Saturday, May 28, 2011

Prithee, Shakespeare wast no clamperton!

I'm really looking forward to this year's Shakespeare on the Green. In High School, my English teacher told me there were just seven literary themes that all stories can fit into. Then we went on to learn Shakespeare plays that fit into all these themes. At the time I thought Shakespeare was no big deal, mainly because I could find all the same themes in Bruce Willis and Clint Eastwood movies.

However, as I grow older, I've realized that, while I was correct in being able to find the themes in action movies, Shakespeare did it so much more eloquently and the characters were more believable once you understand the difference in language. Plus, he was the original.

What was the seed that starting this appreciation for me? "Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet" with Leonardo DiCaprio. It's an excellent movie, but mainly it taught me that Shakespeare is best appreciated performed, not read. Most of the Shakespeare I was exposed to in High School was written.

So, now I love Shakespeare, I like to see how it's interpreted at a performance. However, I have little patience for actors that can't get into the character and who don't seem at home with the language. But, who would watch a Bruce Willis movie where the characters look like they're faking car chases and not really running away from explosions? By my troth, t'would be folly!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Historically, while I've never been an official member of the party, I've identified with Republicans. Their emphasis on a business friendly government that requires personal responsibility has always been attractive to me. I even stuck with the Republicans through George W. After all, an inarticulate leader does not ruin an entire philosophy for me.

However, the Republicans' antics this past year has finally driven me away. The last straw has been their stance on the net neutrality policy of the FCC which restricts ISP's ability to filter traffic based on content or who it comes from. Basically, this policy prevents ISPs from putting together a cable type of service where $20/month gets you Bing and CNN, $30/month gets you Google and NPR, $40/month if you want YouTube, etc. This is a really good idea(tm).

The republican position can be summed up by this statement from Rep. John Boehner: "Today's action by the FCC will hurt our economy, stifle private-sector job creation, and undermine the entrepreneurship and innovation of Internet-related American employers."

When John gets off the phone with his best friends, the lobbyists from the big ISPs, perhaps he can explain how a policy that keeps the internet as free as it's always been and prevents new startups from being crushed right out of the gate by ISPs who want them to pay extra to access their customers--actually stifles innovation?

In an irony that must be completely lost on the Republicans, this policy by the FCC does the exact opposite of what their claiming. It protects small companies from being crushed by large ISPs, it allows all companies to connect with all their customers regardless of what ISP they have, allowing Internet companies to continue to attract new customers and grow. It prevents ISPs from dictating what types of services their customers use, allowing the next Skype and Facebook to come into existence without having to get the permission of the cable companies. This policy is good from every aspect you look at it.

It seems to me the only reason to oppose this policy is if the telcoms and cable companies have you in their pocket. There is no other reason for a politician who is ostensibly working for the good of the community to oppose this. The denouncement of this policy from all across the Republican party leaves me to conclude that the party may be blinded by lobbyists and industry to the point where they only care about business, even to the detriment of the citizens. This is a huge shift in position for me, but there's no other choice if I'm to assume Republican politicians are at all logical.

The second big thing that has driven me away from my relationship with the party is their stance on the health care reform law. While I agree the law isn't ideal, it's at least a start. Let's use this start and modify it and improve it so we can have a good universal health care system.

But, unfortunately, the Republicans are shouting nothing but, "repeal!" Or, if they can't repeal it, underfund it so it can never be implimented. Ok, so what's the alternative offered by the party? Is it so radically different from the new laws that we have to junk the new laws and start over? Actually, no. Here and here describe what the Republicans want. Amazingly, these ideas are fairly similar to the health care reform law and can be implimented largely by tweaks to the new law.

So, why are the Republicans irrationally shouting "repeal"? Political theater. Political theater is unavoidable in politics. However, in this case, if repeal were to actually happen, we'll go back to the old incredibly broken system and people will die or go bankrupt due to lack of health insurance. So, this theater has real life and death consequences for every citizen, and Republicans are on the wrong side of line this time. There's no way I can stand with them in this position they've chosen.

I hope the Republicans can get some strong moral leaders soon, and enough backbone to follow them. I'll be waiting and willing to re-kindle my relationship with the party because, while I'm not a Republican, I'm certainly not a Democrat.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fading Reds

So, my HP LaserJet 2600's reds started fading at the edges. My wife bought a new red cartridge, but the problem persisted.

So, she did a quick Internet search and found this page: http://h30499.www3.hp.com/hpeb/attachments/hpeb/bsc-413/188456/1/2600fade.pdf

I followed the instructions and the printer prints like new. That silly old Internet thing came through! (OK, I also have a job because of the Internet...this is just the standard "husband post complex project, holey smokes, I didn't screw it up and that actually worked" celebration.)

<internet> You sultry minx, stop falling in love with me.
* gallifrey looks away abashedly

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I Miss Carl Sagan

I grew up watching Cosmos. For those of you unfortunate enough to not know what Cosmos is, it's a science mini series developed and hosted by Carl Sagan that was broadcast in 1980. Think "Shakespeare of science documentaries" and you wouldn't be far off.

Lately I've been showing the 2000 re-release (on DVD) of Cosmos to my two sons who are 6 and 4 years old. The 4 year old likes the imagery, but I think most of it is still over his head. My 6 year old, on the other hand, always has basketfulls of questions after each episode is over, and he's always shushing his younger brother while the show is playing. Seeing him enjoying Cosmos has brought back a flood of memories for me of what I thought when I watched it as a child (even though I first saw it when I was several years older).

Cosmos is by far the most inspiring and mind opening treatment of science ever produced. The Vangelis sound track is inspiring. Carl's monologue is worthy of a literature award. The vision he shares is clear and wide ranging. This program is what got me interested in science and started me down a technology career. Watching the program again makes me wonder if I should have chosen a science career rather than technology.

Sure, the program was broadcast in 1980, but other than the shots of people with big hair and bad clothes, the content needs little updating. That's how good it is.

If you haven't seen Cosmos, or haven't seen it lately, I highly recommend watching it again. I recommend the DVD set. The episodes can also be found on YouTube.

Carl Sagan, who definitely also had some serious flaws, was a brilliant science popularizer. I read in one of his biographies that he was always the life of any party or social event he attended. Not because he was funny or loud, but because he could take complex concepts (usually about science) and explain them in interesting and stimulating ways and he often did this at any chance he got. This skill becomes apparent any time I've ever seen a video of him. His hope for humanity, including his acknowledgement of our weaknesses, was inspirational.

The fact that the public responded so well to his explanations and monologues demonstrates the desire for people to understand the world around themselves. Now that he's no longer with us, where is the Carl Sagan of 2009? There have been a few people who seem to have tried (perhaps not consciously) to fill his shoes. Neil deGrasse Tyson (the director of the Hayden Planetarium) gives it a good shot, but he's not a generalist and certainly not a wordsmith like Carl (plus he really needs to get rid of the mustache). Brian Greene did an alright job in "Elegant Universe", but I haven't seen him popularizing science in more forums (such as the Tonight Show, to which Carl was a regular guest) and he also doesn't have the word skills. 

We need another Carl Sagan for the public now more than ever with stem cells, nano technology, space exploration, global warming and the numerous other science-based issues facing us. it seems emotion and politics play a much greater role in our decision making than ever. An educated public is the cure for this situation.

Perhaps one of the defining characteristics for Carl is his classical education. At the University of Chicago in the 1950s, Sagan was taught history, Greek philosophy and art as part of his degree in Physics. Current educators take note. More likely than not, the jobs students will have when they graduate don't exist right now. The current trend I see where college and universities are teaching students how to do something, not why to do something is a disservice to our next generation.

The eloquent speaker, writer and thinker that resulted from this classical education combined this knowledge, hard-won from human history, with modern science to inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers. Perhaps he is still stirring these feelings in two little boys living in Omaha.

Rest in peace, Carl.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Doctor Who

I love the new seasons of Doctor Who, but I'm also a long time fan. I even watched all the stunningly boring stuck-on-earth episodes of the 3rd Doctor as a kid. Growing up with Doctor Who taught me everything I need to know:

1. If something scary looking is coming towards you, whatever you do, don't stand there and scream. Doing so is a certain recipe for death, no matter how wimpy or funny looking the thing is. You are always faster than the alien swamp robot. Just run. Don't worry about looking like a coward, a 900 year old time lord does the same thing all the time and the girls are always going after him.

2. Always carry a screwdriver. You never know when you'll have to open locks or fiddle with electronics. Admittedly, a sonic screwdriver is best but, since Sears doesn't have any in stock, anything is better than nothing. 

3. Wear a coat. And I'm not talking about a fluffy nylon wind breaker either. Choose a classy suit coat or long coat. Bring a scarf along if you feel like it. These coats are great for carrying your tools and gadgets around with you or warding off the chill in an antarctic research station. After all, how do you expect lesser civilizations to respect you if you show up in a "I'm with stupid" t-shirt? (Of course, the arrow would point to your traveling companion.)

4. Get a small classic ride with a roomy interior and an impressive engine. If your passengers get in and say, "This is roomier on the inside than it looks on the outside." You're part way to cruising the universe stopping evil-doer robots.

5. Be able to fix anything. Seriously, anything. You never know when you're going to have to manipulate some DNA, rewire a warp drive or reprogram some nano robots. You won't have a chance to look up any information and you must appear to know what your doing at all times to calm the uneducated panicked people around you. 

6. Join a large organization, tick them off, run away, become their unwilling president, run away again, fight for them, everyone dies but you. This is a pretty important step for any one's emotional development while growing up. You need to feel kind of bad about the everyone dies part, especially when someone asks you something you don't want to answer.

7. Have an arch enemy. I know what you're thinking, "Duh, who doesn't have an arch enemy?" But, you have to not hate this arch enemy. This arch enemy must have the same skills as you and must have pretty much the same motivation as you but with a minor twist. You don't like authority? Neither does he. You like to meddle? So does he. Ran away from your home planet? So did he. You like to be in charge? So does he. You would rather not kill innocent life forms if you can help it? He doesn't really care one way or the other. 

8. When everyone else is horrified, be cheerful. Doing so makes others think you know something they don't. They then look to you for leadership if things get really bad. It also helps you not break down into a crying lump of time lord on the 400th time you find a civilization wiped out or whatever.

9. Always have a companion with you in your travels. Companions are helpful and, best of all, expendable! Oh, you have to feel bad for at least a few minutes when your companion dies because you didn't get the power unplugged fast enough on the transmatter beam for the 5th time. But, just don't mention this to your next companion or that the previous 50 or so companions are all dead, depressed or stuck in another dimension. That would spoil the fun of having someone around for you to impress.

10. The prime directive is for pansies. Some advanced civilizations (even your own) think you shouldn't interfere with lesser civilizations. Poppycock! If you see something your moral compass tells you is wrong, change it without delay! Everyone will be happier, even if they don't know it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Review of Flip Video

I'm a gadget freak. I like devices with lots of buttons and settings and flexible enough to do things they weren't even meant to do. If you're like me, then the Flip Video camera by Pure Digital Technologies isn't for you.

However, if you like a device that's simple, automatic and that does just one thing fairly well, the Flip Video may indeed be for you.

The Flip Video is a dedicated video camera that takes 640x480 video at 30 frames per second. That's it, nothing else. Nope, not even stills. Your inner Star Trek Ensign won't appreciate only 3 buttons on the back either.

I found the video to be clear with good color and and smooth video. It was reasonably sensitive, although I was mostly filming in an office environment so I didn't test it's full range of sensitivity. The sound is a bit quiet, but very clear. I was able to boost the sound up quite a bit in Premiere Elements 7 without hearing any noise.

The zoom is completely digital and leaves something to be desired. Some day I would like to see a camera manufacturer use the higher resolution available in most imaging chips to offer a full resolution zoom. It seems a dedicated video camera such as the Flip Video would be the perfect platform to implement this on (but apparently, if I thought this, I would be wrong).

The camera has a built in USB connector that flips out the side at the touch of a button. It was handy to not have to carry extra cables around, but you might have some trouble if your notebook or computer has a USB plug that's oriented in an unfriendly-to-the-Flip Video way (like my T61, which I was forced to place on my lap so the flip could hang over the side). Still, a USB extension cable would solve this problem for a computer with the nerve not to conform to the expectations of the Flip Video, so the convenience of the build in adaptor is probably worth it.

The Flip Video uses two AA batteries. An unusual feature in today's camera market that's dedicated to the employment of battery engineers through offering custom rechargeable batteries for every device being sold. However, battery life was good. I filmed over an hour of video on one set of batteries and they were still going strong. The convenience of having batteries that can be inexpensively purchased anywhere is a plus, in my opinion.

I was somewhat annoyed to find out I had to install a codec (3ivx) to view the videos. But, the codec was included right on the camera, which is handy. Once the codec was installed, the video played fine in any player. However, the sound was always out of sync with the video in the preview window of Adobe Premiere Elements. The video rendered fine, but it was quite annoying to try and edit video with the sound off. Elements was also very unstable while I was editing video from the Flip Video, but I hesitate to pin the blame on the video files or codec since any number of things could have freaked Elements out.

The camera also comes with some viewing software preloaded on the camera. I didn't try the software out since I despise most custom software that comes with devices. For all I know, I'm missing out on the best software since Microsoft Bob. But I doubt it.

Small, automatic, simple and it just works. I would think there's definitely a market for a product like this. Excuse me now, my inner geek insists that I go find something with a satisfactory plethora of buttons and a manual the size of a phone book (which I refuse to read, of course).

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gingerbread House Light-up Fun

My wife occasionally makes a gingerbread house to donate for a charity auction. Her houses always look great. (Gingerbread house tip #1: for stained glass windows, crunch up some Jolly Ranchers, put them in the window holes in already baked ginger bread, then heat in the oven. The Jolly Ranchers will melt together into a very nice looking edible stained-glass window!) (Gingerbread house tip #2: wives, allow your husbands to eat the ginger bread. You may think they're crazy, but their mom never let them when they were kids and they always wanted to. Now you have this opportunity to make your husband insanely happy.)

Her last house was a lighthouse. Being the manly husband that I am, I offered to put a light inside the light house tower. Of course, as with most of my projects, hilarity ensued.

Since the mini Christmas lights (usually) stay on when a bulb burns out, I always thought the lights were wired in parallel. Like this:


So, I should be able to just cut off all the other lights, leaving just one to be the ├╝ber cool lighthouse light, right? Wrong. When I tried this braniac experiment of mine, my reward was a spectacular flash and pop.

It turns out mini Christmas lights are wired in series, like this:



Which means I put 120 volts across a light bulb built for about 2.5 volts. Oops.

Of course, this begs the question, how does a string stay lit when a bulb burns out? It turns out to be a clever little wire looped around the base of the filament leads at the bottom of the bulb (see image at right). The wire is oxidized so it's usually insulated and doesn't conduct current. But, if the filament burns out, the oxidization is burned through and current is passed through the loop of wire instead. 

Simple, clever and effective. I hope the person who thought this up is paid .01 cents for every bulb made. (Probably not. It seems patents now days aren't used to reward clever designs, but rather exist just to give patent lawyers a job at patent troll companies.)

At this point I was having way too much fun learning about Christmas lights for my own good, so I stole away to the local hobby store and got a pre-made non-manly (but non-explosive) craft light for the gingerbread lighthouse. I still had to resort to stealing some ginger bread to eat when my wife wasn't looking.