Archive for October, 2009

The contest between gravity and momentum

October 29, 2009 Comments off

Riding home a couple nights ago, I came to a stop at the exit of a church parking lot, waiting for traffic.  It was dark and raining.  Not to worry; my bike is lit up like a two-wheeled UFO but those were the conditions.

I balanced in place until a break in the traffic occurred, then started forward – only for my front wheel to drop into a water-filled (and thus invisible) pothole deep enough to bring it to a complete and sudden stop.

Notice I said; “it” as in “the wheel” and not “me” because that meant the mass of my bike and its rider were able to rotate around the front wheel axle.  Inasmuch as almost all that mass is above the axle, forward motion is translated into upward-then-forward motion.

I wasn’t going very fast, and was just getting ready to hop over the handlebars to land on my feet when the rotation paused, halted in a nearly vertical position, and then went back down.  No harm done, though it could not have appeared graceful to an onlooker.  I actually did look around to see if anyone was watching, then felt silly.

Relating this story to someone, they said; “If you’d been moving very fast, that could have been much worse!”  But no, it wouldn’t.  Suppose I’d been at cruising speed, I’d have cleared the diameter of the pothole before the wheel could have dropped far enough into it to stop forward motion.  It’s happened before, it’s not pleasant, but my bike is equipped with front shocks for just such an eventuality.

Thinking about the incident, I can’t help being pleased by the visualization of momentum and leverage.  As the bike and rider rose upward, gravity pulled back down until the energy expended was equal to the pre-existing forward energy.  It could be mapped by a curve taking into account the compression of the front shocks, the changing geometry of weight in relation to direction and axle – actually lots of complexities. Then falling back down, momentum was stopped by the back wheel hitting the pavement, flexing my legs and deforming the inflated tire.  And presumably, expending some of that energy as heat in the air of the tire, spokes of the back wheel, frame of the bicycle, and so forth.

It makes me want to dig into a calculus book but since it would take me a month of Sundays to figure it all out, I’ll just have to be content with the visualization.

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Monday Morning Mystery: what the hell is this thing?

October 28, 2009 Comments off

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October 28, 2009 Comments off

I’m watching the collection of Alfred Hitchcock Movies that I mentioned earlier, and feel somewhat like Lewis and Clark discovering the headwaters of some river.  That is, I may have found the inspiration of Monty Python’s Parrot Sketch!  There’s a very similar scene in the 1936 Sabotage where a woman comes into the pet shop to complain that her canary doesn’t sing. Not quite as over-the-top as Python, of course, but it was fun to watch and make the comparison.

There’s also a scene where the bad guy, who is opposed to killing anyone, is coerced by his foreign agent contacts into planting a bomb.  At the last hour, with the bomb package in hand, he is pressed by the nearby presence of a Scotland Yard agent, so he hands the package off to his stepson to deliver.  With specific instructions – deliver by 1:30 at the latest!  We’ve spent a good part of the movie getting to like this boy, who is about ten.

The boy is held up by a parade, and by traffic, and is sitting on the bus as the moment approaches, playing with a dog belonging to the woman next to him.  Accustomed to Stephen Spielberg, we think; “Surely to goodness something will rescue the boy, and everyone else on the bus”…

Some of the movies are pretty much unwatchable – there’s a reason silent movies vanished overnight when the talkies came along – but a few of them are real cliffhangers.

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Monday Morning Music: Superman (It’s Not Easy)

October 26, 2009 Comments off

I’ve been a comic book reader all my life.  I’ve watched Superman, Batman, Swamp Thing, Green Lantern, The Hulk, Spiderman, and many more change over the years as comic companies try to revitalize them as brands, or just get them into interesting stories.  And of all the characters, I think Superman poses the hardest problem for the writer.

I mean, Batman’s an interesting guy; he’s as messed up as they come and still have any hope of being called a “hero”.  And he could be killed by a single bullet in the wrong place, but he stays alive by his skill and wits.  But Superman?  He was raised by loving parents in wholesome Smallville, and he’s so powerful it’s difficult to invent any threat to him personally. (You can only whip out the kryptonite just so many times.) 

About the only way to make him interesting is his sense of isolation.  We humans are very much defined by the boundaries of our vulnerability – and he needs to act human to keep his identity secret.  So he has to be a very keen observer of human behavior.  But it’s not easy, because very few people get close enough to him to know his secret. Worse, the better he succeeds at keeping the secret, the more isolated he is.  Add to that, everyone expects him to save them, but he can’t be everywhere at once. 

Gotta be a lonely thing. What he wouldn’t give to just go hang out with someone like himself.

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Windows 7 is making an impression on me right out of the box…

October 25, 2009 Comments off

(This post is just about “how did 7 handle something going wrong with the installation process”.  I’ll be posting a review of 7 itself this weekend.)

Start with a new computer: Gigabyte S-series motherboard, Intel Dual-core, 2gb RAM, and a Western Dirigible 500 gig drive.  The only DVD drive I had laying around was pretty old, but seemed functional.  I booted off the DVD, partitioned off a hundred gigs, and started the installation.  Windows said it would create a second partition for some system files and I’m all, “Sure, that’s fine”, and off we go.

Every OS installation involves a large file copying operation.  If your DVD drive is old and can’t copy all the files, a message appears:

“Unable to copy file.  Error Code 0×80070570.  Press Ctrl+Alt+Del to restart your system. Changes to your system will not be saved.”

The system then fails to respond to Ctrl+Alt+Del or indeed any keyboard input.  But eventually I got it shut down.  After borrowing a DVD drive from another computer I was ready to try again.

No dice.  Windows got as far as looking for a boot manager, couldn’t find one, and said; “Press Ctrl+Alt+Del to restart your system.”  This is the dreaded “boot loop” where a process fails and the only exit is to reboot, and there’s no way to bypass the process.  It’s as if, in the multi-$billion development process, nobody at Microsoft asked; “What if the file copy process fails out?  Can the installation recover?”  I tried all the usual fixes, including adjusting the device boot order in BIOS and so forth, but nothing would break the cycle.

Sigh… Boot off a Linux CD, go to Gparted, remove the two partitions Windows set up, switch back to the Windows DVD, and try again.  Linux to the rescue, once again.  Shouldn’t Microsoft be embarrassed or something?

This time it worked, but the installation process involves a whole lot of staring at a cute blue background with a tiny green twig and a white hummingbird hovering next to it.  But no progress messages; your system sits there with no DVD activity, no HD activity, just doing nothing.  After five minutes or so, it’ll spring to life and you continue the installation.  Then go back to just sitting there.

Finally it came time to type in the product key – 25 random digits, the dyslexic’s nightmare.  But I’m not exactly new at this game; over the years and thousands of Windows installations, I’ve learned strategies for accuracy on typing this code.  I wasn’t too concerned when it wouldn’t accept the code; I must have made a mistake.

Nope, I typed it correctly, verified six ways from Sunday including getting someone else to compare the product key sticker with the numbers on screen.  It simply won’t accept the key that shipped with the disk, and there’s no chat line or phone number to call for a solution. 

So that’s where I’m stuck.  When I blanked out the number, it let me finish the installation process but I don’t dare waste time installing applications until the validation is fixed – in case I need to start over again from scratch.  So far I’m two hours into the installation process with no end in sight.  Anyone have a number I can call at Microsoft?


  • Over 80 percent of Gizmodo readers report a smooth installation

  • Half the time when an error message was on screen, it wouldn’t respond to keyboard input.  That’s weird, because it’s a plain-vanilla Logitech.  Mouse too.
  • I read somewhere that software quality is measured in “MTBC”, or “Mean Time Between Cursing”.  The longer the MTBC, the better the software.
  • Ars Technica has a big review of 7: Hasta La Vista, Baby.
  • Microsoft’s website says if the number doesn’t work I should buy another one.
  • Update: attempting to enter the number post-install gave more substantive information.  It says; “That number’s for upgrades only, bub, not for clean install”, the exact opposite of what I was told by the campus tech store. And it doesn’t say anything like that on the disk or packaging.  I guess I’ll nuke the drive, install Win XP, and then attempt an upgrade.
    • That worked!  Now the system has validated Windows 7 on it, and the install only took about five hours.  Boots real fast, and I just installed MS Security Essentials too.  Now to begin putting on all the usual apps.
  • Go ahead… ask me why I’m installing Windows.

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Windows 7 and Microsoft Security Essentials

October 22, 2009 Comments off

It isn’t a Windows 7 launch party, but it’ll do for now.  I picked up a copy of 7 from the University tech store and ordered a new computer online for MrsDoF to put it on.  She’ll have an Intel Dual-Core, 2gb, 500gb, and Win7 for total cost about $290 including shipping and tax. 

She’s got XP now – we skipped Vista.  If she doesn’t like 7 then she’ll be learning Ubuntu. 

But assume she’ll like 7; anybody have any thoughts on Microsoft’s new “Security Essentials” suite?

Categories: Geeky, Software

Hot tea instantly cures swine flu

October 21, 2009 Comments off

Woke up with a cough, and like any good American hypochondriac, went immediately to the InterWebs to see if it was Swine Flu.  Let’s see: according to some random web page the symptoms are:

  • fever, which is usually high, but unlike seasonal flu, is sometimes absent

  • cough
  • runny nose or stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • body aches
  • headache
  • chills
  • fatigue or tiredness, which can be extreme
  • diarrhea and vomiting, sometimes, but more commonly seen than with seasonal flu

(These are pretty much the symptoms of any flu, though H1N1 appears to be more contageous and a bit more on the acute respiratory distress)

Well let’s see; I gots a little sniffle, but it’s pretty much allergy baseline for harvest season.  None of those other symptoms, just cough.  OMG I have a cough!!1!.

Had a cup of hot tea and the cough pretty much went away.  On my second cup now, just catching up on blogzz ‘n stuff.  Will be going back to bed as I must be giving a presentation at 7.  Maybe I need a new pillow.  According to the Interwebz they can accumulate allergens and I can’t remember when I bought this one.  Lucky it’s decaf tea zzzzzz….

UPDATE: 6:16am, looks like the cough was caused by acid reflux.  No trace of it now.  Still going pillow-shopping though.

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Port call for Elitist Bastards

October 20, 2009 Comments off

After a slight delay to tell Death he’d have to come back later (thank you, modern medicine) the Carnival Of The Elitist Bastards has sailed into Decrepit harbor.  Ne’r mind the weather, we’ll be settin’ out at the end of October.  But if you already have a post you plan to submit, send me an email + link at george dot wiman at gmail dot com.  That’d be yer post that hits the stupid where it hurts, and leaves ‘em thinkin’ twice next time. Early arrivals get staterooms, late ones get steerage!  – George

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New rule: Bill Maher has to stop calling himself a “Rationalist” if…

October 18, 2009 Comments off

I make no claims to conceptual originality, but I do try to be careful about my sources.  And not long ago I had an exchange with a Christian who thought I was gettting my ideas from Bill Maher, producer of the mediocre anti-religious documentary; “Religulous”.  This probably happened because Maher isn’t much more original than I am, and he recycles some of Dawkins’ phraseology about “bronze-age nomads” and a few other memorable quips.  And Dawkins is the Q-source between us.  My Christian friend, well-schooled in textual criticism, might have spotted this but he didn’t.

Maher is a sharp political satirist, and he’s famous for hilarious editorials called “New Rule” in which he skewers some public person or action for pure illogic or hypocrisy.  And recently he won the Richard Dawkins award (which is not doled out by Dick the Dawk himself, but by a committee at Atheist Alliance International) for his movie.

While Dawkins doesn’t choose the recipient, he did speak at the presentation, and on that occasion he took Maher to task for his irrational stance against vaccines.  Maher sets aside the track record of vaccines in eradicating smallpox, almost eradicating polio, and in saving millions of other lives against other diseases as well.  Against this record, and against clinical and field trials, he has his distrust of the government and of drug companies, and trivializes vaccines as “the government sticking a disease in your arm”.

OK Bill Maher, it’s nice you won a prestigious award for your movie, but stop calling yourself a rationalist.  Your stance seems to be not that we don’t know anything about God, but that we don’t know anything, period.  The fact is, we do know some things.  We know exactly how safe vaccines are (which is to say; not perfectly, but a hell of a lot safer than the thing vaccinated against), for example.  You can’t use science to speak against religion, and then ignore the science that supports vaccination.

Far be it from me to hope any individual gets swine flu, but Bill Maher is rich enough that he can keep himself far away from dense crowds if he wants to.  Not so the school children and people on the street and factories and offices who can wind up terribly sick and maybe even dying from H1N1.  And that’s the problem with anti-vaccination talk: it literally ends up with people dying from preventable diseases.  If Maher has scientific evidence that vaccines are dangerous and ineffective, he should present it.  Otherwise, he should admit he is wrong about it and get the vaccine on live TV to try and undo some of the damage he’s done.

Not only to public health, but to the public reputation of rationalism as well.  You can’t just apply scientific reasoning for satire and then abandon it when it for even more laughs from an audience.


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“We’ve got a rep for that!”

October 17, 2009 Comments off

(h/t Ed Brayton

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