Archive for December, 2009

Uh-oh, I think I voided the warranty…

December 20, 2009 Comments off

This is from an Apple 40mb external SCSI hard drive.  Inside was a Quantum Q-250 with a rated capacity of 53mb. Yes that’s right I said; “megabyte”.  You’re looking at the equivalent of twenty-seven floppy disks.

From my photo album; Technology

The square external case was 11 inches on a side and three inches deep.  It had its own internal power supply made by Sony, a cooling fan, and metal shielding.  It connected to the computer with a cable that weighs about as much as some laptops today. The chip in the camera that took this picture has 200 times the capacity of this drive. 

It’s actually pretty modern, or another way to put it is that current hard drives are built on a pretty old floor plan.  It’s about the same as the hard drive in your laptop including the voice coil head positioner.  Can anyone tell me what this bad boy cost? I really have no idea.

I plan to put USB external hard drive circuitry in the old Apple case and use it for data recovery tasks from desktop and laptop hard drives.  That will be the subject of a future post.

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Why Copenhagen didn’t pan out

December 20, 2009 Comments off

In case you’re wondering why Copenhagen didn’t come up with a substantive agreement, check out this video that presciently examines the main solution that was considered there:

I’ll say it again: government is the corporation of the people for the management of the commons.  So manage already!  Stop feeding our economy to the rich guys at the expense of everyone else.  Stop subsidizing fossil fuels, put a real, stable price on carbon and I guarantee clean energy will pop up like wildflowers.  Corporations and individuals will say; “Holy schnitt!  The money is in clean energy now!!!”

This is a really great example of explanatory video, BTW.  (h/t Blog Around The Clock)

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“Man up!” and why we need a better expression for toughness

December 19, 2009 Comments off

My great-grandmother was, by all accounts*, an immensely tough person.  She was Cockney English, came through Ellis Island with her husband, headed for the West coast.  They spent a long winter in a shack in Iowa or North Dakota or some other forsaken place, during which time she learned that in this country, it was at least theoretically illegal for a man to beat his wife.  Frying-pan in hand, she met the fellow at the door and from that point he was no longer an element in the story.

She made her way to San Francisco (the story does not relate bear-wrestling occasions that I assume must have occurred) where, as a single mother, she owned a series of grocery stores, which she brought to profitability and sold at a profit.  She got up in dark hours, baked bread*, managed accounts and cleaned and stocked, and dealt with whatever hazards faced small businesses in dodgy neighborhoods in the city in the early part of the twentieth century.  When I think of a tough person, I think of her.

Today we have a popular expression; “Man up!”  And similar expressions such as “grow a pair” and “don’t be a pussy”, which all portray a cultural ideal of stoic toughness as an exclusively male characteristic.

The idea that male equals tough is apparent in the adulation that Arnold Schwarzenegger receives as the star of the movie; The Terminator, in which a robot from the future tries to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton).  In this movie, Arnold is the robot and he has about eight lines, of which some are even in Connor’s mother’s voice.  The role could have been performed by a robot for all the acting skill it required.

Hamilton’s character starts out as a waitress leading a directionless life; by the end of the movie she destroys the killing machine herself.  She goes on to become the inspirational combat-mother of the human race, narrating a moving scene at the end.  Now, that’s character development.  She, and her future-soldier friend Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) are the heroes and she is unequivocally the real star of the movie.  But if you do an image search for “The Terminator”, you will see page after page of Arnold with a huge gun.  And all he did through the whole movie was kill people and destroy stuff.

In the second movie, Arnold re-creates his character using his newly-acquired acting skills, and Hamilton eclipses him a second time in her Sarah Connor role.  But once again he was hailed as the star of the movie.  What, exactly, would a female character have to do to make toughness and endurance part of the popular conception of femininity?

Maybe she could kill a hideous alien.  Sigourney Weaver did that in Alien and her reward was Beavis and Butthead saying; “That Sigourney Weaver dude kicks ass, even if he does look a little bit like a chick.”

I have some male friends who self-identify as “feminists” and to be honest, I don’t understand. To me it makes about as much sense as patriarchy, so I self-identify as a humanist.  Which leads to the question of this post:  What would be a better expression than “man up”?  Steeped as I am in patriarchal culture, I have a difficult time coming up with one.  But we need such an expression, and a really good gender-neutral pronoun as well.  The floor is open!


  • My great-grandmother’s story began more than a century ago, I heard it second-hand at a young age, and am reciting it from memory.  Some details may have, shall we say, “evolved” but it is presented here as the element of my thinking that describes personal toughness.

  • As a child I was privileged to have some of her bread, toasted and covered in butter.  It was a culinary delight well worth the trip from Iowa to California.  I can’t help feeling sorry for people who are satisfied with Wonder Bread.  Today I bought some Ciabatta bread at a local bakery and it reminded me of her, which led to this post.
  • Popular culture confuses the effects of testosterone on behavior with toughness.  Often, the reverse is true; aggression causes self-damage and leads to a weaker position.
  • The two trailblazing examples I gave here are from the 1980’s, and rumor has it that other movies have been made since then.  I do think cinematic progress has occurred (think Helen from The Incredibles), but our language still lags behind.
  • Television has made progress too.  In the Star Trek pilot, captain Pike was unhappy with the presence of a woman on the bridge of his ship (even though, or perhaps because she was demonstrably smarter than he).  I’m sure captain Janeway would find that amusing.
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A whole new level of movie critique

December 17, 2009 Comments off

If you have never seen Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) you may not be aware of a wonderful way to enjoy even very bad movies.  Thing is, the running commentary even works for good movies.  For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed Independence Day but I still had fun mocking the Macintosh-to-Alienware virus upload.  The cable-TV engineer had all of a few days’ exposure to alien technology, and he was drunk part of that time.  Was there a firewire port in the UFO?  Don’t they have Norton AntiVirus for Aliens or something?

Anyway this has been taken to a whole new level with the most amazing movie review I have ever seen: this 70-minute narrative critique of Star Wars, The Phantom Menace.  I must confess I was not able to finish watching the movie itself, lest it destroy forever any good memories of the three excellent films from my salad days.  But this review is practically a mini-course in movie production.  It was done by some guy in Milwaukee and, as one of the commenters said;  “If only George Lucas had put this much thought into the actual movie.”  It’s also very funny, if you like dark and sometimes juvenile humor.  (The critic takes on the persona of a completely twisted serial murderer doing a movie review.  But I liked Sweeney Todd so don’t say you weren’t warned)

There’s a section in the review where he asks people to describe characters from the original Star Wars movies, and characters from TPM, without saying what they looked like; it’s hilarious. He goes hunting for a protagonist, for a story, for any motivation at all in the movie.  He explains why the best-choreographed swordfights can wind up having no emotional impact, and much more. 

So if you’re the kind of geek who would enjoy watching a lengthy deconstruction of the worst movie ever made – and yes I think TPM is a candidate for that dubious honor – then I can only recommend you get the popcorn* and sit back to enjoy this review. All seven 10-minute sections are on the page linked above.

  • (I can’t actually eat popcorn anymore, but you know, movies, popcorn… aww forget it)

  • h/t to Les for spotting this gem
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Disappointed by Barack Obama?

December 17, 2009 Comments off

When The Economist magazine endorsed Barack Obama for president, they admitted that he couldn’t possibly live up to the expectations of his fans.  And they were right.  And I think Democrats need to get a bit more realistic about who they can get into office: Saviors don’t go into politics.

When I vote, I have two things in mind.  One is my evil godless socialistic liberal agenda.  I want us out of wars and to have a constructive foreign policy instead.  I want single-payer, national health insurance, better regulation of financial markets, and a real priority on education (actual cuts in defense spending!).  I want full gay rights, urban bicycle use, environmental regulation with teeth in it, energy conversion, and while we’re at it, take a really hard look at tax-exemption for religious organizations. 

All those things are important to me. But my other goal is to keep really dangerous, delusional people from the reigns of power, and yes I’m talkin’ about you, Sarah Palin.  Disappointed Democrats apparently didn’t think hard enough about that as a specific goal of their vote.  To me, it’s even more important than the first goal.  “Not being John McCain” is not enough to make me deliriously happy, but it is enough to get my vote.  Faced with the lesser of two evils, I’ll pick the lesser and sleep soundly. 

Barack Obama took office in a country on fire.  He has right-wing loonies – congressmen and senators – trying to trip him up at every turn, telling lies about him, telling lies about his legislative agenda, and aided by media that thrives on idiot “we’re just askin’ questions’ equivalency.  The deficit was (and still is) headed for geosynchronous orbit, two wars going on, the judiciary and key government agencies packed with Reagan/Bush/Bush appointees.  You wanna blame somebody?  It’s all those people in the voting booth. 

So no, I’m not happy with everything Obama has done.  I had high hopes but you have to take anything a candidate says with a grain of salt.  But we can NOT let really stupid, dangerously ideological people take office.  It’s easy to lose sight of the damage they can do.

George Bush did a lot of damage in eight years, practically sunk this country.  Sarah Palin makes him look like a Rhodes Scholar.  It’s hard for people to see a catastrophe prevented as an accomplishment, because there’s nothing to see.  But the stakes of national power work that way.  As sure as you give a gun to a monkey, catastrophe follows stupidity.


  • Here’s a Obama’s promises kept, in the works, and broken.  Not bad, so far.

  • Eric Michael Johnson at The Primate Diaries says maybe we should be looking at the opinion industry if we want someone to blame.  Or at least, if we want to know what we’re really up against
  • Jason Rosenhouse at EvolutionBlog asks; “Is Obama To Blame?, and says “Show me the cards Obama should have been playing in this fight and I will reconsider. Otherwise, put the blame where it belongs.”  Go read why he says that.
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Bits of tech news and a caption contest

December 15, 2009 Comments off

A wee bit o’ tech today.  I had a public display system – really just a computer with a very big screen – that kept shutting down because the video card was overheating.  There are five of these beasties in our building, and the ATI video card cooling fans fail every now and then.  The system is an industrial piece of equipment with a gaming card, so the consumer-grade component gives up first.

The systems are built in a rack-mount 2U server case with three large intake fans, and have a single-processor motherboard, so if anything they’re over-ventilated.  In the past I’ve just replaced the video card or the cooling fan thereof, but decided to try something different this time.  I removed the GPU heat sink fan and shroud, exposing the large copper heat sink, then cut plastic air dams to redirect the output of one of the three cooling fans just to the video card.  After a couple days, the system hasn’t shut down once, and unlike the tiny fan on the video card, the case fans are made for continuous use.  So I hope that will be a more long-run solution.

The other bit of tech news is that I just transitioned my desktop machine to Windows 7.  In 6 months we’ll (hopefully) be building our lab image on 7 so if there are any lurking dragons I need to know about them now.  Plus I’d rather look like an idiot in the privacy of my desk and not while leading orientation sessions for the shiny new operating system.

Mind you, that’s my work machine that’s now running 7. My home machine is still running Linux.

Caption Contest: help out this adorable kitty with a caption for her dilemma…

From Cats


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“I live upstairs from you…”

December 14, 2009 Comments off

Sitting in a coffee shop this morning, I heard this song:
Am I Not Pretty Enough? by Kasey Chambers (not embeddable, but check out the wonderful video), and the thought connected to a memory and I was reminded tangentially of this song:

…which was written years after I took Abnormal Psychology in college.  And that class was unusual because the professor was very unusual.  He was a medical doctor who spoke seven or eight languages including a couple I had never heard of, and sometimes he would invite his students to come hang out with him in the ER on Friday or Saturday nights.  This was years before HIPAA, and his reasoning was that his students would see a lot more abnormal psychology in the ER than they’d ever observe on campus.  Sometimes, that was true and we saw some pretty wild stuff.  A surprising number of people go to the ER for anxiety attacks, for example.  But sometimes, they had a good reason for their anxiety.

One Friday night, several students were there, and it was quiet for a while, and he asked if anyone would be willing to do him a favor.  I and another student volunteered and wound up driving to his farm nearby and feeding a newborn calf from the largest baby bottle I’d ever seen.  (Something had happened to its mother.)  There I was in the middle of the night, balancing on a barbed-wire fence in a suit, holding the bottle for the calf and joking with the other student, who was petting its head while it noshed.  That was an interesting diversion.

Anyway, when we got back, it was still quiet and the other students had gone home and we got to talking about domestic abuse. The good professor had a hobby helping to prosecute child abuse and getting the kids into safe environments. And on occasion he was an expert witness on spousal abuse cases too.  He showed us his lecture-circuit collection of x-rays of radial fractures, bruises, swollen-shut eyes and missing teeth, all with the victim’s identity carefully hidden.  He wanted us to understand that this really matters; that there are people in society who are at risk of being savagely beaten and that they are often too small or too badly hurt already to defend themselves even by asking for help.

It’s hard to describe the impact of these photos and x-rays.  I’d seen similar images in a textbook but these were from the practice of just one doctor, from just our tri-county area.  These were actual kids and women who could have been next to us at the checkout lane or in the next apartment. They were helpless people and the ones who were hurting them were usually themselves victims of similar violence.

Anyway, sometimes a song just hits me, no irony

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Bathroom reading material

December 14, 2009 Comments off

Last week I was riding around Bloomington and saw this unusual arrangement.  It made me chuckle and I snapped a picture.

From my photo album Notes

… but I didn’t see the better joke until I got ready to upload the photo to Picasa and saw the enlarged image.  The newspaper headline reads; “Take it from me, not a bathroom stall.”

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The dangers of clear thinking

December 11, 2009 Comments off

I think the following posts by ***Dave should be kept carefully under wraps.  If all the Christians and non-Christians read them, and all the straights and gays read them, people could suddenly realize what living in a pluralistic society means, demagogues would be out of work, and then where would we be?

If I’m not a master, then I’m a slave

The homosexual agenda – now you know!

Well ok, YOU can read them, and maybe let your kids read them, and your friends, and people you don’t like very much, and casual acquaintances,  but be sure to pass on the links so others will know not to read them, either.  It’s best to nip this sort of thing in the bud.

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The Easter Island Teabaggers

December 9, 2009 Comments off

At some point, on Easter Island, sustainability must have become an issue.  It had to be obvious that they couldn’t go on cutting down the trees faster than new trees were growing, and that the trees were important to making sure everyone had food, water, and shelter.

Do you suppose there were Easter Island “conservatives” who said; “All this talk of sustainability is ridiculous!  The Big Giant Head will provide for us!  Let us build more monuments to the Big Giant Head!!!”  Were there equivalents to James Inhofe, Sarah Palin, or Glenn Beck?

What do you suppose ever happened to them?  When the catastrophe became inevitable as well as obvious, did they stay in power?  Or was there some back and forth as various attempts were made (too late!) to undo the damage?

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