Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Best Science Fiction Movie You'll See All Year

Here it is, the entire thing, in under 4 minutes: Wanderers.  Zoom it out to full screen, turn up the sound.

Go, watch, then dig around the site and watch a few more times.  There are lots of stills from the film, all kinds of background information sprinkled around.

Hat tip to The Unwanted Blog, both for pointing to this movie and for the discussion of Interstellar.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Boring Person Week

Getting lots of little jobs done, and I CAN TYPE WITH TWO HANDS NOW.  But... it's not my usual active existence.  Wish there was more to say at the moment, but there it is.

Hey, I'm getting lots of little chores knocked out.  And I'm not tempted to put on an orange jersey and go MTBing during deer season anyway and risk getting shot.  Back to the little chores...

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday Special: Eulogy for RadioShack

Here's an inside view of RadioShack and its misdeeds, from a former employee.  Main quote from the article:
This is a consumer technology business that is built to work perfectly in the year 1975.   ....   This company needed to become something radically different a decade ago. I just don't think it knows how to be anything else.
Wow, what a monumental multi-decade screw-up.  Here's a brief history of the corporation and its attempts at restructuring into profitability over at Wikipedia.  Talk about mis-management and buzzword bingo, it's as if they did every business school dance while carefully avoiding the main issue of selling profitable items that customers want.  And while they've often skirted with financial problems, this really is looking like TheEnd for RadioShack.

RadioShack has always had a slightly greezy feel to it, but on the whole it has always been there when I needed a roll of solder or some cable connector. Granted, these days there's a better selection of better quality parts on the internet, but that implies a shipping delay.  When I'm in mid-project, it's been nice to know that the RadioShack around the corner likely would have that one little part I needed to wrap the job up the same day.  I'm going to miss them.

Look on the bright side: maybe a company that knows decent management can pick up the bones of RadioShack for little to nothing, then re-build the company into something useful and profitable again.  The current crop of management sure hasn't done the job.  In the meantime, I'll be watching to scoop up some gear for cheap at the Terminal Sale.  (cue the circling vultures)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Not that I'm tired of Christmas already or any such, but I kind of like this cartoon:

For today, Happy Thanksgiving.  December starts Monday, so start thinking about the rest Come Monday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A new blog of interest.

Last week I posted a link to a story about a bailed-out bomber pilot potting the Zero that got his plane with a .45.  The blog from whence that story hails, Alert5, is pretty damned impressive!  Addictive too.  The current top post is all about the Genie air-to-air missile, which was an impressive weapons system in its own right.  Recommended!
Bright exhaust plume, but nowhere nearly as bright as the warhead's flash.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Collarbone Update

Two weeks down, four plus to go.  Had a check-up and X-ray on it today, and so far so good, it seems to be healing as expected.  Still have to wear a damned clavicle brace (this one) so that the ends won't overlap too much while it heals, but apart from that minor inconvenience things aren't bad at all.

This'll keep me out of the woods and off that damned bike until the end of deer season.  Probably for the best.  Enough on this topic, back to our regular subjects.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Live Fearless"?

In yesterday's mail there was an advertising postcard urging me to stay with my current health insurance company.  That's fine, I'm happy with them, little chance of me changing coverage.  But the theme / title / buzzphrase emblazoned all over it urging me to "Live Fearless" made me realize that (a) they don't know me very well, and (b) if they did, their lawyers would be desperately searching for a way to shove me off on another insurance company.

BTW, the collarbone is doing well and I intend to resume damaging my body in new and imaginative ways early in the new year.  Think I may try RF burns next.

Movie Review: The Signal

This is one of those frustrating movies that starts with a pretty good idea, does a passable job of developing it, has gorgeous special effects and competent acting, but... something's lost in the storytelling.  In a spoiler-free nutshell here's the story: three MIT students are driving cross-country and end up abducted by aliens.  (space, not the other kind)  Then weird stuff happens (leaving out the spoilers), there are several discoveries along the way, there's a struggle and a chase scene, and there's a Big Reveal at the end.

OK, so far so good.  The problems come in when these alleged hot-shots don't act like the science/engineering students they're supposed to be.  Apart from one sub-plot dealing with an intricate plan to get out of this mess, these characters don't exhibit the ingrained curiosity and compulsive problem-solving that they would in real life.  Instead, we are handed a few isolated instances of reasonably bright behavior mired in a sea of generic 20-something activity.  When they finally get a glimpse of alien technology, they're not particularly interested in it, they treat it more with indifferent disgust.  These aren't early-20's tech students, they're dumbed-down late-20's cubical workers.  Who gives a hoot about watching that?

The bright spots in this movie were the special effects and Laurence Fishburne's maddeningly deadpan Dr. Damon.  The Blair Witch Project vibe of the first third helped too, though it may have borrowed too heavily there.  Apart from that, there's a kind of aching curiosity this movie forces on you, but by they last third it had turned from "what's next?" to "when will this turkey end?"

Bottom line: A fine idea wrecked by poor storytelling.  2 stars out of 4.  One star for taking big chances with a cool idea, another star for decent acting and film work.  If you want more, here's the link to Rotten Tomatoes.

Stop.  Turn around.  Come back when you have developed storytelling skills.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Effective Defiance Demonstrated

Here's a wild, true story: a shot down B-24 bomber pilot parachuting to safety shoots down attacking Japanese fighter with his .45.  Holy great act of defiance, Batman!
Sometimes the mouse wins.  Especially if he packs a .45 and uses it.

This story, along with many other inspiring military aviation tales, can be found over at Alert 5.  Seems to be updated every week or so.  Worth a stop-by now and again.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Return of the "Russian Woodpecker"?

The Duga-3 was a Soviet-era long-range over-the-horizon anti-ballistic missile early warning radar.  With a roughly 10 Hz. knocking tone (when AM demodulated), it was nicknamed the "Russian Woodpecker."  The spectrum of its signal looked something like these three samples:

From left to right, the two pronounced peaks are (probably) ham SSB signals.  The flat-topped broadband signal near the middle (green bar in the waterfall plots) is the one of interest.  Finally, the strong peak on the right is (probably) a shortwave broadcast station.

Now, the odd thing is that these were all recorded in the last week.  Hrm.

For what it's worth, the Fourier transform of this boxcar frequency spectrum is a nice sharp pulse:
Nice, easy to handle.  Gives good localization.

Wonder who's feeling the need to switch on this sort of early warning radar.  We shall see.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Collarbone: Day Five

So far so good.  The crunchy noises have ceased.  The worst pain so far has been lower back pain from sleeping in one position too long.  Managed a shower this morning, a neighbor helped with re-installing the brace, and I got a grocery store trip in.  Work on tap for tomorrow.

December 22 will be the six weeks mark, so I ought to have a functional collarbone for Christmas.  Can't wait!

Friday, November 14, 2014

210% of Your Daily Recommended Dose of Awesome

Over at youtube, about 6 minutes.  I'd seen the diagrams before too, good to have its actual workings spelled out.  Gonna stop typing now.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

More Collarbone Adventures

Got to the ortho-doc this morning, and it went about like I expected: "Yeah, it's broken."  "Great, what can I expect over the next few weeks?"  "Yeah, it'll get better."  Then he wanted to talk about Big Bang Theory.  Nice enough MD, but there wasn't a whole lot of discussion of reassuring milestones along the path to recovery.  (No, really, I'm not complaining here, these guys see so many of these it'd be like explaining a car's shifter pattern.  But it's all new stuff for me!)  So... youTube to the rescue:  

Also, the doc though it would be useful for me to be in a figure-eight brace to keep my shoulders straight while this thing heals.  Naturally his office referred me to:
I have never seen such an astounding (appalling?) array of braces, splints, wheelchairs, walkers, and traction devices.  Take it from me: The Pros Trust ACME.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

First Fruit

Or perhaps more aptly, first buds that may eventually lead to fruit.  Three years ago Neil Stephenson published a short essay on Innovation Starvation, pointing out how the vast majority of new science fiction stories published today is dystopian, which is leading to a lack of vision amongst our scientists and engineers, as well as those who fund them.  Hmm, well, given that the last Space Shuttle mission had landed just a few months earlier and with the only U.S. manned space capability still in the early stages of development hell (now in the throws of a full-blown case of it), I believe he has a point.

So without typing too much longer (kind of hard on the right shoulder), there's a new science fiction collection edited by Stephenson that seems to be a good first step on the road back to hard sci-fi optimism: Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future.  That *plonk* noise you just heard was the sound of a hardback copy going into my shopping cart.  BTW, here's the Hieroglyph project's site, and a BBC article on the entire endeavor where you can read more.  I really can't type much more right now.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Movie Review: Argo

A highly fictionalized account of the Canadian Caper, pulled off to get six diplomats out of Tehran in early 1980, is a hoot to watch.  While deadly serious, there's ample subtle humor to keep things from getting leaden.  OK, they did play up the '70s greasy polyester look a bit, but past that... pretty damn good.  It's a nearly flawless script that puts out the emotional impact, the tension, the goofiness of the film industry, all without ever letting any of these topics take over.  

This movie really has no flaws.  While it never inspires or anything, it was throughly entertaining to watch and did (sort of) present a little slice of history.  I'll give it 3.5 stars.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Broken Right Clavicle: MTB Implicated

... and I was just thinking this morning "wow, in just a couple of weeks, it'll be 20 years since I bought my first mountain bike."  Guess it was only a matter of time.  At least I was flying fast when it happened.

Meh, it'll heal, and I've got a big stack of books in from Amazon.  Washed & waxed the car yesterday.  Could be a lot worse.  Did discover the downside of a stick shift on the way to the ER though.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Twenty Five Years Ago Today

The Berlin wall was opened up 25 years ago today.  Here, take a couple of minutes and read up on that concrete affront to humanity over at Wikipedia.  Pretty bad.  Then take a minute to read about the East German border guard, Harald J├Ąger, who in effect said "the Party's over" and opened the gates.  Pretty good!
Sure, the pic's from 1961, but it's still apt today.

What were you doing on this day in 1989?  I was busy winding down from a three-month experiment, and winding up for six months of data analysis.  What will you do with your freedom today?  What will you do today to preserve freedom's future?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Movie Review: Interstellar

This is a very good movie, and I have to give it to Christopher Nolan for thinking big.  I liked many of the underlying themes that added depth and dimension (heh) to this world approximately fifty years in the future.  Having said all of that, I prefer my sci-fi a bit harder, though in all fairness this was probably about as hard as a movie could be while retaining commercial viability.  (If you're not familiar with the terms "hard" and "soft" science fiction, here's a Wikipedia thumbnail description.)

It's hard to write much more about this movie without re-hashing what other reviewers have said, or inadvertently letting a spoiler fly.  Let me just give my rating: 3.25 out of 4 stars, and refer you to reviews by James Berardinelli and Flickfilospher.

Overall, this was not what I was expecting, but that's good when a story has some additional twists.  Not really a question of "exceeded" or "did not meet" expectation, more of it took some batshit turns that I just didn't see coming.  I'll have to see it again at least once.  Definitely a spectacle not to be missed.

ps: Here's a spoiler-riffic wade through this movie's missteps over at Up Ship.  Again, that review is all about the spoilers, and the technical problems therein.  Yep, too much 2001 and not enough reality.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I don't usually use Fandango...

...but when I do, it's for a chance to win a trip into space.
Details at

It's a movie I'm definitely going to see anyway, so why not get a ticket – and a chance at a capital-T Ticket – through these guys?  Expect a review over the weekend.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Joe Strummer's London Calling Redux

Here's a follow-up to the original post on Joe Strummer's BBC World Service shortwave show.

Er, that was the original, here's a link to an interesting article on Joe's old show including links to much higher-quality sound files, now including all episodes!  Enjoy!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Return of the Fourth Ward Cleaver

Right here!

Welcome back, Ellis and crew.  We've missed you, glad you could make it back onto the web.