Saturday, November 16, 2013

How to build a porch like a little old lady

On October 11 I decided to build a porch. On October 15 and 16 I had a helper coming. Then it took me another 4 weeks to finish. I called it done today, November 16. I put a big album of over 100 photos online with explanatory captions. There's even a few videos. Click the next picture to go to the album.
Front Porch

If you like instant gratification here's the finished product.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gravity Movie Review and How to Make Custom 3D Glasses

Gravity was a terribly written movie. As a writer this makes me think it's a terrible movie. My aunt who is a writer warned me that it was terrible but thought I should see it anyway. Lots of people (mostly men) seem to like it because the acting is good and the visual effects are good so they excuse the asinine and offensive writing. My aunt and I are not inclined to go easy on the writer.

I liked the sound editing. I watched Gravity at the Challenger Learning Center in Tallahassee where they have a model of the space station and a real ISS sleeping bag on display. They started the show with a preview for the IMAX documentary Hubble 3D, which was kind of a mean jab to plug a documentary about something that was about to be made into a ridiculous story in the feature presentation. But my point is that the sound system in a science center IMAX theater is well designed and maintained. So there was lots of rumbling bass and stereo effects I can't get at home. I felt like I didn't waste my $10 on the ticket. The effects guys did a good job with mechanical sounds transferring through solid objects even though everything was meant to be in a vacuum.

If I was an astronaut that's where I would stop. Because astronauts are polite. I haven't seen a single astronaut on Twitter say nasty things about this movie, even Mike Massimino who it seems the George Clooney character is meant to resemble. I admire them even more than I did already for that. But I have acid reflux so bad I could never tolerate weightlessness. I can never be an astronaut. So it's not like I'm going to ruin my chances of getting that job if I say what I think.

In fact I kind of say what I think right during the movies. It's a bad side effect of being alone all the time and only going to the theater about once a year. I promised my friend that I would try to be quiet. I had a plan to count the things that made me want to yell at the screen like Matt Oswalt at Jerry McGuire on Christmas Eve instead of really doing it. My friend thought I would run out of fingers pretty quick. He was spot on. I scooted far to the other side away from him and mouthed expletives into the dark and made hand gestures. I rely heavily on the one I learned from the man on the airplane next to Leisure Suit Larry in game two. 

My running commentary from Gravity:

What the fuck? 

No. Just no.


What the hell is he DOING?!

What is that music?



Release to listen? This music makes NO SENSE! How can anybody else talk? Magic mic mixers.

Doc? WTF Doc? They ALL have PhDs. Why is she Doc?

STOP IT! Goddam flying around. NOBODY DOES THAT!

Medical scanner? Optical telescope? WHAT?!


Basement of a hospital? What the fuck? Nobody designs electronics for a space telescope in a hospital. Doc is medical doctor? The fuck?


Communications satellites are flying UP at you?! NO! They are WAY HIGHER!


6 months training? Bullshit.


(close your fucking visor became a hand gesture of turning imaginary knobs by my ears. I alternated between the one rapid hand motion at my lap and the knobs by my ears to close the visor. The sunrise Clooney loved so much will fucking burn your face off and blind you if you don't have that gold visor down.)




Close your fucking visor

That's not how they say Soyuz.

WHAT?! Get the body?! NO! That's not what an astronaut would do!

Where are you FROM?! The fuck? He didn't read her bio in 6 months she's been slated for this mission?!

NPR. Yeah, saw that coming.

DEAD BABY?!? Aaaagh!

You aren't even saying Soyuz CONSISTENTLY let alone RIGHT

Yep. (airlock door flew open)

Nope. Nope, nope, nope. (airlock repressurized in seconds.)

NOPE NOPE NO NO NO (suit off in 3 seconds to gratuitous underwear conveniently tight so no microgravity-clothes-floating required.)

Ohh, nice ball of fire. That's good.

Oops, back to regular earth flame. Close the air locks. No, not that, OW

Oh, nice Soyuz hatch. That looks real. Good thing they weren't storing a lot of shit in there that day.

What about the 'chute?

Ooof, yeah, saw that coming.

You got in that suit HOW FAST? And what was it even doing on board? 

Handy that tool just happened to be on board and charged up.

There sure is a lot of stored air for repressurizing that Soyuz.

Radio just HAPPENS to be on Houston frequency? Why not call Moscow?

Oh, now you're on AM ham band?


Why is that ham just broadcasting bullshit? NOBODY DOES THAT! RELEASE TO LISTEN!

NOBODY WILL PRAY FOR YOU?! You're a goddam ASTRONAUT! STRANGERS will bring you up in church for a year!

They can't hear you! They're TRANSMITTING!

Your parents sucked. 

You sucked as a parent.

Embrace your atheism. This is bullshit.

Goddamn dead baby bullshit.

Fuck your dead baby, fuck it right in the red shoe.

Way to master the controls.

Magic never ending fire extinguisher

Another good air lock flying open. There's no pressure release on these from the outside?

Fast repress. 

Floating ping pong paddle? THAT'S RACIST!

Why is some of this debris catching up with her? It doesn't look aerodynamically superior.

Oh, aerodynamically self aligning capsule. Nice.

Good chute release. 

Pretty landscape.

Fast reaction getting that hatch open before the canopy even collapsed. Guess she wasn't buckled in.

Keep your helmet on.

Glad that's shallow. Should have kept your helmet on.


Of course she can get a space suit off in the 30 seconds she can hold her breath so we can see her underwear again, but now it's wet. 

And KELP? What the fuck? Fresh water kelp or saltwater frog? Kelp grows in super cold water. Hope for frog temp water.

Oh, sports bra under the tank top. No nipples, sorry fellas.

That's pretty orange sand. No idea where that is.


Now I feel kind of bad for all this negativity so I'm going to share something useful. Before I went to the movie I made myself some custom 3D glasses. Superior to the one-size-would-never-fit-my-child-sized-head ones they hand out. Here's how to make them.
  1. Go to or and get some cheap spectacles in your distance prescription. I got these nice cat eye frames for $6.95 with lenses for my very slight astigmatism. I usually wear nothing, but for an hour and a half at a fixed distance these make everything sharp.
  2. Steal a pair of 3D glasses.
  3. Cut out the plastic lenses with an Xacto knife.
  4. Trim with scissors.
  5. Tape the plastic film on the real spectacles. Trim the excess tape with the knife.
  6. Voila. Theater glasses.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Rattlesnake in a Can: A Halloween Story

Halloween has never been the same for me as for people that live in town. When I was growing up out here in the country I had a green plastic witch mask and a horrible black wig. I used it every year. It would scare me if I looked in the mirror, but I just didn't do that and it was fine. There's really only one year I can remember. I must have been about 8 and my brother was maybe 10. My mother let him wear her dark green velvet sheath dress with little pearls dangling around the neckline. She drew two bite marks on his neck with eyeliner and lipstick and he was a vampire victim. He looked AMAZING in my mother's dress. I was really impressed. (My mother has the figure of a 10 year old boy, only with a smaller waist and wider hips, but that wasn't relevant in a sheath dress. Think about it. Thigh gap. Very fashionable.) Then we went out Trick-or-Treating. We got in my mother's VW beetle and drove to my grandmother's house. She was equally impressed with my brother's outfit. She gave us a brownie that we ate there in her kitchen. Then we went to see Cousin Edie who lived down the road. Edie had the nerve to not be home. So we went back to my grandmother's house and looked in the chest freezer on the back porch and found a frozen coral snake. We took it back to Edie's house and put it in the middle of her kitchen table, frozen solid and covered in frost.

Then we went home and that was all there was to Halloween. We didn't know anybody else within 15 miles of our house.

A week or so later we checked in with Edie to see what happened to our snake. She reported that she was out quite late, giving the snake time to defrost. It looked shiny and pliable and completely alive when she flipped on the kitchen light. She was quite startled and thought it was a good trick. We were very pleased with ourselves.

I couldn't help thinking of that Halloween yesterday when my aunt called me from my grandmother's old house, "There's a HUGE rattlesnake under my fig tree. He's as big around as my arm. The biggest one I've ever seen. Do you know if Bruce Means wants him?"

"Yeah! He put out a call for more snakes for some final research for his book." I said

"Do you know how to get in touch with him?" said my aunt.

"I sure do! I have his cell phone number in my contacts. I'll call him and call you right back."

I got Bruce on the phone. He did want that snake, but he was about to go into an important meeting and couldn't come right away. He said to try to put a trash can over it and put a weight on it and he could come later. I called my aunt back.

She said her yard men got the snake INTO the galvanized can where she keeps sunflower seeds for the bird feeders. She had to put the lid on before she could take a picture with her iPad because he was trying to come out. Perfect. I could just put the can in my car and take it to Bruce after his meeting. I was going to town anyway to get some hardware for my porch project.

Here's the video I made of what it's like to go in the car with a rattlesnake in a can.

After I left Bruce's lab I stopped at a friend's office to use his wifi to upload my video. He was visiting with an old colleague who told me that she would have a completely different reaction to finding a rattlesnake in the yard. Capturing it for science would never have occurred to her. Huh. Really? Well that's always what we did with them! As far back as I can remember we kept frozen snakes in the chest freezer on my grandmother's porch. From time to time Bruce Means would come get them. He was in the necropsy phase of his study then, back in the 1970s, and we were good at supplying him with snakes. We had dogs that would find them for us.

When I moved back to my childhood home in the 2000's and started helping Bruce with his manuscript about the rattlesnakes I realized why I so rarely saw them anymore. I kind of thought they were more rare, that they'd been wiped out by rattlesnake roundups. That's part of it, but I think it's more because I don't have a dog to point them out to me. They are extremely hard to see and don't WANT to be seen. They REALLY don't want to go in a can.

It is hard to recall in hindsight how we decided which snakes to kill and which ones we left alone. We certainly didn't kill every rattlesnake we saw. If we were out in the woods and the dog started barking at a rattlesnake we would just call off the dog and make her leave the snake alone. If it was in the yard I guess we would kill it so we didn't have to keep the dog inside all the time. We once had a Doberman Pinscher we got from my mother's English professor. It had been to obedience training school. That dog had a very long attention span, like that dog in Fletch. Just didn't give up. She would bark and hassle a snake until it bit her. We took her to the vet three times for antivenin, twice for rattlesnake and once for moccasin. We had a German Shepherd who would turn her back on the snake and bark at me and my brother to get away from it. She was never bitten. In the dog and snake in easy range of the house scenario my mother would usually get a shotgun and come out and shoot the snake. And we'd give it to Bruce Means to dissect.

Now it would never occur to me to kill a snake. I just take their picture and make a video and leave them alone. It's nice not having a dog to worry about. I think the risk of getting bitten while you're trying to kill a snake is higher than when you're making a video of it. And if you don't know somebody doing a necropsy study of that species it's certainly a waste of a perfectly good rat-eating machine. I have serious issues with mice and rats messing with my stuff. I have never had a problem with a snake tearing up any of my property. I like them alive.