Friday, August 29, 2008

Dating anxiety

I hate asking women out.



I always get these knots inside like I'd expect before walking a not-terribly-tightrope from some ridiculous height without a net when I'd never walked a tightrope before. So when I do make myself do it you can be sure that it's for a woman that I think is pretty darn special.

So when I found out that a local blogger whose site I comment on frequently was single again I had to put myself out there. I'd flirted via her comments section a few times. She knew I was just waiting for her to break up with the wizard1 she was dating.

They broke up.

It sounds like they broke up a little while ago. She had recovery time and she started hitting the dating sites. I just found out a few days ago.

I started trying to write her an e-mail almost immediately. "Trying" being the operative word. My fingers froze. My arms seemed to be suffering a petit mal seizure. Just trembling enough that you couldn't see them but, being my arms, I knew about them. I finally started typing, but it was all text about my nerves instead of anything progressing the purpose of my writing. I wrote a few more comments on her site. I went back to the e-mail and froze again. Were those butterflies in my stomach or was it lunchtime? Both actually.

After about a week of virtual time (45 minutes according to the clock) I finally was able to hit send on something that didn't seem completely retarded. I could be wrong about that. She responded pretty fast. She said no. It seems she wants kids while I don't.

Predictable really. An act of pure optimism to have posed the question in the first place.

I'll probably pick up a six pack on the way home. I know, alcohol and a funk don't actually go well together. I'm just hoping that it'll kill that quivering along my arms, chest, and stomach. It's that or be prepared to cough up the money for a professional massage to work out the inevitable kinks in my back.

1I'll leave you to figure out what I mean by that.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Record player animation

The slowest setting on my record player is 33 1/3 RPM.
My friend's digital movie camera records at 30 FPS.

RPM means revolutions per minute.
FPS means frames per second.

One revolution is when the turn table rotates 360°.

360° * 33 1/3RPM = 12,000° per minute

12,000° per minute = 200° per second

200° / 30FPS = 6 2/3° per frame.

360° / 6 2/3° = 54

What all this means is that if I come up with 54 drawings placed at 6.6666° intervals around the edge of a turntable and set it playing at 33 1/3 RPM then video tape it at 30 FPS I should be able to turn those 54 drawings into an animation.

i.e. I should make this.

What you should see in this next video are three scenes taken while running the record player seen above.
In the first take you see it running in standard office lighting.
In the second take we figured that the shutter speed was too low so we brought over some more lamps and tried again.
In the third take we sped the player up to 45RPM just to see the difference.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Odd plant

This is not the best picture of this plant, but the one at the better angle was blurry.

I nicked this plant from the train station just before I left Orlando. It got jammed in a pot out front and I left it to see what it does.

First of all, it grows at a rather impressive rate.

The leaves grow at right angles in an alternating pattern. First along the X-axis and then along the Y-axis.

Along the leaves it grows tiny little buds. They break off easily and plant themselves in the ground. The initial plant was about 1/3 the size of what you see here and has nearly doubled again in size since this picture was taken. There are several smaller versions starting up in the pot as well.

If you know what kind of plant it is let me know.

I'll try to have something better tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back to that plyboo project

Once my deck was put up the area underneath it seemed much more appealing than when it was just a back yard. Each weekend I told myself I was going to take my plyboo planks out back and cut them up into squares.

I suppose a bit of back story is in order.
You long time readers will recall that I bought six 4ft by 8ft sheets of plyboo to cover the back wall of my house with. On a particularly warm (70°F) winter day I hauled three of these sheets into the front yard, put them up on bricks, and started cutting them into 16 inch strips. The jigsaw caused fibers to break off of the board and eventually the blade bent. The circular saw worked much better.

The first piece I cut wasn't perfect but it was an outside edge with a straight side. I started clamping that board to the sheet I was cutting and using it as a straight edge. But it had to be repositioned each time and there was some very minor fluctuation in the width of the boards I cut. Not bad though.

So Saturday I hauled all the 16" boards out back. I laid the extension ladder across from the fence on one side of the yard to the air conditioner on the other side. I used a bike lock to fix the ladder in place so it couldn't wiggle off. Scrap from the building of the deck was placed across the ladder so the material I was cutting would be elevated enough that the saw wouldn't hit the ladder. I put two boards together,
used the circular saw to offset one the distance from the blade to the edge of the guard, and clamped them together. This was my jig. Another board was placed on the ladder perpendicular to the jig. A perfect 16" board was placed on top of that new board parallel to the jig. When all pressed together I could run the saw along that last board and cut a perfect 16" swath every time. I just had to slide in or replace the board being cut between cuts.

Maybe I should draw you a diagram.

A 4'x8' sheet should yield 18 16" squares. But only if your blade is only a few atoms wide. Using a circular saw means that the end is about 1/8" too small. So I only got ten perfect pieces from each sheet and eight slightly smaller in one dimension. This is irritating, but I keep telling myself that there's enough odd nooks and crannies along the wall that those piece will get used as well.

So three of my six sheets are all cut up... except for the parts used in the jig and the boards that were 5'11 7/8" wide. I have a nice stack of plyboo squares in the kitchen.

Now I just need to do the same thing with the last 3 sheets. The whole sheets are trickier since I can't reach clear across them. I had to lay them on the ground and walk over them last time. I suppose it might work if I put it on the ladder, apply the jig, and then operate the saw left handed so I can stand off to the side while cutting. That seems really awkward. Still seems more doable than rigging up a series of ropes to suspend me over the sheet of lumber while I cut.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Game review: Pikmin 2

I finished playing "Pikmin 2" last night.

You're a pilot for a interstellar shipping company. In the first Pikmin game you crashed on a strange planet (Earth). On this planet there are creatures that you dub Pikmin. They seem to be part plant and part animal. They grow from seeds and continue to develop more the longer you leave them in the ground. When you pick them they follow you around and follow your instructions.

You gain more Pikmin by having Pikmin haule numbered pills or the bodies of vanquished foes back to their ships. The ships release seeds that grow into more Pikmin.

In the first game you have 30 days to recover the 30 parts of your ship that went missing when you crashed. After 30 days your life support fails and you die.

In the second game we find out that while you were missing a co-worker had his cargo eaten by giant space bunnies. The boss took out a loan to pay for the lost cargo and then had to sell your ship to pay off part of the debt. You and the idiot co-worker have to return to the planet of the Pikmin in his beaten up old ship to find treasure to pay off the debt. There is no time limit.

There are 3 basic types of Pikmin. Red ones can survive being set on fire. Blue ones can survive under water. Yellow ones can carry explosives in the first game and survive electricity in the second. Yellow ones also weigh less so you can throw them higher.
The second game introduces limited numbers of two more types. White ones can breathe poisoned gas. Purple ones have the strength and weight of 10 normal Pikmin.

The second game also has combat mode. You and someone else control different armies of Pikmin. You have to collect 4 yellow marbles or the marble located under your opponent's ship.

This game is acceptable for all ages.
It's designed to play on the Nintendo GameCube but also plays on the Nintendo Wii.
A third Pikmin game is in development and I probably will buy it.
The first two Pikmin games are hard to find since most people who buy them don't want to trade in their used copies.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dare to be stupid

MAC Address
(1) Apple Computer Inc
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
(2) Media Access Control address. A unique set of hexidecimal characters that identifies your computer. ex. 00:1d:4f:45:83:21

In case you don't know, I work on a military base. Yesterday one of our telecommuters, one that only comes in one day of the month, tried hooking up her laptop to the network. The port was down. We tried another and another. They were all down. We thought maybe that the IT department had been shutting down little used ports as they like to do from time to time. Over the course of the day we had 5 ethernet ports fail on us.

It turns out that there is a problem with people bringing in unauthorized computers and hooking them up to the network. Not sure why this is a problem. They can get on-line but they can't access any of the secured material.

What the IT people did was assign particular MAC addresses to particular ports. If your machine doesn't have that MAC address then the port stops working.

This just means that telecommuters can't hook up their laptops here unless we have a dedicated port just for that one machine. It means we can't hook up any of our old computers with legacy data unless we call up and feed the MAC address to the network engineers. It means that anytime someone moves to a new cubicle, a printer gets moved, I have to run diagnostics on someone's laptop, or just helping setup someone's new home computer I have to jump through a series of hoops to get everything running. I can't even run the cable to a different machine to see if a problem is being caused by the computer or by a bad port. I've already had to call in and get things reconfigured once.

They live to be a pain in my ass.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Book Review: The Watchmen

I've been seeing the book in the graphic novel section of the book stores for years. While others come and go this one title remains. Yellow with a smiley face with a blood splatter on the forehead and the subtitle "Who Watches the Watchmen?".

When I saw this trailer I knew it was time to finally read "The Watchmen".

The book takes place in the mid-1980s since that's when it was written. It reads a bit like "The Incredibles". In 1977, after widespread riots and police strikes, the US Government outlawed non-government sponsored vigilantes whether super powered or not. Most stood down. A couple work for the government. A couple still operate so as to keep off the police radar or in such a way as to elude the cops.

Dr. Manhattan was a mild mannered nuclear physicist that walked into the wrong room at the wrong time. The bonds between his molecules were destroyed. Over the next few weeks he reassembled himself and gained a god-like mastery of everything with molecules (i.e. everything). He works for the US government now. A walking blue atomic bomb that keeps the Soviets at bay.

Most costumed vigilantes have no actual powers. Nite Owl was a detective in a costume. When he was retired another detective figured out who he was and asked to take up the mantle. But this man had more money and thus more toys. Such as "Archie" the Owl Ship.
The book contains several chapters from the original Nite Owl's autobiography.

The Comedian is about as funny as The Joker. Mostly he's just violent. The Punisher without the restraints. He also works for the US government. He mostly gets dropped in war zones and left to destroy. He deserves much of the credit for winning the Vietnam War. Yeah, you read that right.

Rorschach is another detective. He was sane once but those days are long behind him. He continues to fight crime a decade after everyone else has quit. He's a detective first and a murderer as needed. He's what Batman fears he'd become if he was willing to kill.
His mask is an ever changing inkblot.

Ozymandias was often called the smartest man in the world. He's retired from crime fighting but has used his genius to build up a business empire and sells action figures based on his old persona. He still tries to use his fortune to protect the world.

Silk Spectre was one of the early costumed vigilantes. She worked closely with the original Nite Owl and was nearly raped by The Comedian. She retired and pushed her daughter to take up the role when she came of age. The second Silk Spectre is married to the big blue bomb.

The book tells about the history of all these people, members of the old super team known as The Watchmen. It also tells of a mystery. One old costumed hero was just thrown through a plate glass window and fell to his death. Another gets shot at. Another banishes himself to Mars. Only Rorschach thinks that someone is eliminating masks. Maybe the Soviets so they can't interfere in Afghanistan. Maybe an old enemy.

While reading the book it can often seem like a directionless, jumbled mess. Then you finish it and it all seems to have worked in retrospect. It's thick and takes awhile to read for a graphic novel.

Not sure if I'd read it more than twice. My copy is now circulating among my friends and coworkers. If you're into super heroes, particularly golden age heroes like The Shadow and The Spirit, then you'll like this.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

lousy day for posting

Sorry I don't have anything. I've got several half developed posts and a zillion things keeping me from writing today.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Solar beams

The best science fiction is the stuff that could be true some day. The really great stuff is when it involves things that could be done with enough political will. Communication satellites started that way. The internet was beyond what even the best minds predicted. Space elevators are almost within our grasp.

But what I want to talk about today are orbital power collectors. Massive walls of solar panels orbiting high above the Earth's surface and powering a microwave LASER that fires at a fixed spot on the surface. At that spot is a power station that converts that beam back into electricity.

Sounds very sci-fi doesn't it? An absurd dream. Well it's a dream that the Japanese are developing and America is starting to discuss seriously.

JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) intends to have a Space Solar Power System (SSPS) running by 2030. Huge solar collectors 36,000 km above the planet would power a microwave LASER at a receiving station that covers 3 square kilometers. Their first model would only generate 1 gigawatt. That's enough for 500,000 homes or a good start on a flux capacitor.
On February 20 JAXA tested a prototype microwave power transmission system in Hokkaido. The transmission antenna was 2.4 meters wide and fired the beam 50 meters.

In America the idea was first tossed out 40 years ago. Over the last 30 years a paltry $80 million has been spent studying the concept. I say paltry because we've spent $21 billion researching fusion reactors in the last 50 years.
A 5 gigawatt design was proposed in the 70's but was rejected as being economically unfeasible. The price of power generation and the number of people who need power has jumped since then.
It was seriously revisited in 1995-1997 by NASA. Technology development seemed to be heading in the right direction and they recommended a few areas to focus on. But at the time gas was still cheap.
But now conservative economic plans have pushed the price of oil from $15/barrel to $80/barrel. A 2007 evaluation put this idea on par with fusion energy and the International Space Station.

We're not gonna see this go online during the Obama administration. There are still technical challenges akin to those seen when Kennedy said "BAM! POW! To the moon!" (I paraphrase, of course). But with political will we can race the Japanese program.

The video is of NASA's 1974 attempt.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Book Review: Frek and the Elixir

I'm trying to get involved with the "Politics & Prose Science Fiction Group". I started reading "Darwin's Radio" so I could go to the July meeting but there was some confusion with the schedule. When I get around to finishing that book you'll know.

For August the group was reading "Frek and the Elixir". I was able to borrow the book from someone. Thank god because I wouldn't want it littering up my bookshelves.

The story had some promise. 1000 years from now the world is genetically engineered. Houses are grown from seeds. Food grows from plants in the kitchen. You can travel by winged pets that cling to your back. Everything is alive. But the gene pool is shallow. Dogs are typed by model year instead of breed. The government organism can listen in on you from almost anywhere. Breeding is done only with permission.

A message from space comes looking for Frek. Aliens have contaminated Earth with a disease that allows them to look through human eyes for entertainment. And once Frek hammers out a deal with one of the many producers in the galaxy they'll be able to take control of the people that they're watching through as well.

But first Frek must escape from the government who wants to intercept that message, get off Earth with the help of one of the producers, save those producers from the people who control the signal, escape from another set of producers, and eventually get humans freed from alien control. And if he can find his missing father in the process all the better.

But the author, despite the awards he's won, doesn't know how to write. He can't remember what age he's writing for, the characters are inconsistent, story threads are dropped or simply not followed, it's just a mess. There was one character that the people in the book group liked but that was it.

Don't bother with this book. Don't even bother giving it to your kids. It's just lame.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Razor review

I've had a hard time with electric razors in the past. They just don't work worth a damn. My face may look stubble free but if you touch it you'll soon know better. After a few weeks they start putting off ozone and die. My facial hair is stronger than your standard stubble.

So I switched to a Gillette Mach 3. It works pretty well. It lasts a good long time before it gets dull. It makes my face smooth for awhile. But I get a lot of ingrown hairs by doing that. Most hairs are left sharp enough to cut their way out from under my skin but some burrow around underneath until I get at them with a needle. Then I have wounds on my face and neck and it makes it look like I have more zits than I really do.

I recently got a Norelco T765 to trim my beard. I could have gotten one a lot cheaper with a lot more features and attachments, but I wanted something that would last. I only use it about once a week. It seems to do the job and it doesn't smell weird yet. But it's only been a month.

A few days ago I got a Wahl Super Close. My barber recommended it. I wanted something industrial strength that wouldn't burn out. The problem is that it hurts. I'm trying to give it time. Let my face adjust. Just like before it seems to clear my face but you can still feel the stubble. But it's not like anyone is feeling my face. If I get there I can switch back to the Mach 3.
The really odd part is that my neck feels smooth but in the mirror I can still see quite a few hairs. I'm still gonna have to shave my next with the Mach 3 and that's where I get most of the ingrown stuff.

Watch this space. As they burn out I'll keep you informed.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Robot planters

I completely forgot to tell you about Dad's new farm equipment.

My parents have a farm outside Wichita. Dad much prefers fixing the equipment to working the fields. I much prefer having Dad pay me to work the field to working at a fast food joint. But now both kids are out of the house and holding down jobs of their own. Even the kids of the people renting out Grammie's place have gotten old enough to be doing work and college instead of working the fields.

So Dad needs a way to be able to spend less time in the field than traditional farming methods would allow. And if that means he gets some new equipment to tinker with all the better.

Dad has switched to a no-till farming method. This means no more churning up the ground over and over with the plow, disk, chisel, and springtooth. Environmentalists like this because churning up the ground like that releases CO2 into the air. The advantage of doing that is that you can see where you've been.

Instead he has a new GPS system in the tractor. A Global Positioning Satellite receiver in a bloody tractor! I remember being thrilled when we got an FM radio installed. The GPS works with an accompanying computer to figure where the equipment behind the tractor is. This is necessary because since all you're doing is spraying pesticide, herbicide, or fertilizer you can't look at the field and know where you've been and where you've missed.

When I was there the sprayer was hooked up so I'm gonna talk about that. The computer keeps track of where you've been to within six inches. It knows how far behind the tractor the sprayer is and how fast you're going. So when you cross over somewhere you've already sprayed it waits a few seconds until the sprayer reaches that point and then shuts off the sprayer.

The computer knows how wide the sprayer is. It has a couple of different kinds of displays to show you where you need to drive to make sure you don't miss an area or spray an area twice. One gives you an aerial of you and your immediate surroundings. The other is just a row of lights that you're trying to keep the middle light lit. If you're too far one way or another the light moves left or right. And the computer can shut off sections of the sprayer if you overlap by too much. It's operated in three sections so you'd have to overlap by a lot. It'd be used best when trying to navigate around mud holes that the computer doesn't know about or when trying to finish up a small spot when you've almost finished the field.

Dad says he can also get a doohicky that gets integrated into the steering system and can do the fine driving for you. You still need someone to drive around the mud holes, dodge the fences and occasional tree, and turn the tractor around. But it'll handle the bit about making sure that you don't overlap or miss an area as you cruise up and down.

Considering some of the other automatic driving systems I've seen under development I'd like to think that in another 25 years Dad would be able to give the tractor orders in much the same way he told my brother and I where to work. I remember reading some science fiction stories that included massive fully automated farming machines off working huge fields unbroken by roads or fences. They'd till, fertilize, and plant all in one sweep. I picture something kind of like a Jawa Sandcrawler from Star Wars. We might just have those some day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Cinema Effect Part II: Realisms

Another exhibit I saw last weekend was the second part of "The Cinema Effect" at the Hirshhorn. I liked the first part, Dreams. The second part, Realisms, is very skipable.

This exhibit seemed to be trying to be based on the idea that if it's on TV it must be important. How wrong they were. The most interesting exhibits were the most surreal. Lets see how much I haven't blocked out in the last few days.

There was one room with city scenes projected on all 4 walls. They were supposed to be New York, but with careful observation you can see it's really a Hollywood set.

One woman hired 5 women that look like her to live her life and then interviewed them.

Two rooms have 6 screens lined up. They took tear jerking scenes and blacked out everything but the central character. One room for women and one for men. They the videos are played to form a sort of rhythm.

Video of the OJ Simpson trial is played but with the characters turned into construction paper cutouts.

Scenes from the movie "Dog Day Afternoon" are played mixed in with scenes from the events that the movie was based on. In the next room the guy who was the real head of the bank heist explains what really happened.

In one room an interviewer and interviewee are projected on opposite walls. They're from some Eastern European country and I gathered that one guy went on TV and was on a reality show or spoke out about something and it got him in trouble.

One room has 4 screens showing seemingly random scenes in a desert, an arctic setting, and a water setting. There are people walking through these scenes. Some of them almost approach being interesting.

You could sit and watch everything and it would take most of the day. I blew through in about 45 minutes.

Don't bother unless you've nothing better to do.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Jim Henson's Fantastic World

Jim Henson's Fantastic World is a touring display that will remain in DC until October 5. You can see the rest of their itinerary at
The exhibit starts with some old videos. There's a weak animation of a cat stalking a mouse set to music. That's mostly there to keep the crowd from building up around a video of Kermit the Lizard. Jim got his start making 5 minute shows, Sam and Friends, for a TV station in the Washington, DC area. Kermit was made from one of Jim's mom's old coats for this show.

WARNING: YouTube contains days worth of Muppet video. You can easily get lost in there. Proceed at your own risk. Last time I went in my parrot learned to say "Bork! Bork! Bork!"

Visual Thinking from Sam and Friends

A bunch of Wilkins Coffee commercials. This launched The Muppets commercial streak which helped them get the recognition they needed to get on the Steve Allen Show, later The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and then onto SNL and assorted variety shows.

One of the LaChoy Dragon commercials. Pulling this off is what led to Big Bird.

Rolf the Dog became the first nationally known Muppet on the Jimmy Dean show.

Muppets of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and Jerry Nelson performing one of my favorite sketches.

Jim Henson dabbled in experimental film for awhile, too. I haven't watched these yet but I will.
Time Piece -
The Cube -

There's a podcast you can download to listen to as you tour the exhibit. But you don't need to be in the museum to enjoy listening to it.
Podcast -

The exhibit shows these videos and more along with the conceptual drawings, storyboards, full size Muppets in cases, some of Henson's non-Muppet work, and a stage for kids to perform their own show in a manner similar to how real puppeteers do.

But I think the greatest thing was just seeing all those grown people bonding with their kids over something that spans so many generations. It's something my parents probably watched, I know I did, and my friends kids do, too. No matter what Disney may do to The Muppets they can't take away what Jim Henson did.

The exhibit is on display in the third sub-level of the Ripley Center. Right, I didn't know where that was either. Go to the Smithsonian Castle and head toward the Washington Monument. As you clear the castle look to the left and you'll see a small, round building. I rarely see anyone go in and out of there so I didn't think it was something for tourists. Go in there and down the stairs clear to the bottom. Then down the hall and to the right. It also opens to a couple of other lesser known museums.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Movie Review: Stargate: Continuum

I watched the new Stargate movie this weekend. There was some question about whether it would be any good. The show was recently canceled after 10 season and their attention given to "Stargate: Atlantis". They'd put out a decent DVD not too long ago to wrap up one of the major threads left dangling when the show ended. "Stargate: Continuum" does much the same thing.

All the System Lords have been wiped out except for Ba'al who had cloned himself a few hundred times to make sure he had a loyal army and to confuse our heroes. It also meant they could kill him as often as they liked and still have a villain. But now the last Ba'al has been captured and SG1 is attending a grand ceremony where the symbiont would be removed from his body. It turns out that there's still the original Ba'al running around. He's got a time machine that sends him back to the cargo hold of the ship that brought the Ring over from Egypt just before WWII. He sets a bomb and zips off to take power among the System Lords with all his knowledge of future events.

Meanwhile, back at the ceremony, people start disappearing in a puff of smoke as history gets rewritten. Only three manage to get through the Stargate to escape. Of course, since they went through at a key moment they don't get erased like everyone else. They arrive back on an alternative Earth that hasn't yet got a working Stargate. However, the people on this world don't want history fixed since that would mean they'd vanish. The team is split up and given new lives all over the country so they can't work together to try to fix the time line. That is, of course, until everything goes wrong.

If you watched "Stargate: SG1" when it was on TV then you'll like this movie. I'm not sure if it's worth paying full price for. Borrow it from someone or rent a copy.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Internet TV

In February my TV becomes defunct without an adapter. I need a Digital TV (DTV) Tuner.

I ordered a free coupon from

But I'm not so sure that I need one. When do I flip on the TV now? To play games, to watch DVDs, and on Sunday nights to watch Fox's cartoons (Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad). All the rest I watch online. These days I can even do most of that legally.

There's two players who have been doing this for quite some time. NASA and C-Span. They've been streaming video for almost as long as there have been video plug-ins for browsers.
C-Span -

ABC was the first real TV station to dabble with putting their shows online.

ABC's success led the others to follow.
SciFi -
Fox -
Comedy Central -

There are sources beyond the networks. Hulu is one of the better ones I've seen. They have many TV shows and much of what they show is incomplete. Only the first five episodes of seasons 1 and 6 of "24". The first two seasons of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". The first season of "ReGenesis" from Canada. Scattered episodes from "Barney Miller". Plus they have movies. Good stuff, awful stuff, new, old, and documentaries.
Hulu -

After asking around I was also pointed at:
Adult Swim -
Cartoon Network -

Unfortunately the CBC, BBC, and SkyOne all only show clips instead of whole episodes and even then the Brits want you to actually have a UK IP address to see stuff.

I didn't exactly work hard compiling this list. Just the stuff I already use, plus a few some friends use. Feel free to throw some others in the comments. Stay away from the Torrent sites. I'm trying to stick to the legal alternatives here.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Book Review: The Nitrogen Fix

Earth in the distant future is a strange place. It's not all robots and rocket ships. It's high in nitrogen and low in oxygen. Every macrobiotic life form you know is extinct except for humans. The humans have to go around in oxygen masks or live in specially designed buildings with loads of oxygen producing plants. The ice caps have melted. The surface is covered with volatile nitrogen based plants that burn or explode easily. Those plus some specially engineered life that can collect dissolved metals from the water and push those pellets up to where the shore once was.

And it's been this way for so long that nobody is completely sure what happened. Most people think that scientists were working on plants that created their own fertilizer and were successful beyond their wildest dreams. Some think that this isn't our native planet at all. Some people believe that the aliens that go around watching the humans must have changed the planet so they could live here.

There are many underground cities with strict population controls. When there are more children than the city can support they're sent off to separate schools and taught to live on the outside. Upon graduation they're cast out. Most die.

The book follows one family of traders: a man, woman, child, and alien. They have a small boat with an oxygen tent on it. They collect glass from flooded cities and the metal pellets and trade them with people who live in the cities.

During one delivery they discover that they're supplying a group of rebels who think that they can return the atmosphere to what they think it once was, one of pure oxygen. These people are dangerous and a little insane. When the father is kidnapped and the alien attacked the family has to save the family, stop the rebels, and figure out what really happened to Earth's atmosphere.

This isn't a great book but it's a good book. The primary draw is that it's significantly different from other science fiction books.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Book Review: Soon I Will Be Invincible

On the flight back to DC I read "Soon I Will Be Invincible" by Austin Grossman.

Chapter 1 -
Chapter 2 -

The story is told by two people. Odd numbered chapters are written by the super villain, Doctor Impossible. Even are by the cyborg hero, Fatale.

Doctor Impossible suffers from "Malign Hypercognition Disorder" ("evil genius" syndrome). He was a smart kid on an accelerated learning program. An outcast in school and college he had an experiment in Zeta Beam technology go wrong when lesser genius and popular guy, Jason something, stepped into the beam while saving Doctor Impossible's love interest. Jason became the nigh invulnerable CoreFire. The woman became a reporter and CoreFire's love interest. Doctor Impossible's grad student career continued until he rushed another experiment due to his funds about to dry up. When the explosion cleared he was stronger, had bulletproof skin, and was even smarter than before.

Fatale was in South America somewhere for some reason when there was an wreck. They rebuilt her. Faster, stronger, better. She was a super hero for a bit but the group that built her vanished and left her without tech support. She worked for the NSA for a period but they fired her. She was pretty much on her own until the start of this book.

When our story begins Doctor Impossible is serving his 10th prison sentence in a cell completely bare except for some painted spots on the floor.
Fatale has just been invited to The Champion's crisis room.

CoreFire is missing. They think Dr. Impossible is responsible even though he's imprisoned and watched around the clock. Of course in order to interrogate him they have to take him to the interrogation room which he can escape from.

Doctor Impossible starts in on his latest brilliant scheme to take over the world while The New Champions endeavor to stop him.

It's a fun and easy read that gets into the motivations and psyche of some characters. Mostly the villains. It's not unlike reading about Harry Potter's father's relationship with young Snape.

Not in my top 10 or probably even 25 favorite books but one I recommend for a bit of fun, light reading.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Kansas heat

You know I just got back from Kansas. After the wedding mentioned yesterday I stayed with my parents for a week.

DC gets hot. Hot and humid. But Kansas shames DC. Apparently Kansas uses a different sun.

I've acclimated to warmer than normal temperatures. The AC doesn't work in my office and hasn't for a couple of years. But I can still setup a fan to steal cool air from the hall. Nobody wants to come to my office because it's still 5°F-10°F warmer than elsewhere in the building. At home I've not run the AC in three summers (this being the third) and dealt with fans and careful timing of when I open and close windows and doors.

This summer DC has had more rain than usual. When it rains it cools things off and the next day usually only gets in the 80°Fs.

This summer Kansas has had more rain than usual. When it rains it cools things off and the next day it's wet and in the upper 90°Fs.

Look at an average day in both places and they read exactly the same. Roughly the same humidity and roughly the same temperature. But when you step into the sun you get two totally different experiences. Wichita is a bit further south than DC but not by a lot. Not enough to explain why the sun out there burns so much more. Is it because DC has so much more smog that blocks the worst of it?

My last full day on the family farm the cows got out. We got a call a little before 9:00 in the morning that the cows that are renting out our pasture were in a neighbors yard and were heading for Dad's sedan grass. Mom got me up and we (Mom, me, and Rosie the dog) got on the 4-wheeler and drove out. Yep. Sure enough. Cows. We found where the electric fence was low and drove back home to wait for Dad to get back. The cows weren't interested in leaving the sedan grass.

Dad got home shortly. He and Rosie took the 4-wheeler out, Mom and I took the pickup, and Rags (Dog #2) followed along. It's closer to 10:00 a.m. now and the sun is higher. It's insisting that you suffer a bit. The cows have gone back into the pasture and found a nice big tree to lie under. Mom went to find the power source for the electric fence to shut down while Dad went to find the cows. I hitched the electric fence back up where it was sitting low. Then I went to where Mom saw the fence was broken already. With the fence now off, I chased down the two broken ends and tried to pull them together. There was about 6 inches missing that we were able to make up by stealing from a couple of other places and pulling things tight. This wasn't hard work. But there was tromping through tall weeds and some light pulling involved. But mostly it was sunny. Sooooo sunny. I'm holding wire tight while Dad does other stuff. He asks for a hand with something and I have to say "Can't right now. I'm blind." from all the sweat running into my eyes that I couldn't wipe away because I was holding wires. And, of course, everything was muddy because it had been raining daily for the last week.

It was already in the 90°s when we started with humidity trying to match. As long as you were in the shade I could deal with it. But step into the sun and it's like a weight is dropped on you.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Rick rolled wedding

First I should explain what the term "Rick Roll" means. It's a bait-and-switch gag. It's a lame practical joke make funny only due to extreme repetition. You tell someone that you have something great for them to see but it turns out to be the 80's song "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley.

Great link (Here)

My favorite version is a re-edited version of a Muppets sketch.
In the original sketch Beaker was singing "Feelings".

Another person wrote the lyrics to look like sidewalk poetry.

A friend of mine got married on 26 July. Our digital clique decided to Rick Roll the wedding. We got the DJ to que up the song for the first dance. The DJ ratted us out but the groom had him play it for a bit anyway.

Then we took the CD out and put it in the car so it played as soon as they started the car.

The gift I got him was a sheep shaped cookie jar. That's a whole different inside joke. I filled the cookie jar with fortune cookies. Each cookie had one line from the song as the fortune.

When I got back home there were 9 messages on my answering machine. Six of them were from the groom Rick Rolling my answering machine.