Tuesday, February 28, 2006

the history of law

The entire history of the law is about 75% "mine, mine, mine" and about 25% "I didn't do it." You can sum it up in three words: "greed and denial".

-- Coppertop

Friday, February 24, 2006

I call it the "giant laser", Mr. Powers

By way of Wired's gadget blog (which I usually don't have time to read, but someone brought this entry to my attention.) The military is working on a next generation weapon: a high altitude mirror that can bounce deadly laser beams down to targets over the horizon. The mirrors might be on high-altitude blimps or robotic airplanes. The mirrors apparently work with a giant airbourne laser carried by a 747.

What's interesting about this stuff is it's playing just beyond the edge of technology. It's kind of like the ironclads during the American Civil War that were designed to attack river fortifications. They were really pushing the state of the art in many ways, so you wound up with problems like the Monitor's steam-powered turrent continuing past the aiming point, making it more accurate to aim the main guns by turning the whole ship rather than the turret, or the deck being ripped off when they tried to weather too nasty a storm at sea.

In this case, it's a design that only makes sense if you have a really heavy, Expensive Giant Laser and relatively cheap platforms for mirrors. That way you can put your E.G.L. in a safe place and bounce it off your mirrors to hit things, replacing the mirrors whenever someone pops the balloons carrying them. After all, if your laser were cheap and lightweight, you'd just put it right on the balloon and be done with it. This approach also means you're stuck fortifying your E.G.L. to protect it. Which will probably work.

At least until someone builds the first "mirrorclad".

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

another flying car

Here's another flying car link, called the Terrafugia. This one's a very early stage startup some MIT grads are putting together. Instead of feeding the experimental aircraft market, they're planning to sell it under the new Light Sport Aircraft rules. You can read a short blurb on them here.

From the FAQ, it looks like a very early stage project, still at the point of conceptual design. For instance, they talk about taking bids on an engine. They may need to do that early in the process, because some aircraft engines are air cooled. They're designed to produce power in an airplane which is always moving through the air, so there's always air blowing past the engine to cool it. In a car, where you might be stuck in traffic, an air cooled engine may need some kind of cooling fan or other arrangement. Also, I'm a little concerned about road debris, or just plain old dents and dings from the car in the next space over, hitting the upper outboard section of those folded wings.

On the other hand, it's a really intriguing design and would be a blast for city hopping. One more company to keep on the radar screen. Hopefully they'll have a display or presentation at Oshkosh this year.

Monday, February 20, 2006

still a going concern

After that last blog entry, and the silence afterwards, I just wanted to let everyone know I'm still a going concern. I just haven't had time to write. The scrapes are healing, and I've decided to find a different way to get exercise.

Here's an interesting bit of news from the tinfoil hat department. CNet is reporting that the FBI is using the 911 location system built into your cell phone to track people, even when there's no evidence of wrongdoing. Cryptogram's picked up the story here. The FBI's current policy seems to contradict testimony by former FBI director Louis Freeh, when the FBI was lobbying for the system, that the FBI didn't plan to use the location service unless there was evidence of wrongdoing. I guess times change.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

what is it with this city?

What is it with this city? This is the second close call in six months. I decided to pick up bike commuting again, so I've been riding to school. Tonight I was on a steep downhill, in the bike lane, when a car turned right in front of me. I tried to turn with him but was going too fast to match his turn radius. I hit the car and went down.

Fortunately, God was looking out for me on this one. Thanks, God! Only scrapes and bruises, and I'm going to have to retire my favorite walking shoes, but otherwise I was only shaken up. I couldn't get mad at the car driver -- an undergrad, his eyes big as dinner plates, asking me repeatedly if I was OK. He made a mistake. He's not likely to repeat it after the scare we both got. And that old Trek road bike is built like a tank, so I bent the handlebars and a few other relevant bits back into position and rode it the rest of the way home.

Still, I was in the bike lane, wearing a banana yellow backpack with a red blinkie on it, with a fluroescent blue and orange jacket with glow thread in the seams, and the bike's got a flicker light on the back and headlight on the front. There isn't much more I could have done to make myself visible except ride in the middle of the car lane (instead of the bike lane), which would probably be illegal. (Cal. Veh. Code secs 21208, 21202.)

I dunno. I may have to think long and hard before doing much more bike commuting in this city.

Monday, February 13, 2006

human society says previous hunt used pen-raised birds

I hadn't seen this before. In December of 2003, the Humane Society e-mailed a statement about the Vice President's hunting trip with Justice Scalia to The Pittsburgh Channel. The society pointed out it wasn't an expedition for wild birds. Instead, it's an activity in which pen-raised birds are stocked in the field and then released. Think skeet shooting using live animals. I couldn't find any news saying whether or not this latest expedition was the same sort of thing.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

so that's where the flying cars are

Every so often I gripe about the fact that old science fiction was always predicting flying cars. Here we are, 21st century, and where's my flying car, darn-it?

Well, it turns out someone in the Los Angeles area is developing one. The Volante isn't a vertical take-off, float over there, land in the parking lot arrangement like the million-dollar Moller design. Instead, it's being designed as a kit-built aircraft. It flies and lands like an airplane. Once you get to the airport, you detach the wings and convert them into a trailer you either leave there or tow along. In practical terms, that means the aircraft and, more importantly, operating costs might fit a non-millionaire's budget.

This one's probably worth keeping an eye on.

vice president accidently shoots campaign contributor

What is it with Dick Cheney's hunting trips? First Justice Scalia draws criticism for going duck hunting with the VP shortly before deciding a case involving the VP, and now the VP accidentally shoots a campaign contributor.

Friday, February 10, 2006

crock pot chili recipe

The crock pot chili was a success with the last few adjustments. Here's the recipe:

1/2 lb bacon, cut into small pieces
then, in the bacon drippings, brown
1 lb ground beef (or other ground meat)
finally, cook
1 onion, chopped
Put in crock pot along with
2 jalapeƱos, seeded and chopped
1 small can pinto beans
1 can (14.5 oz) tomatoes, chopped or diced
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
one clove garlic, minced
1 c. water
Simmer all day on low.

This recipe's designed so you can load everything into the crock pot the night before and stick it in the fridge, then put it on to simmer the next morning. When you get home, add some corn bread, corn meal muffins, or buscuits (or, if you have one, set the bread machine to have fresh bread ready) and dinner's served.

To crank up the spice level, chop the jalapeƱos without seeding them first.

Now I need to figure out a good vegetarian chili recipe.

cooking chili

I haven't been able to post lately because life suddenly got very busy. It's not so much homework, either. Instead, a bunch of outside things keep popping up: trying to start a project to monitor local government, getting elections together for a club, applying to be an editor of a publication, and so on and so forth.

Anyway, last night, after blowing through the grocery store post-haste, it was time to assemble chili for a friend's "Welcome to the United States" party. (She just became a citizen.) The smell of bacon, beef, and onions is so thick in the apartment right now you can feel your arteries harden just from inhaling. B.J., the neighbor's dog, must be going crazy.

I've been making chili for years, but I haven't had a set recipe. I usually adjust to taste as I go along. This time, though, I don't have time to hover over the pot tweaking and adjusting, so I'm trying to come up with a set recipe that'll work in a crock pot. The first trial run a week ago turned out pretty well, but it needed a few adjustments. (I also have to watch the spicyness -- the friend's got parents from India, spent years living in Texas, but doesn't like hot foods. Go figure.) If this version comes out as expected I'll post the recipe along with instructions to bring it up to more suitable heat levels.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

a learning experience

I attended a meeting that was one of the more frustrating ones I've been to. The participants have been meeting to try to reach concensus on some proposed laws. The proposals have been floating around, in various forms, for the last several years. These meetings are an attempt to get people to agree to something so the whole process can finally move forward. I got involved because of a class I'm taking.

At the meeting, it quickly became apparant that few if any of the participants were interested in actually making progress. Instead, they'd all fixed on their positions and were content to argue in circles around them. I was calling in over a cell phone and trying to participate through a squawk box, which pretty much shut down my usual tricks for guiding a conversation since most of them involve physically being there.

It's the same sort of problem that shows up in treaty negotions. Any one of the groups the various attendees represent has the power to block this legislation, they've all threatened to do it if the legislation doesn't do things their way, and none of their respective ways are compatible. I guess I need to learn a bit more about negotiation and diplomacy because I'm not seeing a way to make anything productive happen here.