Sunday, February 28, 2010

Movie Review: {Live Free or} Die Hard(er) [with a Vengeance], #1

These movie flat-out rock.  Even #2, which is kind of cheesy and only rates 2 stars, is well worth watching.  Weird, even though the series started 22 years ago, I’d somehow missed the whole thing.  Until now.  Will post a review a day for the next four days to avoid the wall-o-text effect.

#1, Die Hard:  4 Stars.
NYC cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) jets out to LA at Christmas to make up with his estranged wife, a bigwig exec.  He’s limmo’d from the airport to the wife’s work Christmas party, a pretty swank affair in her company’s new skyscraper.  Euro-trash bad guys move in, cut outside communication, and now McClane has to (a) get word to the local cops, (b) minimize trouble to the party guests, and (c) stay alive while doing all of this.  Lots of action, cat-and-mouse games, outright puzzles for McClane to solve, and wisecracks that became the trademark of the series.  (The quip “Welcome to the party, pal” has  become universal shorthand for “Now that you’ve been whacked with a clue-by-four, thank you for finally waking up to the situation.”)
So why 4 stars?  Because McClane uses his brain, uses his brawn, and just doesn’t quit, ever.  A shining example for us all.  That, plus Alan Rickman in the role of the head bad guy Hans Gruber held the trophy for Best Bad Guy Ever until Heath Ledger as Joker finally took it from him.  Yeah, Rickman’s Hans Gruber is that good.

Friday, February 26, 2010

In case you hadn't gotten word yet...

... Zee Avi sounds pretty good.

See?  "I’ll put up something short and light soon."  Yep.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

H1N1 post-sick note to friends

Sure, the H1N1 rush is over and this post is a little late, being recycled out of some old emails from last September.  But it’s worthwhile content because the Fat Lady still hasn’t quite sung on the topic yet.  I won’t say “enjoy;” let me just say “go buy some Robotussin, just in case” and leave it at that.  
ps - I’m not an MD, so take this all with a mine of salt.
pps - This isn’t the most fun topic either, and it is a wall-o-text post too.  I’ll put up something short and light soon.
1:  It wasn't that bad.  Maximum fever was 101.3.  Have tylenol and ibuprofen on hand.  By day 3, reading and light housework were bearable.
2:  Minor nausea and diarrhea were there, but nothing spectacular.  I've certainly had worse with other flus.
3:  Plain, original Robitussin (or the store-brand equivalent for me, ‘cause I'm cheap) works wonders to get that heavy mucus out of the lungs, especially on days 2 & 3.  The mucus levels were never really dangerous, but one more click in the wrong direction on day 2 and it would've started to be cause for concern.  [Post restocking trip note: the same stuff (guaifenesin) is available in pill form, which seems much preferable to that nasty syrup stuff.]
4:  There was incredible sinus pressure and drip on days 4 & 5.  A good decongestant would've been much appreciated, but by then we were too sick to go get some.  Something softer than paper towels would've been nice too; my nose still looks like  W.C. Fields'.  [Post restocking trip note: guaifenesin pills with an added decongestant were a help over the following week.  Having the two in the same pill is good because you don't have to worry about the two drugs interacting badly (assuming the drug company's done its homework).]
5:  We ate through groceries at close to normal pace, and were just short of getting down to hurricane supplies when this crud let up.  It was good to know there was enough food on hand to outlast the virus, but I’m not sure I wanted to face five year old foil pouches of “Country Captain Chicken” on top of being that sick.
6:  Was it really H1N1?  Dunno, didn't get tested.  Knew it was flu, didn't see any need to go out and cough all over other people.  CDC says H1N1's about 98% of what's circulating in the area right now and the symptoms matched, so it probably (98%+) was.
On the whole, I'm glad to have this one out of the way with so little trouble.

And here’s the almost-scary part, from another letter to the Sis while I was well and truly still sick:

Mucous... felt like I was drowning in the stuff until after I got a dose [of guaifenesin] in me this morning.  You want the one without the letters "DM" or anything else, because this is a cough you *don't* want to suppress, you want that crap to come up.  Hocked up damn near a mouthful, then was breathing fine.  (Probably don't want to tell Momma that last bit.)
So yeah, apart from the whole waterboarded-by-a-virus feeling, wasn't so bad.  Go buy a couple of packs of guaifenesin tablets anyway.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

brief stop in New Orleans

And an early supper at Central Grocery made everything right with the world. 
Protip: don't drop, much less toss, even a bit of crust to a seagull while while munching your muffuletta on the river levee.  For minute there I thought Alfred Hitchcock might show up with a camera crew.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Daily Funnies

Well I think they're funny.  You may disagree.  Note: all but the last two frequently sport PG-13 content.  You have been warned.

XKCD: Go ahead, just try to pronounce it.
Wapsi Square: 20-somethings and their otherworldly friends go on adventures.
Day by Day: Lame name, interesting story lines.  Frequently has very timely content.
Wondermark: Victorian illustrations, modern snark.
The Argyle Sweater: The Far Side's geeky little cousin.
PhD: The unvarnished truth about grad school.  Latest story line started a week or so ago here.

Picked up the Sunday paper yesterday, flipped through it, tried to enjoy the print comics.  The just felt so... stale and... irrelevant.  Cue the Bob Dylan.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Yesterday's Ride

With pictures, courtesy of Anna.  Man, but that was fun!  Here's the announcement posting from the Club b-board:
In an effort to stimulate some use of the Bethel trails, we are going to start a Tatonut-style ride at the Bethel Trails, 3rd Saturday of the month at 9am. Anna said she would bring Tatonut donuts for the Feb ride. Hunting season is over. Same format as the Tatonut road ride - casual atmosphere for the new, occassional, and die hard road riders. 

So dust off those mountain bikes, bring a friend or two, and come have some fun in the dirt/mud/sand. The SCRCS MTB racing calendar and this ride have been deconflicted - with the exception of March.
Directions: From Hwy 49 @ Saucier take NEW Hwy 67 S. to 3rd intersection of old Hwy 67 turn left, go to 4-way stop continue on Bethel Rd. watch for Bike Trail sign & turn right onto dirt road . From I-10 Exit 46 north traveling on Hwy. 15/67 for about 2 miles. Exit onto Hwy 15 North and continue on for approx. 9 miles. Look for Bike Trail sign on west/left side of the road. Follow Forestry Rd # 426 for 1 mile to Couch Trailhead on the west side of the road.

And it was fun, and it was casual, and the doughnuts were good.  Even broke part of the shift cable guidance on my bike (the "Rollamagig" – not exactly common anymore) and managed a trailside repair to get going again with a 3x1 drivetrain.  That just made it all the better.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Yeah, if I was in the market, I'd buy one there.

If it's a decent sales pitch with built-in humor that you're looking for, watch this ad.  Or don't.  I don't care.

Long day involving unscheduled trailside deraileur repairs and high-octane coffee in the French Quarter.  Might have something more clever to say tomorrow.

Friday, February 19, 2010

While we're still on sci-fi tropes...

After yesterday's links about starfish aliens and such, here's some favorite reading about how to make a sci-fi story more realistic.  Plenty of good physics there!  Enjoy.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Aliens and the Classification Thereof

Yesterday's post on uncontacted people and the concluding sentence about the possible futility of trying to converse with them reminded me of some old, basic ideas from science fiction about aliens: human/humanoid, "starfish," and the latter's starfish language.  Maybe trite space opera tropes, maybe mind-expanding concepts, maybe both.  For my eyes and ears though the the last speaker of Bo, while undeniably human, sounded very starfish-ish.  Was that singing?  Or was she just speaking normally?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

This is a Parody.

This is a parody.  This is only a parody.
This has been a test of the LARP Mockery System.  Had this been an actual LARP event, you would have been directed to aim your scorn and derision toward the buffoons dressed in blue paint and loincloths.
Again, this has been a test of the LARP Mockery System.  It is now safe to step out of your mechsuits and return to normal life.

(Hattip to V. for emailing the link.)

Uncontacted People

The recent death of the last speaker of Bo in the news prodded me to the Wikipedia entry on uncontacted people.  All sorts of interesting folks there, but particularly so are the Sentinelese, who are estimated to be the most isolated group on earth.  (There may be even more remote groups, but they're so hidden that they don't have a Wikipedia page.  Now that would be isolated.)  Even attempts to contact the Sentinelese reflect the extremes to which researchers must go:
The Sentinelese are actively hostile to unknown intruders, requiring frequent shows of peaceful intent before allowing outsiders to come into arrow range. Attempts to leave them material goods from the late 1960s have resulted in household ware and metal objects being utilized, coconuts being eaten but not planted, pigs are not eaten but shot and buried, as was a doll. Red buckets were taken with apparent delight, while green ones were rejected.
Reminds me of some libertarian friends.  Except that instead of coconuts and red buckets, beer and ammunition are the traditional calling card gifts.  But I digress.  Anyway, if it's so damned hard to talk to other H. Sapiens who have been isolated for a mere 60,000 years, what are the chances that we'll ever be able to have a sit-down chat with any kind of E.T.?  There's a sci-fi story in there somewhere.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Heating my house with icecubes.

Yeah, it works like this: My house has a heat pump.  The compressor (the outside part) was oh-so-cleverly installed under the drip edge of the roof (tin roof, no gutters) so that when it rains, water flows right into the blow-ey parts.  Do you know how much heat water gives up when it hits the cold heat pump coils and turns to ice?  A lot, 334 J/g to be precise.  Compare that with the specific heat capacity of air, about 1 J/g-deg.  So if a heat pump is spitting out air 10 degrees colder than its surroundings like it’s supposed to do, it’s only getting about 1/33rd of the bang-for-gram as it would turning water into ice.  
Really then, heating with icecubes works quite well.  The downside is that the ice doesn’t exit the scene as gracefully as cold air would.  There’s always a downside.
So last Thursday night we had freezing rain, said freezing rain runs off the roof, into the heat pump, finishes freezing, then... waits right there until the control unit detects decreased airflow.  At which point the heat pump reverses cycle, melts the ice from the coils, ejecting the ice shards into the blower.  Lather, rinse, repeat.
Did I mention how loud ice hitting the fan at 3:30 a.m. really is?  Or the part about the fan motor bearings going out?  Still studying my options here, but it’s shaping up to be $350 for a new fan motor and I still have the same crappy heatpump and ice problem, or $2500+ for a new heat pump on which the compressor will be located somewhere other than under the roof edge.  At least for the moment I do have some heat from the auxiliary resistance heating strips.  Stay tuned.  

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday mountain biking goodness

... sort of
Double-wash out today:
(1) was supposed to go a-Carnivaling with The Darling Daughter in N.O., but she called last night to say that her roommate's sister was in town, they'd gone to FIVE parades, the town had gone bonkers, and she was ready to hang up this whole Carnival bidness until next year, and could we please just have a quiet dinner sometime next weekend?  Sure.
(2) OK, so Prepared Man is prepared -- last week's three broken spokes were fixed already -- so I headed to the trails this morning. Then headed back out about halfway through the ride, with two more spokes broken. Something is definitely up with that back wheel. Will debug it this week.
So I sorta rode, sorta didn't.  But it was still worth the trip.  I mean, as pretty as the weather was, if both wheels had fallen off and the fork spewed oil at the trailhead, it would have still been worth the trip.  I can deal with a couple of spokes.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

...and one more thing:

Usual new blog mumbling: check.  Science: check.  Movie review: check.  What've I left out... oh yeah, books and bikes.  OK, book: reading "Made to Stick."  Let you know how it goes later, but so far it's holding my interest.  And bikes: off to Gulfport to get a couple of broken spokes replaced.
Enough for today, the weather's too nice.

The Inevitable "Avatar" Review

Sorry, everyone with a blog has written one of these.  It's a compulsion, I know, can't help it, let's just get it over with.
  1. Yes, it's worth seeing.
  2. You will be beaten over the head with standard issue Hollywood messages by the writer and director.  If the allegorical content had been any more direct, Halliburton and Xe could've both sued Cameron for trademark infringement.  The message-clubbing is akin to being whacked with a Nerf bat though: more annoying than painful.  
  3. Go see it anyway, and in 3D.  It's breathtaking.  If the only convenient showing is in 2D then stay home.  Whatever you do, don't say "meh, I'll catch it on video."  It's not that kind of move.  Go 3D or don't bother.
It's not that great of a movie, but it is spectacular.  I can see why it makes and keeps on making money, but it sure isn't Picture-of-the-Year stuff.  Nothing else to say on it, back to your regularly scheduled surfing.

Numerical Manipulation 101

First go read:

Part of any scientist's work is doing this sort of analysis, and it's done pretty well at the above link.  It's a good illustration, not of "why even reasonable people can draw different conclusions from the same data set" (I think the author was being over-generous), but rather of how pseudo-scientific analysis on carefully limited data sets can be used to gin up whatever headline you'd like.

Me?  I would've first FFT'd the whole mess and filtered out the seasonal variation frequencies, inverse FFT'd, then started looking for trends.  Then tacked on a giant disclaimer about how the results are only preliminary and that many more years' data are needed before any conclusions can be made.  But that's just me.

OK (and I spell it "OK" not "Okay," just deal) that may have been about climate change but it had exactly zero political content.  Was all about doing math, displaying data, and not letting your much-desired conclusions get in the way of what the data might be able to tell you.

Defining Statement

With "First Post" out of the way, let's get down to what this blog is about.  Or rather, what it's not about, because that will set the tone for what I'm going to write here.

Not About: partisan politics, religion, choice of car mechanic, or anything else people get all pissy about.
About: physics, bikes, movies, books, and anything else of personal interest.

So really, it's more of a convenience.  Instead of shooting out five emails to five different friends, these same five can politely ignore my blog.  So I get stuff off my chest, friends don't have to glance over then delete my rants, and everyone wins.  In fact, next post I'll start with an email I just sent to my brother and a friend.

First Post!

In the immortal Slashdot tradition: First Post.