The Big Think

September 30, 2011

Falcon Heavy

Filed under: Space,Technology — jasony @ 4:38 pm

How Space-X achieves launch costs 10x cheaper than the competition. Wowsers.

September 28, 2011

Funny Numbers

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 9:26 pm

Not really funny, but eye opening to see it in context.

• U.S. Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
• Fed budget: $3,820,000,000,000
• New debt: $ 1,650,000,000,000
• National debt: $14,271,000,000,000
• Recent budget cut: $ 38,500,000,000

Let’s remove 8 zeros and pretend it’s a household budget:

• Annual family income: $21,700
• Money the family spent: $38,200
• New debt on the credit card: $16,500
• Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710
• Total budget cuts: $385

Enlighten Me

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 10:57 am

Reengineering college for the coming future. Some intriguing ideas.

Faster than Light?

Filed under: Science — jasony @ 8:10 am

Science fiction author and scientist Jerry Pournelle holds forth on the recent neutrino FTL news.

September 27, 2011

Quoth

Filed under: Quoth — jasony @ 7:20 pm

A foolish trope of modernity is that experience leads to disenchantment and ennui. Boredom with life does not result from exhausting life’s riches, but from skimming them. Nothing is boring, except people who are bored.

Everything is Interesting. Read the whole thing

Oh, Come ON, rain!

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 6:38 pm

I’ve been watching not one, but TWO big mean thunderstorm systems bearing down on Austin all day, eagerly anticipating a torrent of rain (or at least a decent soaking shower). It’s been 1/3rd of a YEAR since we’ve seen a drop at our house. Literally. Four months. So I was excited to see these two systems coming on strong from out in the hill country. The weatherman says 80% chance of rain, so I figure it’s a dead lock. I jokingly told Erin that I’d believe it when I saw it, though. It’d probably turn aside just as it reached our neighborhood. Har har.

The first system got so very, very close only to break up just west of us. No problem, there’s a much bigger system right behind it. But just like some twisted atmospheric Red Sea, what had been a big nasty red blob on the radar bearing down directly on top of us at the last moment split in freaking two and went around us. I kid you not. Not five miles to the west the system grew a hole and threaded our town right through it.

Much of Austin got drenched, but our little town on the outskirts of the city didn’t see a single drop. I’m getting really tired of this. When’s it our turn?

Music Trivia

Filed under: Music — jasony @ 1:55 pm

Okay, music fans. Who can name a rock and roll song with bagpipes in it?

September 26, 2011

Far, Far Away

Filed under: Space/Astronomy — jasony @ 9:22 pm

Astronomers discover a new standard candle!

Are Science Museums Failing Adults?

Filed under: Science — jasony @ 9:10 pm

An interesting perspective.

You-Nique

Filed under: Humor and Fun,Science — jasony @ 5:08 pm

What are the odds that you are here, alive, right now? I’ve always wondered this since all of the permutations and decisions involved factor in so heavily (if your parents met a day later, or if your great great grandparents had made slightly different decisions, etc). The vagaries of specific eggs and sperm are staggering enough without thinking about how those combinations had to fall just right going back throughout the human ancestor tree. If the combination fell even slightly differently you wouldn’t be you. As a person of faith I have a definite view of my existence (See Jeremiah 1:5), but I’ve always wondered about the specific odds.

What are the numbers? Is there even a way to come up with a meaningful estimate? Ali Binazir makes an attempt, starting with a staggeringly big estimate. Then it gets really crazy. Don’t miss it. It makes the thought of even a moment not living fully seem like a frightening waste.

I’m off now to go justify my existence. Or at least enjoy this brief candle.

Just Finish It Already

Filed under: Business,Disclosure,Woodworking — jasony @ 10:16 am

The finishing step in any woodworking project always makes me extremely nervous. No matter how much work I do in selecting the right wood, observing wood grain patterns and movement, joinery, design, or sanding, a bad finish can pretty much ruin everything. That’s why so many woodworkers opt for the beauty of a hand-rubbed oil finish. You literally can’t mess an oil finish up. You open a can of boiled linseed or other type of oil, pour it over the surface, and then rub it in until the wood won’t take any more. Then you wipe off the excess and repeat. Easy and beautiful.

I suppose I can finally spill the beans here since I haven’t been asked to keep it a secret. I’m not under NDA and the thing gets revealed this weekend: four weeks ago Baylor University asked me to build their new corporate logo prop. This is an extremely prestigious thing to be asked to build since it’s the prop that is replacing the 30 year old prop in public assemblies. It’ll be put onstage behind dignitaries, presidents, and other guests. It’s a 19′ long version of this:

IM_Floor_3d.jpg

Screen shot 2011-08-26 at 6.08.36 PM.jpg

Each letter stands about 30″ tall and all parts are 9″ thick. The second pic above shows the BAYLOR letters in a box, but in reality they’re independently built 3d letters. It’s fun to spell out crazy stuff by scrambling the giant letters. My neighbors just drive by and look confused. “Who is RAY LOB?” I just wish they spelled out JOHN GALT.

Anyway, I constructed the letters by painstakingly cutting 12 identical copies of each letter out of 3/4″ plywood and then gluing them together into a giant plywood sandwich. In total, I cut 72 letters and 12 layers on the symbol. I went through about 25 sheets of 3/4″ ply and 4 sheets of MDF (the top letter was also my MDF template for each following letter in the sandwich). I had to then hollow out the symbol so it didn’t weigh a ton. It’s a 9″ block of plywood after all and if I hadn’t hollowed it out it would have probably weighed 200+ pounds! As it is it’s about 40-50- bulky but moveable.

I needed to paint the letters the official Baylor Green and the symbol Baylor Green and Gold (the pic above has the letters in white but they’re going to be green to match the official logo). Luckily, Home Depot has a partnership with Glidden and Glidden paints have licensing deals with all of the pro and college sports teams across the U.S. (except for, oddly, U.T. which has a copyright on their specific burnt orange color). I visited HD yesterday and picked up a gallon of official Baylor Green and a quart of Baylor Yellow. But how to put them on? I wanted a better finish than a roller or a brush would provide. I’m really happy with the build but wanted the finish to be as perfect as possible.

So after a lot of research I decided to buy a professional paint sprayer. Those of you who read this and know my propensity for equipping my shop will now be rolling your eyes and saying “of course he bought a professional paint sprayer”. :) Well, the pay for the prop was easily enough to cover a few tools (and then some), so I just considered the new Graco Project Painter Plus sprayer the cost of doing business. In the past whenever I’ve had a commission I’ve rolled a percentage of the money back into tools for the shop so that I’ll have more capability for the next job. I’m pretty well outfitted now (okay, I did have to buy a $40 router bit for the letters), but a good quality airless sprayer wasn’t in my arsenal yet. It is now. Airless sprayers really deliver a good coat but you have to be careful. They pour out a lot of paint (you can stand and watch the level in the paint can drop when you hold the trigger). Getting a smooth coat with no runs takes some technique.

So last saturday I spent the day spraying coats of primer onto the letters and figuring out (unsuccessfully sometimes) how to avoid runs. I think I finally got it- lots of very light coats with a long wait time between each. As my friend Giles says, I’ve got more time than chances to get it right. So I wait. For the next four days I’ll be spraying two letters at a time in Baylor Green in my backyard with a four hour waiting period between coats (3 coats). I’ll have to babysit the letters for an hour to make sure no birds land on them, then after that the paint is dry to the touch with a 4 hour recoat time. I’ll hand-detail the yellow part of the symbol with a brush and small roller. I’d use my airbrush but I you can’t thin latex down enough to work in an airbrush.

It’s very stressful being at this stage as I’ve already spent about 40 hours building the rest of the prop, and if I screw up the finish by allowing the paint to run or letting the finish be marred by falling leaves or bird footprints then that’s all the client will notice. I really need a dedicated finishing room, but for now I’ll have to make do with a couple tables in the backyard and lots of praying for no wind.
I’m a perfectionist in an imperfect world.

I’ll take pics and do a step-by-step of the process after I deliver it to Baylor on Friday. If you happen to be at an event at good ol’ B.U. and see the giant BAYLOR on stage with the school symbol, you’ll know where it came from. Sic ‘em Bears!

September 24, 2011

A Moral Dilemma

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 5:05 pm

Well, this just stinks. I ordered something from Amazon a few weeks ago and was eagerly following the delivery notifications online to see when it would arrive. I got the notice that USPS had delivered it so I went down to the mailbox to pick it up. No luck. I checked the front door. Not there either. The next day I happened to catch the new postal delivery person and she told me “oh, I remember that. It’s at” and then mentioned the last three digits of my address. I delivered it to your door yesterday. Slippers on the door, right? Uh… nope.

Upon further investigation she told me that she had actually delivered it to the wrong house, instead putting it about 10 doors up the street. She went by there and nobody answered, so she left a note saying “please hand deliver this or return it to the post office so we can deliver it to to the right place.

We thought we’d short circuit the whole thing and just go to our neighbor and ask them for the package ourselves. When we got there the twentysomething guy said “oh yeah, hang on a sec” and then disappeared inside. He returned and handed us the note that the mailman had left.

uh… where’s the actual package?

Sorry, man. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Must have been stolen off our porch. Kids, you know.

Now, we don’t exactly live in a gated community with security patrols, but over the years I’ve had probably a hundred packages delivered to our doorstep and not a single one has been stolen or messed with. Some have even sat out for a day or two if we happen to be out of town. We don’t make it a habit, but overall, postal theft around here is pretty unheard of.

So what to do? I couldn’t exactly stand there and accuse the guy of lying (not that doing so would make him give up the goods). So I just looked at him for a second, said are you sure? and then thanked him and walked away helplessly. When we told the post office what had happened they said that they would send a registered letter to the house indicating that mail theft is felony, followed up by a visit from the postal inspector. As the folks at this house are rather nasty looking, and as they may have our address, we’re a little uncomfortable about taking it to this extreme.

But I’m faced with a moral dilemma. We’re almost 100% certain where the property is. If it’s not just a misunderstanding then that means it’s stolen, which means I have a hard time contacting the original seller on Amazon and requesting that they send a new one. I hate to make them eat the cost, or get Visa to reverse the charges, because it’s not their fault. In my opinion it should be the postal service that takes the hit, but in order for that to happen we’d have to go into a long and drawn out series of rather uncomfortable accusations and circumstances (letter, inspector, police, etc). Plus, the package was only about $60. Not worth getting our cars keyed over.

I’m curious what folks here might think about the whole situation.

September 23, 2011

Quoth

Filed under: Quoth — jasony @ 6:45 pm

Heard while listening to the book tape “outliers” and working on the big prop today:

“Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig.

Malcolm Gladwell

Iconic

Filed under: Audio,Business,Science — jasony @ 8:44 am

The making of an audio icon. Inside the stress test of the Shure SM58.

September 22, 2011

The Fable of the Shoes

Filed under: Space — jasony @ 8:51 am

Such a bias toward the status quo similarly infects our thinking and debate on space policy. The highest achievement in the minds of many was landing a man on the moon, and such a feat is viewed as the epitome of a human spaceflight program, and the only model to follow. Ignoring the issue of the pork, such thinking resulted in the Constellation plan (“Apollo on Steroids”) and now it’s giving us the disastrous Senate Launch System (as I discussed over at Pajamas Media yesterday). It’s what I have called the Apollo Cargo Cult — in too many minds, if we don’t have a really big rocket developed and operated by NASA, we don’t have a Real Space Program.

The problem is that, while (fortunately) the government hasn’t always supplied shoes, in the minds of too many, it has always supplied human spaceflight, and when you propose to do it in any other way, no matter how much more cost effective, the same cries arise: “Are you crazy?! Why do you hate space exploration?! Spaceflight is hard! Only NASA knows how to put people into space! Who is going to do it if not NASA? These people are just hobbyists in garages! What if all of the commercial companies fail and go out of business?! (Yes, people really ask that.) What if they can’t hit their cost targets? What material will they use? What if we can’t store propellant in orbit?”

Like people who can’t imagine life without a government post office, or air traffic control (it’s private in Switzerland), or other things with which they have no experience, they can’t conceive of space activities that don’t consist of a few government employees on top of a really big rocket, with lots more government employees at desks in control rooms directing the show.

Read the whole thing. I’m in favor of a robust and competitive commercial space flight industry with NASA and other governmental organizations acting as customers and buyers for the best system from the best company. Doing these monolithic, governments sponsored space boondoggles where billions are spent with nothing to show doesn’t seem like the most efficient way to run a railroad.

September 20, 2011

Quoth

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 7:44 pm

“The Tea Party, perhaps more than any other contemporary movement, brings out the ‘Yeah, but what they’re really saying…’ tendency. The ‘tea’ stands for ‘Taxed Enough Already’ but, if you relied on the BBC and the Guardian for your information, you might not know it. Many Lefties pretend – or perhaps have genuinely convinced themselves – that the Tea Party is clandestinely protesting against immigration or abortion or the fact of having a mixed race president; anything, in fact, other than what it actually says it’s against, viz big government. The existence of a popular and spontaneous anti-tax movement has unsettled the Establishment. They’d much rather deal with a stupid and authoritarian Right than with a libertarian one. Hence the almost desperate insistence that the Tea Partiers have some secret agenda.”

via

But dealing with a Libertarian Right would mean they would have to argue their position on the merits instead of demonizing their opposition.

Balance

Filed under: Business,Disclosure,Quoth — jasony @ 4:32 pm

“We need to see our criteria for achievement and success as something we create ourselves rather than having them foisted upon us by others.”

Thoughts on underemployment. I consider myself lucky that we have managed to carve out a very satisfying definition of what success means to us and feel like we’ve achieved that spectacularly in our lives. We’re not very tempted by more money if that means we’ll have to permanently give up what we’ve decided matters the most to us (time together, time to pursue other interests besides work, freedom and space to grow as a couple and as individuals).

Our society is very geared toward a very narrow definition of success: how much do you make? I’m glad to see different definitions gaining in acceptance.

Trail Logic

Filed under: Disclosure,Humor and Fun — jasony @ 11:21 am

I used to be a wilderness/whitewater rafting guide in Colorado. One of the little jokes we played on campers was the “dehydrated water” bit. We had a professionally printed metal can about 4″ tall and 6″ in diameter. It was filled with some kind of powder (sugar or sand or something) and weighed about 10 ounces. When a camper complained about the weight of his pack (about 40 pounds versus our 60-80 lbs), we would give him this little can and tell him it was our emergency water supply. Dehydrated. Conversation follows:

Camper: Dehydrated water?
Guide: yup
Camper: so what do you add to rehydrate it?
Guide: water
Camper: how much water?
Guide: a gallon
Camper: how much does it make?
Guide: a gallon
Camper: … uh … then why don’t you just carry the water?
Guide: this is lighter
Camper: so let me get this straight. I have to carry a can of *emergency* dehydrated water. If we need to use it, we add a gallon of water to it and it makes a gallon of water, right?
Guide: yup.
Camper: so why not just carry an extra gallon of water?
Guide: because this is lighter!
Camper: Where does the gallon come from that we put in?
Guide: a stream
Camper: if there’s a stream nearby, we won’t need our emergency water!
Guide: hopefully not.

And on and on and on… Kept the guides entertained for hours “explaining” this.

September 19, 2011

New Math

Filed under: Disclosure,Humor and Fun,Politics — jasony @ 6:52 am

Taxes Simplified!

IRSQuad.jpg

Sorry not much in the way of posting lately. I’m buried by work. Fortunately, it’s like being buried by balls in a bouncy castle. There’s lot of them around, but at least they’re colorful and fun!

September 16, 2011

Not the New Phone Books, but Close

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 3:30 pm

“Your Amazon order of Valley 82790 Class III Receiver Hitch has shipped”. Yay! A birthday present to myself. I’ll be able to tow stuff with my truck. :)

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