Friday, December 18, 2009

Avatar Movie Review

It will come as no surprise that this movie is visually breathtaking. And the film makers made full use of the intensely three dimensional world they created. Up, down, every direction there is something to see, something to take in. It is quite a roller coaster and I didn't even see it in 3D with the glasses or in an iMax theater. I can only imagine how much more engaging it might feel in one of those formats.

The alien characters are wonderfully rendered. Facial expressions are so realistic, body language, the translucency of skin, costuming, and a deep, rich culture. Which is to say not nearly enough about the wildlife they created. There is such a sense of a complete biosystem from the freaking enormous trees to the tiniest bioluminescent algae. All of which seems so very alien and yet so well thought out. It is so easy suspend disbelief and feel like you're there in this beautiful, hostile world.

The story is formula driven with many familiar elements and scenes. But I am not holding it against the movie. It needs a set up, a middle, and a climatic end. What makes the story fun is how they go about weaving these common themes into this uncommonly well made setting.

I highly recommend it and I have every intention of seeing it again, hopefully in iMax 3D.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Missions to Mars or the Moon

I support the idea of manned missions to Mars and the Moon. Moreover I support the establishment of permanent bases because by doing so we gain knowledge of how to get people into space and onto other planets on a long term basis. Which will lead to knowledge of how to create self sustaining colonies away from Earth. Which will eventually lead to civilian colonies in said places. Which gets humanity spread out in such a away that a global catastrophe in any one place won't wipe out our whole species.

While this is happening we hopefully get a resurgence of the general population's interest in science, such as what happened during the Mercury and Apollo missions. Hopefully that interest will be accompanied by a desire for better understanding, especially among young people who will be the ones to grow up and make much of this possible. In short, such missions would be inspirational.

I know that there are problems right here on Earth that could use the space program's money and effort to great effect. But if we wait until all the world's problems are solved before turning to space, we will never get there. Although space programs are expensive, they don't take a very large piece of the national budget (less than 1%) and do not require that we abandon our other programs to fund them. We can help people right here on Earth and still go to space, we don't have to choose all of one vs. the other.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gay marriage in America

I can see no good reason to exclude same sex couples from all the same legal privileges of marriage as everyone else. Moreover, I can see of no good reason why this should have any legal effect on a personal freedom of religion. I know that right away some will read the above passage and think that there are indeed reasons to dispute my opinion. But please keep in mind that I wrote that there were no GOOD reasons, not that someone couldn't come up with something.

I do understand that for a vocal group of Christians, the issue of homosexuality is a deeply moral one. To them it is a choice to engage in a set of behaviors that are seen as sinful, perhaps even evil. Justifications for this view can be found in their holy book, so they do have theological grounds for their objection to homosexuality.

Often Christians like these also hold as a part of their expression of their religion the need to remake the society around them into one that is in line with their theology. Proselytizing is an integral component of their religion as it is done to help make mankind more like them and hence more beloved by God. Laws or policies that cannot be justified theologically or are in contrary to their theology are opposed. Laws or policies that are inspired by their religion are always promoted.

The problem with legislating from a theology is that it violates the Constitution as it effectively forces behaviors of a religious origin on non-believers or practitioners of another faith. I do understand that there are religious rules that also appear in the laws of our country, such as don't murder. However, those laws exist for perfectly reasonable reasons that don't require a theological basis. They can and must be justified in secular terms in order to be Constitutional.

The freedom of religion in our Constitution is absolute in terms of belief, meaning that we are free to believe as our conscience dictates. What the Constitutional freedom of religion does not protect is all conduct that might be associated with the expression of a religious faith. For example, a religion might require its faithful to cut the beating hearts out of human slaves every morning -- but that would rightly be considered murder under the law and not protected under the First Amendment.

Christians do have the legal right to believe that all homosexuals are sinful abominations who will burn in hell for all eternity. They also have the legal right to believe that homosexuals should be stoned to death outside the city walls. Regardless of those beliefs, Christians are held to the same standard of conduct under the law as everyone else and aren't allowed to murder or force other citizens into second class roles as an expression of their faith.

So if we take the theological objections out of the equation of the LEGAL rights of people to get married in this country, what is left?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Air Cannon Compilation Video

So some friends of mine from school got to talking this Summer about building an air cannon.

One of these friends is a chemistry teacher and he got his hands on a lot of lead and a mold for making 1.75 inch cannon balls. He also has a high speed video camera. He made a bunch projectiles and began looking for a way to shoot them and record the results for use in his classes.

Once I heard about this I knew I'd stumbled upon a really fun project. What if I built an air cannon out of an old pressure tank and some pipe and we use it to shoot lead cannon balls into targets we build? An idea was born. Another friend is an aerospace engineer and he worked out the materials, valve size, and probable speed of our projectiles at various amounts of pressure. We estimate it can handle considerably more than the maximum of 125 psi we'd feed it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Pineapple Express movie review

This might be the worst movie I've seen in the last few years. This is a story about habitual pot users and sellers that might require being viewed while high in order to get anything from it. The plot rambled on incoherently much like the confused dialog of the constantly wasted characters -- which I'm sure was meant to be the source of the humor. Instead of funny, the scenes were overly long unintelligible conversations or overly long physical humor that even an 8-year-old would find absurd. I'd estimate that the average IQ of the characters was somewhere around 78 which might reflect on the intelligence of the film's makers as well.

Do not waste your time or money on this turd.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

There and Back Again

In late June of 2009, I packed up my motorcycle to ride to Colorado and back for an annual gathering of motorcyclists I know from online. The whole first day was spent on Interstates, so really Day 1 isn't all that interesting.  But I shot some pics anyway and I'll just let them tell what little story there is so far. Started out in Peoria, IL. Ended up in Council Bluffs, IA. My daily mileage was 392 The weather was great for Day 1, but it looked like I might have some thunderstorms for Day 2. I woke to a light rain the Omaha area. But rode out of it pretty quickly. Most of the rest of the day was spent on I-80 working my way west. I made a quick stop outside Lincoln, NE at an aerospace museum to snap a quick picture. In Lexington, NE I found a military vehicles museum. I was ready for a break from riding so I made a donation and wandered through their exhibits. A very cool place. Once rested it was time to hit the road again. Wow, Nebraska was wide. Soon I was in Colorado and once again it looked like rain. As it happens I only got sprinkled on a little.  I squeezed between a major storm to my north and a less severe one to my south.  The temperature dropped from the mid-80s to the mid-60s though. Since I didn't have a room in Gunnison where I was heading until Tuesday night, I decided to spend the night in Estes Park, CO. On the way there along US-34 I stopped in Loveland for coffee and to let the "rush hour" traffic ease up. And then finally I was approaching the Rockies for the first time on a motorcycle. US route 34 from Loveland to Estes Park was a wonderful road. It climbed up alternating sides of Big Thompson Canyon with several smallish waterfalls in the Big Thompson river along the road. Beautiful as a word does no justice to the scenery. I was heading to the setting sun, so only this short video clip turned out all that well. The rest were washed out by the sun. My daily mileage was 579 miles. I spent about 13 hours, including stops, on the road. My elevation that night was 7627 feet. And from the feel of the evening temperatures up there, I would need my heated gear in the morning. My next day started in a very cold Estes Park and I pointed the bike westward into the even colder mountains. My plan was to use US-34 to cross through Rocky Mountains National Park and then head south towards Gunnison.  It was to be a nice 5 hour ride. But when I got to the top of the pass, the road was closed. Apparently rocks had fallen on the road and road crews had yet to clear them. I waited around for about thirty minutes at 10,000+ feet of elevation in cool/cold temperatures, before deciding to turn around and head back the way I came. I was actually getting a little light headed up there. My daily route plan was shot, so I tried an alternate plan. I followed the foothills south to Boulder and then west into the mountains before turning south again towards Gunnison. This ultimately added a few hours on to my travel time and I got to experience a wide range of temperatures and altitudes. I think I had my heated gear and jacket liner in and out at least 8 times that day. And just because I think it is cool, here is a video of the Eisenhower Tunnel. Hey, I'm a flatlander and the idea of riding through a tunnel cut completely through a mountain is awesome to me. I eventually pulled into the Gunnison Inn. A Chili Man (the semi-official mascot of Sport-Touring.Net) sighting confirmed I was in the right place! Then it was time for the "official" dinner gathering. I know there were a few more people I didn't get pictures of.  My camera batteries died. The daily mileage worked out to 311 miles. But it was still a long day with about 10 hours in the saddle. The temperatures I experienced ranged from a low of around 35 to a high in the low-80s in Boulder. Next up is Day 4. I joined a group headed northwest into Black Canyon. We planned to ride both the north and south rims. This guy was driving this old Ford all over the place. He said he'd been to 48 states with it. We rode down to the base of the canyon too. Me. And then we had a little mishap. It's really Ed's story to tell, but I'll provide the spoiler that he was not hurt. Here he is in good cheer after we got the bike upright and pointed the right way. These are from the north rim on our way out of the canyon. I also shot a bunch of video during the day. These clips turned out OK. My daily mileage worked out to 437. It ended up being about a 10 hour day including a nice lunch in Montrose. We definitely had an "oh shit" moment. Oh sad day.  I left Gunnison in the morning and would soon ride away from the Rockies into the Great Plains. My route east took me over the Monarch Pass.  It was a cool ride, but not as cold as some other mornings in the mountains.  This picture is at the top of the pass and might be my favorite of the whole trip. Soon I was headed north-east towards Denver. South Park. Sweet! I took US-285 and as I approached Denver the traffic got thicker, but the scenery was still amazing. And then, all too soon, the Rockies were behind me. I had originally planned to visit relatives in Denver on my return trip, but due to some schedule changes we weren't able to get together. So I made my way through Denver and out the east side to start my journey across the plains. But first I stopped at a little diner for lunch. I got on US-36 and followed that lonely road east for a while. Then I turned south to get back to Interstate 70 in order to find a hotel. I'd made it as far as Burlington, CO.  The daily mileage was 394 with about ten hours on the move. The next day, I left the eastern edge of Colorado and plunged headlong into Kansas. From the look of the horizon the storms that the Weather Channel had been reporting on weren't far in front of me. I never did catch up to those storms, which I'm thankful for since they apparently got more severe as the day wore on. I checked the radar maps several times during the day and decided to stay close to the Kansas - Nebraska border to avoid the rain.   So I jumped off Interstate 70 and used Kansas 383 to cut diagonally up to Alma, Nebraska.   From there I got on US-136 and used it to get across much of Nebraska.   Red Cloud, NE is a nice little town that had brick streets in its downtown area.   Eventually I made it to Beatrice, NE where I turned north to get on Interstate 80 which took me to Council Bluffs, Iowa which is where I spent my last night on the road for this trip. So far I kept fairly close to my plan to return home via three 400 mile days.  That day ended up being 440 miles long, bringing my trip total to 2367 so far. My last day of this trip started in western Iowa. I made good time and arrived at Gina's BMW in Iowa City around noon. I had called to ask about that one day of oil consumption and was told to stop by and they'd get the 3000 miles oil change done. When I got there they were really busy, so they gave me the oil and filter I'd need to do it at home. I can hardly begin to express how cool everyone at Gina's is. Soon I was back in Illinois. More flooding in the fields from the recent rain.   And then I was home. The daily milage was 408, bringing the trip total to 2775. It got really hot and humid that last afternoon. So, I was glad to be sitting in the air conditioned house instead of grinding out any more highway miles.