November 2009 Archives

Camera Toss Photography
November 30, 2009 6:35 PM | Posted in:

OK, let me get this straight. I spend (hypothetically, of course) a couple thousand for a really good DSLR camera, and the hot new thing I'm supposed to do with it is lock the shutter open and toss it into the air?

Welcome to the wacky world of Camera Toss Photography, a sure sign that some people have too much time on their hands. Wired has a wiki devoted to the subject, based on instructions provided by this blog devoted to the subject, which in turn links to this Flickr group that contains over 6,000 photos derived from the subject technique.

Sure, some of these photos are undeniably cool, but many of them could be replicated with the right software. And, frankly, I'd rather toss a copy of Photoshop in the air than my beloved Digital Rebel XT.

At least Wired brings a realistic perspective to the, um, technique, advising that this be tried around Christmas so that you can always ask for a new camera if you execute a fatal fumble.

Now, I might change my mind about this if someone will post a photo taken via their tossed Hasselblad H3DII, which retails for just under 31 large. I'm not holding my breath (even as I clutch my camera).

Brain Dead Man Not - Or Not
November 24, 2009 9:41 AM | Posted in: ,

Update: Some instances of so-called "Facilitated Communication" have been scientifically debunked. Here are some media reports on those debunkings. Particularly damning is this one detailing the results of a double-blind test in which not one of 180 FC tests yielded the proper response.

By now, you'd have to be in a coma not to have heard the account of the Belgian man who was diagnosed as being "brain dead" for 23 years, but was recently found by doctors to have normal brain function and who further claims that he had been conscious through the entire period. He's now communicating via a special keyboard and thus is able to finally share his heartbreaking story with the world.

Or is he?

I saw a televised report of this story this morning on a national news show, and what I saw was a "facilitator" using the man's finger to type on a keyboard. I was puzzled about a minor detail: how does she know what he wants to type? The "facilitator" is said to be specially trained to detect - and interpret -  faint movements by the subject, and translate them into coherent communications. This is a wonderful skill to possess...if indeed it actually exists.

James Randi thinks it's a "cruel farce," and lays out his impassioned case against "Facilitated Communication," of which, he says, this is simply the most recent example.

I sincerely hope Randi is wrong about this, for the sake of the man's family at the very least. And I'm torn between wanting to believe that this man's new-found communication ability is real and his relationship with his loved ones restored, and wanting to believe that he didn't really endure 23 years of conscious silence. I have a hard time imagining anything worse than the latter.

[Link via Neatorama, but original skepticism all mine.]
While watching the following video of the Muppets performing Queen's classic Bohemian Rhapsody, it occurred to me that they would be perfect to do a cover of something - anything - by Meatloaf. But why stop there? I want to see a Muppet version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Even if you're not a Queen fan, be sure and watch at least the last 20 seconds or so.

This one's for you, Bud
November 23, 2009 8:40 PM | Posted in:

All of you are free to visit this website, just as long as you realize that the link is really provided for my Uncle Bud. (Note: It's a Flash site, so if you have deleted Flash from your computer -- as I have -- prepare to see...nothing.)

Click and drag, and drag. Happy Thanksgiving!

November 20, 2009 9:27 PM | Posted in: ,

I see a lot of websites during the course of a week. Many of them are design-related and thus represent what should be the most striking, innovative, and creative examples the profession can build. Still, it's not often that I run across one that simply takes my breath away.

This is one.

Andrew Zuckerman is a professional photographer, and his new book has the simple and completely descriptive title of Bird. It consists of a series of gorgeous photos of birds, both exotic and mundane. What sets his work apart from other "nature photographers" is his elimination of any context for the subject; the photo consists of an image of the bird against a pure white background. This makes for a striking image, and allows the eye to focus completely on the details of each specimen.

The website for Bird goes one step further by providing an audio recording of each bird's call. This added dimension allows the visitor to create his or her own context, albeit an incomplete one, although that depends on the extent of one's imagination.

Bird is available via [link], and if you find it appealing, you may also be interested in Zuckerman's previous publications that use similar techniques, Creature [link] and Wisdom [link].

Random Thursday
November 19, 2009 9:08 AM | Posted in:

Assorted inconsequentia while considering the potential* irony of this 1962 magazine ad from Humble Oil (one of the predecessors to Exxon):

  • Without meaning to brag, I think my wife and I are extremely reliable people. We fulfill our commitments; we do what we say we'll do. And so it is with great embarrassment that I confess that both of us forgot last night to attend a board meeting that has been on our calendars for weeks. Fortunately, we weren't needed to make a quorum, and neither of us had pressing items on the agenda, but it's still humbling to realize that all the organizational tools in the world don't necessarily compensate for the basic human shortcoming known as forgetfulness.

  • I love these ads for Disney's Star Wars Weekends, which took place earlier this year. My favorites are the two that feature Darth Vader.
  • Would the Gazette be more compelling reading if it was formatted like this? (Yes, I realize that some things are beyond help. Thanks for pointing that out.)

  • Via VideoSift, the following vid shows a Japanese men's gymnastic team doing a floor routine. The synchronized tumbling routine about 2/3rds in is nothing short of amazing. But what I'd really like to see are the outtakes from the practices.

*I refer to the irony as "potential" because I'm still skeptical about the science behind so-called "global warming." Ask me again in 100,000 years and I'll have a better feel for it.

Aggie Bonfire - 10 Years Later
November 18, 2009 9:42 AM | Posted in: ,

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the bonfire on the Texas A&M campus that killed twelve students and injured many others. The university marked this anniversary with a week-long observance, which culminated in a candlelight vigil and memorial service beginning at 2:42 this morning, the precise time of the collapse. Photos from that vigil plus other recollections of the tragedy are found on this Facebook event page.

Statewide, media have provided coverage of the anniversary. Perhaps the most widely seen coverage will be the story in the current edition of Texas Monthly Magazine. I haven't read the article, but by all accounts it's an accurate and even moving description of the disaster, as well as an unexpectedly sensitive treatment of the tradition and meaning for A&M students. (I say "unexpected" because Texas Monthly has a reputation for being biased toward A&M's arch-rival, the University of Texas.) The website also has an interesting video about the creation of the photo on the cover of the magazine, which features a computer-generated version of the bonfire. (Perceptive viewers will notice that a Mac was used for the 3D modeling.)

Locally, Jimmy Patterson has written an article for the Midland Reporter Telegram about the anniversary of the bonfire collapse. He's done his typically excellent job in reporting, and the only quibble I have with the article is one that probably isn't his fault anyway: if you're going to refer to the aforementioned University of Texas using the Aggie acronym, it's "tu" (lower case). I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk that up to an editor's eye.

I worked on one bonfire during my five-year stint at A&M. As a freshman in the Corps of Cadets in 1970, about the only thing I remember is how long the four-hour work sessions were, and how short the four-hour rests seemed. I was perpetually sleep-deprived anyway (that being the typical state of a Corps fish), so the bonfire work is really just a hazy memory. It was also the hardest work I'd done in my life up to that point.

The fact that I never participated in another bonfire construction (I didn't return to the Corps after my freshman year) probably puts me in that shameful "two-percenter" category, but it's a fact of Aggie life that far more students didn't work on the bonfire than did. That doesn't lessen my respect for the tradition it represents.

However, I also agree with a number of commenters on the Texas Monthly article who point out that the bonfire is not Texas A&M, nor are the rich heritage and traditions of the university diminished significantly by its absence.

My wife and I visited the on-campus Bonfire Memorial a couple of summers ago, on a day so brutally hot and humid that it was all we could do to muster the energy to walk from the car to the Stonehenge-like setting where the twelve students who perished were honored. But we found the memorial to be so moving that we spent more than an hour reading the stories of those young people, and watching other visitors move respectfully along with us, no one speaking above a whisper. To me, that desire and ability to honor fellow Aggies is the most important tradition of them all, and as long as that doesn't change, the A&M heritage is secure.

SMP (Social Media Paralysis)
November 16, 2009 5:11 PM | Posted in:

The following is certified Content Free™

I spent much of the day paralyzed by my social media choices. I couldn't decide whether to blog, tweet, update my Facebook wall, tweak my LinkedIn profile, or stare in shame at my MySpace page...and so I did none of those things. I'm pretty sure that the world was not affected one way or another by my indecision.

Mondays are often like that, though. I don't really dread Mondays; as a freelancer working from a home office, one day is pretty much like another. I have specific events and tasks to attend to, and some of them are day-specific (attending church on Sunday, for example, or grocery shopping on Monday) but I don't tend to categorize days of the week along a spectrum of good/bad. Still, Mondays seem to be harder than other days in some respects.

I will admit that I always dread working out on Mondays. While we're pretty active on the weekends, we usually take it easy on Sundays, unless the weather is just perfect for a bike ride (and it's funny how often it isn't). That one day off doesn't sound like much, does it? But at my age, that's still enough time for the joints to stiffen and the muscles to protest and - most of all - for the mind to convince itself that one more day off won't will be a good thing, in fact, a recuperative interlude. But I also know myself well enough to understand that down that path lurks disaster.

So, instead of succumbing to all the social media temptations (let's not discuss actual work, OK?), I climbed on the treadmill and slogged through four miles and felt sorry for myself the whole time. The good news (well, for me, anyway; maybe not for you, who had to read all of this) is that it gave me something to write about at the end of the day. So I suppose there was more than just physical benefit to the activity.

Today's workout seemed even more grueling than usual, even for a Monday. It wasn't until a couple of hours later that I remembered why: we donated blood on Saturday. I really was running on empty! (My wife validated that theory at lunch when she described what a miserable time she had during her workout. Of course, at 5:30 in the morning, there's very little besides drinking coffee that doesn't meet that description from my perspective.)

Liberals Apologize to Bush? Inconceivable!
November 13, 2009 10:34 PM | Posted in:

When's the last time you heard a dyed-in-the-wool liberal compliment (much less apologize to) George W. Bush? Yeah, me neither. That's why I'm linking to this remarkable post on Hillbuzz (via Jessica's Well) the writers of which seem to have finally realized that Hope and Change aren't exactly living up to the hype.

I didn't agree with all of W's policies, but I never doubted for a second that he had the best interests of America in mind in every decision he made, and his ability to ignore attacks on his character while focusing on what was truly important is something that sets leaders apart from politicians.

I hope you'll read the above-linked post, and while you're there, scroll down through some of the comments, as there's additional wisdom to be found. Here's one example:
When we start looking at the human beings running for office and not the party in front of their names, we get as close to the Founding Fathers' ideal of this country as possible. And we scare the hell out of the two parties trying to divide and conquer.

Movie Mini-Review: "2012"
November 13, 2009 5:34 PM | Posted in:

Note: No plot spoilers are included in this post

We caught the first matinee showing of 2012, the latest epic disaster movie from Roland Emmerich. The bad news is that the whole world gets destroyed; the good news is that it's not blamed on SUV drivers. Al Gore is reported to be disconsolate.

We went in with reasonable [read: lowered] expectations, and came out thinking, "that was actually pretty entertaining." Sure, Emmerich borrowed heavily from almost every major action thriller movie that has gone before - including Volcano, Earthquake, The Day After Tomorrow, The Poseidon Adventure, and even Speed (he somehow missed Twister, although that footage may have been cut in order to pare the movie down to its spare 158 minute run time) - and it clung to the stereotypical characters (plucky unlikely succeed-against-all-odds heroes, cold-hearted politicians, cute kids and dogs in harm's way, ex-wives who eventually see the error of their ways, and flying rhinos. Oops; strike that last one. Sort of.), but they were all presented in a "we know that you know that we know that this is all in good fun" manner.

So, if you have the budget to afford the popcorn and the bladder to withstand the soft drink, I recommend 2012 as a good way to while away a fall afternoon or evening. Sure, it's mindless entertainment, but let's face it: nowadays, Hollywood just isn't giving us that many chances to irritate Al Gore. Plus, you'll get to see the assassin from Serenity (it took me a while to figure out where I'd seen him before).

Random Thursday
November 12, 2009 9:56 AM | Posted in:

I entered this work day fully intending to accomplish some worthwhile tasks. Fortunately, I've come to my senses.

  • Last night's Country Music Awards program is always great fodder for those who contend that The Nashville Machine has crushed the soul out of the genre. They're the same people who keep a candle perpetually burning in their homemade shrine to Conway Twitty's hair (he is dead, isn't he?). As for me, while I readily admit to being a fickle fan - I'm back in the fold after a years-long fling with, um, everything else - I also happen to believe that country music has never been in better health, and the music still rises above competing genres in almost every aspect.

  • That said, it's also completely true that only George Strait knows how to properly pick and wear a hat. (I never did figure out Billy Gibbons's headgear...and I'm not sure I want to know.)

  • One of the talking heads on a national morning news program today referred to Nidal Hasan as the "alleged" shooter. I couldn't figure out how they justified this, but one of my pals on Twitter explained it thusly: "The "alleged" bit was added only after it was learned that he was alive and had retained the services of an attorney." I guess scores of eyewitnesses don't trump political correctness and legal weasel words.

  • One other thing about Hasan has me really confused. How did a guy like that ever make major? That's some serious rankage, and his achievement doesn't pass the sniff test. Almost seems like the military equivalent of kicking someone upstairs in order to make them someone else's problem. Hope I'm wrong about that.

Proof of Microsoft's Success
November 12, 2009 7:59 AM | Posted in: ,

Update: I'm been taken to task for unfairly maligning Windows 7, the final version of which is far superior to the beta version depicted below. In the final version, Hitler's mustache also jiggles.

Via xkcd:


Dogs like Veterans Day, too
November 11, 2009 5:13 PM | Posted in:

I think a fitting way to wrap up Veterans Day 2009 is by watching the reactions of dogs to the return of their masters after being deployed in military service. Outstanding!

You'll also be struck by how these tough, well-trained fighting men are reduced to blathering by the sight of their overjoyed dogs. Dogs have a way of doing that to us, don't they?

No word on what cats think.

Veteran's Day
November 11, 2009 9:02 AM | Posted in:

I want to add my voice to the chorus in thanking those who have served in the US military over the years, starting with my dad (who was awarded a Purple Heart in the European Theater of WWII) and including my father-in-law and numerous uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, and sons and daughters of those friends, many of whom I've never met but to whom I owe a debt of gratitude that mere words are incapable of repaying.

Thank you, one and all, and may God bless you for your dedication to your fellow Americans. And for those of you in active duty, rest assured that you (and your families) are in my prayers each day.

"The Color of Sin"
November 10, 2009 6:55 AM | Posted in:

An article in Scientific American entitled The Color of Sin--Why the Good Guys Wear White posits that "ancient fears of filth and contagion may explain why we think of morality in black and white."

The article cites the findings of a series of experiments in which words with "strong moral overtones" were printed in either black or white type, and shown to subjects who were asked to categorize what they saw (this is a variation of the Stroop test, a more familiar incarnation of which is found in games where participants are shown colored shapes with the name of the color printed in a different color). According to the researchers, there was a strong correlation between the identification of words printed in black as "immoral" and those in white as "moral."

The words used in the study were categorized by the researchers as immoral, neutral, or moral and included: cheat, crime, devil, hell, neglect, sin, torment, vulgar, aspect, calm, concert, east, motion, recall, sum, aid, angel, brave, charity, grace, honesty, saint, virtue.

They then extended the test and found that people "who expressed the strongest desire for an array of cleaning products were also those most likely to link morality with white and immorality with black."

I have no idea what to do with that last finding, but I can provide the researchers with some direction regarding their overall findings, as I think they're off base. Here's what they say:

Because of the shared connection of blackness and immorality with impurity, valence-darkness associations in the moral domain have a metaphorical quality. Accordingly, the concept of immorality should activate "black," not because immoral things tend to be black, but because immorality acts like the color black (e.g., it contaminates).

Wrong. Black is representative of sin not because it contaminates, but because it hides. That's why the Bible frequently contrasts good and evil in terms of light and dark, proxies for white and black. (e.g. Ephesians 5:11; 1 John 1:6-7; Ephesians 5: 8-10) Humans seeks out the darkness to do their evil deeds in the mistaken assumption that they can hide those deeds from others, or even more laughably, from God. Indeed, we are amazingly successful in hiding our shortcomings from other people; we're absolute failures when it comes to fooling God. Some of the accounts of the earliest human behavior involved man's attempt to hide his actions from God (see Adam and Eve in the Garden; Cain's murder of his brother).

I hope the aforementioned study wasn't paid for with my tax dollars. Their questions could have been better answered by reading a $2 copy of the New Testament.
I suppose I just have not been paying attention, but I had never heard of Chiune Sugihara until last week, when I read his story on the Mental Floss blog. If his name is also unfamiliar to you, please take a few minutes to learn more about him, as his actions are credited with saving 6,000 Lithuanian Jews from the Holocaust of World War II. Those actions resulted in significant personal grief for him and his family, but, like all true heroes, he counted the cost and found he was willing to pay it on behalf of human beings with whom he had nothing apparent in common.

I find no small comfort in believing that for every Fort Hood mass murderer (I refuse to type his name), there's at least one Chiune Sugihara.

Abbye: In Loving Memory
November 8, 2009 2:48 PM | Posted in:

Photo collage - Abbye

November 7, 2009 2:52 PM | Posted in: ,

Debbie was watering the plants on the front porch when she heard a tapping sound. She looked up and spotted the source: a ladder-backed woodpecker working its way up the trunk of our neighbors' red oak tree. We don't see many woodpeckers around here, so it was definitely a photo opportunity.

In the second photo, you can easily see the pockmarks the bird was leaving in the tree bark.

Photo of a ladder-backed woodpecker
Photo of a ladder-backed woodpecker

Seeing is Disbelieving
November 7, 2009 11:26 AM | Posted in:

Brains are funny things [Via Neatorama].

More Butterfly Photos
November 6, 2009 6:42 AM | Posted in: ,

I keep thinking that it's a little late in the season for butterflies, and yet they keep showing up. Yesterday, a beautiful black swallowtail was sipping from the bougainvillea growing in pots on our driveway. It was persistent enough that I was able to run inside, change lenses on the camera, and take a few dozen photos. Below are a couple of examples; there are ten additional larger images in the Gallery.

Photo - Black Swallowtail Butterfly on Bougainvillea
Photo - Black Swallowtail Butterfly on Bougainvillea

Technical photo details: Canon Digital Rebel XT, Canon 80-200 zoom lens, manual focus, ISO 100

Living Small
November 5, 2009 5:15 PM | Posted in: ,

There's a lot to be said for simplifying one's life, although it's usually much easier to talk about it than to actually do it. I often declare (to no one in particular) that every time we buy something new for the house, we should get rid of something old. Of course, that only allows us to break even, so to speak, and we hardly ever do it anyway, so it's just a lot of posturing on my part.

Even on those occasions when I put my money where my mouth is, it's for stuff that I don't really care much about anyway. Debbie will bring home two or three new shirts for me, and it bothers me not a bit to toss an equal number of old ones (I have shirts that originate further back into the 20th century than is comfortable to admit). But if I get a new iPod, do you think I'm deleting an old one? Heck, no. One can never have too many iPods.

I'm sporadically successful in convincing my wife to discard old drinking glasses or mugs when she buys new ones, but even that's an uphill battle. Who knew one could develop a sentimental attachment to crockery?

What we do try to do is not acquire stuff that we won't use and enjoy, or to expend so much of our income on acquiring things that there's nothing left to give away to others. Frankly, I feel pretty good about the balance we've achieved in creating a comfortable lifestyle. And I'm dead certain that our sense of well-being would not be improved by shoehorning it into 96 square feet.

Random Thursday
November 5, 2009 8:50 AM | Posted in:

More bloggy randomness while asking the eternal question, "what did you think was going to happen when you gave people money to trade in their pickups?"

  • If you're in the oil business (aka the "awl bidness") and you're not a regular reader of The Oil Drum, then you're missing out on one of more valuable online resources for intelligent analysis and discussion of energy-related issues. The contributors to this blog are objective and they know their stuff. Plus, for data junkies, there's enough graphs, charts, tables, and statistics (and intelligent interpretation thereof) to make life worth living.

    I'll recommend two recent sample posts: Arthur Berman leaves World Oil after raising natural gas questions (providing an excellent analysis of the relationship of natural gas prices to crude oil prices...and a lot more) and EROWI - energy return of water invested (an analysis of how much water is required to generate energy from various sources; this is not an idle question, by the way).

    The discussion in the comments section of The Oil Drum is one of the few places online where the debate is civil and intelligent, and occasionally even more enlightening than the actual articles.

  • ABC has published an article listing nine "Top Twitter Faux Pas." I'm not sure why they picked only nine; perhaps they didn't want to be compared to Letterman's Top 10 list, seeing that it's on a competing network. Anyway, the list contains nothing really surprising. For example, you have to be clueless to tweet that you're leaving town on vacation; if your houses gets burglarized after doing so, you deserve to be a cautionary tale. And when are employees (current or prospective) going to understand that employers and co-workers also know how to use social media?

    So, it strikes me that Twitter, Facebook, et al are simply modern means for refining the social gene pool. Darwin would be proud.

    By the way, if you want to look for my own Twitter faux pas, of which there are many, you can find them here.

  • Couple of personally significant dates on the horizon. Saturday will mark the seventh anniversary of this here blog-like thing. I'm a little embarrassed at how this site was neglected this year; perhaps 2010 will bring more inspiration. But I remain grateful for those who continue to be patient and drop by from time-to-time.

    Sunday, the 8th, brings a less happy anniversary, as it marks one year since we made the decision to have Abbye euthanized to end her suffering. I really didn't think I'd be as sensitive to this date as I am. I'd like to write a specific post about this but I don't know if I'm up to it. Anyway, just wanted to share that with those of you who remember and loved Abbye.

Coyote Serenade
November 3, 2009 7:46 AM | Posted in: ,

We're constantly delighted with the intrusion of the rural trappings of nature upon the suburban location of our neighborhood. However, one of those trappings had been noticeably absent in the past few months: coyotes.

That's not entirely accurate. I had occasionally spotted one here and there, even in the middle of the afternoon, but we hadn't heard their unique vocalizing in a while.

That changed late Sunday afternoon, as my wife and I walked through the neighborhood enjoying the beautiful weather. The full moon had just cleared the Midland Country Club treeline and I observed that its reflection in the pond would make a great photo.

As we made our way toward home, some distant sirens interrupted the evening calm, setting the neighborhood dogs to barking and yelping. They finally ceased their commotion and relative quiet returned...for a moment.

Suddenly, an amazing cacophony erupted, seeming to originate in the pasture less than half a mile south of us. The "missing" coyotes were back, and they were in fine voice. Their concert went on long enough - and was loud enough - to prompt us to try to capture some of it on our iPhones. Here's the result of mine (cleaned up a bit to remove some background hiss and boost the gain a bit).

What had stimulated this unexpected serenade? My only explanation is that the tricksters had succumbed to the stereotype and they were reacting to the appearance of the full moon.

I can't say that coyotes are welcome guests in our neighborhood, but if they're going to hang around, it's nice that they announce their presence in such interesting ways.

Gallery Images
November 2, 2009 6:23 AM | Posted in:

I got unusually energetic for a Sunday afternoon and took a bunch of photos in and around our front yard while Debbie planted pansies. Several of those photos turned into new images that are now in the Gallery. Here are a couple of samples.

The Anatomy of a Curve Ball
November 1, 2009 6:29 PM | Posted in: ,

In honor of the World Series (which I understand is being contested now between two teams indistinguishable from Yankees, regardless of what they're called, and thus is of absolutely no consequence to your scribe) here's an analysis of why a well-pitched curve ball is the stuff of batters' nightmares. The animated visual is particularly remarkable.

The linked post postulates that there are two aspects of a curve ball that confound batters. There is an actual physical phenomenon that causes the ball to move along a non-straight route, but its trickiness is compounded by a perceptual trick that exaggerates the effect for batters. I wonder if the better hitters are able to either compensate for or completely overcome this perceptual "puzzle."

I wouldn't know, personally, because the curve ball is only one of a long list of pitches I cannot now and never could hit.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

October 2009 is the previous archive.

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