Monday, December 28, 2009

After-Christmas Trip Report

Summary: The way down was a lot slower than the way up, but still not too bad.


Left home at around 3pm; there were a few reports of slowness on the NJ Turnpike, so I just skipped it entirely, taking Route 1 South (which is kind of like the built-up parts of Lee Highway, lots of lights, and just as jammed up in spots, too), to Route 295 South (smooth sailing).

Getting into Delaware, though, it was already congested in the usual spots, so I detoured down another Route 1 (Delaware), to go around and down via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Route 1 in Delaware has a bridge that's lit up nicely at night -- it's the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Bridge (the Senator William V. Roth, Jr. Bridge). One of these days, I'll figure out how to take a good shot while (driving) in a moving car. I got a couple of crappy pics, instead:

IMG_2320 IMG_2319

The Bay Bridge route was uneventful (going through those small towns in Maryland can be kind of a pain, though). I took Route 50 in and cut through the District, to avoid any Beltway backups because of the football game.

Travel time, just under 5 hours.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Christmas Miracle (of Sorts) and Christmas Music Musings

GPS trip summary from Christmas Eve:


Wanting to avoid the bulk of the traffic, I left at 7:45pm (though I probably could have done just as well leaving a lot earlier, this being Christmas and not Thanksgiving).

I actually would have left 15 minutes earlier, but a neighbor's guest had gotten his BMW X3 stuck in a plowed snowbank -- isn't traction control supposed to keep that from happening? -- so I spent a few minutes helping to dig them out. Not sure how much I helped, but it felt right.

Anyway, I got in just at 11pm. Total travel time: Three hours and 15 minutes, averaging just under 70mph, which is really good for me. I don't usually go more than 80, the 90.2 max speed shown above notwithstanding -- I only did it to get past a left-lane hog on the 2-lane section of the NJ Turnpike; he keep speeding up to block me when I moved to pass.

Christmas Music in Review
I've gotten detached from Christmas as the years have gone by. I didn't send a single Christmas card this year, and could barely be bothered to stick a suction-cupped decoration light in the window. I guess that you really need kids to keep the full effect.

Another contributing factor is that I don't really listen to music on the radio very much any more, so I don't get to hear much Christmas music. I made an effort to seek out Christmas tunes on the drive up (aided by a dead cassette player keeping me from using my iPod), though it only reinforced the notion that broadcast terrestrial radio sucks (especially in that stretch around Delaware, in the zone between the DC, Baltimore and Philly stations).

Even with on-demand music mooting most of the old-fashioned seasonal rationing of Christmas music, it's still not a real Christmas to me, unless I hear a few classic tunes -- "classic" as defined by what was popular when I was 12-13, those formative years that lock in your childhood tastes:

* My must-hear song is Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas? which holds up really well, even with all the "Wow, is that really Bono/Sting/Boy George?" that comes with it.

* Christmas Wrapping, by The Waitresses. I always found it an amusing contrast to their other hit, I Know What Boys Like. It suffers from no lack of airplay.

* Feliz Navidad, by Jose Feliciano. Nothing more needs to said. I also associate it with the Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (they both come from the '70s and the song is used in the special), which I haven't seen in years, but still makes me tear up remembering it.

* A late entrant for me is Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas Is You. While it's a good song, I heard it an inordinate number of times on the drive up.

* A few Christmas songs that are good year round include The Kinks' Father Christmas, U2's version of Baby Please Come Home, The Pogues' Fairytale of New York (the last of which I don't really even think of as a holiday song).

* The Bing Crosby and David Bowie collaboration Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy, which is supposed to be part of the Christmas canon, but I haven't heard it on the air.

* Outliers from the era: Sarah McLachlan and Barenaked Ladies version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings from the 90s and the Beach Boys' Little Saint Nick.

There are a few others -- classic standards, mostly, and some of the lesser 80s songs, like Strange Brew's Bob & Doug Mckenzie's 12 Days of Christmas (though, notably, not Bruce Springsteen's Santa Claus Is Coming to Town -- never liked that one), but finally, Christmas for me isn't complete without this song:

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Things That Are Upcoming To Which I Am NOT Going

First off, I did not make it to Rocket Bar tonight for the Duke Club of Washington's viewing of the Duke-Wisconsin game. It was probably for the best; Wisconsin led all game, and when Duke shifted into "jocking up instant inappropriate three-pointers" mode with about 8 minutes left, I knew it was over. Not for the lack of Johnny Andre Dawkins trying, though, with that spate of 3-pointers near the end.

* Thursday, December 3, I will not be attending my sister's work-in-progress screening of her documentary about my dad, Every Day Is a Holiday. Dad was a Japanese POW during WWII, so the film covers his experiences before, during and after. (He's been around.)

6:30pm at the Museum of Chinese in America in Chinatown, NYC.

(Instead of going to the screening, I'll be down here, at TechCocktail DC 7, at LeftBank in Adams Morgan.)

* Saturday, December 5, I won't be going to a DC Fark Party downtown. Instead, I'll probably be stumbling around the Reston Town Center, in tackiest holiday sweater I can find between now and then.

* Wednesday, December 9, I won't be going to the DC Blogger Meetup at Madam's Organ in DC at 7pm. Instead, I'll be going to the DC Blogger Meetup at Mezza Luna in DC at 7pm. (See, the meeting venue has changed.)

I think that covers what I'm not going to for now.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Unfreezing My PoliSci Brain Parts and Actually Reading Some of my "PDFs to Be Read"

I'm taking this holiday break to whittle down my "Papers to Be Read" folder. (It's a topic I brought up in a NetSol blog post a few months back, Book Shame, Information Hoarding and Aspirational PDFs, about how our publicly-shared reading lists are often more aspirational than an indicator of intent.)

It's more than a little telling that I only just now added a "Read" subfolder (as in "Papers I've Actually Read"). At this point, many of the documents have been superceded and now only have value as snapshots of particular moments in history.

The first one was basically a warm-up: Speculative Fiction and National Security, a 7-pager by Adam Elkus and Crispin Burke (Starbuck, of Wings Over Iraq) for Small Wars Journal. It's fairly light look at the framework (mostly limitations) of speculative fiction and the scenarios depicted in futurism and sci-fi, concluding that their primary value isn't necessarily predictive, but instead as a way to get people to think about present problems in a different and perhaps more honest way -- because situations are presented in a fictionalized and more abstract context, we're able to look at things with fewer of our current investments and hang-ups.

The second is a lot lengthier, if not necessarily deeper: Integrating Security:
Preparing for the National Security Threats of the 21st Century
, a report from the Center for American Progress that came out a few weeks ago. It's a 60-something page recommendation for the Obama administration's National Security Strategy.

It deals in broad strategic strokes (e.g. combating extremism, engaging with adversaries, leveraging alliances), a fair amount of Bush-bashing, and also features many recommendations for bureaucratic reorganization and synchronization that will never see the light of day.

While I agree largely with the goals and methods outlined in the report, it lacks oomph. The report features nuance, deliberation, multilateralism, and an emphasis on what some call "soft power," -- non-military diplomatic and development solutions -- so it's severely disadvantaged by lacking the visceral simplicity of who to bomb next and how to better blow shit up.

("Soft power" is instantly weakened by the word "soft" -- there needs to be a better phrase. "Non-kinetic" is great, but that's really best used by the military. And improving the capabilities of governments is difficult and unsexy, even though we know that helping governments deliver essential services, especially in times of crises, is important in showing their effectiveness and keeping people from getting drawn to radical non-state actors that can get the job done.)

Also, on one hand, it does decry the militarization of stability operations and nation-building, while recognizing that in places like Afghanistan, they're sometimes the only folks who can get the job done (due to both security considerations and manpower and logistic concerns.)

The report seems to put a lot of weight into quadrennial reviews for the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, though from what I've heard (and I'm pretty far out of the loop), I've heard that the DoD's QDR is pretty much a pointless tail-chase exercise.

Personally, the report could use a little more punch, something to make key recommendations more accessible and sound biteable. The report gets pretty bogged down in bureaucratic restructure-ese, whereas I think (for example) that they could have wrapped up their international development bullets under the banner of a "Marshall Plan for Anti-Extremism." (Sure, the metaphor only goes so far, but it's accessible.)

It's pretty apparent that for the bulk of my career now, I've been too close to the marketing folks, and too far from the policy wonks.

Anyway, I'll keep working down into the pile and then see what bubbles up.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Notes From the Road

Got a late start tonight, leaving at a little after 9pm. I doing really, really well for the first 90 minutes or so, but then got hit by a corollary of Joelogon's Theorem of Turnpike Conservation, and I got slammed at the Tydings Memorial Bridge, where an accident earlier in the day combined with the usual toll plaza backup knocked me off schedule.

After that cleared out, there were the remnants of another accident at around exit 100 (the highway displays warned of 2 left lane closures, but all lanes were open by the time I passed through).

The only other trouble was that it got really foggy in spots. I kind of liked it -- the fog wrapped everything in softness and made it look ethereal . Going over the Delaware Memorial Bridge, you couldn't see anything off to the sides.

Driving visibility wasn't that much worse since taillights get that halo effect, and with the lights in the fog, I could pretend I was re-enacting the Battle of the Mutara Nebula from Wrath of Khan. (No, not really. Well, maybe a little.)

For music, even though I have an iPod again, I still had to jury-rig my laptop into a really big iPod. This is because my car's cassette deck died a few weeks ago, and without it, I have no way to play my iPod through the speakers. So I was listening through my laptop's speakers, which worked out about as well as you might expect (that is, good for listening to songs you already know by heart).

I also heard a good stretch of programming from WPRB 103.3, the Princeton University station, which I'd never heard before (it's just out of reach from home).

With about 40 minutes worth of delays in just those two spots (Delaware and all through the NJ Turnpike were clean), and just taking a straight shot up the middle (no detours to 695 or 295 -> 195), it took me 4 hours and 20 minutes.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Terra Cotta Warriors in Reston

The Terra Cotta Warriors exhibition at the National Geographic Museum opened last week. I don't have any plans to go, because (I don't get to be travel snob very often, so I'm going to savor this) I saw the real deal, the whole shebang, in Xi'an, during a trip to China in 2003.

It was a family trip, as well as a group tour, so it's not like I have much to be snobby about.

To celebrate the exhibition's arrival in DC, I dusted off my official, made in China and bought in Xi'an, souvenir miniature terra cotta warriors, no doubt made with the finest locally-sourced lead and arsenic-tainted industrial byproducts available:


The set started changing color pretty much immediately after purchase. I'm actually surprised that they haven't crumbled yet.


Okay, back into the box.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I Have No Idea What You're Talking About, so Here's a Picture of Me Wearing a Finnish Gas Mask


$10 at Cheaper Than Dirt. "New Condition Protect Against Airborne Virus and Bacteria -Flu Pandamic [sic]"... nope, no fearmongering there or anything.

The included carrying case is pretty nice (though the material is a bit thin), if you're looking for something to satisfy your ironic military-surplus hipster/artist pose while you convert the mask for fetish play:


If you have something against the Finns, there's also a Czech gas mask for $7.50.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Coughed So Hard, I Broke My Back

This morning, I was going through my usual cold weather coughing jag (it's an extremely pleasant and attractive sound), only this one had an extra kick because of my leftover cold. So it was especially emphatic.

It got so bad I thought I might actually yarf, when all of a sudden, I felt a sharp pain in my back, just like when I occasionally mess up my back doing squats, only it was worse. It was so unexpected, I fell over and hit the floor. Literally.

I get knocked down, but I get up again, and I made it through the entire day (with minimal whining on Twitter), and now I'm flat on my back with my knees up, popping whatever NSAIDs I can mix with alcohol, and catching up on reading, TV and writing. (I'd have watched the second episode of V, the better to form an opinion of it, except it's not on the ABC site yet.)

I'm still going to go to barcampdc tomorrow, though. Hopefully it won't slow me down too much.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Nutcracker Wears ACUs and Oakleys

I was in Target yesterday. There were a few remnants of Halloween stuff clinging to the shelves, but the employees were already setting up Christmas displays.

I saw these Nutcracker-themed decorations. Nowadays, the Nutcracker wears ACU-style digital camouflage, a Kevlar helmet, and Oakleys:


I wonder why the Rat King isn't carrying an AK-47 and suicide vest

Friday, October 30, 2009

Griefing the DARPA Network Challenge

I took a quick look at the DARPA Network Challenge site (on December 5th, they'll fly ten red 8-foot diameter moored weather balloons; the first person to register the locations of all ten will win $40,000). Also, I read the rules (which I'm not sure very many commenters have bothered to do yet, since they're in PDF), so here are a few thoughts:

* As currently structured, it's obviously a problem in game theory, behavioral economics, and group collaboration, not technology. Contestants will register as individuals, not organizations -- of course, people will collude and collaborate, but they'll have to determine not only mechanisms for intaking, validating, filtering, and crediting distributed reports (your basic crowdsourcing problems), but they'll also have to figure out the basis for distributing the prize. (And $40,000 is in the realm of "real money.")

Presumably, a large enough group to win will be in it for the bragging rights (I'm sure everyone is thinking "Anonymous"), and simply donate the money to charity, to avoid all those messy distribution issues.

However, since the registrant has to be an individual, the winner of record will still get stuck with the tax on the $40K prize, even if they donate it all to charity. Something to consider.

* The rules are only two pages right now. I'd be really surprised if the rules (which "may be modified at any time without notice") don't iterate and grow dramatically in between now and December.

Of particular concern is the potential griefing issue -- anyone with any modicum of deviousness has already said, "Hey, we should just fly a bunch of fake weather balloons to fuck up everyone else."

(The rules state that official balloons will be accompanied by DARPA representatives -- we're going to need some authentication method beyond "Some asshole wearing a navy blue polo shirt holding a clipboard." It'll have to be communicated far enough ahead of time to propagate, but not so far in advance to be easily spoofed.)

Griefing goes to the idea of motivation: You might not be able to mobilize and organize an credible nationwide team to win, but I can easily see groups of griefers -- call them "cells" -- popping up on game day:

Looking at costs, an 8-foot diameter balloon holds about 270 cubic feet of helium; with cost of balloon and tank rental, that's a few hundred bucks, which is easily spread across a few friends.

* Hopefully, no one will try shooting down balloons. That would be a bit much (as well as a violation of the contest rules). The rules cover changed locations, but I don't yet see anything about accidental or manmade balloon failure post-launch.

As to other potential hurdles (balloons in really out-of-the-way -- but still road accessible -- locations, I don't find that as interesting as the challenge of dealing with griefers, especially highly-motivated ones bent on undermining the game.

Of course, since no one ever accused DARPA of being dumb, it really depends on how they implement the Web site reporting mechanism (will it provide feedback when you submit a location, etc.)

Watch the skies.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Costume Panic, 2009

For the past few weeks, I'd been fretting about my lack of a good Halloween costume concept (last year's costume raised expectations by an unreasonable amount). Some rejected concepts:

* An ATM machine. To do it right (by my thinking), it'd have to be fully enclosed, which might make for a good costume, but doesn't sound like any fun to wear. Tabled for next year, maybe.

* Office Supply Guy. I was thinking paper-clip chain mail vest, maybe an "Easy" button and some strategically-placed Post-Its. Abandoned after determining that paper clips tangle, snag and detach, making them unsuitable for construction.

* Balloon Boy. Considered it for the briefest of moments. Even if I could do a better one than all the half-assed ones I expect to see this year (which is questionable), it seems lame.

* Chinese Drywall. Simple to build, but as previously mentioned, I don't like wordplay costumes.

* Jon Gosselin. Another brief consideration. Would have only done it if I could have rigged up 8 dolls on a harness, though I guess that's mooted now. Plus, I didn't want to buy an Ed Hardy t-shirt.

Then I got sick. (Still am, really.) It's either the flu or a sinus infection. Nothing too serious, but seeing as how my major accomplishments this week have been sweating (also sneezing), I no longer care about a silly costume, I just want to stop being sick.

So assuming I'm healthy enough for Halloween, my fallback will probably be jumpsuit-based (again), quite possibly the getup I used for this year's Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race. Which was coincidentally swine-flu themed, so I guess it could work out.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Documenting My Gradual Shift to the Left

For the past few years, I've been rocking the center hair part.

However, recently, my part has been migrating back to its natural part, towards the left:


Wasn't that fascinating?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dumb Gym I Have Done Lately

I jacked my back a little yesterday as I tend to do occasionally, leaning too far forward while doing a warmup set of squats. (Somewhat ironically, I'd been concentrating on my foot position to keep my right knee happy, and didn't pay enough attention to my back posture.)

Since you can't really train around a lower back strain, it looks like I'll be taking it easy and hitting the reset button by eating pre-Halloween candy for a week or so. But it's not too much of a major loss -- after 8 weeks of medium sets (well, ostensibly medium -- when I plateau, my medium sets of 10 top out looking a lot like my heavy sets of 5), it was time to switch back to light sets of 20, anyway.

It does mean that I'll have to cut back on my eating. I'm at about 141 now, whereas my natural tendency is about 5-10 pounds lighter. (I enjoy the medium and heavy phases, since I get to eat more, even if it ends up mostly being granola bars, egg whites, and badly-prepared chicken -- as previously noted, I don't go the whole "brown rice, steamed vegetables, and chicken breast" route -- I could probably do a lot better if I was stricter about my diet, but I guess I just don't care that much.)

In terms of physique ("buffitude," not anything like functional strength), I'm probably at my all-time best right now. (You're going to have to trust me on this.) My bench press is over 200 pounds (machine weights, not free, but still), whereas previously I'd never been able to get past that.

Cardio-wise, though, I think I hit my peak my sophomore year of high school (JV soccer) -- since then, no matter how much I try (which, admittedly, hasn't been all that consistently), I don't manage to get any better, and in fact, probably keep getting worse.

Since I'll be on the sidelines for a week or so, popping Advil and blogging on my back, here are a few observations from the gym, which I think are fairly universal:
  • When you first arrive at the gym, it will be wall-to-wall eye candy (featuring whatever gender you favor). When you emerge from the changing room, they will have been replaced by the "Seniors' Low Impact Yoga" class.

  • Speaking of the locker room, here's an observation: Say the locker room is empty, save for you and two other people. Invariably, your lockers will be immediately adjacent to each other.

  • At some point after my formative years, padlock manufacturers decided to give people color choices beyond the standard black. You will pick a color to reflect your personality and distinguish your lock from everybody else's. This color will be the exact same color that everyone else has chosen. It will be either bluish-purple, or purplish-blue.

  • At my gym, I'm probably known as "Asian Guy Who Always Wears Kickball Shirts With the Sleeves Ripped Out." This puts me in the company of "Towel Chewer" and "Gracefully Aging Cheerleading Captain," along with more general archetypes "iPhone Yakker," "Inappropriately Loud Grunter," any number of "Desperate Housewives," and so forth.
Lastly, perhaps this is a suburban thing, but some folks are really trusting about not using padlocks -- at all -- on their lockers. I know that your typical gym padlock is trivially easy to shim open, but at least it shows you're trying.

Friday, October 02, 2009

An Embarrassment of Upcoming Things, October Edition

Not sure what I'm doing tonight. Tomorrow, though (Saturday, 10/3), presents us with choice paralysis a-plenty:

* The Dulles Day Plane Pull is from 11am-4pm. The plane pulling bit is fun to watch (and sometimes teams need spectator help), as well as the aircraft display. (See my photos from 2007; 2008 was canceled due to heavy rain, which doesn't look like it'll be a problem this year.)

* The Crafty Bastards craft show-thing is in Adams Morgan, from 10-4pm. If I go, it will be to maybe get a t-shirt, but definitely a falafel.

* I'm not 100% on this, but I'm pretty sure I saw a sign in the median on Reston Parkway for the Fairfax County Police Department Reston District Station Open House, 11am-3pm?

The kicker is that the Fell's Point Fun Festival is also both days this weekend. (Although I pretty much have to stay local Sunday to do some painting, which rules that day out.)

I'm a little leery of driving up to Baltimore after what happened the last time, though it's fun, even if you just end up hanging out in the beer garden (nee parking lot) and not moving. I'm pretty much leaning to the purely local stuff.

Looking out a bit further:

* The Reston Oktoberfest is Oct. 9-11 in the Town Center.

* Wednesday, Oct. 14 is both the October Washington Blogger Meetup at Madam's Organ in Adams Morgan. I was originally a maybe on this, because Cowboy Junkies are playing the Barns at Wolf Trap, but it looks like they're sold out. Yay for indecision!

* Friday, Oct. 16, The Raveonettes are playing the 9:30 Club.

* The PublicMediaCamp unconference is Oct. 17-18 at American University.

* The final BlogPotomac is October 23. I am as yet undecided, though I suppose I should decide quickly.

* CrisisCamp Philly is Oct. 24-25 -- I might just go virtual for this.

* Thursday, Oct. 29, Mike Doughty plays Birchmere.

As for Halloween, I have no idea what to do for a costume, which would be a big letdown after last year. I will have to do some thinking.

November brings BarCamp DC and CrisisCamp NYC, but one month at a time.

Friday, September 25, 2009

WMV is making me upset

I'm okay with not understanding things. Happens all the time.

What I'm not okay with is not understanding things that I should understand. When I don't understand something I should understand, it frustrates me. When I get frustrated, I get upset. I get upset, I get angry.

I wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

This is what I don't understand: I have a video file, WMV. From a webinar broadcast, so nothing complicated, just audio (mono) over static Powerpoint slides. 1024x738, 48 minutes. 2.78 fps, data rate 271 kbits/sec. File size: 39 megabytes.

However, the second I touch it -- nay, look at it -- in this case, to trim a few minutes off the front and back -- and save it, the file size increases, even as the display size decreases. 640x480, 45 minutes. 2.55 fps, data rate 1704bits/sec. File size: 53.2 megabytes.

Right now, I'm using Quicktime 7 Pro to edit, with Flip4Mac Studio Pro to export to WMV (Quicktime X doesn't allow exporting); Studio Pro doesn't let you customize the default settings, though I've had the same problem using Windows Movie Maker.

I'm not adept at video, so please tell me: What am I doing wrong?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

My New Mac Tablet (Note: Misleading Headline)

So far, here's the one hitch I've run into after upgrading to Snow Leopard: Photoshop Elements 4 stopped working, even after installing Rosetta as prompted.

This was not an incredibly big deal, though I needed it enough that I decided to buy Elements 6. And it comes bundled with the Wacom Bamboo Fun graphics tablet, which I've had my eye on for a while, so it was the perfect excuse to get one. Didn't find any good deals, so I just popped over to Best Buy and got one.


Then, I started running into problems.

* My Macbook's internal optical drive is dead, so I've been using a borrowed external DVD drive. However, it was still at work.

* Okay, no problem: It's 2009, so I download the tablet drivers and Elements 6 demo, figuring I could use the Elements serial number on the download.

* Find out that the Elements DVD serial won't work on the downloaded demo. Annoying, but I get by in 30-day trial mode.

* Get to work the next day. Insert install DVDs. The external DVD player, which I used to install Snow Leopard, doesn't see the discs.

* Look up the internet. Find that Snow Leopard not seeing external DVD drives is a known issue. Find workaround: With DVD inserted, plug and unplug the FireWire cable.

* Go to Install Elements off the DVD. Installer fails, due to critical errors reported to an error log that I can't find. Try to uninstall. Uninstall fails.

* After more searching, finally find and run CS3Clean Script to uninstall previous stuff, then finally reinstall Elements 6 off the DVD.

It was a pain in the ass.

I also had to reinstall Adobe Flash Player, but it turns out that this was a good thing, since Snow Leopard comes with an older version with security holes.

Anyway, I'm still getting used to both Elements 6 and the tablet. So far so good, though.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Breeders Notes

The DCist writeup of the Breeders show Friday night at the Black Cat pretty much covers everything (much better pictures, too). Just a few things:

* Had to drive through some fairly torrential rain on the toll road to get there (microburst-y stuff, intense but it cleared up by the time I got on 66). People were going 40 on the highway. It was dicey at times.

* Got good parking just around the corner and got in a bit before they opened the upstairs doors. I got a beer in the Red Room and watched the neat, orderly queue, which featured many folks who had obviously first seen them in the 90s.

* Despite my Tweet early on, it did get pretty full, and might have even sold out.

* The band was solid. They seemed like they were having a lot of fun, too.

* Did not realize at the time that substitute bassist Josephine Wiggs was in the original band, nor that she was also one half of Dusty Trails (a CD I picked up from the 88 cent bin at Sounds on St. Marks a long time ago, and that I listen to a lot)

* Did not get any good photos; was a little too far back. They were also enforcing the "no video" policy with a strobing flashlight (which I was tempted to counter with my own, but didn't)

The Breeders' Kelley Deal on violin, Josephine Wiggs on bass.

* Was gratified that they got Cannonball out of the way early, even if it is a favorite. Hate to see signature songs cloistered away in encores. 9 seconds of it:

* As noted, stood next to some variety of man-child who felt it necessary to incessantly yell "Kelley!!!" as if she had forgotten her name, or was fending off the end of the world.

* They did leave us wanting more, in that the encore was a little lacking. But it was a good show.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Upcoming Things, Starting... NOW

Here's another edition of stuff that's going on, some of which I might go to, others that simply signify that I'm an interesting, multi-faceted cosmopolitan with eclectic tastes, and not an aging surburban homebody:

* The upcoming social media stuff I wrote about in the Network Solutions blog; I won't repeat it all here, except to say that tonight is the Washington Blogger Meetup, 7pm at Madam's Organ (2nd floor.)

I should also make it to TechCocktail DC 6 (8/27); CongressCamp (9/12-13); and probably a few other things that pop up, like the CrisisCampDC meetup at Whitlow's (Saturday, 8/22, 11am... brunch?), Web Content Mavens, and so forth.

* However, I'm not as confident about making it to any of the DC Beer Week events (or even the non-official extensions, like Brew at the Zoo, or even last night's Terrapin beer tasting at Galaxy Hut).


* Friday, August 21: The Breeders at the Black Cat. I didn't make the show the last time they hit DC, though when I made noise about it, a startling number of people said "Breeders? Who are they?"

* Wednesday, September 2: Apopytgma Berzerk at the 9:30 Club. I forget where I'd heard of them, only that I'd had the band written on the post-it note in my wallet that used to serve as my used-CD watchlist. I just have one of their early album, but it's good, though their Wikipedia entry suggests they've shifted styles as well as lineups, but who knows.

* Sunday, September 13: Adams Morgan Day Festival. It's on the same day as the second day of CongressCamp; maybe make it a twofer.

* Friday, September 18: Moby, late show at the 9:30 Club. Hrm.

* Wednesday, September 23: KMFDM at the 9:30 Club. I'm not the hugest industrial fan, but I do have a few of their albums (I would get into moods every once in a while.)

October has a bunch of other stuff, including the Raveonettes, Mike Doughty, Crafty Bastards and the Dulles Plane Pull, but all that will come later.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

An Afternoon of Mild Disappointments

After a haircut this morning (not disappointing), I went to see District 9. I liked it (especially the parts where the bad guys go *splash*) but I was mildly disappointed by it, mostly because it had been hyped so much and I went in with really high expectations.

Parts of it were uneven, and parts of it felt like a standard buddy movie (even with aliens, it's fairly well-trodden ground). Everyone was interested in collecting and using the alien weapons (robot fighting suits!) except the aliens themselves, which was odd, though I guess an alien uprising would have been a different allegorical movie. And the The Nigerian gangsters felt like they were spliced into the plot to provide a convenient device.

Overall, the plot left a lot unexplained, in a very unsatisfying way. At least with Alien Nation (to which this movie owes a lot), we knew the Tenctonese aliens were slaves, which is why they couldn't go home. In District 9, the aliens have the means to go home -- one really smart prawn has been hiding the key to their return for 20 years, and they even have the fuel -- albeit in a form they need to furtively scavenge and refine -- like meth cookers -- from recovered bits of their own technology.

Anyway, it seems fairly well set up for a sequel. District 10, anyone?

Afterwards, I stopped by Reston Town Center to visit the new Apple Store. Though I missed the grand opening festivities, it was still loud and crowded. This one, I didn't have big expectations for -- after all, it's just an Apple store -- but it's also disconvertingly small. Narrow. Especially when compared to the nearby stores in Arlington and Tysons Corner. It doesn't take up the entire former Eddie Bauer store space (there's another store next door).

Then I stopped by The Counter for a burger. The space is shiny and nice, the staff is friendly, they have beer, and the burger is... average. Maybe "solid" is a better word. I would say overpriced.

The fries are shoestring style and good, though I guess I'm a french fry philistine -- my favorite is still the heavily-seasoned kind that come frozen in an institutional-sized bag.

Anyway, here's a cameraphone picture:


I still haven't been to Ray's Hell Burger yet, so the best I've had around here is still Joe's Burgers in McLean.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Wanted: A Dumb Crisis Manager; Plus, Reviewing The Colony, Episodes 1 & 2

Ever since CrisisCamp, I've been mulling over ways we can leverage pop culture depictions of crises to get people thinking and doing more for their personal disaster preparedness. As we've seen, throwing preparedness guides up on just isn't doing it -- we can argue about why elsewhere, though I think it's because gets us thinking about preparedness in the "scary way we prefer not to think about," as opposed to the "scary way that entertains us" that we see in pop culture.

Pop culture is awash in constant crises, ranging from earthly disasters like fire, flood, earthquake, tornado, hurricane, and pandemic; celestial hazards like meteors, comets, and asteroids; and man-made disasters running the gamut from terrorist attack, dirty bomb, biological warfare, all the way up to total nuclear holocaust and post-apocalyptic aftermath.

And of course, we can't forget zombie attack, alien invasion, robot uprising and every other monster incarnation.

Because pop culture crises are ultimately entertaining and diverting, people are more willing to engage them. So what can we do to leverage the power of pop culture depictions of crises?

Enter the Dumb Crisis Manager
One thing we can do, of course, is comment on how crises, disaster preparedness, and crisis response are depicted in TV and movies. Basically, I'm talking about trying to recreate Phil Plait, whose Bad Astronomy site rose to prominence by highlighting bad (and good) depictions of science and astronomy in TV and movies, and creating a personality who can authoritatively talk about these issues.

I'm pretty sure that person isn't me. And it may not be a single person. But I'll fill in until someone else steps up.

The Colony, Episode 1 (a.k.a. Real World: Thunderdome)
Right now, I'm two episodes into The Colony on Discovery. I don't think I'll make it to the third. Originally, I thought it might be interesting way to show useful survival skills (at least for the immediate aftermath period), but it's pretty clear now that it's basically Junkyard Wars-style engineering challenges, with a some fake Mad Max thrown in.

The problem I have with reality TV in general is that it's manufactured drama, and this is especially telling with The Colony: There's no prize at stake (that we know of), no one's getting kicked off the show, and there's no "game," so why do these folks insist on acting like typical reality TV meatheads? Worse, why make a show of swinging around sticks and pipes to fend off scavengers, intruders, motorcycle marauders (a recurring theme) -- did they sign a particularly permissive waiver that said they were participating in blood sport? It's just silly.

Anyway, here are the skills they show off in the opening episode. (The participants are foot-mobile, so they have no personal supplies to speak of -- no real lessons to be learned there):

Skill: Looting, fending off other looters: Useful as it may be (in the "collapse of civilization" scenarios that gets TEOTWAWKI types all hot and bothered), I would suggest that "grab anything that's not nailed down" isn't really a skill that needs to be taught.

Skill: Water Filtration: They gave a cursory demonstration of how to filter water through buckets with alternating layers of sand and charcoal, which was good. However, they glossed right over the post-filtration boiling part, though which was bad. Very bad. And even after that, I don't know that I would trust water from the LA River.

Reality TV moment: One of the early Survivors (maybe the first?) featured a conveniently-placed "natural" container of sketchy-looking standing water. Some of the cast worried about brain parasites and such, but the gameplayers realized that the show's producers wouldn't have provided water that they couldn't drink. So the reality TV safety net is in effect. Witness the disclaimer at the end of The Colony credits:

"The participants in "The Colony" experiment are presented with situations that were created by the producers. They receive support from off-camera experts when their health or safety may be in danger. Viewers should not attempt ot engage in the activities depicted in this experiment."

Skill: Flushing a toilet with a bucket: Really? Really? This is a big deal? Not only is it completely obvious to anyone whose water's even gone out (even briefly), but wasting gallons of potable water to flush toilets, instead of setting up a latrine in a corner of that big-ass compound of theirs, is idiotic.

Reality TV moment: Picking up sticks, pipes, and other beating implements to fend off a night-time intruder. Or else, you could, you know, have the cameramen shine their lights at them?

Reality TV moment: The addition of the second group of survivors. Again, if you see a group of people with a camera crew, it's a pretty safe bet you can let them in. At least one guy (the contractor who's also an ex-con) had a pocketknife on him.

Supplies so far:
* Food: Canned, other relatively shelf-stable stuff. Could go into more detail. (e.g. how peanut butter is a good energy food). Haven't introduced any annoying food preferences or allergies, fortunately.

* Flashlight. Looked like a standard 2-D incandescent.

Skills Challenge: Lighting. Good thing they just happened to have that bank of batteries and inverter, eh?

Skills Challenge: Water cistern with semi-permanent filtration system, budgeting 1 gallon/per person/day.

Reality TV moment: The cast is really engineer / mechanic heavy. They really should have included more deadweight -- even their IT guy came up with the water filtration method.

Skills Challenge: Rainwater collection. Wow, they discovered the rainwater drain pipe just as it starts raining. Oh, no: time pressure! What a coincidence.

Reality TV moment: Wouldn't be reality TV without blurred out genitals now, would it?

Summary: The first episode set the stage -- looting, motorcycle marauders, engineers gone wild. It gets worse in the next episode...

The Colony, Episode 2:

Reality TV moment: Oh, look -- a conveniently-unopened crate. Good news: It's filled with tools. Bad news: They're cheap-ass Harbor Freight tools. I guess Survivors... er, sorry, "Colonists" can't be choosers.

WTF moment: You know, people were able to do work before power tools. I, myself, used hand saws and a hand-drill back in shop class. Just wanted to point that out, in case you're ever faced with a choice between recharging your reciprocating saw vs. keeping the lights on in a survival situation.

Reality TV moment: Yeah, they're setting up cranky old guy for a conflict / redemption arc. At least in the first episode we learned he was having coffee / booze / tobacco withdrawal.

WTF moment: They move a step beyond looting, to actually stealing from other refugees. And look, they're getting fake worked up over fake danger from the fake motorcycle marauders (who, in voiceover, we learn can't actually hurt the Survivors... er, "Colonists", but they don't know that... DUM-DUM-DAAAAA)

WTF moment: Oh look, a conveniently-placed oxy-acetylene torch.

Summary: As you can see, not much in the way of usable skills here, even more contrived Junkyard Wars projects, and even more contrived reality TV conflict. The talking head interludes add psychobabble and nothing else. And if that gassified wood-powered generator actually worked (without the magic of television), I'll drink some of that LA River water.

That's it, nothing more to see here. I'm outta here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Teabaggers Branch Out to Lemonade Stands

Here's a roadside "Obama Wealth Redistribution Lemonade Stand" (link from a redlit Fark thread) on the route of the RAGBRAI cross-Iowa bike ride:

It's even spelled correctly and everything

Here's the price list (Hey, look, a valid use for a table):

$0 to $25K$0.25
$25K to $75K$0.50
$75K to $250K$1
Precious, right?

Now, I was wondering what kind of tax rates this pricing scheme actually uses. Since it's a lemonade stand, I'll just use a progressive sales tax, so I don't have to muck around with marginal tax rates and all that. I hope someone else gives it a shot (I've probably already screwed up the math here.)

If the after-tax price at the lowest bracket is 25 cents, let's make the pre-tax price 24 cents, for a nice, easy 1 cent tax, or 4% sales tax. Then, we'll add the other tax brackets:

IncomeTotal Price
Sales Tax PaidSales Tax Rate
$0 to $25K$0.25$0.014%
$25K to $75K$0.50$0.26108%
$75K to $250K$1.00$0.76317%
Wow, a top tax rate of nearly 2000%! What an insightful satire on the redistribution of wealth and creeping socialism. No wonder you got a mention on Hannity!

I respect smart anti-tax arguments. This is not one of them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Time Machine Saved My Ass From a North Korean Suicide Cyberattack

I don't actually think my Mac was taken over and forced to self-destruct by North Korean cyberattackers (or whoever it responsible for that bit of business), though the timing is a cute coincidence.

The Problem
On Friday night, my Macbook's hard drive died. I discovered this at about 4am as I staggered relocated from the sofa to the bed, and noticed that the screen was a shade of blue I hadn't seen before.

That was a kind of waker-upper.

I did some poking around. I couldn't get it to boot from the DVD drive, though I think that went south on me last week (refused to play a DVD movie), so that wasn't really a surprise (but it was still really inconvenient).

I was able to boot off my external Firewire drive -- Disk Utility couldn't even find the internal hard drive, so I figured it was toast. I was able to get online, though, so I made an appointment at the Apple Store the next morning and went to bed.

The Resolution
Saturday, I went to the Tyson's Apple Store (the first in the nation, lest we forget) for my 11:20 appointment. The store was pretty busy, with a line of iPhone activators (complete with an armed rent-a-cop to maintain order), but I only had to wait 5 minutes at the Genius Bar.

The tech hooked and looked at my machine. The hard drive, at only 21 months old, was indeed dead. Fortunately, even though I was outside of the warranty, they agreed to replace it (though I was on my own on the optical drive -- at $400 to fix, I decided to leave it be for now). I left the machine with them and went home, computerless, though only for a few hours -- they called later that evening and I was able to pick it up.

The Recovery
I was relatively calm through the whole process (probably overly so), since I was banking on the fact that I had a fairly recent Time Machine backup (from July 8, as it turned out) sitting on my backup drive.

I hadn't been that religious about my backups, frequently getting the "it's been 10 days since your last backup" message, and I haven't used it to migrate or restore a computer, so I guess I should have been more nervous: I would have been kind of screwed if there were any problems with the backup. But I set it to restore, then left the house to go carouse at the Town Center.

When I got back, the machine was fully restored from the backup and good to go. The only thing I didn't get were some minor changes I'd made in the day and a half between the backup and the crash. But I can always re-download that porn.

The Aftermath
Well, the combo drive is still borked, so I'm going to have to figure out what to do about that. Even if I can get a better price at a third-party repair shop, I can't really spare being without my computer for a few days, and I might be better off putting the money towards one of those fancy new unibody Macbook Pros (not sure if I'd get the 13 inch or the 15 inch). Not only would it be an upgrade, but it'd give me a little redundancy.

Somewhat ironically, I'd been on the edge of upgrading my hard drive, anyway -- I'm running a bit low on free space. I still can't feel good about that "21 months to failure thing," though.

I'm really glad that the Time Machine backup worked. I will have to be more rigorous about my backups.

Thankfully, this happened over the weekend, so I didn't have a lot of work to do. However, having a lot of my data in the cloud would have made work easier to do. I still have a long way to go (especially on consolidating and making my documents and mail accounts accessible), but it would have been workable.

Most disconcerting of all was how my routine was disrupted, and how my communications and search safety net was cut off. My phone's browser could get me through basic searches, and I've gone longer without being online, but really didn't like being forcibly disconnected.

I make a lot of noise about our dependence on technology and connections, but I'm in the same boat as everyone else. It was really uncomfortable. Must think about this some more.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Worst July 4th Skating Video You'll See All Week

July 4th, I met up with the Washington Area Roadskaters for their July 4th skate. As I twittered, we met up at the White House, moved through Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Union Station, and then to the Tidal Basin to watch the fireworks.

I also filmed the most boring skating video ever made as we made our way through the Georgetown Waterfront:

I didn't have any fancy stabilizing rigs, just held the camera at my sternum, pointed mostly straight ahead. Which is why you mostly see butts. (You know what they say: Unless you're the lead dog, the view never changes. Which is fine, if you happen to be an assman.)

Through the first part of the skate, I was sucking wind, mostly because I was feeling the aftereffects of a few of these Porch Day beverages:

This was the first time in a long time that I wore my helmet while skating. I had a headlamp strapped to it (a River Rock 6V LED, uses 2 CR123 batteries -- got it on sale at Target) -- it's pretty powerful, with good throw and spill. It was useful to highlight road hazards, and also to let people know that I was coming.

It might have been useful for the skater ahead of me who was involved in a collision with a bicyclist as we were making our way through the crowds near the Mall, on our way down to the Tidal Basin. I didn't see what happened, but I don't think anyone was hurt.

We had a good spot on the Tidal Basin. Here's a fireworks photo:


Afterwards, we headed past the Kennedy Center to Foggy Bottom. At one point, we were on one of the roads that leads onto the 66 on-ramp (I was just following the crowd) -- a cop stopped us (since they were starting to release traffic onto the road), but was nice enough to hold up traffic at one point so we could cross the median and get to the Kennedy Center. (He didn't actually do it, but I could hear the *facepalm* in his voice.)

We ended up hanging out at the outdoor patio of a TGIF for a while for food and drinks (sorely needed, as I'd been starting to cramp up).

That's about it.

Friday, July 03, 2009

When TV and Movies Enhance Music Appreciation

I find it interesting how hearing a song used as part of a TV or movie soundtrack can strengthen my connection to it, or makes me appreciate it in a whole new way.

The most recent example of this was hearing The Chemical Brothers song, "Alive Alone" (vocals by Beth Orton) during a key moment in the Virtuality pilot (which I actually liked a lot). I was familiar with the song (Exit Planet Dust is an awesome album, to state the obvious), but I can't say that it had any special grip on me. But after seeing it used in the Orion drive detonation sequence (at the 50 minute mark if you watch it online), it made me like it a whole lot more.

This isn't the first time this has happened. Other times include:

* Seeing Soul Coughing's Super Bon Bon during the cold open sequence of an episode of Homicide: Life on the Streets

* When the Propellerheads' Spybreak! plays during the lobby shootout in The Matrix.

* The epic use of Inna Gadda Da Vida during the climax of Manhunter. If you know the scene, nothing more needs to be said. If you don't, well, I pity you.

If the director knows what he or she's doing with the soundtrack, the song will match the tone and content of the scene -- they're using the song to reinforce the impact of the visual and action. (And I guess it also happens with music videos, so nothing new there.) But I still find it interesting how the opposite effect occurs, whereafter you associate the song with the scene.

I guess I'm easily impressed.

If you've got an example of a song that you ended up liking a whole lot more after seeing it used somewhere, feel free to share.

Monday, June 22, 2009

More Kickball Footage: Still Not Getting Any Better at This Video Thing

Had some offline time this weekend, so I was catching up on some photos and videos. Here's a quick clip from a kickball game on 5/21, notable for a sexy play at home (Please excuse the cameraman's hooting.):

We won the game pretty handily.

The next video is from 6/11 -- we were short-handed, but after a back and forth effort, we went into the bottom of the 6th down by a couple of runs. Somehow, we managed to pull off a win:

This particular video, I finally stopped using the Fade to White transition and moved to the Cross Dissolve. (This was a big step for me.)

Also, even though the camera shake is pretty minimal (well, except for the part where I was laughing because Dennis baited a fielder into making a play for him, so Michelle could get home), I didn't use any of the homemade Fig Rigs or Poor Man's Steadycams or anything -- just held the camera carefully.

One of these days, I'll invest in a real digital camcorder. As well as figure out how to optimize the file export settings -- I'm still not happy with the quality, especially after YouTube gets done with it.

Meet (Busty) Christian Women, Easy

I don't usually pay attention to the ads on my Facebook profile, and they're pretty easy to ignore. But this one stood out: Not only because of the mistargeting (Christian singles is pretty far off the mark), but because it features a model with huge tracts of Bible:

Busty Christian Singles Ad Then I realized that I'd seen this particular particularly pneumatic model before -- she's busty glamour model Denise Milani (she works non-nude -- barely -- but I wouldn't call the site SFW) and she's a former SportsbyBrooks girl.

TinEye reverse image search finds the photo in larger size, used in other, decidedly non-Christian contexts.

While it's possible, of course, that Denise Milani is a fine, upstanding Christian woman, and that her photo was licensed to this particular Christian singles site, it seems far more likely that whoever was responsible for the ad -- either the site or an affiliate -- just grabbed an eye-catching photo off the Web. *yoink*

Seems to be standard operating procedure for any dating site ads on Facebook, whether it's over 30s, Christian, or whatever -- find a pretty girl whose boobs take up 40% of the available image area. (Actually, I guess that's the SOP for pretty much any Facebook ad.)

I actually did click through to take a look at their site. (Their slogan is "The Community for [Busty] Christian Singles.")

It has a lot to offer -- for example, it has a wonderfully streamlined registration process. For example, it asks your gender, but doesn't ask what gender you're seeking. Simple!


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Please Don't Touch Me... I'm Thinking

Cameraphone pic of a frozen touchscreen kiosk at the Harris Teeter:

Please Don't Touch Me, I'm Thinking

Friday, June 05, 2009

Why Yes, the AOL Time Warner Retirement Plan IS Administered by "PunkRocks"

Here's the most ridiculous AOL employee password phishing e-mail ever. (The fact that I got it also shows the phisher is working off an old internal employee list and only adds to the ridiculousness):
From: [redacted]
Subject: Retiring yourself from AOL?
Date: June 5, 2009 8:10:43 PM EDT
To: [my old AOL business screenname]


The depression has struck the entire nation, including us here at AOL Time Warner. Some associates may no longer be eligible for retirement plans. As the depression locks its grip on us in an unstable fashion, and we spiral toward financial disaster, there is little to do other than ride out the storm and hope for the best.

5,000 employees are no longer eligible for retirement.

To find out if your plan has been canceled, please do the following:

1. Instant Message the AIM BOT Screen Name "PunkRocks" and login to the system by IMing your credentials in this format: [ScreenName][Password][SecurityCode]
2. Your updated retirement plan file will be pulled up and displayed for your viewing.

Remember: Your plan MAY still be active. You MUST Instant Message "PunkRocks" with the above information to verify.

We apologize and have no further information at this time,
AOL Time Warner
Outside of the purpleness of the prose and the ludicrousness of the idea of an "AOL Time Warner" retirement, a few comments:
  • People still phish for AOL employee accounts. Who knew? And they say AOL is no longer relevant.
  • Sure, Gmail has always been the preferred e-mail host for AOL Time Warner benefits information.
  • Why, yes, the AOL Time Warner retirement plan has always been administered by screen name "PunkRocks" (I'm assuming it's a compromised account, of course.)
On my inaugural Facepalm Scale, I give it a five out of five -- the highest possible score! Congratulations!


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hi, We're the Replacements

Here are the replacements for almost all the items I've managed to lose recently (save for my mind and possibly my dignity):


Stolen from my car in Baltimore (in April):

* Garmin Nuvi 200 GPS, $88 (refurbished) from Same model, so a straight-across replacement.

* iPod Nano 8 gb, $104 (refurbished), from Apple. Same amount of memory, but an upgrade to the next generation. I'd been debating getting the iPod touch, but decided to see what Apple (and Sprint) decide to do next month.

Lost (possibly stolen, in January):

* Skagen 105LTX watch, $27 (used), on eBay. I blogged about this watch before. It's got a grey dial face, not a blue one, but it's the same thing. It's in good shape -- the scratches in the crystal are almost the same as mine, too. Plus, I saved $10 by resizing the band myself, using a push pin.

Lost (a few months back):

* Nitecore Defender Infinity flashlight, $70, off eBay. Probably fell out of my pocket in a parking lot somewhere as I was doing errands. Yes, $70 is a lot for a flashlight (even if it's really cool, with infinite adjustability and throwing 130 lumens on a AA battery), and I don't really need a tactical flashlight... where was I going with this?

Anyway, I'll try not to lose these. For a while, anyway.

[The headline, of course, refers to the TMBG song]

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Using My Poor Man's Steadycam to Document Our Lackluster Kickball Performance

We had a kickball game on Wednesday. Even though it wasn't cold and rainy, the team was pretty flat offensively and we lost. (I went 0 for 2 at bat, including kicking into a double play, and was accused of being a rules lawyer because I reminded a girl that she couldn't take a lead off of first base.)

It did give me a chance to finally test out the Poor Man's Steadycam that I built just over a year ago (and hadn't used since).

The results were... mixed. I didn't really try walking around with it, just doing some basic panning. Even so, there's a lot of camera shake, because instead of using the prescribed 2.5 or 5 pound counterweight at the bottom, I just used a screw-on cast-iron flange, which I thought I could get away with because my Canon powershot only weights 1/4 pound. It saved weight, but basically killed the motion-dampening action, which defeats the whole purpose of the thing (other than to make people wonder "What the heck is that guy holding in his hands?").

Also, the wind noise is really prominent in spots -- need something with an external mike and one of those fuzzy covers.

Anyway, here's the video (make sure you click the "HQ" option, I may not have picked the best file size settings):


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Items That Weren't Stolen From My Car in Baltimore

  • The contents of the hatchback [too numerous to mention]
  • Lightwave Tec2000 LED flashlight
  • River Rock 0.5W LED headlamp (useful for hands-free operation, like changing a tire or cutting brake lines)
  • Big-ass 5-D-cell Mag Lite with EverLED conversion (apparently thieves don't like LED lights, despite their higher efficiency and lifespan advantages)
  • Half-bottle of generic Pepcid AC antacid (Famotidine)
  • Bottle of Blink Contacts lubricating eye drops
  • Spare eyeglasses with clip-on sunglasses; contact lens case (a.k.a. the Morning After Navigation Kit)
  • Eclipse mint tin filled with Trident bubblegum
  • My E-ZPass
  • One set of Etymotic ER-20 high-fidelity earplugs
  • Air pressure gauge
  • Mileage log and repair log notebook
  • Spring-loaded center punch (Irony Alert, since I keep it in the center console in case I need to... break a window out)
  • The CDs in my side door pockets, as well as few burned CDs in the center console. Guess they didn't like my music.
  • A disposable 35mm camera.
  • My (cheap) sunglasses
  • About $8 in singles and change in the ashtray
  • Cassette audio adapter (still in the deck)
  • A couple of other sundries
Items That Were Stolen From My Car in Baltimore:
A few Saturdays ago, I was up in Baltimore for the 2009 Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race. I'd gotten a late start (expected for a Saturday, but also because I got to Tyson's Corner before I realized I'd forgotten my 8 gig memory card and had to go back, since I wanted to take video), but I got into town by about 11:30am and scored a street parking spot right in front of the Digital Harbor magnet high school, just a couple of blocks from the American Museum of Visionary Art.

The day was great and I'll write it up in a separate post. I got back to my car about 8pm, and had just loaded up the hatch and gone around to the driver's side when I saw the mess inside:


Someone had smashed my passenger side window, and tossed my glove box (unlocked) and center console, stealing and bypassing the items above.

My iPod and GPS -- not bad for 15 seconds of work.

Of course, I'd marked myself as a target by leaving the cassette adapter cord in plain sight; I'd also had my GPS suction-cup arm mount on the dash (the GPS itself was in the glove box) with my sunglasses on it, and if that wasn't enough, I think I left the power cords on the passenger seat.

I scraped out the rest of the window and got ready to drive home. I wasn't even going to report it, but as I started to drive off, I saw a Baltimore police car parked about 50 feet in front of me -- an older couple's car had also been broken into, and they'd called the cops. So I stopped, made it a two-fer and gave a report.

Despite the security cameras out front and the group of skate rats doing the stairs nearby (witnesses or suspects, who knows), I have a feeling that this one will go unclosed.

Anyway, after I got home, I scooped the broken safety glass out and saved it. I put it in a coffee can and shook it up in small batches to break up the bigger pieces and dull the sharp edges, then washed off the glass dust and put it in the oven to dry:


Why yes, I have been watching a lot of Breaking Bad.

Yes, definitely. Too much, probably:


It's kind of pretty:


Though I have no idea what I'll use it for. It's back in the coffee can.

So, the window is fixed now (after driving around gingerly, plastic flapping, through two rainy days). I've got a refurbed, same-model GPS on order as a replacement. For the iPod, I'm not sure if I'll just get another nano or upgrade to an iPod Touch, but in the meantime, for my drive up to New Jersey for Mother's Day, here was my iPod stand-in:


I'd bought the power inverter a while back just to have on hand, so it came in handy for the laptop (it causes a pretty big hum in the speakers, though). It worked okay.

In summary, I'm a lot more careful about what I leave out nowadays.

Blog Performance Anxiety and Procrastinating Your Way to Immortality

My blog drafts pile has been building up, while my actual blogging has been going down. I can only blame Twitter and posting in other blogs to a limited extent.

The actual mechanism goes something like this:

* Gather blog material into drafts.
* Procrastinate, delay, obfuscate.
* Despair at evergrowing pile of drafts, whose short half-lives are rapidly aging into irrelevance.
* Horde drafts, in the hope that events will come around that will provide hook with which to revive draft.
* Take perverse comfort in completely specious rationalization that I can't die with unfinished business, even though I know it happens all the time.

How's that working out? I'm reminded of an old Bloom County cartoon (I took the liberty of scanning it, possibly from my copy of Bloom County Classics of Western Literature):

Binkley: Ya know, Voltaire once said that there's a certain inevitable futility in indecision.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Building a Kick-Ass PVC Fig Rig That I Hope to Use Someday

So, what's it all about, then? Read on.

It's been just about a year since I built my Poor Man's Steadycam, and I've yet to put it to anything resembling real-life use. Mostly because I just don't shoot a lot of video, but also because it's pretty darn heavy to lug around, and it's too unwieldy to skate around with.

Still, I'm intrigued (some might say "obsessed") with techniques to stabilize digital video cameras, and this Saturday is the Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race, so I wanted something new.

Enter the Fig Rig
The professionally-built Fig Rig is basically a steering wheel, with the camera mounted in the middle. By gripping the sides of the wheel, you reduce camera shake. Pretty straightforward.

Now, I'd seen the plans on how build a PVC Fig Rig knockoff (here's another version on Instructables), though it seemed to be a bit large, considering I don't have a big little video camera (just the video mode on my point-and-shoot).

The Instructables' entries weren't particularly... instructable, but a quick search pulls up this Flickr set, complete with exploded view so you can see how it all fits together. Even better, a commenter had created his own even more compact version, The Mini DV handlebar, which was just what I was looking for. (Another person, Missile Mike, did a helpful blog entry with a complete parts list and instructions.)

The Build
Of course, I had plenty of 1/2" PVC left over from my Blackjack Table Halloween costume, so I just had to make a trip to Home Depot to pick up the other PVC fittings. I didn't take any build photos since you can just look at the Flickr set, though I guess I should have -- I had to improvise a bit -- the 90 degree joint with the threaded outlet (that serves as the camera mount) only came in 3/4", so I had to get some 3/4"-to-1/2" reducing bushings.

Also, when I finally fit it together, the pieces didn't quite... fit. (Good thing I did the dry fit before gluing everything together.) The 90 degree elbows didn't meet in the middle -- one side was higher than the other, and the ends didn't reach. I ended up changing the design a bit, flipping one around and using a 1/2" coupler to join the ends in the middle, but it's basically the same.

Additionally, for the 1/4" screw mount, I just used the mount from the Poor Man's Steadycam, since I'd done it before, I don't have a quick-release mount, and because my end caps were a little different. (I did have to go back a few times to find the right-sized bolts, though.)

Anyway, here's the final product -- I wrapped it black electrical tape, then red marble-patterned cork bicycle handlebar grip tape, because it looks cool:

There are two rows of washers -- the bottom row is basically just a spare.

As you can see, it stands on its own:


With camera mounted:


And gripped, in life-like fashion:


(Note that in a world of self-timers, this is the only acceptable justification for shooting a self-portrait in a bathroom mirror -- when you actually need to show the camera in the shot.)

It feels pretty solid -- sturdy enough to, say, beat a hobo to death with. It's actually one of the reasons I went exclusively with PVC couplings, instead of trying to use my heat gun to bend the PVC (you'd still need a few couplings, anyway) -- everything's short connectors butted end-to-end, so there's no flex in it.

Does It Work?
Um, that's hard to say. I was going to try to test it at Wednesday's kickball game, but we got rained out. Based on some limited indoor testing, I'd say it works better than hand-held, not as good as the Steadycam. We're gonna be cooking with gas when I try it out on Saturday -- hopefully, we won't get rained on too bad, and also hopefully, this scratch in my throat (which is most definitely notnotnot the Mexican/Swine/H1N1 flu, even though I spent a lot of time in Home Depots this week) won't put me on the sidelines.