Archive for May, 2008

Hydraulic brakes can fail

May 22, 2008 5 comments

A few years ago as I approached a busy intersection, the brakes on my Chevvy Astro went right to the floor.  I sailed through the red light and coasted to a stop on the other side.  A brake line had ruptured.  My survival was luck, not skill.

Then there’s today.  Two of my office mates and I were riding somewhat competitively back to the office after a coffee break, and I took a shortcut toward some stairs.  Though I was moving pretty fast, my bike has hydraulic disc brakes just like a car, so I knew I could drop a lot of speed before reaching them.


The brake handle collapsed and fluid gushed out.  NO front brakes.  On a bicycle, if you don’t know, the front brakes provide just about all of the stopping power.  Now I’m moving much too fast and about to go down some stairs… and then crash into a building.

It was a rough ride but I didn’t crash.  I don’t know how many thousands of hours I’ve spent on a bike in my life but they must have made a difference. And that (new) bike is going back to the shop.

Movie(s) review - 2007 Oscar shorts & animated shorts

May 18, 2008 3 comments

Two movies in one weekend! On Friday night it was Oscar’s Shorts 2007; five excellent short films.  My favorite was The Tonto Woman; it was also the best Western movie I have ever seen and only 38 minutes long to boot.  Yes, a cattle rustler might be capable of moral outrage.

The other films were about three women in a cancer ward, a crazy “substitute teacher”, an innovative matchmaker, and a pair of Hungarian pickpockets. Of them I only disliked the one about the cancer ward – the others were a hoot.

Tonight it was 2007 Oscar Animated Shorts.  I love animated films, though some of tonight’s selections were seriously weird – on the level of “be more careful who you buy your LSD from” weird. My favorite was Peter & The Wolf – an unusual retelling of Prokofiev’s tale. 

Finally, just because I was knocking around on YouTube looking for a clip from The Tonto Woman, I ran across this mad cool video morphing montage of modern paintings which has nothing whatever to do with the movies we saw…

How’s your art history knowledge?  How many of the paintings do you recognize?  My taste runs more to Vermeer or Homer than Picasso, so I’d like to see a montage of paintings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  Though I do like some 20th century painters around the likes of Edward Hopper.

Categories: Movies, Reviews

On “appeasement”

May 17, 2008 15 comments

Conservative Republicans (using the terms in their modern corrupted meaning here) have their panties in a knot about the Obama camp’s reaction to Bush’s shot at him from Israel the other day.  They’re hopping around shouting “Appeasement!” and “Chamberlain!” as if they had any idea what either reference meant.

(By the way, Chamberlain’s ‘appeasement’ was not in talking to Hitler, but in giving him half of Czechoslovakia.  Mark that down because it’ll be important in a minute.)

“Appeasement” is a stone the self-styled followers of Reagan should be very careful about throwing. Their poster-boy was a worse appeaser than Chamberlain ever was.  And by that I mean that Chamberlain negotiated a treaty that everyone knew about, but Reagan traded arms for hostages on the sly and got caught.  All the while, talking tough like a movie star reading a script.  Which he was.

The Reaganites are scandalized because Obama has said he would talk to our enemies.  That of course, being the worst thing you can do in any situation.  It’s always better to swagger and sabre-rattle and bluster.  You know, “Speak loudly, because you have a tiny, um… stick.  What would Roosevelt say?  Here’s what Dick Cheney said:

“I believe that it’s not an accident that our hostages came home from Iran when President Reagan was president of the United States. He didn’t sit down in a negotiation with the religious extremists in Iran, he made it very clear that those hostages were coming home.’‘

Apparently Dick Cheney and I agree on one thing: it was not a coincidence that the hostages came home when Reagan became president.

Learning the wrong lesson from History

Mark Twain said; “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes”.  There was a case back in 1938 where Hitler made demands and Chamberlain compromised on them, and because of that all of WWII is now Chamberlain’s fault.  The lesson?  “Never, ever listen to your enemies!”  All situations are just like Nazi Germany, and sitting down to talk with the other side (who shall henceforth be called ‘the bad-guys’) legitimizes them and invites attack.  You should demand the other side surrender and kiss your ass before you’ll even talk to them, even if it will get them expelled as representatives of their people.  Got it?

Sorry, but that’s just stupid. I mean brutishly, unforgivably stupid in a way that cannot be explained by anything but childish insecurity.  It’s a confusion of naked power with confident strength.  It might be an ideal strategy if you are God and you combine invulnerability with genocidal malice and truly unlimited power, but in no other case.  As a way for mortals to meet mortals, it is the height of hubris. It is the pride that goeth before a fall.  Obama knows that; he is far more a student of history than his critics.

Oh, and Neville Chamberlain, remember him? He pushed for rearming Britain and it was he, not Churchill who in 1939, declared war on Germany.  And though his earlier policies (which had strong public support at the time) had failed and he was forced to resign as Prime Minister, he became an effective member of Churchill’s war cabinet.

Chamberlain was an appeaser like Reagan, then he changed.  But his name and legacy are still used as an epithet for politicians to throw around. You know the old saying about ‘glass houses’…


Categories: Politics

Keeping the streets safe

May 16, 2008 Comments off

MrsDoF and I walked home from the theater this evening.  Took a side-trip to gawk.  Here are some of Normal’s finest in action.  Perhaps the citizen was lost and needed directions.


The movie was a collection of Oscar-nominated shorts.  I’ll write a review on Sunday, after Saturday’s movie, which is a collection of Oscar-nominated animated shorts.

Categories: observations

Who knew Hitler would be so useful?

May 15, 2008 3 comments

Well everyone knows it, I guess.  There is after all, Godwin’s Law, which states that as any Internet discussion lengthens the probability of someone invoking Hitler as a rhetorical device approaches one.  And Ben Stein has been using Hitler lately to diss Darwin.  But did President Bush have to get into the act?…

Well yes, it seems he did; and while speaking to the Israeli parliament too.  Referring to Obama’s well-known advocacy for communicating with our enemies (actually just drawing different lines, talking to Iran but not Hamas), he recalled Hitler’s invasion of Poland and a particularly headstrong Republican senator who once said;

‘Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.’

Afterward when Obama responded to the speech as a ‘false attack’, Bush denied that it was intended as a slam against Obama.  In other news, a group of people dumb enough to believe that denial signed a purchase contract for the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday.

The saying that “you can’t negotiate with terrorists” is a rhetorical two-step, an irrelevant truism.  Terrorists only have power because people feel shafted; a little investigation and foresight could go a long way.  You want to stop Hitler?  Der Fuhrer didn’t have magic powers – do something about post-WWI German Reparations and he would have only been a nut yelling on a street corner.  Terrorism does not come out of nowhere and our international policies are not exclusively benign. Is there anyone too stupid to realize that actions have consequences?

If that weren’t sad enough, Donald Rumsfeld called for another terrorist attack to keep the Democrats from winning. Seriously. 

The Republicans have positioned themselves as the only party that can keep America safe.  They’ll do this by trying to scare the crap out of the rest of the world, which is presumably (if enough money is given to the Military-Industrial Complex) powerless to do anything about it. 

Well that’s one definition of security, I guess;  a giant surrounded by terrified enemies; some of them allied with other giants.  It could work for a while but in the long run, is guaranteed to fail.  As the Guiness commercial says, “Brilliant!”

“Drink Responsibly.”

Categories: Politics

Super-easy macro ringlight to make

May 12, 2008 10 comments

imageI have always wanted a ringlight for doing macro photography.  Especially now that I own an Olympus D5050, which must have some ‘microscope’ in its ancestry. 

Ringlights are neato because they produce shadowless lighting for macro shots. But I couldn’t afford one – they are usually over two hundred bucks. 

Then I happened to be browsing the aisles in Wal-Mart and saw this Ozark Trails camp light, and smiled broadly.  With minor modifications it makes a dandy ringlight.  It runs on plain old AA batteries and uses 24 white LEDs.  Here’s a first sample result:


So here’s one for seven dollars instead of two or three hundred, and it gives very professional results.  The modification is pretty much just a matter of moving the switch and enlarging the hole so it fits around your lens. Since the thing is made of soft plastic, this is easy.  Here it is over the lens of my Canon S5-IS:

The switch was very close to the center hole.  So I drilled a 1/4-inch hole farther from the center and hot-glued the switch into it.  Then I used a coarse-toothed half-round file to enlarge the hole, touched up with a box knife (careful!).  Other good tools would be a hole saw + drill-press, or a sheet-metal nibbler from Radio Shack.  Or a scroll saw or a fine-toothed coping saw – it doesn’t matter much because the plastic is very soft.

Other suggested modifications include taping colored plastic over some of the lights to modify the color balance (I shot this picture with the white-balance set to “cloudy day”), or cutting up a cheap page-reading fresnel lens to make a centering filter. 

Once the ringlight is around the camera lens, I just hold it in place with my fingers, though a couple dots of Velcro™ would be more convenient.

Clearly, it isn’t a substitute for a $350 Sunpak ringlight that you would use for fashion photography (the LED’s are not bright enough, and should be closer to the lens’ center axis) but for seven bucks, it’s great for small subjects.  At some time in the future I’ll build one from scratch. 

Categories: Geeky


May 12, 2008 6 comments

I don’t know what this song has to do with our empty nest that begins Thursday,

… but it’s in the right key, emotionally.  I understand inevitability but i guess I’m not one of those parents who does handsprings.

Categories: Personal

Stop the bleeding NOW

May 12, 2008 5 comments

A few minutes have different meaning depending if you are at the office, or trapped in your wrecked car after a multi-car accident on the way home.  You were hit by a fully-loaded truck and would have been killed instantly except for the high-strength cabin of your modern car. But your liver is cut and in the time it takes to open that same cabin with Jaws Of Life, you will be a highway statistic. You are bleeding to death, fast.

The determined EMT reaches into the wreckage and inserts a tube into your wound, squeezing in a clear liquid from an envelope.  Your bleeding stops immediately. Despite the severity of the accident, you’re going to make it. 

When you are in recovery, you find out that the clear liquid contained a synthetic peptide that turns into a gel in the presence of blood, acting like a perfect bandage.  The gel even makes a good matrix for healing and is used in brain surgery too.  Be grateful to MIT where the discovery was made, and to Arch Thereputics, the startup company that is turning it into a product that can be used in surgery and emergency medicine.  This is HUGE. 

(By the way, I am available to write ad copy for a reasonable fee.  Or scripts for hospital soap operas.  Have your people call my people, Dr. Ellis-Behnke)

One other thing: the next time you see Ben Stein saying “Science leads you to killing people”, tell him we want all our stuff back. Science isn’t required for genocide to happen. There are endless examples of science doing exactly the opposite. The guy in his lab coat experimenting with synthetic peptides may not be thinking about emergency medicine; it’s in the application.

‘Toon Physics’ and the Hillary Campaign

May 11, 2008 3 comments

My choice for Quote Of The Week on the Clinton campaign:

“IN CARTOONS there is often a moment when a hapless character, having galloped over a cliff, is still unaware of the fact and hangs suspended in the air, legs pumping wildly, until realization dawns, gravity intervenes, and downfall ensues…
- The Economist editorial page, “Almost There”, 10 May 2008

The editor went on to say that “Mr. Obama’s refusal to follow her (and Mr. McCain) in supporting an idiotic summer suspension of the petrol tax, crude economic populism at its worst, was especially notable.”  There’s lots more – Go Read!

Categories: Politics

Wood-based computation technology

May 10, 2008 3 comments

I wonder how large an Intel dual-core processor would be if you used this technology?  (Considerable expansion of the concept would be required)  If you ran Vista on it, how long would it take to redraw the screen?

(Hat tip to Greg Laden, a frequent finder of Very Cool Stuff.  And if you want to build your own marble computer, here’s more.  And there’s much more at WoodGears.  Sometimes it just astounds me how clever some people are.)

Categories: Geeky, hardware