Saturday, 28 November 2009 at 16:18
About two weeks ago, Lyssa's orthopedic surgeon sawed away her latest fibreglass composite cast to replace it with a walking cast
, which is held on by a number of velcro straps, and thus removable. It also weighs much less than the composite ones that she'd been going through at a rate of one every two weeks (applied with increasingly acute angles at the ankle to gently stretch her surgically repaired achilles' tendon). It also simplifies bathing immensely in that the walking cast can be removed, which means that we don't have to tape garbage bags over her leg every morning.
Yesterday morning, Lyssa was able to stand upright in the shower, and she's regained a bit of mobility in her left foot. She was also able to shuffle for a few steps later in the day without the use of her crutches (though she was wearing the walking cast). She was a little sore this morning but isn't in any pain right now and seems to be doing pretty well.
Friday, 27 November 2009 at 14:10
Around midnight last night, Lyssa and I were on the road headed in the general direction of her parents' place in southern Pennsylvania. It's plain to see that there were no shortage of people who'd forsaken warmth and rest to invade the mall just outside of Carnegie, Pennsylvania the moment the stores opened for Black Friday '09. Witness:
The images are of rather low quality, which I apologize for. They were taken through the windscreen of the TARDIS late last night with the defogger running full blast. The highway running in the opposite direction was at an utter standstill with parked motor vehicles as far as the eye could see. We calculated that the line of cars waiting to enter the parking lot of Tanger Outlets stretched for three or four miles.
I hope you got some good deals, folks.
Thursday, 26 November 2009 at 21:20
As the title of this post so subtly implies, today is Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
I don't actually have a whole lot to write about right now. Lyssa and I left the DC metroplex last evening and arrived at her parents' place around 2300 EST5EDT. We got a couple of hours of sleep, enough to recuperate after the drive home. Surprisingly, the drive didn't agree very well with her injured foot. I think it had to do with the lack of elevation for her foot combined with the low temperatures (it's finally starting to get cold around here). Also, the narrow stairways of her parents' place (and the unevenly broad stairs of my parents' place) proved something of a challenge for her to navigate. Lyssa's parents once again made a king's feast for Thanksgiving (and even broke their vegan diet for the occasion), and after the turkey had been demolished, the stuffing inhaled, and awesome candied sweet potatoes reduced to a shadow of their former portions, Lyssa and I headed farther north to visit my folks, where I'm writing this update from.
I don't know what else to say. It's been a rough couple of weeks and my brain's pretty thoroughly scrambled. I'm glad to have a couple of days to relax for a change and thanks to the wonders of modern chemistry I've finally shaken the sinus infection that's tied up my immune system. Now I just need to get a good night's sleep or two, and I'll finally be worth a tinker's dam.
How about a few oddities to kill some time?
, everyone's favorite tech news site, recently ran a Photoshop contest for creative ways that Black Friday could go horribly wrong
. Zombies seem to figure in prominently this year. As for Lyssa and I, we're going to be hitting up Amazon tomorrow.
I wish I'd read this comic when I was in high school.
That's about all I have to say for now. Maybe after I get my head screwed on straight I'll have something interesting to write about.
Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 20:32
The argument over whether or not the global climate is getting warmer or cooler due to the actions of humanity has been going fast and hard ever since someone claimed back in the 1960's that average temperatures were getting cooler...
Did I say 'cooler'? I meant 'warmer'. Back when I was in high school (in the first half of the 1990's) and into today the concern was over whether or not the globe was getting warmer, and if you haven't been paying attention to the television this has been a campaign point in the last few presidential elections.
If that seems odd, it's because it is. The debate is, by and large, erudite and gets ugly as often as not. People who take a stand for one side are called denialists by the other (a word which has gotten a nasty connotation for reasons I can't go into without violating Godwin's Law
), and large volumes of data backing opinions are hurled back and forth in academic circles while ad hominem and straw man attacks take place a little closer to home.
Speaking of large volumes of data, all of that leads up to an article that leaped out at me yesterday - an e-mail server on the network of the University of East Anglia in the UK was cracked and 62 megabytes of correspondence between climate change researchers was leaked
, first on an FTP site in the Russian Confederation
and thence to the Web. This represents about a decade's worth of discussion between scientists working in the field of climate change research. It has been postulated that the messages which were released were those which could, out of context, be used to undermine the topic in the public eye. A few of the researchers have come forward and verified the e-mails as their own which only adds more fuel to the fire. Some bloggers have stepped up to quote specific passages to brace their arguments that climate change is a vastly overrated phenomenon
and that the collected data is being edited before publication to support one side or another.
For what it's worth, Wikileaks doesn't seem to have copies of this data
and the proliferation of articles on the web is making it difficult to find copies of the messages. One of them can be read here
and some of the others are reprinted in an article I linked to earlier. If you search around you'll probably find a couple of links to the archive, like this one
(note: this link could die at any time). They can also be found on BitTorrent trackers here
. If you do decide to download them, be careful - chances are someone'll get the bright idea to post look-alike .zip files which contain malware so don't run any executables you may find, make sure you're patched up, and scan everything.
Interestingly, a summit will be held in Copenhagen next month where world leaders will attempt to hammer out a treaty which would help limit the discharge of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. What effect this leaked information will have on the outcome remains to be seen.
Friday, 20 November 2009 at 13:12
It was announced on Monday that actor Edward Woodward died at home at the age of 79
. Woodward is probably best known for his role as police sergeant Neil Howie in the movie The Wicker Man
, though audiences in the United States are probably more familiar with the mid-80's television series The Equalizer
, and in the late 1990's as Alwyn in an episode of Crusade
alongside his son Peter. He was also a talented vocalist, and recorded a dozen solo albums throughout his lengthy and varied career. He is survived by his second wife Michele Dotrice and four children, Tim, Peter, Sarah, and Emily.
Friday, 20 November 2009 at 12:57
Dear American Civil Liberties Union
I understand that your programs are funded largely by donations from the public. While I won't discount what your hard work has done for everyone or my personal participation in several of same, you really need to stop being so pushy. Earlier this year you sent me a donation request that, upon cursory examination, looked for all the worlds to be an overdue bill notice strongly resembling my monthly automobile payment. In the past nine days one of your solicitors in the state of Texas (phone number 512-916-0420) has taken to calling me several times per day, usually at the worst possible times (such as when I'm in the bathroom, in a teleconference, or while behind the wheel).
I've been nice. I've been polite. Now knock it off. Five to seven calls per day, every day for over a week have ensured that I will not be donating any money to you for a minimum of six (6) months.
Friday, 20 November 2009 at 00:44
Earlier today, Lyssa and I arranged to reserve a couple of tables just behind the dance floor at The State Theatre
in Fairfax to have dinner and catch a double-header concert which we and the usual suspects been anxiously awaiting since October. Amanda Palmer
returned to NOVA, performing with and backed by the Nervous Cabaret
out of Brooklyn, New York. Lyssa and I arrived first, following a madcap search for parking which Lyssa could comfortably walk from and a few last-minute arrangements earlier today. A generous soul at the front of the line let Lyssa (who is still on crutches following the replacement of her fibreglass cast with a walking brace this morning) and I cut in front, and the staff of the State Theatre was kind enough to show us to our tables up front. Laurelinde, Mika, and Hasufin joined us later in the evening after everyone got off of work.
One thing I noticed about the State Theatre is that it's really difficult to take a good picture in there when the house lights are down. My camera, at least, kept trying to adapt to the lighting conditions but wasn't able to get any really good pictures. Strangely enough, my cellphone's camera took a few good shots because it just captured images without trying any fancy autofocus or face detection tricks.
The food at the State Theatre isn't bad, but it's nothing to write home about, either. It's also pretty cramped in there; I nearly spayed two people just trying to pull my wallet out to pay for something at the merchandise tables before the concert began. After paying and sitting back down with Lyssa the evening's festivities began with Amanda Palmer fielding questions by way of her net.presences on stage, as she is wont to do. You have to love the new generation of musical acts; they're not shy about interacting with their fans. The Q&A went on for the better part of an hour. I wasn't really paying attention to how long it ran as I was face-down in my chicken caesar salad wrap along with the rest of the table. The Nervous Cabaret took the stage first and put on a show with a big band feel, featuring trumpet and trombone in addition to electric and bass guitar, and acoustic drums. It isn't often that you hear contemporary music of that style, let alone done well with a catchy beat. After their set was over (they finished with a song called Mel Gibson
, evoking everything they love and loathe about American cinema) they left the stage to set up for AFP's appearance.
Amanda's set began with a New Orleans-style funeral procession performed by the Nervous Cabaret, who entered from the back of the Theatre. Around the same time that they reached the stage, Amanda appeared (I know not from where) and they began the set with Kiss Me
from Who Killed Amanda Palmer
, followed by a couple of classic Dresden Dolls songs. At the midway point, Amanda did a shorter Q&A with the audience for everyone who arrived late, and then picked up with some of her newer work. They did an awesome version of Guitar Hero
which seems to work well with brass instruments followed by Coin Operated Boy
, a cover of House of the Rising Sun
, and a classic Leonard Cohen song sung as a duet by Amanda and her father (which is something of a tradition whenever she's in the DC metroplex).
I'll get the pictues (such as they are) up soon.
More under the cut...
Friday, 13 November 2009 at 22:47
I've been wrestling with this post for weeks now because, at its heart, transhumanism isn't a simple set of beliefs, actions, or ideas. It encompasses many disciplines, from cybernetics to engineering to computer science to biology and many things in between. I say that not as a cop-out but because practically every discipline is covered in some way and informs the body of knowledge somehow. It is also a deeply personal philosophy, often attracting adherents who attempt to lead by example as well as participating in the research, development, and deployment of the technologies which originally inspired it (such as neurology, computer science, cybernetics, and medicine).
I've also been concerned about the repercussions of discussing certain sensitive topics which are integral to transhumanism but very much like a magnesium suppository introduced to a blowtorch elsewhere. Mostly I've been worried about things like genetic manipulation on a large scale (entire countries, entire nations) and curing certain diseases (or things that some people don't consider an affliction at all - for example, autism). These are hot button topics for various reasons and I have no desire to find myself roasted to a crisp across the Web. So, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I've decided to write this article with someone like myself in mind: thoughtful, curious, not prone to making snap decisions, willing to consider the drawbacks and potential hazards, and willing to not only listen to what someone has to say but also give them a chance to retract or clarify any stupid statements that they might make (especially in the event of a simple mistake).
There is also another topic which I've been wrestling with, which is that of accessibility of the advanced technologies postulated by transhumanism. Technology has never been evenly distributed and I strongly doubt that it ever will be. Even today, access to medical care around the world is hit or miss and whether or not you can pay for it is another thing entirely. Access to computers is better than it was when I was a child but there are many millions of people around the world who don't own a computer or have access to related technologies of some kind. If and when practical nanotechnology is developed, it will not be widespread until someone figures out how to get it down to street level for people to hack around with. The point I'm trying to make is that transhumanism would probably not be the Great Equalizer, where everyone's lives are suddenly made better, all problems are fixed, and everyone suddenly has access to everything they need. Chances are, an entirely new set of problems will be created, and it will take many years for equilibrium to be reached. I do think, however, that if the capability to make optimal use of the resources someone has available to them (organic material, feedstock, modifiable parts, data storage, what have you) hits street level, it will go a long way toward leveling the playing field.
At its heart, transhumanism is a philosophy in which science and technology can be intelligently used to advance the human condition beyond what it is now in a positive direction. The capabilities of the human body, while amazing could be extended beyond what even a Navy SEAL is capable of with sufficient re-engineering and prosthetic augmentation. Case in point: Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who was disqualified
from the 2008 Olympics
because his prosthetic racing legs, which are constructed out of carbon fibre composite and lightweight alloys were thought to give him an unfair advantage
over other runners. It should be noted that Pistorius lost his legs around the age of one and were not the result of elective modification. In fact, they may not have provided much of an advantage at all
as they were passive and not active prosthetics. The point I'm trying to make here is that if someone like Pistorius can achieve amazing things having never had normal legs, what would a relatively normal human being be capable of after augmentation? What new capabilities could be discovered?
More under the cut...
Wednesday, 04 November 2009 at 18:48
During my daily morning mainline injection of news on the Net this week, a couple of electronics projects caught my eye that I hadn't seen before. The first is a project from SparkFun Electronics that uses higher voltage than I'm used to working with - a Geiger counter kit with a USB interface
. The kit is constructed around the popular ATmega 168 microcontroller, which means that the basic Arduino development kit can be used to write code that pulls samples from the Geiger-Muller tube
(powered by a tiny high voltage power supply) and outputs numerical values over USB, where the 'counter shows up as your average, every day serial device. The nifty thing about this project is (other than the fact that you've just built a Geiger counter that is) is that the suggested tutorial project is the construction of a random number generator
that is seeded with background radiation. Truly random numbers
are pretty hard to come by in the field of cryptography, where they are primarily used in the generation of keying material. They're easy to generate poorly (i.e., not really random) and surprisingly difficult to do well. Case in point.
I've considered playing around with something like this for a while but stayed away from it largely because the high voltage power supplies give me the willies. I've been lit up accidentally a few times and, on the whole I never want to repeat the experience. I've also considered building an RNG like this one
to set up my own EGG project
but never quite got around to doing so. At any rate, this seems like fun and if any of the other things I mentioned appeal to you, you might want to consider investing an afternoon in building and playing with one - maybe you could test the output of it
and see how well it generates random numbers.
The other thing that jumped out at me seems like a something-for-nothing deal unless you understand the principle behind it - a radio transmitter powered by the user's voice
. The circuit is powered with an electrical current generated by speaking into the loudspeaker (wired up as a microphone) rather than a battery; remember, an electrical generator and an electric motor really aren't all that different in construction. Michael Rainey, who constructed El Silbo, clocked the RF output power of the prototype between 5 and 15 milliwatts and reports successful communication at a range of 100 miles. A later revision of the circuit uses a different microphone element and a solid-state amplifier, resulting in a peak output of 100 milliwatts. Most impressive!
Sunday, 01 November 2009 at 22:45
Sunday, 01 November 2009 at 22:40
Sunday, 01 November 2009 at 20:59
Let's try this again, without the "Oops, I just lost everything you wrote."
Another Samhain has come and gone, which means that we have yet another chance to make things turn out for the best. Lyssa is still recovering from surgery a couple of weeks ago
. Her cast was swapped out for a one-piece fitted fibreglass cast which means that her achilles tendon is healing up nicely. Neither of us had realized just how much energy repairing soft tissue damage takes out of you; Lyssa's able to move around in short bursts only so she's been spending most of her time at home. She's also been trying to shake whatever it is that's been going around lately. Maybe it's this year's variant of the flu, maybe it's H1N1, maybe it's just a really bad cold, but her immune system dropped the ball this time. Our evenings have been spent watching Babylon-5
on DVD and spending quality time with each other.
Now that things have calmed down somewhat at work I've been spending some time hoeing my own row, so to speak, namely, the three teeth that are going bad (an old filling on the top left, a molar on the top right, and my very first root canal
on the bottom left). My dental insurance is just about used up for the year which means that I have to figure out how to cover at least one major procedure before the common calendar flips over.
Neither of us dressed up this year. I made a half-hearted attempt with some of the more mind-bending cognitive hazards in my closet at work, which if nothing else helped me feel better. After seeing some of the costumes that people put together this year (like this amazing piece of work
) I've gotten it into my head to try rebuilding an old favorite of mine for next year, a Vorlon encounter suit
. The way I figure it, I could mount some speakers in strategic places and use my Asus EeePC
and a microphone to provide near-realtime sound effects. This time, without the coughing up of blood
(If you use plaster for anything, for pity's sake clean up properly
when you're done!)
On Saturday afternoon, Lyssa and I got up somewhen around noon (I guess we really needed the ten hours of sleep), and after attending to a couple of errands we set course for the House of Leaves to spend Samhain with Laurelinde, Nick, Bronwyn, Cate, and a couple of guests. Jose', Mers, and Dave (some of their gaming buddies) joined us last night, and we wound up spending the entire night playing Arkham Horror
, a board game based upon the C'thul'hu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft and the tabletop RPG Call of C'thul'hu
. Dave brought so many expansions with him that we completely covered the gaming table plus an auxiliary table at the far end, which meant that we finally packed it in around.. 0100 EST5EDT this morning, unless I miss my guess. The Mythos aside, it's an interesting board game in that you really can't win unless you play cooperatively; all of the investigators have to work together to fight eldritch horrors, close gates, and collect clues because they have a snowball's chance in a blast furnace of defeating the Great Old One
that awakens at the end of the game if they don't meet their victory condition.
By the way, I'd just like to say to the grocery stores that it's really poor form to start pulling the Halloween stuff from the shelves the morning of 31 October to replace it all with Christmas stuff. Thanksgiving isn't even here yet, people. At least give the kids a chance to go around for trick-or-treat before you get rid of it all.
I'd also like to say that the HP Lovecraft Historical Society
's silent film adaptation of The Call of C'thul'hu
is made of awesome and win, and all afficionados of the Mythos need to see it at least once. It's excellent.
We woke up this morning to breakfast courtesy of Nick, football on television, and shaking out the cobwebs from a night spent gaming. I headed for home early this afternoon to take care of a couple of chores because I was originally intending to go to HacDC
this afternoon to hang out with some synthesizer hackers, but after checking my e-mail I found that the get-together at the 'space had been canceled. Thus, the afternoon was spent catching up on a few things and experimenting with XBMC
on my "I can't believe it's still not a media machine!" I think I'm going to have to sit down with Jason (who originally assembled our home entertainment center) and figure out what I'm doing wrong. It might be as simple as requiring a different audio cable and plugging it into something other than the back of the television, I'm not sure.