Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sod Off Wednesday: August 31

A Metro station has all the cracks in the granite slabs lining the platform marked like this. The figure 8 means this is the 8th crack on this side. Number 9 is a foot away. Number 7 about ten feet. I believe these marks were made while surveying for earthquake damage.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

NPR report on the closing of WRAMC

NPR did a bit on the closing of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. They asked me for some pictures.

Here's their report. [link]

Here's where they used the pictures I sent. [link]

Here's PDFs of the book that the pictures came from. [link]
It's a picture book so you can flip through it without it eating your day.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Come on Irene

Calm down, calm down. It's OK. Hurricane Irene has passed and I'm still alive. You can relax.

I didn't think the storm warnings were that severe for our area, but just to be safe we picked up some supplies Friday. We needed to be able to feed ourselves if the power went out. There were a lot of people at the two Giant grocery stores I went to, but they were all fairly patient and polite and almost nobody was completely filling their shopping carts. The shelves were still well stocked so long as you didn't need any candles. Yummy reported that Walmart was a different story. She says it was chaos.

Friday was storm free, but you could feel an oppressive humidity and what felt like higher than normal air pressure. Like we were being pressed between the oncoming storm and the one that passed the day before.

The rain started Saturday afternoon. As it got on toward evening the wind picked up but weren't yet putting on a real show. Partially because all the three story buildings were blocking the wind so life at street level wasn't bad. Above the roofs there were branches flailing around. On the sidewalk people were walking with umbrellas without a struggle. Around midnight things really started to get nuts. The tree in the neighbor's yard would bend way over and snap back. Street lamps wiggled. Out back we could see more trees waving back and forth furiously. Down in the alley the splashing of the rain formed a mist that obscured things nicely. The walking path between Yummy's house and the one to the north flooded. It has drainage, but not fast enough for what was falling into it. The storm seemed to have peaked around 4:00 in the morning.

Here's some pictures from the walk we took Sunday after the storm.

This tree used to be outside Yummy's window. It fell straight south, missing the houses and the cars. 

A better view of the tree in Yummy's neighbor's yard.

The city had this road blocked off, much to the annoyance to the cars behind me who wanted to get through.

Same limbs with the tree it came from in the back. 

The storm was kinda disappointing. We didn't lose power or end up with a good story other than the lucky falling of the tree next door. I won't be getting it on DVD.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Pink Floyd - 2:18

The Pogues


Thin Lizzy

Four Play

Arc Attack

Bill Bailey

Mitch Benn

Please note

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Links: August 26

An online cartoonist was doing a renfest storyline and included some Star Trek attendees. So a friend e-mailed the cartoonist an idea we were talking about doing in college. The cartoonist tweeted it. [link]

Man claims to have killed a fairy godmother and preserved her in formaldehyde. Apparently he doesn't realize that others go to the Dollar Store, too. [link]

How Harry Potter should have gone.

Watch through the credits.

The world's largest stove was destroyed by fire effectively eliminating the last reason you might have to go to Detroit. Mind you, the stove WAS made of oak, so no surprise there. [link]

Portal balloon art. [link]

Another step on the road to using data crystals. [summary] [article by researchers]

Anyone who works in an office will wince at this picture. [link]

"Dune" joke. [link]

Coffee ring (and water color paint) physics. [link]
Watch the video.

Hugo and Campbell Award winners. [link]
You want to read "The Magicians". Shout outs to Steven Moffat and the Foglios.

Duct Tape Tron. [link]

Redesign James Bond contest. [link]

Non-Euclidean level for Portal 2.

Achievements for IT folk. [link

Shadow puppetry.

Packs of vicious dogs terrorize indian reservations. [link]

This medicine doesn't help with flu symptoms and here's everything wrong with the thinking of the people who make it. [link]

Electric diwheel vehicle and how to develop a control system to keep you from spinning around wildly. Something similar likely had to be done for the Segway.

Pro-tax Republicans? Really? Oh, but only if you're retired or poor. Not for people making tons of money but paying none. [link]

Cancer sniffing dogs. [link]

Photographer refuses to take pictures of bitches. [link]

Lion King bloopers

Army robots may be given their own base. [link]

Impressive part of a firefighter test.

Read the dialog below the picture. [link]

OK Muppets.

Now you need to get those awful Statler and Waldorf voices out of your head with the originals.

Custom Portal 2 level marriage proposal.

Proof that a Portal movie might actually work.

Heavy metal quilt. [link]

13 year old makes breakthrough in solar collecting techniques. [link]

Even the ugly Las Vegas carpets encourage gambling. [link]

Match the face to the crime. [link]

Abandoned skyscrapers. [link]

A trailer for a movie about the invention of the vibrator in Victorian England. [link]

Exam Village - an area in Seoul where Koreans go for the express purpose of studying for the bar exam. [link]
This article would be Oscar material if turned into a movie.

Fox found out that as much as a week's delay of their shows appearing on Hulu causes a spike in episode piracy. [link]
It's like this, Fox. There's lots of shows that people want to watch, but not when your schedule dictates. We understand showing programs is a business and we don't mind watching shows with commercials. But if the shows aren't made available we'll steal them. The BBC learned to show Dr Who in the US the same day as it was shown in England because a delay of even a week, let alone the 3 weeks it used to do, got everyone who wanted to see it to steal it instead of waiting. This year they're showing on the same day and piracy is way down. I still pirate because I don't have cable, but I buy the DVDs when they come out.
Oh, and when looking at ratings, be sure to check Hulu's hit counter. It's much more accurate than those Nielsen Ratings boxes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Movie Review: Conan the Barbarian

When we went to the movies last weekend we got to take a survey about a movie trailer. They wanted to know how to make them more appealing. We also got some questions about actors and how particular actors made a movie more or less appealing. I've done similar surveys over the phone, too. Before I would have said the actors don't make a difference, but in reflection that's not true. The presence of David Tennant made "Fright Night" more appealing. So did their pick for Conan in this new "Conan the Barbarian" movie. He played Ronon Dex on "Stargate: Atlantis".

I'm not a huge Conan fan. I don't think I've read a single comic. I did recently pick up the original stories written by the original author, but I haven't cracked it yet. Mostly I'm familiar with him from the spoofs. Mad Magazine when I was a kid, tales of Cohen the Barbarian from the Discworld, things like that. I think that this movie was more true to Conan than the Schwarzenegger movies, but I'm up for any correcting you might want to do.

The movie starts out slow. I mean after you get past his birth and the death of his mother on a battlefield. So, "slow" isn't the right word. "Poorly". Yeah, lets go with that. Some of the acting, particularly the young sorceress, was awful. Except for Ron Perlman. He's good.

An ancient object of power that was once used to almost take over the world was broken into pieces and scattered after the one wearing it was defeated. Somehow nobody thought to throw it into Mt Doom. Then, during test of manhood the up and coming warriors are attacked by something from beyond the thunderdome. They're followed by knights and some Asian Spaniards.

Once you get Conan into adulthood things pick up. He and a friend wander the land looking for the six fingered man who killed his father. Wherever they go the two of them put right what once went wrong. Preferably with topless women involved. Once they get a lead Conan takes off on his own to deal with mad priests, evil sorceresses, a power mad ruler, sand demons, captive and hungry giant "squid", and a princess who is the last of her bloodline. The blood is copious, the sound effects crunchy, and the numerous battles make you feel the sympathy pains.

No Oscars are coming out of this movie. I won't be getting it on DVD. But, if you want an action movie this is the one to see. And if they make a sequel I'll probably see it, too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sod Off Wednesday: August 24

Can you find Wall-E? How many of the other robots do you recognize?

[Where's Wall-E]

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


update: There was an aftershock, but it was only in the magnitude 2 range.

WOO! Earthquake!
It's been a good 30 minutes, now, so I have real data to give you. About 90 miles SW of here, as the crow flies, in Mineral, VA there was an 5.9 magnitude earthquake. That's NW of Richmond about 45 miles. 

I was in my bedroom reading when it hit. There was a rumbling and the bed started squeaking. I thought that my amateur woodworking skills on the attic had come back to bite me in the ass. The fear of 17 years of comic books and 22 years of computers coming down on your head are a much bigger motivator than a simple earthquake. 

It wasn't until I was on the other side of the bedroom door that I realized something else was going on. For one thing the bedroom ceiling was still intact but there were still loud, rumbling, sound effects going on. Then I realized that it must be an earthquake and the door frame right in front of me would be the best place to hang out. Things fell off the shelf in the office (stack of floppy disks) and a bottle fell of the stairs going up to the attic. Downstairs, some boards fell over. 

So I put on some pants and decided to get out of the house for a few minutes. Gandolf was flapping her wings and making nervous ticking sounds. I put a leash on her and we headed out.

The Howard University office building across the street had emptied out on the sidewalk. Everybody was milling about and talking excitedly. Everybody suddenly much more willing to talk to strangers. 

I sent a text and a mass e-mail and went back inside. The news sites were being hammered and were running super slow. Worse if you're on your phone. 

This is the second earthquake I've known about since moving to DC. The previous one I mistook for an overloaded cart being pushed around one floor up. The Colonel thought it was the landscapers dumping another load of boulders. It took listening to the news the next day to realize it was something else.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Movie Review: Fright Night

When I was a kid we had a VCR but very few store bought movies. Pretty much none. But I still had a modest collection of movie recorded off of broadcast TV. The original "Fright Night" was one of them. I watched it a lot. I had very little to do in pre-internet, pre-drivers license, Kansas. It wasn't a scary vampire film, but it was enjoyable. And it had proper vampires. When I heard they were remaking it I wasn't expecting much. In fact, what made me decide to see the new version was David "Dr Who" Tennant playing the role of the TV vampire expert being drug into the mess. What? I've seen lots of Hamlet but I watched the one he and Patrick Stewart were in just because it was them. There's very few actors that make me think a movie is gonna be respectable because they're in it. A lot more actors that make me think a movie is gonna be BAD because they're in it.

This is a vampire movie in the traditional sense of the word. Nobody sparkles. Nor do they eat chocolaty cereal or have an obsession with counting things. Although, truth be told, they are supposed to be a bit OCD. This is not the story of vampire as hero. This is the natural development of a Dracula style vampire in a modern setting.

Our hero is warned by one of the school nerds, and his former best friend, that his new neighbor is a vampire. Naturally, you blow off anyone talking like that. You do until the friend vanishes, along with so many others in the school. Then he has the unenviable task of protecting his single mother and unlikely girlfriend from the handsome menace next door without looking insane. Knowing only what he learned from messed up movies, he turns to the head of a Las Vegas magic act that's all gothic and claims to know about vampires for expertise. But he's no different from anyone else. "Vampires don't exist, kid".

That's your basic framework. The movie is what comes between that framework. The movie still isn't scary, but it's not a slasher flick either. It manages to get a few jumps and surprises from the audience without having to resort to cats jumping from closets. Colin Farrell really manages to sell himself as a 400 year old vampire who likes to play with his food. David Tennant acts and sounds much like he did as The Doctor while still managing to come off as cynic, jackass, and coward.

I'm not gonna be getting it on DVD. But I'm glad I saw it. It's not a blockbuster, but it is worth a watch if you're embarrassed by the state of today's vampire.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Links: August 19

The second half of this season of Dr Who comes next month. This takes place between The Battle of Demon's Run and the new episode "Let's Kill Hitler". [link]
Meanwhile, in Torchwood, nobody on Earth is dying. Nobody but Captain Jack Harkness.

And on the set of Supernatural they're asking for more ducks. [ducks]

When Harry Met Sally 2 - Billy Crystal and Helen Mirren. Billy pulls a great vampire face. [link]

Donald Duck teaching math.

Stand Your Ground: 6 people taking pictures on public property around London and filming the reactions of security.

NPR interviews Terry Pratchett about his campaign to legalize, or at least educate, about assisted suicide. [link]

When Patents Attack episode of This American Life. They talk about companies that exist for the sole purpose of suing. [link]

Fark announced how it gave some patent trolls a smack down so hard they didn't even have to sign an NDA. [link]

Holy ass! It's a cure for the common cold and possibly every other virus based illness! [link 1] [link 2]

Study indicates that the rich really are different. They're worse people. [link]

What if male superheroes posed like Wonder Woman? [link]

How pencils are made. Moderately more interesting than you think! [link]

It's SO dry... How dry is it? These pictures will tell you. [link]

Torture: It's history and resurrection [link]

How to throw a punch. [link]

Do spoilers actually make a story better? [link]
There are some stories that I read with an "are you going somewhere with this" attitude. Knowing there was a development of some kind 50 pages down the road would help. At other times half the fun of the story is trying to figure out where the story is going and sometimes liking your own development more than the author's.
Does the desire for a predictable story explain why so many movies are so predictable? Why an old roommate and I would compete in who could come closest to guessing the next line of dialog in a show we hadn't seen before? We got to be pretty damn good at getting not only the verbiage, but the pauses and inflections right.

Another reason I need earth moving equipment. [link]

Another reason I don't want to live in the south. Apparently their pizza is weak. [link]

Oldest survivor of the Bataan Death March stops surviving after 105 years. [link]

Interview with a one year old.

Woah! He does this thing. With papers! [link]

The Kepler spacecraft has found the darkest planet ever found in the direction of the constellation Draco. Sci-fi writers... go nuts. [link]

A trailer for a Japanese horse racing game. And, no, you haven't had as much to drink as you're about to suspect. [link]

An old DuPont manual: Farming with Dynamite. [link]
Wow. We're trying to get away from tilling the ground at all. Blasting just seems silly. But FUN!

No matter how long you spend in art school you'll never be able to draw lines like this guy. Give up and become a dentist like your dad.

Man gets house for $16.

I've wondered about this. Usually it's two years as a squatter to have a house declared yours. But would you be willing to live without running water or electricity for that long?

Atomic cars may be here. Just so long as you have the thorium. [link]

Snacks for your next book club meeting... or whatever. Maybe an edible case for your e-book? [link]

Warren Buffet say Stop Coddling the Super Rich. [link]

AT&T memo refutes their own claims for the need to buy T-Mobile. [link]
AT&T, you want better coverage? Build it.

Authorities blame blacks, Sinatra, Elvis, rock and roll, comic books, pinball machines, Beastie Boys, rap, Twitter for social unrest and not their own idiotic policies. [link]

Now wackaloon politicians can claim that their previous claims are just doctored videos. [link]

Bike repair vending machines. [link]

"Slaughterhouse Five" banned again. [link]
Dude, why ban it? It wasn't a particularly enjoyable read.

Here's a list of other commonly banned books. [link]
I read 4 of the top 10 in school.

25 Greatest Unscripted Scenes in Films.

They left out lots of stuff from "Aladdin" where Robin Williams was left to just run wild. And some stuff in "Serenity" where Mal was just told to say something that Mal would say.

Hey, a cat! On the internet! Will my sarcasm never cease?

You have a box marked WWIII and access to the National Gallery. What you put in the box will be rescued in an emergency while the rest will be left to burn. What do you put in the box? This guy has just that task before him. [link]

Teddy Roosevelt's diary on the day his wife Alice died. [link]
He never spoke of his wife publicly again.

Would Palin, Romney, Bachmann, or any of the GOP candidates take the time from handshaking to discuss policy with an opponent? Guess who does? [link]

Oh, look, another Republican politician caught trying to cover up that he's gay. [link]

More serious, but educated Christians say the human genome rules out the existence of Adam and Eve. [link]
Adam and Eve are part of Christian, Hebrew, and Muslim mythologies but it is mythology as surely as Prometheus stealing fire from Zeus. They aren't necessary to the existence of Jesus anymore than the existence of some deity is required for the existence of a soul or vice versa.
Jesus is unique to Christian mythologies and is claimed to be central to modern Christian behavior. Focus not on original sin as a reason for Jesus's eventual execution. Focus on his life and teachings. And if you really need to give purpose to the crucifixion beyond the Hebrew leadership getting rid of a pest, then think about this. Before Jesus God demanded blood sacrifices. Or, at least, his priests claimed he did. Or perhaps the priests did them because the followers believed in the need for blood sacrifice. But the killing of Jesus was supposed to be the final sacrifice. Either God was satisfied or his followers were satisfied that they were no longer needed. Either way, his passing was hard on the sacrificial lamb market.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Energy Star 50's

This is an e-mail I sent to GE back in May. Only they didn't get the pictures.

The Kelvinator in question
I'd like to recommend some design changes for your future refrigerators. Mostly I want you to look back at older designs.

There are warehouses in DC, Baltimore and I'm sure many other places where one can buy items that have been salvaged from houses undergoing renovation. Lumber, moulding, windows, and the like. They also have old furniture and appliances. We go to "Community Forklift" in Washington, DC and drool over ovens and refrigerators that our grandparents might have used. The outbuildings on my family farm in Kansas contain great looking refrigerators that belonged to my great grandmother. And any time my girlfriend sees a house with a Smeg refrigerator on TV she gets all excited. She just sent me pictures of a 1950-something Kelvinator on sale on Ebay.

My point is that there are loads of appliances with 40's and 50's styling that lots of people would absolutely love to own. The reason they don't is because modern refrigerators are so much more energy efficient. And they're not in the stores.

I'm sure the exterior design has nothing to do with the energy consumption. Just as I'd love to drive a Prius with a Porche body there's lots of people who would love a refrigerator with 50's design but that meets Energy Star ratings.

I hope that you'll at least consider a focus group to consider this option.

I did get a personal response from GE. I won't post it or identify the author because it would be rude to do so without permission. But the writer agreed about the appeal of older fridges and also notices them on TV. My letter was passed on to marketing and I was thanked for my comments. So, not a form letter.

Hey, GE!  It's only been 3 months since I asked and I can't expect to see new products out so fast, but it's coming up to time for me to redo my kitchen. I see companies that refurbish old refrigerators that I feel I should ask about power consumption. And I see Smeg refrigerators being sold at Sears. I'm just sayin'.

If any of the rest of you want to write to GE or any other appliance company it wouldn't hurt. 

For my new oven I'm torn between an old one in good shape or some nice super efficient and easy to clean induction stove.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

image quality

note: this page has no association with the US Army or Borden Institute.

I make medical textbooks for a living. That is, I get sent words and pictures and I make them into something that looks like a book. My old English teachers would be horrified to learn I have anything do to with a field where I might be responsible for deciding where commas go. Let me assure them, most of the time I don't even read the text.

A lot of the pictures are of dubious quality. I'm making this post in the hopes of explaining what I'm looking for in image quality.

Over the last several years the quality of the images I get to work with has diminished. With the rise of digital cameras most people have traded their old film cameras for a reasonably priced digital equivalent. Or worse yet, their phone. Actual photographs could be scanned in at a high resolution and made just about any size you like. A pricier digital camera, like mine, can get me a picture that can be printed at 300 dpi across a standard piece of letter sized paper. But most people don't buy their cameras with the intent of using them to retake scenes in small, damaged, or corrupt picture and then publish them. Most people want a more modestly priced camera that will allow them to post pictures on Facebook or send through e-mail. Usually, those pictures can't be expected to fill even one of the two columns we use on a page of our books. Not at 300 dpi, anyway.

Dpi stands for "dots per inch". A computer monitor shows 72 dpi [huge disclaimer removed]. In print we like 300 dpi. More than that is a waste. Less starts to become grainy or blocky. And it gets the people at the Government Printing Office to grumble at us.

It's hard to show the difference in quality between print and screen resolution when we're looking at the example on screen. It's like showing commercials for HDTVs on older televisions. You can't see the difference on the lesser medium. So I want you to follow this link. It'll take you to a PDF stored in Google Docs. Page one shows a 300 dpi picture and a 72 dpi picture. You can see a difference between the two if you look, but Google Docs does degrade them a bit. If you go to File and Download Original you can see the non-degraded version on your computer. At first the 72 dpi picture just seems a bit more hazy. Then you'll start to look at the edges of thing. Where the flower petals meet the grass or concrete the line is a bit jagged. Compare the yellow petals. Have a look at the edges of the purple leaves in the corner. Zoom in just a bit and the problem becomes more much more evident.

And you can't make a 72dpi picture into a 300dpi picture simply by changing it in Photoshop. At least not without reducing the size of the picture to 1/4 of what it was. Instead what you get is a high quality print of a low quality picture.

Page two of the PDF shows the same thing you see below.
Both pictures are jpegs. One is saved at the best quality. The other at the worst quality. At least according to Photoshop.

high quality jpeg - 72dpi - 434kb

low quality jpeg - 72dpi - 172kb
See what happened to the pebbles in the sidewalk? How the red flowers get misshapen? Or the yellow petals start to resemble a flock of deformed butterflies?

Jpegs were created to make images smaller for transfer by floppy disk or modem. It's why they, along with gifs, were chosen to be the default image types acceptable on the internet. But in converting them to jpegs some data is lost. The picture, as you see above, degrades.

We now have CDs, DVDs, DSL, and Gmail accounts with 20mb attachments. The file size is less important. Some editors still save their images as low or medium quality jpeg to make the files smaller. Please don't. We have the storage. We have the speed. We WANT the huge files. Better to have the data to burn rather than have to return the image as unusable.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Wall

See this? This is the back wall of my house. Back about the time that this blog started I had the wall torn down and replaced. I told them to leave the wall open so I could work on my own schemes.

The plan was to make a wall that I could get into. I suspected there were issues in the wall before I had it removed. But to prove it I'd have to tear down the sheetrock. Whether I was right or wrong the sheetrock would then need to be repaired. And what if I needed to run wires? What do I do if rats get in the walls? Or if the insulation starts to settle? Or I get mold? The answer to all of those question is punch holes in the wall and then patch it. My plan was a modular wall.

Ideally I want something like on the starship Enterprise where the walls are made of panels that you can just pop open when a plasma conduit needs replacing. I drew up some lovely plans for huge wall panels that would work like that, but just weren't worth the effort for a lousy 8"x14" wall that includes a door, a window, some stairs, and a counter all screwing things up. My design would work great in an office building or hotel with long stretches of wall that could be covered with identical panels. Then you'd just make some door panels or electrical panels for those sections where something different was needed. But that doesn't describe my house.

Wall studs are supposed to be placed 16" apart measuring from the center of one stud to the next. I figured that I'd make a series of 16"x16" plyboo squares and fasten them to the studs with decorative bolts that could be removed whenever my paranoia about rats and mold got the better of me.

But I don't work terribly fast.

In June 2006 I had the whole back wall removed and rebuilt. It was complete mess and the only reasonable thing to do was to start over. That and the bathroom needed work. We found out later it wanted to fall through the kitchen ceiling. [link] I had to live in my office for two months while the work was being done.

In late 2006 I got a bunch of plyboo and started working with it. [delivery] [first attempt to cut it]

Then other projects got my attention. I installed an attic. I exposed the brick and replaced the floor in my library.

I went back to the plyboo in August of 2008. I cut a couple of sheets into 16"x16" squares. I was proud of how close I came to getting them within 1/32 of an inch. [link] Turns out now that I had only 8 that were just right and about 12 that were right in one direction but in the other direction one edge was right while the other was off by 1/16 of an inch. I'll need to sand them down.

I picked this project back up again late 2010. Now, don't think I'd been ignoring it completely all this time. I had a pile of cut plyboo squares blocking up my kitchen. You can't ignore that. Instead, I'd been trying to figure out how to get the boards attached to the walls correctly. In my mind I had it right, but I couldn't find the parts that I needed. I really thought I was gonna have to get some angle iron and a grinder, cut a bunch of metal corners, and then drill holes in them. I forget what words I had been Googling, but "angle bracket" was what I needed. Once I had that I found the brackets I needed with holes big enough to take bolts and some attractive bolts that take Allen wrenches. I was also gonna weld some nuts to the angle brackets so the bolt would have something to screw into. But then it occurred to me that the metal on the brackets was thick enough that if they were threaded I wouldn't need the nuts.

For those of you who haven't spent time in a metal shop (and obviously I haven't spent a lot of time in one), a "tap" is what you use to put threads in a hole so a bolt will fit in there. It's sort of a really hard screw with sharp threads and gaps running down the sides to let shavings fall out and get a fresh bite into the metal. They often come with a "die" which you use to put the threads on a metal shaft to make it a bolt.

At Christmas I took my angle brackets and bolts with me to Kansas. Dad and I got some taps to match the thread spacing on the bolts. Dad tapped the first several and I got lazy and waited until I was back in DC to tap the rest.

Then I did nothing for another couple of months. I'd had a look at the studs in the wall and realized that they weren't installed 100% correctly. They weren't all the right width. They weren't placed at the exact right spacing. Some weren't even straight up and down. They drifted by an inch. I always forget that the specs and the reality of home building differ by a good deal. Math alone won't get the job done.

A friend gave me what was, in retrospect, the obvious solution. Get some 1"x2"s and put them horizontally along the wall. Since I'm the one doing the work they'll be exactly where I want them. Then I can attach the squares to the horizontal boards.

I started in the lower left corner of the window and started working my way up and to the left. I got 5 squares put up the first afternoon. I don't have as much time to do the work as I'd like, so it was a couple of weeks before I got back to it. I hoped to get up to 10 squares in place. But I soon found that some minor issues were adding up to make big gaps. So I started working from the top and coming down. I ended up having to rehang everything by the time I was done. I made sure the top horizontal board was level and hung squares from it. Then I put in the next horizontal board down and hung squares from it. Then the next and the next. The squares still line up with the lower left corner of the window and now the spacing works out better than it did before.

Unfortunately I've used all my good squares. I'll have to spend some time with the sander taking down that extra 1/16" on of the corners of some of the remaining squares. I think 7 should do the trick. Then I'll have to get into the irregular shapes.

More pictures when the wall is closer to done.

Monday, August 15, 2011

We got an award

Have I mentioned that I make medical textbooks for the Surgeon General of the Army? A few times?

One of our more recent releases is "Pediatric Surgery and Medicine for Hostile Environments". You can read it here if you're so inclined.

At the upcoming American Medical Writers Association the book got a Special Recognition Award. Alright, it's not first and it's not a runner up, but they're still saying it's a damn fine book.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Links: August 12

A new short story from John Scali - "The Other Large Thing" [link]

American citizen who was held without charge and tortured by American soldiers has been granted permission by a judge to sue Donald Rumsfeld himself. [link]

A 5K zombie filled obstacle course. [link]

Water walking robot (tiny robot). [link]

Picture: time lapse of stars with lightning bugs. [link]

Floating island balloon. [link]

Why those truck drivers have an attitude. [link]
Those tight delivery appointments and understaffed warehouses are almost certainly Walmart induced.

Young Terry Gilliam explaining how he does his animations. [link]

Game: Not To Scale - a puzzle game where the pieces change size [link]

Some digital cameras have a rolling effect. Instead of taking a picture of a whole area at once like with film the exposure is done a bit at a time, top to bottom, super fast. So point that camera at something like airplane propellers and you get this.

Demonstration of owl head stability.

Static electric dog.

About a year ago a software company made the claim that they could make computer graphics make of "atoms" instead of polygons and blow the doors off of everyone else in the industry. After a few interviews they vanished and were presumed to be liars. This video is an update of their progress before they vanish again.

Game: Synapsis 2 - an escape the room type game. You have several rooms with things that must be picked up and used appropriately to get you out. [link]

NPR listeners created a list of best 100 sci-fi books. I've read 43 of them, seen movies based on a few more, started one and quit, have 3 more on my to-be-read shelf. [link]

Benedict Cumberbatch (best known for "Sherlock") playing Stephen Hawking in a biography covering Hawking's time when he contracted his disease and made the discovery that made his name. Part 1 of 6.

Judge smacks down patent troll. [link]

Using a cat's eye and brain as a camera. Yes, while still attached to the cat. [link]

The story of the theft and recovery of the Mona Lisa. [link]

The Air Force has suspended it's Bible based ethics training for officers responsible for nuclear launches. [link]

"The White Mouse", heroine of WWII, died recently at age 98. [link]

Neil DeGrasse Tyson to host a remake of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos". [link]

Pictures of dogs shaking off water. [link]

Ants change color depending on what they've eaten. This photographer has fun with it. [link]

Add up all the box office returns from the movies that different actors have been in and you'll get some surprises about most valuable actors. [link]

Rollerblading through salt mines in Poland. I'd be very injured 5 seconds in. [link]

Unsettling one minute short stories set to background audio. [link]

And from a reader: An old liquid oxygen safety training video.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Movie Review: Rise of Planet of the Apes

When is a prequel not a prequel?

Seriously, is "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" really a prequel if there's no movie for it to come before. It's a remake of a prequel, but does that make it a prequel?

I saw this movie by myself. Yummy saw the trailers and said she couldn't go. She couldn't take the chimps being abused. She won't see animal documentaries for this very reason. She couldn't make it to the end of "Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill".

It wasn't too bad in that regard, but there was some "oh, the poor animal" moments. There were moments that would have made her cry, some that would make her sad, some that would make her laugh, some that would just fascinate, and some that are touching. It really was well done. Now that I've screened it I'd take her to see it. There really isn't nearly as much "pick on the animals" as you might think from the trailer. It's really a rather thoughtful movie.

A research lab is working on a treatment for Alzheimers patients. James Franco, who is looking remarkably like Billy from the Gremlins movies, leads the project and is pushing a bit harder than is prudent. See, his own father has Alzheimers. John Lithgow, for the most part, does a great job depicting someone whose mind is slipping away. But when they go to show their prize test subject to a group of investors it freaks out and trashes the place and is shot down in front of them. The treatment is blamed and the project is cancelled. The chimps are ordered to be put down. That's when they find out that the chimp that freaked out was protecting a baby. Franco takes the baby, and the serum, home. Lithgow gets successfully treated and Caesar (Andy Serkis [a.k.a. Gollum]) grows up.

I'm gonna stop right now. I've given enough spoilers away.

At some point in the film Caesar is tossed in what is essentially an ape prison. At this point the movie becomes a bit like Wall-E. Sections of the movie become like a silent film. You have to watch the interaction of the various primates to figure out what's going on in their heads and how their relationships are developing.

Most of the movie is development. The action scenes late in the movie are great, but if you're going for an action movie this isn't what you want to see. Caesar tries not to kill people, but lets some of his followers deliver whatever retribution they feel justified to a few certain people.

And be sure not to charge out when the credits start to roll. You don't have to watch the whole thing, but you'll get to see a sequence where the asshole neighbor destroys all life on the planet.

I'll probably get this one on DVD.

Corrected: Pick your weather service

A commenter pointed out that some stray quotes in my code caused a bunch of my post to vanish and it looked like I called Weather Underground immoral slime. Quite the contrary. This should be the corrected text.

I've told you about my hate on for Walmart. I've probably mentioned my hate for a time or twelve. Now I'm gonna prattle on about the weather services.

First there's NOAA. I actually have no problem with NOAA. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the US government's weather monitoring and forecasting service. You can get quick rundowns for your area at without fees or advertising. Dig around in their site and you can find unprocessed data that you can use when writing your own little weather app. Their site may fail to update a bit more often than the other weather sites, but it's still a pretty useful and reliable site.

That's in contrast with the more commonly used Accuweather service. My phone came with an Accuweather widget that I promptly removed. When staying in hotels it's usually an Accuweather printout I see hanging in the elevator. Sometimes I see them used for television weather prediction. I see their stuff used all over the place. They're a weather prediction company and make money from their predictions.

Accuweather was also a major contributor to former Senator Rick "anal scum" Santorum in exchange for him pushing bills that would make it illegal for NOAA to make their predictions publicly available. They pressured employees to make contributions to him as well. Obviously the muzzling of NOAA would increase business for Accuweather. I'm happy to say that the rest of Congress was happy to laugh at and reject Santorum's bill. It got no cosponsors and never went up for a vote.

I'm not sure which I hate more. The fact that they're trying to silence NOAA or the fact that they would fund immoral slime like Santorum. is the Weather Channel's website. I don't see nearly as many apps for them as I do for Accuweather. They too contributed to Santorum, but nowhere near as much as Accuweather. I can't back it up, but at the time they seemed ashamed to be making the donation. I don't boycott them, but they're not my preferred service.

The fourth service is Weather Underground []. I've never heard anything bad about them. It used to look much like some geeks with an interest in weather data running a website. They're looking more professional now. They give more information than I tend to see on the other sites as well as an archive of past weather going back years.

Like their service tends to drop from time to time. I use the "Weather Forecast Widget" on my phone which allows me to pick from Google, NOAA, and Weather Underground forecast data. I've got it set for Weather Underground. Sometimes it goes blank for awhile. Their trip planner I find quite useful.

And they give you this little app for your website.
Click for Washington, District of Columbia Forecast

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sod off Wednesday: today

The Colonel is back. She told Iraq to sod off.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Google Street View

On my way home this morning I saw the Google Street View car.

Yummy lives in Baltimore and I in DC. Since I work from home I have to go home on Mondays. I'd just turned onto a side street. I was watching traffic because that road has more traffic than a street that small and in that bad of a condition really deserves. In my peripheral vision I caught something sticking WAY up on the top of a car to my left. I thought it'd be cool if it was the Street View car, but didn't expect it to be. But sure enough, parked along the side of the road was a small, colorful car, with a camera turret sticking up like a giraffe through a sun roof. Someone was in the car, but since it wasn't moving I don't think the camera was running. It's unlikely that I'll be showing up on Google Maps anytime soon. Most pictures of the car just show a car with the camera attached to the top and some magnet labeling it as the Street View car on the side or the hood. This car looked... well...

...a bit like this.

So I got to see the car, but didn't get photographed. Yummy got photographed, but didn't see the car. My brother and his friend got busted for trying to fix the friend's car, poorly, because when they were getting parts for the car they left the hose running out to the street. The friend's wife saw the picture later and busted them for trying to fix the car in such a way that required a hose.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Friday Links: August 5

Freaky squid

6,239 point dot-to-dot picture [link]

MS-DOS is 30 years old. They may say it's came after Microsoft bought the rights to QDOS, but the courts say it came after Microsoft stole DR-DOS. [link]

People explaining why they believe in God. [link]
Other people explaining why they don't. [link]

A slight issue with the upcoming movie based on the game "Battleship". "With the decommissioning of the last Iowa-class ships, no battleships remain in service (including in reserve) with any navy worldwide." [link]

New LOL Cat: Chemistry Cat. [link] [one more]

A great argument for using drones. [link]

Hummers, in my opinion, have only one valid use. Vehicles for those suffering PTSD. If something close to their old military vehicle makes them feel safe while driving then it's OK by me. Everybody else can sod off. But these guys have another use for them now that Hummer has gone out of business. [link]

20% of adults think that light sabers are real. As much as I'd love to see the technology made real it's probably a good thing it's not. Here's just the beginning of what it'd be used for.

One of my sources for links got this with his chinese food. [link]

Superman may inspire new Ohio license plates. [link]

Comic Con cosplayers lipsyncing.

More costumes. [link]

Isaac Asimov, and others, have had stories about dinner clubs that solve crimes over drinks. Someone took the idea to heart and has been holding meetings for 21 years. [link]

Making swords starting with raw ore. [link]

The members of Seal Team 6 still remain anonymous, but a reporter for the New Yorker got to interview them. Here he talks about the raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound as it was told to him. [link]

Sign hacking. [link]

Great 404 page. [link]

A mess of moons. [link]

Google's chef reveals the recipe for Elvis' favorite chicken. [link]

Birth control coverage expanded. [link]

It stinks! [link]

Gabrielle Giffords, the Congresswoman shot in the head in Arizona awhile back, is not only alive, but awake and voting. [link]

New Batman game has your choice of Batmen... which one you get is based on where you buy it. [link]

Batmobile that actually is turbine powered.

The drought has uncovered another piece of Space Shuttle Columbia. [link]

Uh... shape thingy.


Rescued kittens in Afghanistan. [link]

Cat colony threatened at US Embassy in Kabul. [link]

Taxidermy gone horribly wrong. [link]

Game: Cat God vs Sun King - Cat God stole all your followers. Slaughter them before they finish building his temple. [link]

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Book Review: Time Travelers Never Die

My latest read is "Time Travelers Never Die" by Jack McDevitt. I've got a whole stack of his books that I picked up while plundering a Borders.

The plot is kind of light. It seems more like wish fulfillment by the author than what we'd normally think of as a novel. This isn't necessarily bad. The author writes well so what's written is enjoyable. But think about what you'd do if you had a time machine that would fit in your pocket. It seems that the author spent quite awhile thinking about just that. This book is his way of telling what he'd do.

There is a plot. The main character's father has vanished. The father's lawyer was asked to deliver a note in the case of the father's disappearance. The note directs the son to several qPads (presumably advanced iPads) that he's directed to destroy. Instead the son sets to figuring out the password. After a few strange incidents he figures out that they're time machines and that his father is stuck somewhere in time. He gets a friend who has a knack for languages and they set off visiting some of his father's favorite people, places, and events in history. But when they find him he's a very old man. If they go back further to rescue him when he's younger the paradox will give them heart attacks.

The rest of the book tells about their further travels in time.

Mixed in with the rest is a story about recovering documents presumed lost when the Library of Alexandria burned. Well, maybe they were stolen before the fire. And maybe the librarian helped a bit.  Modern scholars are left to debate whether these anonymously sent plays really are the work of an ancient Greek playwright or just a damn good forgery.

I'm not saying the book is bad. Not at all. I enjoyed reading it. If you're a history buff or if you've fantasized about what you'd do with a time machine then this book is for you.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Movie Review: Horrible Bosses

This was a movie that I could have easily let slip by. Almost did. The trailer looked funny. A friend saw it and recommended it. But somehow we kept not quite getting around to seeing it.

Three guys all with bosses that aren't just bad at their jobs but are actively malicious decide to kill them off. Not just for the betterment of their lives, but of the company and everyone who works there. Not all are 100% committed to the idea, but they're all going along with it. The plan is to kill each other's bosses so there's no clear motive. In this way the movie is kind of like "Throw Momma From the Train" and it knows it. But it doesn't work out quite that way as they all work on the same jobs and spend a lot of time together.

But that's the story and the story isn't what sells it. In different hands this movie could have gone very wrong. Instead of Jason Bateman type actors they could have cast Adam Sandler type actors. Same script, but very different movie. The audience would have gone from 30-somethings to college students. Nor is it a Danny DeVito/Billy Crystal type movie.

Am I explaining it right? I can't tell.

The movie works. It's funny. Not funny like you were amused, but never laughed. Not like you split your sides the whole time. Most of the movie was amusing and I laughed in many places.

While I won't be getting it on DVD it would have been a shame to miss it.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Movie Review: Cowboys & Aliens

"Cowboys vs Aliens" is the latest graphic novel to get adapted into a movie. But it wasn't always supposed to be a graphic novel. This article talks about how they had to make the story into a successful graphic novel in order to sell it as a movie script. [link]

It was a good movie. I don't really feel that it stands up against Captain America or Thor, but against the usual movie fare it stands up pretty damn well.

We hear stories about aliens visiting today all the time. Occasionally you hear conspiracy nuts go on about how they also helped build the pyramids or that the Lost City of Gold that early explorers of the Americas were searching for were really landed UFOs and that's why they were seen from afar but never up close. This movie makes the claim that they were in the American southwest after the American Civil War (era assumed from hats worn in the movie).

The usual issues you might expect in tales of the old west are still going on. Powerful cattle barons trying to keep their people and the local community in line, roving gangs of bandits stealing anything that's not nailed down, uppity kids terrorizing the populace, and on like that. In the middle of a big showdown in downtown nowhere there are strange lights in the sky. Lights that start snatching people up and flying off with them. What else do you do in a situation like that? Whether aliens, indians, or bandits, when someone runs off with your kin you have to hunt them down and kill them.

Daniel Craig somehow has a piece of advanced technology on his arm that can kill aliens and their ships, but he's still fairly Daniel Craigish. Harrison Ford starts off playing someone rather unHarrison Fordish. He's very angry and tough as nails in order to keep people from destroying what he's tried to build. Possibly what Han Solo would have been in his old age if not for those meddling Skywalker kids.

The aliens interested me. While watching the movie I find myself wondering how a creature like that would evolve. They're very strong, very fast, have thick armored skin, and don't wear any clothes or have any language outside animal-like grunts and howls. How the fuck did someone with all those evolutionary advantages evolve the intelligence to build interstellar space ships. Sure, you might meet these people if you land on their planet, but could they come to ours?

Then I saw that their chest opens up and there's more arms and whatnot coming out of there. That's when I realized that the armored aliens ARE the clothing. The intelligent species is a parasitic (or possibly symbiotic) creature that lives inside the armored creature and has been living like that for hundreds of thousands of years. They're soft, virtually immobile, and would evolve brains and ways to use others for their own ends.

Sorry, but it's a point that was bothering me.

I enjoyed the movie and encourage others to see it. I'll probably get it on DVD.