Archive for September, 2008

Stop Trees! Save Beavers!

Monday, September 29th, 2008

So I’m in a training class all week, and today during our lunch break, our instructor used the following as an example for why “doing it the way we always have” is sometimes a bad idea. He said “do you know the leading cause of death in beavers?”

-wait for it-

“Falling trees.”

I laughed, and then said “In all seriousness, do you have a reference for that, because that has serious blog potential.”

So needless to say with a room full of engineers on lunch break with high-speed internet connections…

Apparently this is the subject to a reasonable amount of speculation[1]. See the following links:

  • The Snopes Forum: One writer posits that any beavers who died primarily of tree falls would have been eliminated from the gene pool. Pretty good thought experiment, but hardly conclusive.
  • Yahoo Answers has the scoop: Random bad speller claiming to teach wildlife biology thinks it’s true. I’m sold!
  • Pop culture: “Did you know the leading cause of death for beavers, is falling trees?” -Silvia Broome, The Interpreter
  • Sebbylite ponders this also
  • This is connected to Green Building… (isn’t everything?)
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: Falling trees IS mentioned, but if it were the primary source you’d think it would get some sort-of special mention.

Here is my conclusion: No conclusive evidence can be found that this is the LEADING cause of death in beavers, but there is fairly strong evidence that it IS a cause of death in beavers (which pretty much makes the point valid for the instructor in any case).
I give you the following short article from Telemark College, Department of Environmental Sciences, N-3800 Bø, Norway which cites multiple documented cases of beaver death and pinning due to their unique occupational hazards.

So there you go.

  1. Translation: Given the billions of pages on the internet, there were many which related to this topic. []

Space-X Launch 4…Successful!

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

4 minutes left on the countdown as I write this….

View the Webcast live!

7:15 Liftoff!

7:17 Max Q…

7:19 BEAUTIFUL staging. Kestral burning and glowing….

Fairing sep complete…

T+4 minutes…. some goofy little bits of something floating around the camera.

T+5 minutes… none of the oscillations in the earlier flights. Nozzle very steady and attitude looks good.

T+5:50… some visual changes in the Kestral (2nd stage) nozzle, and a small oscillation in the view of the Earth.

T+7:30… Little bits of ice or paint can be seen flowing past the camera then getting blasted by the engine wash.

T+8:29… Loss of signal…. announcer not sure if this is normal comm loss, or loss of the spacecraft.

T+9:22… Video reacquired.

T+9:33… engine shutdown. Falcon 1 first privately developed vehicle to reach Earth orbit from the ground!!!


T+10:34… loss of signal (over the horizon).

500 people today, and only 6 years of history, damn. I am so looking forward to more companies doing this. This is what will make space access common place.


SpaceX Take 4!

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

SpaceX is scheduled to try again to launch their Falcon 1 rocket into orbit. Here is the press release from SpaceX:

Posted September 27, 2008
Flight 4 of Falcon 1

Falcon 1 is currently cleared for liftoff sometime between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. (California time) tomorrow, Sunday September 28th. Of course, if we see anything that requires investigation, the launch will be postponed, but we’ll let you know as soon as we know. As with prior flights, you can access the webcast from the SpaceX site:


Merrie Melodies

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

As you may have noted if you follow K’s twitter feed, she and I went to a Syracuse Symphony Pops concert last night (Friday). This was not just any concert, but the Syracuse premiere of “Bugs Bunny on Broadway” conducted by George Daugherty. Essentially, there was a movie screen over the orchestra where the famous musical Warner Brothers cartoons were projected with the musicians playing the score.
I have to say that it was a challenge to decide whether to watch the cartoons or the percussionists keeping up with the pseudo-sound effects. The voice acting and true sound effects were piped in from the original animated shorts.
Although this was no high-culture event, it was great fun to see (and listen) to young and old appreciating the wacky stylings of Bugs and cohorts while listening to those now famous arrangements of classical pieces.
To open the concert, the “Flight of the Valkyries” was played to set the mood, and later the conductor asked the audience how many people thought “Vagner” vs “Kill da wabbit!” (the far and away winner of course).
To hear the live performance of the “Rabbit of Seville” and “What’s Opera Doc?” was worth the price of admission, even if several cartoons were essentially played in their original form with the orchestra only opening and closing the cartoons.
One interesting piece of trivia: The famous opening chord that modulates into the Merrie Melodies (or Looney Tunes) theme is produced by an electric slide guitar. According to the conductor, they tried many different effects to reproduce this live before the original guitar was found in the Warner Brothers studios. When matched with an antique and temperamental amplifier… the magical sound is produced. I always guessed that this effect was produced by simply turning on a record player with the needle down. In any case the critical instrument was there, and the sound was richer than any TV reproduction can achieve.

In all, great fun and a memorable night out.

Country Tour

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Nate and I took a little drive this morning to get out of the house (and give K some peace). It was a morning of empty rainy day roads and misty views of the start of fall color.
Rainy Day's Drive

As we wandered one sight of interest was a private veterans memorial with it’s very own helicopter.

Instrument Panel Huey the Bear? Center Console

Eventually, we found ourselves in Deruyter where we stopped at the Red and White Cafe. They had obviously not been open very long as the staff was confused and disorganized and the menu fairly limited. One side of the shop has a candy counter and deli, while the other side has a small seating area and a coffee counter.

Red & White Cafe Coffee Counter

Also, minus two points for not having a high chair. No big deal, Nate is well enough behaved to sit on my lap… as long as he’s getting fed. I kept him distracted with the tiny little glass of OJ. Breakfast of 3 pancakes, 3 sausage links and a slice of (luke warm) buttered rye toast arrived fairly quickly. Portions were decent but looked tiny compared to the gargantuan servings we get at Emma’s Diner.[1] The pancakes were really good though (Nate agreed!), I think they were made with a buckwheat mix or perhaps whole-wheat flower giving them some bite[2] which complemented the real maple syrup.[3] We took some latte and pastries home to K. She judged the biscotti (almond apricot if I remember correctly) very good but the cinnamon roll was average. I note that this review is somewhat negative at this point, but I have to say the place was well lit and decorated warmly in an old country store kind of way. The owner (I assume) came by to talk with me several times and she apologized for the lack of high-chair and their general unpreparedness. If I’m in Deruyter for breakfast again, that attention will earn her another visit… we’ll see if they get their act together.

  1. Strangely, I have never done a post about breakfast at Emma’s, this will have to be corrected. []
  2. In the sense of resistance to bite not that they had little teeth or in the hot pepper sense. Hot pepper pancakes would not go well with Maple syrup. []
  3. A requisite in my book for any pancake serving establishment in central New York. []

Factoids Again…

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Another couple of supposed “facts” from our company fitness center. Good thing they call them “factoids” because it’s hard to imagine where they come up with this stuff.

First: “The tongue is the strongest muscle.”
This seems to be the subject of great debate amongst purveyors of psuedo-science throughout the internet. I have to agree with those who declare simply that it is hard to imagine any objective criteria that would lead to the tongue being identified as the strongest. Wikipedia has a rather nice (if un-cited) list of potential strongest muscles using various criteria. Some say it is the strongest by size, but it’s not clear how one would measure this… ever try lifting a weight with your tongue? This useless answer on “wiki-answers” posits that your tongue will win a ‘finger war’ with your pinky… which of course must prove it is stronger than ANY other muscle. Oh… and for what it’s worth, my pinky wins.

Second: “Every 5mph over 60 is like paying an extra 10 cents per gallon for gas.”
This at least SEEMS plausible, but it certainly seems to be WAY to general. I would expect this to be a strong function of the efficiency of the car, the gearing, the aerodynamic properties, the base inefficiency of the vehicle (non aerodynamic losses) not to mention… THE PRICE OF GAS.
At (yes there is one), the result is slightly different:

Observe the Speed Limit
While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph.
You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.26 per gallon for gas.
Observing the speed limit is also safer.

Well that settles it for me!
What, you want some other opinions?

  • EarthFirst.Com quotes: “Each 5 mph you drive over 60 is like paying an extra $0.30 per gallon for gas.”
  • The Department of Energy quotes: “Each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.15 per gallon for gas.”
  • US New & World Report quotes the EPA as saying: “According to the EPA, each 5 mph over 60 that you drive decreases fuel efficiency by up to seven percent.”
  • NPR quotes the EPA as saying: “Assume that for every 5 mph you drive over 60 mph, you might as well be paying an additional $0.20 per gallon for gas.”

That definitely settles it! We need to do some math.
Q: What change in efficiency is required to cost an extra 10 cents per gallon of gas?
A: Here we go… (more…)

Photography has changed.

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Of course you know that digital photography is a disruptive technology which is eliminating the previous paradigm of amateur and professional photography. This tsunami of technology has gone so far that even the venerable Kodachrome is going the way of the dodo. In the last 6 years Kodak has discontinued manufacture of all but one speed of the famous film, leaving only 64 speed film in production. The last production batch of ~20,000 rolls has an expiration date of 2009. Kodak might choose to make more, but then again, they may not.

Yes, this is old news. You almost certainly knew about the disappearance of film in the modern imaging world. That’s not what this post is about. This post is about the recent announcements by Nikon and Canon that their next SLR cameras will have the capability to capture full motion video. “What’s the big deal?” you say, “my point and shoot camera can do that now!” Sure, and it might even be reasonably high resolution… The writing was on the wall when the last few models of both Canon and Nikon’s SLRs added “live preview”, the ability to compose the shot using the LCD, rather than the SLR viewfinder. Again, this is a feature that point and shoot cameras have had for years. Why is this a big deal? (If you’re impatient, please don’t skip out without watching this video… more about this at the end of the post!)

Recall that SLR cameras allow the photographer to view the world through the same lens that will be used to take the picture (thus single lens) through the use of a reflective prism and mirror (thus reflex). When the shutter is released, the mirror swings up out of the way, the iris sets aperture and the shutter opens and closes to expose the image. Digital cameras use a Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) to collect the photons and capture the image instead of film. Some of the SLR cameras offering “live preview” use a secondary sensor to provide the LCD image, but most use the primary sensor by holding the mirror up and keeping the shutter open. This gets us back where we started…

Once you have the ability to read images from the CCD rapidly without opening and closing the shutter each time, you’ve converted the digital camera into a digital VIDEO camera. Since you’re shooting with the high resolution CCD of an SLR camera, you can shoot extremely high resolution video AND use the myriad of high quality lenses available for your SLR. Nikon struck first with the D90 model. This camera retails for about $1000 (body only) which is a bargain considering it is a 12.3 Mpixel SLR AND a 720p HD (720×1280) video camera.
Canon has now returned volley (in a major way) with the release of their entry-level professional camera the 5D Mark II. This is an amazing full-frame 21.1 Mpixel machine with the ability to record 1080p HD video (1280×1920) up to 4GB per clip with ISO settings from 100 to 6400 ASA (and several expanded modes). It will probably sell for under $3000.
This is a world changer for photography. I am not exaggerating here.

Consider this: You are an NBC executive who has the exclusive rights to provide video coverage of the next two Olympics. You paid $2.2 BILLION for this right five YEARS ago. Of course the contract and pool photographers from dozens of different countries and representing hundreds of different companies are now standing at the side of the venue with a 600mm lens shooting 1080p HD video (not to mention the fans). And there is NOTHING you can do about it. Oh sure, you can declare martial law and prohibit all such cameras from the venues, but is that really practical? Of course not. By 2010, EVERY professional D-SLR will have this capability, you can’t tell the entire industry to roll back to pre-2008 camera technology. It just won’t fly.

To prove the viability of shooting a high quality video on a small budget ($5k not counting the camera and lenses), Vincent Laforet was able to get his hands on a brand new Canon 5D MkII fresh into the country to shoot a short film video. It is being hosted by Canon because it’s just that spectacular. This was shot with a $3k camera over a weekend! He’s just posted a “making of” video as well.

Edit: An interview with Laforet on PDN discussing how he put together the shoot.

The lines between still photography, video production, photo-journalism and video-journalism are now SO blurred as to be no-longer unique. Photography has changed.

Thanks Grammy! (And random pictures)

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Thanks Grammy D for teaching Nate to make this silly face:
Grammy's Silly Face

Thankfully, he knows not to make it all the time.
Apple Face

Artwork in progress!!
Abstract, Perhaps?

And just because.
Not really Nathan

Life is good.

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Ice cream melting over fresh apple pie. Fresh like hours ago these apples were still storing sunlight on a New York tree on a cool September day.

… Four hours earlier …

Gala apples warming in the sun…

Meanwhile, at the bottom of a nearby tree, somebody helps himself to the bounty before him…

And then some.

Yeah. Life is good.

Email Security: How? (Part 1: Stuff you need)

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Yes, this will be a how-to in installments. There’s far too much to try to cover in one abusively long blog post.

The purpose of this post is to familiarize you fine curious readers with the tools you’ll need to achieve the same relative state of email security that I have. Disclaimer: Although I think I’m generally fairly smart, I am NOT -nor do I pretend to be- any sort-of accredited data security expert. However, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express at some point this year, and will therefore do my best to not lead you terribly astray.

These instructions are for Windows users, although, to be honest, doing this in Linux is probably not terribly different, since ALL of the tools I’m about to discuss are open-source and available without cash of any kind.

The list:

  1. Thunderbird: An email client built on the Mozilla engine. I currently have, but I upgrade regularly.
  2. GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG or GPG) V1.4.9: An implementation of OpenPGP for encryption and other related stuff.[1]
  3. EnigMail (0.95.7): The plugin for Thunderbird that provides the graphical user interface that makes this oh so much easier.

A bit of detail… (more…)

  1. This is actually the engine that does all of the encoding heavy lifting. []