Monday, November 30, 2009

Fun with graphs

I dare you to look at this graph and not have this song in your head for the rest of the day.

Okay, sorry. I know rickrolling is like, so last year*, but a student showed me this and it took me like a week to kill the worm. And we all know the rule: Chris does not suffer alone. Plus, it's a pie chart. And I love pie.

* I also realize that "so last year" is like, so five years ago. And the "like" thing started in the 1980's, when the Internet had about 5 users. I'm old, I can't help it. You're lucky I didn't say it was groovy.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

At home with Dorkfinger

So, I was browsing xkcd, the comic strip for people who think Dilbert is too artistic or not geeky enough, when I ran across this strip:

First sad thing: I think this is hysterically funny. Physics and James Bond are natural bedfellows, like firearms and alcohol.

Even more telling was what happened when I showed The Wife this strip. A discussion ensued on the exact nature of the centripetal/centrifugal debate, since we were born just the right number of years apart that we were told different versions of this story in school. This kicked off two hours of extensive Web searching, discussion and debate on rotational forces, velocity vectors and the best examples for explaining the concepts involved. If I hadn't been so late for work I'm sure we would have ended up at the whiteboard with something tied to a string on the end of my fish scale.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Little Red Riding Hood

I've been thinking about Little Red Riding Hood this morning*, contemplating its ridiculous plot as well as the obvious (to an adult) sexual overtones, and pondering what sort of life lesson a young person is supposed to take away from this story. I've always assumed it was something along the lines of, "the woods are dangerous and you girls should guard your goody baskets closely," but then I realized that all the action happens at Grandma's house.

Halloween party circa 1999. The "best costume" award was ours when we walked in the door.

Since I can't really abide a fairy tale without a clear point, I'm making a list of potential "morals of the story." This is what I have so far:
  • Girls who wear red are whores.
  • Even good girls will succumb to a wolf with big enough "teeth."
  • A man who wants to eat a girl he just met is probably Big and Bad.
  • If you get in trouble, you had better hope that a big lumberjack type happens along that can get you out of it.
  • Men who wear flannel and carry axes are good guys, but they are not getting with the Hood.
  • Grandmas get way more action than most people realize.
  • When you sleep with someone, you are sleeping with everyone that person has ever slept with, probably including your grandmother.
  • Your grandma might be a furry.
This is one screwed up story. I can't believe they tell this crap to children. So, any thoughts on which of these is the real moral? Any I've missed?

Happy Thanksgiving.
* This is why I never talk to people before I've had coffee.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Things Fall Apart

Did you ever notice* how some periods of your life are happy and sweet and would make a nice montage, while other times it seems like entropy is having its place fumigated and has come to stay at your house for a while? I've been having one of those second kind of times lately. Thankfully, the major components of my life -- marriage, career, health -- have so far been largely immune to this phenomenon, though there was some craziness with the ex a couple of months back. It's just been little annoying things, one after another.

I think it started with computers. A few months ago my Sony laptop started performing so poorly that I was sure it was infected with something. It wasn't until this week that I realized it is only recognizing half of its memory and there is no way to fix it. It turns out I am part of a class action suit against Sony over the design of this particular motherboard. But of course I won't get anything from the settlement. This would not have been quite so upsetting if my Toshiba laptop had not suddenly decided it was only going to boot every third time or so that I turn it on. The Wife went through a similar process with her Toshiba, and it doesn't end well. My Dell desktop is "venerable" by computer standards, so this pretty much left me without a useful home computer**.

Then there are the tools. I burned up a table saw pretty early in the shed replacement project. It was a donation from a friend moving to California, and he had used to it put concrete siding on his house, so I wasn't really that surprised. But it was something else to be dealt with. Then last week the motor on the planer/jointer quit working suddenly. We don't even use the thing that much, so I am really not happy about that one.

The kicker came this past Monday when I backed my car into the wife's truck as I was leaving for work. No major damage to either vehicle, but enough to require some repairs to both. It was really not my best day.

This has all happened against the backdrop of broken light fixtures, mailbox posts, vacuum cleaners and blenders that are a natural consequence of a modern American life. Maybe the possessions are trying to get back at me for talking bad about material things. If so, I take it all back.

* Did you ever notice how old men all eventually start talking like Andy Rooney? I'm looking forward to rocking eyebrows larger than my head.
** So I have three computers at home. Plus two at work. Sue me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wocka Wocka

It has been called to my attention on several occasions recently that I am, in fact, a nerd. Or a geek, there is some dispute on the exact nature of my condition, but I am definitely some flavor of poindexter. This was confirmed today for the eleventy-millionth time when a student pointed me to this:

and I determined that it was possibly the coolest thing I have ever seen. That's right, it's a Pac-Man game built from Roombas. And the laptop he is running it on looks just like my oldest one, which needs to be repurposed, anyway. This could get ugly, though I suspect the cats would enjoy it immensely.

The part that will make some of you jealous, and the rest of you* sigh with pity at the way I like to spend my ever-diminishing spare time and disposable income? Part of my research is ways to make computing physical, so I could potentially kinda-sorta say this is work-related.

It's probably going to take me a while to gather the materials and clear time in my schedule. If I am in your house in the next few months and you own a Roomba, you might want to check for it after I leave. I'm just saying. In the meantime, Ida brought us unexpected clear weather for the next few days, so I guess I had better drag out the telescope again. This nerd business is an around the clock occupation
* I'm pretty sure The Wife is a member of that second group.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Move over Taylor Swift

I've never really been what you would call a "joiner," or "social," or "a productive member of society." I tend to go my own way, praise my own cooking, laugh at my own jokes and more or less ignore everyone else. So it shouldn't be a surprise that I'm typically somewhat Scrooginesque about blog awards and memes and such, though that's probably mostly because I never win anything.

But Amy, who writes I Wonder Wye, is not only a dear and true friend, she is a professional writer and one of the best story tellers I have ever encountered, including my late Grandpa. She also has ridiculously high standards for practically everything, but don't tell her I told you that. So when she presented me with the coveted Over the Top award, I was not only truly humbled, I was for once motivated to answer questions that I did not ask myself.

I am apparently supposed to answer each of these with a single word, which makes it harder on me, but probably considerably easier on you. So, here goes:

Where is your cell phone? Pocket
Your hair? Deserting
Your mother? Sweet
Your dad? Missed
Your favorite food? Spaghetti
Dream last night? Unremembered
Favorite drink? Cabernet
Goal? Learn
What room are you in? Lab
Hobby? Hobbies
Fear? Time
Where do you want to be in 6 years? Tenured
Something you aren't? Nimble
Muffins? Blueberry
Wish List? Long
Where did you grow up? Arkansas
Last thing you did? Lunch
What were you wearing? Jeans
Your TV? Habitual
Your pets? Cats
Friends? Important
Your life? Sweet
Your mood? Comfortable
Missing someone? Usually
Vehicle? TL
Something you're not wearing? Stetson
Favorite color? Undecidable
Last time you laughed? News
Last time you cried? Friday
Best friend? Irreplaceable
Place you could go over and over? Mountains
Person who em's regularly? AGL
Favorite place to eat? Home

I'm going to pass this one on to Rassles, because I can't think of anything she will hate more, and to Daisyfae for pretty much the same reason. (Have I mentioned lately that I am an ass?) Oh, also because they are both great writers. And to The Wobbler, because he needs an excuse to post something, and because he introduced me to blogging in the first place.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Last one of these (for now)

I knew last night was going to be the last night I would have clear skies for a while, with a near-hurricane in the Gulf and real November weather on the way, so I rushed home yesterday from the most incomprehensible lecture I have attended in years and set up the big scope one more time.

Jupiter travels behind a giant tree in my yard by about 8:00 this time of year, and the Moon and our bellicose neighbor Mars are rising late and staying mostly in the trees, so I found myself out in the yard around 11:00 just sort of cruising the sky for something interesting. It's a bit like the cruising we did in high school, but it burns a lot less gas. The chances of getting lucky are about the same.

About the time I had determined that Andromeda and Triangulum were too directly overhead for the scope to reach, I noticed that Orion was coming into view so I decided to see if I could get a shot or two of M42, the Orion Nebula. I had already failed to get any usable pictures of several other deep sky objects, so it would be hard to imagine my surprise at the end of a five-minute exposure when this picture popped up on the little camera screen:

I know ways I can get better shots, but I will need more new toys. And there is more I can do with software in post-processing once I learn how. But for the moment I am just going to enjoy the rare, pleasant surprise of success without preparation.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Maybe it's that global warming I've been hearing so much about

The weather here has been quite strange this fall. A former girlfriend called October "convertible month," but this year it rained practically every day. November has been surprisingly clear and mild so far, giving me an opportunity to get out for a little stargazing the last couple of nights.

So Sunday I finally got a chance to put the new camera on the big telescope and take a tour of the sky. We have a large number of big trees and a lot of light pollution, so there were only a few items of interest visible and I can't really do any long exposures, but I had a good time.

This is Almach, a double star that I discovered somewhat by accident when I was looking for stars to use to align my scope. You can see it these days rising in the eastern sky not long after sunset. You can resolve the two stars with a good pair of binoculars.

This is the wife's favorite picture of the moon, because of all the big craters that are visible out on the southern limb. The big crater in the middle is Tycho.

Last night it was clear again and there was a great full moon, so I brought out the little scope to get the whole thing in one shot. It's not as clear as the view from a mile high, but my Facebook friends seem to like it.

I tried to get some pictures of Jupiter before it went behind the giant trees in my yard, but I'm still trying to get the balance between keeping the Galilean moons visible and overexposing Jupiter.

I probably need to try eyepiece projection for planetary photography, which means I need to buy a tele-extender. Plus, I think I might need some filters. And maybe some new software. I guess I had better start with lottery tickets.