Archive for February, 2009

Product review: Park Tools CG-2 chain cleaner

February 28, 2009 1 comment

My bike has gotten really filthy this winter, what with salty slush and snow and some mud.  This causes the chain to malfunction (not shift gears smoothly) and wear prematurely.  In the past, I’ve simply removed the chain and dropped it in my ultrasonic cleaner.  But I can’t find the damn thing.  I mean I can’t find the ultrasonic cleaner – the chain is quite easy to find. 

So I used a Park Tool CG-2 chain cleaner tool with a citrus degreaser.  For 26 bucks it did a nice job, though not as thorough as an ultrasonic cleaner.  Ran a couple hot-water rinses through to rinse off the degreaser, then washed my bike in the back yard, and it’s drying in the basement behind my desk now.  It’s especially important to wash salt off of aluminum-framed bikes.

When it’s thoroughly dry I’ll lubricate the chain with Clean Ride and the rest of the parts on the bike with a Teflon-based lubricant.  I always heat up the Clean Ride before applying it.  Another recommended chain lube is Boeshield T-9, which has many other uses as well.  I prefer the little applicator bottle over the spray.

Clean Ride is supposed to make your chain self-cleaning but there was still some original-equipment oil on this chain when I started using it, so it got filthy anyway.  If you have any kind of wheel brakes be careful not to let chain lube get on your wheels.  I have disc brakes so there’s less chance of a lubricant-related braking problem.

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This week’s helping of Republiconidiocy

February 26, 2009 8 comments

Not much time but let’s start with Bobby Jindal’s apparent desire to let the free market watch volcanoes.  The $240m he complained about was for the USGS, and volcano monitoring was only a small part of that line, of course.  Maybe we should ask the commander of the US airbase near mount Pinatubo what he thinks of volcano monitoring.  Or people who live within 250 miles of Yellowstone National Park.

Maybe Jindal would make Rush Limbaugh his science advisor.  And policy advisor.  And, apparently, every other kind of advisor.  In fact, why not just cut out the middleman and have Rush Limbaugh for president?

Sometimes I think we should release the flying monkeys on the Republicans.  That IS the reason for genetic engineering, isn’t it?  To fulfill Frank Baum’s vision of those wondrous creatures.  But alas, the dream of a personal squad of flying monkeys would be dashed by a new law against owning primates as pets, proposed by Democrat Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.  It was supported by Dems, opposed by Republicans.  Not clear to me if the law makes an exception for helper monkeys for the handicapped – but those usually aren’t dangerously large.

That’ll have to be enough for this morning – off to work.

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“It’s time for America to lead again”

February 25, 2009 3 comments

I didn’t watch the president’s address tonight.  The president says maybe one sentence, maybe two, then there’s 45 seconds of clapping, then another sentence or two…  Instead, I just read the transcript.  Been doing it that way for years.

Funny thing about reading transcripts: if it’s a speaker to whose voice you have become accustomed, you ‘hear’ that voice when reading.  Read a quote by any of the last nine presidents (if you are of a certain age) and see if your imagination does not supply the original voice for you.  Well, now it’s ten presidents, for me.  I have no idea what Eisenhower sounded like.

(Egad, has it been that long?  I used to do a passable comic imitation of Reagan.)

Not just presidents, either.  Read a letter from a loved one, or a quote by Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, Samuel L. Jackson, Walter Matthau and many others, and you hear them in high fidelity, somehow.

Anyway, I read the transcript in fifteen minutes, thoroughly enjoyed it, and recommend the practice. 

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ET can phone home now, if it’s a local call

February 23, 2009 8 comments

This seems to be the week for phones.  At work, we’re starting to install VOIP phones in our classrooms.  This will allow professors to call our office instead of using the less-informative room ‘help’ signal.  I just installed the first one Friday.  It’s a Cisco and it works great!  The installation requires a small modification to each console, but it’s no big deal.

Then this weekend I tackled the noisy phone line at my house.  I really couldn’t care less about the phone, as long as we have Internet, but that’s the problem.  Our phone line had gotten so noisy it was interfering with the DSL.

So this morning, I ripped out a whole bunch of old phone lines and junctions in the house, a tangled assortment of Radio-Shack grade 4-wire, dynamite wire, twisted bell wire, and a lightning arrestor that looks like it dates back to the early Eisenhower administration.  Installed uniform CAT4 cable and new junctions and jacks, while eliminating several of the old lines that are no longer used.  Noise, gone; DSL, working better. 

In the process I saw some network wiring that isn’t up to standard, but my Ethernet wiring kit is at work so I didn’t do anything with that.  All the cable is CAT5, so it won’t need replacing, but I’ll install a new punch-panel in the closet instead of the current tangle of junk.

I also modified a new piece of exercise equipment that I bought.  It strengthens the lower back, but it had an uncomfortable design flaw.  Now it has much better clearance, uh, in front below the waistline.

I am planning to buy a unicycle soon.  Does anyone have any tips?  What brand to buy, features to look for?  If possible I want one as good as my mountain bike, which is fairly high-end.

Coming up soon on this blog is a review of a book written by one of my old college buddies.  He and I went in completely different directions after graduation; he’s a fundamentalist minister and I’m an evil atheist blogger.  He said he wanted my honest opinion of the book…

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Heinrich Herz Hertz!

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Coraline 3D, UPDATED

February 19, 2009 6 comments

MrsDoF and I saw Niel Gaiman’s Coraline 3D this weekend.  It’s a very creepy Wizard-of-Oz type story about a little girl who finds herself in a magical land… with a catch.  And the wicked witch really was wicked… nobody will be making redeeming musicals about her.

The movie was all the more enjoyable because it’s just what it appears to be, and not a vehicle for some social message that adults think they need to cram down kids’ throats along with the popcorn. Or if there was a message, I was too obtuse to catch on to it, which is always a possibility.  If your kids are prone to nightmares, though, maybe best to skip it.

My favorite character was the scraggly-looking black cat, which dispensed aloof wisdom but got right into the thick of the action when necessary.  Good kitty!

The movie is also enjoyable as an example of stop-motion animation with actual models, and not a CGI extravaganza.  Wired magazine has the wonderful, geeky details.

We saw the movie in Real-D, a 3D technology that will make you forget all about the old red/blue glasses.  Oh, you still wear special glasses, but they’re quite comfortable, and both eyes are the same.  It’s a trick of circular polarization that brings about the effect, and only possible with the new digital projectors.  It works amazingly well.  In a scene where a needle comes out of fabric right toward the viewer’s eye, I heard gasps all over the theater.

If you are prone to debilitating headaches afterward, occasionally resulting in long-lasting dizzyness so that you normally just wait for the video, digital movie projectors are the same or worse as/than film projectors.  The Real-D technology doesn’t specifically seem to make it worse.  But it doesn’t fix it either.

UPDATE: I forgot to include this wonderful narrative from Neil Gaiman about “fear of buttons”…

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NTSC: 1941-2009, There’s a last time for everything.

February 18, 2009 3 comments

The deadline was extended, but at least one of our local TV stations is going ahead with the plan.  At midnight, they’ll stop analog TV broadcasting and be digital-only. Circuits will cool and a part of the airwaves populated since 1941 will fall silent… for a little while.

No one was even sure television would catch on.  What a different world it is, now.

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Changing of the (handheld devices) guard

February 16, 2009 9 comments

When designing a web page, it used to be necessary to have a separate style sheet to accommodate handheld devices.  Usually this was called handheld.css and linked in the header.  I’m just wondering; is that really necessary anymore?  New handheld devices like the iPhone seem to render web pages from the same .css file that any other browser uses. 

Categories: Design, Geeky

Monday Morning Mystery Photo

February 16, 2009 5 comments

Something I noticed while cleaning up my workbench, and snapped a picture:

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Sunday Morning pastries and coffee

February 15, 2009 2 comments

An event I’d hoped for has occurred: Dana Hunter went to see Lucy at the Pacific Science Center.  Lucy is a distant ancestor to our kind, the oldest one of the old ones, and she’s on a world tour.  There isn’t a lot left of her after 3.2 million years, but just as I expected, Dana’s review captures the wonder and awe of what she means to us.

Not everyone who has seen Lucy was impressed, though, in which I suspect they really didn’t understand what they were looking at.  Afarensis catches one such vacuous mind, in the act of plagiarizing another such vacuous mind, in Denyse O’Leary’s ‘Friend’ visits Lucy

Religion and Darwin

The Lucy tour brought to mind an essay written by PZ Myers; The proper reverence for those who have gone before.  In which he clearly illustrates how small a snippet of human history is the book that creationists claim encompasses all of it.  If you have only seen Myers’ angry side, read this essay.  Though he would be loathe to admit it, he has a little bit of Loren Eiseley in him.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put up an idiotic billboard in Columbus, OH, that says; “Praise Darwin / Evolve beyond belief”.  Crikey!  OK real slow now; Darwin is a scientific hero, not a saint.  He’s a great example of how we humans can break out of the perceptual occlusion that is our temporal frame, and see the bigger picture.  Can we please avoid the use of religious language in describing him?  Thank you.

PalMD, in his Sunday Paeon, explains the virtue of great scientists, and how that is different from being a prophet or a saint:

“…To come up with realistic, testable ways of describing reality is very difficult. Scientists struggle for years to find a good way to isolate and test voltage-gated sodium channels, impossibly small biological machines with impossibly important implications for health. Prophets bypass this by proclaiming them “designed” and leaving it at that…”

Stupid climate-reporting tricks…

One of my pet peeves about “science journalism”, this time from BBC:

The BBC’s science reporter Matt McGrath says the most recent data is also worrying because it threatens to kick-start what climate scientists call negative feedback effects.

If you follow the link you won’t find the offending words in the quote above.  BBC has removed them since last night after I, and presumably a lot of other people, sent them emails that said; “Climate scientists call them ‘positive feedback’, dumbasses!”

I’m sorry,but I can’t be nice about this.  It is not a typo or a trivial error. If you are a science editor for the BBC and you don’t know the difference between positive and negative feedback effects, go sell used cars or something.  Really. 

  • Negative feedback: a change in condition causes the system to push back toward the original level.  Examples include thermostats, cruise-control, and autopilot systems.
  • Positive feedback: a change in condition causes the system to push in the direction of the change.  Examples include microphone feedback in a public address system, or CO2 causing global warming melting permafrost releasing more CO2 and methane, which results in more global warming.

There are actually several positive feedback mechanisms in global warming, and the result is anything but positive. Melting permafrost releasing greenhouse gasses is one.  Increased Arctic heat absorption due to reduced ice cover is another. The possible release of sea-floor methane hydrates is another.  So is desertification of forests, or even the cutting of rainforest for sugar cane. (Yes, we are part of the climate system; that’s the whole point of anthropogenic global warming.)

And some political tricks…

Yes, Obama got pwned by the Republicans.  He wanted so badly to believe they could move and think as individuals, but it was a wasted effort.  Everyone but him saw it coming.  Either that, or he is some kind of political strategy super-genius and wanted to force them out into the open as being incapable of true bipartisan interaction. 

Here’s another idiot worried about whether Obama wears a jacket in the Oval Office.  You will recall that Andy Card, former Bush chief of staff, was upset that Obama didn’t wear a jacket, conveniently overlooking the fact that everyone thought it was charming that Reagan wore a red flannel Western shirt with jeans in the Oval Office.  And anyway, what is the track record of ‘leaders in jackets’ that we should be all that impressed by them anyway?  Bush?  Jacket.  Abramoff?  Jacket.  Madoff?  Jacket.  Depending on your selection bias you could prove that wearing jackets means you are corrupt and evil.  Or the opposite, so let it go already.

One other thing: Republicans, spare me your newfound fiscal responsibility.  You had your chance to prove it, and to prove it would work, and you blew it.

And finally, despite what the report says, I think we’re getting exactly the results we should expect from the War On Drugs.

There’s plenty more where that came from; I’m just sipping from the Internet firehose on a Sunday morning. 

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Education: how do we get there from here?

February 14, 2009 1 comment

A couple education-related posts that I found more interesting when contrasted with each other…

Crooked Timber: Some obvious comments about school improvement and the achievement gap, proposes a system of mutual coaching among teachers to improve technique and increase accountability.  It’s an intriguiging idea but even more interesting is the discussion that follows about what to do with students who take the lion’s share of classtime and attention. (HT Chad Orzel from Uncertain Principles)

Coturnix, the chronobiologist author of A Blog Around The Clock reports on a case of Innovation in Education in Monkseaton High School in England.  In an architecturally inspiring environment, using instructional technology in a new way, the school is experimenting with teaching a range of content at far higher speed than anyone thought possible, leaving more time for discussion and reflection.

And what’s interesting about them?  For me it’s the fact that neither one will ever touch the school districts in our area.  For us, “innovation” consists of turning up the voltage on pretty much the same circuit they’ve been using since I graduated from school here 34 years ago.  The brains of Unit 5 (yes, that is the name of the school district here in Normal, Illinois) administrators seem to be caught in a quantum singularity as time flows past them. 

Example: to increase efficiency, the high schools are going to start next year at 7:15am.  Never mind numerous studies that show high school students, most of them, don’t even switch on until about 9:00am.  All that matters is being “efficient”.

Or for example that all the new schools built in this district have no windows.  After all, someone may look out the windows, and what then?  Of course I wonder if the teachers can’t compete with a window, what chance do they have against the Internet?  And is it worth the contest?  Disengaging from the immediate room to think for a moment IS part of the learning experience.

School environments are full of impediments to learning, never mind efficiency.  There’s the sonic environment, the photonic environment, the chronobiological environment, and the sequential environment.  That last one is important:  kids are force-marched through the day with little time to think about the information they’re being exposed to.  Hell, they don’t even have time to eat lunch.  But they are barcoded and treated constantly with suspicion in their windowless prison.

School districts can’t experiment, pretty much, at all.  There’s so much testing pressure that learning, the high-level function of adaptability and distinction that might equip a student to function well in an age of information overload, hardly gets any attention at all.  What I want to know is; how do we get there from here?

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