Monday, November 24, 2008

Million Dollar Ideas #2

Ok, I have another one, since Ben & Jerry's apparently have already taken my first one.

This one is in the improbable field of automobile design. I say "improbable" because lots of people have lots of ideas about improving the automobile, but the car companies generally don't buy in. So those who have money build their own, and those who don't, never have their ideas go mainstream.

One neat idea I like but can't find the link to was a guy in India who basically just carved an "X" in the tops of the cylinders, causing more turbulence in the fuel-air mixture, better burning, etc. He could do away with the transmission entirely, because the power output was high enough. Or something. It was in Popular Mechanics at some point.

Anyway, my idea is a take-off on another Indian innovation: the air car. Instead of storing electicity in a battery, they store highly compressed air, and use its kinetic energy to run the motor. As a bonus, the air coming out is supercooled, so it works as an air conditioner, too. The slight downside is that they have to make the car superlight, and even then it only has a range of about 125 miles.

My idea: hybrid. Like the Prius, but with the air cylinder instead of a battery. Why is it good? Because it's more efficient to store mechanical energy as air pressure than it is to convert it to electricity and back. Also, batteries are heavy and expensive. And dangerous, although I'm not sure that a super-high-pressure cannister is really safe. I imagine you get a pretty big kaboom if that gets punctured.

But there it is. Run with it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Million Dollar Ideas #1

You know those ideas you get every so often, for things that could make a million dollars, if only you could manage to make them a reality? Yeah, I'm going to start posting mine here. So if you are one of those people who can do anything but doesn't get ideas like this, feel free to steal mine and make it happen.

Then send me some money.

One I've had for a long time: ice cream koozies. Insulated holders for ice cream pints, especially. It would also be nice to have them for half-gallons, at ice cream socials. But it would be really great to have them for the pints, because they melt way too fast on the outside while they're still too hard to spoon in the middle. And they freeze your hand if you're eating right out of the pint.

Which I never do. But some people must, right?

The Fickle Flame of FlickrFame

This weekend was quite unusual for me regarding our Flickr photostream. First, a photo I posted made Explore. That's a set of 500 of the photos loaded each day that Flickr's algorithms find to be the most interesting. I've had a few photos in the high 400s, but nobody notices those. This one ranked as high as 71 (we monitored its progress at various times over the weekend) before falling (which is to say other photos gained interestingness, relative to mine) to — as of this writing — #179. Still pretty respectable, and satisfying, but not the most significant thing to happen. [Update: I see it has dropped off of Explore altogether.]

The other Flickr happening was that a photo I posted in March 2007 started getting marked as a "favorite" by people. I couldn't figure out why; I hadn't posted it to any new groups or done anything to give it attention. Looking more closely at its stats, I was astonished to see it had 12,000 views. That's 10x as many views as my next most-viewed image. I added a query to the photo's description, asking visitors to tell me why there was this sudden avalanche of viewers. The answer was posted almost immediately: Digg.

Digg is a site that helps people find interesting stuff on the web. Somebody finds something they think is interesting, and they report it to Digg. As other people check it out, they upvote or downvote it, causing it to become more or less prominent in the Digg listings. Somehow (possibly in a search for turkey images for Thanksgiving), someone found my image, and Digged it. After a while, it made it to the front page, and I was getting hundreds of views a minute. This went on for several hours, before it finally fell off the front page, and my turkey picture had over 60,000 views.

As it happens, the one other photo I'm aware of that made Digg's front page wound up with over 100,000 views. It was worth it.

Shelly and I both had fun watching the progress of these two images. The excitement has ended, now. Maybe one day I'll have another photo in Explore, but I doubt the Digg frenzy will be repeated.

I guess I've had my 15 minutes. It was fun while it lasted.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Making Predictions

Well, we lost. By "we", I mean America. Bought into a fantasy. It's the Nigerian 419 scam of American politics, and I'm just wondering how much we're going to pour into it before we realize it's not going to work out as promised.

Republicans can take a breather: they don't control anything in Washington. In that regard, it's similar to 1992. Two years later, the Republican Revolution came as the American public realized it's not a Good Thing to give unsupervised control of the cookie jar to those who act like it's bottomless. Maybe that will happen again. I don't see any reason to believe that Democrats have learned to be fiscally responsible, ethical, or in-touch. Sadly, Republicans have not lived up to their promises to be different in those areas, which is why it has come to this.

As for the Obama administration, I expect it to be ironically George W. Bush-like. He's every bit the privileged autocrat that W has been. It will be partisan. It will paint the opposition as un-American. It will probably go significantly further to stifle dissent, a prediction I base on the blinding hatred exhibited by so many of his supporters. It's pervasive and is encouraged more than condemned.

I used to wonder why liberals decried talk radio as "hate radio". There's very little hate in it. Lots of criticism, a fair amount of anger, but very little hate. I can only conclude that they are projecting their own hate for it as coming from it. So I think there will be a big push to shut it down, because they do hate opposing voices.

Predictions for Republicans: I think there will be some level of ODS, the Obama variant of BDS, but I don't think it will be as pervasive, because we've seen how ugly it is. Conservative hate groups are more reviled and marginalized by Republicans than those of the left are by Democrats. And maybe there's more nobility among Republican ranks.

I guess we'll see.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Caring for the enfeebled

Shelly had surgery on Monday. Nothing life-threatening, and she's doing fine, though still a little slow, unsteady, and easily tired. Perfectly normal for post-surgery.

It was supposed to be day surgery, where she'd go home on Monday afternoon, but you can't go home after surgery until you've voided your bladder, and hers wasn't playing along. So we slept in the hospital that night. It wasn't real comfortable, but I'm pretty sure she was more uncomfortable than I was. And I had to hold her hand through several undignified procedures on Tuesday before things were good enough for her to be released.

It was a happy evening, Tuesday, being at home.

Wednesday, I worked a few hours on our side of town. Thursday, I took her in to her office for a wellness screening (irony!) that couldn't be postponed, took her back home, and went to my normal office. Today, I'm working on my side of town, which is usual for Fridays.

She's making fairly steady progress at being more mobile and going longer between needing to rest. Meanwhile, I'm handling most domestic issues (which, again, is not to say that I want to change places with her). Well, the ones that are being done. Which is to day that the place is something of a wreck. But we're both eating, sleeping, and taking care of personal hygiene, so it's not too bad.

She told me I've done a good job taking care of her, so I'm pretty happy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bach performance this Sunday!

Sheesh, the primary purpose of this blog is to announce when I've got a performance coming up, and I just let this one sit and wait until I had something to write about it.

6pm, at Christ the King Lutheran Church
Bach Choir, orchestra, and soloists. We'll be singing a Bach cantata, a little Telemann, and a piece by Hiller. Guest conductor Gotthold Schwarz (who speaks virtually no English) has whipped us into pretty good shape. So it should be worth a listen.

The pipe organ at the church was damaged by hurricane Ike, so it won't be in use until next year. The orchestra is playing on period instruments (i.e., the forms the instruments had when Bach was composing), which is both interesting to see and to hear.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Strangely relevant

This magazine cover was on the wall at the train station for the Mount Washington Cog Railway. If our economy were a mountain-climbing train, it would be heading down the mountain. Not on the rails, because the trestles collapsed.

Anyway, I'm looking for a "housing spurt" any day now.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Back from New Hampshire

And Vermont and Maine. But mostly New Hampshire. We did many things and took many pictures, and they'll appear on our website when we've done all the necessary editing. For now, here's a nice shot of Shelly walking up the road by the Norwich B&B, where we stayed our first night.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Feeling empowered

Yesterday, on day 13 of the power outage, having seen no activity in our neighborhood to clear the tree debris or restore power up to that point, it felt pretty good to come home to trucks lining the main street all the way down.

It felt like hope. They were going to do it. They were putting a lot of manpower into it, not just a token crew or two.

Sadly, it did not happen that night. The houses on the other side of the street got their electricity, but not our side. There were poles that needed to be fixed. It would take another day.

Ok, we can go another day. An even fortnight. Get a little more use out of the generator.

Today, we came home and watched them work on the poles. Then we watched trucks exit the neighborhood. It looked like it wasn't going to be tonight, either. But it was closer. I had Bach Choir rehearsal.

When I came home, we had power. And internet service. What a relief! There's another section of our block where the poles are even worse off, and it will be another day or more for them. At least we can lend somebody a generator.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Waiting for power

We're fine. The house is fine. Hurricane Ike was more of a natural inconvenience than a natural disaster for our house. The part of the fence that has needed replacing for years was blown down and will finally be replaced. Other than that, no repairs on our property. You know why? No trees.

But it sure would be nice to have electricity again. We live in an area you might expect to get power quickly: on the west side of town, very near the 610 loop. Not heavily-damaged, not way out in the suburbs. But we don't have much in the way of big retail centers to give us a high priority, and there are a number of trees down on lines, which does make the difficulty higher (pushing us down the priority list). Centerpoint expects us to be restored "by Thursday". My bet was Wednesday, Shelly bet Friday.

Shelly was in Houston for Hurricane Alicia in 1983. She fondly* recalls 11 days without power. It appears we will be breaking that record, although we're a few weeks later, and thus don't have the oppressive heat they had.
We bought a generator, to keep the deep freeze going. It also keeps the fish in our tank and pond alive, and gives us some light when it's dark out. But it doesn't run the air conditioner, and it's pretty balmy out. We're taking a lot of rinse-off showers to cool down.

What did we do in the week after Ike hit? Well, first, we went out in the rain and raked debris out of the storm drains. Then out of the gutters. Our neighborhood drains pretty well, anyway, but it's always better to have the drain paths clear. Then we helped some neighbors clean up the debris (dropped from trees, of course) in their yard, cut up big limbs, that sort of thing.

Over the next few days, we hosted several cookouts, to make use of perishables and get the neighbors together. They were pleasant, and I recommend that sort of thing as a coping strategy. Very positive.

We didn't drive anywhere for several days. We weren't supposed to, so we didn't. Gasoline was in short supply, and traffic lights were generally out. Other people couldn't resist the urge to drive around. A lot. When we did take the car out, on Tuesday, it was because Southwest Fertilizer had generators, and we were ready to buy one. And later in the week, we bought some groceries.

People who didn't prepare for the storm and thus had to leave home within the first three days to buy groceries. If you didn't prepare the way you were told to, you're part of the problem. Stay home. Don't use gasoline. Don't endanger people with your vehicle on uncontrolled, debris-strewn roads. Three days is not such a terribly long time to stay at home.

People who were under mandatory evacuation orders who didn't leave and now are receiving top priority in relief efforts. The only assistance they should get is help getting out. We should not be channeling resources to areas that are supposed to be empty, we should be putting all efforts into restoring the areas where people were told to stay.

People who blame Centerpoint for their miseries. Yeah, you don't have power. You and two million other people. Deal with it. Don't shout epithets at the people who are trying to help you. And don't hurl abuse at the people who are telling you which lane you have to drive in to get free ice. Grow up. You're not two anymore.

Trees. Ok, not trees, generally. I like trees, generally. They're pretty. They sequester carbon. They give birds places to hang out, apart from power lines. But the notion of an "urban forest" has its drawbacks. Trees in and around power lines are bad. Brittle trees (Arizona ash, Chinese tallow), trees that shed lots of crap in storms (water oak), and ginormous trees (sycamore, pine) are all bad ideas around houses and expensive stuff. Our urban forest should be made of smaller trees.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Friday, September 5, 2008

Adding a state

I haven't been everywhere (man), but Shelly and I are planning to add a couple of states to our experience list: Vermont and Maine. Still haven't been to New York.

You can make your own visited states map here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

How Obama is like George W. Bush

I don't intend this to be a political blog, but I'm feeling the need to post something, and I have this idea in my head.

Because Obama is running primarily on the platform of being the alternative to four more years of George W. Bush, I started thinking how much like Dubya (the candidate) he is:

  • Identified strongly with an initial
  • That initial, with American flag stylization, is the campaign logo
  • Known to be good at prepared speaking, stumble a lot when speaking extemporaneously
  • Not a lot of experience
  • Chose an older, more-experienced crony for his running mate
  • Hammers a central message, tries not to stray from it
  • Record-breaking campaign contributions
  • Party platform
  • History of use of intoxicants, given up long ago

Got others? Post 'em in the comments.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pondering the signs

As I mentioned earlier, I'm not doing theater for the rest of this year. But I received an audition notice in my email that really made me wonder:

Main Street Theater will hold musical auditions by appointment only on Saturday, September 6 for its upcoming production of THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA. The production will begin rehearsals December 8 to open January 8 and run through January 25. [...] There is one (male) non-singing role.


Readings for the non-singing role will be held at later in the week, but please let us know if you are interested in auditioning for that role.

Margaret Johnson - an elegant, self-possessed middle-aged American woman
Clara Johnson – her twenty-six-year-old daughter, young and na├»ve for her age
Fabrizio Naccarelli – twenty-year-old, good looking and charming Florentine
Guiseppe Naccarelli – Fabrizio’s slightly older brother
Franca Naccarelli – Guiseppe’s wife
Signor Naccarelli – Fabrizio’s father
Signora Naccarelli – Fabrizio’s mother
Roy Johnson – Margaret’s husband (a non-singing role)

Wait, what? How can I not audition for this role? Can you imagine checking the program to see who's playing "Roy Johnson", and it's Roy Johnson?

And is there a deeper meaning here? Why is the only non-singing role the one with my name? Is this character actually the opposite of me?

Oh, if you're interested in auditioning:

To schedule an audition, please call 713-524-3622 X106 or email

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Advocating science in nutrition

The Pollyanna Institute for Comforting Conjecture (I my have gotten the name slightly wrong) has a smear campaign going against Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. CSPI publishes Nutrition Action Healthletter, to which Shelly and I subscribe. We heartily recommend it; we have bought a number of subscriptions for our friends who are interested in current research on nutrition.

CSPI is best known for bringing to light how surprisingly unhealthy a lot of foods are, like movie popcorn and Chinese takeout. The Healthletter goes into a bit more depth, picking a topic or two a month and reviewing the science behind it. A lot of nutritional information is put out by companies selling products, and CSPI examines the supporting studies. Not surprisingly, they are often industry-funded, and the results are inconclusive, but the companies make sweeping and unjustifiable claims based on them.

The Pollyanna Institute apparently has a problem with consumers being informed about what science actually says. CSPI concerns itself with whether studies are well-designed, repeated, and conclusive. The Pollyanna Institute concerns itself with whether they can contrive some way to believe what they want to believe.

Case in point: they quote a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that claims the CDC says obesity would cure itself it kids would just exercise as much as they used to (I cannot find where the CDC says any such thing). Hey, it says what they want to believe. Never mind that it's not true — kids today consume more calories than they used to, so they'd have to exercise more than they used to. Never mind that it's easier to stop buying sugary junk than it is to change their lifestyle.

They beef that Jacobson pays only lip service to exercise (another lie), and focuses on nutrition. Meanwhile, they completely dismiss the role of nutrition, suggesting that Michael Phelps' diet is a fine model, if only we burn those calories. I wonder why they chose Michael Phelps, rather than someone who followed their advice for the longer term, like Jim Fixx? Maybe it's because Fixx died of a massive heart attack at age 52, and that isn't really the message that makes them feel comfortable. Sure, he had a family history of heart disease, but a lot of people do. Nutrition has a role to play in controlling that. Exercise clearly wasn't enough.

But if you want to eat like Michael Phelps and have his world-beating health, there are just three simple things you need to do:
  1. Be under 30
  2. Get six hours a day of strenuous exercise
  3. Have Phelps' athletic genes

You may find that to be a challenge, but you can see it's well worth it. So get out there and make it happen. Oh, steroids also help people be world-class athletes, so you might try them, too. The Pollyanna Institute's reasoning gives a pretty clear endorsement.

Some things I've learned from actual nutritional studies:

  1. Take a vitamin-D supplement. 1000mg of D3 a day is recommended. There are a lot of supplements that have not been shown to have much benefit to health. Vitamin D has. It is cheap.
  2. Take a fish-oil supplement (unless you eat oily fish several times a week). You should eat salmon and other fatty fish, too, but chances are you don't do so often enough to obviate the usefulness of a supplement.
  3. Take resveratrol. The human studies aren't complete, but the results in other critters are so astounding that it's just worthwhile.

We get our vitamin D and fish oil at Sam's Club, and our resveratrol at VitaCost.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Back to Bach

Rehearsals resume tomorrow with the Bach Choir. Our first vespers performance is September 28 at 6pm, at Christ The King Lutheran Church, 2353 Rice Blvd., as always. Soloists are Melissa Givens, Randy Lacy, and Paul Busselberg. They're all wonderful, so come if you can.
An interesting feature about this season is that we'll be recording a CD. This will be the first CD produced since I've been with the group. The recording sessions will happen the day-or-two after each performance, so we'll be at our most prepared.
And in other news, Joe informs me that HITS Theater will be doing Disney's Beauty and the Beast for their spring show at Miller Outdoor Theater. I don't know how he knows this, but it's my top contender for next production to audition for.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Missing Theater

Welcome to my blog!

That's sort of the requisite opening for the inaugural post, isn't it? What are the chances that anyone will read it? :^)

Well, anyway, what I'm up to is "missing theater". It's part of a familiar cycle: when the show's over, you miss it. It's a little like going home from summer camp. There's a period of adjusting to "normal" life and wishing you could still be doing the show. Actually, I'm pretty much over it, now. It was worse after Beauty and the Beast, because my role was bigger and more fun.

The latest show, if you missed it, was My Fair Lady. I played Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the fatuous young man who falls for Eliza, and whom she considers marrying, but doesn't. The chief requirement for Freddy is that he be a good singer, since about half of his time onstage is spent singing "On The Street Where You Live". Pictures (and video clip) are at the link.