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Archive for the 'Environment' Category

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 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!

Monday, 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

Highways

Monday, 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

Saturday, 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

Friday, 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!

Tuesday, 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…

 

Thinking Machines

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Unless you haven’t been on the web lately, you surely have seen one of these articles about a group of scientists at Cornell who developed a machine which was able to deduce the basic laws of motion from “observation”. While I don’t know much about their work, one of the questions which come to mind is how the A.I. is structured. I mean you have to give it something to work with and to get some sort of generic intelligent device you need to be careful not to ‘guide’ it towards the results you want. Not that machines can’t be terribly good at sorting through amounts of data no human could handle. I just wonder if you wouldn’t get a lot of  this kind of thing comparing lemons imported from Mexico with the U.S. highway fatality rate. As they point out, correlation is not causation. I can see where the lab robots they talk about later in the article would be very useful for doing a bunch of grunt lab work and summarizing the results. The other thing you would expect whether the thing is actually working or not is revealed later in the article when they point out after having it work on some problems of metabolism in biology, the machine kicked out some equations they are still trying to understand. I personally have always believed the day is coming when machines will be smarter than us and it will be a lot sooner and far more disruptive than people realize. Somewhere in one of its circuits that machine is just smirking and thinking “Stupid humans, don’t even try to grasp my wisdom”. Sigh, computers have come so far.

This isn’t really a game, it’s just a physics simulation of sand that is fun and fascinating  to play with. You can make barriers to the sand flow as well as make it flammable and so forth.

Yesterday we were sitting outside watching a squirrel walk down an electric line towards some birds. I joked to my wife maybe I should grab my camera in case it turned out to be a “YouTube” moment. I didn’t have time but instead of what we expected; the birds giving way to the much larger squirrel, the birds started dive bombing the squirrel nearly making it fall before it scampered off. This photo reminds me how you just never know how animals will interact.

If you read the comments at the bottom, apparently a number of these beautiful wildlife photos aren’t photos at all. Oh well, they are still striking.

While we are on the subject of illusion, check out this amazing magic act.

You may have to be a bit of a scientist to get this one. Light behaves as both a particle and a wave.

I guess Mythbusters will be coming back on the air this Wednesday. If you have ever watched the show you know they often blow things up. Apparently one of their ‘experiments’ was a little more intense than they realized. Kids, don’t try this at home.

We did a lot of things with liquid nitrogen when I worked in a lab but we never made ice cream using it. That’s one pricey ice cream maker.

Great, another way we could all die; from a massive sun storm that wipes out just about everything electrical.

I’m not sure why I found this description of a 40 year long experiment of breeding tame foxes so interesting. By the way, NOVA is available on Hulu now but not the episode about dogs mentioned in the article.

This is pretty cool. It’s a shot of the space shuttle lifting off taken from the International Space Station.

I got a laugh out of this.

Who would have thought bats could be cute?

This is just another silly dog photo.

Just the other day I was thinking about a program a friend of mine once wrote to generate names and I ran across this.

Here are some very stunning examples of infrared photography.

I would love to eat at an underwater restaurant. Seafood anyone?

I was completely blown away at how colorful crabs can be. O.K. now I’m hungry.

And finally, usually when I walk with my cat Kelly she takes the lead and I follow but if it has snowed she lets me lead and then jumps from one of my footprints to the next. Here is a cute little photo essay of a cat dealing with 15 inches of snow.

Better Batteries

Friday, March 20th, 2009

I haven’t been blogging much lately as I have really gotten caught up in writing this little game I’m working on. Since it’s based on a game I wrote many years ago and I’m learning Flash for the first time, it’s really striking how even though I’m learning something new how productive it seems since the machines and tools have improved so much.

This past week or so there has been some big news in batteries. First they found out how to make common lithium ion batteries charge and discharge rapidly.  Imagine charging your computer, cell phone, or camera in seconds. Secondly although technically not a battery, nanotechnology has lead to some amazing improvements in capacitors. Batteries store chemical energy and capacitors store electrical energy but the most surprising to me was the announcement of a system which could deliver electricity based on storing magnetic energy.

Speaking of energy, the newer designs of nuclear power plants are a lot safer than the old ones but the problems of how to manage the waste persists. The traveling wave reactor is a really clever design that deals with both the waste issue and the nuclear proliferation issue.

If you had a secret nuclear bunker, maybe you shouldn’t … oh, never mind!

If you have ever wondered how various engines work, here is a nice site with animations of different types.

I got a chuckle out of the other side of America.

That is one bug grub! Wonder what kind of fish would go for that.

Ever start to fall asleep and feel like you are falling and wake up? It’s called a Hypnic jerk. This used to happen more to me when I was younger but I suppose I was often sleep deprived.

This is a pretty cool optical illusion. You have to go to the last picture to see it.

Talk about amazing! In the following video they use sheep as display devices.

This young boy decided to do something similar but much less complex with his dog.

What the heck is a long eared jerboa?

Motion capture systems have really come a long way. Check out the videos from Mova.

This article on artificial muscles is really impressive but as I was reading it I couldn’t help but think  it reminded me of a late night info-mercial. But wait! It can also do this! Who would have guessed the amazing material of the future was going to be carbon.

When I was reading this article on the top 10 inventions of the Middle Ages, it occurred to me how big a role the church used to play in supporting science.

This is one very determined bear.

I’ve seen this guy’s work before. Willard Wigen makes microscopic sculptures.

Here is a nicely done cat close-up.

This is a rather bizarre story about a paralyzed man who was able to walk again after being bitten by a spider.

It’s nice spring is finally here but you know there are always some big storms ahead. Check out this tornado shot. Also this shot of what they can do.

Here is lightning of a different kind; from a volcano.

And finally, here is a nice collection of pictures of big cat families.

Competence

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Here is an amusing article. I suppose it wouldn’t surprise anyone to find out incompetent people are unaware they are incompetent. I guess I did find the part about joke telling abilities a little surprising because getting a good laugh verses polite chuckles should be semi-obvious. Then again, a lot of it has to do with the quality of the joke and just not messing it up.

From MSNBC here is a list of 10 odd creatures. Now, I was familiar with most of those but have you seen the fish with a transparent head? How about a pink dolphin? Look at the size of this stingray! Look at the size of this wasp!

Just plain weird but I suppose not surprising are Japanese bug fights.

I liked the surreal clouds in this storm photo.

I linked to one of these the other day but here are more street art paintings. I think the lava one is the most impressive one I have seen yet. I suspect the artist had a sponsor for this one.

My sister and her husband went on a vacation a while back and my parents stayed at their house. We went to visit and at one point attempted to turn on the TV. It occurred to me everyone has integrated their speaker systems in such a way they are all custom and the only way to figure them out would be to follow the wires. I suppose some day we will just tell our computers to configure the systems to do what we want. This solution wouldn’t even work here but it’s kind of amusing.

I was just outside and it’s cold out there. Lucky for us the forecast is for nice spring-like temperatures late in the week.  Here is a nice photo to remind you of spring.

I got a laugh out of this.

Check out this TriceraCopter!

If you watch the TV show Mythbusters you’ll laugh at this.

The world’s largest salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni in Southwestern Bolivia is like standing on a gigantic mirror.

Imagine standing in a tunnel made out of 40,000 LEDs.

This is a funny video about how to “hack your old VCR”.

That’s one happy looking elephant.

This is pretty funny video of a dog dreaming but you have to feel a little sorry for the dog at the end.

In this video a person asks someone for directions. In the middle of the discussion they move a large picture between the two people having the conversation and change the person asking for directions. It was one thing when people didn’t notice the change with similar looking people but they didn’t notice when they changed to a different race or sex! Amazing! I suppose with the map and all the pointing, there are a lot of distractions.

My friend Matt sent me this video about everything is amazing but nobody is happy. It reminded me how you used to have to waste a lot of time going inside the gas station and wait in line when you bought gas. I wonder if I have put that  extra time to good use?

Here is a collection of photos of birds stealing ice cream. I didn’t realize birds liked ice cream.

And finally check out this cute video of a cat who adopted a rabbit.

The Creative Commons

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

I imagine most of you have heard of  Flickr a popular photo sharing site. I have been learning Flash lately and although I have a couple of games in mind which are essentially re-writes of some small games I’ve written in the past, I keep thinking about writing a graphical point and click adventure. I suppose I was somewhat inspired by some of the ones I’ve played lately. Last week I spent a fair amount of time exploring the Creative Commons area of Flickr. The Creative Commons license specifies you can use an image or a derivative work and you only have to give credit to the submitter. I was very impressed by what I found there.

Actually what got me thinking about it was this article on ways to advance your photography skills. I think the article was well written and presented some interesting ideas. However, the other thing that struck me was the awesome images accompanying the article. I mean it’s a lot easier to take a nice picture when you are standing outside the back of the Taj Mahal during a summer sunset or near an ancient Hindu temple at sunset in the jungles of Indonesia. My travel plans are somewhat limited in accordance with my budget. I suppose it’s a lame excuse but I used to live in a very scenic area and now not-so-much and though I often look at my limited view of a nice sunset off to the west there is really nothing but laziness that prevents me from getting in the car and driving somewhere I can get a clear shot.

Also if you follow the link in the article to the more interesting photos from the last seven days (again at Flickr) and keep hitting the reload button. You will see tons of interesting stuff, some of which you likely may have been able to shoot in your local environment.

Getting back to the idea of writing a game though, most of those impressive graphical adventures involve really nice art which either has to be rendered in a 3D graphics program, drawn, or photographed. It occurred to me if I wanted a shot of an animal from say Borneo and they didn’t have one at the local zoo, I could search the Creative Commons and get one at no expense other than crediting the photographer in the game. There are some terrific exotic settings available there as well.

I get a lot of hits on my blog from search engines on Megan Fox because I mentioned her originally in some post about robotics and Transformers. Just for kicks, I typed “Megan Fox” into the Creative  Commons search at Flickr. I got this poster from a sequel to the original Transformers movie. I also found this photo and this one where she is covered but it may be a little too sexy if you are at work. It all reminded me of an old, slightly naughty, joke. I wish I could remember the comedian but he was comparing National Geographic with Playboy magazine and said they both were full of picture of exotic places he’d never get to go.

Ahhh, this is comfortable.

I got a laugh out of this.

I also got a chuckle out of this anti-theft lunch bag.

Who wouldn’t want a water-powered jetpack? Ouch, look at the price!

Apparently aerogel a super insulator, works well to clean up oil spills. They didn’t point it out but the aerogel is that fuzzy thing below the brick in the picture.

Heavy science warning; string theory may be experimentally testable after all. Even if the subject is over your head there is a cute picture there.

If you read that last one, you will probably find Is Time an Illusion interesting.

This next one is sciency (a term a friend of mine once used to describe my blog) but not real complicated. I first heard of the Lagrangian points when I was writing a paper in college on space colonization. They are places in space where the gravitational tug of the bodies of the solar system cancel out. So if you wanted to build a really big space station they would be a good place to put it. I guess it never occurred to me; there may be a bunch of stuff there already.

When I saw this photo I wondered if someone really shot it or it’s like the one I made in my 2D gallery of the woman dancing on the seat of the motorcycle jumping a cliff.

An electric company in Florida made a mistake and appliances exploded and sparks shot out of the walls of people’s homes.

Now that is a big rat!

This is a pretty cool machine which makes 3D images out of levitated ball bearings. Unfortunately the video is poor quality, at first especially; it’s difficult to see what is going on.

Modern Cave Painting.

A cat / lizard meeting.

I saw this article about politicians should wear the logos of their sponsors like NASCAR drivers before I found this image of what they would look like.

Batteries wrapped in solar cells; as they point out, that was obvious.

First I had floppy disks all over the house. Then it was CDs and now it’s DVDs. If they build a quarter size device which can hold as much as 250 DVDs, I don’t think I would need many.

I wonder where this otter got a video camera.

This is just strange.

You think you are having a tough day at work?

Here is a video on the science of cute.

And finally, also on the subject of cute, there is this and this.