hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Jan. 27th, 2012 09:12 am)
When my grandparents were children, centuries of war in Europe culminated in the "War To End All Wars." Less than a decade before my parents were born, the Second World War ended when the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, killing thousands of civilians and poisoning the land for millennia to come. When I was growing up, the US and Russia were locked in a Cold War that threatened to destroy all life on Earth when the slightest misstep upset the delicate balance between the "super powers."

A few years before my oldest niece was born, the US, Russia, the European Union, and Japan came together in an unprecedented show of cooperation to build the International Space Station.

It still amazes me, for so many reasons. The bitter enemies of the past three generations (and more) working together to build something in the space above us all dedicated to peaceful cooperation and scientific research and advancement. It's the largest manmade structure in space, and if you know where and when to look you can see it fly through the night sky, bright as a star, with your naked eye.

Just stop for a minute and think about all that. It's awe-inspiring.

On to politics:

The ISS is the size a football field, took nearly 13 years to complete (begun in 1998, the last module was added just last year), houses a regular crew of 6, orbits Earth at less than 400km, and requires food and other supplies to be shipped up every few months.

Newt Gingrich wants to build a colony on the Moon in less than 8 years, housing thousands of people, without international help. The Moon's orbit is closer to 400,000km above us. A thousand times further than the ISS.That makes it far more difficult and far more expensive to send anything there (whether it be construction modules, people, or supplies).

Also, Gingrich wants it to be a purely American colony. Forget the huge step forward in peaceful international relations and scientific cooperation. Forget that we agreed that Antarctica (never mind the Moon) should be beyond the claims and petty rivalries of any country. We're going to make the Moon part of America. Screw everyone else, we're America and we're awesome and we're going to do it ourselves and claim the entire Moon as ours.

Think about that.

Okay, politics over. Here's NASA's page about the ISS. http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

It's got all sorts of stuff. Live video from the station, videos of cool and important things that happened on the station, scientific research, an animation of how the station was assembled, and much more.
A while back, I posted my thoughts about political ads on TV, specifically that we would be better off as a country if we didn't have them.

Recently, the White House launched a new tool called We The People. Any citizen (or at least anyone willing to provide a name, email address, and zip code) can register and create and sign petitions. If a petition gets 150 signatures, it becomes visible on the site (before that, it's available by direct link only). If it gets at least 5000 signatures, it will be officially reviewed and considered by the White House staff. If it doesn't hit that target within a month, it gets closed.

It's a good way to get people engaged, and for the White House to get feedback and ideas.

I think you can see where this is going. I created a petition to ban political ads on TV. Doing so would take a lot of the money back out of politics, would get a lot of divisive misinformation off our airwaves, and would help level the playing field which currently gives a huge megaphone to corporations and special interests. It would make speech more free, not less.

Please consider it. If you like it, sign it and pass the word.
The Nantucket Gazette was a newspaper that existed in the 19th century. This year, someone decided to start it up again. Sort of. It's a free paper with one edition per year. The middle is the usual stuff you'd find in a free paper in tourist season: maps and an events calendar. The first and last few pages, however, are clippings from the original paper. Ads, silly columns, news stories, and other random things the current publishers thought would be interesting.

Someone offered a reward for any part of the piano lost at sea during a recent shipwreck. The paper advises, with great sagacity, a cure for cholera which, if you follow the instructions gives you... plain chicken broth. There's notice of people going around as living traveling exhibits - albinos from Europe touring the US and Native Americans touring Europe. Someone wants to sell a four year old cow "of the finest recommendations." Others are looking for an apprentice or a boy to work in the house. A listing of numbers from Paris claims there were 22,612 births, 8,976 of which were illegitimate. There's the story of a man in Berlin who died of starvation, was estranged from his brother (his only family) because he wouldn't pay for postage to mail him a letter, spent his evenings begging on the street... and was found to have 20,000 crown coins under his floorboards.

The one I found most interesting, however, is this:


The Washington Papers contain a discussion of the Drawing Rooms at the President's house. It appears that Mrs. Munroe has adopted a new arrangement in this business. Mrs. Madison was in the habit of returning all requests of visits of her company. With the great increase to the population of the city Mrs. Munroe cannot follow in the example of her predecessor. She has, therefore, very properly caused it to be announced that she cannot return calls made upon her.

The following arrangements have been arranged at the President's House:

Mrs. Munroe is at home in the morning to receive all those calls the Ladies of the District or strangers.

The President receives, the Head of Departments and Members of Congress &c. at all hours of the day, and strangers and citizens between one and two.

In these receptions there will be no display of unnecessary ceremony or etiquette but everything to prove that the attentions of their fellow citizens are grateful to their feelings and unostentatiously desired.

Nantucket December 27th 1817

So anyone could just wander over to the White House at the appointed time and drop in to chat with the President or First Lady. No formality. Just tell the President what's on your mind, have a little talk in the Drawing Room, and wander off about your day.

This a mere 5 years after the War of 1812 (not to be confused with Napoleon's invasion of Russia, in commemoration of which the cannon-blasting 1812 Overture was written), wherein (in 1814) the British sacked Washington, DC and torched everything, including the White House and the Capitol Building.

Hard to imagine, especially if you've ever waited in line and gone through security for a tour of the public areas of the modern White House.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Jun. 16th, 2011 03:09 am)
So, here's an odd one...

Every year, New York City rounds up hundreds of geese in the name of airline safety. They're humanely killed and then disposed of. People have been saying that, hey, as long as you're going to kill them, you might as well use them to feed people. There was a similar push a few towns over from us, where the annual influx of migrating geese is considered a major nuisance. In both places, the response was more or less the same: safety issues. The geese are wild, not farm-raised, and individually certifying that each one is safe for human consumption is kind of a problem. This year, however, it seems NYC has come up with a solution.

The solution? Drive them to Pennsylvania, where, apparently, they actually do have an established system to do it. Why can PA do it, and not NY or NJ? I don't know. Overcaution? Bureaucracy? Laziness? Or is it that PA is just more relaxed when it comes to food safety? Well, whatever the case, the birds will go into the stomachs of PA's hungry, and not the engines of NY's airplanes. And the federal government will take care of the interstate transport, since that's apparently covered under the city's contract with the Department of Agriculture. So, provided no one picks up any major diseases, parasites, or what have you... everyone's happy. Except the vegetarians and animal rights activists.

As long as I'm writing, a couple of other quick, random links plucked from my Twitter stream:

Darth Vader has a really inflated ego.

Hoverbike! The comparison to the Star Wars speeder bikes seems rather thin, and, really, it looks like an oversized version of one of those remote-controlled drones (I'm pretty sure at some point there was a two-rotor version of this thing), and I doubt I'd ever ride one, but still... Cool!

Also, linked off that article: That "jetpack" (really more of an odd one-person helicopter) sort of works outdoors now. (The demo version last year had to be kept inside the hangar because even a light breeze made it dangerously uncontrollable.)
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Mar. 9th, 2011 02:00 am)
New vlog entry! (Hopefully, after all the issues I had today with cameras and multiple video format conversions, it's actually watchable. Sorry about the lighting. And the camera positioning. Best I could manage at the time, and there are things going on with the family this week so I didn't want to fuss around too much.)

Video under the cut )
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Mar. 20th, 2010 02:06 pm)
1. We have a water filtration system in the house. A small one that covers two taps and the ice maker. Due to the aforementioned water contamination, the filtered reservoir had to be emptied and disinfected. But when I unscrewed the valve at the top of the tank, it broke, making a bit of a mess. Got that taken care of, drained the tank, cleaned it, called the company. A rather unhelpful woman eventually told me I could buy a new one at the local hardware store.

At first, the guy told me that they didn't have one the right size. But then another guy suggested an adapter. Get the right size valve for the tubing, then get an adapter to connect it to the tank. Fine. But he pointed out that it had to be a tight seal. Suggested I put some teflon tape on the threads to help with that. When I did so, even with a single thin layer, the fit became really tight. Had to get two wrenches and use all my strength to get them to fit together. Fine. Went to put it on the tank, and again... tight fit. Got it on, though. About halfway, anyway. That's when the threaded plastic at the top of the tank snapped off. So now we've got to replace the whole thing, and everything I did was wasted. Yay.

2. Rested up from that, took the dog to the park. He's really well behaved under just about any circumstances, but when he sees another dog, he just goes out of his head. Has go to run over and meet it. Barks his head off along the way. Pulls hard enough to cause my joints to become really unhappy with me. And then once he gets to the other dog, he usually settles down, sniffs it a few times, and then goes up to the owner to demand some love.

We were walking along and someone walked by behind us on an intersecting path. His dog saw mine and started barking. Mine started to go nuts. The retractable leash locked up. And that's precisely when my cell phone started ringing.

It was a friend I've been trying to get in touch with for a while now. Been hoping to find some to get together, hang out, maybe even have a serious discussion. But she was away on vacation. And then swamped with backlog when she got back. And now she called with barely any time to tell me that she's covering for a sick colleague and won't have a minute to spare until at least June.

3. Just watched this week's ep of Caprica. Man, that was seriously messed up. I've been enjoying the show, but I'm not sure I can keep watching if they're going to be that twisted. And here I was saying it lacked the intensity of BSG. Frak.

4. I get together on Skype with some old college friends Saturday nights. Missed last week because people were busy (and, as it turns out, we lost our internet that day). Today, everyone else is available, but my sleep schedule hasn't moved around enough. Bedtime will be... about one hour before game time.

... So much for a bright, sunny, warm Saturday.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Mar. 4th, 2010 07:47 pm)
In no particular order...

1. Was in the shower earlier this week* when I noticed something odd. Some soap bubbles had gathered on the back wall of the shower (as soap bubbles are wont to do). The odd thing was that they were in a familiar shape. Hebrew letters. Four of them, relatively well formed and in a line. Turns out they even spelled a word. Kinda cool, kinda freaky. Less so, however, when that word happens to mean "the board." (Which can refer to a wooden board, chalkboard, calendar, or several other things along that line.) There was possibly another word underneath it, but it was too faded by the time I noticed it. Wonder what it means.

*Yes, I've showered since then, but that's not important right now.

2. Have you heard of The Coffee Party? It's kind of a reaction to The Tea Party movement (which encompasses a number of organizations, not all of which get along with each other). But kind of not. Actually, it's still figuring out what it is, really. Mostly, it's supposed to be a place where everyone can come together and have a civil political conversation without all the anger and polarization that have taken root in our culture these days. But it's also a reaction to the far-right Tea Party, and, as such, seems to be attracting far more liberals than conservatives so far.

Thing is that both the Democrats and Republicans have been purging their ranks of moderates, choosing to focus more on core values. There is something to be said for dropping people who are ostensibly included in the party but not helping to move the agenda along (or actually actively hurting it). But there's also something to be said for having a big tent and more constituents.

And if both sides are getting rid of moderates as everyone becomes more polarized... those who actually are centrists will be squeezed out entirely. Furthermore, the government becomes even more broken as Congress loses the people who are willing to work across party lines to actually get things done. (As you can see from the current Republican caucus, which seems to be devoted entirely to obstructionism, name calling, outright lying, rank hypocrisy, and generally doing whatever it takes to destroy anything the Democrats want even if it would actually be good for the country.)

So I hope the Coffee Party movement actually solidifies into something that can bring us back together.

And I'm wondering if all of this will mean that we'll actually have a viable third party picking up the centrists squeezed out from both sides.

3. [personal profile] zorkian pointed out this journal, which points out that LJ silently introduced a bit of code that was rewriting affiliate links. So if you posted a link to Amazon that would get you a small commission for the sale, LJ would quietly edit it so that someone else (presumably tied to LJ) got the money instead. The code has since been taken back down (with LJ making vague claims that it wasn't working as intended or something), but this isn't the first time they've tried to just quietly get away with something (and then, when caught, pretend that no, no, they didn't mean that at all).

In a related story, I still have a good number of DW invite codes. You can automatically crosspost to LJ. And soon you'll have the option to read entries from your LJ flist on your DW reading page. All sorts of other neat things, too. Oh, and [community profile] scans_daily is on DW now, too. Just sayin'.

4. Start with a simple steam engine. The sort of thing that's been around since the early 18th century. A heat source sets a pot of water to boiling. The pressure of the steam drives it through a pipe to a turbine. It spins the turbine, which basically converts the heat energy into mechanical energy. The steam condenses back into water, which is returned to the boiler to start the cycle again.

That gives you a rotating axle, which can be used to power just about anything. You can attach it to a lathe, which can make pipes and screws and all sorts of parts and tools. You can use it to drive a hammer or a grinding stone. You can attach it to a paddle wheel and move a boat. You can put a gear on it and use it as a motor to drive a train or a car or whatever you want.

Or you could hook it up to an AC generator. Spin a wire between two magnets (or spin the magnets around the wire), and you can generate electric current. It really is that simple. You can build one at home if you want.

So we've got a pot of water that boils. The steam drives a turbine which spins a wire and that generates electric current.

How simple is that? And yet, it's how we get the vast bulk of the electricity that powers our modern world. The only difference is that we've scaled it up to the size of a large building. And we've swapped out the heat source. Some places, we still use coal, it's true. Others, it's oil. In many places, though, it's something else - a nuclear reactor.

So what's a nuclear reactor?

Start out with a rod of plutonium or uranium. Elements with large atoms. Large enough that they're unstable. The protons in the nucleus repel each other, and with so many of them packed in, it doesn't take much for some of them to start flying off. Which is why those elements are radioactive.

Now, shoot a stream of protons at the rod. There's a lot of empty space between the atoms that make up the rod, and the atoms are all moving around within the rod, but they're also reasonably large targets and there are a lot of them. Eventually, you'll hit an atom. A glancing blow will knock off a few stray protons. A direct hit can cause the whole thing to come apart in chunks. Either way, you've sent a number of particles flying off, and some of those will hit other atoms, which will send off more particles, and so on, in a chain reaction.

The thing is that each time that happens, a tiny bit of mass is lost. Every time an atom is blown apart, the sum of the pieces will be slightly smaller than the mass of the original atom. What happened to that little bit of mass? Well, according to the theory of special relativity, mass is just supercondensed energy. E = MC2. Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. So the teeny fraction of an atom's mass lost in the fission reaction is converted into a much bigger quantity of energy.

That energy is used to... boil water. Unfortunately, the steam carries with it radioactive particles. So instead of just using the steam from the reactor directly, it's used to heat another tank of water, and the steam from that is used to drive the turbine that powers the generator.

Of course, the reactor doesn't use just one rod. There's a whole grid of them. And in between the rods are more rods, these made of carbon. The carbon rods can absorb some of the particles flying around, keeping the reaction under control (which is why they're called control rods). Basically, they act as the brakes.

So, first off... A nuclear power plant is a really simple steam engine driven by a fancy heat source. Which kind of blows my mind whenever I stop to think about it.

The other thing, though, is that it's incredibly inefficient.A modern high-efficiency coal power plant is lucky to have 50% efficiency - that is, half the energy released from burning the coal is ultimately converted into electricity. The rest is wasted. Lost to friction, to cycling the water, to waste heat. And that's considered really efficient. A nuclear plant is even less so. You blow apart a huge atom. A very small portion of that gets converted into energy. And even that has the brakes put on it because of the control rods. That energy is used for the relatively inefficient task of boiling water. Which is used to boil more water. Which is used to drive a turbine. There's a huge chunk of energy lost at each step. The only reason it works at all is that the multiplication factor of the speed of light squared is literally astronomical.

Not only that, but in the end you're left with the spent fuel rods - which are still highly radioactive. Still composed of large atoms just waiting to fall apart.

And yet, at the beginning of the 21st century, this is pretty much the height of power-generating technology. A steam engine driven by an almost criminally wasteful boiler. You'd think we'd have figured out a better way by now. There's got to be one.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Feb. 18th, 2010 10:34 am)
Just took a trip to the library. The parking lot was full. I mean every space, with a few cars circling. Which is cool in a way (it being for the library and all), but not very convenient.

But! I remembered that the library is actually part of the town's civic center. It's a complex of buildings with the senior center, a courthouse, the town clerk's office, a little park, etc. There's another parking lot on the far side of the complex. It'd mean walking around the senior center, but it's not too far.

I'm halfway through taking a left turn out of the parking lot when a huge SUV comes whipping around the corner, going 10mph over the limit if not more. It's barely above freezing on a relatively low-traffic street (the main road is in the other direction), so the road could well have been icy. (Should also mention that across the street from the civic center is a housing development, which means it's also a residential street.) Snow banks take up slices of both our lanes. His side of the road is parked up, and the last space is taken up by a school bus, which simultaneously obstructs part of his view around the corner and forces him to take the turn a bit wide.

It wasn't quite a nail-biter. I had time to finish the turn with at least a couple of seconds to spare. But there are so many "could have"s it's not even funny.

The kicker? It was a police car. (No siren or anything, either.)

If I could have gotten him to pull over, I think I might well have given him a little talk.

Reminds me of a time some years back, when I was driving home from Boston. I was the one speeding that time, I'll grant. Big open highway, three lanes on either side, and pretty much no traffic to speak of. So I was zooming along in the middle lane. Cop pulls up behind me and starts tailgating me. If I'd panicked and hit the brakes, we would have collided, no question. So I pulled into the left lane first and then tapped on the brakes, so I could coast down to a more acceptable speed. Cop switches lanes and then starts tailgating me again. I switch back to the middle lane as I get down to the proper speed. Cop shadows me for a bit, to make sure, and then... hits the gas, zooms off faster than I'd been going before, cuts across all three lanes, barely makes the next exit, and speeds off down the ramp without slowing. Dude, WTH?

Police officers are supposed to be examples of how to behave. I mean, sure. They get extra training on how to drive in high-speed emergency situations and such. And they get the badge of authority which is only going to make you feel cool and powerful. No question it's a high-stress job, either. I can understand that pushing you to drive more aggressively. But that's over the line, I think. I seriously contemplated calling the cops to complain that time. (Except I was out of my home state, I had been speeding, and I didn't think it'd do much good.)

So instead I'll just complain about it on my blog.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Jan. 27th, 2010 03:01 am)
There are a good number of hair salons in and around my town. Among the ones I pass more often are:

1. Sweeny Todd Hair (I kid you not, and it's billed as a "Family Hair Salon.")

2. Flash For Hair (which now shares the building with "Wags To Riches" pet grooming)

3. Hair Flair (whose sign consists of the name and phone number of the place in plain black type with absolutely no adornment... and basically zero flair)

4. Liquid Hair Salon (in case you wanted your hair liquefied? Their website is impressive. Trendy and stylish to an almost scary degree for a salon located on a highway in the suburbs. For all that, they could really use a copy editor.)

Almost makes me glad to be bald.

In other news, I decided to go ahead with the smile card experiment, redesigned based on [personal profile] synecdochic's suggestions. I think it could be cool. So I got a pack of business card stock, designed the cards (front and back), did a couple of test prints (on the cheap paper provided for the purpose), fixed the margins, put in the real thing, hit print, and... ink ran out. Went to get more ink, and... printer died. Dead. As in "you'll have to replace the motherboard" dead. Just like that, after three years of solid performance. Think the universe is trying to tell me something?

So we're getting a new printer. Same line, new model. Canon, it turns out, has a "loyalty program." If your printer or whatever dies, they'll give you 10-20% off a new one (from a small pool of new and refurbished models) and free overnight shipping. They've also got a good support team, with a call center that's actually based in the US. But... they also recently came out with a new new model in the same line. Some small improvements. Nothing major, as far as I can tell. Which means that stores are trying to get rid of their leftover stock of the previous model. So I got one of those for half off (with free shipping - standard shipping, too, thanks to Amazon's current promotion). Should be here in a couple of days.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Dec. 30th, 2009 02:31 pm)
Since the previous entry, I got a response to my email to Aetna, which said they couldn't help me but I should try calling the sales department (at the 6th or possibly 7th toll-free number). Everyone else said the sales department couldn't help me, but everyone else has lied to me and been so unhelpful I'm wondering if it's deliberate. Tried calling the sales department, but after being on hold forever I finally gave up and took the "leave a voicemail and we'll call you back" option. Also spoke to someone at the call center who said she'd fax a package out. It'd go into the queue and be faxed that night or sometime the next morning.

By 2pm, I hadn't gotten a call back from sales and no fax had arrived. Big surprise.

Called the sales department. Was on hold for only a few seconds before someone picked up. Answered my questions quickly and helpfully. Seems I have to send in a new application if I want to switch the plan, even though I'm just changing the deductible (he double-checked with the billing department for me, which took an almost suspiciously short time). I can send the application in at any time, and the change will take effect within about 2 weeks (on the 1st or 15th of the month). Unfortunately, there are no HSA-compatible plans offered for individuals in NJ. Which I'd been coming to suspect, but was still disappointing. The HSA itself wouldn't have done much for me, as far as I can tell, but an HSA-compatible plan would have given me better prescription coverage (which is probably one of the reasons they don't offer it). Ah well.

(Of course, he said he was going to email me the link to the application, and that has yet to arrive in the time I've been typing this. It may come soon. Or he may have mistyped the address. I know I was losing focus to sleep fog as we were going over the address and I did correct one letter. But I can probably get the application link myself. Or call back. And I may have to recrunch the numbers anyway, to take into account the prescription costs.)

But... wow. Someone helpful. With actual answers. I'm almost wondering if I should believe him. (Amazing, isn't it, how much more helpful the sales department is than member services?)
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Dec. 29th, 2009 12:33 pm)
My health insurance plan is ridiculously expensive. (And I realize I'm far from alone in that.) Looking at the published rates, I realized that I could save about $1k/year if I stayed with my current plan but raised the deductible. A small note in the NJ state insurance FAQs leads me to believe that doing so (if I got an official qualified High Deductible Health Plan) would greatly improve my prescription coverage, as well. (Doing so would also qualify me for a tax-deductible Health Savings Account, which may or may not be a good thing.)

So I decided to call Aetna and see what I could do. First called in early December. Open Enrollment is usually in November, with changes taking effect at the beginning of the year. I was a little worried that it was too late. The representative said that the annual rate change letter should have been sent out that week, and should be arriving shortly... and that I should call back when I had it. (Even though, in my experience, the information contained therein is generally no different than the published info available from the state website.)

I waited. No letter came.

Called last night, hoping that it wasn't too close to the end of the year. But it was late by the time I got around to doing so. I finally got through to a representative, who told me that I needed to speak to someone in another department and that I should hold on while the call was transferred. Was on hold for several minutes before the rep got back to me and said that the people in the other department had left for the day at 5pm (it was 5:02 by then).

Today, I called the direct number I'd been given, but it gave me the same exact prompts as the main number. And I was once again told that I'd have to speak to someone at another department. Got through, but that person couldn't help me, either. Transferred me over to someone else...

You get the picture. I've now got a collection of 5 toll-free numbers and have spent at least an hour on hold. The little information I've been given ("there are no higher deductible plans available," "you can't make changes to your plan until June," "the rate change letter wasn't sent out because we're not changing our rates this year...") has pretty much all been false. And no one has been able to help me directly. They all have to put me on hold to talk to someone else and I'm not allowed to call the other people directly. I have to go through the call center. The last person I spoke to (after being transferred yet again) gave me more false information and then said that she was just filling in; the people who could actually help me were all out to lunch (no comment). Supposedly, once they get back from lunch (45 mins from when we spoke... which would be now-ish), they'll be there until 9pm. (But I'm sure the people they have to talk to will be gone by 5pm, by which they mean 4:30ish.)

One of them did say that she would have a packet mailed out with enrollment options and information, but had no idea if it would arrive in time, or even what "in time" was. And, of course, no access to the actual information which will supposedly be in the packet.

This is an even bigger run-around than I usually get from the claims department. I didn't expect to get it from the sales department. (Though I wonder if I'd be getting the same thing if I was looking to move my plan in the other direction...) I don't think I had nearly this much trouble last time I changed my plan, but that was a year or two ago.

I tried emailing customer service. We'll see what happens. And I'll give the call center another crack shortly, though I don't expect much at this point. Yay for Florida vacation, huh? But I want to get things settled before the deadline. Whatever the deadline is.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Dec. 20th, 2009 02:15 pm)
I've missed snow. I've said it more than a few times in the last several years. But today started to make up for that. We got about a foot here, all told. Spent some time out in the yard throwing snowballs to the dog.

My last dog never quite got what snowballs were. She'd bounce around, demanding that I make one. Then she'd bounce around until I threw it. Then she'd chase it down, bounding through the snow. And then search around, all confused about where the ball went. She'd sniff around, dig into the snow, search high and low. Eventually, she'd give up and wander back. And then demand that I make another snowball for her to chase. Poor fluffhead. But at least she had fun.

Her successor understands just fine. For him, it's perfect. He can run after it, chase it down, eat it, play in the snow, and not have to bring anything back. So I threw one after another, and it was a lot of fun. And then he took a moment to relax:

Dog in snow

(Click the picture for a larger version.)

And now... warm soup!
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Nov. 23rd, 2009 11:07 am)
1. Feeling pretty jetlagged. Circumstances this past weekend really messed with my sleep schedule.

2. Should also mention that I'll have spotty internet access for the next week or so.

3. From Twitter: Spacewalker Bobby Satcher just said, "...give a shout out to the Twitterverse."

From the universe to the Twitterverse. Silly Dr. Satcher. Doesn't he know that in space, no one can hear you tweet? I guess he just doesn't appreciate the microgravity of the situation.

Still... it's kinda cool. But also oddly scary.

4. Found a couple of interesting items in SkyMall.

The "Body Figure Enhancing Pads" caught my eye first. Diet until you look more like a sick figure than a healthy human being, but don't worry, we can fix that! Just slip these pads into your jeans and it'll look like you actually still have curves and a butt! All the fun of padding your bra, but upside-down! (Just don't try to sit down...)

Also, for you Yankee fans:

For only $799, you can buy a seat from the original Yankee Stadium!

Better yet, you can get two for $1499!

If that's out of your price range... never fear!

$99 will buy you an authentic chunk of freeze dried Yankee Stadium grass! But wait! Only $21 more, and you can get a square foot of Yankee Stadium sod! Better yet, $280 gets you four square feet! It even comes with a free bag of Yankees grass seed, which would otherwise cost $25. (And stoners thought their grass was expensive...)

Other items of interest:

Truck Antlers! They go in the windows to make your truck look like a deer! How precious. And hiliarious. BTW, you can't close your windows all the way because the antlers are there, so you'll probably get that annoying whistling sound at highway speed. And if you open the window, the antlers will fall out. Possibly causing an accident in the next lane over.

Windmill for your cell phone! Yes, now you can make use of all that hot air. This backup battery for your favorite portable electronics not only has a solar panel (like several others on the market), but also a small wind turbine. Just stand around holding this giant battery up in what is hopefully a decent breeze and, eventually, (probably after a few hours on a good day), it will recharge. Yay for green power!

Telekinetic Obstacle Course. The headband reads your brainwaves, and, based on theta wave activity, adjusts the power to a fan which holds a ball aloft. Focus, and you can get the ball to go up and down. Use a knob (so much for TK) to rotate the board, allowing you to maneuver the ball past one of nine interchangeable obstacles. Wow.

But I saved the best for last:

Underwater Cell Phone System

Now, not even the depths of the ocean can keep you from those vital "Hey, I thought I was on vacation, dammit!" conference calls. For a mere $1790 (plus tax and shipping), you can get this floating antenna and make cell phone calls while scuba diving! Never be out of touch with your favorite telemarketer again! "But wait," you say. "It's a floating antenna? How am i supposed to use that while diving?" Quite simple! A 40 meter cable connects the antenna to the Bluetooth headset built in to the mask. Because of course the excellent voice quality of Bluetooth will work just fine through water. Of course, if anyone else happens to be diving in the area with a tether to the surface, you just know you're going to get all tangled up together. But no matter. You can always call for help - or call each other! Just make sure not to dive more than, say, 38 meters down (have to leave some wiggle room and all - waves, horizontal distance, etc).

SkyMall can be entertaining and amusing. Every once in a while, it pops up something cool and interesting like the giant cupcake of doom or the recycled plastic composter or something (which can generally be found elsewhere for 2/3 the price). But sometimes I worry that there's actually a market for some of this stuff. And sometimes, it just seems to highlight everything that's wrong with this world.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Jul. 9th, 2009 05:45 pm)
Had a good day yesterday (finally!). Feeling back to my old crappy self after getting off those pills. Still not great, but at least not crappy and drugged. Was worth a try, anyway.

So I went into the city and spent the day with my sister. Walked around central park. Finally got rid of the Reverse Tooth Fairy coins that I've been carrying around in my pocket this whole time. Tossed them into a fountain in the park. (If found by the park service - there's a guy whose job it is to clean and maintain the fountains - the money goes to maintaining the park. More often, though, the coins are picked up - illegally - by homeless people. Hopefully, Tooth Fairy money will bring luck and good things, either way.)

Also tried frozen custard for the first time, since they were selling it at the Boathouse in the park where we had lunch. It's a lot like ice cream, but thicker and smoother. (According to Marc Summers, it's also made with more egg, served colder, contains less air, and must be served fresh - within minutes of coming out of the machine.) So that was pretty cool. (And listening in to snatches of conversations from neighboring tables was interesting, too...)

From there, we went to the Met. Sis was hoping to find something of interest for her class in the newly (re)opened American Wing. That didn't work out so well, but there were still some cool things to see. A view into the life of generations past. But they also had these cool interactive touchscreen displays at various points. Including one that dealt with colonial-era intercontinental trade (triangle trade and beyond). I was looking at that (sis had gone on to the next room) when a woman (late middle age) walked up to look at it, too. We started talking about the displayed trade route for Chinese porcelain, which was reportedly shipped around Africa to Europe. I was struck by how difficult that trip would have been, especially taking cargo as delicate as porcelain around the Cape of Good Hope. She was saying that there should have been other stops (not shown) along the way. We had a rambling discussion, ultimately deciding that we would have shipped it around Asia (avoiding the difficult mountain crossings), offloaded around Egypt (where the Suez Canal is now), relayed overland, filled the first ship with spices, rugs, and other Arabian products, sent that back to China, and sent the porcelain on another ship, to be relayed across the Mediterranean. We had fun, as she said, "rewriting history." Then we went our separate ways. Been a while since I've done something like that.

Left the museum to go back to sis's place, hung out there with her and the kids, and had a great time. Best day I've had in a long time.

In other news...

I've been enjoying my Kindle. Read a bunch of Sherlock Holmes, The Lost World, several books by Mark Twain, Alice and Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, and now I'm on to an 800-page book on Norse mythology. Amazing. And I've still yet to actually purchase a book, thanks to Project Gutenberg.

Playing Scrabble with sis led me to remember a favorite word of a friend of mine. "Lagniappe." It's a Creole word meaning an extra or bonus. Basically, a little gift given "just because." Neat little word. Thought I'd share. (No, it wasn't actually used in the game.)

Take a look at this picture. Notice anything odd? It's something I've been wondering about. "Fat Free ReddiWip." ... "Made with real cream!" How does that work, then? They use real cream and then skim off the fat? That's even stranger than the Ben & Jerry's ice cream I came across a few years back which boldly proclaimed "Made With Real Skim Milk and Cream!" ... which two ingredients, mixed in the proper proportions, would result in... whole milk, the original product from which skim milk and cream are made.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Apr. 25th, 2009 05:32 pm)
Mom had some dental work done recently. Had to get a tooth implanted. So Dad said that she'd have to pay the Reverse Tooth Fairy that night. So I found a tiny little envelope in the greeting card drawer and printed out a little slip. It said, in a small, elegant script-like font, "Please deposit $1. Thank you. Sincerely, The Reverse Tooth Fairy." I left it on her pillow that night.

She thought it was a riot. And slipped the envelope under my door with a little note and two half dollars.

Later, when she went to get the stitches out, I left another note along with a little mint. The note said, "Thank you for your patronage." It might or might not have said something about repeat business. I don't remember. But the joke was that having a sugary candy at bedtime would make the repeat business more likely.

Anyway, it was fun. But now I've got two half dollars. I've been carrying them around in my pocket for over a week. I'm not sure what to do with them. I mean, they're tooth fairy money. You can't just spend it anywhere.

Almost gave them to the first homeless guy I met that day. But Mom has a policy of never giving them money directly. Food, yes. Money, no.

So now I don't know what to do. Not so much you can buy for $1 these days. Giving it to a busker doesn't seem quite fitting.

How do I pay this forward?
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Feb. 16th, 2009 06:48 am)
Signed up today with Kiva. It's a microlending site. People in third world countries need money to start businesses and improve their lives. You, via Kiva (which works through carefully chosen local banks and lenders around the world), can provide that money by making $25 loans. (Using PayPal.)

You look through the listings of who needs what, choose the ones you want, and lend them money. In time, they pay it back.

It's not charity, because you get repaid. But it can make a big difference in their lives. And you don't make any money off it yourself. (The local lenders charge interest - they have to cover their costs and make some money, after all. But Kiva screens out the ones who charge rates that they feel are out of hand. And they are considering ways to allow users to get some interest, as well.)

When you do get repaid (and though there is some risk of default, 99.70% have so far been repaid), you can take the money back or relend it to someone else.

There are also teams. Just for fun and socializing and such. I've joined up with a dozen of them. LJ/Fandom, FSM, Jews, MIT, Colbert... I'll spare you the full list. But some of you may be interested to know that there are teams for Browncoats, X-Philes, NaNoWriMo, and Homeschoolers, among others. There are over 4000 teams for schools and places and ideas and families and just about anything you can name. And if you can't find it, you can start it yourself.

It's pretty cool. A way to touch lives and help change the world. $25 at a time.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Feb. 7th, 2009 06:53 pm)
To the good people at Community Energy:

I recently received your letter explaining that you would be raising your prices due to the "increasing price of solar power in New Jersey."

This at first confused me. The sun, though steadily burning its finite supply of fuel, surely cannot be appreciably different in the quality or quantity of its output. If it is, then I've got a lot more to worry about than an extra 2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Solar technology has been around for some time, and any improvements in that technology should, on the whole, serve to make it cheaper and more efficient (else they wouldn't really be improvements, per se).

Then it occurred to me. In the time since we signed up for your renewable energy plan, the sun over New Jersey actually has grown dimmer and the hours of daylight shorter. I am happy to explain to you, however, that this phenomenon is known and understood. It is called "winter." It is the phase in the Earth's orbit in which the northern end of the axis points away from the sun, reducing the quality and quantity of light which hits the upper reaches of the Northern Hemisphere. Fortunately, though I can only prove it through the logically imperfect process of induction, I can say with reasonable confidence that by March 1 (your proposed effective date for the price increase) winter will have passed and New Jersey will once again benefit from a brightly shining sun. In fact, with the winter solstice having already been passed, you may have noticed that the days are already getting longer.

So, unless there's some other factor which I have failed to consider, you may relax and be confident that an increase in the supply of solar power is soon to come.


Paul-Gabriel Wiener
Just saw an ad for this thing. It's a little device which purports to do what Viagara does, but without pills. Instead, it uses a "vacuum therapy system", which supposedly does the job in 4 minutes. So you sit there, for 4 minutes, while this vacuum... yeah.

And they're making enough money off of this to afford (late night) national TV ads. Charging nothing up front, and with people to handle all the paperwork for you, because - and this is the kicker - it's covered by Medicare, the US government insurance program for the elderly and disabled.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Nov. 7th, 2008 01:03 am)
[livejournal.com profile] kb91 pointed out something very cool in a comment to the last entry:

That's brilliant. And it seems to be working. Wow. Must find a way to support that.

In other news, campaign insiders have now admitted that Palin thought Africa was a country, didn't know who signed NAFTA (hint: they're the countries in North America), threw tantrums, refused interview prep, etc etc...* Wow. Now they tell us. Sounds like they're afraid she'll take over the party.

*Watch here. (Warning: Fox News) It's hilarious.

Unbelievable that Ted Stevens, convicted of failing to report over a quarter mil in "gifts" from an oil company, is not only in a virtual dead heat with his opponent, but actually is maintaining a slight lead. What is up with Alaska?


A few people on my flist have mentioned feminism in recent months, in less than positive terms. My oldest sister is a strong believer in feminism, and told me in no uncertain terms that I better be, too. (Luckily, I am.)

Feminism doesn't have to be man-hating, bra-burning, stuck-up, raving... whatever.

As I was taught it, and as I think it is and should be, feminism is simply this: support for gender equality. Support for women's rights. For equal pay and equal treatment. Against objectification. Against sexism.

It's a pretty broad umbrella, and as is always the case with such things, it's the loudest voices that are most heard. But that doesn't mean that they're truly representative.

It can be taken too far, but... anyone can be a feminist. I'm proud to say I am.