Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chipped Chocolate Pie

My contribution to Thanksgiving dinner was a pie. Not just any pie. I wanted to make the pie that Grammie was known for. I think it may even date back to Great Grandmother. I asked my cousin, The Muffin Man, and while he didn't have the exact recipe right at hand he found something damn close. And since it's damn close instead of the actual recipe I have no qualms about passing it on to you.

It's called a Chipped Chocolate Pie. This is different from a chocolate chip pie in that two of the words are switched. Also, you're supposed to shave your own chocolate instead of using a bag of chips.

You're gonna need:
16 graham crackers, crushed
1/3 cup butter
30 large marshmallows
1 cup heavy whipping cream - Whipped
1/4 cup hot milk
1/2 (1 ounce) square semisweet chocolate, grated

The crust
I haven't made a graham cracker crust before, but I wanted to try my hand at it rather than just buy one at the store. Set aside 2 tablespoons of smashed cracker to put on the top of the pie later. Mix the rest in with the melted 1/3 cup of butter. At first you'll have some really buttery crumbs and lots of not at all buttery crumbs, but just keep stirring and it'll even out. The butter serves to help make the cracker crumbs sculptable. Then line the pie pan with the buttery crumbs. They don't pack well. Not by hand. My brother says I should have used a second pie pan to pack the crust better. Even if you don't it'll be fine. Mostly you're just wanting something to make sure the pie filling comes away from the pan.

The filling
You do have a double boiler, right? Yeah, me either. Just put one pan inside a bigger pan and fill the space between with water. You'll be fine.
Inside the smaller pan you need to put the 30 marshmallows and the milk. This should leave you enough marshmallows in the bag to snack on or pay off nosy family members. Keep an eye on this so it doesn't go horribly wrong, but you can go work on the next parts while this is happening. Just come back to stir every little bit.
I had the problem that I didn't wait long enough. I thought it was melted, but still had small bits of unmelted marshmallow in there. It doesn't really affect the flavor, but your final pie will have lumps of white in it.

Use a cheese grater to grate the chocolate. Here, use one of mine. Somehow, I have four of them now.
Be sure to grate it all. Expect to leave some knuckle in there.

If you can, let the whipping cream get well chilled. Mine sat in the fridge overnight and seemed to be alright. Some say the colder you get it the better it will whip. I don't have a blender or a whisk so I used a fork. Then I just went to town on the whipping cream. I don't know how long I whipped exactly, but about as long as it took to melt the marshmallows. It wasn't a great whipping job, but it was foamy enough for my tastes.

You're supposed to let the marshmallows cool for a little while. Another mistake was not letting the molten marshmallows cool enough. I just dumped the chocolate shavings and whipped cream into the white goop right after it came out of the boiler. The instructions said fold it in. That's another word for stir, right? Anyway, I'm used to seeing this pie with black speckles from the chocolate shavings remaining more or less intact. That's not what I got. They melted in the hot marshmallows and turned the very white pie brown. Flavorwise, that's not a problem. It's just not how I expect it to look.

Pour all that in the pie pan.
Sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs you set aside on top of the filling.
Throw that mess into the fridge for a few hours. Preferably overnight.

Since my crust wasn't well made the edges fell apart during transport and left the top of the pie with a lot more than the 2 tablespoons of graham cracker crumbs. In fact, it was almost completely crumb encrusted. Not a problem, just not how it's supposed to look.

The pie was a success. It always is. At the family gatherings we have to cut it thin to make sure as many people as possible get some. Yummy's family gathering wasn't as big and nobody knew about the pie yet so I think I had the biggest piece of this stuff I've ever had. It was damn good. Everyone loved it. Many of those who decided against a piece were fed bites from their spouse's piece. I'm calling that a success.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Movie review: The Next Three Days

We went to see "Tangled" this weekend. But with the Thanksgiving holiday crowd the lines were too long for a simple 15 minutes early to be enough. Luckily they had another movie that interested us.

Did you ever see the show "Prison Break"? Season 1 I mean. The good season. Before they were made to stretch the show into seasons beyond the original plan and storyline. "The Next Three Days" isn't that show. I got the feeling that with a different director, or even a different editor, the movie could have come a lot closer to the show.

Russell Crowe's wife is accused of murdering her boss and is sent to prison. After a few years they've exhausted the appeals process. Crowe starts planning a prison break. He spends months working on it. Learns the ins and out and whens, whys, and wherefores. Then his wife gets notice that she's being moved. Crowe has three days to pull off his plan.

You walk away from the movie with the feeling that it was well written. But then some themes and symbolism that were part of the original script got cut in rewrites. Certain bits that could have been more suspenseful and tense lost something in the way the film was put together. Watching the plan unfold could have made one a bit giddy and think Crowe's character was brilliant. But they just didn't quite shine like they should have.

That isn't to say the movie doesn't have some of those moments. Crowe tries out some of his ideas and they fail. Those scenes are tense. You want to slap Crowe and tell him to stop looking so nervous and guilty. And some scenes come back to something he was working on earlier that you forgot about. You make the link and you think "oh. nice." but not "OH! BRILLIANT!" Some parts of the plan come to light in the execution that the audience was never privy to in the planning process. They get a good "heh. Well done."

For the most part this is a movie that you enjoy most in the sitting back with a cigar and a brandy and some friends and going "mmm, ho ho, yes, well done that. Very clever."

Back to my original "Prison Break" comparison. The TV show the final bit of preparation, the crime, and the being thrown in jail. You watched the execution of the plan. In "The Next Three Days" you see everything else. The breakout is a very small part of the movie. It goes quickly from preparation to fleeing the cops.

I enjoyed the movie. But I won't be getting it on DVD. I recommend matinee prices.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Links: November 26

I'm starting with some huge news. The Vatican is trying to downplay it, but it is still huge. Pope Palpatine approved the use of condoms where the practice of sexuality is a danger to another. Specifically for male prostitutes. [link 1] [link 2]

It's still not allowed for birth control. But it is an admission that condoms do prevent disease. Earlier he'd stated that condoms fail to prevent pregnancy or the spread of disease in the majority of cases and actually encourage the spread of disease.
Pope John Paul and I disagreed on a lot of issues of faith, but overall I had some respect for the guy. Pope Palpatine was telling lies about condoms when he made those statement. There's lots of stuff that isn't true, but the Bible says it is. I don't count those as lies from religious folks. He knowingly was saying stuff that wasn't true to encourage people to behave as the Vatican wants them to instead of using the traditional "God says" method. If people are doing something from ignorance or lies instead of faith it doesn't make them good Catholics.
So I'm really glad that the Pope made this statement. It serves as an admission that condoms do prevent disease. The next step is permitting abortions when a woman's health is at risk or permitting condoms to prevent pregnancies that would put a woman's health at risk.

I missed the Desert Bus charity game this year. For those of you not familiar with it, they play a minigame created for an unreleased Penn and Teller game. In it you drive a bus from Tucson to Las Vegas in real time at a top speed of 45 mph and the bus drifts to the side. The game can't be paused. It takes 8 hours to complete the trip and get 1 point. Then you drive back.
Here's what the game looks like.

You pay them to play the game. Hour 1 costs $1.00. Each following hour costs 7% more than the hour before. This year they played for 5 days and 21 hours. They raised $195,130.
This money will go to Child's Play Charity who will spend it buying game systems and games for the children's wards of hospitals.
They have a live stream of the game and of the players. During the show they have an auction (whose profits don't contribute to the time) and "celebrity" callers. Most are related to video games in some way. [Desert Bus link] [Child's Play Charity link]

Will It Blend: Daleks.

TARDIS socks and how to make your own. [link]

FedEx destroyed 65 Million year old eggs. [link]

Trailer for "Cowboys & Aliens". [link]

Who's a fiscal conservative again? [link]

Money origami. [link]

Colorful satellite photos of Earth. [link]

Dogs don't understand moving. [link]

Christians in Brazil ban USB devices as mark of the devil. [link]

Weak article, but Marilyn Monroe's stuffing recipe might be good. [link]

Time to upgrade my Segway.

"Hate Mail" with Richard Dawkins.

A video that comes to my attention every few years. "The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello"

The story of a 1st grade girl bullied for her thermos. [link]

Alphabet pop-up book.

This squirrel bobs his head like Yummy's bird when he wants something. Flys about as well as her bird, too. [link]

Online movie: The Most Dangerous Man in America. It's the story of Daniel Ellsworth and the leaking of the Pentagon Papers. [link]

An article about mill boats. Water powered mills that were on boats so they could move to where the flow of water was best, not just what's near the shore. [link]

If this blog were a country it would have 156 citizens. 1 in every 11,111,111 users visit me. Find out more or test your own site. [link]

Harry Potter cast members trying their American accent. [link]

Sarah Palin's real record on Alaskan bears. [link]

5 now great scientists who were thought morons in their own time. [link]

The oldest known rock and roll song. [link]

What it's like to have sex with someone with Asperger's. [link]

Guy pays $15,000 to play his MMORPG on a massive screen. Mostly just to have a great gaming story to tell. [link]

There's gonna be a new "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" movie. Of course it's a bad idea. You read the article for the reactions from Joss Wheadon and David Boreanaz. [link]

Covers for Tintin in HP Lovecraft books. [link]

Tomasz Opasinski's take on some movie posters. [link]

Wouldn't it be hard to sleep with this thing in your bedroom? [link]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sod off Wednesday (and Thursday)

I find your last of posts disturbing.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Home decorating

The home office
These wooden pulleys are the latest addition to my home office. They were once used on the family farm. A few years back I brought them in and cleaned them up. Last spring I brought them back to DC. They sat on the tree trunk we call our coffee table until just recently.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Insulation project

Note: This post was started a few weeks ago.

Have you ever tried to sculpt polystyrene? OK, fine. "Styrofoam". Have you? It's kind of a bitch. Unless your knife is sharp enough to remove body parts without you noticing the foam binds and clumps and tears. It sucks.

There is another way.

With the car paid off and the bank account recovering I need to finish the back wall of the house before Yummy kills me. But first I'm putting up some more insulation. There's already a bunch of the multi-ceramic paint coating it. That should be about 20R insulation. But I'm being a bit of a pain in the ass and want to put more in there. I could do the Pink Panther fiberglass stuff. It's easy to install. But, it's really not very good insulation unless you're laying it on nine inches thick. Even then, it better not get wet. Not even humid. If it does then it's nigh worthless.

Besides, the point isn't really the back wall. The point is the underside of the house. The crawlspace. I applied the multi-ceramic stuff down there late last summer. It worked. When walking around in bare feet you could feel the floor go from cold to really cold when you left the insulated area. I shouldn't be walking around in bare feet in the winter, but I shouldn't be afraid of the air in the lower twelve inches of my house, either.

So I really want to put more insulation under the floor. There's space for six to nine inches of the pink stuff, but it WILL get damp. I can't get foam insulation sprayers to take the job of going under the house. So, really, the polystyrene sheeting is the answer.

The proper way of using this is in the full uncut sheet. It's four foot by eight foot and two inches thick. At least the stuff I'm using is. There's plastic on one side and some reflective foil on the other. It's supposed to be used on bare walls in unfinished basements. Or the outside of studs when building a house. That seems nuts to me. I'm a fan of studs. And fastening things to studs. And that sounds really bad when read out of context. I'm never getting elected President now.

What I was getting at is that I'm not going to use it "properly". I could lose the space under the house that would be taken by putting whole sheets of this stuff under the floor joists. It would be a horrible loss when doing future jobs down there, but I could do it. I could do it if there were a way to get a 4'x8' sheet of anything down there.

I need to cut apart the polystyrene both to fit between the floor joists AND so it'll fit through the hole into the crawl space.

This is where I get back to what I was muttering about at the beginning of this post. Cutting polystyrene. It sucks.

In place of a sharp blade you can use a really hot wire. A quick "sssssst" sound and you've got a nice clean cut. You find a wire that will heat without melting and something to run a current through it. That broken down answering machine shoved in the corner? That phone charger without a phone? Strip down those wires, put them on either side of a guitar wire, and you've got yourself something that will scar you for life. It should also cut polystyrene.

I've spent a good part of today (Saturday) working on something potentially very dangerous. I've tried the wires from the power supply to a MacBook Pro stripped down and connected to some other wires that I've run to a broken guitar string that Yummy's brother gave me. This hooked up to a wooden rig that holds the wires across a three inch gap. A block is clamped on that can be moved back and forth depending on how wide the space between the studs or joists is. I haven't fired it up yet. I'm a bit scared of it.

The finished theoretical polystyrene cutter.

There's another concern. I mentioned that the polystyrene is reflective on one side. Probably some foil. Probably conductive. What happens to the foil as the wire goes through it? Does it melt? Does it tear? Does it conduct electricity and bake whoever is holding the polystyrene? Does it conduct electricity, heat up, and melt any polystyrene touching it?

There is a plan B. If I survive the encounter with the electrically charged wire and foil I can try a soldering iron. If I wrap the wire around the soldering iron it may heat up the wire without getting electricity involved. I'm thinking this won't get the wire hot enough or that the wire will cool too fast when cutting the polystyrene. Otherwise this would be plan A.

* * *

I did a HomeDepot run earlier. I needed caps to put over the wires and some big clamps. And a piece of the polystyrene insulation to play with. At eight feet long it's just short enough to fit in my Prius. At four feet wide it's about three inches too wide to fit through the hatchback. Luckily someone with a seriously sharp knife was there to help me cut it. I was amazed at how clean the cut was. We scored one side and applied pressure. I should mention that this is how the company that makes this stuff recommends we cut it. It failed to break. We scored the other side. By the time it had cut 15'4" of this stuff the knife was dull enough that the polystyrene finally started to bunch and tear. (Sorry about that, little knife.) We applied pressure and it still wouldn't break. Two inches was just an inch too much for that trick to work. So the guy pulled a saw out of his car and we sawed the sheet in half. It was brutal. Bits of polystyrene went everywhere. There will be a lot of waste. But this was supposed to be a test sheet anyway. We'll just find a different way to get them home next time.

At this point I should apologize to my parrot Gandolf. She wasn't prepared for eight feet of polystyrene to march through my front door unsupported. I should have come through first instead of last. There might have been less screaming and flapping that way.

* * *

After writing all that I plugged in the MacBook power supply. There was a reason it was in my scrap electronics pile. I got current from it, but the multimeter said it wasn't anywhere close to what it was rated at. Instead of 16-18 volts I got 5.2v. That would be why it didn't run my laptop anymore.

I found another power supply. One that went to a cordless phone. 7 volts. It worked, but the wire still seemed under powered.

The third power supply was from an old Zip Drive. 10 volts. Lame.

A fourth was from an external hard drive. It would likely do the job, but the power indicator light would go out every time I hooked it up. Stupid safety precautions.

Finally, I found a power supply to who knows what. No, really, I've been carrying this thing around for years and can't remember what it originally went to. 16 volts. By now I've improved my design enough that I don't have to strip the wires. I plug that sucker in and the wire gets hot. Boom. Just like that. No worries at all.

I dance a happy jig and drag it out into the alley. I set the guard at 12 13/16". I put on thick leather gloves in case the foil conducts heat or electricity. I didn't need to worry about that at all. The biggest problem was that the foil didn't want to give. I marked the cutting path and cut through the foil. I tried again. I can see smoke boiling off of the wire. But the cutting is still going really slow. I'm guessing it would take half an hour, probably more, to get through all eight feet.

The Dougintology polystyrene cutter and wart remover.
I could take some gypsum board (Sheetrock) and make a table in the alley. OK, it would be a modified version of the wire cutter. It would allow me to set the foam on a surface and guide it more carefully. Also, I wouldn't have to hold it up the whole time.

Another option is to get out the circular saw. See what a high speed saw does to polystyrene. This is just a test piece after all, right?

* * *
I did get the circular saw out. I used a blade designed for cutting plywood. That was a beautiful cut. No, really. Very clean, very smooth. I like it. 

There was, however, a change of plans. Yummy called the contractor who worked on her parents house. He called his insulation guy. He's willing to work in crawl spaces so I agreed to let him have a look. He says the spray foam would be best, but we'd only be able to insulate as far as the hose reaches. My idea with the polystyrene sheets didn't appeal to him at all. That's just not how you use that stuff. He wants to put in some fiberglass insulation. Not necessarily the pink stuff, but close enough. To keep the moisture down he'll cover the dirt with some thick plastic sheeting.

It's not the insulation I want, but the price is reasonable enough that I can redo it every few years. Maybe I can find someone with longer hose by then and we can do it right.

He's coming to do this tomorrow.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Links: November 19

Scott Adams vs The JalapeƱo. [link]

Someone backs up my claim that a Hogwarts education is extremely limited. [link]

Truths for all humans. [link]

Why does the moon look so large on the horizon. [link]

You have 9 seconds to figure out this illusion.

Star shows in parking lots. [link]

I knew I should never deal with Dell laptops. They're well established as some of the worst laptops in existence. But this guy make a great case for never doing business with them at all ever again. [link]

Dummy boxes for your Christmas gifts. [link]

If I ever decide to replace my Segway this could be a contender. [link]

Exercise wheel for a dog. [link]

I don't see them actually saying what this is. I'm thinking it's a high tech litter. [link]

Quiz show about Hitler the Athiest.

6 things that would convince an atheist that a god exists. [link]

Now that the lunatic fringe has control of the House of Representatives let's have a look at who the leading candidates are to run the Energy and Commerce Committee.
In the lead is Joe Barton, former head of the committee. You may remember him as the person who apologized to the President of British Petroleum for being made to testify before Congress about BP's negligence dumping millions of barrels of oil in the Gulf. He's also received more money from oil and gas companies than any other member of Congress.
It's possible that he's become such an embarrassment that he won't get the seat. Another leading contender is John Shimkus. Here's his thoughts on global warming.

George Bush thinks the low point of his Presidency was when Kanye West said Bush doesn't care about black people. No, not Katrina. Kanya. We're glad you're gone George. [link]

Harry Potter sings "The Elements" by Tom Lehrer.

Truck that prints cobblestone roads.

How cats drink without getting wet. [link]

Picture: Shark says "NO PHOTOS!" [link]

How to make metals of any color. [link]

Cat vs Alligator.

There are no words. Just... madness. There are three videos of this woman in serious need of psychiatric help. [link]

Stickleback: a fish rap.

Two robots figure out how to make pancakes. The interesting part, for me, was right at the beginning before we ever see the robots. It illustrates how the robots work to figure out what they need and where to find it. [link]

Doctor Who fan service time:
Steven Moffat has always been meant to work on Doctor Who. He watched the show as a kid, he wrote the Doctor Who spoof "The Curse of the Fatal Death" for charity, he referenced it several times in his TV series "Coupling", he wrote the most terrifying episodes of the first 4 seasons of the new series, and now he's the Executive Producer and head writer in season 5. But before that he was this little kid. [link]

Now that I've mentioned "Curse of the Fatal Death" I suppose I should show it to you.

Dalek on Craig Ferguson.

A robot folktale. [link]

I haven't read the whole article, but the graphics are interesting. They're infographics about what New York has learned from 100,000,000 calls to 311. [link]

Picture: Boris Karloff relaxes. [link]

Guy made a touchpad with a pencil and paper (and Arduino). [link]

Use for old motherboards. Be sure to enlarge the picture. [link]

Finally. A REAL Green Lantern trailer. BOO YAH!

I've heard about this one letter win on Wheel of Fortune but seeing it is amazing. [link]

An Election - a short story by John Scalzi about a human running for local office in a world with dozens of alien species. [link]

That's a great dress. [link]

John Scalzi's movie descriptions. [link]

Frank Sinatra tells George Michael to suck it up. [link]

Some of the Phelps family were protesting at a funeral in Oklahoma and got their tires slashed for it. Then the tire repair place refused them service. Some will argue about free speech vs vandalism, but from my perspective it's verbal and emotional vandalism vs vandalism of stuff. [link]

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review: further adventures

I finished this book last night just so I'd be able to write about it today.

I picked it up some time back. It sat on a table at some bookstore with some other stuff that kind of caught my eye. There's a super hero on the cover with his head cropped off. AND! And at the bottom of the cover there's a recommendation by Douglas Adams.

Extraordinary... The novel that's intrigued and surprised me most this years.

More than anything else it was him that sold the book to me.

The book is written as a suicide note. At times you'll see the capitalization and punctuation go a bit strange, as if it were the note instead of an edited book.

The suicide note is being written by Ray Green. He's an elderly man who has just failed as a super hero. Once upon a time, back in the age of radio, he was the voice of The Green Ray on a radio show of the same name. It ran for more than a decade before it was canceled. That was the high point of his life.

But recently there was a power outage. For the first time in a couple of years Ray walked more than the two blocks near his house where he gets everything he needs. He saw a woman running from a couple of thugs. He started to walk away, but thought better of it and went to the rescue. He got thrown in the car with her, but eventually they both got away.

What happens next could be read a few ways.
Back when he was the Green Ray he took the role a bit to seriously. Even then he talked as if it were really him doing those deeds instead of just reading into a microphone. Has age addled his mind so he thinks he really was a hero?
Is he lonely and bored and have nothing to lose?
Or did he just like the feel of helping someone and want to help some more?

He puts an ad in the classifieds offering his services as a hero for free. He gets five initial responses. He won't help those who need money. Two others need help he can provide. The fifth is the woman he rescued and she's used it to track him down.

Those weren't just punk kids looking for a good time during a power outage who were chasing her. But is she using him as a patsy for her own schemes? Is she fleeing the mob? Is she a victim of a plot within the FBI? Who is coming for him at the end? And how did it go so wrong that he's gonna commit suicide at the end?

This is a reprint of a book originally printed in 1993. One interesting bit is that it features a group similar to the current Minutemen Project. Those are the guys who patrol our side of the Mexican border and catch illegal immigrants sneaking across. But the Minutemen didn't exist in 1993.

I should also point out that the author, Jon Stephen Fink, is working on a book called "The Return of the Green Ray". So maybe Ray doesn't actually die shortly after the last page of this book.

So, despite what I thought when I picked it up, this book isn't a super hero book. It's not a humor book. Parts drew me in so I didn't want to put it down. Other parts didn't. What it is is a story about an old man just trying to help. Just trying to do what's right according to the Green Ray.

Overall I liked it. It's not on my Must Read list, but I think you'll like it. I'll be looking for the next one.

p.s. The back cover has a blurb from "Terry Bisson". He works for "Book World" from the Washington Post, but I've seen some of his short story writing, too. SciFi Channel has his story "Meat" on their now defunct "Seeing Ear Theater". You can also read it at his website.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Yummy's jack-o-lantern

It didn't take long for my jack-o-lantern to turn to mush. It got 4 or 5 good days before it had to be retired. Then Yummy carved hers. She has a specially bred lumpy variety. What they don't tell you is that the lumpy variety has a super hard skin. Cutting the pumpkin was no small feat. But it also didn't go mushy. It lasted a couple of weeks before some squirrel knocked it over and it shattered.

Since mine had gone out I stole the spare LED and resistor and the battery pack from my pumpkin, wired them up, stuffed them in a plastic bag, and closed the top of the pumpkin on the plastic bag. It was good and bright.

Oliver Queen figures if there are utensils involved it must be food.
That boy ain't right.
On display.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Movie review: Unstoppable

Have you seen "Final Destination"? The original. Or even the second. No? Alright, I'll try to explain how the death scene played out. You know that the characters are gonna die. That's the point of the movie. So you'll see someone in a kitchen or bathroom and the camera gets you to start looking at all the ways the character could get killed. Water running across the floor, a knife holder sitting awkwardly, a radio with an exposed wire, etc. etc. Those scenes become tense because you're anticipating the disaster.

Now, take the tension of those kinds of scenes and stretch them out for a whole movie. You spend most of the movie watching things go wrong. You see much of it preparing to go wrong from way, way off. Then you sit there cringing waiting for it to happen. And it doesn't let up until right at the end.

In a typical disaster movie everything goes wrong early on and you spend the rest of the time watching people cope or escape. This is a different kind of disaster movie. Some moron at the train yard tries to cut some corners and they end up with an unmanned train moving under power. The disaster is what would come at the end of the movie if the heroes can't get it sorted.

The trailer tells you a good deal about the movie. A freight train full of toxic and flammable chemicals gets loose. Normally there are preventative measures, but human stupidity has disabled all of those. So it barrels along between 70 and 80 mph destroying everything in it's path. If it hits the sharp curve at the fuel oil depot at more than 20 mph there's gonna be a big badda-boom. There are a number of attempts to stop the train. And the ideas aren't bad, but their luck is. Until two train engineers, a master and his padawan, chase down the train.

This was a great movie. I recommend you go see it. I will be getting it on DVD.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Links: November 12

Working at home I get so much more work done and so much less surfing. It's a bit nuts how much of my normal stuff didn't checked for Friday Links. Still, got a good list this week.

People singing one song to the tune of another. Just trust me and listen to this. 

Great car commercial. 

A superhero funeral. [link]

Pinball machines were illegal for a long time. [link]

The honey is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE! [link]

Nice air pollution art/billboard. [link]

Lego dissected frog. [link]

Obscure dinosaurs. [link]

Anyone stupid enough to give the leader of this or any church their bank account tracking number deserves exactly what they get... or lose. [link]

10 odd weapons from WWII. [link]

Sorry, Ma'am, you have the wrong Neil. [link]

Never thought I'd have a reason to want a cubicle. [link]

New Lego Monty Python. [link]

Screw the third world. This machine can pretty well fill out the shop in your garage without filling up the garage. [link]

Skin can now be turned into blood. With work they hope to be able to get a tissue sample from a patient to make blood for a surgery scheduled in a week or three. [link]

Doorknob as eyepiece. [link]

I'll have to rename THAT file "c:\untitled folder\untitled folder\untitled folder\untitled folder\untitled folder\medical care". [link]

Twin girls who share a brain. [link]

The Beatles wanted to make a Lord of the Rings movie. [link]

Turkey cake. With mashed potato frosting. Oh, the horror. [link]

DC comics doubles as an oracle. [link]

Lovecraft creatures illustrated by a variety of artists. [link]

How to lose weight eating Twinkees, chips, and other junk food. [link]

How to talk like Michael Caine.

The 4 types of "friend". [link]

My kind of football.

A deer in a tavern is like a bull in a china shop.

That deer must have been drinking Bundaberg Rum.

You have to be careful how you arrange your merchandise sales page. [link]

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Movie review: Megamind

The trailer.

So that pretty well covers the first 15-20 minutes of the movie. Which is good. They have a story that would make a movie all by itself and can sell the movie to potential viewers. But when you get the main story, the one that trailer feeds in to, it's a surprise. I mean, it's hardly breaking new territory, but it's fairly well told. Has a few laughs, a few more grins, explores who a super hero and a super villain are when the news crews and cartoonists aren't around. There's character development that doesn't make your girlfriend cry.

Alright. I'll give you a hint. What happens when Lex Luthor wins?

I'm starting to like Dreamworks more and more. This isn't on par with "How To Train Your Dragon", but it's a pretty solid effort. I'll probably get it on DVD. I didn't do that with Shrek.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sod off Wednesday: Follow up to yesterday

This was supposed to be a part of yesterday's post. It's a post by a woman dealing with grown up bullies who dislike her son's Halloween costume. [link]

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

It gets better

This post has changed a lot since I started it. It started a few weeks ago when I saw the video below.

It's about 13 minutes long, but I'll give you the short version. Fort Worth city council member Joel Burns used his time to talk about several kids who either were gay or were perceived as gay by their classmates or the community at large. These kids all committed suicide. Burns then goes on to try to tell other kids going through the same thing that he went through the same thing and that life gets better.

I was going to follow this up with my own stories and my own version of the speech. It's not just gays who suffer from the ongoing abuse of classmates. Atheists get similar abuse. So do kids who are bad at sports. Or small. Or different. Or who just look vulnerable.

We're not talking about simple name calling. This is harassment and physical abuse. It wasn't uncommon where I grew up to get snatched off the street, thrown in a pickup, hauled several miles outside of town, stripped naked, fed pissed on Oreos, and made to walk back. Not for being gay. Just vulnerable. If they had reason to dislike you, you got beaten under the football stands. I've had friends who had to wait in the school office after school to keep his classmates from beating him.

You remember the shootings at Columbine. In that school, among many others, the teachers participated in this harassment. In far too many schools the teacher become part of culture of abuse and try to gain favor with the popular kids and jocks by harassing members the victim class. They went from grade school to middle school to high school to college and back to high school. They didn't spend enough time out of the classroom culture to see how completely twisted high school culture really is. Instead of trying to protect the geeks and restrain the bullies they cheer the bullies on.

My original post was going to tell those kids that anyone who spouts that "these are the best years of your life" nonsense are completely full of crap. That once you're out of high school you'll get away from that scum. Once they're out of high school they'll be surrounded by a completely different group of people. And if those people are scum you can still find more people. Up until now where you live, what you do, who you're surrounded by have been dictated to you by others. It's hard to imagine a life where you're not getting attacked in some manner on a near daily basis.

Then Christian fucktard Mike Adams came up with his own stories about Christians being harassed by homosexuals and committing suicide. [link] Only these people didn't commit suicide.

The article shows Adams' complete misunderstanding of the issue. Christians are the majority of the population. The people in his stories were bigots who got scolded. The suicides suffered years of abuse by the majority of the population. There was no relief for them and no hint that there might be relief someday down the line. I just wish I still had that article by some Christian leader in defense of bullying.

Then Arkansas school board member (Midland school district) Clint McCance wrote on his Facebook page

"Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE."

"It pisses me off though that we make a special purple fag day for them. I like that fags cant procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other aids and die."

"I would disown my kids they were gay. They will not be welcome at my home or in my vicinity. I will absolutely run them off. Of course my kids will know better. My kids will have solid christian beliefs. See it infects everyone."

So these kids are not only getting it from their classmates and teachers, but their school board, too.

If you feel like recording your own story about how it gets better you can upload it to the "It Gets Better" YouTube site. [link]

You can read more about the cases given by Mike Adams. [link]

Monday, November 08, 2010

Silo homes

I grew up on a farm in Kansas. As did both of my parents. Different farms. It's Kansas, not Arkansas.

On this farm is a disused grain silo. I've always wanted to do something with it.
We used to climb it and rappel of the sides.
During the coldest parts of the winter we'd play on the ice that formed over the perpetual pool in the bottom.
I've thought about putting a platform on top and using it as a platform for a telescope. Or lining the top with lightning rods and measuring the current that flows from it.

I've also thought about developing it as a dwelling. The silo on the paternal side seems a bit small for that. It could make for an alright kitchen or bedroom or TV room and it's tall enough that you could stack them. But once you put in stairs you've lost enough useful space that the value is lost. The silo on the maternal farm is a good deal wider and could still work.

I figured I'd be best off drawing inspiration from people who have done this kind of thing in the past. So I start searching the internet. I didn't exactly find what I was looking for. My silos are what you think of when you think silo. Concrete or brick. 30-40 ft tall. That's not what I found.

Have a look through these links. It's not what I was looking for, but it still has ideas for a good dome home or even a totally normal home.

Photo Gallerys:
grain bin 1
2 huge grain bins
more of a grain elevator
I like the second one here. The rest serve as warnings of how easy it is to make a shack with a TransCamero in the side yard.
Details of one conversion

I think the maternal farm's silo could be like this. But they cheated and added a house to the outside.

Two silos. I'm not that lucky.

Check the chandelier at 2:03.

I still think the paternal farm's silo would make a good library. I'm picturing shelves lining the sides all the way up, several levels of iron platforms that clang when you walk on them, big comfy chairs on the ground floor (which has been built up so water won't flood in), and a platform on top for telescopes.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Friday Links: November 5

Read the first word of each line of this guy's essay. [link]

Hitting insects with tiny pies.

Mad crochet skills. [link]

A haunted house to skip. [link]

This is a great gripping tool for robots. Inside the blue thing are coffee grounds. They move freely until the air is pumped out. Once vacuum sealed, the coffee grounds lock together and don't move.

A break down of evidence of of various alternative treatments for various illnesses. [link]

A space ship computer game that requires 6 players to play Captain, Tactical, Conn, Communications, Engineering, etc. [link]

Texas Supreme Court sites Star Trek II as legal precedent. [link]

Amusing short sci-fi story - "The Greatest Science-Fiction Story Ever Written" [link]

Poem in a sundial. Check the time lapse film. [link]

When the demise of Hummer was announced I gloated and did a jig. Now Pontiac is passing away. This article explains why. I wouldn't get one of my own, but I kinda liked them. I looked at several great looking sporty cars at very reasonable prices when deciding what car to buy. Honestly, if I could have bought the body of a sport car on the innards of a Prius I would have. But I also would have gleefully sold the flares on my Prius that they call "sporty" to shave off some of the expense. [link]

Kinda like this. Put this body on a Prius and I might buy it. I like this car for it's look, not what's under the hood. [link]

Pics from the upcoming Captain America movie. Looks like it'll be a WWII era movie to stay true to his origins. Allegedly, you could see his shield under the arctic snow in The Incredible Hulk. I haven't seen it. But in the comics he came back to life when his body was found frozen in some ice. His vibranium shield was shown in Iron Man II.[link]

Game: Oregon Trail - Zombie Apocalypse Edition. [link]

9 out of 10 DARPA projects fail or go nowhere. I really hope this one is the 10th. [link]

A Bruce Story: The MMORPG [link]

Lego Star Wars - the Jar Jar Saga 

news.com.au apologizes for Trek related mistakes. [link]

Two lame songs mashed up into one good one. 

An article talking about how NPR handles the news as compared to Fox and other major news service. [link]

Watch NASA personnel build the new Mars rover live. [link]

Mr and Mrs Hutt's home decor. [link]

Great jack-o-lantern. [link]

Everybody knows these pictures even if they don't remember the stories. [link]

Some woman singing from the opera in "The Fifth Element".

You've seen video of the hexagon at Saturn's north pole. Here's an article talking about an experiment that helps explain it. [link]

Here's some close up pics of a comet. [link]

Oooh, somebody fucked up and then claimed he had every right to. The editor of Cooks Source magazine stole an article from someone's website and published with without payment, permission, or notification of the author. Now the editor is claiming that web content is public domain and free for the taking. [author's link] [author's friend's link] [the magazine's facebook site] Their main site has crashed from all the traffic from flamers.

More pedophile priests. This one is Jewish. [link]

Someone wrote a program to automatically respond to science denying Twitterers. [article] [amusing summary] [the app's Twitter page]

Here's NASA's climate change evidence page. [link]

Image: Tennis in Australia. [link]

A typewriter rigged up to play "Zork". A new way to interact with fiction from Jonathan M. Guberman on Vimeo.

10 strange things seen in space. [link]

I've heard of the Jersey Devil but didn't really know what it was. This fleshes him out. [link]

What the fuck has Obama done so far? dot com [link]

A manifesto about how the author refuses further debate with those who continue their anti-gay bias. [link]

Thursday, November 04, 2010

It's not the sun It's not the Sun overheating the planets The Sun is

I like reading the science section of "The Register". It's a British newspaper. The science writers are enthusiastic and have a good sense of humor. You'll see me post the occasional link to an article there. But they're not without their biases.

They're global warming deniers. Or, rather, they deny the human factor whenever possible. The fact of global warming can only be denied by Flat Earthers and the like. They publish research that casts doubt on global warming, but never publish the articles that debunk the doubters.

I'll go ahead and post the article before I discuss it. [the article]

The short version is that they think the Sun is responsible for global warming. Or, rather, increased energy output along certain wavelengths is responsible for warmer weather in recent years. Towards the end of the article they do start to equivocate. They try to say that these changes are just as responsible as increased CO2 in the atmosphere.

Then they say they have to have their study verified. This is a bad sign. Their research hasn't been peer reviewed or submitted to any science journals. They went straight to the press. This type of behavior from people claiming to be scientists generally indicates that they have an agenda and need to convince the public quick since real scientists will gut their findings.

I'm just an arm chair scientist, but even I learned their new discoveries about solar energy production relative to sunspots back in high school. Freshman year, I think. The energy fluctuation over the course of the cycle is only 1/10th of 1%. And there is a fluctuation of what frequencies the energy is produced along. At the peak of sunspot activity we have to shut down a lot of our satellites to protect them from bursts of certain types of radiation. It gets bad enough that it's been known to knock out the power grid for large parts of the country. If you used rabbit ears on your TV as a kid you may remember periods where your reception when straight to hell for the same reason. But when the sunspots go away energy is released in other ways.

Solar activity has an 11 year cycle. As the article hints, we are just leaving the low sunspot period of activity for a period of higher activity. Winter of 2012 should be good for northern lights. But if the solar cycle had that kind of impact on global climate we'd see it in tree rings and have a few hundred years of records indicating a similar cycle in temperature, rainfall, and crop quality. We don't have any of that.

What this article seems to be doing is trying to support an idea that's become popular in circles hostile to human caused global warming. They see evidence of warming on a few other planets in the Solar System and claim that it must be the Sun doing it.

There's a one rather obvious problem with the idea that the Sun is suddenly warming Earth, Mars, Pluto, and a moon around Neptune more than normal, but not other planets and moons. So I'm not getting into that one.

But the amount of energy in an area drops as you get away from it's source consistent with the Inverse Square Law. What this means is that if you're 1,000 miles from the Sun (or any energy source) and get all the energy you need from a solar panel 1ft on each side then when you're 2,000 miles you'll need a solar panel 2ft on each side. That means your solar panel is 4 times as big. At 3,000 miles you'll need a solar panel 3ft on each side. That'd make it 9 times the size of your original solar panel. And at 4,000 miles, 4ft on each side and 16 times the size of the original. You follow?

So, if the changes on Pluto are due to increased solar radiation of any frequency then Earth would be little more than a smoldering cinder. If the Sun were responsible for this amount of warming on Earth it wouldn't be noticeable on Triton.

Again, I like The Register's science section for the most part. But just like with any news outlet you have to read with a certain amount skepticism. Trust but verify and all that rot.

This article I just couldn't let pass without comment.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Rally to Restore Parking

You may have heard about a rally around here this past weekend. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert had a setup on the National Mall near the Capitol Building. It was supposed to be a Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or fear), but what it really did was drive the city nuts.

Me? I didn't go. I was trying to make it out to a comic book store in College Park where Frank Cho was signing stuff.

I left the house at around 11:00. In the three blocks I walked to the Metro station I encountered three groups of people with signs and outfits just starting out for the rally. Parking was becoming tight as people were parking near my place two and a half miles from the mall. I was glad I didn't have to drive.

Outbound subway traffic was pretty easy. Nothing special there. Then I got off at College Park. The platform was packed. I worked my way to the turnstiles. Behind them was a mob that ran out of the station, up the stairs, and down the sidewalk. A few signs stuck up. Many strange outfits were on display.

As I walked up Calvert Rd to a nice little diner I passed a few dozen more people in outfits walking toward the Metro. I recognized the looks on some of those faces. As long as they were just with their friends they were having fun with their costumes. Once their psychological bubble was burst by someone from the outside world peeking in they started getting embarrassed. Even when that person (i.e. me) laughs at the outfit along with them they still get red faced.

Even with the mob being drawn off from the University of Maryland, the campus and surrounding area were packed. It was homecoming weekend for them. Frank Cho's daughter was cheering at a football game (different from the college game) and it ran long. So when I got there Frank was just calling in from his house to say he was running late. Because of the traffic from the rally and homecoming he showed up more than an hour later.

I should clarify here that Cho went to the University of Maryland and still lives in the general area. He knows the guys who run this comic book store and comes here every few months. This wasn't the usual signing that I've been to where there are dozens if not hundreds of people and the author talks for an hour first. In the hour that we waited about a dozen people showed up and waited for him. He did tell some stories while at the table and we just kinda formed around him and listened. But seeing him there isn't like seeing Scott Adams or Bill Amend. They don't get this way often and would get a mob. Cho gets bigger numbers at the Small Press Expo in Baltimore or at any of the other conventions he goes to. If you see him ask him about his trip to the comic conventions in Germany and Brussels.

I did ask him about some new Liberty Meadows project that... I haven't told you who Cho is yet, have I?

While at the University of Maryland Frank created the comic strip "University 2". Having that portfolio of funny strips produced on a deadline he immediately got his strip "Liberty Meadows" syndicated. It ran in a whole lot of newspapers while it ran. But after a few years Frank was completely fed up with the censorship of the syndicates and quit. Now he works for Marvel Comics where he does art for Shanna the She-Devil, Hulk, and Mighty Avengers, among others.

Someone said that he'd likely say something about an upcoming Liberty Meadows project. Since he didn't volunteer it I had to ask. Apparently he's in regular conversation with someone about making an animated Liberty Meadows movie. While there are lots of things that get optioned and never picked up he says there are regular phone calls and he seems optimistic about this actually happening. If he's optimistic then so am I. I'll be there opening weekend.

On the way home we stopped at a few places. So it was 4:30ish when Yummy and I got back to my place. Thats when we found out that Howard University, which is super near my place, was also having homecoming. I think the high school around the corner, the one that Duke Ellington attended, was having homecoming, too. We could hear their marching band, anyway. So Yummy had to park some distance away.

Estimated attendance for the Rally to Restore Truth and/or Fear was 215,000 people. This stomps Glenn Beck's 87,000 and effectively tells Congress "The Tea Party may have the crazy, but the sane have the numbers." And that 215,000 doesn't count all the people who got to the Metro and turned back. It doesn't include those who heard about the traffic and the parking and stayed well clear.

Now get out there and vote. DC's results may have been determined in the Primaries, but yours aren't.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The benefits of being jobless

A little while ago I read and article called "In Praise of Quitting Your Job".

The short version seems to be that if you're not allowed to be creative in your job you should quit. Your muse will leave you so you shouldn't stick around in a job that makes you miserable.

I kind of agree and kinda don't. I'm gonna get into why.

I'm gonna guess that he tends to work in creative fields. A graphic designer most likely. Accountants tend not to complain about not being allowed to be creative in their jobs. Fry cooks don't go on about the fruits of their labors.

I want to start by saying I don't really sympathize. He seems to have the artist mindset. He wants to be creative and be left to make what he thinks he should be making. That's not gonna happen no matter what company you work for. The company needs an ad or a poster or a mailer or a themed packet of information or a catalog. Some will allow you a certain amount of creativity. The best you can hope for is that they'll let you develop three ideas, present those, and then only screw with those minimally. More often you'll be part of a group who dictates fonts, colors, styles, themes, and the like. You have the technical skills to produce what they need and that's what you're there for.

A girl I grew up with worked for an advertising company that had Walmart as a client. No creativity was allowed. She wasn't on the committee to develop the ad. They were hired to produce what Walmart wanted. Sounds like the guy who wrote the article has had a string of similar jobs.

I can appreciate what he's saying about the job. Management can do a better job of working with their employees so they feel they own the project a bit more. The author needs to understand what the company wants. They're paying for technical skills. Some pay for creativity, but most want skills.

This leads me into why I think that art classes in school rank right up there near reading, writing and arithmetic classes. Damn near everyone will have to make a PowerPoint presentation at some point. Possibly a website. The occasional flier, garage sale, lost dog, or brochure may come up, too. These aren't what would generally be considered art, but some design skills would be very handy. Some basic rules about using no more than three fonts, balancing the page, complimentary colors, and the like should be in place to keep the person from using every single PowerPoint transition and animation. I still get the occasional "THAT'S what my 7th grade art teacher was talking about!"

Finally, I want to whole heartily agree with the author's basic premise. An occasional bout with unemployment is important to mental health.

Think back to when you were a kid. Your job was school. Some teacher/bosses you liked. Others you hated. There were student/coworkers you liked and those you hated. The work came and came and wouldn't let up. You didn't get paid anything for it. Most of the work went in the trash before long. Where's the job satisfaction in that?

However, there was always that light at the end of the tunnel. There was a winter break of several weeks and then a summer break of several months. There was hope. There was relief. Some time in the comprehendible future THIS WOULD END!!! 

That's gone now.

You get two weeks off per year. Maybe three. Some even get four if they've been with the same company for a few decades. You might get to take a whole week of it at a stretch. But that doesn't even begin to compare. Look down that tunnel? See a light? No, but the map says that there is another end to this tunnel. It's called retirement. It's not 6 months away. It's 30 years away. There's your relief.

There is another option. Quit from time to time. When you get fired think of it as being given summer vacation. Of course, this works best if you have enough money set aside to permit 90 days or so of food and bill paying before you're destitute. That's just good fiscal sense.

Think on what I've just said. I've told this theory to several people whose jobs were crushing them. It didn't help with the job, but just the understanding helped relieve some of the misery and they walked away feeling much better.

Not that I can say too much. My plan used to be that ever few years I'd pack up and move to a new city. Vacation time would be spent visiting the family while I'd use the rest of my life seeing the world. Then I landed in a city I liked with a job I liked and it pays well. If I took my own advice I'd almost certainly end up with a worse job and a worse boss. Nine years with this job doesn't seem as long as the two years of my last job.

And finally, finally, I want to talk to the managers of the world. One of the most important things you can do for your employees is to let them do their job. Geeks and editors (and loads of others) are happy to do their jobs. Give them a project and let them finish it. Don't move up deadlines while adding on more projects. Don't make a habit of canceling projects after several months of work. The most valuable thing you can do is clear obstacles out of their way. Often they don't even need credit for their work, just so long as nobody else gets credit for their work either. Do this and your employees won't be writing essays like the one that inspired this post in the first place.