Archive for August, 2009

Barney Frank delivers Maximum Pwnage!

August 19, 2009 Comments off

How would you respond to someone saying “when you support a Nazi policy as Obama has…”?

It’s such a relief to see a Democrat with a spine.  And it made me smile.  I can’t wait for people to criticize Frank for his response to that lady – more entertainment will ensue.
(h/t my friend Pete, who can’t post this on his Facebook account right now because he’s using it to teach a class.)

Categories: Uncategorized

Just can’t remember who to send it to

August 18, 2009 Comments off

Sometime this week, or maybe last week, I read an article or post about a study that correlated chronic pain, comorbid insomnia, and early senility.  But I can’t remember where I found it, so no link.

Going to go back to bed and try again to sleep.

Categories: Uncategorized

Grip shifters; just say no

August 17, 2009 Comments off

Have I mentioned recently how much I hate grip shifters?  You know, those twisty bicycle handgrips that shift gears while you wreck?  Trigger, thumb, and plug shifters are much safer and as a bonus, easier to work on. 

There may be some kind of super-high-quality grip shifters I’ve never seen before, but mostly they just seem like something that a marketing expert thought of for low-end and low-mid-range bikes. A “sounds like a good idea until you think about it for ten seconds” kind of thing. And they make a ten-minute cable replacement into an hour-long ordeal because the cheap plastic parts cracked and I had to dig around in my spare parts buckets.  Fooey!

Categories: bicycling, Geeky

Living in a bubble of wealth

August 15, 2009 Comments off

“People will ask themselves; “How is it that Wendell Potter is just finding out about this now?”

Answer: traveling in a Cigna corporate jet having lunch on gold-rimmed plates – an experience Potter relates – keeps the experience of average Americans out of sight.  It is the modern version of the ‘rich man and lazarus’ myth.

When it became more important to discredit Michael Moore than to provide health care, and Potter saw people lined up to receive health care in animal stalls, something snapped.  “We have huge numbers of people who are just a layoff away from having no health insurance…”


  • I used to think that every major industrialized country except us had some kind of universal health care.  But it turns out China also lacks universal care.  They’ll shut you down in the middle of an operation if they open you up and discover you need something more expensive and you can’t pay.  “Can’t afford insulin?  Tough.  Go home and die.”  You’d think Republicans would be wanting to move there.
Categories: Uncategorized

Movie review: Predator 2

August 14, 2009 Comments off

I just finished watching Predator 2, with Danny Glover, as part of my “watch movies while doing cardio on the treadmill, so I don’t die of boredom” program. If you like to play “Cop-movie or Science-Fiction Cliche Bingo” (which I do) you’ll find it very enjoyable.

Glover pays a violent, renegade cop who is always in trouble with his boss – essentially the same character as Jack Slater in Last Action Hero.  Only instead of drug lords (they’re getting killed too) he’s being stalked by one of the same species of aliens who went up against Arnold Swarzenegger in Predator.  The baddies come to our planet to hunt for sport, and we’re the prey.  They’re tremendously strong and agile, invisible when they want to be (which makes DARPA strategists drool, including the obnoxious government MIB who wants the alien’s technology), wear lightweight armor, and use sharp-edged but very advanced combat weaponry.

In a brutal, hand-to-hand battle at the end of the movie, Glover kills the alien, only to find himself surrounded by more aliens.  One of the aliens hands him a pistol taken from somebody, according to its engraving, in 1715; they’ve been coming here a long time.  Then he is allowed to leave while they blast off for their next adventure. 

I thought humans couldn’t have been much sport back in the 1700’s; we had no way to see in nonvisible spectrums of light, had no armor to speak of, and only primitive weapons.  So with our technological advances, we would be getting more interesting to the aliens as sport animals.

It also occurred to me that we routinely kill animals that don’t stand a chance against us.  If you hunt deer with a high-powered rifle, I’ll observe that you like to spend time outside in the woods.  When you hunt bears with a sword, I’ll start thinking that physical courage is involved.

Fun movie, but be warned there’s no intellectual content, and no non-cliche characters, but plenty of naughty words and a high body count if you clutch your pearls at that sort of thing. 

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Avoiding flash glare on glass-covered displays

August 13, 2009 Comments off

On a recent field trip to the Creation Museum in Kentucky, the Pharyngula crowd (about 300 of them) – experienced a common problem with photographing glass-covered exhibits: flash glare.  It didn’t happen on very many of the pictures but in some cases it obscured important details of the displays.

There are several approaches to flash glare, and if you are a professional hired by the owner of the display, you can set up 45-degree slave flash units on either side, to get a perfect, glare-free shot.

But suppose you are just passing through the “museum” (the Creation Museum really does deserve the disqualifying quotes) and you’re trying not to bother other visitors?  Your only tool is a small digital camera.  You stand in front of the display, and snap the shot with a result something like this:

The flash comes from your camera, which is shooting at right angles to the glass.  Angle of incidence equals angle of reflection, so the light bounces right back at you.  You’re seeing the reflection of the flash. This is predictable in that you were able to see the reflection of the camera itself in the camera’s preview screen before even snapping the picture.

The flash glare may even cause underexposure of the subject, by shutting down the flash before full exposure duration is reached.  In any case, you lose some of the display in the glare, and the TV show “Numb3rs” notwithstanding, no amount of “Photoshopping” will repair pixels that contain no information.

Step to one side even with the frame, and shoot towards the center of the display, and the flash reflection will be exactly even with your position at right angles to the glass.  This gives you a clue how to proceed:

Step a little further to the side, just past the edge of the frame, and aim the camera to the center of the display.  

Now the reflection, such as it is, comes from the wall beside the display.  There are two disadvantages to this technique: distortion and light fall-off.  Both can be mitigated in Photoshop if the picture is important enough.  The advantage is that it’s very easy to do, it’s quick, it’s reliable, and the only equipment required is the camera itself.

One way of thinking about this is; if you threw a tennis ball at the display from wherever you’re standing, where would it bounce?  If it would bounce right back to you, so will the flash.  In the example where you’re standing even with the edge of the frame, and you threw the ball at the edge of the frame, you could catch it when it bounced back.  I recommend not trying the tennis ball trick in an actual museum, by the way.  It’s more of a thought experiment, really.

One more technique is to shut off the flash, brace your elbows against your chest, steady yourself, and smoothly squeeze off the shot. 

Depending on lighting conditions and how steady you are, this might work very well. The disadvantages are that it’s difficult to get a sharp picture due to camera movement, and ambient reflections (as visible here) are more of a problem.  Try moving from side to side to see if you can catch a “reflection” of a dark are somewhere in the vicinity. The advantage is that it works in places where flash photography is undesirable.

Practice with both of these techniques to find your favorite. Digital cameras are great for experimentation because they give instant feedback.

Note to museum curators – an easy way to fix this problem would be for you, the curator, to angle the glass outward from the wall.  That is, farther from the wall at the top than at the bottom, so the flash reflection is diverted even when shooting straight at the display.  If your museum allows flash photography.

Categories: Uncategorized

Movie Review: Gran Torino

August 10, 2009 Comments off

There’s one advantage to being the last person on Earth to review a movie: I don’t have to explain the plot.  Or at least, not in much detail.  And I don’t need to worry about spoiling Gran Torino for anyone.

Clint Eastwood plays a retired auto worker.  We gain insight into his character at his wife’s funeral: he’s bitter, cynical, and bitter.  (Did I mention bitter?  He should receive an Oscar just for his facial expression in the first scenes of the movie.)  Soon after the funeral, we learn that his deteriorating neighborhood is being taken over by foreigners, all of whom he detests.

When the Hmong neighbor kid (named Thao), tries to steal his classic automobile (guess which model) as part of a gang initiation, he confronts the kid with his Korean-war era rifle, thwarting the theft. He and the would-be thief are forced together by the relentless Hmong women of the neighborhood.  In a tradition similar to a Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program, they send him to Eastwood to work off the dishonor of having tried to steal his car.  Eastwood tries to refuse, but he is told it would be a great insult not to accept. 

Of course he has no problem insulting anyone, but he laments; “Those Hmong women, they’re like badgers!”  That brief soliloquy is delivered to his dog, in whom he confides most of his inner thoughts.  And since we are listening in, we have a doG’s eye view.

In addition to being bitter, Eastwood’s character is about as racist as they come, yet paradoxically he becomes the protector and benefactor to the Hmong family next door.

In a stunning and completely unexpected development, he and Thao become friends.  When both Thao and his sister become victims of gang violence, Eastwood locks Thao in his basement and goes to settle the score with the gang. 

Eastwood is one of the few actors who could deliver the line “Get off my lawn!” in memorable, quotable way.  There’s a funny scene where he’s beating the crap out of a gang member.  The camera looks up into Eastwood’s ancient face, distorted by rage, when he says “If I have to come back here, it’s gonna get f*ing ugly!”  Well you had to be there, I guess.

My favorite parts are where he (figuratively) tortures the local Catholic priest with his cynicism.  You want to perfect your Eastwood imitation to master “Well halle-f*ing-lujah!”.  If you like that sort of thing;  I may have rewound and played it back a couple times just to be sure.  But don’t worry about the priest; he does all right for an “over-educated 27-year old virgin who likes to comfort superstitious old women with talk of the afterlife.”

Eastwood’s musical talents are also on display in the movie, as is his ability to actually think about a story and what it means as a reflection of cultural realities. The movie touches on race, generational conflict, gender roles, even religion.  At the end, Eastwood confesses to the priest, but mercifully it does not appear that he had changed his mind about religion.  Rather, it seems he does it to honor the memory of his religious wife, and because he did have something on his mind that was bothering him.  Something that would have surprised his sons.

Gran Torino is a “mentor movie” in which an aging action hero takes an uncertain youth under his wing, and teaches him how to be a man.  It’s also a movie about how a young person (Thao’s sister) helps the old man make a little bit of final sense of his life.  Think of this as a much-better retelling of Finding Forrester.  (Don’t tell anyone, but I actually enjoyed both movies.)

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Building a bunch of new cities

August 10, 2009 Comments off

Well!  Nobody liked the last TED video I embedded, the one about re-thinking what constitutes success.  Here’s another approach to the problem from another angle, and I like it.  If nothing else, anything that increases economic cooperation between nations has the promise of making war too expensive to pursue.

A couple things impressed me here.  First, kids studying by streetlight, because they didn’t have electricity in their homes?  That picture should be on the wall of every classroom in America.  Second, the speaker Paul Romer has a good point when he looks at rules as a supporting fabric for prosperity, and he’s right that cities are a better environmental bargain than villages.  Even to the extent that new cities being built, would be a step in the right direction. And I like his idea for revitalizing Cuba.

Of course in his model, Africa will need a string of nuclear reactors or a hell of a lot of windmills along the coast.  It’s difficult to imagine how that will come about, and how they’ll be kept safe.


  • Again, h/t to Greg Laden
  • Categories: Uncategorized

    Oh my doG, the enginosity!

    August 9, 2009 Comments off

    The Cash For Clunkers program has a dark side:

    The catch is that the dealer has to certify that the trade-in never hits the street again. And so, the mechanics at Jennings had to set aside their version of the Hippocratic oath and raise three otherwise drivable cars up on the lift and then put them to sleep.

    For each, they drained the oil and poured in a solution of sodium silicate. Two quarts into the crankcase, bring it down the lift, close the hood, start it up, drive it out back, rev the engine at about 3,000 r.p.m., then wait for the end to come.

    The first two, a ‘92 Caprice and a ‘99 Jeep, went quickly, quietly, painlessly almost. But the Lumina held out, struggling to run on a serum meant to destroy it. Panting rhythmically, as if gasping for air. Stopping. Coughing. No longer hitting on all cylinders, sounding more like a lawn mower, it whirred on for five long minutes.

    Finally, the engine stopped turning…

    “Put it to sleep”?  More like “tortured it to death”.  Yeah, I understand the engine has to be destroyed.  Couldn’t they just put a bullet in the crankcase?  Sorry about this, old car, but… BANG!

    Cars don’t have feelings, do they?  **Shudder**  Maybe it depends if you’ve ever rebuilt an engine, carefully fitting the new pistons into the cylinders and torquing down the head.  Or if you’re old enough to have seen the original Love Bug movie when you were a kid.  I guess I don’t want to know where sausage comes from either, since reading that book about the pig named Wilbur. OK, you can tell me I’m being silly now.

    Categories: Uncategorized


    August 8, 2009 Comments off

    Alain de Botton asks; What kinds of emotional rewards underlie our efforts at “Success”?  And what truth does tragic literature hold for us in deciding what success is?

    “What is a snob?  A snob is anybody who takes a small part of you, and uses that to come to a complete vision of who you are.”

    “And the next time you see somebody driving a Ferrari, don’t think this is somebody greedy.  Think this is somebody who is incredibly vulnerable, and in need of love. Feel sympathy, rather than contempt.”

    “Envy is linked to the spirit of equality.  Nobody envies the Queen of England, because she’s too weird…” 

    Lots more where that came from.

    (h/t Greg Laden)

    Categories: Uncategorized