Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pre-election Short Films.

Update: Belmont Club readers, see update below.

I have a number of friends who are planning to vote for the Libertarian candidate for president to express their displeasure with both of the major party candidates. Here's a short film posted by a pro-Obama group that might give them something to think about.


Note: This video was pulled briefly by its source but appears to be back up.

Johah Goldberg posted it as a sort of political litmus test.

My reaction? I am reminded of this:

Update 1 October 2008: I read The Belmont Club blog every day but I very much doubt that Richard Fernandez (aka. Wrechard the Cat) reads The Teleoscope. So it is quite a coincidence that he has a posting today that is almost exactly like mine yesterday. His posting is "Sing for Change" which is the title of one of the songs in the video.

In addition to the two videos I embedded he added a third which I find amusing so I'll add it here, too. It's quite short.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The price of gas.

Here are two news stories that might interest you: Tempers flare at pumps; Easley says gas coming. from WCNC in Charlotte. And Three More NC Gas Stations Issued Subpoenas from WFMY in Greensboro.

The upshot is that Hurricane Ike disrupted the fuel delivery system that provides gasoline to North Carolina from refineries on the Gulf coast. Some gas stations, worried about their supply of gasoline, immediately raised their prices, in some cases before the storm made landfall. Other gas stations kept their prices the same, and the public, also worried about the supply of gas and expected price increases during the shortage, all filled up their vehicles. Pretty soon the stations with the original prices started running out of gas.

When Hurricane Ike was declared a disaster, North Carolina's 'Price Gouging' laws kicked in and the gas stations that raised their prices started getting subpoenas. This, of course, depressed gas prices (running out of gas and losing sales is cheaper than lawyers) and most of the rest of the stations ran out of gas, especially in Charlotte and Ashville where the supplies were particularly limited.

Since the prices were held low and gas was scarce, there was no incentive for drivers to limit their purchases. When they saw gasoline they lined up and filled up, not knowing when they would see gas for sale again since most of the stations were out. Similarly, since the price the gas distributors could get for delivery in Charlotte, where they were running out of gas, was the same as the price they got in Raleigh, where the supply held up better, there was no economic incentive to send gas there first. This isn't to say that the gas distributors are unsympathetic, only that there were gas shortages everywhere and with the pricing signals of the market muted it was difficult to prioritize.

But wait! Our beneficent Governor has acted to fix the problem. Hooray! He has gone, hat in hand, to beg the oil companies for more oil. Of course, he had to stand in a long line with other governors with equally sad stories -- and the oil distributors still have no clue where to send that next tanker.

It might seem like the whole "keep the prices low and run out of gas" thing could have been avoided but then, how would we know that our state government cares about the little guy? Besides, gasoline is too important a commodity to count on mere competition to hold down prices. It's not like there's a gas station on every corner.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Ring around the moon (Lunar halo) and moondogs. This is not lens flare.

This is a photo of the moon taken in front of my house Sunday night. I noticed the ring around the moon while I was walking the dogs and it was impressive enough that I called the Teleospouse on my cell phone to tell her to go outside and look at it. When I got home I took this photo. This is a wide angle shot; the ring occupied a big chunk of sky (44 degrees across). I had to go half-way down the block to get enough open sky to get most of the ring without trees. I overexposed the moon to bring out the ring around it and the moondogs to the left and right.

Rings around the Sun or the Moon are caused by ice crystals high in the atmosphere. Ice crystals are hexagonal and the strongest internal reflections bend the incoming light rays approximately 22 degrees. If they are randomly oriented this gives you a ring around the Sun or Moon. There will be some ice crystals above the moon bending the light 22 degrees down and some below bending the light up. Left, right, a bit above or below, everywhere on the ring 22 degrees out from the Sun or Moon there will be some crystals oriented to bend the light into your eyes. Rings are easy to explain.

The dogs are harder to explain. They are visible in the photo as bright spots slightly above the moon just outside the 22 degree ring. They are always to the left and right of the Sun or Moon -- never above and below or at any other orientation. I am told that they are cause by pencil-shaped ice crystals that are falling and line up vertically so they only refract light to the left and right.

If you look between the Moon and the dogs you can see a faint arc that runs through the Moon and the dogs. That is, the dogs are actually part of another ring that runs through the moon all the way around the sky with its center directly overhead. That ring, parallel to the horizon, is called the Parhelic Circle if it runs through the Sun. I dunno what to call it with the Moon -- Parselenial Circle, maybe? I think the Par-whatever Circles are caused by reflection off the shiny sides of the vertically-aligned pencils of ice.

On exactly one occasion I have seen a full Parhelic Circle on a sunny winter day twenty years ago. I also remember a second full ring around the Sun outside the 22 degree ring with very bright sundogs appearing where this ring crossed the Parhelic Circle. Here's a drawing of the sky as I remember it.

"Z" marks the zenith -- the point immediately overhead.

The dotted green line shows the part of the rings/circles/etc. that are visible in my photo of the moondogs above. I think that the outer ring that I remember is caused by the same pencil-shaped ice crystals that cause the Parhelic Circle only not vertically aligned. The discussions I have seen of ice halos don't mention this outer circle but I remember it vividly from that twenty-year-ago winter day and it does explain the position of the sun/moon-dogs outside the 22 degree ring (which my moondog photo does show.)

The Parselenial Circle is interesting because it looks curved but, thanks to the brain-hurting properties of non-euclidean geometry, it is also parallel at all points to the horizon which appears straight. This means that the moondogs which appear higher than the Moon aren't really. If I had turned my camera to place one of the dogs in the center the Moon would have appeared higher than the dog. Here is an explanatory diagram which I offer to deepen the mystery.


For more information about ice crystal halos, see Les Crowley's Atmospheric Optics Site or Steve's Atmospheric Phenomena

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I think it's the Haircut.


Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. So what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, `he's not patriotic enough, he's got a funny name,' you know, `he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.' -- Barack Obama

As a conservative* I am skeptical of the Marxist notion of history as a process that responds to deterministic dialectic forces that control its flow and make it extend into the future as certainly as it extends into the past -- skeptical, but not altogether immune. There is a sense in this country that we are ready to turn the corner on the race issue -- that out of an understanding of our admittedly-racist past, and an appreciation of the more recent achievements blacks have made in society, we are ready for a new synthesis in the form of our first black president. I feel it. I share it. But I think our responsibility as citizens of our democracy is to choose the man we think will do the best job and then, if he turns out to be black (as he inevitably will some day), so much the better. Sadly, I don't think Barack's the guy.

But the news media apparently don't share my point of view. People will tell you that the media are in the tank for Obama but that is simply not true. It's not Obama they are enamored with, it is history. They are simply captivated with the sense that the moment for the first black president has come... and Obama is the candidate at hand. Here is the Rolling Stone cover I stole Obama's mug from to put him on the Twenty.


I chose the Rolling Stone's cover because it has Obama facing more or less the same direction as Jackson is on the twenty and because it has him looking rather Jacksonian I think. It is only right now as I type this, having just pasted the image into the text, that I notice the subhead of the Stones' endorsement: "The Candidate and the Call of History." What a perfect example of my thesis here. [Note to self: track down this issue of the Stone and see if it makes me look like an ass.]

The reason Obama keeps mentioning his blackness is not so much to accuse his detractors of being secret racists as to remind people of the flow of history and his appointed place in it. This is not to say that some of Obama's supporters don't think that all Republicans are closet racists; of course there are such people in Obama's base but there is simply no reason for him to campaign to them right now; he can take them for granted (and he does) since they have nowhere else to go.

Obama's not-so-secret weapon is the undeniable fact that the 'mantle of history' appeal works really well with undecided voters -- it resonates with the people in the middle who both candidates need to win. Independents tend to be less ideological and are much more susceptible to the argument that it is time for a black president.

That is why McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as Vice President is so brilliant. Undecided voters are also open to the idea that the time is right for a female president. Suddenly McCain has as good a grip on the mantle of history as Obama does. McCain's age, which was a big negative before, now adds spice to the "first woman president" angle. McCain is not likely to run for a second term and a Palin candidacy in four years is highly probable. And the fact that Palin is a strong conservative helps shore up McCain's wobbly support in his own base.

With the "mantle-of-history" gap suddenly closed, independent voters are faced with the odious chore of choosing between the candidates based on the issues -- a task which both candidates render almost impossible by making their campaign material indecipherably vague.

Currently the Obama campaign is trying, with little success, to convince the public that Sarah Palin isn't, you know, really a woman, but is instead some sort of Stepford Wives, Republican homunculus who is unfit to claim the mandate of history. It's an uphill struggle but they have to discredit her to make the contest once again a referendum on race relations. If they can't make that work they run the risk that the middle-of-the-road voter will notice Obama's voting record which (for 2007) was the most perfectly liberal in the country.


Although there have been a few defections, Obama still has the media in his corner. Most of them are Liberals and they hate the idea that the forces of history might be co-opted by the other side. But suddenly, with Palin in the race, the coverage is much less about the exciting moment in history and more about good old-fahsioned mud slinging.

*I describe myself as a "conservative" to save time since "hawkish minarchist traditionalist libertarian fuaionist" doesn't mean anything to most of my readers, readers who, if the terms are explained to them, will respond with "Oh, that's some kind of a conservative, right?"

Friday, September 05, 2008

LazyDays in 3D.

Last Saturday the Teleospouse and I went to the LazyDays street festival in our hometown of Cary, North Carolina. I took along my Nikon D40 with my SKF-1 1980s-vvintage, Russian-made 3D adapter (of which I have written here before).

To view these 3D photos requires good binocular vision and a bit of practice. Sit slightly back from you monitor, look at the photo and then relax your eyes so it goes a bit out of focus. Next, cross your eyes slightly so you see three images instead of two. Then concentrate on the image in the middle which should appear in 3D (like a ViewMaster slide). Be sure to hold you head straight up and down; if you cock your head to one side it won't work.

It may help to view the images a bit larger. If you click on the images you will be taken to my flickr page where you can click on the "all sizes" button to pick the size you want to look at. The bigger you make the image the further back you should sit from your monitor. Here are some pirates for you to practice on.


I'm not sure why there were pirates at lazy days. I saw a couple of groups but these two looked the best in their costumes and were the only ones I chased down and photographed. They might have been performing on one of the event stages and I didn't catch their act.

The SKF-1 is not exactly easy to use in crowds. To take a photo that had both pirate and wench in the usable part of the stereo image I had to stand on the other side of the sidewalk half-way across the street. My pirates were very patient holding their pose while we waited for a gap in traffic on the sidewalk so I could grab the shot.

The old 30mm lens that lets me use the SKF-1 on my D40 doesn't autofocus and it lacks the linkage that would allow the camera's meter to work. This means that I was doing everything manually -- focus, aperture, shutter -- and guessing at exposure. While trying to grab opportunistic shots in a crowd on day where the sun was in and out of little puffy clouds I tend to forget to focus half the time, and of those shots where I do focus I guess wrong on the exposure half the time and the few photos you see here were selected from a much larger set of pictures that just didn't come out.

Since I find 3D photography interesting this posting will have a certain amount of technical discussion which some of my readers may find tedious. Feel free to skip or skim the text and just look at the pictures. I won't mind.

Here are those pirates again. Same photograph, different presentation.


Mounted on my camera with the lens I am using the SKF-1 tends to vignette. That is the images fade off into blackness at the edges. This would be OK except for the fact that it fades off at different points for the left and right eye images and it detracts from the 3D effect to see an object with one eye but not the other. In this second presentation of the pirates I have adjusted the vignetting so that it is approximately the same on both sides. I airbrushed out the parts of each image that don't appear in the other image in the pair. This presentation makes the subject a bit smaller (because I left room on the edges to fade to black) but it helps keep the edge of the frame from confusing the stereo effect.

Here's a shot of the crowd in the street. I don't know who the young lady in the photo is. I wanted a shot of the crowd and he happened to be there providing a not-unwelcome foreground element.


If you uncross your eyes for a minute and look at the image normally you will notice that the two images differ slightly in sharpness, focus and contrast. It's interesting that these defects in the photo are less apparent when you view it in stereo. Your brain will tend to take detail information from the eye with the sharper view and ignore the one-eye fuzzy bits. We can thank our soviet-era Ukrainian optics for an opportunity to observe this fascinating effect.

Here are a couple of shots of a local politician out pressing the flesh.



This is my lovely wife in her ridiculous hat.


Notice that she is in focus on the left side and the bald guy in the background is in focus on the right. Both images were shot with on lens shooting through flat glass and flat mirrors. I can't explain why the focus is different on different sides but there you go.

Here's a closeup of part of a potters display.


The stereo effect is rather muted on this one. The SKF-1 works better with people-sized subjects.

The town had volunteers sitting on beach-lifeguard-style chairs and providing information. Here's one...


...and here's another.


Heres another shot of that lady in the hat.


Here's a guy carrying a dog.


This shot shows the difficulty of shooting 3D in crowded settings. The lady on our left -- in the blue shirt and sunglasses -- appears in one image but not the other. You will see her with your left eye but not your right. In general, with 3D photos you want the same distant background in both images with your foreground subjects in the center of the frame so they don't get truncated by the edge of the frame. Because my subject was standing in a crowd of people it is difficult to find a crop that doesn't truncate someone in the foreground.

A booth with flowering plants.


The tall, skinny format, combined with the need to keep the subject objects away from the edge of the frame made this a less-than-compelling image.

A display of hand-made neckties.


I wanted to get the man who made the ties, and his ties, and my wife in the mirror, all in the same shot. But because of the tall, narrow shape of the image I couldn't get it all in. You can see just a bit of the tie-maker on the left side of the photo. He was wearing a red t-shirt.

Here's a shot of a statue in front of the Cary Public Library.


It's a fairly successful example of making the vignetting symmetrical.

Here's a little girl playing around the same statue.


It's not a particularly successful stereo photo. The girl is nicely exposed but the background is so dark that you don't get much sense of depth. Pity. I like her pose and her outfit.

Here's the last photo. It's the same random young lady we saw before.


That is the end of the main session, so to speak. For those who are interested I will briefly go over the process for taking the images as they came from the camera and processing them to be viewed as a cross-eye 3D picture.

Here is the image above as it came off the camera. (Note: this is NOT a cross-eye image and can't be viewed that way. If you have a parallel-image stereo viewer that would work but crossing your eyes won't.)


The first step in preparing an SKF-1 3D image for crosseyed viewing is to take the left half of the image and put it on the right and take the right half and put it on the left. This image has had the sides reversed and it can be viewed by the crosseye method. It is not a particularly satisfactory 3D image, however, since the field of view differs between left and right and several ghost images caused by internal reflection are visible near the center of the image. More steps are needed to correct these problems.


The next step is to sharpen the image and correct the contrast and exposure.


The SKF-1 3D adapter I used to take this shot tends to get ghost images on the edges from internal reflections within the adapter (especially when shot with a large aperture). These will need to be omitted from the final crop but, fortunately, they fall outside of the area where the left and right images overlap so we won't lose any stereo information.

Here I've circled the ghost-images of tents to our left and right.


Next we find left and right crop locations.

The SKF-1 is a bit walleyed. The right-eye image includes information on the right side that does not appear in the left-eye image. Similarly the left-eye image includes stuff on the left that isn't in the right-eye image. In this image I have added arrows that indicate objects that mark the left and right extreme of the area where the images overlap on the distant background details. The useful stereo image extends from the right edge of the vertical sign on the left to the middle twig in the tree on the right.

The arrows here indicate the left and right extent of the useful stereo image.


This image has the confusing extra stuff on left and right removed. It comes together better now as a stereo image. The vignetting at the top is still something of an annoyance since it differs from left to right.


The useful stereo image with the SKF-1 consists of two tall and narrow images. Since this photo had rather more sky tan we needed, and since the vignetting at the top of the image was a problem I cropped it at the top as well as the sides.


Taking our reversed, corrected and cropped images and mounting them side by side gives the finished product (which we have seen before).