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Happy New Year!

January 1st, 2013

Kelly, our 21 year old kitty, enjoying her heated blanket

Is YouTube making us smarter? I really thought it was silly when it first came out but we spend so much time watching tutorials on it I recently bought an additional monitor so we can watch a tutorial on one and work with software we are learning on the other. I guess you can teach old dogs new tricks because videos aside I’m constantly amazed at what we have been able to learn on the internet. Recently, just for kicks, we taught ourselves a tiny bit of Mandarin at this website called memrise. They have all kinds of lessons there and although I’m not sure I’m really committed to learning to read a menu at a Chinese restaurant, the format is fun, the lesson are short and they have quizzes to help you remember.

Without the internet, I would never have been able to do this.

A scene from a game we are starting to write.

Or this.

Inside the house. No furniture yet.

If you buy a Tardis PC, is it bigger on the inside?

Here just a cool picture taken from inside a hot air balloon.

I think I may have posted about this place before. It’s a park that is underwater for part of the year.

This is a town in Spain where the houses and shops are built into the rocks and cliffs.

Happy new year everyone!

And finally, something to make you say awww

 

The election is (nearly) over!

November 5th, 2012

Thank goodness the election is hopefully over tomorrow. I’m weary of going to get the mail and feeling like my mailbox is shouting at me mostly about things like rape (I live in Indiana). I don’t actually believe people ever vote based on ideas or ever change their minds. I believe as this article points out Republicans and Democrats have inherent differences in their brains.

I tend to avoid writing about politics directly but as some of you know, I do believe changing the composition of the atmosphere by filling it with greenhouse gasses is a dangerous experiment. There is certainty no doubt  the oceans are becoming more acidic, sea levels are rising, and the weather is doing some crazy things. We didn’t experience the kind of destruction Sandy did on the northeast but after about 86 days with only a trace of rain the summer, you just have to wonder how could anyone take the risk of making the drought or the megastorm worse.

In Indiana, hurricanes are not a problem. Actually the reverse is true because since Katrina the remnants of hurricanes are about the only time we get rain in the summer. We get tornadoes and by the time one is near you, you don’t evacuate, you cower in the basement. I often wonder about people who choose to ride out hurricanes. I always figured there are a few people like the character Burt Gummer in the movie Tremors, or maybe they live in houses like these. According to this article it’s actually pretty much what you think. They have no money and no where to go.

I guess I always wanted to live on the beach but I doubt rising sea levels will really personally affect me.  Even if they rise a lot faster than people are predicting. You wonder if the hole in the ozone had happened today if the world would have united as they did then to solve the problem. Or if we would have had a million lobbyists suggesting it was some sort of science conspiracy and more studies needed to be done before action was taken. It’s shame by the time anyone really does anything about it, it will be too late due to run away effects like this.

OK I’m off on a negative rant. Here are some cool snowflake pictures.

And finally, something to make you say awww

Interesting Facts

October 26th, 2012

I knew I was probably the last person on earth to sign up for facebook but the day after I did I saw a news article saying the one billionth person had signed up. It was probably me. Here is my link. Also here is the link to our page for Bash the Bankers. Hope I did that right as I am a total facebook noob. I closed comments on the blog a long time ago because I got tired of all the spam. I was thinking I would eventually put them back with a better spam filter but have never gotten to it. So at least you can comment on my FB page now.

If you are a regular reader and I imagine there are some from my stats, you know I normally finish up with a cute picture. Also since as one friend of mine put it “It’s so sciencey!” and another one recently said “I would describe your writing style as a high-tech Andy Rooney.” often the subjects I write about are well, not necessarily light reading. According to this, cute images make you sharper, perhaps I should put a cute picture at the beginning instead of the end of my blog.

Suddenly I’ve found myself with a little time on my hands and I’ve been thinking about starting some sort of project. I’ve written about the Raspberry Pi $25 ARM based computer before and thought about getting one to play with. Although it seems like an interesting platform to build some sort of sensor/controller, the more I read about it, it does seem kind of weak in terms of processing power. Yesterday I saw an article about this kickstarter project called Parallella where these people are trying to build an open source parallel computing platform. It’s $100 but it does look like it would be considerably more powerful. Yesterday it didn’t look like they were going to make  their goal but with 24 hours to go, today I noticed it might be close. I think they should have come up with a better name.

Speaking of open source,

The Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) is a modular, DIY, low-cost, high-performance platform that allows for the easy fabrication of the 50 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts.

There have been a lot of articles like this one about 3D printers lately and also the legal implications. I’ve always wanted to get a 3D printer but other than 3D art or maybe some odd connectors for some sort of PVC structure I want to build, I’m not sure what I would do with one. Unless of course I had one like this which is so large I could make furniture with it.

I mentioned I bought a graphics tablet recently and I’m really enjoying using it. Although it supports gestures like my iPhone and Android, I don’t use them that much. Occasionally my computer starts doing odd things and I realize my cat Kelly is leaning up against it. I like using the pressure sensitive pen though. Unfortunately my abilities to use a pen peaked when I was in college and spent most days trying to scribble down notes in a hurry which would actually be readable later on, or being bored in class and spent my time doodling.  When I built my first machine back in the 80′s all I could think about was how cool it would be to have some sort of sophisticated way of controlling it. This article from the BBC talks about the range of new technologies that will change the way you interface with machines.

Here is an interesting fact

Over 3 million people globally every month search for something online with the words interesting facts in it according to the most popular search engine.

I got that from this list of interesting facts. One of them I was already familiar with. If you want to bring a computer to it’s knees, try rendering a human head with 85,000 to 150,000 hairs.

And finally, something to make you say awww…

Highways

October 1st, 2012

So I’m picking up apples. The old tree, the centerpiece of my yard, had produced a small number of mature apples for the first time in a very long time. This was probably because I’d watered that side of the yard before they banned sprinkling this year. I decided to take a break. I sat down under the old apple tree, sweat sliding down my forehead. I looked down. The hose I had used to attempt to keep my plants from desiccating in the summer heat snaked through the grass in front of me. Upon it, ants weaved to and fro avoiding the long trek through the jungle of grass which would otherwise be their path. I had a moment where I considered the intelligence of these insects and their use of the hose as sort of a superhighway and then it hit me.

squirrel highway in the sky

No, it really hit me. An apple had dislodged from the tree. As if it had been guided by the most perfect aim of a human hand, it landed squarely on the crown of my head. I was stunned.  I saw stars.  Far from considering Newton’s laws, the first thought which crossed my mind was only an idiot would sit under an apple tree that was dropping apples.

I thought of this place. This is a view from Google maps. It’s not easy to tell what you are looking at. It’s a metal pipe. As I recall it was about six feet in diameter and at its highest point over the water it was about twenty feet down.

the pipe

It’s not far from the place I spent my “Harry Potter” years. My parents moved there when I was eleven and until I moved away for college I spend countless hours in the swamp surrounding this area. This shot was taken in the winter and it must have rained a lot. This image gives you no impression of how lush the swamp was. It was filled with marsh marigold and smelled of skunk cabbage. There were reeds that made perfect spears. Not the kind that would do damage but the kind young boys would spend hours hurling at each other because they might as well been made of Nerf. I must have crossed the pipe hundreds of times. At first it seemed scary. Measuring it now it appears to be at least 160 feet long. All I knew then was once you were about halfway it seemed like you were a long way from anything to hang onto. It’s funny how later on we used to run across it. There was probably a good 12 inch “path” on top where you could get good footing without sliding. I vaguely remember one of my crazy neighbors riding a bike across at one point. I only fell off of it once. It was a very windy day. I was leaning into it and then it suddenly stopped. I readjusted my balance only to feel another large blast and I realized I was going over. I landed on my feet though and had I not sunk a good foot into the muck I imagine I might not have walked away from the fall.

Looking at it on Google, there is a house in what used to big a large open field on the other side. In the early summer I can remember spending hours picking and eating small wild strawberries from one end of the field to the other. They were sweet and busting with flavor unlike the seedy tasteless variety that grow where I live now. Later it was in that field I experienced what I consider to be my first ‘real’ kiss.

I have an iPhone I used when we wrote our game but I also have a Samsung Galaxy S2 which I use as my phone. I find it surprising one of the things I enjoy about it the most is sitting outside this summer listening to audio books. Recently my wife and I were out in the back yard late in the evening listening to Ready Player One written by Ernest Cline and narrated by Wil Wheaton. In these times where everyone is so involved in copyright legal issues, it struck me how you could write a book like that and not have to worry about it but if you tried to make an actual implementation of the OASIS much less a movie of it, it would be nearly impossible. The book is completely full of references to copyrighted material.

Anyway, it got pretty cool out. I ran a long extension cord out into the yard and we plugged in some electric throws to keep warm. It got pretty dark. When we decided to go inside I picked up the extension cord and commented to my wife how cold and slimy it was. As we got up toward the garage and into the light I realized the extension cord was covered in slugs and my hands were covered in slug slime. The slugs had found the electric superhighway through my yard.

Oh, I almost forgot. Something to make you say awww…

Free Water From The Sky

July 28th, 2012

“This year is going to be different”, I thought to myself as I put in my tomato plants a month earlier than normal. Yeah, it was different alright. The last nine years we haven’t had a significant rain in July or August. This year we went nearly 90 days with only a quarter inch of rain. It’s not like it wasn’t in the forecast. We found ourselves glued to the radar many times as it passed north, east, south or west of us. Sometimes it would split or fizzle out just as it got near. I know it’s been nine years because we had our apple tree trimmed that year and I haven’t had to shovel apples in the fall in that long.

Indiana Drought map

Check out this picture of Morse Reservoir in this article from NBC.

I really miss the smell after a rain in the summer. Before they banned sprinkling I would run it when we sat out just to get that smell. It’s pretty bad when you are out there with a hose in your hand trying to decided what lives and what dies. Then yesterday it rained. It wasn’t a lot, maybe a third of an inch but it was more than we have gotten in the last 9 Julys put together.

Notice how dry the ground is in front of my tomatoes

I love tomatoes and the last couple years were pretty disappointing. This year I went a little overboard. I went in to buy Better Boys, one of my favorite varieties. Having trouble finding them I asked a clerk and not paying enough attention, I came home with Big Boys instead. I kept them and went back for Better Boys, an Early Girl, and a Cherokee Purple. I don’t think I’ve ever put in more than six plants and this year I have ten.

  

(Part of) Today's Harvest

I know weather isn’t climate but after nine years of thinking it would go back to what I used to consider normal I’m thinking next year I really need to go to some sort of container / drip system or full hydroponic. The tomatoes are doing fine with lots of watering but I buried them deep and got them in early. The squash and cucumbers have been struggling. I gave up on the raspberries completely. The birds started to get the blueberries so we netted them. For days afterward we would come out side to realize a bird was trapped in the netting. I have no idea how they were getting in.

It was a good year for these.

I don’t know if it was the hot dry weather or the fact that we left them on the bush for so long because it was too hot to pick them, but the blueberries are like blueberry flavored sugar this year.

This is an interesting article about using fungus to make crops more resistant to heat, cold, drought, and salt.

Another surprising thing about the drought was our peaches did well. The tree must have very deep roots.

Yummy!

We have been so busy the last couple of months. We had some rush jobs on a couple of web sites. One was pretty complicated. We also did an SQL Express database in C# that generated charts in a couple weeks. It’s nice to kick back and the weather today is beautiful.

 

Kicking Back.

Speaking of beautiful.

And something to make you say awww…

Asteroids

June 1st, 2012

Last month I told myself I was going to try to post more. So much for that. I spent a lot of time practicing digital sculpting and rigging characters and working on a silly walk.  Then out of nowhere a bunch of people I did web sites for wanted to redo their sites so I’ve been busy.

In the meantime I’ve been trying to come up with a good idea for this device from leapmotion. It allows you to control your computer with your hands going way beyond what you can do with 2d gestures. I would love to get one and the developer kit to play with. Virtual thumb wrestling anyone?

When I read this article about  Planetary Resources’ plans to mine asteroids it made me think about where wealth comes from. According to their website…

A single 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid contains the equivalent of all the Platinum Group Metals mined in history.

This article is interesting because it talks about the legality of mining in space.

Last month everyone was talking about mining asteroids. I was going to link to the jobs page at Planetary Resources because the application had some pretty amusing questions, but it seems they got so many applications  they took it down.

If this is actually practical, I kind of wish NASA had gone for it.  Maybe we wouldn’t have to pay taxes. I guess lately I’ve been thinking about not necessarily the Star Trek economic model where people don’t care about money but the whole asteroid mining via robots and delivering precious metals to earth thing got me thinking. What if there was something so lucrative no one would care if it were taxed at a rate where everyone could live comfortably from it.

Actually it reminded me of Project Azorian where supposedly Howard Hughes was building a ship to mine the sea floor for manganese nodules. The whole thing turned out to be a cover for an operation to recover a Soviet submarine. There’s probably some alien ship out there on an asteroid and this is their way of getting to it.

Speaking of Star Trek, I couldn’t help but think of Data in the Next Generation episode where they traveled back in time when I saw this photo.

It was interesting reading about metals in the platinum group. Apparently they are so rare because they sank to the middle of the earth when it was molten and the only ones we have now are from asteroid impacts. This article  is interesting as it is about finding ways to make catalysts which are far cheaper than platinum.

What if solar power got the same subsidies as fossil fuels?

BEC expects to be able to generate power at 1 cent per kilowatt-hour with no toxic emissions of any kind.

This article talks about “Modern Antiques” Today’s Kids Have Probably Never Seen where this one speculates about technologies young kids today will not remember.

They got me to thinking… “Hey kids you probably don’t even know we used to do math using a stick!”

This is just embarrassing.

Siri just got patched. Isn’t this the kind of thing that made HAL go crazy?

A lego crab.

I really love the light in this picture.

We ride at dawn!

And finally something to make you say awww…

It’s Noisy!

April 3rd, 2012

I wasn’t sure I was going to write about this article. As I’m trying to write and my wife is trying to nap, there is a lawn mower out there somewhere nearby. My closest neighbors have two Harleys. I’m reminded of the time I was doing contract work for a game company. I was really sick, really tired, and I had gone in on a Saturday to try and get caught up. They had a sound booth there which wasn’t nearly as sound proof as the one in that article. Some sound engineers had come in to work too and they were recording a woman screaming over and over and over…

I just need to relax, sit back and watch the Dalek relaxation tape.

I mentioned I bought a graphics tablet recently. I got to thinking how cool it would be to control music with it. It occurred to me someone probably has done that. After a short search I found a couple programs to do it. One of then I couldn’t get to work and the other one I can’t seem to pipe through anything other than the default synthesizer. My tablet senses gestures and has some other control features that Wmidi (the software) doesn’t take advantage of but it’s fun to play with. If you have a tablet, you can find the free software here.

I was laughing when I read this Wired article about the Navy making a real life laser cannon wondering what it actually sounds like. Because if you are going to spend a fortune on a laser cannon, it absolutely must sound cool.

This is another one of those ‘free energy‘  things that make you think if it were true it would completely change the world. There is a lot of discussion about whether it would violate the laws of thermodynamics in the comments. It’s kind of like these people. I’m pretty skeptical but it doesn’t mean I’m not rooting for somebody out there to make some sort of breakthrough. On the other hand, solar power in its various forms keeps advancing. You wouldn’t think about it, but making a better salt could make concentrated solar more affordable.

There seems to be a lot of nostalgia going on at kickstarter. I guess bringing back Leisure Suit Larry was to be expected.

When I think of Iran, I think of something desert like. I guess I’m not that well-informed. It’s a pretty big country. These pictures are absolutely beautiful and amazing.

And finally, something to make you say awww…

 

Crowd Sourcing Science

March 29th, 2012

I mentioned kickstarter in my last post. Until recently I would look at it and people would have projects there for games they wanted to write but often they were trying to raise ridiculously small amounts of money compared to what it takes to actually produce a game. The past month that seems to have changed with a few projects raising millions of dollars. Of course, these are well known people. I’ve had a game in mind for ten years or so I’ve wanted to write, but it’s hard to imagine doing it without large resources.

I ran across the site petridish the other day. They are attempting to crowd source science in the same way kickstarter does. I remember reading about DRACO, a project to create a broad spectrum anti-viral at MIT. It holds the promise to do to viruses the same thing that antibiotics did to bacterial infections. Those people should definitely get their project on petridish.

We occasionally have wasps building nests in our grill. At least they aren’t two and a half inches long!

This place is a good example of somewhere I would go a lot more often if I owned a self driving car. It’s about eight hours away and spectacular. You could just settle in for the night and wake up there. I had not thought about the point he makes in that link where people would probably own a lot less cars because most families could get by with one car. I disagree with his point in the last paragraph though. I think once most people have them, the insurance costs for driving your own car will become so high most people will not be able to afford it.

This is not a caterpillar.

Apparently there are glowing jellyfish in Japan.

And finally, something to make you say awww

Smart Machines

March 22nd, 2012

I was watching this TED talk today on machine intelligence.

It always strikes me how people say the singularity or omega as he calls it, is twenty or thirty years out.  I guess I should point out, that is when machine intelligence will exceed human intelligence (in case you didn’t watch the video). As he mentions, no politician is talking about it.  However, I think the impact will come much sooner. It got me thinking about the Jeopardy where the computer ‘Watson’ competed.

When I was looking for that video, I ran across this explanation of the really big mistake Watson made. Yesterday we were sitting outside after going to the vet to get more fluids for our cat, (giving them has gone very smoothly so far in case you were wondering). I said to my wife “Did we remember to get the needles?” She said “Noodles?” It was totally out of context, of course, as we weren’t talking about the vet or the cat. Anyway, humans do this too and machine intelligence has already progressed to the point where most of us could be replaced it’s just a matter of it being more cost effective.

Writing a game for Androids and iPhones really makes me think how odd it is that suddenly everyone is walking around with a supercomputer in their pocket. BashTheBankers wasn’t really the game I wanted to write. It was a game I felt I could write given the resources at my disposal. I think it’s a fun game but I haven’t yet published a free (advertising supported) version and there is so much free stuff out there. It’s hard to get noticed no matter what you do. If you have never seen kickstarter it is a site where people crowd source their projects. I suppose in hindsight I realized if you can’t get a large number of people excited and funding your project there, you might as well come up with another idea because people are not going to see your game unless there is some internet buzz about it.

Speaking of kickstarter I thought this was funny. [Edit] Oh well, it appears that link no longer works. It was a kickstarter project to buy kickstarter; maybe they didn’t think it was funny.

And, finally something to make you say awww…

 

Spring

March 19th, 2012

This site has been getting a lot of traffic lately and I keep meaning to post but I’ve been so busy. We have been working on an updated version of our game (more on that later). I’ve been talking to clients about mobile apps, and I’m working on web pages for people. On top of that I’m constantly learning new skills, and trying to retain and improve the old ones. And there have been distractions, the weather here in the central U.S. has been simply amazing for this time of year. Also I’ve been worrying about this girl.

Kelly

We had some blood tests run last week and she has some liver problems. Her kidney levels are high too, but I expected that as she had been sick a while back and  lost a bunch of weight. We starting feeding her the food she wanted instead her kidney friendly diet and her weight came back. I’m giving her antibiotics hoping her liver problems are due to an infection and not cancer. Later today I’m off to the vet to pick up fluids we will have to give to her. I know we have done it before but I’m not looking forward to sticking a needle in her and keeping her from moving around while we wait for the solution to drip into her. The good part is she seems to be feeling OK. Earlier we took a walk in the yard and she stalked a rabbit that was about her size. I don’t think the bunny had much to worry about but it wasn’t bad for a cat who will be 21 years old if she makes it to June.

Some of the things I’ve been meaning to write about are the many tools we used to write our game. Sometimes you wonder why there are so many games out there when you have to  program, do 2d and 3d art, produce sound effects, music, animation and on and on. One of the things I have been determined to do lately is to really learn to use Photoshop. I don’t like Photoshop! I find it very frustrating and often just give up and use a paint program I wrote years ago because, I wrote it so I know how it works. However, I recently bought a graphics tablet and decided to just grit my teeth and just plow into it. I have learned a fair amount of it over the years but some of the new tools are pretty amazing. I’m not going to do a tutorial here as there are already a ton of them out there. I was just going to mention content aware fill because it’s really cool.

Original

Altered

This isn’t a particularly good picture. I took it because I wanted to use the content aware feature to remove the blue tarp and the telephone pole. I used the quick selection tool to select the tarp. Now, even if you know nothing about Photoshop I just want to make a point. I did not tell the program how to fill in the area where the tarp was. I just told it to figure it out, and in this case it did a pretty good job. In the case of the telephone pole, I simply used the healing brush with content aware selected and brushed over it.  I’ve used this tool enough to know sometimes it doesn’t work and gives you completely ridiculous results but more often than not, it works and saves you a bunch of time.