Archive for the ‘Geeky’ Category

You can’t ride all the time

December 16, 2008 1 comment

When it’s just cold, and the streets are dry or only a little icy, riding a bike is pretty easy.  (Ski goggles help a lot.) Ice is slipperier the warmer it is. After an ice storm, unless you have studded tires, forget it.  Riding on a half-inch of snow is easy, but when it gets to two or three inches, it’s a real aerobic workout.  And automobile tire tracks can throw you.

Whenever you ride across a really icy patch, ride straight; you can’t apply very much Δv.  This requires planning ahead so you can make changes in speed or direction after you are back on relatively dry pavement.

And if it’s dark, don’t make automobile drivers guess where you are; they may not make the effort.  Bike lights are cheap and better than ever. says; “There are lots of reasons why riding in the winter is not as crazy as it sounds…”

Categories: bicycling, Geeky

Ubuntu 8.1 impressions

December 9, 2008 4 comments

I just installed Ubuntu 8.1 on my laptop, a Lenovo X40 with a P4 processor and 1.5 gigs of ram.  Short version: “Wow!”  It is smokin’ fast and kitchen-clean.  No hardware problems at all and it picked up wireless networks right away.  And Gimp 2.6 is quite an improvement, if for no other reason than they got rid of the dopey dog.  (Well, it’s faster too).

My home desktop machine is going to be upgraded, pronto.

Categories: Geeky, Software

Mechanical geek quiz

September 24, 2008 6 comments

I am cleaning out the garage to get ready to make some home repairs.  Before I throw out this old oil pump, tell me…
Which way will the bottom gear have to turn, to move oil from the left chamber to the right chamber?  Clockwise?  Or counterclockwise?
The winner gets to right-click on the picture and download his very own .jpg of an old oil pump.  It’s an extravagant prize, to be sure.

Categories: Geeky

Henri Cartier-Bresson in Chicago Tribune today

September 21, 2008 1 comment

It’s incredibly cool that the Chicago Tribune published a full-page article on Five things to know about Henri Cartier-Bresson today, and it is a nifty article as far as it goes.  But never once did they mention “The Decisive Moment”, the fundamental concept in HCB’s photography.  It would be like writing a full-page article about Ansel Adams and not mentioning the Zone System, or about Eugene Smith and not mentioning his courage as a photojournalist.

But you can see the entire film documentary; The Impassioned Eye online in 10 parts at the Rollfilm blog.  Hear Cartier-Bresson say (in French, with translation) that photographers should “aim well, shoot fast, and scram”.  Hear his comments as he sheafs through his photos.  Learn about him seizing the moment from the stream of events, with his tiny Leica camera. Enjoy! 

Categories: Geeky, Photography

Rainbow around the sun

September 19, 2008 4 comments

Saw this as I walked out of the building on my way to lunch today

And I mean, I saw exactly this because it was necessary to cover the sun with my hand, to see the rainbow.

Categories: Geeky, Photography

Depressing, Depressing, a little worrisome, Hilarious

September 3, 2008 1 comment

Blake Stacey at Science After Sunclipse has a 1989 Ted Turner CNN interview with Carl Sagan, in which he talks about nuclear winter, anthropogenic global warming, and space exploration.  Nobody thinks much about nuclear winter anymore, but they should.  Many wars have been fought over dwindling resources.

Paul Sunstone at Cafe Philos has a scenario in which McCain might win, and it’s actually not at all farfetched.  Depressing, yes, but not farfetched.  And in some ways related to two of the topics in the interview above.

In anticipation of his visit to Florida, Steinn Sigurðsson at Dynamics Of Cats has some bad hurricane scenarios to contend with.  Apparently there is a mechanism by which big storms can follow the low-pressure trough left by earlier big storms.

But this is getting too damn depressing, so I have to end on an upbeat note:  ***Dave shares a little nugget he found: America’s 10 most confusing traffic signs.  I didn’t know, for instance, that trucks exceeding 10,000 GVW are not allowed to drive along upside down.  It’s goofy fun.

Categories: Blogging, Geeky

Coming soon: Google’s shiny new Chrome browser

September 1, 2008 3 comments

Google is coming out with a new, open-source browser optimized for web applications.  Check out the introductory comic book.  I found that it loaded very slowly – you might try downloading the .pdf.

The semi-technical ‘comic book’ is drawn by Scott McCloud – I have a couple of his books on comic art.  I actually recognized his drawing style right away; how geeky is that?

This is actually big news.  Funny thing is, it would even benefit Microsoft if they know enough to take advantage of it.

Categories: Geeky, Software

Fixed-wheel bikes

September 1, 2008 2 comments

Chicago Tribune has a great article, with explanatory graphics, on the hottest trend in cycling: No brakes, and they like it.  If you are interested in a fixed-wheel bike, or in the trend of people riding them on the streets, you should definitely read the article.  It covers both the design and the legal controversy over fixed-wheel bikes.

It is not quite true that fixed-wheel bikes “have no brakes”.  These bikes rely on the rider’s skill with the non-coasting drive train to bring the bike to a stop.  This is not a trivial trick, and the article rightly says riding a fixed-wheel bike on the street is no place for a beginner.

A simple compromise is to equip the bike with a front brake.  The front brake does 85% of the stopping on a bike anyway.  But the “purists” don’t like anything attached to their bikes that isn’t absolutely needed to move the machine.  I don’t screw around: my bike has top-quality front and rear disc brakes, with massive tires.  When I want to, I can apply a hell of a lot of drop-anchor.

The article made no mention that cheap, dime-store bikes often have such dysfunctional brakes that they may as well have none at all.

Categories: bicycling, Geeky

Camera one of two

August 31, 2008 4 comments

A while back I asked readers for suggestions on what camera to buy.  And several very thoughtful suggestions were made, some for cameras I had not considered.  I carefully checked out each one, and many thanks to everyone who shared suggestions!

When I used to shoot film, I had several cameras to meet different purposes.  I had an Olympus XA, a tiny 35mm rangefinder with an outstanding lens that I could carry with me everywhere.  I had several Olympus SLR’s and lenses (all fast primes) to handle a wide range of situations from flat-field macro to portraits.  I’ve owned a couple different 6×6 TLR cameras for when I needed waist-level viewfinder. 

Over the years I’ve done a lot of different kinds of photography.  Long ago I did wedding photography but after several weddings decided it was just too stressful.  The kinds I really enjoyed included portrait, product, documentary, candid street photography, scenic, macro, and for want of a better term, ‘fine-art’.  Each has its own (often overlapping) technical requirements.

Eventually it became impossible for me to spend time in the darkroom, and I went all-digital.  But no single digital camera can do everything.  So it’s a foregone conclusion that I’ll need more than one camera.  My friend Pete has an Olympus DSLR and the image quality is simply outstanding.  But I pretty much live on a bike and his camera is too large for my backpack.  Also, I really like a waist-level viewfinder for macro and candid photography.

A couple readers suggested the Canon S5 IS, which I had not heard of, and that’s what I wound up getting.  It has a 12x zoom, image stabilizer, excellent macro capability, face recognition, and a folding viewfinder that allows waist-level photography (Joy!). It also has an internal eye-level viewfinder.  Plus, like any modern digital camera, a million other features which may be occasionally useful but hardly essential.  I will wind up using the panorama effect a lot…

And I’m delighted to find that the flash never goes off by itself – you have to specifically turn it on.  (Well over 99% of my photography is available-light; flash is a giant distraction to me)

It fits neatly in my backpack, runs on NiMH AA batteries (I have an ample supply), and image quality is well within the range that I need.  It handles complex lighting situations very well.  (I like Olympus’ image processor better than Canon’s but it isn’t a huge deal.) And did I mention I love the folding viewfinder?

Downsides: at extreme zoom + extreme high contrast scenes, there’s 2 or 3 pixels of purple fringing in white areas.  It doesn’t affect most shots.  I would have liked RAW capability.  And the lens cap was worthless; I got an old 59mm Vivitar slip-on lens cap off eBay instead.  The handgrip could be more ‘grippy’ but I’ll soon fix that.  As with all my hand-held cameras, I use a wrist strap instead of a neck strap.  (Vestige of my old camera-repair days.  Saw too many cameras destroyed by mishaps with neck straps.)

After two weeks I’m very happy with the Canon S5 IS and thanks again for the suggestion.  It will do 90% of the photography that I want it to do.  For my other camera I need extremely high image quality similar to my friend’s DSLR.  But it still has to fit in my backpack, and I’m not in a hurry.

While shopping I overheard a lot of other people shopping for cameras, and I can understand why camera companies are fixated on megapixels.  It is a simple number that consumers think is important, and trying to educate consumers is risky for a manufacturer.  “Ohh, this one has 12 micropixels!”  Bleah.

Folks, worrying about how many megapixels your camera has is like worrying about the top speed of your minivan.  Once you get past about 5mpx, there are other things that have much more tangible effect on visible image quality.  Like keeping .jpg compression to a minimum, and controlling ‘noise’ in black areas of your picture.  Both of these are degraded by cramming too many mpx onto a CCD chip. 

I took a good long look at the Canon G9, and liked it.  WeeDram suggested I also wait and take a look at this Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3K, which should begin shipping in mid-September.  Using the new mini-4/3 chip, Panasonic made the deliberate decision to put fewer megapixels on the CCD chip, so they could have better sensitivity and less noise.  This will have a huge (positive) effect on image quality and it’s very exciting to see a camera company buck the trend.  So I will definitely be checking it out.

Categories: Geeky, Photography

Man, that was weird

August 25, 2008 5 comments

I just tried to log into a secured system, and my keyboard suddenly took an unscheduled vacation.  Only an occasional keystroke would ‘take’ and then it would produce the wrong character.  I restarted several times, with different keyboards, and couldn’t even enter my system login, or even get into BIOS setup on POST.  Then, it started working again.

Takeaway lesson: I have way too many keyboards lying around.  I still don’t know what the hell happened with the keyboard.

On an unrelated note (several thousand notes, actually) the awesome big-band jazz number that accompanies the extended credits sequence on the DVD Incredibles makes great cardio workout music.  Or, music to get speeding tickets by, if you prefer.

Categories: Geeky, hardware