them in a family sized house.

Air 2 Water has residential models but my experiences trying to buy one from them last summer tells me that they're not terribly interested in dealing with us small fries. They were dismissive and rude.
The Dolphin/dragonfly T16 is about water cooler sized. It produces up to a liter per hour and stores up to 14 liters. It consumes 600-1000 watts.
The Dolphin 2/Dragonfly M18 is a countertop model. It produces half a liter per hour and consumes 523-635 watts. Maximum storage is 7 liters. If this isn't enough water it can also serve as a filter for your tap.
They also have a filter for the kitchen sink, but that's getting away from the point of my research.

Librex also has a water cooler and a countertop model. They have the Waterex and Crystello but I can't get much more info than that.

Xziex is similarly lacking in details. However, judging from the photos on their website, their Xziex Elite appears to be nearly identical to the previously mentioned Dolphin 2/Dragonfly M18.

My favorite so far is Planet's Purest Water's residential model, the Rain Cloud C-21. Their PDF gives hard data about how much water you can expect at different temperatures and humidities. It produces 8-48 liters per day depending on local conditions. It has a 25 liter main tank. It has a hot water tank that can be switched off if, like me, you don't need it and are trying to conserve power. The water making and chilling compressor uses 371W. It costs $1,700. The staff responds to e-mails quickly and courteously.