Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Prestige

I read The Prestige by Christopher Priest last week.  It is now a motion picture by the same name. I picked up the book because I enjoyed the movie greatly, and had correspondingly high expectations for the book.  I was hoping to see some further character development, to delve more deeply into the personal lives of the performers, and that that other good stuff that typically doesn't make it into the movies.  The Prestige didn't really deliver on those expectations.

The book is written as the memoirs of a two rival illusionists around the turn of the century, as read by one's descendant.  The framing story is by far the weakest part, and is fortunately a very small portion of the book.  The memoirs are well written, but lack a certain amount of depth or character.  I wasn't very impressed with the pacing of the novel, nor the delivery.  Rather than feeling that I was being led into their life, I was left with the feeling of being a bored poltergeist, hovering over some poor man's shoulder.

To be honest, I didn't get much out of this book.  I found finding the discrepancies between the book and the movie more interesting than anything the book added to the story.

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Wonders of the Modern Age

This is why the internet is sweet.

Sunday, the BBC posted an article about a pakistani girl band, Zeb and Haniya.  I read the article in Google Reader, was intrigued, and almost instantly found a video of them, their wikipedia entry, homepage, and of course, a bootleg copy of their debut album, "Chup!" 

20 years ago, the odds of my even hearing about this band would be so remote as to make them nonexistant to me. Even 10 years ago the same would have held true.  But now, the web really is quite excellent.  And most people just use it to look at cute pictures of cats.  Or porn.  DEAR GOD people, this is so incredible. I don't know how I (let alone the rest of the population) wake up everyday without being absolutely gobsmacked at the how wickedly awesome this is.

I wonder how many years it took for fire to get old.  I bet it wasn't 10-20.  Hell, people still get excited about fire.

"Crash"

A friend mentioned the movie "Crash" to me the other day.  I mistakenly assumed it was the 2004 Oscar winning film; she was actually referencing the 1996 cerebral horror film based on the book of the same title by J.G. Ballard.  Thanks to the internet, I was able to get a copy of the book before I could locate the movie.

I have yet to decide if Crash is an excellent commentary on the role to the car in our lives, or a rather niche piece of fetish literature.  One one hand it draws some interesting connections between cars, sexuality and consumerism.  On the other, it gets pretty raw.  This isn't a particularly fun read, nor a particularly good one, and so I'd have a hard time recommending it.  I certainly won't be reading it again any time soon.

As a side note, thematically it is considered a forerunner of cyberpunk.  Or so the literature kids tell me.  I suppose this is true, but as a history kid, I think the two are fairly distinct.

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

New Stuff!

I have a new frame, a Soma Double Cross. Somebody made me an offer I couldn't refuse, and so now I have a beautiful frame, and nothing to build it up with. Right now the plan is to run it as a light touring/commuting bike that I can haul into the forest and thrash around the trails and fire roads on the weekends. Drop bars, bar end shifters (unless I can score some brifters somewhere), front disk brake (no mounting lugs on the back), cross drivetrain (probably SRAM, as we have a lot of their components around the shop). Sadly, what with the being in school and all, not much spare change to drop on the components.

See what I can dig up at the coop, and work that discount for all it's worth.

In other news, I rediscover writing fiction. Forgot how fun and relatively easy it is. Perhaps I'll stick some more of that here when I get a chance.

Awesome History Comics

My friend Sophie pointed me to Kate Beaton's site, which is chock full of awesome history comics.  Look for the one on Tesla, it's a gem.

http://www.katebeaton.com/Site/Welcome.html

Friday, November 28, 2008

Over 1000



Google reader is a good indication of how busy I am. If the number of items posted greatly exceeds the number I read, then odds are I didn't sleep that night. Last week was pretty intense. I did have a lot of free time yesterday though, and caught up.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Want My Time Back (pt. 2)

Part Two of a series that will continue as long as people are dumb.

The CRITERIA:

The device or person in question has to fill all these requirements to be considered a total waste of my time.

1. Posted on at least 3 blogs in my feed.
2. Adds nothing to humanity in terms of knowledge or culture.
3. Does nothing even remotely useful.
Bonus Points: Excessive or inappropriate use of technology.

I'd like to extend this award to everyone who's come up with a [insert material here]iPhone stand, and published instructions. Possibly excluding the first person, because at least when he did it, he could call it original.

These devices hold up your iPhone, using some material. So far k'nex, cardboard, the phone's packaging, and money have all been used. Apparently, this is a novel idea for just about everyone, and so 1/5 of all new iPhone owners feel the need to tell us all how they made a sweet stand. A 5 year old could do this with only the barest of instructions. But, if you absolutely, positively need detailed instructions, make, lifehacker and instructables can help you out: there are 18 different sets of instructions for stands/docks on instructables alone.

Undoubtedly someone will call me out, saying that a stand is useful, and thus doesn't fulfill requirement #3. Sure, the stand is useful. The instructions on the other hand, are roughly on par with writing, "Please, for the love of god, don't smack yourself really hard in the face with this!" on a hammer. If they can't figure it out on their own, then they likely won't be able to read the instructions.

Sadly, none of these qualify for the excessive or inappropriate use of technology bonus points.

I'm not linking to these things. If you really want to see it you can google it. But I'm warning you: you'll want your time back.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The dead parrot sketch: 1600 years young.

Reuters has the whole story, but the long and the short of it is that the dead parrot sketch's lineage has been traced back to the Ancient Greeks.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Posh Nosh



I'm quite taken with "Posh Nosh". It is an excellent satire of cooking shows done by the BBC. The dynamics between the hosts is also really well done.

The episodes are only about 10 minutes long, and it only ran for a year.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

UCSC Library: Greener than ever.

McHenry Library is putting old card catalog cards next to the computers as scratch paper. Is it ironic that I'm writing call numbers on the back of this card?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Voting Makes Me Feel Dirty

I voted today, for the first time in my life. I'm 21.  Prior to this, I deliberately did not vote.  I'm nominally an American history major, and practically the first thing I learned was just how terrible our voting system is, particularly on a national level.  The electoral college is a political hack that was slapped into place to get the constitution signed and we should really remove it.  For those who haven't been paying attention in the past two elections, this is how a candidate can lose the popular vote and still get elected.  Clearly, that is not how this should work.

I'll grant it to those who have beleaguered me about voting, that it is more pure on a local level.  It's still flawed though, and so I felt (and still feel) that voting is largely buying into a rigged game.  As a result, when I voted today, I felt dirty: I had sold out. I'm now a registered, voting chump.

I'd argue for more direct action, but I think the time for that has passed.  It may be time to start a new government on an island somewhere, pending the results of this election, and the next 4 years.  One where voting either matters or is outlawed, none of this wishy-washy middle of the road stuff.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Want My Time Back (pt. 1)

Part One of a series that will continue as long as people are dumb.

The CRITERIA:

The device or person in question has to fill all these requirements to be considered a total waste of my time.

1. Posted on at least 3 blogs in my feed.
2. Adds nothing to humanity in terms of knowledge or culture.
3. Does nothing even remotely useful.
Bonus Points: Excessive or inappropriate use of technology.

The first "winner" is the "Butt-Crack Detector."

This device lets you know if your crack is showing by measuring the light hitting a photo resistor.  It then vibrates to let you know of your unfortunate state, so that you can then pull your pants up.  First, buy clothes that fit. Second, wear a belt. Problem solved.  This device is particularly egregious in that it uses a microcontroller to run the whole mess, when all you really need is a transistor.  BEAM robots have been doing this for years; all they had to do was stuff one down their pants and that'd have been that.  Intelligent clothing my ass.  Wake me up when we have intelligent people.

Also, I'm not linking to these things.  If you really want to see it you can google it.  But I'm warning you: you'll want your time back.

Monday, October 27, 2008

On Riding a Bike in Santa Cruz

Hi Bicyclists,

Please, PLEASE, take the lane.  I know it's scary, and then you want to worry about the cars backing up behind you.  But if there is no shoulder then you should be in the lane, not hugging the curb.  Curbs are death. (The assumption here is: if you aren't willing to ride in traffic, you likely aren't comfortable doing a lateral hop up a curb at speed.)  

I've personally seen several people eat it coming down the hill from the Health Center because they were over in the gutter: The pavement there is terrible, and unless you are adept at handling a bike, it can (and often will) throw you.  Today I saw the aftermath of two accidents involving bicyclists within an hour and ten minutes of each other in the same 1/8th mile stretch.  That's not good.

As much as I advocate drivers not killing bicyclists, we need to do our part.  Don't camp the right on trucks. Don't ride the gutter. Use lights (I've almost hit other bikers at night when they weren't wearing lights). Ride on the correct side of the road. Use common sense.  All that good stuff.

Avoid bad pavement, don't get run over: Take the damn lane.

Thanks,

Robert

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Twitter, Bloging, and Reader

My blogging rate has been impacted twice in the last two months: First, I started class, which is always a time sink, and I started using Twitter. Twitter is a good thing, in that it allows me to whip out the short posts, comments and status updates that I don't like putting in the blog itself. However, Twittering does relieve the desire to blog, and so I'm not blogging as often as I should.

I'm very tempted to turn my blog into an expanded version of the shared items from my feed. According to Google, "From your 90 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 6,708 items, starred 19 items, shared 135 items, and emailed 3 items." (Yeah, I do have a burning information dependency.) Even if I only add commentary to one shared item a day, Id still have a much healthier blog, and I'd feel better about it than adding notes in reader. It'd integrate well into my current reader use, which is the most critical aspect.

In other news: School, work. Yup. Looking into this whole Bike Coop thing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New Alarm Setup

The lamp-on-a-timer setup is working out pretty well.  It's 2 for 2, and every morning I've working up swearing at the light, which is intensely unpleasant at 6:30am.  Sweet.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Wake me up, before you go...

Due to my near chronic lack of sleep, I have a near chronic inability to wake up in the morning,  It takes roughly the same amount of time from when my alarm goes off to me being alive, as it takes me to lay down and fall asleep.  One of these I can fix, the other less so.  To that end, I've taken my old desk lamp, placed it near my bed, and put a 100W equivalent CFL in it.  The lamp is tied to a timer that will activate it shortly before my alarm goes off.  If all goes according to plan, I'll wake up suddenly and vigorously; so much so that I will find it quite hard to go back to sleep.  If not, I'll either have to find a brighter lamp, or rig up a tazer.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Concise Explanation of the Financial Crisis

The mad cackling that many of you have been haunted by late at night was me; I'm sorry. The same group, and random passer-byes, have also been subjected to my discourses on the current state of the economy.  Sadly, there wasn't a good one-stop place to give people a run-down on the situation, and I tend to be, well, terrible at explaining this.  (Mostly because I've been explaining it whilst intoxicated, which has also illuminated the difficulties and perils of discussing economics in a bar.)  Fortunately, the BBC has an excellent article laden with a good number of charts and a blissful dearth of text that provides a really good recap of what's happened up till now.  The article, via the BBC.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Food Diary: Defunct

After the not terribly startling relation that my diet was terrible, and my exercise routine a joke, I stopped posting my shame publicly. Or at least that's what it looks like. Actually, I'm no longer getting paid to sit in empty labs for three hours, and consequently my available time to post here has been greatly diminished. However, I do enjoy work quite a bit more now.

In other news, I managed to reference Jane Austin in an unrelated history discussion today. I find that terribly exciting, which you can take as a good indicator of the despondency which has wracked my days. I shall post here again, if I live. (gah.)

In other news, I am thinking about getting some funding from Crown, or the Arts department at UCSC to build a large sound installation on the cliffs by Bonny Dune or Davenport. I'll post the outline of it once I get the details worked out a bit more.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Food Diary: Day 10

For 09/10/08: Woke up around 7:30 am, first meal at 1:20 pm. Two slices of ham and pine pizza from Upper Crust. Second meal at 8:00 pm, one doughnut with nuts and sugar frosting on top. 2x Heinekens, some crackers. Off to bed at 1 am.

Biked up to work all in one go with no breathers. Wore the heart rate monitor, which once again generated some awesome data. It took me 33 minutes, door to door, to cover the 5.4 miles. -5 min improvement over yesterday, hit the lights better.

Average heart rate: 156 bpm
Max heart Rate: 181 bpm

Found that tightening the chest band on the sensor generated much more accurate results, even without moistening the sensor.

On the ride home I made it in 15 minutes, covering 4.8 miles in 14:56 minutes.

Average heart rate: 157 bpm
Max heart rate: sensor borked, registered 236, likely a doubling error.

Did a set of 6 push-up, immediately recalled why I don't do them. I have elbows and shoulders that sound like an arthritic 80 year-old's.

Sleep was ok-ish, kinda restless.

Food Diary: Day 9

For 09/09/08: Woke up around 8 am, first meal at 11:30 pm. Pack of Nutter Butters, red-filling danish, and a Hansen's Rasberry soda. Second meal at 5:20 pm, 7 slices of Upper Crust Pizza, of various sorts. Off to bed at 12 am.

Biked up to work all in one go with no breathers. Wore the heart rate monitor, which generated some awesome data. It took me 38 minutes, door to door, to cover the 5.4 miles.

Average heart rate: 155 bpm
Max Heart Rate: 184 bpm

According to this site, that means that I was at about 80% of my maximum heart rate for most of the trip. Interesting.

Still no pushups.

Sleep was ok-ish, kinda restless.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Food Diary: Day 8

For 09/08/08: Woke up around 7 am, first meal at 12:30 pm. Breakfast burrito with sausage, Jones Crushed Mellon soda. Second meal at 8:25 pm, slice of ham and pineapple pizza, Heineken. Off to bed at 12 am.

Biked to the Westside bike shuttle as I was under the impression that I had to come in early. I was incorrect. Biked to downtown for pizza after work. Working on figuring out a time where I'll actually do push-ups.

Sleep was short, but ok-ish.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Food Diary: Day 7

For 09/07/08: Woke up around 9:30 am, first meal at 11 am. One plain and one everything bagel, both with chive whipped cream cheese. Lunch around 2:30 pm, quesadilla with fajita fixings and cheddar cheese. Dinner around 9pm, 2x Heinekens, lots of club crackers, some cream of broccoli soup (unpleasant, had less than a cup or so). Off to bed at 1:30 am.

Walked to the beach from Kristina's place, no biking or push ups today, which is what I'd planned anyways.

Sleep was super meh, would like to sleep in my own bed at some point soon. Was not expecting to be out so much this weekend.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Food Diary: Day 6

For 09/06/08: Woke up around 7am, first meal at 11 am. 6" Italian sausage sub from Subway, everything on it, and some potato chips. Dinner around 6pm, 2x beef fajitas with onions and red/green bell peppers, helped prepare them, they were excellent. Also had a few handfuls of tortilla chips with southwestern style salsa. 1.5 margaritas, and a slice of cake were also consumed during the course of the evening. Went to bed around 1 am.

No biking or push ups, helped Kristina move instead. Also walked around a bit, and swam. Very out of shape swimming-wise, will have to work on that as well. Slight sunburn. As usual, not unpleasant, I just look pinkish.

Sleep was extraordinarily meh.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Food Diary: Day 5

For 09/05/08: Woke up around 8 am, first meal at 9 am. Cinnamon raisin bagel, Gatorade. Second meal around noon, zero calorie Hansen's ginger ale and a tube of honey roasted cashews. Roughly at 6 pm I found I could not resist a $1 64oz Icee. It was tasty, but frustrating, as Icees are wont to be. For dinner, Kristina's parents made combo pizza, I had two slices. For desert we went to DIY Yogurt for dessert, had a cup of yogurt with literally all the fixings. Gummy Bears featured prominently. Later that night had some nuts, as well as 2 fun-sized Hershey's bars at random points in the day. Went to bed around 1 am.

Rode to work, rode home again. Neglected push-ups again. Observed that I eat more with others than when left to my own devices. Nervous habit?

Sleep was pretty meh, even if I did get more hours than usual in. End of the week fatigue level is somewhere between "agonizing" and "crippling." Awkward level for today was roughly the same, will be interesting to see how the rest of this year/weekend pans out.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Food Diary: Day 4

For 09/04/08: Woke up around 8 am, first meal at 10am. Ate half a leftover vegetarian club sandwich, very tasty. Second meal was at Vallarta around 6 pm, one super burrito. Went to bed around 12 am.

Rode up to the bookstore in the morning, and then to downtown after work, stopping by Aaron's house to get him. Continue to neglect push ups, looking at my schedule for the next few days I suspect that will continue to be the case at least until Monday (the 8th).

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Food Diary: Day 3

For 09/03/08: Woke up around 6:45 am, first meal at 11am. Jamba Juice, Peach Passion original size, with a fiber boost (the boost wasn't my idea). Second meal was at Saturn around 9:30 pm, a tuna melt with a side of cream of tomato soup. Scavenged most of Kimberly's fries as well. Went to bed around 1 am.

Bussed it up to Sunnyvale, rode from Diridon to Kristina's house and back, which is roughly a total of 16 miles. Took about 40 minutes out and 30 back. Rode from work to Kimberly's house, another 6 miles, not sure how long that took, but I did it at a good clip. Neglected push-ups again.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Food Diary: Day 2

For 09/02/08: Woke up around 8am, first meal at 6pm. All you can eat pizza at Upper Crust: 7 slices, 3-4 glasses of coke. Went to bed around 4 am.

Biked to work, only made it 1/3 up Hagar due to getting a massive staple in my back tyre. Wheel was dead flat in under 5 min. Bussed down to Spokesman, bought a new tube and installed it there, then rode to the old house. Neglected push-ups again, primarily because my morning routine isn't all worked out yet. The microfiber towel works really well, it was an excellent investment.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Food Diary: Day 1

For 09/01/08: Woke up around 3pm, first meal at 6pm. One super burrito from Vallarta, small coke, tortilla chips. Around 3am of 09/02/08 consumed a large shake from Jack-in-the-Box over the course of several hours, in addition to a large seasoned fries. Went to bed around 5-6am.

Completed moving and unpacked the majority of my stuff in lieu of biking to work and doing push-ups. (No work) Regardless, I could not have done push-ups even if I wanted to: soreness was compounded by post-drunk joint pain to make my arms pretty torn up.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

Well, the stepsisters are ugly, as is this downer of a novel.  The plot seems very contrived, almost forced, as it works it's way to the ball, and abruptly deflates after it.   Much of the problem is that where the fantastic is acceptable in fantasy novel, for example "Wicked", it feels out of place in the more realistic setting of Confessions.  I did not particularly enjoy the characters either, so this book held very little charm for me.  If you want a good book about Dutch painters, girls coming of age and poverty, read "Girl with a Pearl Earing."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

There and Back Again

I became quite tired of the bacchanalia that descended on the house this weekend, and so I took my leave and went for a jaunt on my bike.  It's the first ride of any duration I'd undertaken since coming to college, and it clocked in at a mild 20 miles, riding from my house up the Pacific Coast Highway to Davenport and back.

The Google maps topo feature renders this as deceptively flat, due to it's 200' increments.  I last drove on the PCH two summers ago, and that was at night, and only to Bonny Dune Road, which is quite a bit closer to Santa Cruz then Davenport.  Thus, I wrongly assumed that the ride would be much flatter then it was.

I started out around 11:16 pm, and it was extrodinarily foggy.  The kind of fog that clings and beads up on your eyelashes, and drips off your helmet.  Visibility was very poor, as my bike light is not particularly impressive, and the fog was dense enough to cut out most of the moonlight.  I tried to keep a reasonable pace up the hills, but not knowing where they ended made it iffy on judging how fast to take them.

A two or three mile out of Santa cruz the fog thinned out, and the light of the moon was more than enough to see by.  The valleys were still shadowed in some places, and my light stared to die, the combination of which resulted in me bouncing over a large branch of of some kind, and taking a stick in the drive chain.  Amazingly, nothing was damaged.

The coast and ocean were impressive in the moonlight, and I'll have to make another expedition out with a camera next full moon.  Other than the occasional car honking at me, I made it to Davenport without further incident.  I did at one point pass a van that had stalled on the opposite shoulder; the occupants were rather intoxicated and found it amusing that I was riding about at night in the fog.  On my return they were still there, and far less amused.  The best comment made was, "You sumg-ass Mf'er, you went there and now you're coming back again."  Indeed I was returning, but I was not particularly sumg at the time, as my headlight had totaly failed.

The retun ride was even more fun than the outgoing, despite the fatigue.  I had a good endorphin rush going, knew where the hills were, and had warmed up a bit.  I made poor time up the hills, but made up for it on the reverse sides and the flats: My incoming time was only a minute longer than my outgoing.  I averaged ~15 mph across 20 miles, which I think is reasonable for having not ridden extensivly in years.

I have a few new squeaks on the bike now, I'm fairly certain that some crud got into the chain and is making a racket.  Perhaps I'll clean and lube the chain this weekend, perhaps after I go for another ride.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

HaHA! Blog.

So, Yup.  Really need to get some stuff finished up and posted here, although I've been super busy.  Work, looking for housing, all that good stuff. Oh, got rid of my email sig, that's new and exciting.  Decided that I didn't want to explain to every house I emailed that I wasn't in a frat, and that it's an equation describing thin slit diffraction.  That also leads to the "So, are you a science major?" question, which I dislike.  Mostly because laughing in their face, and saying, "God, I wish I was, then I'd have a job after college," isn't considered an acceptable response.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

There Will Be Blood

I watched "There Will Be Blood" last night, and quite enjoyed it. Daniel Day-Lewis was excellent, and I'm a sucker for well done period pieces. Well worth the viewing.
--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Worst Alcoholic Beverage Ever

So, I admit that I'm no expert on this subject; my drink experiences so far have been largely limited to things that didn't taste terrible by design. However, I'm here to tell you that "Tilt", an energy drink and malt beverage is the worst thing I've ever consumed. The lingering taste of vomit and cheap booze that this drink leaves is it's sole claim to fame. It is a lurid green color, the dyes persistent enough to turn your tounge green. Worse still, a can isn't enough to get you properly drunk: after practically chugging all 16 oz. in desperation, I'm still sober enough to write this blog post, and I'm a lightweight. I'm going to go back to my White Russians, Tokyo Iced Teas and Liquid Cocaine: at least they get me drunk, and I don't want to kill myself after drinking them.

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Dark Knight

I enjoyed "Batman Begins" a great deal when it came out, and was impressed by what it brought to a franchise littered with horribly campy takes.  As such, I had high expectations for the sequel, but as the hype built up I became worried that the movie would fail to deliver on the expectations. Clearly I was in error, as The Dark Knight does not disappoint.

Like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight is in fact, dark.  It is a poignant tragedy, brilliantly acted, and downright awesome.  As many have said, Heath Ledger's performance is incredibly disturbing, and in many ways the Joker outperforms Batman in this film.  The pacing is fast, and I think it could have been taken down a notch to allow for some lulls in intensity.  The action sequences are actiony, the drama is dramatic, and between the two there isn't much time to catch your breath.  Overall it was an excellent and enjoyable film, and I highly recommend it.
--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Abandoned Buildings

I have a bit of a thing for abandoned buildings.  I feel that its a good practical knowledge interest, because A. There are a fair number of them about, and B. it's useful to know how fast buildings deteriorate.  (They also play into my "what-went-wrong?" hobby.)

I got this article on "16 Abandoned & Decaying Hotels" in my feed and was particularly struck by the Aptera Beach Resort.  There is little information available online about its demise, but this blog post suggests that the damage is due to being partially demolished at some point.  It's rather interesting, as generally you don't have partially demolished buildings, as it costs money to demolish a building.  By the time that a person or company is ready to abandon a property, it is generally because they don't have the money to develop or maintain it.

I think it's pretty neat that the rebar is still tying the chunks of concrete together; a rough demonstration of how composite materials work at a macroscopic level.

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Monday, July 14, 2008

New Bike! (for real this time)

So, I have a new bike, it works super well and I love it.  Road tyres are awesome.  There is a UC strike all this week, so the normal shuttles and whatnot will not be running.  That means I'll be riding up a 800 foot elevation gain each morning.

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Delicious Data

"From your 75 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 6,806 items, starred 4 items, shared 131 items, and emailed 0 items."

On average, I process 226 discrete items per day in my feed. That's pretty cool.  The most items read in one day was 556.  About half of my daily intake is skimming the BBC and NYT international feeds, about a quarter is distributed among various small blogs, and the rest is taken by a few major blogs, such as Make and Lifehacker. 

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wanted

I saw "Wanted" over the weekend.  I thought it was pretty good for what it was (B action movie), but it was way more over the top than I had expected.  As Aaron noted, there were brains all over a wall within the first 5 minutes, and that remained a staple of the rest of the movie.  I think that it delivers pretty well on the premise of this xkcd: action movies need more action.  This one has plenty of action, blood everywhere, Angelina Jolie being somewhat attractive, and guns.  Now, all that comes at a pretty steep price: this thing is cliched like none other.  Not in the "haHA, external references" way either, but in the agonizing, sadly funny, "did they seriously just say that line?" way.  It's pretty terrible, and renders some otherwise climatic moments very silly.

If you enjoy action films, its worth seeing.  I wouldn't pay money for it though.

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bikes

I've been trawling Craigslist for the past few weeks looking for a new bike. My current one is rapidly approaching a state where riding it becomes a liability on par with playing handball in the street. Currently the most functional parts of it are the wheels and the pedals, those being the parts that I've replaced from stock. (Although, the front tire is a 26x2.5, which is wide as all creation, and doesn't fit in the bus bike racks very well. The back is 26x1.5-2, so my bike looks a little dumb.) The cassette worries me, as it seems to be off-center, the front derailer blows something fierce, and almost everything attached to the handlebars is lose, as are the handlebars themselves (makes the handling a little sloppy). Scary, eh?

The damnedest thing about it is that I still love riding my bike, at least on the infrequent occasions that I can muster up the courage to do so. I can still bounce over to the bus stop in a matter of minutes, still bomb hills, and have a pretty ok cruising speed. So I've decided that I really do want a new bike, preferably not a terrible generic mtn bike, and preferably something suited to the riding I actually do, which is generally road riding.

Right now, building up my own new bike seems to be a reasonable option. I'll be able to keep my existing pedals, wheels, and seat. The rest of the bike is pretty trashed, and I dislike the frame as it's a little short for my gangly frame. I essentially need a new group and frame.

Baring that, the quick way to go is ordering a new bike. After doing some extensive comparison shopping in bike in my price range, I have a list of possibilities.

http://www.trekbikes.com/us/en/bikes/2008/bike_path/7000_series/7000/
I like this one the most overall, might replace stem and seatpost with solid components.

http://www.trekbikes.com/us/en/bikes/2008/mountain_hardtail/820/820/
Toss some 1.5-2 slicks on it and it would be pretty fun. Shock for when I do dumb things.
http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/motobecane/motobecane_elite.htm
Cheap as can be, and not a totally terrible bike.

http://www.trekbikes.com/us/en/bikes/2008/urban/sport_urban/su10/
No reviews? Nice lines, seems reasonable. The SU 2.0 is also an option, good reviews.


SS

http://www.trekbikes.com/us/en/bikes/2008/urban/soho/sohos/
This thing just looks sick. Way out of the price range, but, lordy.

http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/motobecane/messenger.htm
This one is in the price range. Sadly, I feel that SC is a little too hilly for a SS.

Also need a new helmet. But thats the comparatively easy part.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Old Bike

As some of you will recall, I picked up a free bike to fix up a few weeks ago. Since then, I've realized that this bike is incredibly French. It is so incredibly French that parts aren't commonly available, and haven't been since the late 70's. This means availability will only get worse as the bike ages, and since I want this to be a pretty straightforward ride, that's an issue. I'm not willing to pay for an expensive wheelset, given the rate of wheel thefts around here. More importantly, new parts machined for old bikes are pretty expensive. So, I'm looking at selling the vintage bike, and buying a new bike, hopefully for less than ~$400. (broke college student, etc.) I figure if i could keep a ~$100 bike (+$100 in components over the years, not including tubes.) running for some 10 years or so, I'll be able to get quite a bit of use out of something w/o plastic components.

***Update***

The old bike is now on CL. http://sfbay.craigslist.org/sby/bik/739994390.html

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Another Book

Today I read Charles Stross's Glasshouse. I had previously read Accelerando, which is available online, and felt that it was an excellent work. Glasshouse is certainly on par, and the pair (they are both stand alone stories) really make me want to snag the rest of his work.

Glasshouse is a post-Singularity novel, set in a future radically different from our current conception. The mastery of space, captive wormhole technology (essentially teleporation), and nano-assembly have allowed humans to expand wildly, assume new shapes, and produce backups of themselves.

Robin is fresh out of a memory wipe on a planet he can't remember being on before, and someone is trying to kill him. After foiling a series of increasingly dramatic assassination attempts, he signs up for an extended experiment to avoid his pursuers. He will be living in the dark ages of humanity (1950-2040) with a group of similarly mind wiped volunteers attempting to recreate the social structure of the time. As the experiment progresses she realizes there is more at stake than just keeping up appearances.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Three More Books

I've been working 4 hour shifts at the Science Library lab, and since it is summer and classes are out, I've had very little to do. I've taken to plowing through my pile of e-books, with the net result being that I've read three books in the past three days: Idoru and Burning Chrome by William Gibson, as well as The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect by Roger Williams. Of the three, Metamorphosis was by far the best.

It addresses the development of a greater than human artificial intelligence and the digitization of human consciousness in a rational, yet very macabre way. Rather than focusing on the human ideal it goes muckraking, exploring the empowerment of sociopaths, rapists and murderers in an environment where you can't permanently kill anyone. Definitely a good read, however it does get graphic at times, with a fair number of people getting seriously maimed/"killed" in a virtual environment.

Burning Chrome is a collection of short stories, and many of the themes in it are expounded on further in Gibson's books. It is a good book if you enjoy short stories and are not bothered that they generally don't resolve in any meaningful way. Those who have read other works by Gibson stand a better chance of enjoying it, as in and of themselves the stories leave you wanting just a little more than they offer.

Idoru was very disappointing. It lacks the richness and development of other books by Gibson, and does not contribute much to the storyline in the Bridge trilogy. The first and third books (Virtual Light, All Tomorrow's Parties) present a much more cohesive story, with Idoru (the second) hanging around in a corner talking to itself. It should be the place where two characters, Laney and Yamazaki, could be fleshed out and placed in context. However, they read like shallow copies of the same characters in the third book, where they play a comparatively minor role. Likewise, the plot is so self-contained as to almost exclude it from the rest of the series. The connections to the preceding book are flimsy at best, and the third draws much more strongly from the first then the second. I wouldn't recommend this book to a casual reader. I only finished it because: A. If I don't I die a little on the inside, and B. I'd read the other two books already.
--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Reading OCR'd Scans

I've been doing a lot of reading recently, a fair amount of it on the
computer because of the move. All my hard copy books, and anything
else I want, are buried under piles of my cruft and other people's
junk. It's a mildly amusing situation. Anyway, most of the scans of
current books I get are not revised. Someone scans in the books,
OCR's the whole thing, and dumps the text output online.
Unfortunately, OCR isn't all it's cracked up to be, and sometimes the
recognition is a little off. In the particular book I'm reading now,
"~" swapped for an "s" is a fairly common occurrence, and bad
recognition like "W~Uiam Gib~3on" instead of 'William Gibson' happens
occasionally. The neat part is that unless I'm reading word by word
the typos are irrelevant and I fill in the banks from context. It
makes me wonder why there hasn't been an adaptation to the OCR
software to try to catch these things: if you know it's a book, and
that it's in English, you can do all sorts of word checking. It would
certainly be a boon to organizations like Project Gutenberg, as well
as Google Book search.
--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Xbox Media Center

My poor Xbox has been having issues with audio for a long time.  I stripped it apart last night, and repaired a cold joint on the motherboard and modchip.  Sadly, although my soldering skills have improved greatly since I first assembled the Xbox, the problem was apparently not the shoddy soldering job.  My new theory is that the flashed BIOS my be iffy, and if thats not the case then there is likely a pretty deep hardware problem.  Bummer.  Then it's simply a question of spending money to make a new XBMC Xbox, or put money into a VGA-NTSC converter or video card for one of my existing computers.

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Comapatability

So, old French bikes have terrible compatibility with anything, including themselves.  Single speed it is. May not even bother painting this, but we'll see.  Really not worth trying to fix the shifters, may get a single speed hub, etc.

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New Bike!

I have a new project bike. Which is mildly depressing, considering that means I now have two fixer-upper bikes. The new bike is a old French Motobecane Mirage, pre-80's. Picked it up from a pile of free used bikes behind the bikeshop, needless to say it's a bit tore up. However, the frame is nice, and its longer than my MTB frame, so I'm going to try to fix it up. (The MTB is from when I was 13, it's on the small size, and I've done a lot of dumb things on it, so it's pretty trashed.)

The front derailer was nearly worn through where the chain rubs when shifting, and the lower cog on the rear derailer has had all its teeth worn off. It seems that the prior owner either rode an exorbitant number of miles and kept the bike really well greased, or they didn't ride it very much and thrashed the daylights out of the shifters. Beats me. Either way the drivetrain, in terms of shifting, is pretty trashed. At this point, I'm really tempted to make it a single-speed, but really would rather have gears for making up the hill to school. So, I need a new pair of derailers, or some way to fix the existing ones.

The rest of the tear-down went really well, nothing was corroded together or stuck, and even cotters on the cranks came out clean. That really surprised me, everything I'd read/figured suggested that this would be the biggest problem.

So right now I'm looking at replacing the tubes/tires, all the cables (some were fraying), the derailers (unless they cam be repaired in a reasonable time frame) and repainting it. I just need to tear down the bottom bracket, and then the frame will be ready to paint.

I've caught a lot of flack for wanting to repaint the bike. I've had several people tell me that the color is nice, and the original lettering is nice, and similar sentiments. The thing is, I agree. The bike is really well done, and I enjoy it. However, the existing paint is chipped and flaking in areas, and there are some large patches of rust on the chain stays. Being the bastard that I am, I hate rust, and would rather maintain the structural integrity of the bike than the integrity of the paint scheme. But I do like the lettering.

I'm working on hacking the font together, so that I can stencil the current markings back on to the frame at some point. If it works, it will be epic. If not, oh well, it was a free bike.

If anyone has some hardware they want to throw my way, I'd be happy to have it.

*5/29/08: I spent some time in Photoshop messing with extracting and vectorizing the font. Long story short, I'm just going to get some acetate and copy the lettering by hand.*

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

More Frivolous Purchases.

I went to Logos again over the weekend: I swear that place will be my
ruin. While browsing the small-but-eclectic maritime section of the
bookstore, I came upon a book that is right up my alley.

"Extra: Titanic" by Eric Caren is a compilation of pieces that ran on
the Titanic in 1912. I really like that it includes the entire
printed page rather than just extracting the stories explicitly about
the Titanic. This makes it a neat little slice of from the era, and
provides a more general background. Sadly, it is an oversize book at
15" tall, and as such dosn't quite fit in any of my bookcases. But it
is a fun and informative read, and well worth the $5 I paid for it.

This adds to my collection of books on the Titanic, which was already
reaching an unfortunate size (or a fortunate size, depending on how
you look at it). The "Books on the Titanic" section is now edging out
Ayn rand and Arthur C. Clark and making tracks for Neal Stephenson.
It is also interesting to note that what these books lack in page
length, the more than make up for in being huge. Like the ship
itself, books on the Titanic tend to have unwieldy dimensions.
--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Early Adopters

Tonight, I'm glad I'm behind the tech curve, at least far enough for it not to suck.  I'm a hardcore Google Calendar guy.  The interface is good, it does what I need it to, and it's web-based.  I found out recently that work needs me to use the Oracle Calender system.  It's web-based, has a crap-tastic user interface and too many options. I was  handed 141 pages of documentation on this program.  That's not even how to use it in the context of the job, just how to have a working knowledge of it, which is intimidating to say the least.  I'd much rather use Google Calendar, and just have Oracle Calendar import all my tasks.  Sadly, that just isn't possible without some major code-fu, which I don't have.  Knowing that it should be possible, I decided to find a workaround.

It turns out that Google wrote a little app that will sync between MS Outlook and Google Apps.  Oracle wrote an app that will sync between MS Outlook and Oracle Calendar.  Long story short, I set up Outlook for the first time in 4 years on my lappy.  In theory this should work like a charm, however, that is never the case, and the Oracle server at work is down, so I can't test it regardless.  They say I can bill them for the time spent learning Oracle: I don't know if they want me to bill them for 5 hours of trying various ways to get a calendar from Google to Oracle.

I'm glad I'm behind the curve on this one: Google made Sync earlier this year, prior to that I'd have had to pay a third-party vendor for the same functionality.  Also, this is the one time I'm glad that MS has market dominance.  (Don't tell anyone I said that.)  The argument of course being if everyone used FOSS standards...

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Friday, May 16, 2008

That Magical Time of the Quarter

Ah, the post-midterms madness.  All of the sudden there are papers due, classes to go to, meetings to attend.  Plowing through it all with a healthy dose of caffeine, loud music and a stress level that's likely mildly unhealthy.  I live for this.  Forget skydiving or windsurfing, try writing back-to-back papers on stuff you hadn't even heard of 24 hours ago.  And ace them.  Scrambling down the dark alleyways of online academic journal databases, flipping between books, thats good times. Seriously.  Delicious, delicious, doing research.

One of these days I'll find someone who will pay me to do this stuff.  And that will be awesome.
--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Washing Machine

Kimberly found a washing machine on craigslist over the weekend.  It was free, but according to the listing needed a new belt.  Ever on the lookout for free stuff we snagged it and brought it home, pretty confidant that it wouldn't be very hard to find a new belt, and if not, hey, it was free. 

We got it home, and I almost immediately came to the conclusion that there were no belts needed in this thing at all.  There was a large amount of rubber shavings present but these were from the rubber bushing in the coupling between the motor and the gearbox.  The washer is assembled as two stacks off the gearbox: the coupling, motor, and pump extend horizontally, and the drive shaft, clutch and drum extend vertically.  My initial thought was that I'd have to detach the gearbox to have a good shot at the coupling, but further inspection proved this unwise.  As it turns out, the gearbox is held in place and held closed by the same set of bolts, and more importantly uses a thick gel as the seal around the edge, which would have been difficult to replace.  It made a lot more sense to disassemble the motor stack (as it was designed to be).

The stack, extending from the gearbox, was as follows: coupling, motor attachment plate and bushings, motor, and the pump.  Several hoses also enter and exit the pump, and they complicated things greatly.  It is unpleasant to work in a confined space on spring based fittings, particularly ones that you need a fair amount of mechanical advantage to lever open.  After getting the hoses off the pump was an easy one to remove, being held to the motor by just two metal clips.  The motor was held onto its baseplate by a similar setup, with the addition of a retaining screw in the top of each clip.  After ganking to motor out it was pretty clear the coupling had been totaled: teeth were missing, the rubber was in pieces, etc.  Devin and Kimberly googled us up a replacement however, and two days later the new coupling came. 

After getting the new coupling in and everything re-assembled came the moment of truth.  We kept the washer our on the lawn, just in case, and hooked up the hose and an extension cord.  It powered on and worked like a champ, albeit an angry, vibrating loud champ.  But thats a problem for another day.  I was worried that I'd get it back together, only to find out the coupling had failed because the clutch locked up, or the gearbox had failed.  Thankfully that appears to not be the case, although I'm mildly concerned that the excessive gyrations it currently exhibits may be enough to cause more wear on the coupling by shifting the motor about.  Even if it does, a new coupling is still under $20, so we could go through a few more before it became prohibitively expensive.

All-in-all it's a good catch, and gave me a few hours of entertainment, so I'm marking this one as a win.
--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Bride of Science

I stumbled across a copy of "The Bride of Science" by Benjamin Woolley at Logos recently and, in a fit of excess, bought it.  The book is a biography of Ada Lovelace, who is credited with being the first programmer for her work on Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine.  (As a side note, she is one of my more favorite historical personages, and she lived in one of my favorite historical periods, so I'm a little biased.)

The book is well written in general, with a bent for dry humor and ironic juxtapositions, and reads more like a novel than a historical treatise. Which is fortunate, given the subject matter: it doesn't shy away from the more torrid aspects of her life (of which there are quite a few), and in fact becomes downright sensationalist at points.  Those looking for an Ada-centric read may want to find another book, as this one strongly frames its discussion of Ada in terms of her parents, particularly her mother, and doesn't dwell on her work with the Analytical Engine for very long.  However, it does give a great deal of insight into her life and thoughts, as well as giving a good look at the intellectual/upper class in the period.

I rather enjoyed the book, but I find anything even mildly relevant to the 19th century interesting.  As far as biographies go, this one is pretty good, and not a hard read at all.  My recommendation: good for those who are interested in Ada and the period in general, bad for those who want to learn more about her relation to the Analytical Engine.
--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dissociative Fugue

Part three of deceptively named posts.  I've made a proto-melodic generator in Pure Data, which is kinda neat.

Right now the melodies it generates are random walks between between 90 and 600 Hz with ocassional excursions between 45 and 1200 Hz.  The occasional excursions are a function of doing the limiting based on what the note currently is, rather than what it could be.  Since one of the steps is a full octave up or down, it can bounce out pretty far before it starts getting called back in.  Ultimately that might get revised, however I don't think its terribly important.  The other component is a tempo generator that messes with the master clock for the system, speeding up when the notes are high and slowing down when they are low.  This favors the low end of the spectrum, and adds a bit more interest.  Eventually a full note length and timing module will be implemented, so that there is more freedom in determining individual note length.

 I made a nice little repetition prevention system, but sadly, I don't actually need it now, since I've placed everything relative to the preceding note.  I was using a system that played specific notes and since that system could (and frequently did) play the same note repeatedly in series the repetition limiter was far more important for it.  On the upside, making the detections system has given me some better ideas on using recursion to make the whole thing work.  Recursion and Markov chains...fun times.

I really like the infinite scale idea, but it has some downsides.  First, it is unlikely that anyone could (or would want to) manually play any pieces generated by this method: it just doesn't correlate well to existing musical notation.  Second, since it does break with the traditional notation, making music theory "work" in this context is much more difficult.  I've been having to use journal articles to supplement the theory textbook, which is good but not helpful in a lot of areas right now.

JSTOR, an online database of academic journals has been invaluable in working on this project (and just about any project in the humanities or arts).  Frankly, I'm really glad someone else sat and did a study of the mathematical basis for consonance and dissonance.  Right now my note determinations are from consonant ratios, which makes a pleasing, but very mellow melody.  I found an article on the basis for dissonance, so when I get some free time that help me will add some spice to the mix.

Next, I'm going to clean up the note selection process a bit, and try to add in some way of storing melodies for playback.  I don't really know how I'm going to work that one, as PD doesn't seem cut out to handle generating and reading complex tables.  I've decided that I'm likely wrong, and that I can, I just don't know how to do it yet.  Soon I will.  The melody needs to be stored so that it can be played back in different voices at other points, which is one of the defining characteristics of the fugue.

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Sound of Music

Yet another in a series of deceptively named posts (see "VM Wear" for another example).

I've started trying to write a fugue generator, which is only slightly more complicated than actually writing a fugue. I picked fugues because they are a fairly well defined composition, and they are marked by repetition, both of which I thought would make writing this a snap. Oh, how wrong was I.

First, fugues aren't well defined at all. About the only characteristic that people can agree on is the use of repetition, and even then there is still some confusion. Second, having to make a generator that tries to actually sound like an actual existing form of music is a pain, particularly if you try to use existing musical conventions.

Musical conventions are pretty complicated. So far I've dedicated several days to translating music theory into Markov chains and other structures, and still really don't have any product to show for it. However, I have simultaneously leaned a lot about Markov chains and music theory, which is good. Markov chains are pretty straightforward; music theory is a tougher nut.

Music theory is built on centuries of previous generations methods and notation. The notation is interesting, because the existing notations doesn't fit what it is supposed to represent cleanly, or rather it doesn't scale nicely from playing to theory. Chords and interval notation and the rest seem kinda hacked together. When playing with intervals, all sorts of weird things can happen. When you are building chords you end up with a fair number of exceptions and changes. I feel that much of this has to do with using a just intonation rather than a tempered scale. The primary difference between the two is that tempered scales use equal divisions between the notes, and just intonation tries to use the smallest whole number ratio between notes. That being said, I've decided to throw caution to the wind and use a tempered 19 division scale for my generator. (Most music is played in a 12 division scale using just intonation.)

I like this better, because the ratios are relative to any two notes' frequencies, and the consonance/dissonance between the notes can be expressed mathematically. This simplifies writing the progression algorithm, as I could simply base it off of numerical consonance, rather than having to translate music theory into probabilities and conditionals. With basic bounding and checks for repetition, even a random walk should be less dissonant in 19 as compared 12.

The reason that I can chose a 19 tone scale is purely digital, or rather a lack thereof. I don't have to play an instrument in this scale, the computer does. traditionally, instruments have been limited by the number of fingers its operator has. 12 divisions is a good compromise between playability and consonance, whereas 19 would be a bit harder to play.

Stay tuned for further developments, hopefully I'll have a working system shortly.

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Comcast, and the Great Internet Shortage of '08

I suppose it's more of a lean season than a traditional internet shortage, as we still have a connection.  It's at the very least a bit faster than when the campus network bought it in the Internet Shortage of 06.  That was twelve hours of no internet, which left us confused and frustrated, forced to leave our rooms in search of entertainment.  On the upside, it lasted only twelve hours.  For a month now, we've been experiencing terrible packet loss in the house, generally over 25%.  This makes the connection painfully slow.  Comcast was routing us through New York for a time which added a few hundred milliseconds to the time required to access any server on the West Coast. 

I called Comcast to see what the deal was.  They say that its a problem with the backbone, and that they just don't know when it will be fixed.  We will get a credit for any downtime when they finally fix the problem, but it don't think we will actually ever see any money.  I think they will say that the network was never down entirely, and that the EULA I signed doesn't guarantee that I will actually get all of the bandwidth I paid for.

I'd switch, but there aren't any comparable services in Santa Cruz.  Although, a guaranteed 3mbit connection would likely be faster than the hypothetical "8mbit" connection that I have now.  I'm just waiting for fiber to get here...I had it back in Sac, and it was the most wonderful connection I've ever used.

So, if anyone has a rockin' connection in Santa Cruz, let me know.  I'm sick of Comcast.

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

"Design for Impact"

Today I picked up an awesome book from Logos. Entitled "Design for Impact", it is a visual history of the airline safety card. It tracks the progression of safety cards, from the incredibly verbose to the purely visual over the past 50 years. The vast majority of the book is simply pictures of the cards, however the included commentary is well done.

I get a kick out of the earlier cards, which depict people having a good time in life rafts and while exiting over the wing. It's a good contrast to the very sterile images used today. The blurbs on the aircraft and airlines are enlightening, and help add some context to the cards. While it is not a must have book for every collection, fans of aviation may get a kick out of it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's not the end of the Dollar

The BBC has two excellent articles on the US economy, 2008 - the return of the dollar? and US economy at a glance. To summarize their main point: it's not time to break out the lifeboats just yet. The U.S. economy is undoubtedly weak, however it doesn't seem massively unstable like it was prior to the dot com recession, or the Great Depression. "The return of the dollar?" suggests that the current devaluation of the dollar relative to the euro is partially a result of an over valuation of the euro, and forecasts that a rebound could be in the works. I still harbor doubts about our economies long term future; however I'm not an economist.
--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Firsthand Experiences of the Effects of Sleep Deprivation

A friend told me that I should document the effects of my all-nighters and generally terrible sleep regimen.  Interestingly, one of the first effects is the loss of one's desire to spend time documenting the hell they are living.  However, for the edification of my peers, here are the effects that I have personally experienced due to a lack of sleep.  I should note that these effects came after long periods of insufficient sleep, not periods of no sleep (which tend to be shorter and force me to sleep afterward).  My all-nighters, even the ones that span over 48 hours just make me tired, and hungry.  The really interesting stuff starts when I've had less than 5 hours of sleep a night for a good week or so.

My first experience with the ill effects was at the end of high school, when I was a staffer for 4-H Camp over the summer.  We went to the bed an hour or so after the campers, and I generally woke up around sunrise.  At most I was getting 6 hours of sleep a night for six nights.  The tiredness became noticeable towards the end of the week; however, with so much going on, and being active all day, I was still alert.  Fatigue really hit me as I was driving home.  I was still lucid, but dog tired, and eventually started hallucinating.  Since the hallucinations were consistent, and I realized I was hallucinating, it wasn't a huge deal.  During this I thought that I was being followed by a large dark cloud the flickered around the edges of my vision, and once a woman was walking on the highway.  She was moving at walking speed away from me, and cars were driving through her, giving her a very surreal, ghostly aspect.  She didn't persist as long as the cloud (no more than 30 seconds to a minute) and I only hallucinated her once.  In contrast, the cloud lasted several minutes at a time, and reoccurred several times.  Stopping and walking around for a few minutes cleared my head for the remainder of the drive.

My freshman year of college I ended up suffering physical more than mental consequences.  My earliest classes were at 12pm and 2pm on alternating days; I would generally stay up to about 8am and then sleep till class.  This actually suited me really well, and was a fairly good quarter academically.  If I had a few more hours of sleep a night, I could have continued that indefinitely as I really enjoy working late at night.  As it was, I came up a few hours short a night for ten weeks or so, and when I went back home for the break I came down with a roaring case of mono.  While this can't be blamed entirely on lack of sleep, I feel that combined with my poor nutrition it weakened my immune system significantly.  Since then I haven't been physically ill, or at least not long enough to notice, but mono wiped me out for several weeks.

More recently, my class and work schedule have been such that I have to wake up between 6 and 7am Tuesday through Friday, 8am Monday, and 10am on Sunday.   I have determined empirically that this, plus the length of my days, is the worst schedule ever for my sleep.  On average I'm on campus till 6pm and do all my school work after dinner, which has resulted in a consistent bedtime of about 3am.  Being at school precludes my normal nap times, which does not help the situation.  As a result I was accumulating sleep dept that I was unable to recoup on the weekends.  This has led to an ongoing state of misery that is both interesting to study and terrible to live.  I have noticed that in classes maintaining and an active focus on the class is paramount even beyond that required to take notes.  Once my attention slips, or even a  secondary train of thought develops I am far more prone to falling asleep.  This was not too huge of a problem, as I could catch this, and prod myself into wakeful attentiveness again.  Sadly, I have been tired enough to go directly from being slightly distracted into full sleep, without feeling my eyes close or having a noticeable change in train of thought.  I only know that I'm asleep when my train of thought dies out in the dream, and I come to looking at my desk or with my eyes closed.  During a particularly bad series of these over the past week or so, I also lost color vision briefly several times.

The first time this happened, I didn't realize that I was losing my red vision.  I woke up, tried to focus, and my professor was a striking shade of green-yellow.  I fell asleep again shortly after that, and then realized that I couldn't see red, which accounted for the green tinge.  Further study, as these symptoms occurred repeatedly, has shown that this occurs mainly just after waking up, or when trying to remain awake.  The former is far more common then the latter, as it is increasingly hard for me to determine when I am falling asleep.

In addition to the more drastic effects listed above, I also need to eat more often, write more evocatively and tend to have fewer inhibitions when I am very tired. Thankfully, these effects are temporary, and are relived by getting more sleep.  However, getting more sleep is often easier said than done. 

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"I am Legend" Alternate Ending

The alternate ending for last December's sci-fi thriller, "I am Legend" was leaked online today. Based off the 1954 novel of the same title by Richard Matheson, the movie initially drew criticism for its departure from the book's message. Rather than addressing the conflict between the protagonist Robert Neville and the infected as a cultural divide, the movie handled it as a predator/prey relationship. There were hints of the infected developing their own society, and of having intelligence equivalent to humans in the movie, however this theme was very underdeveloped compared to the book. This omission changed the entire meaning of the story. Neville's realization in the book is that he had be become a legend in the culture of the infected, their equivalent of the bogyman; in the movie he is a legend among humans for finding the cure for the infection. Personally, I found this to be the largest disappointment in the movie. However, the leaked ending ties the hints at intelligence and society given earlier in the movie into the ending, bringing the story closer to the original. Now, for your viewing enjoyment, the alternate ending.

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The 30-minute Challenge

Every day, write a complete blog post in 30 minutes or less.

My goal with this is to again get myself writing and to do it faster.  I've found that many of the ideas I have for my blog end up becoming massive projects: as a result I'm killing myself with quite delightful research projects but not writing anything.  Hopefully this will make my blog more current, and keep my projects more limited in scope.

In other news, I need data on ships lost or damaged, and by what cause, between 1880-1910.  My understanding is that Lloyd's List would have the information I want, however, it is not in common circulation.  My only recourse seems to be traveling to England to use the sources myself, or finding some librarian who will duplicate several reams of microfilm for me.  I'll start working on that later this week; today I have a Lasar paper to work on.

--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Eye Makeup

First, a disclaimer. This is my personal opinion, and it likely contradicts the fashion industry's latest fashion. At least, I hope so, otherwise people are simply doing terrible things to their faces for no reason. If you don't like my advice, or you are in fashion and feel I'm wrong: I frankly don't care. Do what you will, just don't expect me to like it. Now on to the substance.

I have noticed a trend recently: women are wearing far too much crap around their eyes. When it was just high schoolers "rebelling" and wearing weird eye shadow and gobbing on mascara I really didn't care. Most high school trends die an early death of natural causes. For example, jellies. The exceptions tend to be terrible and irritating. Emos, Uggs and really lame outfits of all descriptions somehow managed to escape into the real world. Now I get to add another to that list: the overuse of eye makeup.

It seems that its a growing problem, as more and more public figures plaster their faces with enough eye liner, shadow and mascara to transform their eyes into black pits of despair. The New York Fashion Week Blog noted that, "one of fall's biggest breaking trends: gray eye shadow." As you can see, it makes what are likely fairly attractive women look like the living dead. This is unfortunate for two reasons. It highlights how god-awful makeup is in the wrong hands, and it makes people think that this looks good. In my opinion, it does not. For a simple case study, look at Eva Green. Most recently co-starring in the Bond film Casino Royale, she provides a good demonstration of how poor lighting and bad eye makeup can turn even a very pretty person ghoulish.

The worst it gets is in the casino scene. Ms. Green's character is tasked with standing around and looking good, something that she normally could pull off easily. Sadly, between the moody lighting and the heavy eyeshadow, she looks her worst in this portion of the film. On the other hand, when the film jumps to Venice, she is wearing far less makeup and looks excellent. See for yourself, watch the film.

*Authors Note; I wrote this awhile ago, so its getting posted a bit behind the curve. I feel that it is still relevant however, and hopefully will lead a few unfortunate fashion victims into the light, so to speak.

**Update**
Wired recently ran an article on an interesting fad in japan: excessive fake lashes. While I find the technical aspect very interesting, I can't really appreciate the aesthetics.
--
Robert Alverson

m*lambda=d*sine(theta)