24 November 2008

More Coffee In Space

Some people lament the status of our Space Program. When I see things like this, however:

http://www.universetoday.com/2008/11/24/mr-fixit-in-space-invents-zero-g-coffee-cup/

my fears are assuaged. With the space program in the hands of genius such as this, the sky's the lim, no, not even the stars are beyond, no, may the force, that's not even close...

I need more coffee.

21 November 2008

Appealing to my sense of Aesthetics

Just a quick note to share this:

http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/11/create-your-own.html

I've only just read this Wired article and the related content on the page, but this appeals, as my title says, to my sense of aesthetics. There's something poetic about the desert night glowing with the light of atomic decay.
That's all, really. I'll leave any deeper meaning as an exercise for the reader.

18 November 2008

The More Things Change...

When I was a young nerd, I had a black and white television. I could watch the local UHF channels, but I didn't have access to our main antenna, so I made do. I realized that playing with the rabbit ears meant that I could almost get in some of the far-away UHF channels from Baltimore, or even York, PA if the wind was blowing right (not so much rolling down the plain as howling through the valley, if you will). I further realized that by hooking up some aluminum foil and a section of fence I got from God-knows-where, I was able to get a picture. A VERY snowy picture. In black and white. With audio static. but I watched.
This is how I saw a lot of Star Trek: TNG the first time around. Oh the evenings I whiled away , beaming with pride at my accomplishments. A Grade A hack ... well, B+, at least.
Fast forward to years later. I'm all grown up, almost have a Master's degree, wife, house, dogs, and a broadband connection. What do I find myself doing some dark October evening? Essentially the 2008 equivalent of watching grainy TV over a rigged antenna: watching episodes of Star Trek: DS9 in very low-quality 10 minute chunks via YouTube. I'd still be doing it, too, but I ran out of episodes-in-order, and I want to watch them in order.
I bought season 1 from the iTMS, but they don't have any of the other seasons. I can't figure out if Netflix has them available for their download service or not, and if you haven't figured it out by now, I'm not terribly interested in the DVDs.
As a young nerd I almost bought the VI Star Trek movies on VHS, in all their packaged glory; of course there was no way I was dropping $100+ on 6 movies on tape. No way. I also knew there were going to eventually be more movies, and my little tiny OCD didn't like the thought of all of the VHS spines not matching.
Now everything is out on DVD. I still haven't bought anything. For some reason I can rationalize the downloading of episodes and paying for them, but the DVDs take up room, and if I do that, I'm buying them on Blu-ray, on which format they don't yet exist. Paramount/CBS (no longer one company, I know) will also have to re-master a LOT of hours of TV and re-render a pile of FX to deliver us an HD trek series beyond the Trek: Remastered stuff (which is beautiful, btw.).
But I digress; I had a little inside chuckle about the evolutionary recursiveness of doing the same thing over again - I guess in another 15 years I'll be watching HD 2-D stuff on the hypernets when I could be paying a premium for the 3D renders. Pshhh. Kids and their 3-D; back in my day we had 2-D and were happy for it!
Both ways uphill!

17 November 2008

A Brief Open Letter to Friends

Friends,

My apologies if I've been less than responsive to you these past few months. Much of my free time has been consumed with work for my 2 classes. I had the unwitting luck of signing up for a brace of classes that, while sharing similar material, both demand a much higher weekly work load than I had yet experienced in my grad school career!
This, along with my other obligations (the stray photography gig, the mrs.'s opera performances), has kept me pretty incredibly busy.
The good news is that school is over for the semester on 12/4, and doesn't pick back up until the end of January. I'm hoping to pack in a lot of Holly-Jolly partying and goofing off into those 2 months before I have to sit back down in front of the laptop and start cranking out more school work.
Until then, I beg your patience and understanding. It's not for lack of friendship that I do not communicate, it's because I'm consumed with thoughts of CASE tools, SRS documents, and the wild, wonderful world of software verification and validation - Independent or otherwise!

Your Pal,

Rob

xkcd and me: It was only a matter of ... time?

It finally happened. Something I wrote years ago and have re-posted in a web-log environment once or twice (and apparently went viral at Mount St. Mary's Chemistry Department before viral was cool - and I never attended the Mount) has been also created in visual form by the talented creator of xkcd:

http://xkcd.com/505/

My work, to which I refer:

Existential Chemistry

The torture was rapidly becoming intolerable. His strength was breaking down. Before too long, his will would be gone and his soul would be among the damned. He felt himself drifting off to sleep. He was in Chemistry – A life sentence, with no parole, or at least it felt like it.The oppressiveness bore down upon him, driving him into a stupor. The poor attempts at humour were like knives digging into the skull, complete with the grinding noise one would expect from metal on bone – or was that the instructor's voice?He no longer knew; colour faded into sound and sound became smell. He could taste what he felt, and it was a bitter taste. The bitter taste of apathy, mixed with the rotten smell of old things, kept long past their worth. Perception became subjective, and the subject was Chemistry.He sighed. The word "entropy" was uttered. His boggled senses locked onto the word, tasting, touching, and smelling it. They knew that this was their guiding principle, that the senses no longer obeyed any laws of order. Disorder, chaos, random sensations processed by random thought. Paradox. Sleeping while awake, loving while hating, wanting while repulsed, coveting while rejecting. The torture wore at his soul, and became a threat to existence. If this madness continued, existence in the normal plane would no longer be possible. He would go insane and mentally combust, his mind forever trapped in paradox. In Chemistry Class.Paradox spread. The senses realigned, though they did this from sheer boredom rather than any significant change. They quickly remembered why they had chosen to hallucinate in the first place, but by now, apathy had set in, and sensation became dulled. No longer caring, shut down was imminent. He was asleep – In Chemistry Class.He had a dream. There was a morning, and he wasn't in Chemistry Class. He slept in, and was joyous, for all was as it should be. But these were all dreams, for he awoke into the existence that did not follow linear time, that seemed to exist always, and yet never. His watch ran sideways – In Chemistry Class.Time kept on slipping into the future. An Angel showed him the way out, as another kept him sane throughout the ordeal. He would make it, it was time, the ordeal would soon be over, the ordeal of Chemistry Class.



It's not a picture-for-word duplication, but the sentiments, the intent, are the same.
It's very Leibniz-Newton. Only without the hurt feelings or powdered wigs.

16 November 2008

Review: Quantum of Solace &c.

If you've seen Bond, if you liked Casino Royale, you'll enjoy this one. It's really that simple. Go watch it, and tell me that the opening scene doesn't convince you that the new Bond is Jim Sweeney.
Now, I have 2 points of contention with NPR's coverage of this film.
Point the first: Weekend America just this afternoon stipulated that there were no gadgets on this film. Way to be wrong, gang. There was no Q outfitting gadget scene, and there were no pen bombs, but that slick table (think Microsoft Surface) at MI-6 and the facial recognition software in Bond's phone sure looked like gadgets to me. It doesn't have to be encased in plastic to be a gadget, and just 'cos you see it every week on CSI doesn't mean it's real. Tenuously I'd argue to include the fuel cells in that list, too, but that's reaching.
Secondly, the "Music Geek", or whichever nerd-chic name he calls himself, the "blogger" interviewed on NPR about the Bond theme who poohed all over this theme? Have another frappuccino and shut up. That was a decent tune; you're as bad as the Star Trek nerds who are rending their garments because the new Enterprise isn't identical to the 1960's model (which is sexy as hell, but then so is the new hotness).
Speaking of Star Trek, I saw the trailer for it. Hell yeah. May 9, 2009 can't get here soon enough.

15 November 2008

Book Meme

Okay, Jared, I'm intrigued.
Jared posted on his web-log, Jareddo, the following:

There is a Book Meme thing going around the Planet GNOME feed.

  • Grab the nearest book.
  • Open it to page 56.
  • Find the fifth sentence.
  • Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  • Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.
So, to play along, the closest real book is something the mrs. has been reading. Some vampire novel thing that I refuse to read:

"And I dashed back to my car, feeling that my heart was much lighter than it had been before."

Technically the closest bound volume with words in is my journal, and I know I consider myself a writer, but I'm certain opinions differ. This is moot, mind you. Page 56 of my journal contains information about my house's WLAN, and there's only 4 lines of text.
Page 55? "Next weekend we are off to NYC for the weekend".
This alternate sentence brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled paper writing.
No wait, that's me.
Crap.

14 November 2008

Hey buddy, you wanna buy a steak?

In all the excitement of moving my desk to the first floor (at work) and watching that D&D movie, I almost forgot to share a very exciting moment with you, my reader!
Picture it, Wednesday night, around 6pm, after dark. Damp, chilled air, and me with an empty stomach and a box of groceries.
As I park the car I see a gray sweat-shirted, pony-tailed and ball-capped man make his way briskly down Mulberry St. I pay no mind, as it's not as if he were wearing a dashiki or kimono or a rabbit, and he appeared to be adequately containing his fluids and or viscerals. Perfectly normal.
Then he rushed back around the corner, with something of a not quite haunted, let's call it a preoccupied and perhaps worried expression, slightly out of breath.
He speaks:
"Hey buddy, can you help me out?"
As long as you don't try to rob me of either my dinner, my wallet, or my life, I can certainly help you, I think. Likely needs directions, but if any of the above happen, groceries will rapidly become weapons. Or maybe I'm just paranoid.
"Well, you see," he continues, careful to keep a respectful distance. This is taking place outside my house, me standing near the back steps, him near my dining room windows, "I just made my final delivery for the day, and the lady accidentally got a double order, so I have all this meat on my truck and my boss says I have to get rid of it..."

You what.
"We're talking porterhouse and t-bones, just $4..."

I told him no thank you; our fridge was full. It is, sorta
"Okay, thanks," he replied, "Do you know anyone in the neighborhood that might be interested?"

In meat from the back of a truck. MEAT ... from ... TRUCK.

I told him I did not, that we'd only recently moved here and didn't really know the neighbors. I know that's not entirely true, but compared to the older lady across the street who does daycare and names her wireless SSID with her family name, we did just move in. I mean, my NASCAR/Redskin/Budweiser/Cigarette-loving, parking space hog duplex neighbors and we are brand-spanking new to the neighborhood compared to either the families up the street who enjoy the fresh air of their front porches and have family over on Sundays, or the woman who lives in the apartment house across Wayside and shares custody of her child, or the other woman who lives in the top floor apartment and works as a cleaning lady, likely in a hotel; but not compared to the people in the house behind us. Mostly because that house is for sale and no one is living there presently.
He thanked me and rushed on. Most of me was grateful that the discussion was over so that I could eat and that he had not tried to rob me of life or possessions, but part of me was sad that I had not taken advantage of such a great deal, or that he hadn't been an agressor. I did not save money, nor did I get a chance to kick ass, because I had glass salsa jars in that box and a bottle of Febreze. I could have taken him.
After all, we Republicans might scare easily, but that just means we're likely better armed. And I'm deadly with a bottle of Febreze.


update May 2014: I am no longer affiliated with any political party, but I am pretty sure I could still turn a jar of salsa into an effective weapon, so offer me truck meat at your own peril.

Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God

As my reader(s) know, I occasionally review (ramble on about) an entertainment item I've found enjoyable. Well this time, my friends, I have to share something with you that's so horrible it's ... I mean to say that it ... well, in fact it's ...

It's bad, people.
Here, have a plot summary from Wikipedia:

"Due to a curse from his former master Profion, Damodar survived his death by Ridley Freeborn as an undead entity in pursuit of an evil artifact for some hundred years, one capable of unleashing unstoppable destruction on Izmir and the descendants of those who caused his demise. The movie opens as he finally gets his hands on the artifact after being lead by a magmin, a mysterious black orb also the power source of Faluzure (the black dragon god of destruction and decay), freeing himself from the undead curse after splitting a lake protected by a kraken and serving under Faluzure to completely ressurect the monster.

Soon, Izmir is alerted to the rising of this ancient evil. Berek, a fighter and former captain of the king's guard, now a bored and unsatisfied lord of the King, and Melora, his wife, a gifted young mage, identify Faluzure's eventual revival as poison towers erupt from the mountain that Falazure was sealed in. The King requests that Berek is to assemble a party of adventurers; a group small enough to travel to Damodar's lair undetected, but strong enough to face their enemies. Lux (a female barbarian played by Ellie Chidzey), Dorian (a male Cleric of Obad-Hai), Ormaline (a female elven wizard), and Nim (a rogue) join the former captain of the king's guard to elimate the threat of Faluzure reawakening."


Given that I'm a nerd, you'll realize that I've played D&D at some point in my past. If I had time, the Mrs. and I would likely be playing presently, but grad school > D&D. I did not come into this movie unaware.
It was a quiet Thursday evening, me watching a little SG-1 waiting for the wife to get home from her voice lesson. I stuck around for the movie we're discussing, knowing it would be bad. I was not disappointed, given my skewed criteria.
Friends, this movie is awful. It's so awful it's come out the other side to campy-good and then stumbled down to bad again. You know how Gandalf fell through Middle Earth when fighting the Balrog (keep the mental image of the Balrog, please. I'll be using it in a moment), and became Gandalf the White? Pretend he kept falling and became "Gandalf the Grey with a bad Drug Habit", and you have the general gist of this cinematic mistake. Alan Smithee was too embarrassed to take credit for the direction of this celluloid.
Continuity was an afterthought, and the pacing was miserable: we're riding now we're leading the horses now we're walking again. This might have meant to convey a distance of travel, but the light never changed, and it sure looked like the same city for most of the shots. I mean, if you take off out of the king's courtyard at a gallop, you're going to hop off and walk as soon as you're out of his sight? Finest heroes in the land my ass. And then suddenly we're there!
You know it's bad when I'm discussing things like continuity and pacing. I'm very forgiving with stuff like that. The final dragon attack felt completely tacked on to the end of the entire debacle. This movie was SO BAD that I couldn't even play MST3k with it because the crap was piling up so fast I never had time to think of a good zinger, because my brain was busy trying to figure out the next bit of 'what?'. This would be a good movie to use for interrogations/brainwashing. The victim would be so befuddled by the time the credits oozed by that he'd either give you the launch codes or tell you his mother was a lich.
Back to the Balrog, that achievement of digital wizardry. Want to know what a Balrog's mutant-inbred-retard 3rd cousin/uncle looks like? Check out the "magmen" in this movie. Sounds like they ought to be selling flashlights rather than being fire/earth elementals. Think dancing baby meets Balrog, rendered on a Commodore 64.
They didn't even get the eye candy right in this movie. The 3 females with prominent roles had costumes that left all the wrong things to the imagination. Given the target demographic for this movie, one would think that one would have costumes for the women that didn't just show leg, but displayed it. Same with other, uhm, matters of the figure. You can't even argue that the actresses had some sort of ethical or moral quandary against such costumery - by acting in this movie, their ethics, morals, and taste are no longer matters for discussion.

"No, Maury, I will NOT wear the chain mail bikini for this movie. I left all that behind when I left the Honey Bear Lounge. I'm a legit actress now!"


haha. hahaha. I made myself smile.
Friends, I don't feel I wasted 2 hours last night. I feel that I sacrificed 2 hours of my life to warn you away from this film. It's not Star Trek V bad (at least they had pacing and continuity - after all, what DOES God need with a Starship?), it's certainly not Rocky Horror Picture Show bad (RHPS could have taught D&D a thing or 3,000 about costumery). I wanted a staff of writers a la MST3k to tackle this film, because it's that bad. It's so bad it'd be an MST3k 2-parter because they'd have to stop the movie to get it all in, and then come back next week to tackle it all.
It's a movie for, if I may, lying down and avoiding.
Good luck if you watch, just be prepared to roll for damage - brain damage. (you didn't think you were getting out of this without a lame dice-rolling analogy, did you?)

11 November 2008

The Starbucks Apology

Coffee in the morning, coffee after lunch, coffee in the evening. coffee in Space. I love it, in all its forms and flavored products from ice cream to chocolate covered coffee beans. We even have some coffee soap in the house. The rich aroma and texture of the humble coffee bean is testament to the rich flavor and health benefits it provides us all. And Starbucks brought coffee to the forefront of the American Food Agenda. It made all the players step up their game. Even McDonald's, my teenage employment from a time B-id-C (Before I drank Coffee) where the stuff burned away in pots of foul acidic brew, provides us all with drinkable drip and is unleashing a line of 'coffee beverages' (lattes &c).
I came to coffee about when I came to smoking cigarettes, in college. Unlike the cool, cool (and deadly) habit of smoking, coffee was a necessary evil to keep me awake to study, or from sometimes falling asleep in someone's food when at work. Spaghetti makes for a messy pillow. In time the two intertwined into one habit, coffee and a smoke. I'd sometimes drink coffee without a smoke, or have a smoke sans cafe, but they went together like Rice and Roni. The bulk of my first novel was fueled by black coffee and cheap cigarettes. I eventually gave up the cigarettes for all the reasons you might think, but coffee and I were inseparable.
When I found myself in a coffee house I'd order a big cappuccino, and it was okay. I stayed the hell out of Starbucks, though. They were evil, a den for hipsters and other assorted douches, everything I did not want to be. There was nothing getting me into a Starbucks; and then I met Francesca.
Before she was my lovely wife she was my girlfriend, and my girlfriend enjoyed her Starbucks. Early in the relationship she insisted that we visit, because she wanted her drink. I went, yet reluctantly. I resisted with body language and commentary on our first few visits to this strange new world that I had so assiduously avoided, yet felt strangely drawn to even upon entering. My confusion took shape as righteousness: I would be he who stood up to the stereotype. No mocha-java-frapa-rapa-al-pacino for me! (thank you Denis). No. coffee.
"You mean drip?" the barrista asked me.
And the sizes: venti tall what?

How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in it!

There was a process here that was in no small way fueled by my desire to spend time with my future mrs. I eventually relented, and found joy in the Peppermint mocha, the beverage meant for the Christmas season but in my eyes perfect all the year 'round. Until I began to count the calories of the powder, syrup, milk, whipped cream. I backed off to cappuccino, then dry cappuccino. Milk and I eventually began to disagree on a chemical level on how it would be digested. I no longer worried about the sizing, the options, the culture. I'd got over it; I'd got over myself. Starbucks is not evil, no more so than any other business out to make a buck (or bucks, as the case may be). Sure, I patronize the local guys (Higher Ground on the Dual Highway in Hagerstown in the Always building - you'll love it!) whenever possible, but much like a McDonald's cheeseburger and fries are comfortingly similar anywhere in these United States, so too can one find a Starbucks to deliver a deliciously consistent espresso whether you're in NYC or Abilene (I've never been to Abilene).
I now grind and steam my own espresso most mornings. I no longer make cappuccino, the vagaries of time and lactose have led me to the purity of the Americano. I trace my desire to do this to the pile of dollars I've handed over to Starbucks, the gallons of steamed coffee that I have poured down my throat. There have been others, and there will be others, but the green mermaid and her siren song of espresso will always call me back. I make no apologies for Starbucks.
I offer my apologies to the barristas who were making a living, hopefully working at something they love, and so patiently guided me with a smile to my coffee. Consistently delicious, always fresh, and hey, who's new song is that? It sounds pretty hip.

10 November 2008

So Your Candidate Didn't Win

Update December 2012: Oh how much changes in 4 years.

A 'get over it' Primer

When it comes to economics, foreign policy, the power of the Federal Government, and interpreting the Constitution, I consider myself a conservative. Take as little of my money as possible, stay out of my business, keep me and my family safe from external aggressors, and have a damned good reason for changing the Constitution before even thinking about it.
I also believe that the Federal government has no business telling me who to marry, what to smoke (rhetorically, speaking, of course, since I don't live in Massachusetts), whether or not to keep my baby (papa, don't preach), where to visit on the Internet, or to whom to speak.
You'd think I voted for Barr. I also believe that in this 2 party system a third party vote is wasted. Just like voting Republican in Maryland on a national ticket is a 'wasted vote'. But I did. Yes, I voted for John McCain. The John McCain who wasn't a mouthpiece for that worst part of the Republican Party, the social conservatives who don't care about government spending or the NSA (hi guys!) reading their e-mail so long as THE CHILDREN are safe and THE GAYS can't get married. The John McCain who was tenacious, clever, and not afraid to tell his own party to shove it when he disagreed. The John McCain I believed had been telling tales to the party base (the aforementioned SC block) so as to get enough votes to win the election. The John McCain who lost the election.
I maintain that he was the correct choice for President, that now President-Elect Obama could have used more experience on the national stage before ascending to the Presidency.
This is not a lament for a Presidency lost. No, my friends, though I consider myself a Republican I am also smart enough to realize that what is done is done, and immediately decrying this turn of events as Apocalypse is foolish and short-sighted. Any man who can withstand the rigors of a lengthy primary and general election cycle, continuously scrutinized and analyzed, and come out the other end the victor with relative numbers not seen since 1988 is a man to be reckoned with. A man to consider.
The man I didn't vote for but now find as my President-Elect.
President-Elect Obama deserves our - those of us who voted McCain, Barr, Nader, McKinney or Mouse (Mickey, Fascist Party) - respect and consideration. He said a lot about wise governance and the responsible actions of government. He's made many promises. He also has some dangerous ideas about Health Care and other social issues; but I'm going to give him a chance. I'm giving him a chance to succeed before I unleash any invective in web-log or conversation.
President-Elect Obama has already had a profound effect on our nation. My Black fellow citizens have with one voice seemed to indicate that now anything is possible; as though a great mental block has been removed from them, a weight lifted from their hearts. The entire world is celebrating the election of this man. The man I thought (in my admittedly less than expert, though still informed, opinion) wasn't ready for the job. People are going about their jobs with a bit more joy in their hearts, the country seems to glow with the freshness of a new bride. I'll confess to being affected by this some myself.
I'm tired of the constant complaints about the government, and I was really tired of the election politics. I believe that some of our good-feelings are simple relief that it's all over.
As a Republican I should by definition fear change (unless it's interest on a dollar, right?), but I often find change to be exciting. Quantum possibilities exist in a Schroedingerian state of what if, both good and bad, but still possible. Eventually they will collapse into the single reality of decisions made; and though we stand now on the cusp of a fresh administration brimming with possibilities, "Schroedinger's" laws, policies, and signing statements will rapidly coalesce over time into the legacy of an administration.
For now, I'm riding the quantum wave of possibility, tapping into some of that youthful enthusiasm I promised I wouldn't lose as my 20s turned into my 30s. I want to be inspired by a president who says mighty things, does mighty deeds, and ends his presidency as a man to be admired and emulated. I want to believe that even though I didn't vote for him that the evidence of positivity and unity I am seeing from this election will finally wash away much of the lingering bigotry and ignorant hatred born of fear.
This is the promise of American Democracy.

Victory is Mine!

No, this is not the long-awaited post-election essay where I posit how even though the candidate for whom I voted lost that the candidate who won deserves a chance to govern before we begin to criticize. No, my friends, I'm still marinating that post.
This victory is all the sweeter. It's likely genetic in nature, though to be honest scientists are still trying to figure out if our blessing (or curse, thinking about all those #$%^&^# pairs of scissors in elementary school) is indeed genetic, or if some set of factors (the hand of God) must be present in the womb for this wondrous ability to take shape.
Yes, friends, my sister has sent me photographic evidence that left-handedness is alive and well in the next generation of my family:



Let us all rejoice! I promise that he shall never suffer (long) the indignity of bad-scissors - those long-neglected paper-chewing apparati that are allowed to stand in for the fine instruments of atomic-rending that the other children use - or any of the other tricks I've learned. Mostly, that since we're lefties, we have the upper hand in any fight that begins with a handshake. I also plan to start petitioning his mother to put him in little league, given how valuable lefties are to the game of baseball.
Rejoice with me - I know of at least one confirmed leftie out there who reads this on occasion.
Victory is Ours.

04 November 2008

Stillrich Wedding Photos

I've been remiss in sharing any photos of the garden with you, friends, so to make it up to you here are ten photos from the wedding we shot on the 25th:



A quick moment to toss a shout out to Noise Ninja. If you do any low-light shooting, I highly recommend this software to clean out the noise. Hopefully there'll be a link to click somewhere on the page for Noise Ninja. The pro license is only $70 for stand alone software, and certainly worth the money. I haven't even customized it yet, only used default settings, and it's been a much-needed addition to my toolbox.
Now to shoot a few more weddings/birthdays/bar(bat) mitzvahs/etc. so I can afford some sweet new glass!

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