Memorial for a Fresnel Lens

I better write down the exciting events of my Memorial day weekend before I forget and they’re lost for eternity.

We started out Saturday by going to a high school graduation party for Kara, our niece, which was being held at my sister’s house. This was a home school type graduation thing so she was lucky enough to avoid the boring and pretentious caps-n-gown thing that most of us had to endure. Quite a few relatives that I haven’t seen in some time showed up for the event. Much greeting and exchanging of addresses, email, and business cards ensued. And while that was going on, a pile of Kara’s friends showed up dragging along assorted computer hardware for a LAN party that was simultaneously going on in some other part of the house. I popped in briefly to observe but it seemed to be primarily Windows stuff and there was much gnashing of teeth over crashing computers and problems getting them connected (well, duh). I imagine most of them will shortly arrive at college to be shown the light by Linux users and turn from their dark ways.

That evening, I got drafted into doing a lot of house-cleaning jobs by Susan in preparation for our own event, planned for Sunday. They say that men detect the presence of dirt and clutter when it accumulates to the extent that common activities are prevented (e.g., dirty dishes prevent access to the kitchen or trash blocks the front door). Women on the other hand, it is said, are so sensitive to the rays emitted by dirt that they can detect individual dirt molecules located in remote rooms of the house. These things are true. Though I can add that, over time, prolonged exposure to women seems to create an increased sensitivity in men’s cleaning senses as well.

On Sunday afternoon, we hosted a small Memorial Day event for a few relatives including my brother, a sister, her husband, and the associated niece and nephew. Susan had prepared most of the food but cooking of the meat took place on our dilapidated outdoor grill. (note that this was not a barbecue – no barbecue sauce was involved. Grilling and barbecuing are two different, often mutually exclusive, things – sorry, a pet peeve of mine.) Anyway, knowing that kids love to set things on fire, I enlisted their help with the grill. And, afterwards, I brought out my 12″ fresnel lens to impress them with how easily sunlight could be used to cause small flammable objects to burst into flames. I attempted to explain how the flat fresnel lens worked while the kids performed empirical tests on the fire-resistance of a variety of common backyard objects including wood, dry leaves, and lawn funiture. Eventually, I tossed some chickens and hot dogs (for the kids) on the grill and managed a final product that was neither raw nor charred. A good time was had by all.

Monday, we had planned to go to the Dallas Artfest. We showed up in Fair Park all prepared and discovered a lot of workers disassembling empty tents. Hmmm… got the dates wrong, it ended Sunday! Oh well, we needed a day off.

TV Shows, Movies, and Books

No work today. Sometimes you just have to take a day off to get the stress levels down. The RSX got an oil change. I mowed the lawn. That was about it.

I still haven’t seen the new Star Wars movie. Maybe next week. I did see Spiderman recently. For a comicbook movie it wasn’t bad. It was very, very predictable as it follows the same storyline as Superman… boy discovers he has super powers, his father figure dies, he gets a job at newpaper, gets a colorful suit, fights some crime, gets the girl, loses the girl… The villain was pretty lame – just a guy in a plastic power-rangers suit. Still, it was fun in spite of all that. The Danny Elfman sound track helped a lot. They played the really goofy Spiderman Theme song from the old cartoon as well. Susan claimed she couldn’t get it out of her head for several days.

Saw the season finale of X Files too. It was okay. Pretty much what one would have expected but nothing spectacular.

Somewhat more interesting was The Chronocide Mission by Lloyd Biggle Jr., which I just finished reading to Susan. Even though it’s a new book it reads very much like classic science fiction from the Golden Era. 300 years from today, a majorly screwed up Earth is being destroyed by war for a second time because of an artifact called a Honsun Lens that can unleash huge amounts of energy and distort time. A small group of conspirators decide that the only way to save the world is to destroy it – or, at least, the particular timeline that leads to it. To that end they form a plan to use the time distortion capabilities of a Honsun Lens to go back in time and kill the man who created the lens. As usual, the fun is in finding out whether or not they can pull it off. Recommended.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy DVD

My Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy DVD finally arrived and we’ve spent the last few days watching it. It’s actually a two DVD set with all six episodes on DVD 1 and a whole bunch of documentaries on DVD 2. There’s a Douglas Adams documetary, several Hitchhikers documentaries (including one about the radio version), and excerpts from several TV programs that did segments on the Hitchhikers or Adams. One of the funnier things was a “making-of” type documentary in which the actors kept being asked to use an “American” accent for various things. I always thought they’d just made up weird alien accents – I never would have guessed they were supposed to sound American. But the cheesy, homemade production qualities of BBC stuff like Hitchhiker’s and Dr. Who is part of what makes them so much fun to watch.

I went to a meeting of the Apple Corp of Dallas on Saturday. I was supposed to meet a friend there but she didn’t show up and I bailed after listening to 45 minutes or so of the group members having a heated discussion of whether or not the minutes of the last meeting indicated that a particularly contentious motion had been tabled until the current meeting or until the next quarterly meeting. The controversial motion was to shut down an old, dial-up BBS and try to move to a web site! Some members seemed to think this sort of thing was a bit premature. The only other thing that was discussed while I was there was that membership had fallen from 1400 to just 200 over the last few years. Hmmm… maybe because there was nothing going on but debate about minutes and motions and recruiting of new members? I wonder if more people would show up if there was some discussion of, say, Apple computer stuff?

Seems like most organizations, whether government, non-profit, or commercial eventually become primarily concerned with self-perpetuation rather than whatever they were originally created to do.

A Dark Shape in the Night

We had quite a thunderstorm last night. Susan and I had been discussing the representation of an r hacek using HTML. She was making an update to her Andrew Litton Discography and needed to add the name Dvorák. She had noticed that while there is an escape sequence to produce the acute a there doesn’t appear to be a way to do an r hacek. (there is also no c hacek so you can’t render “hacek” correctly either – sort of a recursive accent rendering problem!) By a huge coincidence, I had been searching for information on phoneme frequency in human language just the other day and remembered an entry in the Wikipedia that said the sound represented by an r hacek occurred only in Czech and was the rarest phoneme in human language. Several other pages suggested that it was not possible to make the r hacek using HTML and recommended either using a graphic or “Dvo[r hacek]ák”. Yuck!

Now, all this time there had been lots of lightening and thunder going on outside. Suddenly there was a particularly bright flash and we lost power. Both our computers went down. Without the air conditioning and fan noise, it was very quiet. We sat in the dark for a few minutes and listened to the thunder. When the power came back on, we waited for fsck (my box) and chkdsk (her box). Just about the time we were back up and running, we lost power again. This time we decided to give up and go look out the front door at the weather.

We opened the door and, stepping onto the front porch, we became aware of a large, dark, hairy shape moving toward us in the darkness. Startled, we jumped back in the house and Susan shortly produced a flashlight. The hairy black creature turned out to be a big dog that had taken refuge from the weather on our front porch. He looked friendly enough so we went back out and patted him for a while. Each time we stopped patting him, he would use his nose to lift one of our arms onto his head – he apparently liked to be patted.

We patted the dog while the power came on briefly once or twice and then went out again. We decided the dog might be hungry but weren’t sure what to feed him. Our lizards eat crickets but we didn’t think a dog would want to eat bugs. Susan keeps a little bag of tuna-flavored cat treats for a neighborhood cat that stops by occasionally but that didn’t sound right either. We finally gave him a dish of water and a couple of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies which he appeared to quite enjoy. Shortly thereafter, the power came back on so we said goodbye to our dog friend and returned to the house. Rather than chance the computers getting zapped yet again, I read Susan a couple of chapters from our current book, Lloyd Biggle, Jr.’s The Chronocide Mission.

This morning with power restored, I finally found one page indicating that “& #345;” would do the trick for most browsers: Dvořák (though it looks like a badly rendered caron using my Mozilla/Linux combination).

Buying Camera Gear From eBay vs Camera Shows

Busy day. Spent the morning mowing and edging the yard. We had lunch in Grapevine on the way out to a camera show sponsored by one of our clients. There was some interesting stuff to see at the camera show including non-photography items like two light sabers and an old Star Trek type one phaser. For buying and selling lenses, though, I think I’ll stick with eBay. Better prices are part of it but another part is the trust-metric-like feedback system on eBay. I’d much rather buy a lens from someone with hundreds of positive feedback certs on eBay than from a total stranger at a camera show.

From the camera show we drove by the office briefly to look for an Ovenbird that made an appearance friday. No sign of it today, of course, since I had a camera with me. Then we drove over to the Cottonwood Arts Festival in Richardson. Lots of amazing art and craft items (and a few not so amazing things). There are a dozen or so “art” festivals in the DFW area each year but most of them have very little that one could really call art. The Cottonwood Art Festival is the one to go to if you want art. The Deep Ellum Arts Festival has a few interesting things and a lot of music. Most of the others can be skipped.

After a we got tired of wandering around looking at the art, we stopped to get some barbeque and consider further plans for the evening. We had Dallas Symphony tickets but, upon closer inspection, tonights performance turned out to be another blasted piano concerto (have I mentioned that I am not fond of piano concerti?). We decided to skip the symphony this week.

Middle East == Skaros?

Another month gone. Still lots of bad news in the world…

More DMCA nonsense here in the US and the media corporations are trying to buy even worse laws from Congress. Meahwhile, the rest of world may be following suit.

Israel and Palestine are still at each other throats over a few miles of real estate. Is it just me, or does the Middle East remind anyone else of the eternal war of the Kaleds and Thals on Skaros? If Arafat shows up on CNN with a Mark III Travel Machine, then I’m going to get worried.

Islamic terrorists are still trying blow up half the people in the world so they can get their quota of virgins in the afterlife. There’s something wrong with a religion that demands you kill others and yourself to get into some sort of whacked-out, male-dominated afterlife. Weird.

Ah well, closer to home life’s not so bad. Work on merging mod_virgule continues at an impressive pace. The userbase of Robots.net continues to increase. (and we’re almost to the #1 spot in google!) I spent some time this week shooting macro photos of dragonflies and damselflies. A King Bird appears to have moved into a tree outside my office window (and is spending a fair amount of time trying to communicate with her reflection in said window).