Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Where’s the Obama I voted for?

You know, the one that supported a public option for healthcare? The one that did not support the taxing of employer-provided health care benefits? The one that stood on stage after stage in town after town and derided his competitor for supporting mandates? And we won’t even start about the Patriot Act provisions you were going to roll back.

This senate bill that you appear to be so happy about, sir, would have been campaign fodder for you if it had come from one of your competitors. You’ll say it’s a step, it’s a start, but neither of these things are good if they are in the wrong direction. Insurance stocks are soaring, they’re thrilled with this legislation, and they should be. They likely helped write it – well, the bits that the pharmaceutical companies didn’t, anyway.

If this bill is so good, explain to me why. If you support it, don’t try to tell me you didn’t campaign against the very things that are in it. The internet has an endless memory. If they’re not already out, the Youtube videos are coming – one shot of you campaigning on the public option, another shot of you saying you didn’t. One shot of you supporting mandates in the Senate bill, another shot of you slamming Clinton for supporting them.

Before you were elected I wrote you a letter and said that when it came time to fight for health care, to fight a good fight, and fight hard. I told you about my wife surviving brain cancer while our finances did not.

I just never thought you’d be fighting for the other side.

I supported you in the belief that “hope” was more than just a four letter word. I’m afraid I’m going to learn that “change” is just a four letter word as well.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Taking Orders!

Tbr2Taking orders! You too can own a copy of my first published fiction!* At only $5, it's gotta be worth it!

Who knows, someday it could be worth $6! Hit the Paypal link at the bottom of the posted link. If you like it, go back and buy the first edition too!


Her description of my story is perfect: "a pizza delivery guy who has an experience straight out of a pulp-horror magazine". Go buy it!


*Technically, I've been published online, but this is the first time for print fiction

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Completely Geeked

Ok, I know, it’s not a big deal. It’s a little chapbook no-pay publication. And yet.

6a00d8345169e469e2012875d20fd9970c-pi[1] It’s so cool.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Published!

Other than a short piece in the online webzine Aphelion years ago, my fiction writing efforts have languished in the drawer.

imageI am more than pleased that I’ve finally broken through into print. The start-up chapbook magazine TBR Tallboy has accepted my story “We Deliver” for it’s December issue. W00t!

I think it’s a fun, scary story about a pizza delivery gone horribly wrong, and TBR Tallboy’s YA slant is perfect for it.

You can read more about the magazine here, where you can also order issues. AT only $5.00, it’s worth it!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Contentment

"Daddy,
scratch my back"
she said, sitting
pulling up the back of her shirt.
I did, because
that's what fathers do
when daughters ask.
Eventually,
after a few
"over"s and
"down"s
I hit the spot.
She sighed
the tension drained out
like a wound spring turning to warm wax
she turned her head
and looked at me
and smiled.
I wanted to tell her
that this might be as good as it ever gets
that six was easy but at sixteen
we'd be arguing
over
boys and clothes and homework and piercings and chores and other silly things
But
I decided to just take the smile, for now
until the night she needs it again.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Parts is Parts part 2

PIC-0550I’ve finally gotten around to tearing down the two power chairs that I rescued from the dumpster. The Jazzy chair (pictured in the first two shots) was complete, so we just took off the chair and the cover to get to the chassis and guts that you see here. I tried plugging it in overnight but got no movement from it. The lights under the joystick were happy to blink at me, but other than that there was no activity. PIC-0554The left side motor (pictured here) is fairly covered with rust, and the lever the moves it from “freewheel” to “geared” is very hard to move, but still works. This motor may have issues and I’ll likely tear it down for a closer look

.

PIC-0555The second chair was much less complex (no ‘suspension’ like the Jazzy has) and came apart with a basic nut driver screwdriver and some Allen and Torx bits. The motors, batteries and control circuits all look really good and things don’t appear any worse for the time in the rain.

 

My current thinking is to begin with a joystick controlled lawnmower that I can just follow behind and control while it mows. This will allow me to at least prove the concept. At that point I can work on replacing the joystick with some form of interface to a receiver. I’ve seen at least one other blog where someone has done this, and it appears to lower the complexity of the build quite a bit. The plan is to essentially remove the wheels from the mower and build a frame for the drive assembly, then mount the mower in the frame.

Next steps will be trickle-charging all of the batteries to see if they’ll hold a charge, then motor testing and repair (if needed). After that I’ll decide which set of control circuitry to use and begin building the frame.

Watch this space for updates!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Parts is parts

PIC-0428 What do these pictures look like to you? Someone's junk, sitting by the dumpster and waiting for the garbage truck? Someone got a new power chair and is getting rid of their old ones? Someone passed away and relatives are finally throwing away some things?

These are pictures of what was sitting by the dumpster at the storage place where we keep junk that we don’t need every day but can’t throw away. Ok, well, stuff my wife can’t throw away. Really, if it’s been in a box in storage for a year and you haven’t needed it, don’t you think you can live without it?

I’m wondering if even the concept of storage units is unique to America, the land of consumerism.

PIC-0429I digress. Anyway, my wife looked at these and saw junk. I looked and saw four likely perfectly good 24v DC motors, two batteries, and the electronics to control it all. It was raining so I couldn’t deal with them right that moment. I worried through the night that someone would get to them before me, and went back to storage as the sun came up to go and deal with them. As they were too big for the van and too heavy for me, I hitched them to the van with the rope and towed them to our storage unit, where they await dismantling or moving to my garage when I get some help and a pickup truck.

I’ve long been a tinkerer, starting from one of my earliest memories of cutting the cord on my parents alarm clock to see what would happen… while it was plugged in. I moved on to forts and tree houses and robots in high school and computers for a living. But I still love building something unique and weird, and in these two discarded power chairs I see endless possibilities.

My first two thoughts: I’ve been thinking lately about building my own Segway. With one of these as a starting point it would be relatively cheap. While I think that Segways are pretentious and playthings for the rich, building my own would have a sufficient level of “cool” that I might just do it. It sounds like a tall order, but there is really lots information out there on the internets on how to get it done.

The other thought is lawn mowing. I’ve long had a desire to build either an GPS guided mower or a remote controlled mower. Given the large hill that I now have to mow in front of the house, this may just win out.

Time will tell, and I’ll keep things updated here on whatever happens with them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mike Rowe tells us what pig-wrangling is like

Have I mentioned that I like Mike Rowe?

…Tell your grandson, when he has a moment, to take a large Hefty garbage bag and fill it halfway to the top with jello and yogurt. Fill the rest of the bag with marbles. Mix them all together. Ideally, the bag should weigh between 90 and 100lbs. Now, have him tie the bag shut, very tightly, and rub the outside in Vaseline. Then collect as much dog poo as possible and apply that to the entire surface of the bag. Try not to miss a single spot. The poo should stick to the Vaseline quite easily. Now, have him pick up the bag, and carry it from room to room as quickly as possible. As he attempts to do this, you and your other grandchildren should follow him closely, squealing at the top of your lungs, and kicking him.
It's kind of like that.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Startling Facts

Startling facts in the Internet Age. Now you know.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

uh… yeah.

This is either “too much free time” or simply brilliant. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. Either way, I like it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Flying Solo

I’ve always wanted to get into RC flying, and this may be the thing that pushes me over the edge. While not yet available commercially, it can’t be far off. It may just put my Kindle2 desire on hold.

Friday, February 20, 2009

When I grow up, I want to write like Roger Ebert

I am continually blown away by Ebert’s writing on his blog. I’ve followed his reviews since getting hooked on “Sneak Previews” back in the PBS days, and his reviews are still great. I generally agree with them, but even when I don’t I appreciate his opinion.
It seems that in his blog he's found his voice, an outlet for things note about movies. Odd that after losing his physical voice he's found it here. Or perhaps not odd at all.
About Dogs:

I never met a dog that didn't beg at the table. If there is a dog that doesn't, it has had all the dog scared out of it. But a dog is not a sneak thief like a cat. It doesn't snatch and run. Only if presented with an irresistible opportunity. It is a dinner companion. It is delighted that you are eating, thinks it is a jolly good idea, and wants to be sure it's as delicious as you deserve. You are under a powerful psychological compulsion to give it a taste, particularly when it goes into convulsions of gratitude. Dogs remember every favor you ever do for them, and store those events in a memory bank titled, Why My Human is a God.
On Steak 'n Shake:
A downstate Illinois boy loves the Steak 'n Shake as a Puerto Rican loves rice and beans, an Egyptian loves falafel, a Brit loves banger and mash, an Indian loves tikki ki chaat, a Swede loves herring, a Finn loves reindeer jerky, and a Canadian loves bran muffins. These matters do not involve taste. They involve a deep-seated conviction that a food is absolutely right, and always has been, and always will be.
GO read his blog. If you haven't figured out the world of RSS readers yet, his blog is a good reason to start.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

They just keep going…

image Remember Spirit and Opportunity, those plucky little Mars rovers that were designed for a ninety-day mission? Five years later, still going strong.

A small but important uptick in electrical output from the solar panels on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit this month indicates a beneficial Martian wind has blown away some of the dust that has accumulated on the panels.
The cleaning boosts Spirit's daily energy supply by about 30 watt-hours, to about 240 watt-hours from 210 watt-hours. The rover uses about 180 watt-hours per day for basic survival and communications, so this increase roughly doubles the amount of discretionary power for activities such as driving and using instruments. Thirty watt-hours is the amount of energy used to light a 30-watt bulb for one hour.

Five years later, they’re still out there gathering good scientific data and taking amazing pictures. When folks decry the money we spend at NASA, it makes me insane.

 

image

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Wisdom of Mike Rowe

Really, if you don’t read Mike’s blog, you should.

”At base, I still believe that you should try your hardest and do your best at image whatever task you undertake.  Whether you're splitting logs or sipping Boodles, do it well.  I do not believe, that there is anything magical about an 8 hour workday or a 40 hour work week.  Those are perimeters designed by people who write the checks, and accepted by those who draw a bright line between work and play.  As a rule, I've chosen to avoid such relationships.  Calling an activity "work" or "play" is just another label, and usually, a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I prefer to smash the two together whenever possible.”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

As I've said before, I think Wall-E is a great movie, an instant classic. But the more I watch it the more certain things bother me about it.

image Let's start with our title character, Wall-E himself. It is apparent early on that he has a personality. He's curious. He likes to explore beyond his main programming, which is apparently picking up and stacking trash. He collects things that interest him. Clearly he's had some kind of malfunction that makes him this way. If we're to believe that he's a robot designed solely to do the above tasks, then there is no reason for him to be curious, watch old movies, or collect things. Our suspicions are confirmed later in the story when Eve saves him and he reverts back to default programming. No curiosity, no personality.

His curiosity provides us with brief bits of comedy. He puts on a bra, honks a car horn, can't decide where to put a spork in his collection. Neat bits, but if we are to believe (as we later learn) that humans have been gone for seven hundred years, does a bra survive intact that long? Can a car's battery - even a futuristic one - hold a charge for that long that is good enough to give us a robust "chirp chirp" from the alarm? Let alone the battery in the remote still be good?

I can accept that Wall-E has had some kind of event that has caused his programming to go off-kilter... until we meet Eve. We know right away that Eve has a personality - she laughs. She also floats, which we'll get to later.

image What possible reason could there be for Eve to have a personality? Her job is to hunt for life - apparently only plant life, because the cockroach doesn't excite her. She doesn't need curiosity, just persistence. But she can laugh, turn on light bulbs, and solve a Rubik's cube. All apparently essential qualities for a robot who's sole purpose is to ferret out life from garbage.

And Eve can just float. And she has a beam that can grab things and float them to her - a tractor beam, if you will. Even though we watched all the ships take off in clouds of thunder and smoke, she can float. Even though the humans left behind thousands (or millions?) of Wall-E's to stack the garbage, she has a tractor beam. Technologically, she's as far advance from Wall-E as he is from Hero-1. But we're to be believe that they were both made by the same people... at around the same time. After all, when we finally get to see the humans we can't believe they've done much but eat and sit. They certainly don't appear to have innovated anything since they left. We see giant Wall-E's on the 'mother ship' and they aren't improved in any way. So why the difference? Why can't Eve be a clunking pile of barely functioning junk?

Her arm is an amazing weapon. What for? Blasting things out of the way so she can find life? No, she apparently tries to shoot anything that moves, which would appear to go against her purpose. But again we get a bit of comedy as Wall-E frantically tries to avoid destruction.

Oh, and she can solve the Rubik's cube. Why? What possible purpose could that ability have to enhance her main function? Perhaps her programmers expected to find life embedded or hidden in a senseless puzzle?

image We finally make it to the ship. Perhaps we'll find some consistency there. Or not.

We're led to believe that the humans are couch-bound lumps, barely able to lift limbs to feed themselves. Indeed, they appear to eat everything through a straw. They lay in couches and watch a magic screen that floats above them apparently all day. When Wall-e knocks one woman's screen away, she's amazed at the ship around here, like it's something she's never seen before.

The ship has apparent artificial gravity -- when things are dropped they fall -- but when Otto turns the ship's wheel to tilt the ship, everyone slides to one side.

Yet the humans have managed to reproduce. Perhaps they grow the new humans, in vats or artificial wombs. We really only see them interacting with robots and image screens, so maybe.

When the time comes for the Captain to walk he does so with relative ease, to the point of fighting off Otto the autopilot. Even though moments before he had struggled to lift his head far enough to suck on his coffee straw.

And then of course, all of the humans discover that they can walk with relative ease. Amazing.

So Wall-E. Really, a great great movie, I haven't changed my mind. Just bring your extra - large "Willing Suspension of Disbelief" cap.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Whoscarf lives!

 image Who can forget the great Tom Baker as the fourth Dr. Who? Certainly not me. I remember blocking out the schedule to watch each episode on PBS, and even going to a Dr. Who convention in Champaign. There has never been a Doctor to equal Baker. You can argue, but my opinion will not be swayed. Now thanks to the efforts of this guy, you can create your own signature Tom Baker Dr. Who scarf. With designs from multiple seasons you can sport multiple versions and see who notices the difference. Of course, it takes a special kind of nerd to wear one, let alone make one. image Off to the yarn store!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Flying?

They call this “flying”. I call it falling with forward momentum. Other words spring to mind, like “insane”, “Stupid”, and “death wish”.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Conspicuous Consumption

imageI  had the distinct displeasure of visiting WalMart, Hobby Lobby, Menards and other fine purveyors of dreck in the several days after Christmas. Christmas items anywhere from 50 to 80% off! Folks grabbing up porcelain nativity figures, garland, bulbs, miniature houses (entire towns!), and all manner of lighted / inflated /inflatable things.

For what? To show their Christmas "spirit"? To get in the Christmas 'mood' next year?

I don't get it. One thing I've come to see over the last couple of years is that stuff is just stuff. One more Christmas item to put out is one more Christmas item to put away and store for 11 months of the year. Another strand of lights is another strand of lights to untangle next year before they can be hung. THey're just things. It's just stuff.

I was listening to a call-in radio show while driving somewhere recently and the topic of discussion was "What has the economy caused you to change this Christmas"? One couple decried that they had to cook in thier second downtown Chicago home instead of catering in. Some people wern't flying to the in-laws like they normally do. Only one caller said that instead of getting everyone multiple gifts they were making charitable donations.

Is the purpose of Christmas to glorify and celibrate your saviour? Then what does that more? Giving to those truly in need, or, to quote the Grinch, "Gifts gifts gifts gifts gifts"?

Of course, the thirty bucks I spent on LED lights (on clearance for $1.75!) was totally necessary. Saving the environment and all.