All posts by Tim

Element 115 and Bob Lazar

Just the other week, a big announcement in the field of science was made. Element 115 was named Moscovium (Mc). Yes, it was discovered sometime in 2013, but I guess I wasn’t paying attention.

Why is Element 115, errr, Moscovium important? Bob Lazar is why. I don’t remember all the details from the video we got,1 but I seem to remember Mr. Lazar claiming that Element 115 was ultra stable, unlike most of the heavy man-made elements.2

Anyway, not much else to say on this. Though if anybody has a good copy of the video, I wouldn’t mind watching it again.


  1. I think we rented it from Hollywood Video. Remember that? Maybe it was Blockbuster though… 

  2. Uranium is the heaviest naturally occurring element on Earth. 

Apes on ponies

I think it was 10th grade English (maybe 11th) where we learned that back in the days of Shakespeare, one of the spectacles people used to attend for entertainment was ‘apes on ponies.’ I think the idea was that you tied an ape to the top of a pony and watched it destroy the pony.

The phrasing of this always made us laugh. I have never seen another reference to ‘apes on ponies’ in my life.

BREAKING UPDATE — Apparently I finally figured out what to search for. The ‘sport’ is horse baiting or bear-baiting.

A Spanish nobleman of the time, who was taken to see a pony baited that had an ape tied to its back, expressed himself to the effect that “to see the animal kicking amongst the dogs, with the screaming of the ape, beholding the curs hanging from the ears and neck of the pony, is very laughable.” (from Encyclop√¶dia Britannica 3, 1910)

People have always been awful.

Kindle Paperwhite review

As I’ve written in the past, I’ve had an iPad for a couple years now. I use it quite a bit, though my usage is starting to wane. I finally got a new laptop as I alluded to in the aforementioned post. The screen on my phone is also large enough now that I don’t mind using it for more things. These things mean less iPad usage.

One area in which the iPad is infinitely superior to these other devices is reading. It’s a fantastic device for reading PDFs, particularly scientific articles and scans of technical books.1 I’ve read a few books from the Kindle store on it as well. It works. However, for ‘long form’ reading like that, the iPad gets heavy and a bit of a pain to hold. Wah wah, I know.

Another issue with it is the glossy backlit screen. There is some truth to those Kindle commercials. It’s hard to read in sunny environments, and after spending all of my adult life staring at backlit screens of varying quality, I’ve noticed that bright white screens with the back light screaming on high fatigues me after a few hours.2 Another disadvantage of the big backlit screen is battery life. While from an objective point of view, that something as small and powerful as the iPad has a ~10 hour battery life is frankly amazing, from our spoiled 2015 perspective, it’s a bit short. One good plane trip with some time at the airport can really run your battery down.

I think you see where this is going.3 Over July 4th, I played around with Krissy’s Kindle, and talked to both her and Buff about them. I was intrigued. When I got back, Amazon just happened to release a new Kindle Paperwhite. So I pulled the trigger.

My initial reservations were about the slightly off-white background color and the smallish screen. I can say having read several thousand pages on it, the size is fine (for me) and the color is very reminiscent of the paper stock used in paperbacks. I think I’ve settled on the 2nd smallest font size, which is still legible but puts a healthy amount of text on the screen.

I really like this thing. It’s small, has great battery life, and the display is really great. Even though it does have a top light for reading in the dark, the display really is easy on the eyes; easier than a back light in many situations.

Since it’s often easier to complain about things then praise them, I’ll relate the negatives now:

  • The lighting is slightly inconsistent at the bottom of the screen. There’s a small area in the center that is slightly darker than the rest of the screen. Considering that the device is somehow piping light from the top surface of the screen, it’s amazingly uniform.
  • The light is a bit cold for me. It’s a shame it isn’t a tad warmer.
  • The typography is a little whack sometimes. It’s not always pretty either. However this is apparently something Amazon is working on finally and will update soon.
  • Equations suck. Or, the display of equations. Any technical book is still better on the iPad.4 I partially contribute this suckiness to the visible compression in the equation images and the low resolution of them. Until not too long ago, Kindles were 167 or 150 PPI. The earlier Paperwhites were 212 PPI. So I suspect that many of the images for equations are optimized for lower resolution displays than the Paperwhite 3 and Voyage, both of which have 300 PPI screens.
  • But seriously, what kind of weirdo reads books with equations for pleasure?
  • I wish I could put my own photo on the sleep screen.

These are all really minor negatives. The 300 PPI E Ink screen looks great. And it’s good to be reading more again. Highly recommended.


  1. When used in conjunction with Dropbox, it’s a great little reading system. I use Documents for iOS and have a folder in my Dropbox directory that is linked up to Documents. Throw a file in said directory, and it’s on my iPad (and iPhone) for the next time I want to read it. 

  2. For this reason, I have most of my text editors, email programs, reading programs, etc., set for white text on a dark background. It was a pleasant surprise to find that OS X 10.10 had an option for dark menu bars. 

  3. Unless you are blind, you should have seen where this was going from the title. 

  4. I have one exception to the technical book thing. One of the books I have used the most over the years is the NRL Plasma Formulary. I’ve used that thing several times a week since 2000. It’s a little pocket-sized book with all the equations and info a plasma physicist might need, along with a great section on units and dimensions. Anyway, it also comes as a PDF with nicely typeset equations—not images of equations. It looks great on the Kindle because of the typesetting, and the fact that the pages in the booklet are roughly the same size as the Kindle screen. So you don’t need to pan around to see anything on the page. It’s a perfect fit. 

1do’clock

Any table top RPG player worth his or her salt has dice, more dice than one would possibly need. I remember buying totally pointless trap and weather dice, like you couldn’t just make a 1d6 die table for weather conditions. Whatever, it’s part of the hobby and it’s harmless fun.

But what the fuck? Why would one need a d12 that tells time… by showing the numbers 1-12 in analog clock form? Wouldn’t a regular d12 be just as good?

doclock

Wasteland & the Apple II

Wasteland title screen
Wasteland title screen

Way back in the day, we had an Apple II+. I think it was an Apple II+; it might have been an Apple IIe. Maybe someone can remind me. This would have been circa 1989 or 1990. The II+ was replaced by the IIe in 1982 and a few new features. To be honest, I’m pretty sure we had a IIe, and Tom had a II+. More on this later.

Ours had a monochrome green screen and two bulky separate 5.25″ floppy drives. Tom’s had a color screen; color back then was around 4 or 16 colors. We didn’t have a lot of games for this thing, or really any software for that matter. Mind you, this computer was already pretty outdated when we got our hands on it. I think my parents acquired it after the local school system (or community college where my dad worked) got rid of them. So it was already unwanted junk by an organization which traditionally is resource starved.

So games. We would have been 10–13 around that time and we naturally wanted games. We had this box of disks that we had copied off of someone my dad knew, but it was a mish-mash of stuff. There was a copy of Zork III, which we played a ton of and never got really anywhere. That’s all I really remember from that batch. Anyway, games. We wanted games. I remember being with my mom at the mall in Software Etc. looking at discount games. There wasn’t a lot of choice; the Apple II was pretty much dead at this point. We got a copy of Questron (or Questron 2) and Wasteland. I think they were in the couple dollar price range.

Scorpitron (PC)
Scorpitron (PC)

We played a lot of Wasteland. I remember sitting on the edge of Tom’s bed, each of us ‘controlling’ one character in the game during combat, being afraid of messing up and losing a party member, and generally not know what was going. A few moments stand out:

  1. Being scared shitless of the Scorpitron. This giant menacing robot parked out in the middle of an intersection in Las Vegas which could decimate you.
  2. Falling in the river and not being able to get out for quite some time. Characters would fall unconscious, but their swimming skill would get boosted a lot.
  3. Getting stuck on a stage in some bar in some town and having to use acrobatics to entertain the crowd so they’d let you off.
  4. Going in through a skylight in Ugly’s Hideout instead of a full on frontal assault.

I played the game off and on after that time, through high school and even doing a long run through it freshman year in college. I even made a website for the game, way back in 1997–8.

Naturally, when Wasteland 2 had a Kickstarter, I backed it. I started playing it sometime last December. I haven’t made it all that far but I’ve really enjoyed it. It manages to capture a lot of the vibe and mechanics of the original while still being updated.

Desert Dweller (Apple II)
Desert Dweller (Apple II)

One particular example of staying true to Wasteland is the rocket use mechanic. If I recall correctly, ‘AT Weapon’ (Wasteland anti-tank weapon skill) and ‘Heavy Weapons’ (Wasteland 2 equivalent) aren’t the greatest skills. The reason being is that rockets were somewhat scarce, and the non-rocket weapons the skill controlled weren’t always that great and/or burned through a lot of ammo. So at least when I played, no one was particularly good at them. So rocket use was often unskilled. That was ok, because they did a shit ton of damage and at least in Wasteland 2, are area effect weapons. Still, accuracy left a bit to be desired. So you stockpiled and used them in ‘Oh shit’ moments as an act of desperation. Those ‘Oh shit’ moments helped heighten the excitement of the game for me as a kid, and play some part in how much the game stuck in my mind.

Anyway, the Apple II and the few games we had made a big impression on me. Wasteland (and Zork III) defined games for me in many ways, and I’m happy that Wasteland II captured a little bit of that.

Procrastination: HP Thomcraft II

H.P. Thomcraft II

Backstory

Some years ago, the very end of 2010/beginning of 2011 to be exact, we filmed1 a sequel to H.P. Thomcraft. H.P. Thomcraft II was the incredibly original working title. Mike and I decided to ‘go big’ with HPT II (as I will refer to it from now on) and shoot it on 16mm film, with a Super 16 ARRI and a Zeiss lens2. Not only were we going to shoot it on film, instead of just getting it converted to video and color corrected, we were going to get it scanned and get the raw frames delivered in DPX format3. A couple weeks later, I got a drive in the mail with 270 gigabytes of files which contained our 20 minutes of raw footage. I posted some quick frame grabs to Protozoic 4 years ago, with the following text:

Here are a couple screen grabs from H.P. Thomcraft II. More soon.

Boy was that a lie.

The plan was for me to color correct the footage after Mike edited it using a process involving conforming the raw footage to the final edit using EDLs. If that sounds like a mouthful, it is. I eventually tested out the process and it seemed like it would work, though the color correction software, Color, had some stability issues. This was sometime around May 2011. I then waited for Mike to edit the footage.

aL and Max

Procrastination

Mike was pretty busy with things. I don’t recall with what, but it was some significant time before he got to editing together the short. So long that I forgot the process I had worked out. So long that the new version of OS X no longer supported Color, so I had to hold off updating OS X, which is the first time I had ever really done that.

I have an email from July 2012 from Mike stating that he was going to finish editing the footage soon. He finished a few weeks later. Around that time, I quit my job and moved to Ohio. I put off color correcting the footage because of that, and because I really wasn’t looking forward to trying to figure out the process again. Particularly since Mike had done a reasonably intricate cut with a lot of edits, which would make color correcting that more annoying. So I put it off for the rest of 2012. And 2013. I even managed to put it off all of 2014.

All through this time, I’ve held off updating OS X. I’m still on 10.7.5. I think OS X is on 10.10.2 now. That’s a lot of updates and it’s caused me no end of problems with a lot of my software. Moral of the story: Procrastination can have some unintended consequences. Don’t do it.

h.p. THOMcraft II

Resolution

So I was talking to Mike this weekend that I should really get on it. I told him my worries about the complicated workflow we had planned and he said, “Color correct the raw footage. I’ll just re-edit it.” Well in that case… I had the raw footage all corrected a few hours later. We are in the process of transferring the 47 gigs of files over the internets as I write this. Mike thinks he’ll be able to edit it again in a couple of days, so H.P. Thomcraft II will actually get done shortly. I will take most of the blame for it’s incredible delay.

Maybe I can finally update my fucking computer now.

Pizza yo


  1. And when I say ‘filmed’ it, we did indeed film it. It was shot on Kodak Vision 2 50D and Vision3 200T on a Super 16mm camera. While digital is amazing, these are really some beautiful films and represent the pinnacle of the technology. Yes, I know Vision3 50D was released. I’m happy that I got to shoot something on these film emulsions before they all go away. 

  2. Zeiss lenses are universally acclaimed, but the Zeiss Super 16 conversion zoom lens we shot this film on was less than spectacular. Granted, a 16mm frame is pretty tiny and 1080p can really highlight some defects. Despite that, the Zeiss really broke down at the wider focal lengths. Of course, I tend to gravitate to wider focal lengths, so there a few shots which are mighty fuzzy. Also, one scene has a nasty flare right in the middle of the frame. I tried to correct it in post, but it was a pretty clumsy fix. I think it was a 10-100mm T2.2 lens, but I don’t fully recall now. 

  3. The DPX file format is pretty cool. It’s pretty old too—over 20 years old. Someone pretty smart came up with the idea of fitting the huge dynamic range available in film into just 10 bits using a logarithmic scheme instead of linear to store values. 

Motivation

I’m not “old” yet, but I am getting older, and sometimes I feel it. I guess that’s the way it is for everyone.

That’s not the point of this post however. One way that I’ve been ‘feeling my age’ recently is how it relates to staying in shape. I used to be able to push myself pretty hard, running, lifting weights, etc. I could self-motivate pretty easily, with not much in the way of external feedback. Just go do it and work hard.

In recent years, I’ve noticed it’s been getting a lot harder to do that. Working a regular 9-5 (8-5?) and not having a gym right at work makes it a lot more difficult to stick with a workout and not skip or cut things short.

This was something I decided needs to be changed. I’ve always thought if you are having problems motivating yourself to workout, you should do one of two things. First is to try to find a source or two of motivation (duh). The second is to reduce the obstacles in your way that demotivate you. If it’s hard to get to the gym, work out at home.

I decided to apply this to my life by running more. As long as there isn’t ice on the ground, you can pretty much go out and run. One obstacle removed. The other aspect of it is to find a motivational tool to inspire me to push harder. It’s been a simple, but not cheap, thing. A lot of people run with their phones and use the GPS function. I never liked the idea of running with a big ass arm band and as a result, I had to pay a $200 penalty: a GPS watch.

The thing is pretty simple, but it keeps track of my pace, distance, and steps per minute. By becoming aware of these three metrics and no longer estimating how fast I was running, I shaved off about 2 minutes per mile on my pace, and pushed my distance up quite a bit. I’m happy to say I’m running close to the paces and distances I ran in high school, 20 years and 40 pounds ago. Which is to say, I can do about 2 miles in the time it used to take Mike to run 3.