Sunday, December 10, 2017

Handsy Men and Biting Dogs

If you think about the species we chose for our companion animals one thing you may notice is that most of them are predators. There are, to be sure, people who keep pet rabbits, or pet mice, or parrots, or potbellied pigs but there are vastly more dogs and cats. For some reason the animals with which we form the closest bonds come from species that are effective hunters.

As a result we tend to get bitten or scratched from time to time. We try to train our animals not to bite and we try to choose breeds that are relatively docile but all breeds of dogs can bite, and all breeds of cat will bite and scratch. There is something to which we can relate in the curious and interactive way that predators relate to their environment -- something that just isn't there for prey animals. We like to think that in an ideal world dogs wouldn't bite and cats wouldn't scratch but a less than ideal outcome isn't generally a deal breaker. We are quite unwilling to give up our dogs and cats in favor of other animals which would bite less often but would make for poor companions. There is a reason we don't see anyone out on the sidewalk with a sheep on a leash.

Anyone who has ever flushed a rabbit while walking a dog knows that a dog's instinct to chase after small animals is pretty overwhelming. Dogs are also strongly territorial and given to aggressive behavior while sorting out dominance issues. The best way to blunt these instinctive behaviors is to socialize the dog when it is young and cute. Puppies have sharp teeth but little jaw strength and they tend to look adorable while they are chewing on your thumb. One must remember to discipline them sternly when they act up, despite the cuteness factor, so that they will be better behaved when they reach adulthood and the cuteness fades.

Which brings me to the topic of men who have high status in social hierarchies and are sometimes poorly socialized to understand the need to rein in their sexual predatory instincts, instincts that all men have in varying degrees. For those of you who have never experienced puberty as a hormonally-normal male I will state that a man's instinct to to grab at attractive females who come too close is about as strong as a dog's instinct to chase squirrels. High status males tend, for whatever reason, to also have slightly higher testosterone which, perhaps, adds extra oomph to the compulsion.

I have to admit that I take a somewhat jaundiced view of our recent attempts to offer zero tolerance for clumsy and unwelcome male sexual overtures, where sexual crudeness is seen as tantamount to rape. The problem with this is that the policy deprives us of the rolled-up newspaper needed to smack the noses of young, rich, attractive, high-status men when they get out of line. When the only options are to ignore the biting or destroy the pup we tend to let the misbehavior go uncorrected until youth or cuteness have faded or social status has fallen and we finally all agree that the dog needs to be put down.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Taking photos of the sun

There's an eclipse coming in a couple of weeks. I want to take lousy photos of it. But, I also want to avoid burning out my eye like an ant on the sidewalk with a magnifying glass. So, a project.
Problem: The sun is bright. Really bright. Too bright to look at. Too bright to photograph. Both eyes and cameras can be damaged by pointing them at the sun. I'll set up projection rig for most of our eclipse viewing. Its fairly easy. You duct tape a big opaque card over the front of your binoculars with a hole for one side. Then you point the binoculars at the sun and they will project a nice sized image of the sun onto a white card a few feet away. (Caution: Don't look through the binoculars!!) It takes a bit of rejiggering to get things pointed right but it does work. That way you can watch the eclipse while facing away from it -- no blindness, just a bit of eclipse-tan on the back of your neck. Huzzah!
But, of course I will want to take photos. So I need some really, really dark sunglasses for my camera.
There are a number of ways to make it safe to look at the sun. They make sunglasses for eclipse viewing. Its best to stick to companies you know for your eclipse glasses. There are cheap imitations out there that are dangerous to use. One quick spot check you can make is to put them on and look at anything but the sun. If you can see anything at all through them then they aren't dark enough.
You can buy ND filters for your camera that are made for this. They start at around 60 bucks for a screw-on ND 100000 filter and most cost more. So, I decided to try a less expensive do-it yourself alternative.
On thing you can used to safely look at the sun is the lens from a pair of shade 14 welder's goggles. The lens looks like a black glass disk but if you look through it at the sun you will see the sun as a green disk that won't set your retina on fire. Perfect!
For my project I needed the aforementioned welding goggle lens (50mm shade 14) plus a couple of step-down rings to adapt the 50mm lens to the 62mm filter size of my camera lens. Here's my kit:

And here is the mess that I made of it. Happily, epoxy fingerprints will mostly scrape off of glass with a razor blade.

As one might expect, as soon as the glue had set clouds covered the sun which didn't make an appearance for several days. But it did finally come out and I was able to snap a few photos. Here's one of them.
Not bad. I was hoping to see sunspots. But I checked a solar observatory website and there aren't any right now. This proves my filter works perfectly -- there weren't any sunspots and I couldn't see any! Perfection!!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Keyser Soze or TinEye

I was recently reading stories on an online magazine website when an image in an advertisement caught my eye. Here it is, more or less.
It appeared, slightly smaller, with a headline something like "Michael Jordan buys World's Fastest Jet." I blush to admit that I clicked the ad, hoping against countless past disappointments that, just maybe, this time the linked story would contain some reference to the odd-ball photo. It didn't of course. It led me to a perfectly-nice if slow-loading story about celebrities' private jets. It was a slideshow with 40 individual pages with a million ads each. I saw Celine Dion's jet and Harrison Ford's. But nothing about Michael Jordan, and more to the point, the come-on image did not appear.

The set me to wondering, once again, about what is to be done about click-bait artists who post links that are blatant lies but who none-the-less get paid when they trick us into clicking on their links.

Two approaches occurred to me. The first would be more satisfying but possibly tricky to implement. That idea is a sort of crowd-sourcing thing to raise funds to hire death squads. Then one could simply find the people responsible for the misleading ads and kill them... and their families... and their livestock... burn down their offices... the whole Keyser Soze thing.

Any takers?

No? (*sighs*)

Ok, then, the other option is to right-click on the image you want information about and pick "view image" from the right-click menu. You can then copy the image's URL from the location bar and paste it into the TinEye.com* image search engine. They will come up with a list of pages where visually similar images have appeared. You can then scroll down the list looking for a less sketchy url -- skipping clickbait-r-us.ru and the like -- until you find something that looks like an actual story.

On page three of their list I found this link: Formidable biologically inspired airplanes by Al Brady

So, the image is a computer generated model by a man named Al Brady who designs futuristic stuffola for use in films... or, maybe more accurately, aspires to do so since the one credit I can track down appears to be a completed-but-unreleased 2016 made-for-tv film named "This Is Heaven" for which IMDB lists a runtime of 17 minutes.

So, there you go. With TinEye and option two my curiosity bump got scratched and no one died. That's better ... isn't it?

* I am sure there are other similar search engines for visually-similar images but TinEye.com was the first I found and it is convenient and works well. If you prefer a different one that's lovely. Leave a comment about your favorites.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

La La Land

Fame, Artistic Integrity, Romance, pick two... if you're lucky.

La La Land is a new musical set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles where anyone who can't sing and dance disappears -- sort of like The Omega Man only with toe tapping music. Occasionally we catch a brief glimpse of a non-singer/dancer but they always vanish after a few seconds of screen time.

Everything about the film is likable. It has likable actors, likable music, and likable characters who sing likable songs while doing likable dance numbers. In it, a likable guy and girl -- he an aspiring musician and she a would-be actress -- struggle with the three-way balancing act of fame, artistic integrity, and a stable personal life. Entertainers, the film shows us, must endure these centrifugal pulls because they have great, sensitive souls.

I expect it to do well with the Academy and other award-voting organizations. Most of the voting members of the Academy will have some sort of struggle or disappointment for which the film's message provides a convenient excuse: Stalled career? That just shows dedication to ones art and one's family. Type cast in crap roles? Shows hard work paying off and a desire to please ones fans. Marriage crumbling? The cost of a career in art. Its all part of the price that creative types pay for being cleverer, wiser, and more sensitive than the soulless rest of society.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rogue One: Brief Review with a Few Anti-Spoilers.

Rogue One, for my money, is the best film in the Star Wars series since Empire Strikes Back. It gets off to a slow start but once it picks up speed it pays off big time. You should go see it.

So, there's the review part of this post out of the way. Now for a few anti-spoilers.

For those few of you who are unaware of the definition of the term anti-spoiler (which I just now made up) they are like spoilers only they work the other way around. A "spoiler" is a piece of premature information which damages ones enjoyment of a film by giving away some plot twist, surprise, outcome, or other element where a large part of the pleasure of the film is in seeing how the information is revealed -- learning, for instance, that the "Yellow Rose of Texas" is the name of John Wayne's sled -- things like that. So, bearing that in mind, an anti-spoiler is a piece of information given ahead of time that prevents some annoying part of a film from bothering you because you already know about it and have gotten over it ahead of time.

A few Rogue One Anti-Spoilers:

1) The first third of the film is a bit tedious. The characters flit from planet to planet never staying long enough to establish much of a sense of locale. The best way to enjoy this part is to admire the astronomical art. There is one sequence where someone is approaching some planet or other -- I don't remember and it doesn't matter -- but the planet has rings like Saturn and you get to see the spaceship fly past the edge of the shadow that the planet casts on the rings and then past the shadow that the rings cast on the planet. It's pretty cool-looking and you shouldn't let it bother you that you've sort of lost track of who is in the space ship or what they plan to do on the planet. Just enjoy the eye candy -- the movie will start in a few minutes.

2) Please don't listen to anything that the writers say about political messages hidden in the film. There is a long-standing tradition in the Star Wars franchise for the writers/directors/filmmakers to imagine that they are hiding secret political zingers in the films -- starting with the first film which Lucas thought was some sort of anti-Vietnamese war statement. This allows them to think of themselves as politically active while making bang-up movies. Any political content can and should be ignored. In the case of Rogue One the writers are proud of making all of the good guys female, black, ethnic or alien, while all the white guys are evil. Yeah fine. I'm happy they feel good about themselves. The thing is, it is the progressive liberals who obsess about diversity. I don't care one way or the other and you shouldn't either.

3) Some of the human characters are computer generated versions of actors who appeared in the original Star Wars for which this film is a prequel -- actors who have either died or grown too old. These simulacrums are not entirely convincing.

4) There is a sequence late in the film where we discover that the secret plans for the Death Star are stored in a giant imperial jukebox and our heroes have to dodge blaster bolts while digging for pocket change for the coin slot. I may exaggerate a bit but that the sequence does seem to feature technology with a decided 1970s high-tech vibe. Like all the other films in the series Rogue One starts with "A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away." I guess the 1970s is getting to be a "long time ago" ...

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Who to Thank for Clinton's Popular Vote Victory

I've seen a number of news stories the last few days that suggest that most of the recounting of votes is done for the Presidential election. So, this is perhaps a good time to take a look at the results. Clinton won the popular vote handily with 65,844,610 votes to Trump's 62,979,636. That gives Clinton a popular vote lead of 2,864,974 votes*. Trump, on the other hand won the Electoral College, even more handily, 306 to 232.

When this happens -- when the popular vote goes one way and the Electoral College the other -- that generally means that whichever candidate who won the popular vote will have won by large margins in a few states, while the other candidate, the one who won the Electoral College, will have won by narrower margins in a larger number of states. So, here's my question: Which states did Clinton's popular vote advantage come from? Or, to put it another way, if we start with state that gave the most net votes to Clinton and work down, how many states would we have to drop from the total before Trump won the popular vote in the remaining states? I've drawn a map.

Enough states to explain Clinton's popular vote lead.

Yes, Just California.

Clinton received 8,753,788 votes in California, compared to Trump's 4,483,810, for a California popular vote advantage of 4,269,978 votes. So, of Clinton's 2,864,974 popular vote advantage nationwide, 149% comes from California. Trump won the rest of the country.

Hmmm.

So, how many counties in California would we have to drop to cancel Clinton's lead in the national vote? That is, if we start with the whole US and just drop out counties in California, how many would we have to drop to make Trump win the election? I have another map.

Enough counties in California to explain Clinton's popular vote lead.

That would be five. Basically LA and the greater San Francisco area. Between LA, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties Clinton received 2,967,748 more votes than Trump. These five large-population California counties explain Clinton's popular vote lead nationwide.

*Numbers from Wikipedia, just now.

Christmas 2016

With fondest wishes for a very
Merry Christmas
and a happy and prosperous
NEW YEAR
from the North Carolina branch of the Haslup clan.

Fathers Day in Tampa/St Pete
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The past year has been a good one although there have been occasions to be sad as well. One of these was the death of my father, Dr. Allen Lee Haslup, who passed away at age 89, surrounded by three generations of family this past 16th of August. He had been in decline for a number of months and his passing was neither unexpected, nor untimely, nor tragic. Through the patience, care, hard work, and dedication of his care givers, Elizabeth, Ron, and Liz, he was able to remain in his own home until the end. There was a Service of Remembrance at St Thomas Episcopal Church in St. Petersburg on August 19th and he will be interred at Arlington on Friday, January 13th 2017. The service will start at the Old Post Chapel at 1:00 pm. Family members and guests should arrive 30 to 45 minutes prior. If you plan to attend the interment let me know and I will provide additional information. (lee@haslups.com)

Getting rest of the sadder news out of the way while we are in a somber mood, our dog, Jaxon, and our cockatiel, Sugar, also died this year. This leaves Gypsy, our remaining dog, as our only pet.

Irene and I have had a busy year. This is something I didn’t realize until I sat down to write this newsletter and took stock. I had noticed that there was never any time this year but it is only now I realize that it is because I was busy -- really, really, busy. Since last year’s newsletter we have been to the following locales: Colonial Williamsburg, The Mariner’s Museum in Newport News (Irene’s mom’s home town), Sanford NC (Chris and Reid’s house), Pennsauken Township NJ (Lee and Amber’s house, just across the river from Philly), Florida (five different times), Disney world, LEGOLAND Florida, Tampa, St Petersburg (three times, once to spend time with dad, once to be with him at the end, and once to sort out the house), The Salvador Dali Museum, the western Caribbean on a cruise ship (Honduras, Belize, Costa Maya Mexico, Cancun, and Cozumel), Myrtle Beach, Brookgreen Gardens, The Apple Festival in Hilton NY, the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse on Lake Ontario, The North Carolina Zoo, the North Carolina State Fair, Wilmington NC, the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher, and Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh.

Cypress Gardens area at LEGOLAND
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I doubt I need to tell about most of these destinations. I mean, who doesn’t know about Disney World or the Hilton NY Apple Festival? But LEGOLAND and Brookgreen Gardens may be unfamiliar, so a bit of information: LEGOLAND Florida is located on the site of the former Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Florida – Irene’s home town. It is an odd hybrid of a kid-themed amusement park and an old-Florida tourist attraction. The kids activities are mostly quite well done and they have retained some of the famous gardens, of which parts are as lovely as ever and parts are a bit run down and sad. It’s worth a visit if you have the time and the kids. Brookgreen Gardens is a large sculpture garden featuring, among other things, the work of one of Irene’s favorite sculptors, Anna Huntington.

Lions Bridge in Newport News
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Irene came to admire Huntington’s work when she was a child visiting her mother’s home town of Newport News, Virginia. Irene greatly admired Huntington’s colossal lions on the Lion’s Bridge on the grounds of the Mariner’s Museum. Brookgreen Gardens, just south of Myrtle Beach, is well worth a visit, especially if you like naturalistic American sculpture. Wear comfortable shoes; the gardens are spread over much of the 9,100 acre site.

Chris, Reid and Sombrero
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The family continues to prosper. Chris and Reid are raising chickens on their 13 acres near Sanford. Last Christmas Irene insisted that I give Chris a chainsaw since she was convinced that all of Chris’ trees would take turns falling across his access road. Chris and I were skeptical – Irene worries about the oddest things -- but I never pass up a chance to buy power tools and, sure enough, about a week after Chris got his new saw he had to cut up a tree to get to work.

Amber finishes her Emergency Medicine residency in the late spring. She and Lee and the kids will be moving from New Jersey to Oregon for her new job which she is excited about. That will put them near Lee’s family and a number of cousins about the same age as Liam (5), Eva (5), Aurelie (1 ½), and my as-yet-unnamed granddaughter due early next summer.

The cast member in the back (in pink) is a relative of one of Amber’s friends and arranged this VIP meet and greet for us.
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Liam at LEGOLAND / Eva at Bond Park in Cary
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Lee at NC State Zoo / Irene in Hilton NY
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Aurelie Teething at Disney World
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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

That Cute Place to Eat I Can Never Find.

Ten years ago last month I mentioned a cute little place to stop and eat, somewhere along I-95 between Washington D.C. and Raliegh. (See Science Club Reunion.) It was just far enough out of D.C. for one to get hungry and it made a nice stop. It's a bit like Brigadoon. Sometimes when I make the return trip to Raleigh after a visit to the Nation's Capitol, there is is when I get peckish. Other rimes I stop at every exit looking for it and it's never there...

I have since figured out where it is and, since I know you are all worrying about it, I thought I would mention that the little town is Occoquan , Virginia and the place we ate is probably Madigan's Waterfront Seafood Restaurant.