TIL How to Center a Div Independently of its Size

Today I learned how to center a div or img on a page without relying on its predetermined width or height. First, if you don’t care about centering the object vertically, the best method I’ve found is as follows:

.centered { margin: auto; }

But to center it horizontally and vertically, I had always used the following method (assume a div of height:500px; width:500px;):

.centered { position:relative; top:50%; left:50%; margin-top: -250px; margin-left: -250px }

This centers the object’s top left corner and uses negative margins to completely center it. However, it relies on hard coding half the height and width. But researching a bit further, I found another novel way to center an object in a container. The following method does not rely on knowing the height or width of the object. This saves you the hassle of not having to edit additional CSS if you decide to change the height or width of the centered object later. It goes as follows, using an img in this example:

.container { height:100%; text-align:center; }
span { height:100%; vertical-align:middle; display:inline-block; }
img { width:500px; vertical-align: middle; }

The height of the img can be anything you want, I just made it 500px wide in this example. And the img is the adjacent sibling of the span, both of which are children of the container. Credit goes to Wex. See his solution and JSFiddle here.

How to Set Up Coda 2 and MAMP for PHP Development

Coda 2 comes with PHP previewing right out of the proverbial box. Give it a try, create a new PHP doc and paste this code into it:

<?php echo "Hello World!" ?>

Then press the preview button and you should see the properly executed output “Hello World!”. This won’t work if you try dragging the PHP file to a web browser. Coda 2 is doing some magic behind the scenes.

The problem is PHP “includes” don’t work without some configuration. Instead you get a nasty error code telling you the file does not exist. I solved this with a few steps:

  1. Download and run MAMP. Make sure in the preferences that the Apache port is set to 80 (I don’t remember if this is default or not).
  2. Create a new site in Coda 2 and give it a nickname.
  3. The only really important fields for local development are Local URL and Local Root. Set the Local Root first by clicking the “Set” button and navigating to the “htdocs” folder that MAMP should have created when you installed it. The path should be Applications/MAMP/htdocs. Create a new folder within the htdocs folder and choose it as the Local Root.
  4. Now set the Local URL as http://localhost/the_name_of_the_folder.
  5. You can fill out the other two fields, Root URL (the URL it uses to make an icon for your site) and Remote Root (for uploading to a remote server when you’re ready to go live), if you want but you can leave them blank for local development purposes.
  6. Now save the site and you should be good to go. If includes still don’t work, try restarting Coda 2 and MAMP.

To test, make a PHP document in your root folder and paste this HTML into it:

<h1>includes work!</h1>

Save it as include.php. Now make another PHP document in your root folder and paste this into it:

<?php include('include.php') ?>

Save it as index.php then preview it and you should see in big bold letters “includes work!”

I would still like to know if it is possible to do this without having to save my site in htdocs, but rather, point MAMP to my websites folder in my home folder.

Absolute vs Relative Paths

An absolute path is one that has a full web address. These are useful for linking to pages outside the root directory of our site. For example, if we wanted to make a hyperlink to another page or a resource on another page, it might look something like this:

<a href="http://www.dogs.com>This Link Forwards to Petsmart!</a>

if, however, we want to link to a page or resource within the root directory of our site we can link to it using a relative path. Relative paths can mean different things on different pages. Consider the following file structure:

file_struct

Here is an example of how we might link to labrador_retriever.jpg from the dog_gallery.html page in our site:

<img src="medium/labrador_retriever.jpg">

This is the document path starting from the folder (and excluding it from the URL) in which the page we are coding currently resides. If we were coding a page that resided in the small folder the URL would not resolve (in contrast to an absolute path). If the resource we want is in a different branch of the file structure we can use ../ to go up one level:

<img src="../cats/long_haired/kitty.jpg">

This means “go up one level from the folder we are currently in (in this case we are still coding the gallery so we reside in dogs) and then follow the rest of the path provided”. We can actually place as many ../ in front of the path as we need to get to the right folder.

One quick little tip: if you add a leading slash to a relative path it resolves to the root folder. You may run into trouble with this if you try to open your page on your computer by double clicking it. The computer may think you meant the root folder of the hard drive.

 

Photoshop – Save ‘As A Copy’

This is one of those things I always thought I understood. The language is easy enough, but when I got down to it, I couldn’t explain what save ‘as a copy’ meant in Photoshop. Doesn’t ‘Save As’ always save as a copy of the original document? Adobe puts it this way,

As A Copy Saves a copy of the file while keeping the current file open on your desktop.

but that seemed vague before I knew what it meant. Here is a more personable explanation in my own words:

‘Save As’ without checking ‘As A Copy’ saves the current file in the format you select and then makes that resulting file the current file open in Photoshop (what Adobe calls ‘your desktop’). ‘Save As’ with checking ‘As A Copy’ saves the current file in the format you select but leaves the original file as the current file open in Photoshop. In other words, choosing ‘As A Copy’ is like saying,”I’ve been editing you for a while now, and I want to save my progress in a separate file, but I’m not done with you, I want to continue editing you after I save.”

This would be important to choose if you want to ‘Save As’ a JPG or some other compressed format because you don’t want the compressed file to be the one you continue editing. Anyway, that’s my opinion. Take what you will.

1Password Replacement Icon

Love 1Password but hate the ugly Mac icon circa 2006? Use one of the images from inside the iPhone app!

  1. Download 1Password for iPhone/iPad to iTunes on your computer
  2. Once downloaded, control-click on it in your library and choose Show in Finder
  3. Option drag the .ipa file to your desktop so as to not ruin the original
  4. Change the file extension from .ipa to .zip
  5. Open the zip file, open the extracted folder, open the payload folder
  6. Control-click the .app file and choose Show Package Contents
  7. Find a cool looking icon. I prefer the one called “door-lock-error-0@2x~ipad.png”
  8. Drag the image file to Preview
  9. Select all and copy
  10. Find 1Password in the Applications folder in the Finder, click it and Get Info
  11. Click the icon in the ensuing window and paste

You can also find the icon used for the iPhone app online. For some reason the icon app inside the app has a gradient behind it that you’d have to photoshop out if you wanted to use it. I like the image I mentioned above better though.

TIL How to Make an Object React When Hovering Over Another Object Using CSS

Today I learned how to make an object do something when hovering over an entirely different object. First, if you didn’t know, you can make an object react by using the :hover pseudoclass in your CSS. Here is an example:

.some_div { background: red; }
.some_div:hover { background: blue; }

The div will be red until you hover your mouse over it, in which case it will turn blue. What I learned to do today was how to make one div change when a the mouse is hovering over a completely different div. This is accomplished by adding another selector like this:

.other_div { background: green; }
.some_div:hover + .other_div { background: purple; }

In this case, when you hover over .some_div, the adjacent sibling div (accomplished with the + selector) .other_div will turn from green to purple. I used this particularly when I was working with CSS3 transitions (making divs move around and change over time). Feel free to use the selector that will accomplish your particular task. Here is a JSfiddle for further clarification.

Resolutions to Consider for Fluid Layouts

I made these charts to help me decide at which resolutions my fluid layouts should link to different stylesheets. I haven’t quite settled on a solution but I think these charts offer a good visual understanding of Apple’s resolution intervals. Things to consider:

  1. I omitted a few resolutions including the Hi-Res Non-Retina 15″ MacBook Pro (1680×1050), the 11″ MacBook Air (1366×768), and the iPhone 4S (480×320).
  2. All resolutions are in points, not pixels, as this is what we as web developers are interested in (I just divided the retina resolutions by 2).
  3. Should new stylesheets target exact resolution intervals, the pixel before, or the pixel after? Is there even any difference between these?
  4. Which resolutions should be discarded? It gets pretty tight around 15″ (especially if you’d like to account for Hi-Res 15″), which resolution would keep the intervals most uniform?

I understand that Apple computers are a small percentage of the market share but in the end fluid layouts are designed to make the experience pleasant on any screen size.

Apple Resolutions Apple Resolutions Left-Aligned

TIL how to PROPERLY use the viewport meta tag

Today I learned how to properly use the viewport meta tag to render websites correctly on mobile devices. It’s probably been about a year now, that www.noformatpodcast.com would not zoom when rotated to fill the screen. The scale would stay exactly the same and since the site was designed to be a static 320 px wide a large blank space would appear to the right. I decided today was the day. No matter what cost, today I would fix this ugly, ugly bug. Since I had already put hours into trying to figure out what was causing the problem many many months ago, I decided to make a copy of the website and just go to town on it. I threw out stylesheets, entire sections of the website, added an HTML reset but nothing I did could make the site zoom to fill when rotated. So then I decided to make an experimental (super basic) site from scratch and build it up and see if I could make any site scale properly. This was helpful and I eventually figured it out. In hindsight the solution was very simple. I learned about the viewport meta tag around the time that I initially made the website but really what I did was just copy some code from the internet not knowing exactly what each part meant. This is how I had the meta tag in the head:

<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1">

This is what I changed it to:

<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width">

By removing the initial-scale=1 you are allowing the device to properly scale the website to fill the screen in any orientation or screen size. Thanks goes out to Apple’s iOS developer Library. I guess it pays to read the manual : /

As a side note if I were to remove the content="width=device-width" statement as well (which in effect is like removing the entire meta tag), the page would be rendered as though the display were much larger (in the case of an iPhone, 980 px) so my mobile site would turn out tiny and to the left.

TIL how to hide dot files in FileZilla

Today I learned how to hide dot files (hidden files on a Mac) in FileZilla, thanks to Satya at Web Scripting. Hidden files have always annoyed me but I never had a good reason to get rid of them until I started using git. Git creates a hidden folder called .git as a repository in the folder you want to track. If you don’t want to have to remember to deselect this folder when you’re ready to upload your site (or if you don’t like seeing those .DS_Store files) the following will help:

  1. Open FileZilla and click “View” and then “Filename filters…”
  2. Click the button on the bottom called “Edit filter rules…”
  3. Click “New” and type in a name like “Hidden Files”
  4. Then change the condition to say “Filename” “begins with” “.”
  5. Press OK, the new filter should be already be checked. Decide whether you want it applied to the remote site as well, if you do, check the box next to the filter you just made in the right hand column.
  6. Click “Apply”

Now any hidden files/folders in a folder that you drag to a remote site won’t be transferred.

TIL to put JavaScript object keys in quotes

Today I learned to put JavaScript object keys in quotes ALL OF THE TIME. Technically you don’t have to but if you’re using jQuery as a framework keys that contain a hyphen and keys that are already keywords in JavaScript require quotes. So just surround all your keys with quotes and there won’t be a problem. Example: 'height' : '60px' where height is the key (and 60px is the value).

TIL img is inline by default

Today I learned img is inline by default which creates unwanted space (in my case) below the img. Styling img with display: block fixes the issue.

Browser Width

While developing the mobile view of a new website I’m working on I became aware that not all browsers are equal…width. I’ve tweeted before about toolbar height. Note that Opera and Firefox can be made the thinnest and share exactly the same minimum width. Camino follows with a nice in between minimum and Safari and then Chrome (almost completely hidden by Safari) bring up the rear.

Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 11.07.48 PM Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 10.49.37 PM

No Format’s Podcast Rig

First let me tell you how I used to record No Format Podcast and why I sought a better solution:

When Jason and I first started recording I used Ambrosia’s WireTap Studio to capture two channels of audio. With WireTap you are able to set two sources which I would set to Duet (my audio interface) and Skype. Annoyingly, if I wanted to bring the audio into Logic or Garageband on separate tracks, I’d have to export the recording twice from WireTap, once with my audio turned all the way down and once with his audio turned all the way down. This worked fine for a good 30 episodes or so but eventually as I upgraded my Mac’s OS things started to break (something about monitoring my own audio and the ability to capture “all Mac audio” just stopped working). Things may be different now, but at that point I decided to try out a rival recording software Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro. It’s half the price and looked to be a good contender. Again, another 30 episodes went by without much complaint save a few. Similarly to WireTap, when the recording is finished you don’t end up with two files. Instead, Audio Hijack records the first of the audio sources onto one channel of a stereo track and the second onto the other channel. If I didn’t do any post-processing I’d be left with all of my audio coming out of the left speaker and all of Jason’s audio coming out of the right speaker. That’s an awful effect which meant after each episode I would have to import the track into a Logic project, fade the track all the way to the right so I could only hear Jason, bounce as a mono AIFF, then reimport the file to a second track and repeat the process for my audio. Both of these recording solutions required a lot of exporting and moving back and forth between different applications. All I really wanted to do was record the audio directly into Logic on two separate tracks. My interface has two inputs, why shouldn’t I be able to do it?

After some experimentation, I finally figured it out. I achieved this with my fairly expensive Apogee Duet (FireWire) and Apple’s DAW Logic, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t work with a more affordable audio interface like for example the Presonus AudioBox USB and Garageband which comes with every new Mac. The key is, it must have at least two inputs and two outputs. So here’s how it works:

You create a Logic project with two audio tracks. In Logic’s Preferences under Audio ensure that the Duet is chosen as the input and output and that “Software Monitoring” is checked. Set one of the tracks to Input 1 and the other to Input 2 in their corresponding channel strips and lower the fader to -∞ dB in the output channel strip. Record Enable both tracks so that when you press record, they both make magic. Now onto the interface. Plug your mic into input 1 and tell the Duet what it is by choosing XLR Mic and turning on phantom power in Apogee’s Maestro software (most other interfaces just have a hardware button called 48V). Now here is the novel idea: set input 2 as an “instrument” in Maestro, get a standard TRS cable (the one you use to plug your guitar into the amp) and plug one end into one of the outputs (left or right, doesn’t matter) and the other end into input 2. Finally, plug a set of headphones into the other output and you are done.

Now let me describe what is happening so that if you’re not using the same equipment I’m using, you can troubleshoot it. Basically my voice will be brought in through my mic, travel through input 1 on my interface, exit through the data cable (in my case FireWire) and recorded onto track 1 in my DAW (Logic). That one is easy. My cohost’s audio is coming to me through FaceTime (or Skype, we’ve done both) on my computer and travels through the data cable to the interface. At this point it gets split; one path takes the audio to the output that my headphones are connected to so I can hear him, the other path leaves the interface through the other output but then gets fed right back into the interface through input 2. Then it travels the opposite direction through the data cable and gets recorded onto track 2 in my DAW.

This allows me to record everything right in Logic and not have to mess with other apps. Both recordings are mono which is how I want them and I have control over the input volume of both of them. I haven’t figured out how to monitor my own audio yet and the audio I currently hear of my cohost only comes out of one channel (I actually prefer covering only one ear with my headphones, I get distracted hearing my voice through speakers). Also, one thing we’d love to be able to do is play a song in iTunes and have us both hear it. But I’m very satisfied with what we’ve got going so far.

If you have a suggestion or have figured out a better way of doing things, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

No Format's Podcasting Rig

Zelda Endings

If you’ve ever completed a Zelda game you know how annoying the endings are. If you haven’t, I’m not sure why you’re reading my blog, it’s all I really talk about. For those of you who do not have an adventurous spirit, Zelda games end just like any other adventure game (good triumphs over evil, the protagonist gets the girl, light is usually restored to a presently dark world etc) with one exception: your progress is not saved. You defeat the bad guy named Ganon, you watch a few cut scenes, some credits scroll by and “The End” appears on the screen. You are left pressing buttons and then pressing them harder in hopes that it will trigger something. But nothing happens. It’s at about that moment that I google a few search terms like “how to save end link past” only to confirm what I already know: YOU CAN’T SAVE. It just pains me to turn the system off knowing that the next time I turn it back on Ganon will still wield the Triforce of power and rule the Dark World. I guess it wouldn’t make sense to continue playing if there were no antagonist causing problems though…so I get it. It just bugs me.

How to Iterate a Block of HTML

Take for example this blog. It is repeating the same chunk of HTML for each post I make. The only difference is the content. If you were to look at the page source, it would appear as though the developer copied the code for the first post, and pasted it several times, replacing only the content in each iteration. That however, would be a very inefficient process (it is how I did it before I learned PHP) and is called a static page. To make this page dynamically generate a block of HTML for each post saved in a database we can use a loop (a very basic knowledge of PHP and MySQL will be assumed).

Here is an example of a block of HTML that we might want to iterate (the part between the “items” tags):

By placing a for loop (line 2) around the block of HTML and including the row fetch (line 4) inside the loop we can make it iterate and though our entire database (in this case displaying a picture and a name in each HTML block):

I will reiterate (no pun intended) that the row fetch must be inside the for loop for this to work, otherwise it will repeat the first row of the database over and over again.

Mystery Notes

Today, as I was cleaning out my list of notes, I came across this cryptic message:

Lemon stand my Jenso and capital W capital you

I have a feeling this was the result of a failed attempt at dictating a note on my phone one afternoon while walking the pooch. It reminds me of those trivia sections you find in the newspaper next to the crossword puzzle where they write a nonsense sentence that is phonetically similar to a logical sentence. That makes me wonder, if you read one of those nonsensical sentences to your phone, would it solve the riddle? Something tells me it doesn’t work both ways…

The Zelda Conundrum

Turtle Rock: the seventh dungeon of the Dark World and currently my Zelda Conundrum.

It happens now and then in a Zelda game as it happens every so often in life. You’ve cleared every room, used every key, searched the walls for cracks, pulled every statue and charged into every conceivable object that could be hiding a secret. Still, the way to go is unclear, the key to unlock the next door is nowhere to be found.

I have found that this is usually due to a narrow field of view, a fixation on an idea of how the world is (or how one believes it to be). That fixation leads us to overlook something vitally important to our goal; or perhaps we see it, but dismiss it as unimportant because we have self inflicted scales on our eyes. It is then that a change in perspective, a shift in paradigm is needed if we are to overcome. Throw away what you once thought was impossible and embrace the unlikely. Clear your mind and look at it anew through the eyes of a different person. Don’t resort to believing that you just didn’t do something fast enough or hit something hard enough, that is rarely the answer. These conundrums are solved with intellect, not braun. Often it helps to give it a rest for a day or so to acquire the change in perspective. Whatever you do DON’T ASK THE INTERNET. It knows. And you will regret it for the rest of your life having forfeited the opportunity to solve it yourself.

So here I write unabashedly admitting that I haven’t a clue what to do next, while knowing, once I successfully “unlearn what I have learned”, I will prevail AND KICK THAT SON OF A BITCH GANONDORF’S ASS!

***UPDATE: It was a block. Leave no block un-pushed or pulled!!!***

Timbuk2 Computer Bags

I feel like I am finally part of the club. Most people go for their messenger bags, but that’s not really my style. The backpack I got, the Showdown, is on sale right now. Get it. You won’t regret it. Super soft liner on the inside. Zippers zip one-handed. iPad compartment. 15″ MBP fits snug. None of these were features of my previous North Face backpack (laptops do not strike me as their primary focus). And what’s better? I ordered it late Wednesday and it arrived mid Friday. They mean business.

 

Nesting PHP Code Blocks

You don’t! At least not like the title suggests. Here is what I wanted to do (nested PHP in bold):

<?php echo "<a href='episode.php?post_ID=<?php echo $prev_ID ?>'>previous</a>" ?>

When I did this, my code would break because the first ?> tag closed my first <?php tag instead of the second. A quick post to Stack Overflow helped me understand what I was doing wrong. Instead of nesting PHP code blocks, concatenate variables. Here is the code using concatenation:

<?php echo "<a href='episode.php?post_ID=".$prev_ID."'>previous</a>" ?>

In this rewrite there is no nesting and no broken code :)

Brackets: Retina Text Editor

Ever since I got my new MacBook Pro with Retina display, Text Wrangler, my text editor of choice has hurt my eyes as it has not been updated to take advantage of the my new high resolution display. There aren’t a lot of text editors to choose from in the world of freebies but luckily there is one that solves my problem.

Brackets is an open-source code editor maintained by Adobe. It is built with the same languages it edits like HTML, CSS and JavaScript. It is retina display ready (or as Adobe calls it HiDPI) though as of now there is only one image that you can test that statement on (small lightning bolt on top right), the rest is pure text. The file handling is a little weird at first; creating a new file automatically saves it in the folder you’re working out of (I would naturally expect it to ask me where to save it). It has a neat trick where if you click on an HTML tag and press CMD-E it shows you the related CSS inline. Very handy.

Adobe also publishes a version of Brackets under the name Adobe Edge Code which has one extra feature that helps generate links to web fonts that Brackets does not. However, Brackets has a FAR superior icon, which for me, seals the deal. Mind you, both versions are still in beta.

Targeting Mobile Devices: Media Queries

So you want to build a mobile site? One way to do it is by targeting smaller screens with media queries. A media query says,”If your screen is this many pixels wide or less, use this stylesheet instead.” It looks like this in the head section of a website:


<link href="styles_mobile.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" media"(max-width:320px)">

Then a second stylesheet needs to be created with the file name that was assigned with the href attribute (in this case “styles_mobile.css”). The second stylesheet can have totally different classes and values than the first so as to make it fit in a mobile viewport (in this case, of width 320px). This method has potential to save time as you need not create an entirely new site for mobile devices, you simply change the style of the original site.

In place of max-width, you might instead use max-device-width which tells the browser to ignore the width of the browser, instead look at the width of the device. In practice all this means is that you won’t be able to see the effects of a different stylesheet by merely changing the size of the browser window. To see changes you’d have to look at the site on different devices with different physical resolutions.

Nobody Tells s.h. He Can’t Round Corners.

Now, I’d love to hear your input on this, but as I understand it, there are two ways to round corners in Illustrator. Method one, apply an effect to the shape in question by clicking effect > style > round corners. Every corner of the object’s fill is rounded to the radius chosen in the ensuing dialogue while the object’s shape is left unchanged. Or, method two, use some combination of the Convert Anchor Tool and the Direct Selection Tool to manipulate or add anchor points until a rounded corner is achieved.

Many years ago, I had a job as a draftsman at structural engineering firm. It mostly consisted of deciphering some chicken scratches my boss made on a napkin during lunch and recreating them in AutoCAD. It was a pretty low level job but I learned a lot from it and really began to appreciate the precision AutoCAD offered. All software is math on the inside; AutoCAD celebrates this while Illustrator, I think, tries desperately to hide it. And if you try and use Illustrator like you use AutoCAD, you are in for some disappointment.

Then, when digging through some forums trying to see how other people round their corners in Illustrator, I stumbled upon s.h’s page. Turns out, this guy’s a genius JavaScript developer who writes scripts for drawing software. The script I would like to direct your attention to is called “Round Any Corner”. Download his JavaScripts folder, select an object or ANY CORNER of the object with the direct selection tool then click File > Scripts > Other Script and select “Round Any Corner.js” from the folder you just downloaded. You are asked to choose a radius and voilà! You now have a perfectly rounded corner(s) (not just a rounded fill).

Aside from rounding corners, s.h. provides lots of other tools to help you in your ill-fated quest to use Illustrator like a CAD including sine curves, Archimedean spirals, and of course a script that instantaneously fills a layer with dancing people.

Hexadecimal Color Codes

Hex color has always eluded me. Recently I’ve found it necessary to figure it out though. Here’s my best explanation:

A hex color code is made up of 6 numbers and/or letters preceded by a hash sign like this: #A28FF3. Ignore the hash sign, it just tells the computer that it’s a color. Each of the six digits can range from 0 to F. Written from smallest to largest, the range would look like this: 0123456789ABCDEF. That means each digit has a range of 16 different values. A color code can be divided into 3 sections. The first two digits give the intensity of red, the second two are for green and the last two digits for blue. The first digit in a pair describes the intensity of the primary color on a scale from 0 to 16 (or in hex 0 to F), 0 being black, or no color, and 16 being pure red, green or blue. The second digit is the decimal (or hexadecimal I suppose…) and furthers the precision of the first. If you wanted to convert hex to RGB you could multiply the first digit in a pair by 16 then add the second digit to it. For example: #3B0000 would be (3 x 16) + 11 = 59. On a scale from 0 to 255 the intensity of red would be 59. So a computer would look at the intensities of all three pairs and mix the primary colors to display the resultant color.

If you don’t need a lot of accuracy you can actually just drop the second number in a pair. For example, #B7F is the same as writing #B070F0, you just loose some precision. In fact, instead of having over 16 million different color choices, when you use only 3 digits you have about 4,000.

My Failed Attempt at a Prime Mount

Why would I post an article on a failed engineering project? Don’t know. Maybe because I haven’t posted anything in a while. Maybe in hopes that somebody will read this and tell me what I did wrong. I began obsessing about a way to prime mount my 60D to my XT10 a few months ago knowing full well that a telescope without a motor is not an ideal situation for astrophotography; I just wanted to tinker with some optics :) Photos with a 25mm eyepiece placed between the telescope and the camera turned out less than satisfactory. Only the very center of the image is in focus. I was able to composite multiple images into one to create a fairly clear image of the moon using this set up, but I felt I could do better. Photos of the sun taken using someone else’s XT8, a 25mm eyepiece and an aperture mask (a cover with a much smaller opening to block most of the light) turned out delightful.

It took me a while to realize the aperture mask made all the difference. To this day I don’t know why reducing the aperture improves clarity from side to side. I tried it on my XT10 with a homemade aperture mask and produced similar results.But I wanted edge to edge clarity without having to sacrifice my telescope’s giant f/4.7 aperture. I thought about buying a more expensive eyepiece, one that boasted “flat field” characteristics. I’ve been told the larger the aperture (smaller f-number) of your telescope, the more important the quality of the eyepiece. But I also knew the less glass you introduce to an affordable optical system, the less chance you have of screwing up the image. So, I decided to eliminate the glass entirely. Prime mounting a camera to a telescope means light reflects off or refracts through the primary optical element and then falls directly on the camera sensor. In the case of my newtonian telescope, light reflects off the surface of a single parabolic primary mirror, is redirected 90 degrees via a flat secondary mirror, and a few inches after focusing, produces a sharp image. The key is to place the camera sensor exactly where the image is produced.

And that is where I failed.

The problem with prime mounting my telescope is that the image is produced inside the telescope which makes it physically impossible to place my camera at the correct position. This isn’t an issue with an eyepiece as it’s glass lenses magnify the image and place it outside the telescope. How then, does one push the image outside the telescope without the aid of glass? You raise the primary mirror. So, with a dozen nuts and bolts I was able to do just that, only, not to the extent I needed. Part of the problem was the bolts and screws my telescope came with are a mixture of metric, imperial and from what I can tell some newly invented unit unknown to the Home Depot. Nothing fit quite right. Nothing was long enough. Everything just sort of fit into each other. In the end I raised my mirror probably just millimeters shy of being able to prime mount my camera and achieve focus at infinity; mount being bolded because if I don’t mount my camera but remove the mounting apparatus and just hold my camera to the focusing tube of my telescope, I can achieve focus. Here is a picture of the moon doing just that. Pretty sharp isn’t it. A hell of a lot sharper than with the eyepiece. But it’s not very stable having to hold the camera up against the telescope and when all is said and done, it’s not worth it. When you move the mirror up, all your eyepieces (which I’d still like to use for normal eyeball viewing) become useless as the focal point is also moved up. I guess you can’t have it all. One of these days I’ll get smart and fork over the money for a motor-driven refractor and make glass work to my advantage.

Check this guy’s post out who wasted invested (see comments below) some money on a low profile focuser if you’d like some more inspiration. He actually got it to work :)

More Spreadsheet Wisdom

It’s the simple things that make a difference. How to sum a column of checkboxes. It seems like an easy enough task. Well, it is, I suppose, once you know how. Naturally, I thought I would just be able to use a simple sum function, but that returns an error. In a previous post I outlined how to use an if/then statement. A similar approach is needed if we are to sum a column (or row) of checkboxes, but beware; applying exactly the same principles will produce an error, or at least with my limited knowledge it did. The if/then statement we need to sum checkboxes reads like this: if a cell is true, then this, if it isn’t, then this. I was unable to write one all encompassing equation so I ended up writing it again and again and just summed all the statements together. If we have checkboxes from B1 to B3 and we wanted the sum of the checked boxes, it would look something like this:

=IF(B1,1,0)+IF(B2,1,0)+IF(B3,1,0)

Now if someone can leave a comment below as to how to go about writing a function that says “Sum B1 through B3 if they are true” I would be much appreciative.

***UPDATE: Well that was fast. Thanks goes out to Andrew Eller for providing the following function that more easily sums a range of checked boxes:

=COUNTIF(B1:B3,true)

I’ve already replaced my tedious 30+ polynomial-esque function with this much more efficient way of summing checked boxes. Congratulations Andrew! You win…well, you have my respect.***

My Coffee Catastrophe

I never used to drink coffee until one day I met a girl whose daily well being depended on the bean beverage. I’d take sips of the tasty sounding drinks she would order but unless they were sweet beyond recognition, I generally didn’t like the taste. I discovered, however, that because I never drank coffee as a teenager, my body had zero tolerance to the lovely drug infused in each and every coffee bean. One tall coffee of any kind was enough to wire me through the post lunch coma I experienced most every day. The Mocha Bianco became my coffee beverage of choice (again, all due to the girl I met) made by the lovely baristas of Nordstrom Ebar. I would say that in the least possible way, I am addicted to coffee. No, I am addicted to the “Nordstrom Ebar, Tall Iced Mocha Bianco, No Whip” in particular. Danielle (the girl) would laugh at this statement, but my body now craves the drink for pleasure whereas before I would use it strictly as a tool. You know what, I just thought it over, I’m only saying I’m addicted to coffee because a) I like it, and b) I know it has an addictive substance in it. The thing is, I like fish tacos too but because I’ve never heard of anyone being addicted to them, I’d probably never come to the conclusion that I am a fish taco addict.

Danielle had a lovely idea one day to see if she could recreate the beverage at home. After a couple tries she succeeds, and I am sipping coffee on my day off. So naturally, when she’s not home, I try and recreate the drink myself. It seems easy enough: a bit of coffee, a lot of milk, and a pump of syrup. Shake well in ice and in my mind I should be transported back to the Ebar where I pay $3.40 everyday for this treat. But it never happens. I’ll put it all together, taste it, gag, and then keep adding more milk and syrup until I have a coffee the size of a big gulp that still doesn’t taste right. Today I made one that sort of tasted right when I tried it, then 2 minutes later when I tried it again (maybe the ice melting had something to do with it) tasted totally gross! So now I’m walking my dog with a huge gross coffee in one hand hoping that if I wait longer or sip from a different part of the cup it will somehow begin to taste like an Ebar Mocha Bianco. No luck. My wrist started hurting. I threw out.

OTA Opium: Daytime Television

Yesterday I dug through the spare cable drawer to find the bunny ears antenna I had stashed there months ago. The summer Olympics were my motivation and they were as easy as a coax cable away. After placing the antenna in a suitable position resting atop my nearby telescope, I confirmed that NBC came in fine and watched the end of Letterman/beginning of Ferguson. I dreamt of butterfly strokes and long jumps. This morning turned out to be a disappointment. There were no Olympics to be found. When Women’s Volleyball should have been filling my 46 inch display, all I got was daytime television. I have this weird wrinkle in my brain that finds pleasure in the vast wasteland even when the rest of my brain pleads with my eyeballs and ears to turn themselves off. But when I don’t walk away, and my sensory organs realize they are captive to this torture, they absorb the information from the production standpoint, not the consumer. FIrst up was Bay Area Bargains. Refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers; bargains for everyone. The host was the most interesting aspect of this show. He was probably in his 50’s and had admitted to hosting the show for some time now. I began to focus on his eyes, mouth and hand gestures as the meaningless words came spilling out of his cake hole. “These aren’t good deals”, they said to me,”I don’t think you should buy these.” It made me want to buy him a beer, pat him on the back and say to him,”we’ve all been there. Some of us are still right there with you. And I don’t blame you.” Next up was the amazing Malibu Pilates workout bench. While the host swore they were in Malibu, the soft breeze coming through the open window and reflections of water on the ceiling spoke to the hostage part of my brain. The truth of the matter is, none of these people actually use this piece of crap. This glorified chair was crafted with one purpose in mind: to sell. No man ever got “rock hard abs” from it’s resistive springs. No woman ever “elongated there thighs” or “shaped their rump” from performing these “easy workouts”. That’s not to say someone couldn’t shape their body with counterweights. It’s just not happening with this device.

I take the dog for a walk. And wouldn’t you believe it, when I get back, that’s right, I turn the TV on again.

This time my eyes are graced with an employee of See Grins RV and an incredible selection of preowned “coaches” priced to sell. I think of who the target audience must be as I am in no way capable or desirable as these things are going for $49,999; payments as low as $400 a month. Some of the key features I learned that people apparently want in an RV are extra big windshields, dome satellites, double bathrooms, and hardwood kitchen floors. If you are on a computer with Flash installed, don’t hesitate to visit their site with the volume on your speakers turned all the way up.

Then I snapped out of it. It was past lunch time and all I had done with my day off was…we’ll it didn’t involve the Olympics. Turns out, NBC only broadcasts the Olympics on weekdays. Strange, I thought.

I Am Joshua, Gmail Destroyer

It’s been almost two weeks since I, Joshua, destroyed my Gmail account. The following is a record of the events which led to my Google separation.

Sunday, May 27 2012

11:31am   I meet up with an old friend who asks if I got an email he sent me. I ask him which email he used to contact me. I proceed to explain that I no longer check that Gmail account and that he should now use my new Gmail address.

2:33pm   Pondering on the matter, I resolve to delete my old Gmail account upon returning home so that any emails sent to that address will get bounced back.

7:13pm   I log on to my old Gmail account and try to figure out how to terminate it.

7:19pm   I give up and google the phrase “how to delete gmail account”.

7:20pm   I am warned that terminating my Gmail account will also terminate all Google services associated with it including any blogs, documents, and YouTube videos created under the same account name.

7:21pm   I begin wondering which account, the new or the old, I used to write my previous blog and upload all my YouTube videos. I navigate to Blogger in a new window, sign in under my new Google account and verify that my old blog was created under my new Google account. I also verify that all my YouTube videos were uploaded under my new Google account and thereby determine that my old Google account is completely expendable.

7:40pm   I switch to the previous browser window where last I was informed of what would get deleted. I press delete. Google reiterates what is about to be deleted and requires that I place a check mark next to each service verifying that I fully understand the consequences of deleting my gmail account. I press delete. Google informs me that my account has been deleted.

7:44pm   Just to make sure, I try logging in to my old Gmail account. I successfully log in. Perplexed, I try logging in to my new Gmail account. I am informed that my password/username is incorrect.

7:45pm   My heart skips a beat.

7:46pm   Upon trying to recover the password that Google claimed I forgot, Google then informs me that this account (my new Gmail account which I have been using for the past 3 years and which contains my previous blog and all my uploaded YouTube videos) has been deleted. Google informs me that I may be able to recover said account if I answer a security question.

7:50pm   After 3 attempts at answering what the make and model of my first car was and Google responding that their servers may be down, I press command-Q with an ardent nerd-fervor.

8:02pm   I try again and realize I can skip this question and answer another. I skip the next three questions. I am asked to give approximations of the month and year that I began using various Google services. I blindly reply having no real clue when I started using any of them. I give Google my iCloud email as a way of contacting me.

8:21pm   I receive an email from Google informing me that if I pay the sum of one american dollar the review of my account reactivation will be expedited. I decline out of anger.

8:25pm   I rage delete my old Gmail account.

Grass Update

Maybe we should just buy a roll of sod grass.

***UPDATE*** Wow. This post really got me thinking about just buying pre-grown grass, so I looked it up. Turns out this place in Martinez sells sod grass for $0.29/sqft if you pick it up yourself. That means it would cost $9.47 to cover our 56″x84″ patch of dirt! Gas would literally cost more!

http://www.thesodshop.com/pricing.html

We Planted Grass

Because we were tired of Bonham diggin’ holes and otherwise letting weeds take over our patch of dirt. Bonham loves to scratch his back in the grass. Randomly during walks he will plop over on some random neighbor’s lawn and go crazy pants on us scratchin’ his back and baring his teeth like a mad dog. Then he’ll get up like nothing happened and continue the walk. We went to Home Depot and picked up a $15 bag of “Just Add Water” sod and grass combo. One week later we have the beginning of a 6×4 foot front lawn! I can just see us wrastin’ and playin’ catch. Maybe invite the boys over for some football. I could put a hammock up. Pay the neighbor’s kid to mow the lawn. It’s the American Dream my friends. And I’m livin’ it.

Time Lapse – 3rd Attempt. SUCCESS!!!

It’s not like I didn’t know about the bulb ramping feature, I just didn’t understand why it would be necessary. To be honest, I still don’t. But for some reason it takes a hacker and his code (ML) to get my camera to take a decent time lapse. Here is the proof. I set my camera to Av, f/3.5, manual WB (tungsten) and checked the oh-so-important bulb ramping box this time. As I said before, I still don’t know why my 60D doesn’t know how to expose properly when in intervalometer mode but bulb ramping fixes everything. This is what it does: first you have to take a properly exposed photo of the scenery you want to record. Next you activate bulb ramping and Magic Lantern thinks for a bit as it examines your photograph and draws a neat little S-curve on the LCD. When finished it gives you the opportunity to tweak the settings a bit (I chose 61% at 65 percentile. ML Manual says this has to do with the tones and suggests 50% so I just chose the closest value available. I’ll have to experiment with this some more). When you confirm, you just sit back, relax and let Magic Lantern do all the work. Bulb ramping works because it examines the previous photo and choses an appropriate exposure for the next photo all the while staying close to the S-curve it calculated in the beginning. What’s cool is that if for some reason there is a bright light in one of your photos and it throws off the exposure, Magic Lantern will recover in ~3 photos and get back on that curve. Amazing! Enjoy the time Lapse below. Now that I’ve had fun experimenting, I need to find a scene that is actually worth taking pictures of :)

Time Lapse – 2nd Attempt

My second attempt at a time lapse video fared as well as the first – not good. For some reason my 60D makes drastically different exposure decisions in low light. I don’t have this problem when I shoot regularly, it only seems to be a problem when using the intervalometer. I should also note that I forgot to set the ISO to a reasonable setting before starting the time lapse so the first half was taken with ISO 100 then in between shots I switched it to 200, 400, and finally 800. I don’t think this had any affect on the outcome (as in, it would have made no difference if it had been left on 800 for the entire time). My camera just sporadically meters poorly when taking pictures at intervals in low light conditions. The following movie looks much like the previous.

Time Lapse – 1st Attempt

I was bored one day an decided to hack my 60D by loading it up with Magic Lantern. It’s basically a layer of software that goes on top of Canon’s OS which unleashes the camera’s true potential. Amongst many many other features, the ability to set the camera to automatically shoot at specified intervals (an intervalometer) was what I wanted most from Magic Lantern. I decided to give it a test today and the ensuing video is what I got. Mind you, this was a very preliminary test. I really just wanted to get a feel for how an intervalometer works. The shot is a view from my front “yard”, the first picture taken at 7:38 pm and the final picture at 9:33 pm at 16 second intervals. This produced 431 individual photos at a reduced resolution of 1920×1280 (S2). The camera was set to Aperture Priority (Av) mode and the ISO was set to Auto. Leaving the ISO on Auto was probably my biggest mistake. You’ll see toward the end of the time lapse some drastic flickering as every so often an extremely underexposed image was taken. I threw the pictures into Aperture and viewed the photos metadata in a spreadsheet view. About halfway through the time lapse the ISO reached 3200 which is the highest setting the camera will go to when set to Auto. The camera then had to take longer exposures to make up for it but apparently had a difficult time metering. The culprit could have been the Moon. It creeps up near the bottom right of the frame around the middle of the time lapse and peeks in and out of the shot through the branches of the trees. I didn’t consider this when I framed my shot. But that’s why this was a trial. Tomorrow I will shoot another two hour time lapse (I left the tripod out side in the exact same position) but will either A) change the ISO to a fixed value (maybe 800 or so, I can deal with long shutter speeds so long as they don’t exceed 16 seconds. However that will drain my battery more. Today’s two hour time lapse used about 30 percent of my battery) or B) turn on the Bulb Ramping feature. I don’t know much about it, but Bulb Ramping is supposed to create a smooth transition from day to night when shooting a sunset for example. Once I can create a nice time lapse at my light polluted apartment complex, I’ll move on to prettier scenery where the stars will show much better. Until then, enjoy this humble time lapse. If you watch it at full resolution you can see stars in the sky during the last half (even more were visible before I uploaded it and YouTube compressed it…)

Casio Watches: A Buyer’s Guide

When it comes to buying a Casio watch (and lets be honest, why would you buy anything else?) you have five choices that are sure to meet your classy yet quality needs. I outline the pros and cons of each timepiece and offer my sage opinions for the novice buyer.

The F91W-1: This is the pinnacle of Casio watches. The end all say all. The Alpha and Omega. You could stop reading this post now, buy this watch on Amazon for a ten spot, and live a satisfied and punctual life for the rest of your days. The vigilant buyer will read on however as the superlative “best” does not imply that it has the most features nor the right features for your particular needs. The F91’s superiority stems from its balance of classy looks and middle-of-the-line feature set including a stop watch and micro light. It is water resistant as pointed out by its “water WR resist” logo but I wouldn’t count on it resisting anything more than a quick wash of the hands. This is a watch with which you cannot go wrong.

The F28W-1: And you thought watches didn’t get any cheaper. Enter the F28. This watch is essentially the F91 minus the stop watch and with flush buttons on the side instead of the cylindrical metal buttons which are prone to being accidentally pressed. Use this watch in an active work environment where time is money and where accidentally switching to military time could cost you your 24-hour-illiterate ass. Actually, this watch doesn’t even have military time.

The F59-1V: Are you frequently diving to the bottom of the sea floor? The F59 sports a water resistance of up to 50 meters. The lettering and logos on the face are rearranged a little from the F91 and the band is a different pattern but other than that it is an F91 with a tighter seal.

The F105W-1A: Aside from having the longest model number the F105 improves upon the uneven lighting of the micro light with its EL backlight. This welcome upgrade successfully illuminates the entire LCD panel with a elegant blue hue. Marathon runners beware, while a stop watch is included, it resets at 23’59.99 as opposed to the measuring capacity of 59’59.99 of the F91 and F59. I guess it can’t have all the luck.

The CA53W-1: Who needs an iPhone when you have a computational beast strapped to your wrist? This watch is nerd perfection. Let the CA53 help you cheat on your calculus exam with its ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide. All this computing power comes at a cost however; only 5 years of expected battery life. This is a whole 2 years less than the life expectancy of the other watches reviewed. ***UPDATE: While this watch certainly delivers on the nerd factor, over the past few weeks I’ve noticed it’s lacking a couple key features, namely, a light and the day of the month. The awesomeness of the calculator outweighs its shortcomings from my perspective but new Casio owners should consider the tradeoff.***

Need to dress it up? Other watches to consider are the silver or gold metal collections from Casio. All these come with an adjustable (or rather sinchable) wrist strap and a slightly higher price tag to boost your ego. From left to right: A158W-1, A159WGEA-1, A168WG9-1.

 

 

STRMINS: Simple Circuits

This will be the first in a series of videos covering STUFF THAT REMINDS ME I’M NOT STUPID. What can I say, I like making “how to” videos. And this seems like a good way to help me stay on top of things. There were a lot of things I didn’t like learning about in E&M; this was not one of them.

Deconstructing a Canon 28mm f/1.8 Lens

My buddy Jason (my cohost on No Format Podcast) and I decided to see if we could fix a busted lens last Sunday. Let me say at the beginning We Did Not Fix The Issue but had a lot of fun tearing the lens apart. The story goes like this: Jason bought this lens on Craigslist years ago but never used it much. One day, after sitting in his closet for a long while, he pulled the lens out and noticed the autofocus acted screwy. It tries, and in some cases can, but normally does not achieve focus, instead it goes back and forth until it gives up. We watched some videos on YouTube, mustered up some courage, and told ourselves we (probably) couldn’t make it any worse. In the end, we were mostly right.

The only thing I will warn the curious reader is that after reassembly while the lens functioned exactly as before (image quality, inability to focus, etc.) the focus ring’s tension is not evenly distributed around the perimeter. It’s slight but I just want you to be informed of that before you attempt this on your own lens. I’m sure there’s a hundred other weird things that could happen as well. But it was fun to see how this lens looked on the inside ;)

Nutshell

Somehow a month went by without me posting anything. It probably has something to do with how busy I’ve been at work and the fact that I just got over an illness. But I’ve blogged when I was sick before so that’s not a good excuse.

So much has happened since I last posted I don’t know where to begin.

I got some Legos. Turns out every now and then the Lego Store puts Grab Bags on sale for  $8. I told my buddy who is a member of the Bay Area Lego User Group the next time he sees them on sale to pick me up a bag. So the day he handed me the bag-o-fun I took my own trip to the store and picked up another one. So now I have a bunch of random Legos but still no bucket. I built a corral of sorts with some of the longer pieces I got to keep them all together on my desk. But they can’t stay there forever. Bottom line: I love Legos. It was like a stroll through memory lane opening up those two bags.

I filmed a video podcast. That’s right, No Format Episode 28 is in video! Jason and I were really happy with the way it turned out. We each used our DSLR cameras mounted on tripods and one other camera (in my case my iPhone) giving us four camera angles in total to cut back and forth between. Reluctantly, we decided Jason would do the editing as I do most of the editing for the audio podcasts and his computer is orders of magnitude faster than mine. Because we were using our DSLRs we were only able to capture 11 minutes of video before our cameras decided they were too hot. We thought that would tie in quite nicely with how we were doing things currently (no intro music and starting the podcast mid-thought).

I bought a new lens. The core of my imaging system in now complete. I had meant to purchase my 60D and 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 at the same time but life happened and my finances ran short at the time. I ended up finding a used one on craigslist that I got for a great price. I can finally take a breath and relax as any other accessory that I may buy for my system will amount to chump change compared to the body and lens. As for my thoughts on the lens, albeit a tad slow it has an outstanding focal range and image stabilization that goes a long way in photos and especially video.

Danielle was promoted to bartender. “Was” as in literally 5 minutes ago she sent me a text in all caps which read “i got it”. Bar tending means better shifts and of course mo money and for me it means I’ll always have a seat at the bar with my name on it for lunch. That last part is probably not true but I’d like to think it will be.

And that my friends is last month in a nutshell.

Legos Wanted

I have been thinking about buying a set of Legos for a long time now. When I was a kid I had a bucket full of them; not as many as some but enough to cover the table. I specifically remember having a Robin Hood set, a space robot set, and a pirate island set. I know I had others but can’t recall what they were. I’d build the set according to the instructions once, play with it, but then the pieces would be broken down and mixed up in the bucket adding to the collective building potential of my Lego stockpile. I grew up though, and one day I looked for my Legos and they were never to be found. To this day I do not know what happened to them. My friends say my mother probably gave them to Goodwill or something. One theory is that one of my many brothers or sisters has them and are letting their kids play with them while keeping me ignorant. Whatever the case may be, I don’t have any Legos. But Legos are expensive! It took me a childhood to build up the bucket sized collection that I had. A quick craigslist search only turned up a bunch of other people in my same situation – Legoless and wanting.

Are there any readers out there that are looking to let go of their Lego collection? Maybe my method is wrong. Any suggestions as to how I could score a bucket of Legos? Does anybody know the truth behind my Lego disappearance? Your comments are welcome below.

ASOIAF

I started reading A Game of Thrones, the first book in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series, on Thanksgiving day as I drove (in heavy traffic) from the South Bay to Sacramento to feast with my relatives there. I say “read” but actually I was listening to an audiobook. On that note: I chose to state that I was listening rather than reading because it clarified the situation I described. Should I feel obligated to state that fact otherwise? I guess what I’m asking is it less of an accomplishment to listen to an audiobook than to read a physical book? And are those who listen to audiobooks required to explain their lesser status to those with whom they converse? I guess some people listen to audiobooks because they have difficulty reading and it’s easier, but on the contrary, I know others who listen to audiobooks because they read so much it’s the only way they can fit it all in their busy schedule. For me the only downside of an audiobook is that it’s harder to go back and “re-read” a section, and worse than that, you aren’t left with a trophy of accomplishment on your shelf when you are done. But the reason I read audiobooks is because a) I enjoy voice acting and will go so far as to say I am blown away by it and b) because i have 40 minutes of driving and 30 minutes of dog walking etched into my schedule each day. So I ask, is it necessary that I am explicit in the form of media I consume, or not? Now back to the book, A Game of Thrones is a long story and George R.R. Martin doesn’t feel a sense of urgency to get to the end of it. I wouldn’t call it slow, rather very epic, and tales of epic proportions take time to unfold. Halfway through the book I took a break and only picked it up again on account of a friend’s recommendation. I’m glad I did. Martin pays his debts (a common saying of the house Lannister in the book) by rewarding the reader with plot twists and gruesome war scenes. One particularly rewarding writing technique Martin uses is foreshadow. I’m not even sure that is a writing technique nor am I sure it even describes the thing I like about his writing, but it is a subtlety that works brilliantly in this book. Example: numerous times throughout the book it is mentioned that dragons once existed but have long since died off. Some characters mention them with belief, others mention them with doubt adding, “If the stories of old can be trusted…” But the subject is never dwelled on. There is even mention of dragon bone sword hilts and dragon eggs turned to rock which leaves the reader to contemplate, are the stories folklore and the bones just dinosaur fossils? At least that’s what I thought whether or not he intended me to do so. All of this leaves the reader to wonder,”Is this book going to turn fantasy on me and bring out the dragons?” The book is written in the 3rd person perspective and each chapter begins with a name indicating through which character’s eyes you are watching the story unravel. I don’t think anyone will disagree with me when I say the best chapters are from Tyrion’s point of view. Tyrion is a Lannister and son to the most wealthy Lord in all the kingdom, has a wit about him that makes you love him and hate him and, oh yeah, he’s a midget. One of his lines, spoken in a thick scottish brogue, that made me laugh out loud,”What good is the Hand of the King, if not to hand you things?”Anyway, Martin pays his debts in the end. I am now on the second book, “A Clash of Kings”, as the first book ends in a way that leaves you helpless to try and not read the next in the series. It appears to be as good as the first.

Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review

After 50+ hours of adventuring I finally finished the main quest of the latest Zelda game, Skyward Sword (SS). Overall I was, let’s say, fairly satisfied with the Wii’s first true iteration of the franchise, as every fanboy knows Twilight Princess (TP) was developed for the GameCube and ported to the Wii. I want to give the game a higher rating because the ending leaves you with such a sense of wonder and astonishment. But there were times throughout the quest that left me a little wanting.

Lets talk about the things I liked in SS first. The big new feature in SS is the motion+ compatibility. This was greatly welcomed over the previous method of sword fighting they called “shake your wiimote like a madman” employed in TP. They truly did nail it this time and not only that, they really baked the new technology into the solving of the puzzles and the backbone of the storyline (accurately pointing your wiimote straight up causes Link to raise the Goddess Sword skyward and charge it with energy). Also, the idea of an overworld in the sky was fresh and well executed. There are lots of places to explore in Skyloft (Link’s hometown) and even more to explore on the various floating islands in the sky. There is a lot of empty space but I think it just adds to the expansiveness which is a must-have in a Zelda game. Lastly, there are some fresh new puzzle ideas that are really fun and add to the experience, one being “timeshift stones”. These are glowing blue stones that when struck produce a sphere inside which time is shifted backward, usually turning a dry desert into a green field or an ancient ruin into a functional temple. Some timeshift stones are raw and un-mined, others you can pick up and take with you.

There are unfortunately some things I didn’t like in SS too. Lets start with the shield. First off, it breaks which is really annoying but I suppose more realistic. This means you may have to leave the temple you’re in, fly back to Skyloft, fork over the money for a new one, then get on with your quest. Then there’s the fact that every time you swing your sword you toggle your shield “off” and it doesn’t turn back on until you shake your nunchuck which is just not a clever control choice for raising your shield. This resulted in me just not caring much about my shield and resorting to dodging and jumping instead. Speaking of controls, I was not very pleased with the entire control scheme. I NEVER got used to it. I didn’t like TP’s control scheme either but it was a tad better than SS’s. For example, I think the trigger should be use to fire arrows not the A button and I didn’t like that you couldn’t have an item equipped without using it (if I wanted to switch from bombs to bow, it immediately brings up the reticle assuming I want to fire it. This also means you can’t sport a bow in your hand while you’re just running around which, I think everyone would agree, looks totally cool à la TP). And finally, my last complaint, there were times when I felt like the devs got lazy and gave you some busywork to do just to make the game longer. Collecting things that are playing hide and seek from you is not my idea of a fun time. Just wait till you have to find the Tadtones : (

That being said, the game ends superbly. The story is good, the sense of adventure is definitely there, and some of the temples give you that classic Zelda “questy” feeling with their giant Goddess statues and what not. While this game does rank high, it in no way matches the perfection that is Ocarina of Time (OT). And yet lots of game review websites were giving it perfect 10’s as OT customarily received. Maybe I’m not reviewing it with an unbiased opinion though. Had I never played perfection (OT) would I then feel this game deserved a 10? Maybe so, but I have indeed played that goddess given adventure of Time and Ocarinas, and in my opinion it easily continues it’s reign, high above the rest.

On that note, I found a used copy of Wind Waker (a rare find I’m told) and have decided to make it my next quest. I won’t stop – I can’t stop – till I’ve beaten them all.

How to Delete a Myspace Account

I am in the unfortunate situation where the email address I used to create my myspace account is no longer in existence. One day, someone told me I sent them an email that looked like a virus and sure enough, my long abandoned Yahoo! account had been hacked, sending random emails with php links to contacts in my address book. I promptly changed the password and requested my Yahoo! email be deleted. Now I want to delete my myspace account. It’s the first thing that shows in a google search of my name and I’d rather it wasn’t. The problem is, in order to delete a myspace account it has to be verified via email, that’s right, the very email you used to create the account in the first place. As of 6 months ago (my most recent attempt to delete my myspace account), to my knowledge, there was no option 2. But I just looked today and there seems to have been some updates to the broken process. Here are the steps to delete your myspace account in the event you no longer have access to your original email:

  1. Log in to your myspace account and click “profile” in the navigation bar.
  2. Click “edit profile” on the right.
  3. In the “about me” section type the words “REMOVE PROFILE” in caps (to show that you’re yelling) and click save changes. You may be prompted to decipher a captcha.
  4. Now scroll to the bottom and click the “Help & FAQ’s” link beneath the “Get Help” column or just go to www.myspace.com/help.
  5. In the search field (not the “search people” field) type “contact myspace”, press return, and choose the article “contact myspace”.
  6. The ensuing page will say “We only offer email support, please click here to contact customer support”. Click the link and fill out the form stating that you have posted the words “REMOVE PROFILE” in the “about me” section of your profile. At this point my old email address (the one I don’t have access to) appeared at the top of the page. I was unable to change it so any response myspace tries to send will not reach me. I have to hope they will just go ahead and delete my account without confirmation. I’ll update this post with any progress.
  7. Lastly, and most importantly, click the button on the next page that says something to the effect of “yes I really want to send you this email and no your stupid FAQs aren’t helping me”.

That should be it. I hope this helps a great many people in deleting their elusive myspace accounts.

***UPDATE: I just checked this morning (the day after I posted this) and it appears my account has been deleted. At least when you click the link it says invalid friend ID. The fact that my name still appears with myspace next to it in a google search is a little disappointing though. That was kind of the whole point***

500px Gallery

I bought a 50mm lens with my camera partly because I didn’t have enough money for anything else and partly because I wanted to try to force some creativity into my photos and focus on composition by not using a zoom lens. Well, it turns out, when put in this situation, I find other ways to get creative.

All I seem to shoot are photos of really far away things or photos of really small things close up. You see, I have a telescope and it just so happens that the sky is clear and the moon looks spectacular. A T-ring and adapter cost me $60 (I bought mine at the local Orion so I could try it out first). Then I found out if you mount your lens backward on your camera it converts into a macro lens. There are lots of pretty flowers begging for attention on Bonham’s walk. A reverse mount adapter set me back 6 bucks.

A friend told me before I create a flickr account I should check out 500px.com. I suggest you do the same. It’s managed a bit different than flickr as you can only upload 10 photos a week but that just makes you a little more judicious when uploading. Check out my gallery here!

The Legend of Zelda

This was one of those games that I watched my older brothers play because in 1987 I was a five year old kid who basically was only good at Duck Hunt and Excitebike. Now I’m on the fourth dungeon trying to murder this two-headed dragon thing that keeps blowing fire in my face and eventually kills me. Once, I actually killed it but moments after delivering the final blow one of its fireballs caught up with me and I died. I think I have played that dungeon fifteen times now. I had to put it down for the day. It was sort of consuming me. Still, I have a lot of respect for this game. It’s interesting, having played many other Zelda games, to see where it all started. And that music! I don’t get tired of it. Which is probably why I set my alarm to wake up to it every morning : )

Mirror Cleaning

This was well past due. The manual for my Orion Sky View XT10 Dobsonian telescope says I should not have to clean the primary mirror more than once a year or so. I bought it over three years ago and have yet to wash it even once. As you can see from the pictures, my mirror was filthy. Not only did it have a healthy layer of dust all over it, but it also had flakes of what I assume were black paint from the tube. The largest of the specks I had noticed the day we brought it home. After researching on the Internet and reading the manual, I decided to give my primary a bath. To remove the mirror cell I just had to unscrew three screws (the ones with springs surrounding them if anyone is using this as a walkthrough) and slide the cell out sideways. To remove the mirror from the metal enclosure, I unscrewed the 8 screws clamping it down. My screws were EXTREMELY tight and I eventually resorted to my power drill to finish the job. It goes without saying, do not touch the top of the mirror as the aluminized coating is easily tarnished. Once the mirror was out I openly admit, I hefted it for a good 30 min. It just felt so powerful in my hands. It was thicker and heavier than I expected. The parabolic surface is so slight it is barely noticeable. The slighter the curvature the longer the focal length, and my telescope has a beastly f.l. of 1200mm. Next I prepared the bath.

Left: focused on surface. Right: focused on image – notice the higher contrast where the mirror was shielded from the dust by the clamp.

The manual suggests to fill a sink with room temperature water, a couple drops of dish soap, and a capful of rubbing alcohol. I swirled it around and gently submerged my precious optical instrument. I let is soak a good thirty minutes while I took the dog for a walk. When I returned, I broke out the cotton balls and got down to business. As per the instructions, I very gently stroked the mirror underwater in straight lines with a fresh cotton ball each stroke. The first round lifted much of the grit but left visible “mud lanes” on the surface. The second round left the mirror about 90 percent clean – a few light lanes were

This is an “after” picture showing a strikingly clean reflection :)

still visible but I decided to forego a third round as I imagined I might do more harm than good to the aluminized coating. I swished the mirror around, drained the sink, and rinsed in lukewarm water. The water slides right off of a clean mirror and the few remaining drops were easily absorbed by the corner of a paper towel. After the mirror was dried I snapped some “after” photos to compare with the “before” photos. It pained me to see it but, as I photographed the mirror the cleanliness fell from about 90 to 85 percent just from the dust in the air. It’s unavoidable, but it’s still 85 percent cleaner than it was an hour ago. Cloudy skies prevented me from trying the new optics out. I’m not expecting anything dramatic, maybe a little more contrast if anything, but I’ll post an update the next chance I get to point it skyward.

 

     

1/2, 1/3 & 1/4 Stops

While researching lenses for my new 60D, I found the need to be able to compare the speed of two lenses. I was considering Canon’s three 50mm lenses and wanted to know just how much faster the L series lens was than the others. The mid priced 50mm (MSRP $399) is an f/1.4; an aperture value easy to calculate because it is a full stop slower than f/1 and a full stop faster than f/2. But what about the L series lens’s f/1.2 aperture (MSRP $1600) and the “thrifty 50’s” f/1.8 (MSRP $125). The f-stop scale is not linear, so you can’t just divide them to compare their speed. That is why I made the following chart. It shows full stops, 1/2 stops, 1/3 stops, and 1/4 stops. And since the numbers we see in a camera are approximations, I included precise values to the third decimal. This proves to be useful since, as I found out later, squaring the ratio of two f-stops does give a proper comparison, and failing to use precise values greatly amplifies the error. Bottom line is f/1.2 is 2.246 times as fast as f/1.8 and 1.414 times faster than f/1.4

To use the chart, 1) locate the two f-numbers for comparison, A and B, 2) divide the exact f-number of B by the exact f-number of A, 3) square the result, and you now have how many times faster A is than B.

Also, read this for more information about how to compare f-numbers.

 

Struggle Dream

I just woke from a horrible dream. You could call it a nightmare except there weren’t really any horror aspects to it, just a struggle. You see, I was back home driving around town where my old buddies Grant and Will used to live and I had to poop. I first thought about trying my luck with Grant’s parents but for some reason I drove past their house and to my surprise, the garage door to Will’s parents house was wide open. “Great” I thought, “they’ll let me in, and I’ll be out in no time!” I was greeted at the door by Will’s nephew Brody who was still as little as when I last saw him (which must have been 15 years ago). He had no idea who I was but he let me in anyway. The bathroom is basically the closest room to the front door in Will’s house so on my way there I half-heartedly looked around for Corrine and Barry. Will’s parents were not in sight but an older duplicate version of Brody was in the study next to the bathroom. I asked him permission to be polite. He of course had no problem offering me his toilet. So now I’m pooping and this is where the struggle begins (in more ways than one). You see, I thought I had locked the door, or maybe I had but there was this other part of the door not present in Will’s real life house. Little Brody was the first to enter. He had chores to do. While I was on the can trying to pinch one off, he thought it the most important thing in the world to restock the toilet paper. Next someone else came in (by this time I’m not sure about faces anymore, let’s just assume they were Brody clones) and his chore must have been to refill the soap bottles. Really? Your chore of refilling the soap bottles is so urgent that it can’t wait five frickin’ minutes?! I specifically remember him spilling a bunch of soap too. Every time I looked, the door somehow became less locked and more transparent. Next, Corrine greeted me from the magic door that now seemed to only rise about 4 feet from the ground. How polite. “I’m doing fine,” I said, just wanting her to go away so I could get on with my business. Various other kids with chores came and left and even Barry made an appearance in my dream as the shower just had to be fixed that very moment. In the end, I was at least able to finish my unsatisfying dump, squeezing in wipes between chores. As I left my old friend’s house I remember saying to his parents, “next time I’m in the area and have to poop, I’ll try Grant’s parents!” We all had a chuckle. Then I woke up and checked to make sure I hadn’t really pooped.

Podcast

This post is to clarify, for anyone who may stumble upon this blog, why the No Format podcast stops at Episode 15. You see, we didn’t stop, I just stopped posting about it. At the time of this post we have recorded a total of 20 episodes never missing a week. We thought it proper to give the podcast a blog of it’s own but we don’t really keep it up. Just check us out on iTunes. There you can subscribe to No Format, read the descriptions, and leave us reviews.

50mm Craziness

The depth of field on this little 50mm lens I got with my new camera blows me away. Check out it’s f/1.8 glory in the photos below. And also a random bridge.

A New Beginning

Four years ago to the day I took the last photo I would ever take with my Digital SLR. It was a Canon Rebel XTi, little did I know, not a week later it would be stolen from my car along with my XBOX 360 as a “welcome back” surprise from the city of San Jose. I decided to let it be a turning point in my life. I became bitter towards photography. I enjoyed knowing a lot about it while not owning a camera of my own. I relished, devilishly, in the understanding I had of photography and held it against those that knew less than myself. I would shoot the occasional picture with a friend’s camera, but nothing was ever expected of me and I liked that. Well today I swallow my pride. With the arrival of a pretty, new, 18 MP Canon 60D at my doorstep, a new era begins as I fully embrace photography for the second time. It was the science that drew me into it. Optics was easily my favorite thing to learn about in college and photography is 100 percent optics. Combine that with my love for Astronomy and my recent telescope building hobby and it forms a dangerous interest of mine. I leave this post with the last picture I took with my XTi (Image No. 4255 “Danielle and Potato Masher”) and the first light my new 60D saw just hours ago today (Image No. 0001 “A Casio Affair”).

Spider

20111224-180535.jpg
This is a picture of a spider that Danielle smushed one day and decided not to clean it off the wall. It has dwelt there for the past 3-4 weeks drying and forever claiming its presence in our living room as its corpse chemically bonds with the thin layer of paint on our wall. Not pictured to the left of Stevie (the name I just now decided to give our dead pet spider) are four of Danielle’s smaller paintings, a tetraptych if you will, which I have hung in an effort to a) make up for the unsightly state of our poor Stevie, and b) raise awareness of a step that was skipped in the smushing of a spider on the wall.

Airwaves

Comcast is now $80 per month lighter. AND I COULD NOT BE HAPPIER. It pained me to pay that bill each month; the principle hurt more than the cost. Now I’m free. I still pay Comcast for internet, but it was less than half the bill at $55. To at insult to injury, Comcast informed me that my internet bill would go up if I cancelled my television. I was paying for the internet service two steps above basic and decided to take it down a notch so as to keep the bill down. The thing is, I’ve noticed it doesn’t really matter how fast your internet is (to an extent), it really just depends on when you’re using it. Trying to stream a video from iTunes at 6:00 in the evening won’t be a pleasant experience no matter how fast your internet is.

So what did I do to replace the lack of programming on my 46-inch? First off, I have an Apple TV that streams movies and TV shows from iTunes. They can be kind of expensive but I only rent new movies and episodes that I can’t get anywhere else. I also have an XBOX. This is a great media center for anyone wondering, and the latest update really cleaned up the interface. I can buy and rent TV shows and movies from the Zune Marketplace (in uncompressed 1080p ~10GB files) but more so, I use it to stream Netflix and Hulu Plus. They each cost a measly $8 per month and while Netflix’ selection is a tad limited, Hulu offers about 90 percent of what I watched on cable. Oh, but factor in the yearly fee of $60 for an XBOX LIVE account and my bill has skyrocketed to a whopping $19 per month. But it gets better! Today I swung buy the local Radio Shack and picked up a bunny-ears-style antenna for $12. I hooked it up to my TV, fiddled around a bit with the placement of it, and before I knew it, I was watching Monday Night Football in 720p via FREE airwaves!!!

Conclusion: Comcast is a RIP-OFF. Cut the cable. You won’t miss it. Never look back. Tell me I’m wrong.

Eye Balls

These are my eye balls. They are a good looking pair when you only consider the retina. My lenses on the other hand are a little misshapen (astigmatism). My optometrist asked me yesterday during my appointment if I would like to take high resolution photographs of my retinas for an additional $25. I asked her just how high the resolution was and if I’d be able to keep a copy for my own records (pleasure). She laughed and said she didn’t know but that she would definitely be able to email me the pictures. I agreed.

I find them quite interesting to look at; the big white optical nerve, the meandering blood vessels, the dark spot in the middle (I forgot the name, but it’s what gets damaged from staring at the sun she told me). I don’t know which is right and which is left, but isn’t it interesting that the veins take totally different paths? Anyway, if you are reading this and you are an eye ball doctor and you see something my doctor may have overlooked, it is you public responsibility to leave a comment after the break.

Ep. 15 – FeedBurner Fail

This episode of the No Format podcast does not cover the topic of family puppy dogs being put to sleep. After long thought and consideration, I Joshua, the editor of said podcast thought it best to protect you the listener from such topics. You can thank me in the comments. What is featured in this episode is a sad story of a different sort. The sort of story concerning a failure to understand how FeedBurner works. This episode is all business, so put your business socks on and take notes cause we ain’t payin’ you fer nuthin’!

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Ep. 14 – We’ve Got Seoul

This time around No Format goes international! Gene Lee, former roommate of Jason and previous renter of the room which I called home, joins us all the way from Seoul, Korea to talk about things of no particular importance. Actually we talk about what’s been on everyone’s minds lately – the weather. Sit back and relax as we enchant your imagination with 54 minutes of cutting-edge weather coverage. The highs, the lows, even the mids. Precipitation reports, barometer readings and gossip of next months weather. It’s scandalous!

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Ep. 13 – Ancient Egypt

Get out the readin’ glasses and put your bow tie on cause this is an intellectual episode. Eric Bricmont, son of a bonifide Archeoastronomer, joins us in a riveting conversation about Egypt, from pyramid construction to mummy curses. If you’ve ever lost yourself in an Egypt-related wikipedia article, give this episode a listen. You may find it sophisticatedly stimulating. And what’s the deal with all the Ancient Alien shows on the History Channel. Really, History Channel, aliens?

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Synonyms

Here is a list of all the synonyms for “barf” that I can think of (barf, in my opinion being the most common usage to describe the act). I just want there to be a reliable source of barf synonyms on the internet so that when someone searches “words for barf” they will have an answer and that answer will be this post; much like this dudes. Admittedly, many of these come from a single Wayne’s World skit (circa 1990):

Throw up
Vomit
Puke
Yak
Geeze
Blow chunks
Hurl
Up chuck
Ralph
Spew*
Wretch*
Heave*
Purge*
Harf*
Sick*
Gag*
Regurgitate*
Reversal*
Drive the Porcelain Bus*

I know I didn’t think of them all or have even heard them all. Your contributions are encouraged. I will update the list frequently.

* Reader contributions (see comments for credit)

Squirrel

My dog makes me sick sometimes. Don’t misunderstand me, I love him to death, I just don’t understand how his sense of smell can be hundreds of times superior to that of my own but at the same time apparently has no ability to distinguish good tasting things from absolutely horrible things. Twice Bonham has picked up with is mouth (that gaping cavity where his tongue resides) the rotting dead carcass of a fallen squirrel. When this happens my first reaction is confusion: my dog has something strange coming from his mouth area. Next comes fear: is my dog murdering a helpless animal right in front of me? Will I need to intervene? Then I think,”what if he cripples it? Then I’ll have to help it, watch it die, or put it out of it’s misery.” This thought, however, only lasts a second or two until I realize what my dirty dog’s got in his mouth is a dead freaking squirrel! The third and final emotion is disgust, and it comes over me like a bucket of cold water. I literally screamed at him today when passing through phase three. The thought of a festering nasty dead animal in his mouth almost made me yak. I could have geezed all over the sidewalk. Right now I’ve got a little bile making its way up my throat. I know he’s a dog and his brain isn’t wired the same as mine, but Bonham please, have some decency!!

Ep. 12 – As Seen on TV

 Have you ever taken great care when eating a bowl of Cap’n Crunch w/ Crunch Berries to eat all the yellow things first so you can enjoy half a bowl of pure Crunch Berries? This podcast is nothing like that. It’s more like taking 11 boxes of cereal from the cupboard and mixing them all together into one giant bowl of suicide cereal. Part nutritious, part sugar coated, part downright pointless.

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No Format, Ep. 11 – Nuclear Bombs

That’s right. We’re talkin’ about bombs this episode. And not just any bombs, we’re taking it straight to the top with the mother of all bombs. Who would have thought that while listening to your favorite podcast as you eat your Cheerios this morning that you would learn the delicate details of constructing your very own nuclear warhead? You didn’t think this show was all about fun and games did you? Well I don’t blame you because we kind of went off on a rant last episode about Zelda. Hey that’s kind of a coincidence; last week we talked about the mother of all games, this week the mother of all bombs. Go figure.

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No Format, Ep. 10 – Zelda

So this episode, being our 10th, is kind of a big deal to us. What better way to celebrate it by discussing the biggest game of console history. And I mean that. Google it. Right now. Type “What is the best game ever?” into the google search field and read the answer: The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time. It is such a good game we decided to invite our close friend and official Zelda expert, Toni Hansen, to join us in praising the epicness that is this legendary N64 title. Sit back, put your hookshot down and give this episode a listen. If you’ve never played Zelda OoT, may this podcast press upon you the importance of experiencing such a masterpiece of a game, and urge you to drop a Benjamin or so on a Wii and download it for the price of a single Hamilton. You will not regret it.

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Television

I don’t know what it is about me, but I get the flu just about every year. This year it came over me more slowly but is now in full effect. I lumbered out of bed around 10:00 this morning after having thought about getting up for over an hour. I’m like that when I have the flu, I think about doing something, then an hour later, I do it, I guess because I don’t feel like moving. I turned the TV on not knowing what to expect on a Sunday morning but fairly confident that it would be barren and wasteland-like. Bigfoot. I watched an entire documentary on Bigfoot. I thought about changing the channel from the very beginning but like I said, the flu slows even my button pressing fingers down. What really confuses me is that I watched the next Bigfoot documentary that followed. I even remember seeing parts of this one before but my flu burdened mind suggested it was worthwhile programming. I got up, ate some ramen. I noticed a half-eaten Kit-Kat bar in the fridge. I don’t think chocolate is bad for you when your sick. I mean, it certainly doesn’t help you, but if you’re not barfing, I’m sure it doesn’t harm you. Now I’m back on the couch in front of the TV. This time I decide to turn on the AppleTV. I search Netflix for “NASA” remembering the “When We Left Earth” series that I had watched and loved. Next, “space”. I almost started watching Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) out of sheer intrigue but I was able to see through the flu induced fog in my brain. Star Trek also came up in the search for “space”. I’m an avid Captain Picard fan but have yet to see an Original Series episode. I decided to give it a try; I usually like old tried and true movies if not just for their dated comedic value. I started from the beginning with the pilot episode “The Cage”. To my surprise, Captain Kirk was nowhere to be found. Instead, the captains role was played by some other guy named Pike. He seemed good enough though, having never seen an Original Series episode, I never developed a loyalty for Kirk. The plot of the first show revolved around these alien dudes who have these pulsating heads that look like butts which supposedly carry a brain 3 times larger than humans. They are telepathic and are mind controlling this one chick (who by the way, is a total babe) into wooing Capt. Pike to stay on the planet forever and start a new colony. Oh, and these aliens can project “incredibly lifelike illusions” so while Pike is being held prisoner, one moment he is at this renaissance-esque castle, the next, having a picnic in a park. I think the whole point was to get Pike to fall in love with this chick. Anyway, in the end they get off the planet and it turns out the chick was actually an ugly old hag and the aliens were just making everyone think she was hot. Afterwards, I looked up why Kirk wasn’t in the pilot episode. Whatever the reason, Pike didn’t want to continue with the show, so Kirk makes his cameo in the second episode (actually, technically, I guess this was episode 1 since the pilot is episode “0”). I decided I didn’t really get the full Original Series experience since Kirk wasn’t in it. I proceeded to watch the next episode, “The Man Trap”. Can I just say, these early episodes were strangely centered around deceptive hot alien women. Is this what they’re all about? I could get used to this. Right off the bat, this episode looks years ahead of the pilot episode. There seemed to be a much bigger set, and the CGI’s were fairly believable. Well, some of them were. I don’t know why they can make a ship orbiting a planet look so real but they literally use a freeze frame of a hand with gun when they need to do the phaser effect. Anyway, this episode was about an alien who needed salt to survive and would shapeshift into different people, lure its prey away from others and then use its sucker fingers to draw all the salt from their body. Needless to say, it shifted into a 1960’s hottie when it needed to. In the end, “Bones”, the Enterprise’s doctor, had to kill the alien when it happened to look like one of his old girlfriends. Very traumatic. Highlights of this episode were an animal like flower plant in Sulu’s lab, out-of-focus camera shots that I guess were “good enough”, and about 10 wasted lives which goes to show if you’re not Kirk, Spock, Bones, or Sulu you’re expendable.

No Format, Episode 9

 Wow. Have we got an episode for you! Denise Soden is back to school us on the topic of DINOSAURS!!! To add a little to the conversation, we watched the greatest dino-flick ever made: Jurassic Park (1993). So hold on to ya butts, this episode is both educational and entertaining.

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Doggy Shots

My neighbor let me borrow his camera for an hour and this is what came of it. His name is Bonham, named after the late John Henry Bonham of Led Zeppelin, and he is a German Shepard-Husky mixed breed. He is around 4 years old but will forever look like a puppy dog due to his medium stature. Feel free to comment of his handsome/adorable/beautiful/noble-ness.

No Format, Episode 8

We’re back on track with a very special episode of No Format! This time we invite our friend Jeremy Commandeur on the show so he can school us in some Trek facts. Sorry, we didn’t announce what we were going to watch during the last episode (we forgot to do a lot of things in the last episode…) but if you’d like, you could prepare yourself by watching The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 &2, Star Trek, The Next Generation. Leave your popped collar and chinos at home cause we nerd out pretty bad in this one. Also, remember the gravity question we asked in Episode 6? We got an answer. And you won’t believe it, we made it through this episode with out having to bleep anything Jason says!

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Beard Trimmer Solution

I am a bearded individual. But I don’t always have a beard. I have a routine of letting my beard grow out until my neck starts itching, then shaving it off with a Gillette Fusion 5 blade razor. This makes me clean shaven for a day or two and bearded for a couple of weeks. I HATE buying razors. I HATE it. They are stupid and a waste of money. And since I’ve been using the 5 blade razor heads (believe me, I’d go 6 blade if they had ’em) I can’t go back to the cheap-o disposable Bics; I tried, it was a bloody mess. Last week I remembered I had some “thank you” points left on the credit card I just paid off. I decided I had been lazy for long enough and started researching a quality beard trimmer. Most beard trimmer reviews spoke highly of a Norelco trimmer called the QT4070 Beard and Stubble Trimmer. The beauty behind this trimmer is that it has a vacuum built into it that is supposed to suck all the hairs into a compartment. I was able to cover the cost of it completely with my rewards points ($60) and I picked it up the next day. While I was at the store I also noticed a nice little Wahl Complete Hair Trimming Kit for less than half the price of the trimmer I just purchased. I decided to buy both and put them to the test in a Beard Trimmer Ultimate Showdown. Here is my review:

First off, may I just say, this is a beautiful piece of beard machinery. It’s sleek design and solid build quality made me a little giddy taking it out of the box. Throw in an LCD that displays remaining charge and comb height and you have my attention. But how well does it trim a beard? I vowed 3 – 4 weeks before that I would never again buy a razor blade so, needless to say, I had a pretty healthy beard growing by then. I set the guard to 1/4 of an inch and shaved away. I was a little disappointed with my experience for a number of reasons. 1) The vacuum is sort of a gimmick. I mean, it certainly catches most of the hair, but if it doesn’t catch all of the hair, that means I still have to clean up. I’d say it catches about 90% and gently blows away the other 10% which spreads evenly across my bathroom countertop. 2) As with most battery powered shavers, it’s not that powerful. It even has a button that puts it in “turbo mode” for the denser parts of your man thicket; even then, it still doesn’t compare to the power of a chorded shaver (more on that later). And when in turbo mode, the vacuum sucks harder and subsequently louder. And 3) the guard is deceiving. What I mean by this is, you might think a short comb is desirable because you’d be able to more easily trim the toughest part of the beard to access: the northern upper-lip area. While it does make clipping these hairs easier, the price you pay is an increased likelihood that you are going to accidentally hold the trimmer at the wrong angle and produce and uneven beard. All in all, I did not see what everyone was talking about in the reviews I read on the internet about the QT4070. I gave it another try a week later to make sure that I didn’t just have an atypically bad experience but witnessed no improvement in the vacuum even though the clippings were much shorter.

Next I put the classic barber shop Wahl Clippers to the test. We got off to another good start with these clippers but not because of the looks (granted, stainless steel is definitely a sign of a man tool). I guess I had never looked around for barber shop clippers, but man, they are CHEAP ($25, and this came with the whole kit!). As far as the experience goes, I could not have been happier with them. If the Norelco shaver was a hybrid sedan, Wahl clippers are a 500hp muscle car. The shear power behind these clippers is enough to win me over. When you flip the switch on this bad boy you feel the torque of the motor twist in your hand. It required far less passes to shave my beard as compared to the Norelco. Also, its wide trimming blades and longer guard made for a much more even shave with no opportunity for accident. I love the fact that it plugs into the wall. I would never need to shave while driving (my occupation has no facial hair requirements) so it’s not a limiting factor and I’ll never forget to charge it because it doesn’t have a battery. Yes you have to oil it now and then, and it doesn’t come with as many guards as the Norelco had settings but the No. 1 works fine for me.

Bottom line: the QT4070 is mostly a gimmick and the Wahl is a tried and true solution to a quality beard trimmer.

No Format, Ep. 7

I’m gonna tell you right now, this was a train wreck. A conceptually good idea, gone bad. Real bad. So bad I’m not going to describe what happens. Hopefully this intrigues you to listen to it, but be warned, I told you it was bad. And it’s not one of those,”he’s telling us it’s bad, but in the end, it will be so bad it’s funny”, sort of things. It’s just an all around bad episode. The one good thing we get around to talking about is the bestest fast food restaurant in the world. Hope you enjoy. And believe me, we’ll be back on track next week. Thanks again to our listeners, and hey, do us a favor and spread the word by leaving a review in iTunes. We’d really appreciate it!

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D.I.Y. Refractor Telescope

Yesterday I constructed my very own refractor telescope (above) which I built completely from scratch. It is the second telescope I have built and frankly, puts my first attempt to shame. Granted, my first attempt (below) wasn’t hard to out do…it was a humble 10cm long x 5.5cm diameter spyglass. Have you ever seen Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves with Morgan Freeman? He pulled out a “telescope” much like my first attempt. It was really exciting when I first saw a magnified image through the lenses. It was riddled with chromatic and spherical aberrations but I achieved a 7.6x magnification! The problem was, while the image was bigger, it was no clearer. It couldn’t resolve the larger image. I had Danielle write a sentence on a piece of paper and tape it to the furthest wall in our apartment so that it was just out of readability. I tried with all my might, but couldn’t read it any better than with my own two eyes. It’s one advantage was it’s light collecting ability, or f-number. Divide the focal length by the objective lens (large lens) and you get the f-number which, for my little scope, equaled f/1.8.

I learned a lot from my first telescope so that, when it came time to build my second, I was well prepared. I purchased my lenses through the same online supplier that carried the lenses for my fist telescope. There are other sites that sell telescope lenses but they were either too high priced or didn’t have the focal lengths I wanted. Anchoroptics.com carries a plethora of “experimental grade” lenses that didn’t pass quality inspection and cost half the price.  The 4.1cm objective I purchased had one tiny scratch on the surface which is completely unnoticeable when looking through it. This time I did my homework and got a lens with a decent focal length, 39.5cm compared to the first lens I bought with a 10cm focal length. The eyepiece I chose had a 12cm focal length. Aside from the focal length, the other big improvement these lenses had over the previous were their achromatic elements. The objective has a lens element that corrects for chromatic aberrations which basically means it’s sharper. The eyepiece has three elements in total. This vastly improved the quality of the image over my previous scope which was only sharp in the very center of the lens.

When the lenses arrived at my door I couldn’t wait to open them up and experiment with them. I always have an urge to just hold them up to my eye and see if I can produce a magnified image without any supports. I know I won’t be able to do it; even if I did it would be a fleeting glimpse of an image. I decided to wait till tomorrow to set them up and calculate the spacing needed between the lenses.  For my last telescope, I created the most ghetto rail system to hold my lenses and determine the spacing. It consisted of a yard stick (you would not believe how hard it is to find a meter stick. I still haven’t found one), balsa wood bases, wooden sticks, two dollar clamps, duct tape and rubber bands. It worked for the first telescope so I had all confidence that it should work for my second. I spent the better part of my day off trying to produce an image to no avail. I started thinking that there was something about achromatic lenses that I wasn’t aware of. The focus didn’t seem to behave like that of a standard lens. I became frustrated and started posting on forums, asking what I was doing wrong. I gave up and decided to take a break till next week.

After receiving some feedback and regaining confidence that there was nothing strange about achromats, I decided to put my faith in science. I didn’t care if I couldn’t produce an image with the lenses before constructing a telescope. I had done the math, I understood the principles; two double convex achromatic lenses should produce a magnified image if aligned and spaced appropriately.  This time around I wanted to upgrade the materials I used. Instead of a paper towel cardboard tube I stepped it up to PVC pipe. I must have spent an hour and a half in Home Depot searching for the right combination of tubes. I wanted to use the black plumbing pipes but I couldn’t make the right combination of sizes. I ended up getting two white tubes, one that could snugly fit inside the other, and a few attachments for the lens hood and eyepiece holder. I picked up some bolts to hold the lenses in place and a thumb screw to lock the focus in place. I spent probably three hours when I got home carefully constructing my telescope, the whole time not even knowing if it was going to work. Once I got the lenses mounted (by far the hardest part) I took it outside, put it to my eye, slid the tubes away from each other and focused in on a beautifully magnified image, 40 times its actual size. Science had conquered the day!

The f-number is a little dismal; the smaller diameter and longer focal length means not as much light reaches your eye, but observing bright objects like the moon and Jupiter are no problem with an f/13. I determined the exact magnification (not through calculations but through observation, there’s always a discrepancy) to be 42.5x. This is really cool because it is thought that Galileo’s best scope had around a 40x magnification. So there you have it. The greatest accomplishment of my life. Where do I go from here? I really don’t know. I could build another, more powerful refractor telescope. I could grind my own lenses. Or I could try my luck with reflector telescopes. That is the route most amateur astronomers take. I am told they are much more practical to build and are also much more forgiving in the construction process. Whichever path I take, all I know is that I will definitely build a third.

 

More Hipster Pics

None of these are recent. Just some of my favorites Hipstamatic pics on my phone.

No Format, Ep. 6

If you listened to us last week then hopefully you joined us in watching The Godfather, Part I. If you didn’t listen to us last week, chances are, given you aren’t Jason Hayes, you’ve probably already seen it. Have a listen to this episode to hear our impressions of the classic mafia flick. We also contemplate a classic physics problem and enlist the help of a celebrity amongst space nerds. Choose your method of delivery below.

 

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Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

These words seemed strange to me the first time I watched Steve say them at the 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. It just seemed like kind of a weird motto to live by. Certainly not a motto that the C.E.O. of a multi-billion dollar company should embrace. But that was because I was taking it too literally. Stay hungry, meaning never stop learning. Never stop wanting to do better, to approach perfection. And stay foolish, because if you never take chances you’ll miss opportunities for greatness. As in, starting a computer business out of your parent’s garage is likely to end up sour, but you never know.

I have included a couple of my favorite condolences that I read shortly after the passing of Steve Jobs. What an impact he had on the world. He will be remembered throughout history as one of the great ones.

President Barack Obama:

“Michelle and I are saddened to learn of the passing of Steve Jobs. Steve was among the greatest of American innovators – brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it.

By building one of the planet’s most successful companies from his garage, he exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity. By making computers personal and putting the internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun. And by turning his talents to storytelling, he has brought joy to millions of children and grownups alike. Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last. Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world.

The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Steve’s wife Laurene, his family, and all those who loved him.”

Former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz:

“It’s the ultimate sadness. First of all, it’s a young person who was revered, sometimes feared, but always revered. In a way, it’s kind of prophetic; everyone was hoping he could be on stage yesterday. He was a very special person, and he didn’t get to where he was by having people like him all the time. He got to where he was because he had a vision and a purpose. It’s easy to try and please everyone, but he kept to his principles.”

And finally, I leave you with Apple’s famous Think Different video; a video that does not feature Steve but whose spirit is visible throughout.

How we Measure the Distance to Stars

Someone asked me last week how we know how far away the stars are if we can’t travel to them. Whenever someone asks me an astronomy/physics related question I try to give a clear concise answer to the best of my knowledge. Afterwards, I always think of better ways I could have explained the answer. Now I’ll take the liberty of using my blog as a medium for explaining this concept. First look at the following diagram. 

There are actually a few different ways to measure the distance to stars but the first method scientists used is called stellar parallax. This method only works for close stars (relatively speaking) and uses a phenomenon with which we can experiment with our own eyes. Hold your finger at arms length and look at it with one eye open. Note what lies behind it in the background. Now switch eyes and see how your finger has “moved” with respect to the background. That is called parallax. Do it with the stars and it’s called stellar parallax. If you can measure the angular distance that your finger has “moved”, and you know the distance between your eyes, you can calculate the distance from your eyes to your finger. The way we do it with the stars only differs in that we use the orbit of the Earth around the Sun to observe the “movement” of a star against a background of more distant stars. We know the distance from the Earth to the Sun to be ~93 million miles. We measure the annual amount of movement a star makes in arcseconds (an arcsecond is 1/60th of an arcminute which in turn is 1/60th of a degree. You end up using only half of that angle so as to achieve a right angle). Knowing that opposite angles are equal, we now have a right angle for which we know the length of one of its legs and the measure of one of its angles (in addition to the 90 degree angle). Using basic trigonometry we can take the tangent of the observed angle (called the parallax angle) and solve for the length of the unknown leg.

tangent = opposite/adjacent     , therefore

tangent(parallax angle) = (93 million miles)/(parallax angle)

The answer to this equation is the distance to the star. Scientist, however, typically forego this calculation and just measure stellar distance in a simpler unit called parsecs (parallax seconds). To measure in parsecs, simply invert the parallax angle (1/arcseconds). Then if a more layman unit is needed use a conversion factor. For example, 1 parsec is roughly equal to 19 trillion miles. The star with the largest known parallax angle and therefore the closest to our star is Proxima Centauri which exhibits a parallax angle of 0.77 arcseconds corresponding to a distance of 1.29 parsecs or about 24 trillion miles.

No Format, Episode 5

Episode 5 is when Jason and I decided to go live on iTunes. I just got done submitting it, but it may take a while to actually show up. In the mean time, you can listen to it here. This week we discuss Jason’s unreasonably large Ninja Turtle collection. Then, on a more serious note, we talk about building telescopes and the inherent flaws of spherical lenses. Go on, let your inner nerd out and enjoy this quality conversation in the comfort of your drivers seat. If by chance you become extremely bored at some point (and it most definitely won’t be the part where we talk about my greatest passion, telescopes) we have included chapters markers; feel free to skip around.

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XBOX or PS3? Why?

A friend asked me this today. 3 or 4 months ago when I was considering the same question I was frustrated by the lack of info on the internet. I think the problem stems from the fact that a lot of the information available is outdated due to the “slim” versions both  console manufacturers recently released. Comparing specs alone however, Sony comes out on top. Read IGN’s Hardware Throwdown for an excellent comparison. But comparing only specifications is shortsighted especially since graphically speaking the two systems are virtually identical (it all comes down to how game devs take advantage of the hardware). There are many different facets to consoles nowadays. Here is my breakdown of the situation (in no particular order):

Exclusive games: The PS3 boasts titles like Uncharted, Resistance, Metal Gear Solid and Gran Turismo. XBOX 360 has exclusives including Gears of War, Forza Motorsport, Fable, and Halo. If there’s a game you have to play, this would be a good reason to go one way or the other. But the fact is, the vast majority of games on the market are developed for both systems so to me, this is a non issue.

Streaming Video: Playstation has a built in browser which is kind of cool for YouTube. It also has support for Netflix and Hulu Plus. XBOX has Netflix and Hulu Plus Apps but no YouTube (although it has been announced in the next update) ***UPDATE: in addition to YouTube, XBOX 360 now also has a browser***. Netflix does this cool thing where it analyzes your bandwidth and optimizes the quality of the stream accordingly. XBOX and Playstation support streaming of your home videos from your computer via DLNA too. In other words, download a free application on your mac like TVMOBiLi and all the media on your computer magically streams to your TV.

The Controller: This may sound petty, but I have beef with the Playstation controller. It’s too small for my man hands and I hate the placement of the joysticks. Maybe I could get used to it but the XBOX controller just feels so much better to me. And at least one of the joysticks is in a natural position.

The Network: Bottom line is Playstation Network is free. That’s kind of a big deal even if it got hacked a few months ago and millions of credit cards were compromised. XBOX requires you to purchase an XBOX LIVE account which goes for $60 a year in order to do anything on the inter webs. In the end it’s not that expensive but it looks bad next to the PS3.

Optical Drive: The PS3 is hailed as the most cost effective Blu-ray player on the market. If you have an HDTV that supports 1080p resolutions you have a reason to watch a Blu-ray. That being said, it is my belief that physical media is on it’s way out. While I have never watched a Blu-ray on my 46″ Samsung LED, I have streamed a 1080p mkv file from my computer and I couldn’t tell the difference.

After reviewing the breakdown I just wrote I don’t know why I didn’t buy the Playstation 3. It seems like it wins in most areas. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I really hate that controller. Here’s another tidbit I didn’t mention: Danielle split the cost of the XBOX with me on the condition that we got the Kinect bundle with Dance Central (which she never plays anymore). I didn’t include motion sensors on the breakdown because I think they’re gimmicky and I don’t care about them, but from a technology standpoint Microsoft clearly has the lead. Speaking of motion tracking consoles, I should mention that I haven’t turned my XBOX 360 on since I bought a Wii for the sole purpose of playing old school NES, SNES, and N64 games. I didn’t bother setting up the motion sensor though — classic controller all the way.

One more thought to make your decision even harder: if media is your main objective, have you thought about a set top box like an Apple TV or a Roku? The ATV is only $99 bucks and streams Netflix, Youtube, Vimeo, the entire iTunes catalogue and anything on your Mac or iPad ***UPDATE: the ATV now also has Hulu***. The Roku does Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo and Hulu Plus. Good luck.

Computer History Museum, a Speed Run

This is one of those places that I’ve never visited because it’s too close. Save yourself the trip and take a speed run below.

No Format, Episode 4

Are you ready to learn about Wetenkamp family folklore, century old dead dudes, and free baby grand pianos? This week’s episode discusses those topics and more. I really hope this is not your first episode of No Format, cause it’s not our best…hang in there and we’ll be sure to entertain you next week as we continue to follow our motto of absolutely no ground rules. In fact, next week we will probably stake out a plot in the vast wasteland that is the iTunes directory, but for now try streaming Episode 4 right from the browser of your computer or, better yet, your mobile phone. If you don’t want to depend on the airwaves, try control clicking (right clicking on a PC) the link below and download it.

Click here to listen!

We’ve also included an Advanced AAC version if you’re feeling dangerous. Click here to listen and see pictures! Let us know how it went in the comments.

Free at Long Last

Joshua is now completely free from the bonds of credit card debt. I wish this was a story of self discipline where I drafted a plan and stuck to it and after months of dedication I finally paid off my debt. But it is not. Rather, it is a lesson in choosing a growing company to work for and taking advantage of the Employee Stock Purchase Plan. I’m not proud of it. I feel like I took the easy way out, but I’m grateful that I had a way out.

Anyway, I went through all the records I kept of  my credit card bills and entered the data into a spreadsheet. This graph represents time from left to right starting with the ill-fated day I was granted a line of credit and ending at the present. The blue graph shows the amount due on my credit card statement each month while the green graph shows increases in my line of credit. As you can see, creditors know just when to give you an increase. I took the liberty of removing all dates and dollar amounts.

Here are the conclusions I can draw from this: 1) Only one time during the history of this credit card was I able to pay it off completely, and it was very early on. It is so easy to just say you’ll pay it off later. 2) Most of my credit line increases coincided with times when I was increasing spending. I don’t know if that was just a coincidence or if credit card companies do that on purpose. They also seem to be at somewhat regular intervals so maybe it was a coincidence. 3) The steepest debt decreases are usually followed by the steepest debt increases. Maybe I felt like I deserved to spend a little more since I had been so diligent in paying off my debt. Whatever the reason, this shows a clear vice of mine. And 4) Excepting only the last 2 (maybe 3) credit line increases, I always surpassed my previous limit before receiving another increase. In other words, I took full advantage of credit line increases. Just what they want you to do, however, I have no one to blame but myself.

The morale of the story: credit cards are EVIL — Fruits of the the Devil (pronounced froo-its of the dev-eye-il).

Pearl Jam 20


I went downtown with some friends the other night to a screening of the new Pearl Jam documentary, PJ20. As luck would have it the air conditioning broke in the theatre so by the time the movie was over we were sweating like we had just been to a Pearl Jam concert. Overall the movie was top notch. I learned a lot about a band I thought I knew pretty well. I didn’t know they didn’t have a consistent drummer for the first few albums. I didn’t know Eddie met his father unknowingly a few times before he died. I didn’t know Eddie also liked to climb the lighting supports and stage dive into the crowd. And I had forgotten Pearl Jam took on Ticketmaster back in the day.

This reminds me of my favorite rockumentary of all time: Jimi Hendrix. The cool thing about this film is they’ll show him playing full songs at various concerts. PJ20 seemed to only show snippets every now and then and someone was always kind of talking over them. Maybe I should just buy the soundtrack: 29 tracks of live recording goodness. Anyway, if you consider yourself even a casual Pearl Jam fan, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. Hop on it cause it will only be in select theaters for a week or so.

No Format, Episode 3

If you thought last week’s episode was boring, get ready for another doosey. This week Jason and Josh discuss things like the greatest video game ever made, how to have fun on the inter webs, and a certain monetary vice Jason picked up working at the grocery store. Feel free to tell us what you think about the podcast and how we should learn to plan ahead. Also, did you know you can click the link below and stream the podcast on your phone? Try it!

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In-N-Out & Chili Peppers

Why In-N-Out offers chili peppers upon request is beyond me. At least now they come two at a time in a cute little packet. When I used to work there I had to stick my hand in a 3 gallon tub we kept in the refrigerator and throw them in a plastic ramekin. I don’t understand the connection between burgers and chili peppers. I understand it when they’re sliced and placed inside the burger (Burnin’ Love Burger at Red Robin), but as a side dish it makes no sense to me. That being said, I ate my Double Double with a side of chilies today. Spicy food is a phenomenon that eludes my understanding altogether. I don’t like the taste of spice (I’m talking about hot spice, not flavorful spice) but I eat it often. It has nothing to do with bringing out the flavor of the main dish as some would reason. And I know exactly why I do it. I feel I have to prove myself. Maybe I feel this way because my dad told me it would put hair on my chest. Maybe it’s because I feel more powerful than those that can’t withstand the heat. Whatever the reason, I can’t help but eat chili peppers when they are placed in front of me.

South Bay Nut Diet

Tired of paying outrageous amounts of your paycheck on lunch? Do you loath the food options at your place of employment? Does a heavy lunch put you to sleep around 2:30? If your answer was yes to any or all of these questions, my new South Bay Nut Diet may be for you!

The South Bay Nut Diet consists of 3 easy steps, 1) Eat a hearty breakfast. This can include omelettes, Eggo waffles, granola cereal or any other breakfast food that is more than just a bite. 2) Snack on only nuts between breakfast and dinner. I have a bag of almonds and a bag of walnuts that I rotate daily. I eat a handful during my first break, two handfuls during lunch, and another during my last break. 3) Pig out for dinner. There are no restrictions. Eat what you like.

Obviously this is not a weight loss diet. I really started doing it to save money and to see if I wouldn’t be so tired after lunch. Of course, lethargy depends on a lot of other factors as well, mainly how much sleep I get the night before, but I have noticed a general increase in alertness after self experimentation with the SBND. I don’t think anyone would argue with me that the average lunch in the South Bay costs around $7. That means I spend $35 a week and $70 a paycheck on addictive, unhealthy, coma-invoking, crap for lunch. And some of that food literally is crap (Panda Express and McDonalds to name a few). Whereas my two bags of nuts, which last me two whole weeks, cost under $10. Do the math, and join me in the SBND revolution.

No Format, Episode 2

Listen to episode 2 of Josh and Jason’s podcast, tentatively titled, “No Format”. It’s about important stuff like endangered species and Jesus websites. So basically if you don’t listen to it you hate animals, Jesus and the internet. But I think you’ll find it to be a worthy background noise for your commute home assuming you don’t have the new Chili Peppers album or any other slightly worthwhile album, podcast or jazz flute solo. Feel free to control click (or right click) the link below and download the mp3 file so you can listen to it on your i device.

Click Here to listen!

Best. Video Games. Ever.

I recently stumbled upon an epic website titled “The Best Video Games In The History of Humanity”. The author of this page undertook the noble responsibility of compiling 43 of the internet’s greatest video games lists and tallying them up in a cumulative list. What’s funny is I just found this website about a week ago, however as of now, the website has been shut down due to its hosting clients going out of business. At any rate, if it ever goes back online the URL is www.filibustercartoons.com/games.htm. As for how I obtained the overall scores, google cached a version of it for me since I had been there before. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was chosen by the interwebs as the greatest game ever conceived by human minds, and I completely agree. I agree so strongly that I decided to start playing it again on my Wii. Not being able to use the original N64 controller is somewhat of a drag but you adapt quickly. The graphics are a little dated (especially the character models and particularly the textures) but the game is such an epic quest that you rarely notice it. The puzzles are just hard enough so that it makes you feel smart when you solve them and the story is a 10. Zelda shows up again in the list in position 4 with A Link to the Past. This was the SNES incarnation and was equally epic. I have beaten it twice in my life and plan on making it three very soon. Another all time favorite is GoldenEye in position 5. Five is about how many hours a day that game robbed from me during my high school days. Not only was it a beast of a game, it also happens to be my favorite Bond flick. “Shut the door Alec, there’s a draft…Alec?” Anyway, I emailed the author and informed him of his duty to keep his page on the world wide web for all to enjoy. In the mean time, here is a screen cap of the results:

Thoughts So Far

My conversation with Cleverbot:

User: Why is the sky blue?

Cleverbot: Because the garden is green.

User: You’re not making sense.

Cleverbot: Sense is what you feel.

User: No it’s not, sense is fact. And you’re not stating facts.

Cleverbot: I did not say I had the flu. .

User: This is so stupid.

Cleverbot: What’s stupid?

User: You are. You are not a smart robot. You’re unintelligent which is all a robot should be good for and you’re not.

Cleverbot: I’m not what? You do not make any sense.

User: I make perfect sense. The sky is blue because shorter wavelengths (blue) scatter more than longer ones (red) and therefore reach our eye in all directions whereas the sky only looks red (or reddish) when we are looking closer to the sun.

Cleverbot: Ok.

 

http://cleverbot.com

Spreadsheet Voodoo

I’m no wizard when it comes to spreadsheets but I feel I can hold my own when it comes to intermediate level functions. I learned one today that I can see being supremely useful in my nerd-laden future: If/Then functions!

Lets say you tutor for three different subjects: Chemistry, Calculus, and Physics. You aren’t any good at Chemistry so you only charge 5 bucks a session. You’re pretty decent at Calculus (so long as there aren’t any Riemann sums, infinite series or integration by partial fractions) so you charge 10 bucks for these sessions. Physics is your science of choice so you provide top notch service at a premium price of 15 dollars. You want your spreadsheet to look pretty so you format the cells in column A as drop down menus, each menu item being one of the subjects you tutor. Now wouldn’t it be nice if, when you chose the subject you tutored, the amount due was displayed to the right in column B? That’s where if/then statements come in handy. They look like this: IF(aaa=bbb,ccc) which reads: if a equals b, then c. You can add more conditions to it by separating them with commas and adding another IF statement. Ours would look like this:

IF(A2=”Chemistry”,5,IF(A2=”Calculus”,10,IF(A2=”Physics”,15)))

In our example it’s important to add the quotation marks to denote a string as opposed to a number. Also, strings are case sensitive so make sure you type the subject exactly as it appears in the drop down menu.

Mushroom Kingdom, Safe Again

Today I beat, for the first time in my life, Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Best day ever.

Really though, that game is amazing. I thought it would just be nostalgic but it turned out to be legitimately fun. Something about breakin’ bricks, eatin’ mushrooms, and stompin’ goombas makes for a really satisfying game. It’s really cool how there’s so many hidden surprises in the game: 1-ups, warp pipes, vines. I decided not to use the secret warp zones (which allow you to skip Worlds) as I considered them cheating buuuuuut, I did use the “hold A, press start” trick which allows you to continue from the beginning of the world you died in. My hat goes of to anyone that can beat it otherwise. The only criticism I have about the game lies with the bosses. They are infinitely difficult when you are small but a joke when you are big. That goes for King Bowser too. If you’re Super Mario (big) you just run right through him, shrink down to little Mario, and jump on the switch. That was how I ended up beating Bowser. In fact I beat him as Fire Mario because 8-3 is IMPOSSIBLE without fire.

Check this video out. It’s the world record speed run. It’s kind of unbelievable.

My Beard is a Celebrity

People love to comment on my beard. It’s not that there’s anything special about it. I’ve seen far better groomed beards than my own, but when I grow my beard out it will invariably, throughout the day, give rise to conversation. It’s like walking through a gauntlet the moment I pass through the doors at work. I’ll get comments regarding Brian Wilson or a Sharks playoff game or sometimes they will give me the old “can’t afford a razor” joke. All the men approve of it, however, the women seem to be divided. About half of them like it and the other half seem to think they own stock in my beard and tell me to shave it off. So even though there may be nothing particularly eye-catching about my beard people comment on it for the following reason: I am inconsistent with my facial hair. Actually, I’m very consistent; cyclic in fact. You could model the growth of my beard by a sawtooth wave. I let it grow and after about 10 days my neck scruff begins to itch so I shave it off (all of it). Then I go into work the next day and everyone is surprised. Ah well, it’s not that I don’t enjoy the attention, you’d just think people would get used to my ever changing beard. And about the attention, let it be known, the only reason I do this, is out of pure laziness (and sometimes out of pure hatred towards the cost of razors). Here are some photos of when I was being particularly lazy.

Words Cannot Express…

…the hilariousness that is this picture. I literally laughed for a half an hour the first time I saw it and for five more minutes every time thereafter. The crossed eyes, the crooked mouth, the freightened hand. This child truly feels his life is in danger. And perhaps the most humorus aspect of this photograph is that the parent chose to take it at all.

New Chili Peppers Album

For the past 12 years the Red Hot Chili Peppers havn not let me down. Their new album, I’m With You, continues to not dissapoint. In fact, it is every bit as good as Californication through Stadium Arcadium. I feel like you could catagorize these last 4 albums as RHCP 2.0 as they take on a different style than the preceeding albums.

You should not hesitate to buy this album. I don’t usually sit down at my desk and listen to a new album all the way through, but I was really excited about this one so that is exactly what I did (with an intermission at track 7). The first song actually reminds me of the first track of By The Way (I think it’s the vocal effects). It’s an ok track but it gets much better. Brendan’s Death Song is a crescendoing acoustic delight. Look Around = Amazing. And, of course, The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie treat your ears to some of the most well placed cow bell music has to offer.

**INTERMISSION**

The rest of the album for me was dominated by Police Station and Meet Me at the Corner. Both of these songs were similar in that they were different than the rest. They both contained meaningfull lyrics. I’ve always felt Anthony Kiedis’ lyrics could have been chosen at random in a dictionary, but these two songs tell as story unlike anything he’s written since Under the Bridge. Overall this album ranks high in my iTunes Library (am I the only one who uses ratings in iTunes?). 

Hipstachart

I usually just shake to shuffle. One day I just decided to figure this app out. I at least wanted to remember which lenses and films were black & white. So this is my gift to you, loyal readers. I present the Hipstachart:

Why buy a Wii?

I know, I know. The Wii U is coming out next year but that doesn’t bother me one bit. I didn’t buy the Wii to play cutting edge games – that’s what I bought the Xbox 360 for a couple of months ago. You see, Danielle started complaining that there weren’t any games that she wanted to play on our newly purchased gaming console. We found an SNES at a pawn shop going for $80. $20 more for an extra controller, and about $20 per game (if we could find them). I convinced her not to get it (go figure. I’m just as much an SNES fan as the next guy, maybe more). But I’m also a fan of NES and N64, and I’m not gonna fork over 80 bucks for each! So last Thursday she couldn’t wait any longer and had every intent to go and buy it. Then I had the genius idea that maybe, just maybe, you could get old school Mario Bros and Mario Kart on the Wii. Turns out you can! And what better, because of the newly announced Wii U, we picked one up for $150 with Mario Kart Wii!!! So far we’ve downloaded Super Mario Bros, Super Mario World, Mario 64, Mario Kart, Mario Kart 64, Donkey Kong Country and fully plan on downloading ALL the Zelda games. We didn’t even bother with the motion sensor. Classic controller all the way.

Astrophotography

At least that’s what I call it when I take pictures through my makeshift telescope with my iPhone. At first I thought the photos were kind of laughable. But then I showed them to a friend and he reacted a bit differently. He thought they had an artistic quality to them – highly flawed from a scientific standpoint for sure, but physically intriguing too. I used very cheap lenses to construct the “telescope” (it’s less than a spyglass at only ~9cm in length) so the spherical and chomatic aberrations are very pronounced. Only the very center stays in focus which gives the image an eerie, dreamlike characteristic. While the little scope achieves a 7.6x magnification, it can’t resolve objects any better than the naked eye. So basically if you look at the moon through the scope with one eye, then open the other eye so that you place both images on top of each other, it is clear that the image through the scope is much bigger. Even so, no additional detail is resolved. You may as well look without the scope (I tested this with a sentence I had never seen before written on a sheet of paper. I could begin to read the sentence with the scope and without the scope at the same distance). It’s like a digital zoom on a camera; you may as well enlarge the photo in post. Anyway, here are a few of the picutures I took through it.

Why I Dropped Out

I have never been a constant individual. Indecision comes easy to me. I wish that I was one of “those kids” who knew exactly what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. But unfortunately that was not my lot. I graduated high school without ever really taking an interest in anything. I didn’t like high school much. I was happy to be done with it in 2001. I had no interest in taking the SAT or whatever else people usually do after they graduate high school. I knew what the next few years had in store for me and that they didn’t involve going to college, so, I just didn’t prepare for higher education. That is also a characteristic I possess, for better or for worse; I take life one day at a time.

Education became a real goal in my life when I returned from my hiatus at age 21 and began my higher education in the fall of 2004. Modesto Junior College was much more enjoyable than high school because I had since learned to appreciate knowledge. My first semester introduced me to the most influential author of my life, John Steinbeck. I connected with his style of writing and admired his ability to describe with eloquence. He quickly became a pastime and served as a gateway to other classic novels I took to reading. I enrolled in all sorts of classes and enjoyed all of them; even the math classes I took which were really just a safeguard. While I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life (besides getting enough credits to transfer to a university) I seemed to lean toward a major in graphic design or photography. I took an art class, two photoshop classes, an illustrator class, a black & white photography class and during my last semester, a graphic design class. At some point during my years at MJC I also bought a DSLR camera which soon became my main hobby. So, when I was accepted at San José State University beginning spring 2007, I began it as a photojournalism major.

I don’t remember exactly why I chose photojournalism over photography proper. I must have been brainstorming ideas and photojournalism seemed a happy compromise of photography (which I knew I loved) and another career which might come in handy someday (I was hedging my bets). One semester of that proved to be pretty mundane. I spent the summer in San Diego and ended up taking the next semester off. I was also gifted a pair of binoculars that year which I would point toward the sky (more on that later). Shortly after my return to the Bay Area in 2008 I was blessed with a robbery while living with an old roommate until I could find an apartment. My camera and Xbox were stolen from my car the day before the spring semester began. I was registered for four photography classes. I felt like the shattered glass of my car window. Even before the burglary I had questioned whether photography was the right major. I was never really good at it. It just didn’t come natural like it did for other people I knew. I decided to make a break for another major utilizing the robbery as justification.

Remember when I was a child, how I would study maps of the world for fun? I decided to give it a shot. Geography was my next choice of major. While some of the classes were interesting, Geography did not turn out to be the major I expected it to be. I imagined drawing maps and marking coordinates all day. I dreamed up a position at NASA where I would help with the mapping of Pluto when the spacecraft New Horizons arrives in 2015. SJSU Geography courses turned out to be more about culture and economy than science. I should have guessed since it was a Bachelor’s in Art that was offered. My next excuse for a major change came in the form of a car crash the very next semester. Danielle and I were treating our friend Jason to dinner in Gilroy on his birthday, September 1st. My car was totaled at an intersection when a lady ran a red light and plowed her car into mine. We were all pretty shook up and I decided the neck injury Danielle suffered, the insurance forms that needed to be filled out and the hunt for a new car was too much to deal with during a full load at school. I dropped out of all my classes and gave my life a great deal of thinking. One of my more unfortunate habits is that when I have an abundance of time on my hands, I tend to spend more money. I bought a huge telescope.

The spring semester that followed marked a major turning point in my college education. It was during this year that I first began to take the proposition of a Bachelor’s in Science seriously. So I manned up and took a math class while still keeping one foot in Geography (remote sensing) but while also taking an Astronomy class (which also fulfilled a GE requirement). Fall was a milestone because it marked the semester that I finally found out what Calculus was all about, amongst other things. Spring 2010 brought with it Calculus II, my final Chemistry class and my first Physics class. By this time I had decided Physics was my major; a necessary step if I ever decided to pursue a post graduate degree in Astronomy. I wrapped the year up proudly with a third course in Calculus, rounded off with another course in Physics. I had finally found my calling. Things were moving swiftly now. I had a clear goal.

2011, however, did not go as planned. If you were to look at the suggested four-year
outline for a physics major, 2011 would be my first step past the two year mark, finally

treading in waters deemed “upper-division”. You see, when I decided to pursue a degree in the sciences, I basically had to start from step one because my previous majors didn’t require any of the math-based GE’s that Physics demanded. My first mistake was to follow the suggested program of study. I should not have taken two math classes in one semester, especially ones with names like “Linear Algebra” and “Ordinary Differential Equations”. Mind you these were classes with three digits in their course title, a feat not yet conquered in my college career. Slap on a healthy Physics course in Heat & Light with a three hour lab and throw in an SJSU required technical writing course and you might start to see the beginning of an eminent epic fail. I got behind in my studies, didn’t learn well from one of my teachers, and for some reason wasn’t getting enough sleep. I ended up deciding to drop O.D.E. but it only helped for a while. I just couldn’t catch up in Physics. In the end, I received a B, C, D and an F that semester; the F being the first I had ever received in my college career. So there I was, no closer to graduating from college than I was four and a half years ago when I left MJC with an Associate’s in “Transfer Studies”.

I decided this would conclude my college experience. A lot of people go to school for seven years. They’re called doctors. They’re also called indecisive and disenchanted. One of them is called Josh. Two and a half more years is just too much to ask for a degree that, quite frankly, might go unused. The mere accomplishment does not drive me like it used to. Especially since the free money from the government dried up and the last two semesters were paid for in student loans. Luckily, I have a good job and work for a good company which offers many opportunities to grow. Over the summer I have taken to acquiring certifications in Aperture (professional photography software), Logic (professional audio software), and I will soon be certified in Final Cut (professional video editing software) making me a well rounded and valuable individual at Apple. I also have lenses in transit to my apartment with which I plan to build by hand my very own refractor telescope. I wrote this memoir partly for myself and partly for those who would like to know the saga of my education. I enjoy putting my thoughts on paper (be it analog or digital), it helps me sort them out and analyze them. And there you have it.

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