Sunday, January 31, 2010

Found the conduit

I found the buried utilities to the burned-down house. Not sure what to do next. 

I also found a tiny snake. He looks like he might be the Pine Woods Snake (Rhadinaea flavilata) in my snake guide.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Life in a shoe

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had no children so she knew what to do.
She ate her supper while lying in bed,
Watching TV on the internet -- Oooo! Better Off Ted!

My house is so small it ought to be in Scandinavia. American things are too big for it. An American roll of paper towels has gotten so big it won't fit on my Ikea paper towel holder. I have to go through this rigamarole every time my paper towel roll runs out. This only happens every few weeks, but it still bugs me.

I have to take the old paper tube and tape the end of the new roll of paper towels to it and roll off half the roll of paper towels so that the resulting half a roll will fit on the holder. Then I can put the other half back in the broom closet which is designed to hold a can of Bon Ami. A whole roll of paper towels will hang off the shelf but the door still closes. A half roll fits pretty good. 

Bon Ami:
Bon Ami is a great gentle cleaner made from feldspar and soap that doesn't aggravate my chemical sensitivities. It's not much different than using baking soda as a mild abrasive. It has a picture of a chick and an egg shell and the slogan "Hasn't scratched yet." Somebody asked me the other day, "Is Bon Ami made out of baby chicks?" No. Chickens scratch. But a freshly hatched baby chick hasn't scratched yet. 

It's a brilliant slogan really. It's a shame it's too deep for modern times.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Apple iPad, oPoo!

I needed to go to town today and run some errands but I didn't want to miss out on the big Apple meeting. Before I left home I went to iGoogle and found it was going to be covered live by CNN Tech so I set their Twitter feed to go to my phone as SMS messages. Then I went to meet my friend Steve for lunch. I put my phone in my pocket to eat lunch, but he could have his iPhone out on the table with the Engadget site up and see updates without pushing any buttons. The minute they announced the name he started laughing. iPad. NOOOOOOOOO!

Steve does freelance work for a company called ipad management. He had me go take pictures of 10 of their apartment properties for posters. They are really nasty apartments. And the owner is obsessed with objectifying women. With no discernible marketing connection whatsoever he insists Steve use all these iStock photos of girls in lifeguard bathing suits on billboards and print ads. So the name has bad connotations for me BESIDES the same reason everybody else has for not liking it.

After lunch I took my car back to the shop because I felt like I was getting some inappropriate torque steer after all the work they did on it last week. While they were figuring out what was happening I kept getting these Twitter texts. All in all I got 91 updates from CNN Tech about the iPad today. Finally got some use out of that 1500 text message package I get from ATT. The mechanics found a strut bearing that was loose and tightened that up to fix my torque steer problem, but I insisted that the fluid dripping off the bottom of the engine wasn't right and asked them to keep the car and figure out how to stop that leak. I called my mom to come pick me up and I went with her to do some shopping.

We went in a department store and I did a double take walking past the watches. There was a watch in the display case that was HUGE! It was the size of a can of water chestnuts with giant knobs sticking out on both sides. It had three dials plus a digital read out. I kid you not it was the ugliest watch I have ever seen. So there's all this fuss about the lightest computer ever with the 1.5 pound, 1/2 inch thick iPad, meanwhile watches are getting BIGGER? I guess they are like those leather things Hercules wore on his forearms -- for fighting.

Anyway, I'm home now and able to get the details on the iPad. It seems my main prediction that was wrong was speculating how neat it would be for video chat. They say they have ported the iWorks apps to the iPad OS, but I don't know about iLife. Maybe it's just a given that it would have iPhoto, iChat, iTunes, etc. I haven't found confirmation of that yet. It does have the option for an ATT unlimited data plan similar to what I have on my Nokia smart phone, but it will cost $29.99 instead of $19.99 a month.

Based on the photo on the page linked above the bluetooth keyboard I'm typing on right now can be used with the iPad via the Bluetooth connection. So my prediction was right.

Since it comes with GPS it is gonna be supreme with Google Maps mobile app for navigation. And it has the built in accelerometer so it can be used with the iPhone apps like the sleep cycle alarm clock.

I wonder if the 3G data plan makes it possible to do a remote wipe of the iPad?

Despite not having a web cam I still want one. But I will get my car fixed some more instead. If I get a job though, the iPad is MINE.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


If I'm ever at a loss for something to rant about all I have to do is read the comments on an NPR story. Does Fox News pay some of their fans to go to the NPR site and make comments? Is it possible there are that many people who really think scientists are perpetrating a conspiracy over global climate change? Why? Why would we do that? What POSSIBLE reason could a scientist have for this? Do the naysayers think all us scientists have property at 250 feet above sea level and now we want sea level to rise so we'll have an ocean view?

I admit that me, personally, I am in this exact situation. When Florida goes underwater again my creeks will probably get salty at high tide. But it will take hundreds of years to achieve this amount of sea level rise. This is not a valid capitalistic motive for me.

In this particular NPR story, Methane Causes Vicious Cycle in Global Warming, the interviewer talks to various scientists involved in a new article in Science. I googled Paul Palmer and found the actual title of the paper is Large-scale Controls of Methanogenesis Inferred From Methane and Gravity Spaceborne Data. The NPR story can't even include the actual title of the paper because it is written in that inaccessible language of peer reviewed journals. I don't have proper permissions to download the PDF of the actual paper, so I can't check the citations to see if my old advisor from FSU is listed. Dr. Chanton does lots of work on methane himself. One of his interests is methane production in thawing permafrost. This NPR story makes reference to that source of methane. I'm guessing they are using satellite data to confirm what Dr. Chanton found on the ground.

"A study published last week in Science magazine suggests that at least part of this increase is coming from the vast wetlands in Canada, Russia and the Arctic. The methane in wetlands comes from naturally occurring bacteria. But study author Paul Palmer at the University of Edinburgh says the bacteria are producing more methane because the temperature is rising."

And then somebody throws up a comment afterwards saying, "As the permafrost has started thawing in Alaska, it is release enormous amounts of methane. Surprised this wasn't mentioned." What do you mean wasn't mentioned? It's RIGHT THERE! "vast wetlands in Canada, Russia and the Arctic" IS the permafrost in Alaska. What do you think is frozen? The wetlands! The temperature is rising and the bacteria is producing more methane. Maybe you were confused about the earlier study about the permafrost melting. I'm pretty sure it's not releasing methane just because it's melting. I don't believe there are pockets of methane shooting out like the scenes in the fire swamp in The Princess Bride. The permafrost is not like a giant box of swamp gas-filled chocolates. I believe the permafrost methane comes from the bacteria breaking down the newly available thawed out organic material. I'm going to email Dr. Chanton and check. This may be confusing a lot of people. (OK, he's out of the office until the 28th so I will just have to update this if I'm wrong.)

So here's my problem. Even the person who AGREES with the article is having a problem with reading comprehension. It is so difficult to rewrite this stuff without using words like methanogenesis you can't really win. "Releasing methane" is perceived to mean something different than "producing more methane."

Then there are the people who just flat accuse the scientists of lying and in the process reveal that they are not just confused but kind of malicious. "Did you know that if your are drinking say...a whiskey coke, and you walk away from it, the ice melts but the glass is pretty much at the same level as when you left it when you return. I'm tired of hearing bull. Many of these nightmare flooding scenarios are based on melting sea ice. come on...." I am pretty sure the physics of ice floating and volume displacement are not lost on oceanographers. None of them have EVER said melting sea ice is going to raise sea level because of the added volume of water. What it will do is the same thing as what happens to your "whiskey coke." It gets watered down. Try to freeze that glass full of coke, water, and alcohol now. You can get the fresh water back out again and leave concentrated alcohol and coke syrup behind. Sea ice is similar. Melting it will lower the salinity of the ocean and raise the temperature. Ice bounces the warming rays of sunlight but dark water just soaks it up. In the winter when there is hardly any sun on the North Sea ice forms. The salt is excluded as the sea ice freezes, making a dense brine that sinks and sets up ocean currents. Messing with that process upsets all kinds of checks and balances in the climate.

Then there is this phenomenon of thermal expansion. The vast majority of people seem to misunderstand this. I bet that they think the water level goes up because the ice melts and adds more water -- completely wrong. Whiskey coke guy was right that a lot of people are probably confused, but not the SCIENTISTS! Most sea level rise is just because hot water takes up more volume than cold water. You can do this experiment in the damn microwave oven. Put cold water in a tall glass measuring cup. Nuke it. Lo and behold the water level will go up. So it's not that the climate change specialists don't know what they're talking about, they are just having an INCREDIBLY hard time explaining it. Hell I didn't really even understand it well enough to attempt an explanation until I went to graduate school just for that purpose.

So I'm not sure if I believe the scientists because I've studied the science, or if it is a cultural bias I have. I know these scientists personally and they are smart cookies. They are strictly logical people. They are never passive aggressive or self serving in any way. They are interested in figuring things out and making them work, not so much caring about money or personal influence. They are like the opposite of bankers. If the IEEE and NYSE accidentally scheduled simultaneous conferences the hotel might suffer a matter/anti-matter catastrophe. My friend Dr. David Kunkee designs these satellites that take measurements of physical parameters of the planet. This alone inclines me to believe papers like the one referenced on NPR that are based on spaceborne data.  I wonder how many of the people posting negative comments on this NPR story about methane just don't know a single real scientist? Would they be less skeptical if they did? What's it take for people to take a scientist's word for it? I would think being vetted by NPR and being publishing in Science would be a good start. Neil deGrasse Tyson just needs to be on TV more. And I will save my rant on what happened to my professors for another day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tree Blood Tees On Sale Now

Tree Blood -- Sweet and Wholesome

Tree Blood ambitiously swirls onto the pancake, floating butter playfully, tickling bacon and sausage, and perking up strawberries with its merciless optimism. A natural topping, Tree Blood is delicate without frailty. From dawn till noon the rambunctious taste of Tree Blood is the best way to wake up to sweet dreams.

A New Series from Home Blog Office
Tree Blood
Plot Summary:

The series follows Sulkie Shortstack, a waitress living in Vermont who can read people's minds. Her life is flipped when the lumberjack Phil walks into her pancake house two years after the announcement that hardwood forests form a collective consciousness made possible by electric pulses conducted through their roots.

Thanks to a French scientist's invention of a synthetic gymnasium flooring, lumberjacks who kept this secret hidden for centuries are finally able to mingle with society. And while maple trees have been saved from the sawmills, many people are apprehensive about lumberjacks and the ghosts of trees sawn that haunt them. Environmentalists and logging interests around the world have chosen their sides, but in the small Vermont town of Littlebury, the jury is still out.

Local waitress Sulky Shortstack, however, knows how it feels to be an outcast. "Cursed" with the ability to listen in on people's thoughts, she's also open-minded about the integration of lumberjacks -- particularly when it comes to Phil Satisfactor, a handsome Husqvarna owner living up the road. But at the service of Phil's less virtuous lumberjack associates, Sulky is drawn into a series of catastrophes that will put their love to the test.

The latest hit series from Fix Seat Wonder creator Cray Z. Glue, Tree Blood delves into the deliciously-crafted world of griddle master Champagne Harris. Described by the Emmy-winning Glue as "topping for sweet-toothed people," the first season of Tree Blood caused an overnight sensation - everyone woke up craving flapjacks, french toast, and waffles. And every new batch off the griddle gets closer to satisfying the hunger for nature loving misfits.

Lots of colors, styles and sizes available
design by Stephen Leacock

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why I do what I do

Hermits and cats have a lot in common. I do whatever I want whenever I want. But then if I see a job listing that calls for skills that match something I did in my free time because I just felt like it, I will totally put that on my resume -- like that job designing bike trails where I sent them this photo of the bridge I built.

I would write something else funny or interesting but I feel like digging that trench some more to look for the pipes and wires to the old house site.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Let's talk about the weather

I'm exhausted with these topics that polite people aren't supposed to talk about. Today I'm going to take a break and talk about the weather. I discovered a cool new feature on Weather Underground. You can save the radar image! You can change the settings for what it shows, too. I like the experimental lightning strike icons. The bigger the square the more recent the lightning strike. When they are 20 minutes old they are just a tiny dot. So here's what I've been listening to all morning -- rain on the roof and thunder to the south. I feel bad for anybody trying to sleep late this morning in Panama City. They got HAMMERED.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Jesus Scopes

I had one of those days where nothing much happened. I took my car to the shop because I suspected something was wrong with my engine mounts. Sure enough three were bad and as a result my CV axles had been damaged. Since I was messing around in town I didn't get around to writing my blog all day. I borrowed my mom's car to come home since it's going to take another day to put all those parts on my car. And it's going to cost me $1600. I debated ranting about that on my blog but I don't really care. Driving my mom's car reminds me how much I truly love my Honda Accord wagon. Whatever it takes to keep the Honda in good shape is worth it. Luckily I heard something truly rant-worthy on NPR on the way home.

According to ABC News, the US military is handing out Jesus rifles. Or more specifically, ordinary secular rifles with Jesus scopes. The scopes are made by Trijicon, with almost a billion dollars in government contracts. They are a blatantly Christian company -- says right on their website that they are all about upholding Biblical standards. I thought that was just an expression, "Don't make me get biblical on your ass." But no, Trijicon is actually casting bible verse citations into their product, in the form of a serial number that ends with something like JN8:12, or 2COR4:6. Look up John chapter 8 verse 12 and you find, "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." "Me" would be Jesus. And I suppose the light is a helium-neon laser? Or are these optical sites? I suppose the "life" reference is for the person holding the gun, not the one on the bullety end.

I wish I had something more insightful to say about this, but I'm still kind of stuck on my original gut reaction of "Hey Trijicon! FUCK YOU!" I hope my friends Darron the atheist gunsmith and Craig in the army will weigh in on this topic.

I was happy to keep my lack of religion to myself when the religious people were polite about it too, but when they get all up in everybody else's face then I feel an obligation to stand up and be counted on the opposite side. Almost a BILLION dollars going to this company? I mean, I feel bad enough buying a chicken biscuit at Chick-fil-a because they proselytize to their employees, but at least they don't print bible verses on their bags. Just fuck you, Trijicon.

******* Update January 21********

ABC News reports Trijicon promises to remove the bible references from their products and is sending out kits to correct the ones in the field.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How to Sharpen a Knife

My uncle gave me a knife and a Sun Tiger waterstone for Christmas about 12 years ago. The best part of the gift was the instructions. I came across this piece of paper with one hand drawn illustration while looking for back-up paperwork for my passport. I thought I should retype it so I can find it easily from now on. He printed it on an ink jet printer. I must have been looking at them while I sharpened the knife because the paper is splashed and the ink has run.

How to Sharpen a Knife:
by Robb White

The knife is already sharp so you will have to use it until it is dull first. That Sun Tiger will do the job. It is a waterstone. Be very careful not to let any grease get on it or it will make a sad place that will never work right again. Wet it good in the sink. It is sort of soft and delicate so don't hit anything with it and don't let it sit on anything rough while you are sharpening because if it gets notched it won't work good. It is best to put the rock on some newspaper while you are sharpening and you need some little water to sprinkle on there every now and then. I do it on the partition of the sink and let a little dribble of water from the spigot drip on there. Sharpen the knife by rubbing it on the light colored side, cutting edge first, alternating sides. Try to hold it at the same angle that the blade is already sharpened at. Try to keep the edge of the blade perpendicular to the direction of the stroke. You'll have to rotate your wrist sort of fancy to do that with the point of the knife to keep the little place that is touching the stone moving right but the sharpness of the point is very important. Be careful not to groove the soft stone by rubbing the same place with the point too long. Though you will have to slice across the stone with the blade so the whole thing will get sharpened, don't saw back and forth. What makes the knife cut is those little scratches perpendicular to the edge, not scratches parallel to it. While you are on the light colored side it ain't important to do anything but grind the blade down so that whatever ruination you did to to the knife by cutting on plates and sinks and all is removed and the original bevel is restored all the way back to the edge. The way you can tell when that happens is by feeling to see if the whole edge is snaggledy and dangerous feeling. If it ain't, keep sharpening. That's the most common mistake, stopping before you get through. It will have a uniformly ground dull steel look to it where you ground the whole blade flat on both sides. After you do the light colored side of the rock right, the knife has a ragged little filament of metal (wire edge) sticking proud of the real edge of the steel. That will cut the hell out of you or a tomato but not much of anything else because it won't stand up -- just bend over and quit cutting. It is alright to grind too long and put too much of a wire edge on there but that just wears the knife out sooner. The best thing to do is grind just exactly enough to get just a hint of wire along the edge but the objective to start with is to get it sharp. Economy of steel ain't important right now.

After you have a wire edge all along the blade it is time to rinse the knife and the rock and do the other side. Better rinse all the sand and little pieces of steel down the sink good or it will rust and stain up the outfit. The dark colored side of the stone is much finer than the light side and will put the perfect edge on there for meat and vegetables. The knife itself is a flexible boning knife and is too fine for rough work like cutting wood and bones. It would be a fine fillet knife and could easily handle the ribs of the fish but it would notch the acute edge to cut his head off.

You do the same thing with the dark side as you did on the light side but don't press down quite as hard and you need to alternate sides of the blade with every stroke. The wire edge will come off as you do this and you need to rinse the little slivers of steel of the stone so the knife won't have to hop over them. I have to get my sharp-nose glasses so I can see what I'm doing. When the wire edge is all gone and all the rough scratches from the rough side of the rock are polished off it is time to quit. To expedite that, at the very last, pick the back of the blade up off the stone a little bit and lightly, carefully, stroke just a hint of a secondary bevel right along the edge.

The way it ought to look is the whole blade will be uniformly smooth with a new polish all the way from the edge to the back of the blade except for the little place back near the handle where the original factory finish remains. The knife will be just as sharp as it was when you got it. (That's a genuine Dexter knife like in every butcher shop in the country. Come sharp from the factory, be careful.) When it gets dull you don't have to sharpen the whole side like the first time but just a little secondary bevel about an eighth inch wide all along the cutting edge. Unless you have really dulled the blade cutting ceramics and stainless steel, the dark side of the rock will be fine for this little touch up job. It won't be quite as acute as the original edge but will cut fine and will actually hold up better if you accidentally hit a bone. (An obtuse edged butcher knife is what you need around a bone or for a fish head.) If you can manage not to rock the blade on the stone too much and round off the edge you can do that a bunch of times before the edge gets too thick and obtuse to cut tomatoes, bone meat and slice roasts.

The blade will try to rust for a while and it needs to do that so that the rusting will form a dark coating that you can treat with camellia seed oil to protect the blade. If you use the knife all the time (which I bet you will do if you have evan a remaining grain of the good sense you were born with) all you will have to do is wash it and keep it dry. Rub the rust off with a paper towel and if it gets too bad, a little hint of steel wool but don't hit the edge or the steel wool will dull your knife. Pretty soon the blade will get sort of gray looking and quit rusting.

It takes a while to learn the feel of the thing. It wouldn't hurt to start off with another knife. This Dexter ain't too precious to use though. About $17 from
Memphis Net and Twine. You will find that stone will wear down pretty quick (that's what makes them work so good) but it ain't too precious to use either. About the same money from Highland Hardware in Atlanta (This is the 250/1000 grit combination waterstone.) There is one odd thing about the stone. Don't let it freeze or it will bust all to pieces because once you wet it it will stay wet down inside.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Electricity vs Water

It has finally stopped being brutally cold outside. My birdbathtub wasn't even frozen this morning. I updated my picture blog accordingly.

I spent the morning applying for a fun sounding job designing trails to help visitors observe wildlife in a really ugly part of Florida. They call it a biologist but I applied anyway citing my picture blog as proof that I know all about observing wildlife and I have experience maintaining trails and mapping them with a GPS.

The thing that makes this activity relevant for my ranting tendencies is what they are offering to pay this position, which requires a bachelor's degree and experience. The description is a string of responsibilities that took a lot of scrolling to read. They quote a bi-weekly pay amount that comes to less than $14 an hour.

Now I have a friend only a few years out of college who would LOVE a job designing off road bike trails. But he has a job already making quite a lot more money. He's out in the field in Florida a lot, same as this job would be. But because his job involves electricity he automatically gets paid more. Why is it that a person who takes a voltmeter out in the field automatically makes more than somebody who carries empty Nalgene bottles and a multiparameter sonde? If we want the general public to value nature we need the government to pay biology majors working in state parks on par with physics majors working on gas pipelines. Maybe if I hadn't been an electronics designer before I started working in the natural sciences I wouldn't have noticed the gross disparity, but dang. I'm the SAME PERSON! How is it I got $12 an hour for my first job out of college 20 years ago writing C++ to test circuit boards and the jobs I'm applying for now pay just about the same thing? I seriously doubt the 1990 dollar and 2010 dollar are equivalent. Is it a supply and demand thing? What is the size of the talent pool of people that can identify plants and animals, use a GPS and an action hoe compared to people that know about computers and circuitry?

That said I doubt I'll get that job anyway because I'm too old and feminine to use a chainsaw. I can just observe nature and maintain trails right here without getting in my car.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cosmos and Culture

Yesterday I stumbled across Fuck You, Penguin, a blog with a familiar CSS theme and a different approach to cute baby animals. It covers up for sentimentality with mock rage. I appreciate that. I may have soaked up a little bit of his style today, albeit genuine rage, and now I'm stuck speaking directly to the source of my ire.

However I am not being ironic when I say the NPR 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog is on my last nerve. Who do these people think they are? Adam Frank writes:

"Now I am a Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Rochester. My group uses supercomputers to study processes at work in the birth and death of stars. In my spare time I write on science, its' results and its' meaning for magazine like Discover and in books like The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs Religion Debate..... Our ability to discern patterns in the world and then seek causal links that explain those patterns seems like an evolutionary gift, the equilivent of having sharp claws or broad wings."

OK, seriously? Is misapostrophication a job requirement at the University of Rochester? WTF is its'? There is no such thing. I like how you tried to make it sound like more than one magazine then chickened out and left off the plural s. And how do you misspell equivalent? You must say "equivalent" as often as a 9 year old girl says "like"! NPR really ought to copy edit blogs from people that are presented as smarty-pants. It makes us people on Macs feel superior because our system software underlines misspelled words in everything we type.

And dude, WTF evolutionary gift? There are no evolutionary gifts! There is just evolution! What would be the opposite? A dog's instinct to roll in otter shit is an evolutionary curse? That's just too spiritual for me, man. I think I see where you're going with this and I don't like it.

Today's entry popped up in a newsfeed today and got me so riled up I went back to the beginning to catch up. Each entry I read makes me what the FUCK? louder than the last. In today's post Marcelo Gleiser proposes that science should be contained so that evil companies and governments don't shoot people with guns loaded with science. "There are heavy clouds gathering; complex decisions on where scientific research could -- or should -- go will stay at the forefront of the political debate for years to come." I think the problem is not that science needs to be controlled, everything else does. Science took a complete dump in the last ten years and it was not the scientists fault. It was the fault of Wall Street putting all the investments into mortgages instead of R&D. It was because scientists and engineers were treated worse than a Detroit auto worker. We do not need to be held back, we are already held back PLENTY!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why I hate tattoos

Tattoos are worse than bumper stickers. If you are in a mood and want to make a statement, get a damn t-shirt. A friend of mine sent me a link to a photo this morning of a guy sleeping with his head on a Boston terrier with a tattoo across his chest that says "FUCK OFF" in a sloppy outline font with the FU filled in. My friend says he plays bike polo with this guy, who is super nice. He hasn't asked him the story of the tattoo.

But clearly he wants to know. I assume my friend got to know FUCK OFF guy when he had his shirt on. Wouldn't it be hard to form a first impression of somebody as "super nice" if FUCK OFF is staring you in the face? If you have a tattoo people are going to ask you about it. And that's the thing that bugs me about tattoos. Once you get one, especially really visible ones, they define you. People look at that and put you in a category. Why bother to get to know you when they already presume to know what you're all about because it's WRITTEN right there on you.

I think people's personalities are so variable a tattoo puts too much emphasis on just one aspect of it. Some of my favorite people have one thing they do that I don't like particularly, but I know enough other stuff about them that I respect and appreciate that I just ignore the parts of their personality that I think are silly. Like my brilliant physicist friend who is so obsessed with his own penis he made a plaster cast of it and created a hard plastic gear shift lever in its exact likeness. Plus he lets people call him Dr. Doo Doo in public. This friend does have his navel pierced but he doesn't have any tattoos. And since he is a nudist I would know. As long as I don't need to borrow his car his little quirks don't confront me.

If I'm going to a job interview I wear something that makes me look professional. If I'm going to see my dad I wear something that makes me look conservative, if I'm going to see my mom I wear something edgier, if I'm going out with my younger friends I wear something with graphics on it. This is because I respect them. I want to show that I get who they are and understand what they value. My personality is pretty blatant. I can't really change the fact that I'm prone to curse and correct errors of fact all the time. But I can emphasize different aspects of myself outwardly through my appearance.

Tattoos just eliminate that option. I am very uncomfortable with that. People with tattoos are THAT sure who they are and who they want to be in EVERY SITUATION? FOREVER? How? What if they're wrong? Maybe people with tattoos never heard the Talking Heads song "Seen and Not Seen."

Maybe they thought their face was a mistake and their new tattoo would better suit their personality. Or maybe they imagined that their personality would be forced to change to fit the new tattoo. What if they made a mistake?

Or in the case of the fellow with only FU filled in for FUCK OFF, he may have gotten half-way there, and then changed his mind.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Meaning of Life is a only a movie title. It's not real.

Burning Off from barbara tomlinson on Vimeo.

I spent the whole day catching up on my other blog with the pictures on it. And I made this video.

Tomorrow I'm going to see Avatar again in IMAX. I will let you know if I get the Avatar Blues. I think it is very unlikely since apparently it only afflicts people who have some kind of belief that life has meaning. I think that's ridiculous. Or the other idea is that they want to feel connected like in Avatar. It's a METAPHOR people! Everything on Earth is connected too! Just not by a damn Firewire cable in your ponytail. As a person who spends a lot of time observing and photographing the natural world I did not find that aspect of Avatar at all surprising. I was impressed with how extremely DENSE the animal population was there. I mean seriously, the reason they walk around on the tree branches is because the ground is probably a foot deep in dook.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Check it -- 4:56 The Tech tower. Strangely, none of the founders of the company went to Tech. We just have a reputation for being the hardest school among cheesy video producers? Or are those schools in Maryland lacking in recognizable landmarks?

Yes, I said it. This video is cheesy. It doesn't need all that unrelated hype. What if? As if....

Still, the product is a good idea. I thought of that myself already. They'll likely get bought up by somebody who can do the branding a little better. I would talk about what kind of smart people actually created it instead of Edison. Are they bona fide or just posers like some of those outfits I worked with in the internet boom?

Apparently it's an Android based device that lets you drag images from the e-ink side to the color side. That would be handy for a lot of the papers I had to read in graduate school that had color charts and tables.

Expected price under $500, too.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


I noticed that my passport expires on February 1 so I thought I'd renew it. I never know when I might need to go to France real quick, right?

First problem, the website is a disaster in Safari. The sidebar boxes are half covering each other and just a mess. Once you click through all the rigamarole, form DS-82 won't even load in Safari. So I ran Firefox and got the form in front of me.

At first it's pretty straightforward. Then they start asking really hard questions. "Your Occupation:" and "Your Employer:" And there's a circle with a ? in it. So I click that. A box pops up with a yellow triangle with a ! in it and the following message:

The page at says: Occupation is a mandatory item and must be completed as descriptively as possible if a title alone will not make it clear.  If you are not employed, state so in the occupation field and leave the employer field blank.  If you are self-employed, the type of work you perform should be completed in occupation and "self-employed" in employer.  Children should enter "student" or "child" in the occupation field.

The type of work I perform? Well I do type a lot. Maybe I should put that. My accountant always puts  my occupation as "engineer" on my tax returns. But why do they really want to know? It sounds like that  Rick Reynolds bit about fame. He says he doesn't want to die an unknown comedian. He speculates that if he was stabbed to death that night there would be a headline in the paper the next day, Comedian Found in Pool of Blood. And he goes on, "If people don't know you, you are the job you do... You never see Snappy Dresser Found in Pool of Blood. You are your job with one exception -- if you are famous.... Of course at this point in my career they'd probably just print Man Stains Carpet."

So this is what I'm thinking. The State Department wants to know my occupation for a headline. And if the terrorist that kidnapped me reads this headline, will they think, "JACKPOT!"? I had a friend who came back to graduate school after working for Schlumberger Wireline Services logging oil wells in the Middle East. He told me that he got kidnapped one time in Egypt. When the kidnappers contacted Schlumberger to collect ransom for him Schlumberger refused to pay the price they were asking because my friend wasn't even American, he was British. They got a discount.

What occupation says "let 'em go"? Engineer is out because that sounds like somebody handy to have around the terrorist camp to fix the generator. Photographer sounds like somebody who might have valuable equipment to steal and incriminating evidence. What about blogger? Well that sounds quite worthless, indeed. But maybe I'm a little bit like Rick Reynolds after all. Blogger Vaporized by Explosive Underpants just doesn't appeal to me.

I settled on an occupation (writer) and finished the form. The web page generates a PDF file that downloads to your computer, then you print it and sign it and mail it in. The web version generates a bar code with all this information in it so they just scan it when it comes in, so it's not utterly retarded.

But when I look at the completed form in Acrobat I'm pretty disappointed. It was bad enough that the website wouldn't even work with my browser of choice. But the information in the spaces on the form aren't even centered in the little boxes. This is a travesty. What kind of image is this for our country? We're technologically incompetent? Check it out. They can't even line up all three sections of your social security number.

After I finished printing my form and cursing the sloppiness of it I set about making my passport photos. I shot a picture on my front porch. I Photoshopped the shadow lines out of the siding and sized it to come out 2x2 if I printed 3x5 prints at the drug store. I put it on an SD memory card thinking that was what the machine would take, then I went up to Walgreen's. Turns out 4x5 is their standard $0.15 print and nothing I can do about it. They do have a setting in the machine for passport photos though. You can line up marks with your photo and enlarge or reduce it just right, then it prints two on one of those 4x5 pieces of paper. But it wants to charge you $7.99 for the luxury of making your photo the right size! Fortunately the guy at Walgreen's realized that was pretty ridiculous, so he only charged me $1.50.

Now it's simply a matter of enclosing a check to the Department of State for $95 and in 6 weeks I'll be just another self-employed writer with a new passport! They have the RFID tags in them now, so I'm excited about that.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

So much for that job

So I didn't get that job after they made me fill out that long application and have a hour and a half phone interview. They said they gave it to somebody who had already worked with FEMA on flood maps.

And just yesterday I made friends with somebody online that lives near that office to see what it might be like there. He told me he was once stopped by a fellow student at the university in that town who wanted him to go to bible study.

"The improbably strange creature, a university educated social conservative who believes in creationism, actually does exist, as I found out. They seem to view education as only a tool, a means to get a job. They learn the narrow tedious details of some technical subject, and give no thought to much else, certainly not philosophy and the basics of science."

They took my jerb!

It was probably one of those people that know those tedious details who got that job. As a generalist I'm viewed as kind of a freak. I just don't get it. It's a tedious detail. On the one day a year when I need to know it I'll look it up! At least I know enough about everything to be able to look up the tedious details of 20 different subjects and be infinitely more useful some doofus that only knows how to use one piece of modeling software.

Well anyway, not having a job gives me more time for blogging! How long until this happens....

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

iSlate - Do want?

I'm a Mac. I don't care a bit about anybody's argument that Apple products are expensive. I use my computers so much the price per hour of use is pennies. Compare: I've put over 245,000 miles on my car and if I convert that to miles and divide by the price of my car it's still well over $5 per hour for my Honda (another brand I stick with). I don't see all those people with cheap computers driving unreliable cheap cars.

That said, I don't fanatically buy every new product Apple introduces. I determine if it fills a need first. My iMac met a lot of my requirements. The small footprint works on my narrow bar. Using a laptop was not ergonomically right for my space. Plus the heat vents out of the keyboard. While that would be nice today, most of the time it's hot here. So I got myself an iMac. I also used that laptop on my TV as my loft computer, but it was non-ideal. The ticket there is a Mac mini, so I got one of those.

But when the iPhone came out I didn't get one. They didn't allow using your phone as a modem to connect to the internet. At the time that was my only way to get online from home, over the AT&T cell tower at the end of my driveway. When I lost my job and was faced with being home all the time I got DSL. But then I wasn't out and about much and didn't need an iPhone because I could just do all the same stuff on the computer here or on my mostly adequate Nokia Symbian smartphone if I happened to leave the house. I don't want to lose my grandfathered-in $19 unlimited data plan. I know they charge more since the iPhone came out.

Last summer I tried out a Macbook Air on a trip to Atlanta. I like my IM, so I wondered if I could sit in a coffee shop and chat with my friends. Turns out it's not that easy to get onto somebody's WiFi network. Half the time I found I had to connect with Bluetooth to my Nokia cell phone and use that to get to the internet anyway, in which case why not just use the phone? I decided an iPhone would be more useful than a Macbook Air for that kind of casual use. And if I'm taking a computer on a trip I might want to do actual work, so I would like a big useful screen, like a 17" Macbook Pro. But only if I'm traveling a lot.

I chat with friends with Blackberries and iPhones on IM. The iPhone user complains about it but the Blackberry guy doesn't. This doesn't make me want a Blackberry, it just makes me think the iPhone is too hard to type on. But how much bigger does it have to be for a successful touch screen typing experience?

This is going to be the make or break feature on the iSlate for me. I will get it instead of an iPhone if I can pull it out when I'm waiting in line at the grocery store or killing time while they fix my take-out. I will get it instead of a Macbook if I can use it for IM and to research and compose this blog if I get a real job with a computer behind a firewall.

If I can connect one of my bluetooth keyboards to it and use it to visit on IM while I'm watching internet TV on the mini hooked to the big TV, then that's gold too. Since I upgraded to Snow Leopard the zoom feature that lets me read text from 6 feet away has gone a little flakey. It jumps around randomly. If I could read up close and watch video and have speakers at a distance I think that's more ideal. Better exercise for the old eyeballs to have different focal distances.

If Apple hasn't planned for the iSlate to work together with another computer as a secondary display I think that will really upset me.

If they haven't included a camera and a mic so it can be used for video conferencing then that was a fail. That is just so obvious I can't see how they would leave that out. iChat is one of the best apps Apple has. It works when everything else doesn't.

Somebody should go ahead and figure out a way to make an origami iSlate stand and post the instructions online. If I had investment capital I could capture the market on lexan plate stands. I'd print some stickers that say "iS" and put them over the "p" and get in the Apple store before the actual tablet.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Apple iSlate

So the scuttlebutt on the internet is that Apple is going to introduce a tablet computer product at the end of this month, then actually deliver product a few months later. There is a lot of bellyaching about what it's good for if you already have an iPhone and a Macbook. Well I have some ideas.

It's supposed to be around ten inches, which I assume is a diagonal measurement of the display. Looking around for something that size I found How to Build a Tin Canoe. First piece of good news, that book fits in my trusty Coach backpack. That looks good for Apple.

iSlate is rumored to be the name based on Apple picking up that URL, so that's what I'm gonna call it. A while ago I came up with an ideal application for something like that. I envision an application of this device called the iSlate Executive Reader.

In my scenario the Executive Reader would work in concert with a regular computer with a keyboard. The content the executive wanted to read could be pushed to the reader via bluetooth or other wireless protocol. So they could sit on the sofa in their office and read through reports or email. If this executive wanted to compose a full reply then they'd get up and sit down at their desk again and use the keyboard.

I basically see it like an extra monitor as well. So you could just drag and drop stuff off your desktop over to the iSlate. Then pick it up and walk off down the hall to visit some cubicle dweller where you can wave it in their face and point to it and say, "What about this? Huh? Explain this right here." I can imagine all kinds of business applications for this device that ultimately reduce printing and paper waste and improve team work.

Of course my fantasy also includes a workplace that buys equipment from Apple, which has never happened to me yet, but I've heard it exists. They have more Apple stuff in academics, so how about a use there?

It would be really handy when you're working on writing a research paper and you want to refer to a PDF of a journal article that you could pull up on the iSlate and not have to click back and forth through so many windows on your screen. You could practice the ergonomically recommended practice of not staying in the same position too long if you could pick up this thing and lean back in your chair or stand up and move about to study the article. Still productive, but with less repetitive stress.

More tomorrow.