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    Hip ‘n’ With It Bumper Stickers


    2013 - 05.06

    Taken on a recent camping trip, and posted to celebrate the release of Reason 7 last week.  Lucky #7!

     

    That New Propellerhead Thang.


    2013 - 02.24

    Here’s an awesome milestone in my electronic music-making pursuits: this Thursday a copy of Reason 6.5 showed up on the doorstep!  Having used every update back to 2.0, it’s very exciting to have my own legit copy of the latest and greatest iteration. Probably the best part about Reason 6 is that it added support for recording external sounds directly into the program to layer them on top of your tracks; the lack of this was the single biggest downfall of previous versions. They’ve changed several other things and added some new devices which I’ll need to explore as well… it’s time for me to spend some quality time here and do some learning. PUMPED UP!

    The Remee Sleep Mask: “We’ll go dreeeeeeam-innnnnnnn”


    2013 - 02.07

    In January I finally pulled the trigger and bought myself a Remee sleep mask. Unlike a typical sleep mask, it contains a set of LEDs which blink at you in your sleep. The idea behind this being that the light travels through your eyelids and if you’re in the middle of a dream, you see this flashing pattern and realize that you’re dreaming. Then you can get down to business of playing around in the dream. Lucid Dreaming baby, it’s an awesome, awesome thing.

    This mask is inspired by a product called the Novadreamer which came out a long time ago and cost $300, which was a harsh entry fee. The Remee costs $95, much more accessible but still not cheap. The main difference between the Novadreamer and the Remee is that the Novadreamer used an infrared LED and photodectector to monitor for fast movements of your eyelid/eyeball and thereby know when REM sleep is occurring. The Remee simply waits 4.5hrs after you turn it on, and then begins flashing every 20 minutes (these times are user-programmable). At first I was disappointed by this revelation that it works on a simple timer mechanism. But the more I thought about it, maybe that’s a good thing; like the saying goes, “keep it simple, stupid.”

    A great case-study in the pitfalls of needless complexity is the Wakemate, the other sleep gadget I previously wrote about. When it worked, it was extremely cool. But at least once a week it would lose your data for the night, and then in October of 2011 their website stopped functioning, which bricked everything. I thought perhaps it was my phone at fault, but since getting the Note II, I retried using the Wakemate with the new phone; exact same problem. In my opinion, the device should have connected to your PC and had standalone software. No bluetooth, no iOS or android phone needed, no website controlling your access to the data, no internet connectivity issues blocking you from uploading your sleep data… All this is needless complexity that can break the system. I would still be using it today, had their website not gone unresponsive (you can still access your old data, but you can’t login to upload new nights, or at least I can’t).

    So that in mind, I think it’s good that the Remee is a very simplistic circuit which runs on a watch battery. Low complexity, no connectivity to anything required. You can reprogram it to have different timing settings, different flashing patterns, and different LED brightnesses using the Bitbanger Labs website. We’ll see how long that remains functional, but even if it went down tomorrow, the default settings are pretty good. I hope to use this baby for many years to come.

    I’m not used to sleeping with a mask on, so for the last few weeks, the toughest challenge has been simply keeping the mask on all night. I tend to just yank it off my head in the middle of the night. Then when the ideal time for dreaming rolls around (maybe 1-2 hours before the alarm clock), it’s just chilling on my pillow. Rats!

    The box for this thing is inspiring and badass. First words you read on the back are “Shrink to the size of an atom. Travel to Mars. Fly.” I mean seriously, what product in your life have you ever bought that had those kind of claims on the box!?!?! The text goes on to clarify that Lucid Dreaming is actually pretty hard to acheieve, and is going to require a lot of discipline. Understatement! BUT–those acts are achievable for dreamers willing to be persistent, and devote some waking-time-hours into reality checking (simply asking, ‘am I dreaming?’). I want to try doing all three, as a challenge to myself. But in the reverse order they are listed: Flying should be easy. I’ve done that in several dreams before. Travel to Mars should be achieveable by summoning a spacecraft or a door (which I’ve done once). Shrinking to the size of an atom, now that might be a hard one. What would that even look like? I don’t know! It a long-term goal to shoot for!

    I have a little bit of experience with LED sleep masks, which can also be called LDID or Lucid Dreaming Induction Devices. In college I constructed one that connected to a PC using the serial port, and included a circuit that would check for eyelid movement just like the Novadreamer. In a way, it did the same thing as the WakeMate in tracking your sleep cycles too: the eyelid movement data was written to a spreadsheet using a Visual BASIC program. Viewing a graph of that data would show you how long you dreamed for, and at what times during the night. I was able to use it successfully to lucid dream a handful of times, but it was uhh, a beast to wear. Wearing a mask is hard enough, but wearing a mask with a bunch of cables coming out the top, which just makes it that much easier to fall off if you toss around (at all) during the night… it was a tall order to sustain. Eventually something went wrong with the circuit and I never took the time to troubleshoot the issue. The cables made it awfully tough to use on a regular basis, as a comfort issue. So that was that.

    I’m feeling hopeful that the Remee is more of a long-term, sustainable setup. Lying on my side with the mask on is plenty comfy, although I’m still figuring out the optimum positioning on my face so the LEDs line up at eye-height, and then maintaining that at night through different sleeping positions. I have had a couple dreams where the Remee was with me and I was observing the flashing, but didn’t cross that bridge of remembering that, hey, this means you’re dreaming! This will probably be a reoccuring theme over the next few months!

    At the most basic level, I’m happy to have this thing because it’s a daily reminder to put effort into dreaming, and a reminder in the morning to ask that all-important, time-critical question, “What Did You Dream??” It’ll take some practice, trial and error, and simple luck before I get a lucid dream out of it. For now, I’m satisfied that going to bed now has a new mindfulness to it, a new mantra of “It’s Time To Dream.”

    Beginners Mind again, for this: The Hubble Extreme Deep Field


    2012 - 10.21

    One of the first cosmological images which really and truly blew my mind as a young adult was the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field. Basically the idea was “Hey, what happens if we take our most powerful telescope and point it somewhere that’s pretty much empty and just stare at that spot for a really long time. What would we see?” The answer to that question was “We see somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 very distant galaxies.” Pause and let that marinate for a moment.

    Here is a closeup on one small area of the image, a random part that I thought looked cool:

    For a long time I left that as the wallpaper for my computer at work and I’d come in every morning and stare at the image while my slow computer took forever to finish loading windows. What was cool about having it as the wallpaper I had to look at while I waited for the machine to become usable was just how much there is to look at in there. As long as I stared at it, I’m certain there’s oodles of things I still didn’t notice. Looking at it first thing in the morning too, when the mind is raw and still gradually awakening surely added some awe to the effect as well. It’s staring into an abyss. Staring into infinity. And knowing that it stares back at you too…

    As a humorous aside, I’ll note that the “Hubble Ultra-Deep Field” is actually the sucessor to the “Hubble Deep Field” which showed a different region in space. And this new image, the “Hubble Extreme-Deep Field” is a closeup of a smaller section within the Ultra-Deep Field image, adding around 5,500 galaxies to the original 10,000+. When the James Webb Space Telescope goes online, they have plans to image the same area with it’s mighty Infrared sensing capability. What will that image be called? The Ultra-Extreme Uber-Deep Field Tournament Edition Plus. Director’s cut. Enhanced, expanded edition. Two. Strikes Back. Reloaded. Chopped and Screwed. Remix. Turbo.

    Whatever, it doesn’t matter what it’s called. Just, everyone, do me a favor: full rez this new baby and spend at least two minutes staring, thinking about what it shows:

    Everything on the internet, everything in a book, everything you’ve ever heard, learned, imagined, or even dreamed, in the most remote recess of your subconscious, is all within the realm of the ‘Earth’ experience. And Earth is a single, small terrestrial planet out in some sleepy backwater arm of the Milky Way, a perfectly average spiral galaxy with about 300 billion stars, and about as many planets, with maybe 10 billion of these being in the goldilocks “habitable” zone. Or at least habitable to “life as we know it”. Nevermind moons, nevermind thermally-supported life, nevermind ‘Steppenwolf’ planets that were flung from their parent stars. If the entire breadth of human knowledge, emotion, and experience resides within our differential-unit-small grain of sand that’s floating in the Milky Way swimming pool, then try to concieve of the vast diversity of lifeforms, cultures, natural wonders, and sub-realities residing within the oceanic field of view of this image, depicting thousands upon thousands of distant galaxies. Try to imagine traveling there, surveying them. Imagine exploring just a handful of those galaxies and chronicling the habits of their residents.

    How could we explore it? First we’d need to aggressively master interplanetary voyages, remote communication and colonization. Fly probes and listening devices to the Kuiper Belt. Mount them to passing comets for a long voyage back out to the Oort cloud. Use those to learn about the radiation and galactic wind in interstellar space. Develop shielding, life prolonging and hybernation capabilities for deep space travel. Contact alien cultures within our own galaxy and master inter-species diplomacy. Develop non-invasive, non-destructive ways to study primitive life still early in its evolutionary tree. Catch the best bacteria to help us live longer, retain more knowledge. Authoritively chronicle the Milky Way with billion-year data storage capability. Pool resources with other intelligences to build intergalactic ships or probes. Scatter them in all directions to search for points of interest. Then, finally, research ways to reach the most distant of galactic neighborhoods like the ones we see in these pictures. My point: The actual exploration of these places is not something that’s a few ‘ages’ away in terms of a civilization. Exploring these places is an act for intelligences unthinkably more sophisticated than our own… But we can dream of it.

    When I look at this, I like to focus in on individual places and try to imagine what might be there. I like to find a pretty looking galaxy and think about what planets might be inside of it. Or sometimes find a teeny sub-pixel dot and wonder if that less-than-a-pixel point is a whole giant supergalaxy, burgeoning with life forms, interstellar commerce & conflict, culture & craftsmanship. Maybe these two galaxies colliding are locked in an interspecies war millions of years long. Maybe they’ve evolved organic-electronic synthetic intelligences that can instantly teleport between host bodies, allowing them to be anywhere their race has ever traveled instantaneously. I wonder what their music sounds like. I wonder what senses they have. Can they “see” radio waves? Does their culture have money, or government? I wonder what “pleasure” or “sex” means to them? Or consciousness? I wonder what THEIR telescopes have discovered about the formation of the cosmos. Does it look “the same in all directions” from the far-far edge of what we humans can see?

    It’s fun to try envisioning all these things. And then humorous, in a zen sort of way, genuinely humorous, knowing that it’s impossible. You can’t. You’re looking at something so much bigger, ancient, and wilder than the capability of the feeble human brain to comprehend. The are not human words in any language to meaningfully describe what any of these Hubble Fields show. These images, obscured by the thick, nearly-opaque veil of distance, give the most fuzzy, teasing glimpse of something beyond us. Something beyond even what our most distant descendant will ever become. I find that deeply exciting. This picture shows, unquestionably, indisputably, that the universe has more to explore than is possible to explore. What better reason to be alive in this cosmos?

    A Red Letter Day: Black Mesa Source, playable for free


    2012 - 09.30

    Of all the games out there, the original Half-Life remains one of my all-time favorites.  Iconic.  A landmark in video gaming.  Seminal.  Just this last week, the fan-made complete 100% remake called “Black Mesa Source” was released, for free.  If you have a PC and you’re not playing this, I honestly don’t know what you’re doing with your life.  I really don’t.

    I’ve been waiting for this thing for years on end and it has been delightful, nostalgic, thrilling, and a pitch-perfect re-imagining of the world of Black Mesa.  Playing the intro-sequence was so sweet.  These guys have hit it out of the park.  Absolute must-play.

    “There waiting for you Gordon.  In the Test.  Chamberrrrr.”

    Planetary Annihilation? Yes, that sounds cool


    2012 - 09.13

    This game looks really sweet. You get to blow up planets and have wars on the scale of galaxies, all using killer robots. Awesome:

    This pic of the Orion Nebula is so fresh.


    2012 - 07.17

    No one can argue otherwise:

     

    I have a Model Railroad! And have been reminded: This is a PROCESS.


    2012 - 06.24

    Okay, so ultra-huge “The Moment of Genesis” tag here: model railroad construction has begun! Last week I started building benchwork, and this last weekend I went out and got plywood, cut it up, put it together, and just last night, finished a bare-bones loop. That one sentence right there is a TON of work. Although it’s not much to brag about at this point, have a look at the progress thus far:

    For benchwork, I used plain old pine 2x4s and bought a gigantic box of 3″ tan-colored screws that will blend in with the wood. Seems like it worked out great so far. With the track plan I have in mind, the layer that’s been put down right now will eventually be almost entirely unseen, serving as a reversing loop on one end and hidden staging yards on the other. I established the height of the layout based upon where I visually estimated the height of the next layer to be. My thinking was to make the 2nd level (which is the visible level where all the action will happen) eye level when sitting in a chair. Already I’m wondering if I didn’t set the first level too low. It’s 30″ above the floor, which is exactly eye level if you’re sitting (straight-upright) on the floor. Raising the height of the whole layout might happen in the future, however I need to build the second layer before I’ll know if that’s a good idea or not. To be continued, many months from now…

    For my main construction material, I decided to use plywood instead of MDF (medium density fiberboard). MDF doesn’t warp, is quite sturdy, and absorbs sound better; however it’s also heavy… and when you cut MDF it generates a literal cloud of superfine sawdust. Sawdust that contains formaldahyde, a carcinogen, which will settle everywhere, over everything. I know this because I made the mistake of cutting MDF indoors when I was in high school, and afterwards I was finding dust from it for years. MDF definitely has major advantage in terms of planarity and acoustics, but I knew that I would need to make many cuts to the railroad boards in situ, and that superfine sawdust was a major no-no for a room that can’t be sealed off from the rest of the house. That, and MDF will totally eat sawblades like candy, and I plan to use my jigsaw to cut curves and special shapes. Plywood, despite the downside of warpage, will have to work. At least at $16 per 4’x8′ sheet, plywood is also cheap!

    I’ve been asking myself the question, “how am I going to build this layout so that it can disassemble in the future?” The solution I came up with was to use plywood sheets as a base that will attach to the benchwork. Any risers, subroadbed, and extra layers above will attach to the plywood sheets, rather than attaching directly to the benchwork. Any screws which attach the benchwork to the plywood base will come in through the bottom, so that by unscrewing those, I can lift off the layout in sections for removal. I won’t learn if this was a smart idea or not until I start building extra layers. Hopefully the answer will be yes. I suppose that all hinges on how securely I attach everything to the plywood base.

    On Saturday I pushed hard for most of the day and completed essentially all of the round one woodworking. I was really hoping to throw on some track and get a train running before bedtime, but then I went to search for my track spikes and they were… absolutely nowhere to be found. I tore open every box and looked twice. Nothing! No spikes, only exasperation! So Sunday I visited a local hobby shop and picked up what I needed. When we got home and I started working on the track I was reminded of a few rules of model railroad construction that I had completely forgotten about:

    1. for every track spike that goes in nice and easy, there are 5 that instantly get bent up in 7 directions and are totally useless. Somehow you delude yourself into thinking “hey, I can still save this, I can make it work!”
    2. old flex track loves to destroy itself if you try to force it into a curve while partially nailed down or constrained; the plastic ties snap off and you’re left with a broken section that has to be cut away
    3. anytime you cut a piece of rail, it will fly across the entire house, ricocheting off every wall and landing who knows where
    4. soldering a stretch of flex track together while straight, and then attempting to bend it into a curve later is a bad idea (see #2)
    5. brand new rail joiners are, like, impossible to get on. Anticipate raw thumbs.

    Alright, so now that I’ve remembered those rules, maybe life will be easier going forward. I got my loop built and broke out my awesome new MTH Bipolars for a victory lap! It was at this point that, as the title of the post says, it occured to me that there is no single moment of triumph, because a well-running railroad doesn’t just magically happen. It’s a process to get there. I could get the Bipolar to run around a couple times without derailing, but the trackwork, even with its very wide curves, had minor imperfections–and minor imperfections in 1:57 scale are actually not just minor imperfections. Track is FUSSY. For Serious.

    I got out the Hiawatha and attempted to run that, and got another rude awakening: A single bipolar can pull only about 7-8 cars around a 24″ radius curve. And this is on level ground, nevermind all the hills I’m about to introduce. Super Dome derailments started happening where nothing else came off. Okay, time to add a rerailer–I don’t know how I thought I could get away without one of those in the first place! Fixed the one problem spot… found a new problem spot. Then I started getting uncouplings due to track passing over two adjoining sections of plywood which weren’t exactly matched in height. Ahhhh, it’s all coming back to me now, the trials and tribulations of fine-tuning and troubleshooting the tracks!

    The track problems are not such a big deal. Every layout will need to overcome those. And of major responsibilty for this is the fact that I was rushing to get it built, rather than taking my time and being mindful to create smooth, perfect joinings between sections. I should know better than that. So those problems can all be replaced, reworked, and overcome. But I’m a bit more concerned about the Bipolar’s inability to pull much on level track. If I double-head them, that’ll increase the power but I’m not sure by how much. There are a few other options such as adding lead weights to increase locomotive traction, and a product called Bullfrog Snot (seriously), which adds grip to the wheels. But if it turns out that even two Bipolars can’t haul a 9-10 car train up the grades & curves I’m planning, well, that’s a real bummer. Time will tell.

    Also somewhat of another setback, the E1 with the cool paint scheme seems to have some kind of issue. It runs sort of jerky. Going to have to look into that. I’m sure it can be fixed, but just another thing to take care of before I can relax and enjoy the empire as I have dreamed it… Well, this is step #0001 I suppose. There’s a whole lot more to do!!

    Let’s Overanalyze: The Hubbell & Hudson Lobster Club Sandwich


    2012 - 06.19

    It’s no secret that I’m a fiend for an esoteric sandwich.  I’ve been a regular sandwich-devotee my whole life and eventually you just get to a point where something out of the ordinary seems appealing.  Some of the more atypical combinations I’ve enjoyed would include a turkey-gorgonzola-pear, a chicken-apples-honey-mustard, and a turkey-brie-blackberry-jam.  That’s right.  I gets down on those funky combinations.

    There’s a great grocery store/bistro north of Houston called Hubbell & Hudson where we’ve been frequenting the weekend brunch for quite some time now.  Their menu runs the gamut between ‘items and pricing that might be appealing to any schmoe who walks in the door’ and totally goes out into the netherworld of ‘items and pricing that you’d need to be ultrasnooty and/or ultrarich to do anything but laugh at’.  Somewhere in the middle of this spectrum lies the entree in question here, one “lobster club” sandwich for $18.

    You may be thinking, jeez, eighteen bucks for a sandwich, that’s kind of a lot.  Yes.  Yes it is.  You’d totally be right to think that.  I’ve been eyeing this thing up for the better part of a year now, wondering what it might be like.  The sandwich pedant in me was thoroughly intrigued.  Yet every Saturday that finds us in a booth listening to the horn sections of the Rat Pack, I can never resist breakfast: french toast with bananas & blueberries in a sweet rum sauce, or the traditional eggs/bacon/potatoes done-up food-geek style.  It’s a masterfully crafted breakfast that comes in at around $30 for two people, which is next-to-impossible to pass up.

    However last weekend my girl and I went out to a Saturday morning matinee showing of the Beatles Yellow Submarine movie, which as an aside was super-duper-badass to see in a movie theater.  They had the sound thumping and the quality was great-to-excellent.  Seeing the newly-remastered version in high-def on a theater screen was worth about 5 to 10 times the $5 matinee ticket price.  I think this may be a blu-ray purchase in the future–but I digress back to the sandwiches–we thusly arrived at Hubbell & Hudson having been awake for a few hours already, as opposed to my usual wake-up, roll-over, drive to breakfast routine.  “This is it, it’s today or never,” I said.

     

    The sandwich arrived panini-style pressed, built out of bacon, avocado, arugula, and maine lobster meat.  Spread onto opposing halves of the bakery bread there was both “plugra butter” whatever that is, and also chipotle aioli.  Those two sauces blended together as a pleasing duet.  As accoutrements, there was a stack of what I’d call “seasoned potatoe wedges”, but the menu opaquely listed as “frites”.  From the waiter I requested either mayo or ranch for frite dippin duty and happily received both.  In the presence of both choices I typically go for ranch, but their mayo was mighty tasty.  In typical H&H fashion, I think it was not plain-old-mayo but probably like “dijon-scallion-reduction-mayonaise” or something.  They can never just leave well enough alone, and that’s part of why we like them.

    I’m not sure I can even recall the last time I had lobster, so that in itself was something of a treat.  I ate the sandwich slow, savoring this outlandish, impractical creation.  It only took a few bites to reach an assessment: this is what a full $18 tastes like.  H&H does bacon correct; crisp and smokey, just crunchy but not burnt.  The avocado, a fruit notoriously fickle and often bland, had flavor.  The arugula broke the boring mold of lettuce–that sandwich equivalent of celery (flavorless, pointless stuff that makes noise when you eat it).  And the lobster itself was quite excellent.  Still cold too, in spite of the hot panini imprint on the loaf surrounding it.  Two long toothpicks thankfully held this whole affair together as I methodically devoured.

    image

    So it was an expensive sandwich, sure, but not an overpriced one–there was genuinely $18 worth of ingredients and flavor present and accounted for here.  That’s unlike what that you get from say, Murphy’s Deli or Schlotzkis or any of those so-called “premium” shops, where you end up paying like $9-12 for lunch and yeah the sandwich is good, but be real; there’s no way it’s $12 of goodness.  That, and it really wouldn’t be tough at all to hit up the grocery store and craft a sandwich at home that could blow the doors off those, probably for much less money if you calculated the cost of ingredients-per-sandwich.

    The lobster club, on the other hand, sits in a different category.  If you tried to reproduce this configuration at home, it’s doubtful you could do it for an equivalent price OR even with equivalent quality, which is the true measure of its worth.  Would I get it again?  Possibly in a few months if I could resist the allure of H&H breakfast.  Would I recommend it?  Unequivocally.  While ostensibly intended for aristocracy, it’s not out of reach for the working man who’s craving something special, and having thusly invested his funds, none shall be disappointed in the craftsmanship and component quality behind this superb meal.

    Verdict: 9/10

    Space News Quarterly


    2012 - 06.01

    A few space related odds and ends:

    Another awesome interview with Level 60 Exoplanet Wizard Geoff Marcy, from Wired Science. He talks about how he’s leaving the Kepler planet hunt and joining the SETI team, which is pretty sweet. He goes on to describe how alien civilizations probably use lasers to communicate–highly directed beams of signals–and that we’ve been beaming lasers into space ourselves, ironically from the adaptive optics systems of large telescopes! It’s a cool read, check it out:

    There’s also a cool interview with the outgoing SETI champion, Jill Tarter, who is stepping down from the leadership role to concentrate more on fundraising for SETI, which is good to hear. She cites last year’s shutdown of the Allen Telescope Array as a wakeup call–I’ll bet it was. As written about previously on here, they’re looking to do more crowdsourcing and other creative ways of securing the finances to continue their important work, and that’s a smart choice.

    Last thing I’ll highlight is that last week the SpaceX Dragon capsule at last docked with the ISS. That’s a significant event in space exploration, purely because until now only Japan, NASA, Russia, and the ESO had sent spacecraft there–all large governmental organizations. This docking is a feat of engineering and it’s really cool that SpaceX has gotten that far along.