Friday, September 19, 2008

Jill is on BoingBoing!

Well, actually, it is the Pirate Issue of Shimmer Magazine, featured on BoingBoing. There is an image of the cover, and Jill's name is right there! Woohoo!

In celebration of International Talk Like A Pirate Day, which is today, Shimmer Magazine is offering a free electronic edition of the Pirate Issue. Only for the rest of the day, though, which is fast approaching its end.

Ahoy mateys! Get yer Shimmer Magazine download!

UPDATE - As of Saturday, September 20, the free giveaway link still works. If you like what you see, please support the folks at Shimmer Magazine by buying an actual printed copy from their website. I should also note that the Pirate Issue is a year old, and Shimmer hasn't been standing still. Their more current issues are here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Best Wedding Clothes

I am not usually a fan of wedding clothing, but this deserves special mention. The link takes you to cayusa's Flickr photstream, and a photo apparently from a science fiction convention called Dragon Con.

Jill and I need to get costumes like this for this upcoming Hallowe'en!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Digital Photo Processing

Perhaps some of you are getting the idea that I am finding excuses not to blog about our summer vacation, possibly because you might believe that the task of combing through nearly 7 thousand photographs to illustrate our five weeks (in two parts) is such a daunting task. You would be correct.

In the meantime, as a leadup, and coutesy of Mike, I am providing some before and after comparisons of photos taken with Mike's Nikon at the recent Geek Dinner -- the raw images which I posted earlier, and those same images after Mike took them and did some digital processing.

The white balance and color tweaks were done in Lightroom 2. Noise reduction and smoothing was done in Photoshop.

Do-Ming and Jill - unprocessed. Check out the good looking guy on the left.

Do-Ming and Jill - enhanced. Now you can tell that the better looking one is actually on the right.

Corwin and Ben - unprocessed. Just a couple of geeky kids.

Corwin and Ben - enhanced. Now you see the true nature of the NDS-induced zombies.

Mark and Glen - unprocessed. Apparently just a couple of regular guys.

Mark and Glen - enhanced. Now you can see the guy on the left is an Evil Genius, and the one on the right is hiding a Green Lantern insignia.

Again, courtesy of Mike, here are a couple of links on the digital workflow process from Luminous Landscape and Nikonians.

Just a reminder for when you try these techniques out on your own photos -- since these processes make changes to the image file, you should always make a copy of the image, and only work with the copy. That way, you keep your original file intact.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Batman and Sons - Rivalry

I've been a fan of superhero comics since before I was able to read. Sometimes, however, it is good to take a fresh look at the various mythos, as the dark cat has done over on LiveJournal.

Scans_Daily, also on LiveJournal, has a post of the dark cat's work in progress, Batman and Sons - Rivalry. (Scroll down after the page opens).

This is just laugh-out-loud funny, and I hope the dark cat completes this soon.

Thanks to Glen for providing the initial link.

Friday, September 12, 2008

More about the Large Hadron Collider

First, the website offers 30 incredible photos of the inside of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. [Thanks to Mike, who provided the link.]

The Montreal Gazette has a pretty good FAQ-type summary of LHC activities. And we learn that there are approximately 20 Montrealers working on the project. We also learn that the accelerator tunnel is about the size of a Montreal Metro (subway) tunnel.

UPDATE INSERTED Sep 14 - Michio Kaku of CUNY in an article in the Wall Street Journal expresses a certain amount of bitterness about the canceled Superconducting Super Collider (SCSC) project from the 1990s: "...As a consequence, Congress guaranteed that leadership in advanced physics would pass from the U.S. to Europe." However, a few sentences later he goes on to say "...While the LHC is outside U.S. jurisdiction, many of its key components come from America...", highlighting the current international nature of high energy physics research. [Note - the SCSC would have reached 40 TeV; the LHC can only reach 14 TeV].

How could I not blog about this next item? Katherine McAlpine aka "AlpineKat" is a news coordinator with the ATLAS Project at the LHC. She created the LHC Rap, the most current internet sensation (at least among geeks) which explains what the Large Hadron Collider is all about:

In the interview transcript which is linked above, McAlpine talks about LHC end-of-the-world scenarios.

I feel compelled to point out, for those who were disappointed that the end of the world did not come on September 10, that on that date only one circulating beam in the LHC got turned on. Sometime later, possibly this weekend or next week, they will turn on the second beam that circulates in the opposite direction. Once they are certain that everything works, and more importantly, that they understand the detectors, then the LHC experiment will move to the next step. That is actually the point at which the doomsayers need to be worried, because then the LHC will bring both beams together, and allow the particles in the two counter-rotating beams to collide. It is those high energy collisions that are the reason for the LHC's existence. It is in observing these collisions that physicists will gain insight into the first instants of the Big Bang. It is also these collisions that should be feared by those who believe in the end of the world.

An article by Ronald Bailey in ReasonOnLine provides an excellent summary of the so-called safety issues around the high energy collisions in the LHC:

While the LHC safety report goes through a number of scenarios, its chief point is that the energies produced in the LHC are "far below those of the highest-energy cosmic-ray collisions that are observed regularly on Earth." In fact, cosmic rays produced by phenomena in the universe "conduct" more than 10 million LHC-like experiments per second. If such energies actually produced vacuum bubbles, microscopic black holes, magnetic monopoles, or strangelets that could destroy planets and stars, physicists wouldn't be here to perform experiments in the LHC now.

With all that said, click here for a live webcam view from the LHC facility itself.

Thank you and good night.

Tech Support Solutions - Turn it OFF!

I know a number of people named Michael -- Michael the Writer, who occasionally collaborates with Jill and who we see on Tuesday nights with the Usual Suspects; Mike the Geek, who is the source of all my daily interesting internet links each day; and Michael the Lawyer, from whom I occasionally hear when his computer breaks.

Perhaps this is unfair. In a previous (business) life, I was part of a company which in the early 80s shared space with Michael's law firm. At that time, Michael acquired a disk based Olivetti word processor which I played with. This machine was beyond cutting edge at the time, when the most sophisticated personal computers one could buy were Apple II's or Commmodore 64s. It was sleek and black and expensive and it could store everything you typed. Of course I fell in love with it immediately. I managed to find the CP/M operating system on one of the operating disks, and I figured out how to bypass the word processor app load and get a CP/M prompt. But, in those stone-knife-and-bearskin days before the internet, I couldn't find out enough additional information to do something really useful -- like maybe compile Space Invaders to run on the Olivetti instead of the much less interesting word processing app.

Fast forward twenty years plus. Nowadays, Michael, like the rest of us, uses a reasonably state of the art Intel-based system running Windows XP, with video tweaked to be a little more than most lawyers would need -- because, dammit, Space Invaders just needs to be run at odd moments. His network also includes a very sweet Mac machine, but that one isn't part of this story.

I got a call from Michael on Tuesday detailing his latest problem -- a message on his screen that said "Not Optimum Mode. Recommended mode: 1280x1024 60Hz". Apparently, this problem had come up suddenly, no obvious cause. Well, Windows is like that -- things sometimes happen without any obvious cause. I didn't take this all that seriously -- based on the message, I expected that a simple right click on the desktop to reset the properties would fix this. I had Michael try this, but it wasn't successful. Michael is a lot better than the woman with whom I once spent a half hour on the phone, unsuccessfully trying to get her to "click on the start button". Remote tech support isn't my thing.

Fortunately, it was Tuesday, so I left the family among the Usual Suspects that evening and did a short hike over to Michael and Liz's house to check on the patient. (Have I mentioned Liz, yet? Liz isn't Catholic, but if she were, I am certain she would be in line for sainthood based on her having put up with Michael since the early 80s).

[Reader to insert virtual smiley face here, to make it clear that this particular cheap shot is basically humorous rather than malicious.]

After seeing the patient, it became obvious that it was not the computer, but the monitor itself that was generating the error message. More importantly, from an operational perspective, the computer was unresponsive -- my plan to right click the desktop to change the properties wouldn't work, because there was no desktop. On reboot, it would go to a black screen, with the monitor-generated message displayed. I tried a few things, including shutting down and restarting everything, and the more time consuming task of doing a repair of XP. During the repair process, the lower resolution screens were displayed, but afterwards, the normal screen display did not come up. Also, booting into Safe Mode didn't work either.

Based on some tech forum chatter which I was able to read from the Mac system, I started leaning toward the idea that possibly the monitor was faulty. With no clue, and no further ideas, I gave up and left for the night. Just to make things complete, Michael mentioned that he had some court documents he needed to prepare by the weekend.

On Wednesday, I went back. The first thing I tried was to unplug the power cord from the back of the monitor. I could also have unplugged the power cord for the monitor from the power bar, but being decrepit and fat, it is easier to do things that don't involve bending over and/or crouching.

When I plugged the monitor back in after a couple of minutes, and then restarted the computer, the restart went flawlessly. Everything came back -- Windows displayed the login screen, and I did the mental equivalent of run around with arms upraised shouting "IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!".

So, important lesson -- peripherals can maintain erroneous electrical states even with the power shut off. If the intent is to shut it off to force a reset, consider unplugging it as well. That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it.

At home, I have to try this with the twin-disk external drive that has been failing the format command since Monday night (although it is perfectly happy with a Quick Format).

Still remaining to do -- go back to see Michael to explain, yet again, why it is important to run an antivirus update (and a scan!) at least once a week. And to do a critical files backup. Honestly, the man does criminal law, and does pretty well at it. You'd think that he could follow some simple instructions. Look at me -- I follow simple instructions quite well. Ask anyone...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Geek Dinner

We held the Periodic Geek Dinner at the Great Khan Mongolian Grill at the Pacific Mall last Friday, Sep 5.

In the leadup to this, Mike suggested a number of choices, and then proposed that we assemble at a Boston Pizza. Since we had been discussing the Mongolian Grill, or the Keg as possible dinner locations, I questioned this choice. This caused a long e-mail thread to propagate,and the end result was that the group decided on the Mongolian Grill, but the one at the Pacific Mall which up to this point I hadn't even known about, rather than the more familiar location on Don Mills Road.

Afterward, Mike admitted that he had provided an acceptable but not very good solution in order to force the group to decide on something better.

This is an interesting approach and could work just as easily on gathering business requirements from undecided users. I've been in this situation, on the receiving end. The users took everything that had been documented from the previous session, decided it wasn't adequate, and changed it. The only problem was that my users kept doing this in every subsequent session rather than finalizing on a solution.

As a group, we were much more effective this time in reaching a consensus.

Jill, Corwin, and I did some looking around in the mall before heading over to the restaurant. I took some pictures, but the photographic star of the evening was Mike's Nikon D60, the first DSLR that I've had an opportunity to get hands-on with. [Note - Mike says he got the camera and most of the associated gear used -- guess that means I need to check out Craigslist a lot more often.]

While I had come with the family, Mike, Aldo, and Glen had come by themselves. For Corwin, the high point of the arrangements was that Mark brought his son Benjamin. We had originally expected Dave and Marianna to be there as well, but (at least some of us) were sorry to hear that Dave was sick. Some of the rest of us were amused by the story of Dave being upset earlier that day. In a chat session, when told that Dave was sick and wouldn't make it that night, Mark had responded by saying, "Man, you suck! And you'd better be sick for the whole weekend!" We are nothing if not mutually supportive, but word was that Dave had been upset by the "you suck!" part. Those of us inclined to be that way giggled a bit when told this story.

The food was all right, since you can't really go wrong with the Mongolian Grill chain. The remaing photos from this point forward in this entry were taken with Mike's camera. The actual photographer would have been Mark, Aldo, or Mike (assuming anyone cares about photo credits).

Ben and Corwin, of course, ignored the crazy adults and did kid stuff. Mark describes this as a "DS induced zombie pic". Corwin was introduced to a DS game called Viva Pinata, based on the television cartoon.

The funniest part of the night occurred when we were discussing Vista, and its failings. In the discussion, Mike admitted to owning a machine that still ran Windows 2000. Aldo looked at him, and in a voice tinged with just the right amount of incredulity, said "Dude. That's ancient!"

OK, so it was geek humour, and ya had to be there. Anyway, for the record, I too still own a machine that runs Win2K. It keeps telling me that the hard drive is about to die, but (knock on wood) it hasn't done it for the last two years.

Our evening ended when the restaurant closed. Since it hadn't been too busy, they had kindly let us stay until closing time. A good gathering, lots of fun. We need to do it again, so that some people can demonstrate to some other people that they don't suck.

LHC online - we're still here

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located on the border between Switzerland and France, came online at 04:38 Eastern time on the morning of September 10. Here is a brief excerpt from the New York Times article which was filed from Batavia, Illinois at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory:
Once upon a time the United States ruled particle physics. For the last two decades, Fermilab’s Tevatron, which hurls protons and their mirror opposites, antiprotons, together at energies of a trillion electron volts apiece, was the world’s largest particle machine.

By year’s end, when the CERN collider has revved up to five trillion electron volts, the Fermilab machine will be a distant second. Electron volts are the currency of choice in physics for both mass and energy. The more you have, the closer and hotter you can punch back in time toward the Big Bang.

Prior to startup, there had been kooky concerns, unfortunately echoed by a less than scientifically literate press, about the possibility of Dire Things Happening. These included the creation of one or more mini black holes in the LHC that would then proceed to swallow the Earth; formation of a nugget of "strange matter" which would convert everything that touched it to strange matter as well; or (my favourite) the LHC would trigger another Big Bang and obliterate the Universe. Yesterday at work, I weighed the odds of the world ending overnight, versus doing the much less interesting updates for the Wednesday morning status meeting, and I chose in favour of doing the updates.

A good thing, too, as none of the disaster scenarios happened. As pointed out by the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) and independent physicists, cosmic rays collide with particles in the upper atmosphere with much higher energies than the LHC is capable of producing. Had any of these disaster scenarios been likely, we would already have been swallowed.

For physicists, the LHC represents an opportunity, perhaps best summarized by Christopher Potter of McGill University in the Globe and Mail's article:
"This is what our entire careers have been building up to: It's the one chance in our generation to answer the biggest questions of science."

That's an inspiring thought to begin a new era in physics research.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

More FanExpo

When Corwin and I went to FanExpo on Saturday the 23rd to see Buzz Aldrin's public presentation, we stayed for the whole afternoon after it was over.

It may not have been obvious, but my son is a Star Wars fanboy, so the above photo-op, right next to the recruitment centre for the Rebel Legion and the 501st Clone Trooper battalion was a no-brainer for us.

I started going to science fiction conventions when I was a teenager, but never met anyone like the lovely young woman who allowed me to take her photo. Corwin says that the costume comes from the Kingdom Hearts video game. Clearly, my focus on books for all these years may have been the wrong thing :-)

Corwin's reason for going to FanExpo was, of course, gaming. He managed to get in several games of Halo 2 on an X-Box 360 gaming network that had been set up there, as well as some time on a Wii. I like the Wii's interactive capabilities and peripherals. Not sure that it is going to be the next game system in the family, though.

UPDATE - Mike pointed out that the woman in the photo is cosplaying as a character called Yoko from Gainax's latest anime series, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Corwin did not remember the encounter, but did so as soon as he was reminded of the sniper rifle. (Note - I expect his priorities to change radically over the next two to three years). He clarified his statement, which I misunderstood, that it was the woman's companion (not in the picture) who was cosplaying as Sora from Kingdom Hearts.