The Big Think

March 23, 2010

Steampunk R2D2

Filed under: Maker,Movies — jasony @ 10:36 pm

Really impressive engineering here.

Mad Skillz

Filed under: Maker — jasony @ 9:29 am

Guy buys a $500 beater from 1991 and proceeds to whip the tires off the well funded drivers in a pro rally event. Fantastic!

From the comments (worth reading):

“Some say he paints USS Constitution on his back before arm-wrestling the Stig. And there are rumors he bench presses dumpsters.

He’s our caught in the wild, not yet broke to harness untamed racing driver.

He’s called the Cas.

Up yours, Clarkson.

March 22, 2010

The Grass Suddenly Doesn’t Look Very Green On This Side of the Rubicon

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 8:09 am

Thanks to a spiraling deficit, the economy is chugging merrily towards a broken bridge over a rocky canyon—a fact that almost no one from either party is willing to do anything about. America, according to the CBO, is on an unsustainable path, and the nation’s solid-gold credit rating may be at risk. So it doesn’t matter how many times blinkered legislators repeat to themselves, “I think I can, I think I can”: Nothing short of significant cutbacks to entitlement spending is going to magically transform the U.S. budget into the little engine that could.

Instead, politicians are paying for new entitlements by shifting money from unsustainable programs—money that ought to have gone toward getting America’s fiscal house in order.

read the whole thing. link.

and please don’t miss the article I linked to a few days ago.

March 21, 2010

Health Care Endgame

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 7:51 am

I strongly oppose the current health care bill, and I’ve made no secret of that fact to my friends. My opposition is not based upon selfishness, cruelty to my fellow man, or the belief that the current system is just fine. In fact, long time readers will know that I railed against our H.C. company every year when they raised rates. Instead, I believe that the currently proposed legislation is very bad law, and it’s being enacted in a way that is unprecedented, violently partisan, and socially irresponsible. We need reform on health care because the health care system is so broken. And because it represents 20% of our economy, we need to put all ideas on the table and do it right. Slamming through the current legislation with a vote today will not fix our problems. In the long term it will only make them worse.

More importantly, though, my opposition is philosophical with a longer view. It’s best summed up in Randy Barnett’s article, Is health-care reform constitutional?

…the individual mandate extends the commerce clause’s power beyond economic activity, to economic inactivity. That is unprecedented. While Congress has used its taxing power to fund Social Security and Medicare, never before has it used its commerce power to mandate that an individual person engage in an economic transaction with a private company. Regulating the auto industry or paying “cash for clunkers” is one thing; making everyone buy a Chevy is quite another. Even during World War II, the federal government did not mandate that individual citizens purchase war bonds.

If you choose to drive a car, then maybe you can be made to buy insurance against the possibility of inflicting harm on others. But making you buy insurance merely because you are alive is a claim of power from which many Americans instinctively shrink.

Fix health care, but do it constitutionally, without establishing precedents that will inevitably lead to future leaders continuing to erode personal liberties and further empower the federal government.

If you support the current HC reform and have never been able to understand why all those “crazy tea-partiers” are protesting, I can’t make it any clearer than that.

Music Lover

Filed under: Music — jasony @ 6:56 am

I am both a lifelong classical-music lover and a member of a generation – the so-called Generation X – that, according to scary graphs recently published by the League of American Orchestras, has yet to show the midlife surge of interest in classical music that previous generations displayed. I went to college with extraordinarily smart people, who knew their art, literature and cinema. But few of them knew classical music. I bring such friends to concerts, and although they are pleased to be there, I often sense a slight disappointment. They admire the music, but the evening in some way falls short. And I ask myself whether the experience could be modified so that their admiration might turn to love…

People often ask whether classical music has become too serious. I sometimes wonder whether it is serious enough. Certainly, it has acquired a veneer of solemnity, but too often that veneer is a cover for business as usual. I dream of the concert hall becoming a more vital, unpredictable environment, in thrall to the wildly diverse personalities of composers and performers alike. The great paradox of modern musical life, whether in the classical or pop arena, is that we both worship our idols and, in a way, straitjacket them. We consign them to cruelly specific roles: a certain rock band is expected to loosen us up, a certain composer is expected to ennoble us. Ah, Mozart; yeah, rock and roll. But what if a rock band wants to make us think and a composer wants to make us dance? Music should be a place where our expectations are shattered.

Enthusiasm in the concert hall. (h/t Barry)

March 20, 2010

Unfunded Future

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 12:13 am

America is on an unsustainable fiscal path. If we do nothing to address this, within 25 years the U.S. government will default on its debt, with devastating consequences for the U.S. economy and society.

We are on this path because past elected officials made unsustainable benefit promises and enshrined them in law. In some cases they paid for those promises in the short run. In all cases they created programs that would grow more generous over time.

Those past elected officials enjoyed the political benefits of creating a new promise, and they shifted the burden of paying for these promises onto their successors and onto future generations of citizens.

You are their successor, and we are those future generations. The bill is coming due. The gap between future spending and taxes is the most important economic problem America faces. If we don’t fix it, we’re screwed.

You are being pushed to do a variant of what your predecessors have done. Solve a societal problem. Make a popular new promise. Ignore those who warn the promise is underfunded. Worry about the existing long-term problem later, or better yet, hand it off to the next crowd. If this legislation makes that long-term problem harder to solve by taking future options off the table, someone else can worry about that.

A sober (and serious) essay on what is wrong with the proposed health care legislation, as well as why implementing it now will cut off future options to solve bigger problems later. A seriously good article that just makes me depressed.

March 19, 2010

Pianist

Filed under: Music — jasony @ 11:59 am

My wonderful wife, Erin, is in the midst of a massive practicing binge, spending about six hours a day at the piano. She’s been hired by the local school district to play for their upcoming UIL contest. She’s done this, as well as played for Christmas concerts, for many years.

They typically do more challenging pieces for UIL, but this year they’ve pulled out all the stops with their selection of J’entends Le Moulin by Donald Patriquinn. It’s got a humongous, almost cruel, piano part. Listen to it here and try to isolate the piano part.

Erin is such a skilled pianist (with a bachelor’s in performance in a masters in pedagogy) that she was able to learn this while piece in about four days. It’s not up to speed yet, but it’s getting there.

Go sweetie!

March 18, 2010

In Praise of Amateurs

Filed under: Maker — jasony @ 9:44 pm

Well, I just finished reading an uncorrected proof of Mark Frauenfelder’s Made by Hand, which is due to be published in late May. In the book, Frauenfelder — who is perhaps best known as the co-founder of Boing Boing and editor of Make magazine — chronicles his experience dabbling in the world of do-it-yourself (or DIY). The book includes chapters describing how Frauenfelder (intentionally) kills his lawn, grows food, raises chickens and keeps bees, brews tea and coffee, builds musical instruments, carves kitchen utensils, and, most of all, learns how to learn.

The book isn’t a practical guide to anything. You won’t learn how to keep your own bees or carve your own kitchen utensils in Made by Hand; instead, you’ll get the pleasure of watching over Frauenfelder’s shoulder as he does these things. And, if you’re like me, you’ll be reminded of how much we, as a culture, used to do ourself.

Looking forward to reading it. link.

March 16, 2010

Clam

Filed under: Woodworking — jasony @ 9:19 am

I build props for Sing every year. Sometimes they’re fairly straightforward projects (I built a 4’x4’x4′ box a few years ago.. yawn). Sometimes, though, I’m asked to build something that I have no idea at first how I’m going to go about it. This was one of them. I was asked to make a giant functional clamshell that a person could hide inside.

The group gave me about four months of lead-time until I had to deliver it, and I spent three months just thinking about it and trying not to sweat at what I’d gotten myself into. How does a woodworker whos primary medium consists of mostly right-angled material create the compound organic curves of a clamshell? I had no idea, but after several dead ends I hit upon the idea of using fiberglass. I’d never used fiberglass before, but every year I decide which new “Maker Skill” I’m going to learn and this year just so happened to include “figure out fiberglass”. Happy coincidence.

Here are some pictures I took during construction. It was a very fun (though at times messy and smelly) process. It also gave me a very useful skill if I have to make curvy shapes in the future. Overall not nearly as difficult as I had feared.

First, I made a model in Sketchup and sized it to fit a person. It was just large enough to hold a person but not so big that it cost a fortune. Fiberglass is relatively expensive!

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Next I measured out the plan template from my Sketchup drawing.

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Once I got it all onto a single sheet of paper I transferred the measurements to the plywood and marked up the sheet.

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Drew the “rib lines” to connect the back to the lip

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Then I measured and made up the back spine.

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I then cut the whole thing out and tried the spine in place

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Cut out the hole (what I called the “toilet seat”) and glued on the spine.

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Next I cut out and glued on the ribs. This was a big pain as I had to reinforce each joint on both sides. It took hours! I don’t have a picture of measuring and cutting the ribs, but it was an adventure. I made one central “reference rib”, then made four successively smaller ribs for one side. I then copied and made mirror image ribs for the other side.

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When installing the ribs I had to notch out the back spine to fit them. This was a laborious process since most of the work had to be done with a chisel and hammer.

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Next, I covered it with stretched fleece and stapled it into place. This was the “aha!” step. Until now I hadn’t figured out how to make a 3d skeleton of an object into a smooth surface. The fleece trick was neat, easy, cheap, and fast (four good things!).

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Next I soaked the felt in fiberglass resin to harden it up. This took much more resin than I thought it would since the fleece was so porous. It basically soaked it in and I had to keep reapplying it. After it was dry I sanded the whole thing, then applied another coat of resin. While the resin was still wet I pushed fiberglass matt into it and covered with a third coat of resin. The blue lines you see below were reference lines for the fiberglass fabric. I had to fit the rectangular fiberglass cloth on to the curvy clam shape like a puzzle, and this arrangement gave me the best use of my available cloth.

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Next I traced the shell onto another piece of plywood and cut out the bottom part. I made up angled pieces of wood to hold the front of the bottom lip off of the base to give the singer a little more room inside. The base is on wheels so it can be wheeled on and offstage quickly.

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On to sanding! It was amazing how strong and light it was. The microscopic dust from the fiberglass is very bad news (can give you silicosis), so I had to be very well protected. I have several layers of shirts on to keep the glass fibers from getting to my skin. They’re horribly itchy if they do.

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Next, I sanded the resin again and then I applied two coats of Rage Gold body putty to smooth the whole thing out. Rage Gold is a little expensive (about $50/gallon) but TOTALLY worth it compared to cheaper brand putty. It goes on easily, dries fast, and sands like a dream. I’ll never go back. The cheap stuff is harder than rock and impossible to sand when dry. No comparison. When the Rage was dried I sanded it down, then reapplied it in spots where there were small holes or places that needed patching.

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This stuff really stinks. Literally.

Sanding, sanding, sanding. I sanded for hours.

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Next, I bought three hinges and measured them out for location, then screwed them into the base.

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Then I stapled some more fleece onto the bottom lip before attaching it onto the base.

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Gave the shell a coat of gray spray primer that I had lying around.

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And found a beautiful mermaid to model for me. 🙂

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No so beautiful mer-man.

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Watch out for him. He bites.

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All told it probably took me around 40 hours of work from start to finish, but I had a ton of fun. I definitely never thought I’d be able to build a clamshell of all things. It was a challenge, but I’m proud of how it looks! It’s given me the ability to build with fiberglass and given me a lot of confidence in making curvy shapes.

March 15, 2010

Read an Economics Textbook

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 3:02 pm

Must See Pics

Filed under: Business — jasony @ 12:50 am

Wow, neato pics from Sing at Kathryn Kreuger’s page.

March 14, 2010

Time to Build!

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 10:50 pm

Ah, spring. When a young man’s fancy turns to…. home improvement. Erin and I are finally getting around to a few long-delayed home improvement projects. We just finished a complete repaint of the dining room (we call it the “piano room” because it lacks and actual dining table). We’re also embarking on a remodel of the pathetic master bathroom. It’s currently cheapo vinyl flooring, builder white walls, and a single pane mirror with no frame. When we’re done it’ll hopefully match our guest bathroom, which I redid several years ago.

It went from this:

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to this:

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I’m really happy with the results and hope the master bathroom ends up looking good as well. It’s a ton of work, but since the labor is free (me!) we’ll get our money back out of it. Even if we don’t, which bathroom would YOU rather spend a decade using?

Finally, we’ll be redoing our patio. It’s currently your basic 10×10 covered patio with nothing special about it. When it’s done we plan on having a tile floor surrounded by a patio railing (with 2 small gates), roll down exterior shades, an exterior ceiling fan, new planters, and a small water feature. I’ve scheduled a week for the job which means it’ll take about 2, but we’ve forgone our Spring Break trip and decided to use the money on the upgrades, so I have the time.

I’ll try and post before/after pics when it’s all done.

March 12, 2010

Living in the Future

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 9:26 am

Skin cancer has been cured. No joking, it looks like they’ve turned this potentially deadly disease, which strikes millions of families (including my own) into a treatable, curable nuisance. As long as it’s caught early-and you are going to the dermatologist regularly, right?- this new treatment will cure a skin cancer using an at-home device, with no surgery, no pain, and no chemo.

Erin read this story to me while lying in bed this morning and I looked at the ceiling thinking remember where you were when you heard this- this is the crack in the dam that will eventually knock this scourge out of our lives forever. I’d say “it’s a miracle!” but really it’s the result of decades of hard, thankless, anonymous labor by the men and women in the white coats. A heartfelt thanks to them.

What’s the next cancer to fall? As my friend Barry says, we really are living in an age of wonders.

March 11, 2010

Lost:Please Just Make It End

Filed under: Movies — jasony @ 8:25 pm

Catching up on the last 2 episodes of Lost and I’m reminded why I’ll be so happy when it’s over already.

Of course, I guess there’s always After Lost.

Really Fast

Filed under: Computing — jasony @ 3:39 pm

…Having created a medium in which the refractive index is less than one, Putz and Svozil’s idea is simply to immerse a computer in it. That simple act (and presumably some clever design to create an optical computer in the first place) would allow superluminal computation to take place.

Assuming that this device could actually be built, what could you do with a superluminal computer? That’s a good question that Putz and Svozil do not address directly. They say such a device would fall into a class of processing machine known as hypercomputers. These are hypothetical devices more powerful than Turing machines, that allow non-Turing computations. They were first discussed by Alan Turing in the 1930s.

I suspect a lot of this hype is of the not-as-good-as-it-sounds variety (i.e. maybe it’s technically “faster than light” because the medium has a slower value for c or something (kind of like Cherenkov radiation). Still, it’s neat sounding.

Oh, Come On

Filed under: Disclosure,Music — jasony @ 5:06 am

I’ve made my peace with insomnia. I figure there are much worse afflictions to have, and getting an extra 4-5 hours of life out of the day isn’t too bad of a tradeoff. So I just kind of roll with it.

But when I wake up at 4am and can’t get back to sleep because Blondie’s “The Tide is High” is running through my brain… well, that’s just the universe being cruel.

March 10, 2010

How to Win an Academy Award

Filed under: Humor and Fun,Movies — jasony @ 2:28 pm

Accountability

Filed under: Apple — jasony @ 1:15 pm

Holding the Apple naysayers accountable. This is why I love the internet: it makes people stand by what they said! heh.

iPad release soon!

March 9, 2010

Motorcycle Crazy

Filed under: Humor and Fun,Maker — jasony @ 11:23 pm

30 insane motorcycle designs. Crazy!

Conversations

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 6:15 pm

I just had an absolutely wonderful conversation with a friend I had not talked to in almost two years. We have the kind of relationship where, when I picked up the phone, we immediately picked up almost exactly where we left off. What’s weird is that we’ve spent all of two weeks together total. Put this individual, Erin, and me in a room and we can talk for hours. Nice to have friends like that.

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