Monday, 31 May 2010 at 14:46
Somehow, I doubt that they have been placed there solely to monitor the speed of people driving down route 7. It would be interesting to determine if they are hardwired into a network of some kind, or if they transmit their footage over radio.
Monday, 31 May 2010 at 14:37
Monday, 31 May 2010 at 14:32
That crab cake salad could easily make two or three meals. You have to love working in Maryland sometimes.
Monday, 31 May 2010 at 14:28
The toy panda bear is propping up one side of the microwave at HacDC
Monday, 31 May 2010 at 14:19
It is said that toy banana slugs
are a good test object for RepRaps
because they're moderately complex. Here is one of the nicer ones printed out at HacDC
Monday, 31 May 2010 at 14:10
Monday, 31 May 2010 at 14:05
Thursday, 27 May 2010 at 09:48
Late last week it was announced by the J. Craig Venter Institute
that they had created the first synthetic cell
, a variant of the bacterium mycoplasma mycoides
, which is the micro-organism that causes bovine contagious pleuropneumonia. The project cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $40mus, and involved a team of geneticists sitting down and writing an entire genome
of 1.1 million base pairs, using the much smaller genome of related species m.genitalium as a template
. Once the smaller genome was understood it then became possible to develop a brand-new one from scratch. The research team then figured out how to apply synthetic methyl groups
to the new DNA sequence so that the cellular mechanisms would accept the DNA rather than refuse to express the encoded genes. Blue Heron Bio
in Washington state was then subcontracted to mass produce the new DNA sequence. Once a sufficient volume of DNA had been synthesized the JCV Institute's research team set about replacing the DNA of a culture of m.mycoides with the new DNA, which then began to express itself normally. The culture of new bacteria has begun to grow normally, in accord with the usual mathematical models of bacterial population in vitro. The new germ line has been officially dubbed Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0, the new suffix ostensibly representing "J. Craig Venter Institute, synthetic lifeform version 1.0."
Interestingly, the synthetic DNA sequence has a couple of messages hidden in the code
to prove that the genome is, in fact, wholly artificial. Four messages
can be found in the DNA
: the method by which the text is encoded, a URL for people who figure out the code to go to, the names of 46 people who worked on this project, and a couple of historical quotations. Historically, the Institute has used codon encoding for watermarking and commenting, where codons
are triplets of base pairs which code for amino acids
, or the basic components of proteins. This time around they used a different system which encodes not only the alphabet but punctuation marks. Somehow I don't think they made it easy
to find the easter eggs, though I am going to give it a shot this weekend. I find it interesting that the genome they wrote makes it much more difficult for the organism to exist outside of the lab, namely, the pathogenic properties of the original organism are thought to have been removed, a dependence on a particular antibiotic has been added, and the organism is designed to require a specific growth medium to make it unable to survive outside of culture.
Saturday, 22 May 2010 at 23:31
It's been a really busy week or two so I haven't had time to write much. I realize that it's only common sense, but I still find it amusing that I have the least time to write about what's going on when the most is happening. Funny, how that happens. Anyway, once the opportunity presents itself I like sitting down to make an attempt at describing everything that's been happening. I've mostly been posting hit and run messages to Twitter
lately (like everybody else on the planet these days) because I can do that without looking up from everything else I'm doing. It's a little like the Morse code of the twenty-first century in that respect. Twitter, however, makes it difficult to write elsewhere because of how seductively easy it is to use. You don't have to put a whole lot of thought or effort into writing something 140 characters or less in size. It also makes it easy to sound profound when in fact you're just talking about what you had for breakfast.
Last Monday night and early Saturday afternoon I trekked out to HacDC
to work with a couple of folks on HacDC's entry
to the Hackerspaces In Space
competition this summer. We've been working on it for a couple of weeks but I haven't mentioned it because my day job (coupled with a couple of things at home) have prevented me from saying much about it. Suffice it to say that we've been putting it together module by module and are just now starting to think about integrating everything and building an airframe for the instrument package. For my part, I've been a) studying for my technician class ham license using the ARRL
textbook and trying to teach myself how to set up an APRS
receiver so I can track and receive status reports from the HacDC Spaceblimp (passively receiving signals doesn't require a ham license though transmitting does) when we finally do launch. It's easily one of the most difficult things that I've ever tried: I have a shortwave transceiver that I've used as a scanner for many years (an HTX-200 from Radio Shack
operating on two meters, if it matters) jacked into a Byonics TinyTrak4
bridging the world of shortwave to Windbringer but I've yet to actually pick up anything, even in promiscuous mode
. I've borrowed a pair of hand-helds from folks at HacDC but I've had limited success (read: I've figured out how to repair but haven't yet) with one of them and not tried the other due to its lack of a power supply.
At least I found out today that my J-pole antenna
works pretty well...
I'm not sure what's up with my RF gear, to be honest. The going hypothesis is that my HTX-200 has a blown circuit someplace (possibly in the receiver) which is why I can't pick up any traffic through the jack. If I plug my borrowed HTX-202
in it effectively jams whatever frequency I have tuned by turning on the transmitter and broadcasting static (though the owner tells me that this happens when the batteries are going flat). I also don't have the slightest idea yet how to use Xastir
, but that's another thing entirely.
It was also heartening to note that the RepRap we built last year
is now operational. While I was at the 'space on Monday we could hear it buzzing merrily away to itself in the back corner printing out banana slugs
, which is a sufficiently complex shape for a fabber to print that it serves as a good test. The sounds a RepRap makes when it's operating look neat (if you're a synaesthete, that is) - lots of forward loops of varying widths on the Y axis, kind of like amplitude modulation
if you could look at the waveform in 3D. I didn't see any problems with the extrusion of plastic because it's using a pinchwheel extruder rather than a screw-driven one and the detail it can generate is pretty good also. There are still a couple of bugs that have to be worked out but it seems well on its way toward becoming fully operational.
More under the cut...
Sunday, 16 May 2010 at 23:15
Game: Mage: the Ascension
Rote: Portal Gun (alternatively, Artifact ****)
Spheres: Correspondence ****
Tradition: Sons of Ether
Commonly used focus: Self explanatory
Effect: The Virtual Adepts came up with it but it took the Sons of Ether to make it practical. Nobody's quite sure if Valve only has Sleepers on staff or if there are a couple of VA's among their coders, but everyone agrees that having a device that can forge Correspondence portals in the blink of an eye is a handy thing, albeit horribly vulgar. While gamers eat this stuff up like cake using one of these badboys outside is a good way for a mage to garner lots of paradox fast.
Persistent rumors that technomagical artifacts which do not require a mage's arete to function circulate within the Traditions as well as the Technocratic Conventions, but it seems like everybody knows somebody who knows somebody who claims to have constructed one...
Mechanics: As a rote, three successes are required to construct a stable Correspondence portal between two points within the character's line of sight. Fewer successes result in portals that spontaneously collapse after a number of rounds equal to the number of successes rolled. The character can close the portals whenever the player chooses. Use the standard rules of whichever edition of Mage
you're playing to determine how much paradox the character accumulates.
Artifact: As the rote, only the you use the artifact's inherent arete of four dice to determine success. The Portal Gun artifact starts out with a quintessence pool of twelve; one unit of quintessence is consumed each time the gun is used (i.e., for every two firings, one for each end of the Correspondence gate). Additional units of quintessence may be burned by the character for extra grades of success. The gun accumulates quintessence according to the vulgar magic rules of whatever edition of Mage
you're playing. A paradox backlash means that the gun shorts out and must be repaired; whether or not active portals continue to exist is left to the whims of the Storyteller.
Saturday, 15 May 2010 at 18:47
If you're anything like me, at some point you started to run out of room for your dead-tree editions and started downloading e-books. While you no longer have the tactile experience of reading e-books you have to admit that having a fixed-sized device with which you can store hundreds upon thousands of texts makes life a lot easier, plus, not everyone can read comfortably on a laptop or desktop display. Enter Amazon's Kindle
, the darling of the e-book reader market which not only lets you buy e-books wirelessly (which can either tank your bank account or save your sanity while stuck in traffic) but also lets you highlight passages and attach notes to them. It takes a little getting used to this functionality, especially if you're like me and annotate
most every book you own to some extent with markers and pens. It should be mentioned, however, that a recent software update for the Kindle pushed out by Amazon causes your stored highlights to be sent back to Amazon for use by their "Popular Highlights" function
This means that if you then browse the entry for an e-book you've been marking up on your Kindle, you might just see something you denoted show up. You might not be able to identify it as yours per se but if enough people flag the same text chances are that will push it higher up the list. I just gave this a try on my Kindle by turning the wireless function on (I keep it off to conserve battery power), and while it's possible to browse your annotations by clicking on the "My Clippings" entry in your list of books (which is pretty cool, actually) thus far I haven't seen anything show up on Amazon.com, nor have I found a setting for opting out of this feature or even for backing up one's annotations. I haven't even found the "Popular Highlights" field of any book entries. While this doesn't mean that it's not there it is something worth keeping in mind if you're concerned about your privacy. You should also remember that the notes you take and the passages you mark off might be of interest to anyone who shows up on Amazon's doorstep with a handful of paper bearing a judge's signature because, after all, practically anything can be used against you with sufficient creative thought, and that those subpoenas can be issued just because someone got it in their head to go looking
, regardless of whether or not anything is actually going on.
Saturday, 15 May 2010 at 17:41
It's something not often mentioned in the news over here, but Iran's a rough place to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Iran is ruled by Sharia Law, in which homosexuality or bisexuality are explicitly illegal and punishable offenses. If you're caught you'll be lucky if they just throw you in jail; maybe you'll be tortured while you're in there. Repeat or 'unrepentant' offenders are executed
(note: that link's NSFW and probably triggering, view at your own risk). Period. There is an LGBT rights movement in Iran and has been for about twenty years now but it's largely underground due to the harsh punishments meted out for being a part of it
; Iran isn't exactly known for its love or expression of human rights. Unfortunately it's not easy to seek asylum in another country for being queer
Kiana Firouz is an LGBT activist in Iran who is outspoken and very active over there. She is also a filmmaker (documentaries and otherwise), an actress, and a lesbian. Much of her documentary work is about the plight of members of the LGBT community in her country of origin. Her documentary work has also brought her under surveillance and harassment by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, which caused her to flee to England to continue her work, namely, a movie called Cul de Sac
, which is based largely upon her experiences living in Iran. Unfortunately, when the trailer for the movie
hit Youtube (note: flagged as inappropriate for some users; requires you to log in to watch it, I recommend Bugmenot
but someone's spamming the youtube.com list with fake accounts so it may take you a while) the Iranian government began calling for her deportation back to Iran as a criminal. Firouz has requested asylum from the British government but her request was denied and she could be sent back at any time
. If deported to Iran she faces, in all probability, torture and execution by hanging.
The sad thing is that the news media largely seems to be taking a pass on this
so I ask you to spread the word as far and as fast as you can. Things don't look good. The group EveryOne
is calling for people to e-mail the British Home Office (public (dot) enquiries (at) homeoffice (dot) gsi (dot) gov (dot) uk) to plead for her to be declared a refugee and granted asylum. One of the responders to this article has given the snailmail address for the Minister and Secretary of State at the British Home Office, but unless you live in the EU it's doubtful that any handwritten correspondence will get there in time. Another responder has posted the article submission addresses of a number of major news outlets in an attempt to draw attention to Firouz's plight. If you want to contact them to try to get some more visibility, here they are:
- foreign (at) nytimes (dot) com
- news-tips (at) nytimes (dot) com
- evening (at) cbsnews (dot) com
- investigates (at) cbsnews (dot) com
- nbcnews (at) msnbc (dot) com
- mediainquiries (at) msnbc (dot) com
Let's make some noise.
Saturday, 08 May 2010 at 23:57
Saturday, 08 May 2010 at 22:31
Last Tuesday I scored a couple of tickets at work to reserve seats at the Maryland Science Center to watch Hubble 3D in their IMAX theatre
. Navigating rush hour traffic in Baltimore is actually much easier than the DC Beltway because the cars aren't nearly as densely packed, but if you don't know your way around already you're in for a rough time. At any rate, Lyssa and I got there in time to meet up with Kash, walk halfway around the building to find the front door (which faces the Baltimore waterfront) and head inside. We got our VIP bracelets and goofed off for a while in the kid's exhibits before heading down to the movie-dinner spread they had set out for us. Popcorn, cookies, hot dogs - about what you'd expect if you were at a real movie theatre. I passed on the whole shebang in favor of the cheese trays but their cookies were pretty good, I have to admit. Around 1900 EST5EDT they called us into the IMAX theatre to sit through a short presentation on the history of the Hubble Space Telescope
before the 3D movie began.
Hubble's had something of a checkered past; not long after it was launched and brought online it was discovered that the mirror which focuses light onto the cameras was warped, and thus distorted the images in subtle ways. Image processing hacks and eventually a hardware upgrade after almost three years of service were required to clear up the pictures. I have to be honest, I could not tell where the amazingly high resolution images from the HST ended and CG extrapolations began (if indeed any image synthesis was done for the purposes of the movie). The HST transmits something on the order of three or four petabytes
of data every day if I recall correctly, so it would not surprise me one iota if all of the astronomical imagery in the movie came from Hubble, with only the animations being added after the fact. Pictures of the Orion Nebula
that seemed to show the depths of the region and the stellar nursery
within astounded us, and the deep space field shots that went from the odd bright pinpoint of light to a veritable ocean of heavenly bodies radiating in all electromagnetic spectra made us realize just how much is really out there. If you look up at the night sky on the outskirts of DC you'll be fortunate to see a scant fraction of what's really out there. The number of confirmed galaxies that the Hubble has spotted is truly humbling (3000 and growing), and the estimated number given the evidence we have now?
It brought a tear to the eye, I don't mind telling you. Makes one a bit homesick, in fact.
The rest of the movie was made up of footage shot before and during three of the Space Shuttle missions involved: Hubble being placed into orbit by STS-31, a first round of repairs made by the crew of STS-61, and the final maintenance run by STS-125 almost a year ago. Astronauts training in a four story deep swimming pool to simulate microgravity. The shuttle launches themselves; mission control during the missions; spacewalk after spacewalk to replace and install components. The odd glitch in the mission when a retaining bar got stuck and had to be broken loose. Figuring out how to remove a panel which had never been designed to be removed during the mission... it's all there. It's inspiring to watch; that we're capable of such achievements gives me hope for the human race, that the species will eventually set aside its petty disagreements and traverse the gulfs of space that separate the stars.
I don't know what else I can really say about Hubble 3D
. Not a few of us, myself included, walked out of that theatre feeling choked up. If you get to see it in your area - Baltimore, New York City, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh - drop everything and go see this movie. It's amazing.
Afterward the three of us walked along the waterfront to a restaurant overlooking the water called Tir na Nog
. I'll write up a review of it later, but for now have some pictures
of the skyline at night
Saturday, 08 May 2010 at 22:21
While I don't have a writeup for it, here are the pictures
I took at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival
Saturday, 08 May 2010 at 22:13
At Whole Paycheque, no less.
Sunday, 02 May 2010 at 23:00
After dinner tonight, Mika and I somehow got off on the topic of libraries and books and our shared love of same.. around that time, Mika wondered out loud if I Hate Perfume
, her perfumery of choice, manufactured anything which smelled like books or libraries. While she checked I bounced over to my favorite supplier of decorative scents, Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs
to see if they had anything along those lines. On a lark because I haven't been to their site in a couple of months I hit the link for their limited edition catalogue and was shocked and amazed to find that they have a limited edition conspiracy theory themed collection
which will only be available until 29 May 2010. Being something of an afficionado of modern mythology
(which I have rants about that I've yet to get around to posting) I just about laughed myself sick before spending way too much money on BPAL.
The collection is called Black Helicopters
. You can't get imps, or samples of the scents from this collection by purchasing them or hoping to get lucky with the free samples you get with orders; you have to buy them in 5ml bottles for $20us each. I have no first-hand knowledge of what these scents are like right now but I have found that BPAL has always been top quality so I'm confident that these scents won't suck. Besides, if they do (or if they don't jive with your biochemistry, which happens to everyone sometimes, you can always sell or trade them
I'm sufficiently tickled by this that I've written a concordance on the folktales and urban legends which inspired these scents. If that's of interest, I've put it behind the cut.
More under the cut...
Saturday, 01 May 2010 at 20:58
Here is the photo album from the DC Robotfest
last weekend. Enjoy!
Saturday, 01 May 2010 at 17:54
Here are the pictures I took at the Faith and the Muse show
last weekend. Enjoy!
If you're curious about their music, check out some of their videos
Saturday, 01 May 2010 at 17:31
Last Friday evening brought with a second attempt at the Chaos in DC meetup
in Silver Spring, Maryland. I'd driven out there straight from work because I wound up leaving the office late, and when you factor in travel time it really wasn't a good idea to to do too much driving that night. In other words, there was no way I was going to drive two hours home through rush hour traffic on the DC Beltway, get there when the meetup began to pick up a few things and meet up with Jason, and then drive two hours back to Maryland. Mercifully, the Borders was pretty easy to find. The most difficult bit was finding somewhere to park in Silver Spring, but thankfully there was a public parking garage a few blocks uphill from the bookstore. I probably should have checked the time before depositing a couple of quarters in the meter (parking after 1900 in Silver Spring is free) but I'd rather have some extra time on the meter and not need it than be caught wanting. After a short hike down the hill I curled up in a corner near a power outlet with Windbringer and a cup of coffee to read until people started to arrive. Jason jandered in around 1950 that evening and after exchanging a few pleasantries we headed over to the table in the middle of the cafe' to grab a few chairs and get acquainted.
All told, the Chaos In DC meetup was well attended, with about fifteen people having come and gone by the end of the night. It's safe to say that there were nerds of the esoteric as far as the eye could see, and even a bit of overlap with other circles. A lot of well read people from a lot of different parts of the spectrum of experience came out that night, and it was a pleasure to spend time geeking out with them. I thought it interesting that plainclothes police were keeping an eye on us in the cafe' all evening - maybe it's SOP for the area on a Friday night. I don't hang out enough there to be able to say one way or another. We wound up calling it a night around 2300 that night and going our separate ways, just as Borders began closing down for the night. We split up and I hiked back to the parking garage I'd left the TARDIS at for the trip back. En route, I caught a late dinner at the Silver Diner on my way home to get a few hours of sleep.
More under the cut...