Sunday, May 28, 2006

Understanding Celsius

Since we're moving into the hot part of the year, I thought I'd take a moment to talk about temperature. Celsius, in particular.

I know a lot of people who are otherwise happy with the idea of going to metric (and don't get me started on the irrational stubborness of my country with respect to this subject) who are, however, adverse to Celsius.

Generally the reasons fall into the category of vague objections that it's too imprecise or something like that. Certainly those were the excuses that I used to give. I think that the real reason is that it's simply not intuitive for someone raised with Fahrenheit. When you're accustomed to 80 degreed being hot, 30 degrees just doesn't sound right. This is compounded by the fact that there's no good rule of thumb for conversions. It's one thing to say that a meter is about a yard, that a kilogram is about 2 pounds, that a kilometer is a little over half a mile, and so forth, but to get from C to F you have to add 32 and then multiply by 1.8 (and do the inverse, of course, to get from F to C).

Fortunately, I came across the following conversion that doesn't bother with degrees. The temperatures are in Celsius:

    40   - Very Hot
30 - Hot
20 - Warm
10 - Cool
0 - Chilly
-10 - Cold
-20 - Very cold
-30 - Frostbite weather
As you can see, every 10 degrees Celsium represents one perceptual shift in temperature.
Not only is this nicely intuitive but, once you start to think in these terms, it becomes obvious that Fahrenheit really isn't that intuitive after all.

That said, it's about 25 degrees outside, so I think that I'm going to go out and enjoy the beautiful weather we're having. Have a good Memorial Day weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Little Too Good to be True

I received the following bit of email floatsam recently:

German Parking Garage

This is pretty amazing! Can you imagine how all this operates? How do they lock each car in its cubicle for safety.

Talk about German efficiency! The two photos below were taken at a new parking garage in Munich. The actual space that the facility occupies is approximately only 20% of a comparable facility with the traditional design that is used primarily in the US. Not only is the German structure less expensive to build, but vehicles are also "retrieved" in less time and without the potential of being damaged by an attendant.
The email was accompanied by these two rather amazing photos.

I thought that this was a rather cool idea, not least because I had a similar idea a while ago. Of course, I wanted to pass this along, but I wanted to see if I could find a quicktime version of these pictures so that you could all see the thing in action.

It's good that I did. When I did my search, the first page to come up with was Snopes, which is a site that debunks Urban Legends. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. Were these just photoshops? Fortunately, it's not quite that bad. The pictures are real, but it isn't a garage. It's a Volkswagan storage facility for new cars in Wolfsberg, Germany.

The real story is actually pretty cool. The Wolfberg facility is kind of a cross between a dealership and a theme park (with shops, cinemas, restaurants, and various attractions). When you take possession of your new car, it's fetched from the tower.

So, instead of a story about German efficiency, it's a story about German whimsy. How often do you come across one of those?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Unsolicited Musings

I swear that it is not my goal to turn this into the Honor Harrington Cover Art blog, but my friend Rob, who was much inspired, created a mock up (in more than one sense of the word) of his own Harrington art using City of Heroes and Photoshop. I particularly like the shoulder kitty. (Click the pic for a larger image)

Rob is also the owner of an excellent site that's part blog, part web page. Among other things he has quite a lot of essays as well as some top notch game reviews. Be sure to check it out.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Quick Health Update

I know that some of you are interested in knowing whether I'm about to keel over or not, so here's a quick update on what's going on. I still have a 6mm stone but the doctor's have decided to let it sit. In another 6 months I'm to get another round of x-rays. In the meanwhile, we're just going to let it sit and (I hope) stay put.

I did get an insurance scare. I got a bill for around $7,400 with a note that Kaiser would pay $3,400 of it. The thought that I was suddenly responsible for $4,000 made me seriously wonder if I would need a second job. It turns out that it was a misprint. The actual bill was only $74.00. I suppose that if it had to be off two orders of magnitude, it's better that it was in my favor. I can just imagine how I'd feel if the corrected amount was $740,000. That would be the point where, ironically, I'd be selling my own organs on the black market.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Evolution of Honor

The feedback of my critique of the cover art for Honor at War has inspired me to do a brief retrospective of the covers for the entire Honor Harrington series. Click the pix for larger images.

Honor stars in a gender-bending version of HMS Pinafore. It's also clear that, when she gets old and grey, she's going to be the absolutely scariest cat-lady in the whole damned universe.

I'm not sure if Honor is going through a Goth phase, here, or if she's just really tired because she stayed up way too late listening to emo rock.

It was big, floppy beret day down at the local minor league ball park.

Uh oh, Michael Jackson's got a gun! We'd better beat it!

Honor as some kind of pirate/samurai (if only she were a pirate/ninja). She'd better be careful or that amulet around her neck is going to put her eye out.

"Don't bother me with war talk, I'm on a conference call."

Honor as an ascended being with a very bad case of stellar acne.

Honor takes some time out from battle to sit in the world's most uncomfortable optometrist's chair. Notice that the video thingy in front of her is displaying the image on the side facing away from her eye?

What did I tell you? She put her eye out.

Oh, no! Honor's disembodied head has been grafted to the Death Star and they're assaulting it with techno-dildos!

Either she's dropping LSD or she fell into the Matrix.*

*It's been noted that this last one isn't part of the Honorverse, and that's correct (note my clever use of "she" instead of Honor), but I wanted to include it anyway, not least because it looks so much like a Harrington cover that it really ought to be one.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Unstructured Trends

Google has a nifty new toy in their lab called Google Trends which gives you a running graph of how many hits a particularly search term has gotten over time (it also correlated it with new hits and a regional breakdown).

As with all right minded people, I fear the return of the Great Old Ones. Until now, however, one could never know where Cthulhu's dread cultists were congregating. Thanks to Google Trends, we can see that they're mainly located in Helsinki. (You can click the pic for a larger image.)

I never did trust those Finnish bastards!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Unstructured Commentary

If you read science fiction, you've probably heard about Baen. And if you're familiar with Baen, you're probably familiar with David Weber. In case you aren't, imagine that Tom Clancy was a science fiction writer (and that he had the prolificacy of Stephen King) and you've got the general idea of what he's about.

Weber most famous series is the Honor Harrington series, which is loosely based on the Horatio Hornblower novels. The eponymous heroine of the story is one of those hypercompetent individuals that one only ever finds in military fiction (and spy novels, to be fair). She, and her sentient "tree-cat" companion go from humble beginnings, through victory after victory, until she's very nearly a demi-god among mortals.

But I'm not here to talk about that. Rather than judging the books, I thought that I'd judge a cover. Baen has a non-enviable reputation for producing the ugliest dust jackets in the genre. This is even taking into account the lamentable 70s when every cover looked like something out of a geeky acid trip. The cover for the latest Harrington novel, At All Costs, however, sets a new record for sheer god-awfulness.

The covers for most of the novels depict Honor with some sort of resolute and determined expression. She's usually in uniform and her hair is generally pulled back. Typically, there's some sort of space battle going on in the background (see the example in the upper-right). In the new book, however, the illustrator decided to go in a different direction. Instead of the standard-issue military pose, we have a sort of Madonna and Child (and book) thing going on. Honor has let her hair down, ditched the uniform, and picked up a kid (you can probably guess the relationship, but I don't want to be accused of spoilers).

The first thing that makes it a bit creepy is the look on her face. I think that they were trying to go for something maternal but what we actually get is a vague, slightly cross-eyed expression that makes her look like she's been lobotomized. But what really pushes it over the edge is her tree-cat. Understand that the tree-cat is supposed to be a good character. The picture, however, makes it look like some sort of Satanic imp. The fact that it's dangling a dangerously pointy bauble within arm's reach of an innocent (indeed, archetypical) baby only adds to the air of malevolence. Clearly this hell-spawned beast has bewitched our beloved Honor and is now preparing to claim the soul of the child as well!

I've included a picture just so you can see for yourself that I'm not exaggerating. Try not to have any nightmares.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Dork Tale

It came to pass, one day, that the Lord of Dorkness, who was having a horrible snit, called together his three favored minions.

"Attend to me, O minions," said the Dork Lord, "for we have a grave situation. Sir Mix-a-Lot's accursed song, Baby Got Back, is still cool!"

His minions gasped and exclaimed, "But how can that be? Did we not commission a Latin version to rob it of its coolness?"

"Alas, our plan has backfired. People are enjoying the Latin version as hip, post-ironic geek chic!

"Oh, the post-irony!," they cried.

There was a great wailing and gnashing of braces and retainers, then, but the Dork One held up his hand and said, "Enough! We must try again. Minion 1, what do you suggest?"

Minion 1 pushed up his thick rimmed glasses by the masking tape that bound the cloven halves of it together and said, "Let us create a new version. A version sung by a talentless white guy with a ridiculous street name."

"Ah yes," said the Lord of Dorkness, "the Vanilla Ice gambit. This is good, but it is not enough. Minion 2, speak!"

Minion 2 fidgited with his slide rule for a minute before saying, "We must also make a video. A bad video with horrible production value."

"This, too, is good, but not good enough. What of you, Minion 3?"

Minion 3, who was called the Anti-Fonzie, straightened his bow tie and took a hit from his inhaler as he thought deeply. Finally he spoke and said, "My Lord, we must change the song. We must remove all traces of fun and sexiness from it. Let us make it wholesome, and not merely wholesome, but a song about religious values. Let us turn it into a Christian rap song about..."

He paused and pondered.

"Let us make it about reading the Bible!"

The Dork Lord chuckle/snorted and said, "My true and faithful servants, you have pleased me well. Let us create this uncool thing. We shall call it Baby Got Book".

And so it came to be.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Religion in America

I found this chart of religious belief by county. Before anyone writes in, there's a few things that bother me. First of all is that the percentages are based off of adherants of "religious bodies that participated in a study by Association of Staticians of American Religious Bodies". Even assuming no bias, I don't think that attendence in church / temple / what have you can be considered an accurate gauge of belief or, for that matter, non-belief. I also don't like the granularity of the results and the numerical divisions seem odd, to me.

Be that as it may, this does, more or less, match my expectations, for whatever that's worth. I suggest taking it with a grain of salt but I find it interesting, all the same.

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