Friday, December 28, 2012

NC Haslups Christmas Card Newsletter: Electronic Version

NC Haslups Christmas -- 2012

Christmas Day 2011: Lee’s sister Holly returns from Afghanistan

Let me start by wishing you and yours a happy and blessed holiday season -- a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah, a Kwality Kwanza, or an Agreeable Paid Time-off from Work, whichever you prefer – and peace and prosperity in the new year.

About What Follows: All of the news that follows will be good news.  There were no funerals, divorces, bankruptcies or serious injuries.  Nobody is in Jail. I mention all this here at the beginning because Christmas is a busy time of year and some readers may prefer an executive summary, to wit:  We are fine. Merry Christmas.

Last Christmas and the Grandbabies: Irene and I first saw our new twin grandchildren, Liam and Eva, on Christmas Eve last year.  We had flown to Tampa and first saw the grandbabies in the airport.  They were one month and two days old.  It had been a difficult time for Irene; she had been a grandmother for five weeks and hadn’t been spat up on even once.

We did Christmas at dad’s house in St Petersburg.  When the presents were all opened we headed back across the bay to the airport again to meet my sister Holly when she returned from Afghanistan.  We stayed in St Pete long enough to see in the New Year and flew back on the 2nd.  The photo below was taken New Year’s Day on the Pier in St Pete.  It’s a nice shot of Holly and as for me… well… it makes a useful “before” photo of me for my diet.

The holidays in St Pete offered the usual lovely weather.  It was my turn this year to fall in the water while kayaking.  The camera was in its zip lock bag so there’s no photo.  You will have to take my word for the consummate grace I exhibited.

Irene had two more chances to visit with Amber, Lee and the twins.  They came over for a day at the Animal Kingdom Park when Irene was on her annual Disney Store Alumni retreat in January. Then, in July, Irene flew down again for a visit.

The McPhersons (Amber, Lee and the Twins): Lee teaches chemistry at a local college and to writes “apps” for smart phones and other mobile devices. His apps have won a number of competitive prizes, especially his 3D modeling program for visualizing complex molecules.  Amber will be graduating from medical school in May and is in the process of interviewing all over the eastern US for residency positions in her chosen specialty of emergency medicine.  This photo was taken at Disney World when they came over to visit spend a day with Irene who was doing her yearly Disney week with her long-time Disney Store friends.

Haslup – The Next Generation (Reid and Chris):  Chris and Reid are doing well.  They bought a house four or five miles across town from us. Chris still enjoys his job as a graphic designer at Capstrat and Reid continues to work as a chemistry lab manager at the university.  Most Sunday afternoons Chris and I go to the gym together to work out and then we join the ladies for supper.

In the photo below Chris and Reid have joined us for lunch at Fulton’s Crab House restaurant at Downtown Disney in Orlando.    Irene had arranged a long weekend Disney trip for my 22nd Annual 39th Birthday observation.  I hadn’t known Chris and Reid would be there.  It was a lovely surprise.

Momentary geek out: The photo above was taken with my new Rokinon f/3.5 8mm fisheye lens and de-fished using Image Trends Hemi Plugin installed in Photoshop Pro x3.  Lens and software were birthday presents I gave to myself.  I am very happy with them and am indebted to myself for the generous gift.  I must think of something nice to give myself to pay back the debt. It’s only fair.

Remodeling: Irene and I finally got around to having our kitchen floor repaired this past summer.  We had an icemaker leak a few years ago that had left the subfloor under the kitchen vinyl a bit soft. We had learned to step on the joists in the kitchen to avoid the saggy bits but had been unable to teach the refrigerator the trick. Last spring we noticed that the fridge had developed a noticeable list to port and decided to replace the floor before the fridge fell through altogether.  But you can’t just do the floor.  If you are going to do the floor you might as well do the cabinets at the same time, and if you are doing the cabinets …

Our floor repair wound up costing twice as much as our first house.  We had all of the downstairs floors and ceilings redone and had a new kitchen put in.  This meant that we had to move out of our downstairs altogether.  We rented one of those portable storage pods to park in our driveway and filled it with as much of our downstairs furniture as would fit.  What wouldn’t fit in the pod was moved upstairs and stacked in one of the bedrooms.

Since we were without a kitchen for about two months we turned our upstairs hall bathroom into a temporary field kitchen.

My Birthday at Disney World: My birthday weekend at Disney was an ongoing revelation.  I kept running into more and more people I knew, first Chris and Reid, then other family members, and then friends.  After the first few I knew that Irene had cooked up a surprise party for me but as I kept running into more and more people around the park, on the bus, in the hotel, my notion of the scale of the event kept growing. This slow-motion surprise continued until Sunday’s culminating dinner (for 30) in the Animal Kingdom Lodge where friends I hadn’t seen in years popped up.

It was a wonderful event and I was very touched that so many people turned up for my birthday party.  People came from all over the southeastern US.  Here is a photo of the lady who set it all up.  She did a good job.  I set up a surprise party for her once (a quarter of a century ago) and I may not have been quite as skillful as she was.  Last time I checked she was still mad.

Here is a photo that Irene took in front of the Tree of Life in the Animal Kingdom on my birthday weekend.  As well as being a nice photo of everyone in it – no one has their eyes closed, no one has a rude itch – it is also my selected “after” picture for my diet.

Halloween: Irene and I won prizes for our Halloween costumes at our friends’,  Calvin and Pat’s, party this year.  Mine was won under false colors, I am afraid.  I dressed up as the Monster from Young Frankenstein but everyone at the party thought I was a character from their favorite episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I was the accidental hit of the party.
But, of course, we only won because the twins were so far away.  How could we have competed with this?

A few more things quickly:  Here’s a photo from our annual fall foliage photo safari to the NC mountains with friends Bill and Caran:
  (another fisheye shot, by the way.)

In closing, here’s one more shot of Liam and Eva at one year old.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Separated at Birth? A confession:

I won a prize at a friend's Halloween party for my costume. Here it is:

My Prize Winning Costume
There seemed to be some confusion about who I was supposed to represent. Here are the two candidates:
The "A. Gentleman from "Hush" B. Young Farankestein's Monster

My wife and I think "B" but everybody at the party immediately recognized me as "A". I was a big hit. I won the big prize. I first became aware of a problem when someone, our hostess perhaps, took one look at me and said "I love your costume. That was my favorite Buffy episode!" I just stood speechless trying to figure out what she was talking about. That interaction was repeated with everybody I ran into at the party.

They all seemed delighted with my costume, and with the fact that not only did I look like one of "the gentlemen" from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, "Hush", but I had the same spooky mute stare. I was mute because I was trying to decide if I should play the wet blanket and straighten it all out, or just go with the flow. In the end, more or less by default, I decided not to correct the universal misidentification.

I had to hit Wikipedia when I got home to remember "Hush". I had seen it when it first ran and it was a good episode (nominated for an Emmy) but I had forgotten it.

Apparently the cadaverous gentleman from Buffy and I were separated at birth and it only takes a dab of grey-green makeup for everybody to see the resemblance. [Note to self: consider backing off on the diet a bit. I may be thin enough.]

This was all quite unfair to the Teleospouse whose costume was better than mine and who had done my make up (which was most of my costume).

So, I am posting my confession here, on my blog which nobody reads. That way I can be on record as having confessed that my brilliance was accidental without raining on anybodies fun.

bride by bigleehimself
bride, a photo by bigleehimself on Flickr.


Sunday, August 05, 2012

Cheap Critic: Brave


Haven't been doing lots of reviews lately. There have been a lot of uniformly satisfactory movies that don't need more written about them. The Avengers was really good but that doesn't make for much to write about. Hey, that Josh Whedon, he can really direct. zzzzzzzzzzz. Similarly, Hunger Games was uniformly excellent. I didn't want to like the new Spiderman film; Just because you change the actor doesn't mean it is time to start over and the Spiderman franchise wasn't mired in the swamps of canon like Star Trek was. But, despite being cranky about the needless reboot, I liked the film. Nothing to write about there, either.

But Pixar's latest film, Brave, is another matter. It is a very nice little film. No question about that. But it could have been -- should have been -- almost was -- a classic. But they made a mistake -- and just a bit of the wonderful leaked out -- just enough to leave the film a bit flat at the end.

The problem is that you could tell that they were reaching for more than just an amusing story about a likable tomboy princess who takes a dim view of her parent's plans to find her a husband. They were reaching for the sort of high mythology that Disney achieved in, say, Pinocchio. You could tell they wanted mythos because they touched it at several points. But, in the end, they made a mistake in the story and let it get away.

Without giving away too much of the plot I can say that our heroine -- Merida (voiced by Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald) -- makes a thoughtless mistake which unleashes an evil magic. She puts herself and the people she loves in jeopardy and most of the film deals with her trying to put things right.

That is a promising enough plot framework and Pixar obviously had the talent on hand to make it work. But they didn't, quite, get it right. The problem is, that the screenwriter fell in love with his character and, unlike Pygmalion, where the love of the creator brings his creation to life, Pixar's love for Merida turned her to stone -- lovely but incapable of change or growth.

There is a scene near the end where Merida says to her mother, the queen: "Mother, you have changed!" and the response is "We both have." The problem is, Merida doesn't seem to have changed very much. She is sorry to have caused so much trouble but otherwise the film leaves here pretty much where it found her. This is fine for a nice little film... but not nearly good enough for a film that pretends to high mythology. Mythic adventure changes people, thoughtless mistakes lead to real suffering and evil magic always leaves a mark. The logic of myth requires a character like Merida to change in some important way -- to exhibit a slight sadness for a prideful, thoughtless misdeed that can be remedied, but not undone.

When Pixar decided to put Merida back in the end of the film, exactly where she had been at the beginning, their pretentions of high mythos collapsed.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Two Faces of Mitt Romney

I am seeing a lot of Mitt Romney ads on TV these days. There seem to be two kinds. One is fairly typical, consisting of centrist bromides that are carefully selected to appeal to moderates without hacking off his conservative base. Those ads are OK but dull.

The other ads are more exciting. They show Romney doing necessary, grown-up things, simply because they need doing, even if they are politically difficult -- even if they don't poll well. Those are the ads that make me like Mitt. They are the ones that end with the tag "I am Barack Obama and I approve of this ad."


Say, "Obama"... the name sounds familiar... wasn't he running for something, too?

Monday, July 09, 2012

Forty-five Years Before the Higgs Boson

Red Ball
1967: The Disch/Sladek Nullitron Emerges from the Target Chamber.

By now, because of the wall-to-wall news coverage, most people know everything they will ever be able to understand about the Higgs Boson and, in many cases, quite a bit more. But how many of you remember the discovery of the Nullitron, exactly forty-five years ago in 1967?

There are a number of intriguing parallels and some equally interesting differences between the Higgs Boson and the Disch/Sladek Nullitron. I'll let you read the original report on the Nullitron (linked below) for most of them, but I can't resist a few:

i ) The Higgs Boson gives mass to matter but it was discovered too late to give any to the Nullitron so it has none.

B) Producing Higgs Bosons requires the CERN particle accelerator -- a gizmo so big that it straddles several of Europe's admittedly smallish countries -- while in 1967, for the experimental production of the Nullitron ... a "cyclotron one mile in diameter filled with alternate solid blocks of lead and quicksilver" was deemed "useful but not essential".

3) The Boson is a big deal but the Nullitron is physically bigger than the Boson.

IV. The Higgs Boson has no charge, no spin and no color charge while the Nullitron also has no charge, and presumably no spin since it is said to have no properties at all except for being red and rather shiny.

For more information about the Nullitron, see the original report -- The Discovery of the Nullitron -- from Galaxy Magazine, February 1967.

Photo Credit: Random borrowed photo of a red ball, entitled "Red Ball" by Rennett Stowe, on Flickr

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Young Man's Car

Cheap but fun -- Italian --
it was a young man's ride
and he could own the highway
with the right girl at his side.

You had to buy them quickly,
a berry fresh with dew;
The sun would quickly fade the paint,
you had to get them new.

And the wind would sing sad love songs
to him at the wheel
and for a while he'd ride in style
on youth's ephemeral steel.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Ground Cover

What I want is some sort of green, hardy, mowable ground-cover (grass would be nice) that is as shade tolerant as poison ivy.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Fusionism, Subsidiarity, Ammendment One and Me

The vast majority of my Social Networking friends are either Liberals, Libertarians, or Conservatives of a non-theoretical sort. I am none of the above. I am what the late Frank Meyer styled a Fusionist -- a conservative/libertarian chimera with the head of a libertarian, the heart of a conservative and no spleen to speak of.

Frequently, when I wander into a Facebook thread on a political issue, I find that I disagree with the general direction the discussion is heading. Often I will make a comment containing a single word, "Harrumph", to remind my friend that not everyone reading the thread agrees. That way if they want to know they can ask. This posting concerns one such topic. Many best friends (and some family members) feel very strongly about the issue so I am posting my dissent on my opinion blog which nobody reads so I can be on record without frightening the horses.

Ammendment One

The North Carolina legislature has passed a bill to put a resolution on the ballot in an upcoming election which, if passed, would, in effect, copy the language of an existing state law -- designating the marriage of one man and one woman to be the only domestic union recognized by the State of North Carolina -- into the state constitution. North Carolina is the only state in the Southeastern US that does not have such language in its constitution and I plan to vote for the resolution. I am almost the only person I know who admits to an intention to do so.

To explain why will require that I cover a bit of tedious background forces and principles. I will try to be as brief as possible but please feel free to stop reading and delete me from your friends list at any point if you feel you must.


Marriage is an institution that is universal in all human societies. There are a few differences in details from culture to culture but they are generally minor things that only serve to emphasize the underlying similarities. Marriage answers the same societal needs everywhere and the most urgent of these is to form the basis of multi-generational families which can provide for the care and training of children. The institution of marriage is a scaffolding that society erects around the procreative potential of intimate male-female relations to provide an environment in which any resulting offspring can be reared in a socially-beneficial way.

One hears the argument that the widespread use of contraception and the concurrent "sexual revolution" have changed everything, and there is some truth to that: The social norms around marriage have shifted a bit -- people in first-world countries delay marriage until later in life and there is less social stigma associated with sex outside of marriage. Couples tend to live together until such time as they are ready to have children and only then marry. This is a reasonable-seeming adjustment to the rules and would be unobjectionable if people were more conscientious with their contraception. The fact that illegitimacy rates have gone up instead of down since the introduction of the pill does raise the question of whether the simpler old-fashioned cultural norms worked better, but that is a topic for another day.


As a Fusionist I seek to maximize individual freedom (as do Libertarians) but I also believe that, in the real world, freedom and civic virtue are entangled concepts (like mass and weight in a gravity field) and that attempts to promote the one will succeed only if due consideration is given to the other.

I should quickly point out here that by civic virtue I am not talking about any particular list of Sunday School admonitions and that I am not leading up to an argument that homosexual behavior is morally wrong. Instead, by "civic virtue" I refer to a general sense among the members of a society that all of the following conditions apply:

1) There are shared standards of behavior (whatever they might be) and one ought to observe them;

2) It is sensible to expect that other people will try to follow the rules too;

3) The self-imposed restraints one incurs in following the rules are offset by the mutual confidence in interaction that comes from shared values;

4) When everyone makes a good-faith effort to follow the rules a tolerable degree of order can be expected.

These culturally-dependent rule sets accrete over time by logical induction as people observe the results of behavior and try to codify rules to describe which actions work out well, and which badly. Generally, any rules so derived are claimed to be part of God's divine plan for the world -- an attribution which, if an omnipotent God exists, is fairer than you might at first assume. But even if He does not exist it doesn't follow that the rules are void: The life-experiences from which they were induced are real enough even if the good or bad outcomes had nothing to with God's blessings or displeasure. As I used to tell my son when he was a teenager and was fighting with his mom -- "The fact that you mother told you to do your homework is not a sensible reason not to do it." By the same token, advice one gets from one's Sunday-school teacher is quite possibly good advice, despite its claimed origin in doubtful theology.

I mention all this because I am arguing for a traditional view of marriage and our cultural ideas on the subject are woven through with threads of religious doctrine that are difficult to tease out. I contend that there are sound secular derivations for those threads of reasoning and that one cannot dismiss the whole cloth by an expression of religious disbelief.

Subsidiarity and the Libertarian Ideal

Per Wikipedia, Subsidiarity is an organizing principle stating that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. The concept is applicable in the fields of government, political science, cybernetics, management, military (Mission Command) and, metaphorically, in the distribution of software module responsibilities in object-oriented programming. Subsidiarity is, ideally or in principle, one of the features of federalism, where it asserts the rights of the parts over the whole.

There are a number of ways to lay out the details but for the US, where sovereignty originates with the individual, the usual idea is that the delegation of authority looks something like this if subsidiarity is to be achieved.

A moment's inspection shows that while not necessarily a libertarian idea it has libertarian tendencies. Here is the diagram adjusted to express an American libertarian idea.

That is 'an' American libertarian idea, not 'the' American libertarian idea because you have to leave room for those libertarians whose philosophy arises from misanthropy. They might draw the diagram thusly:

But I am not talking about them ... or to them, I expect. Nor am I talking about Liberals/Progressives who believe that problems can be solved by giving power to a few really, really smart people at the top who will straighten the rest of us out.

Only by the centralization of power can Liberals achieve the uniformity they crave. Local differences offend them. If different states have different laws then the a Liberal will assume that all but one are wrong somehow, and quite possibly all of them are wrong since the laws were codified at the local level, far away from the top where the really smart people must be. How much better, they imagine, to put the best brains on the problem, come up with the most sensible law, and drive it in everywhere from the top.

I suspect you have guessed from the previous paragraph that I am more attuned to the (non-misanthropic) libertarian version than the Liberal one. That is true. But, I think the libertarian view has a problem, too. Here is their diagram with one of the boxes re-labeled:

The problem I am trying to point out is that a simple libertarian model that envisions only atomized individuals vs the state doesn't work for all individuals. None of us are born able to make our own decisions, and some of us lose that capacity with advancing age. Without strong multi-generational families, and without a well-supported institution of marriage as the basis of such families, the concept of radical individualism becomes absurd.

When I said "Too much is required" above I was not just thinking about things that the recipients would recognize as aid, but of other government programs that would inevitably follow. In the section on Fusionism above I said that civic virtue is a prerequisite for a minimal state. Or, putting it another way, people will only put up with so much and past a certain point they will demand that the government do something. Among the things that people won't put up with are feral youth and neglected old people. Single parents tend to find taming their kids a challenge. Boys, in particular, who grow up without a male role model find themselves disproportionately in trouble. It's not a problem of their instruction -- they learn. If there is no male role model, generally what is missing is not the model, it is the male role in the family. Part of the expense of dealing with poorly-socialized young males is building jails to put them in.

Doctrinaire libertarians will say that without the prospect of redistributive government aid for their children, or for their aged grannies, people will spontaneously gravitate to social structures that allow their needs to be provided for, and there is some truth to that. But, I contend that the most effective such institutions, and the institutions that people recognize as such and gravitate toward, are marriage as currently understood and the multi-generational families that strong marriages create. I am certainly in accordance with the libertarian goal of cutting entitlements, and particularly in avoiding the perverse incentives offered to fragmentary families where the more disconnected they are, the more money they get.

People think that marriage is in decline everywhere but it is not. Among the more affluent, marriages remain common and strong. It is among the less-well-off, where those perverse incentives have disintegrated families like a Duck Dodgers Martian ray gun, that marriage is rare, and families are fragmentary and powerless.

Here's my model of a libertarian delegation of authority model that interposes the idea of an multi-generational family to deal with the problem that children and the elderly offer to the more typical model. It will not, I'm afraid, appeal to the misanthropist libertarians whose ideology arises from daddy issues. But it makes sense to me.

I plan to vote for Amendment One tomorrow because I think that the purpose of marriage is to facilitate the creation of multi-generational families which serve as intermediaries between children and the elderly on the one hand and society at large on the other. Because gay and lesbian unions do not produce children who must be cared for and trained when young, or who can make decisions for their parents when the parents are in decline, such unions do not serve what I see as the primary purposes of marriage.

I further contend that the "libertarian" case for gay marriage is bogus. While it is perhaps regrettable that our culture has allowed the government to co-opt the definition of what constitutes a "marriage" -- being all about marriage licenses, justices of the peace, documents filed in the courthouse etc. -- it is an accomplished thing. If the legal definition of marriage is changed then the popular notion will change as well and those few hold-outs will be targeted by anti-discrimination litigation. Marriage, as an institution, will be weakened in terms of its social role and since that social role is a necessary precursor to a stable minimal role for government we will all be less free.

Update: I found this short piece on the National Review Online Blog: The Corner. In it Ryan Anderson makes some similar points, only with an ease and clarity that I envy.

Sunday, February 05, 2012


20120205_3 by bigleehimself
20120205_3, a photo by bigleehimself on Flickr.

February 5th. The stupid groundhog promised me six weeks of winter. Where is it?

Ok, I know... Washington State, Alaska and Cenrtal Europe.

Friday, January 20, 2012

It's Time to Forgive Greg Fishel

Whiteout by Payton Chung
Whiteout, a photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

It was seven years ago today that the city of Raleigh, NC and several of the surrounding suburban communities were totally paralyzed by about one inch of unforecast snow. The photo above shows what a major snow event is was, and still the forecasters managed to miss it. Shocking.

Seven years ago today Raleigh got an inch of snow and the governor wound up declaring a state of emergency. The snow wasn't forecast and all of the trucks that spread salt and sand were out in the suburbs with vacuum attachments picking up leaves people had piled by the curb. The snow started about lunch time and the first thing the city did was to announce early school closings. This put all the cars in the area out on the roads at the same time, trapping the city trucks in traffic jams so no salt could be spread to melt the dab of white stuff off the roads. The guy at the next desk where I worked at the time left at 1:30 PM to pick up his daughter from school and didn't get home until after 3 AM. And his daughter got off easy. Lots of kids never got home and wound up sleeping at the school. We made national news with our inch of snow. Here's a link to the story in USA Today: Inch of snow throws Raleigh, N.C., into a tizzy.

We all figured that Greg Fishel owed us for that one. (He's our local weather guy on WRAL TV.) Of course, it was the Raleigh city government that seized the meteorological oversight and turned it into a first class snafu. But, it has been seven years. I suppose if the bankruptcy laws and the bible (Deuteronomy 15:1-2) both say you should forgive debts after seven years we should let Greg off the hook. Besides, forecasting winter weather in central North Carolina is hard and thankless work.

Most years we get some snow in Raliegh but it is notoriously hard to predict. Our cold air comes from Canada and is quite dry. Our moist air comes up from the Gulf of Mexico and is generally warm. Any straight-forward, predictable weather system -- some major front marching across the map -- will either be cold but dry, or rainy. The only way we get snow is when we get complicated, swirling, mixing of two air masses that average out just below freezing. Since half a degree is enough to make the difference between snow, sleet and rain the forecasters will frequently predict an 80 percent chance of "god knows what" in the next 24 hours. I have often suggested that meteorologists in the Triangle Area (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill) should take the winter off on the theory that they do more harm than good. I generally say this when I am disappointed that forecast snow has arrived as rain.

But my point is, it isn't easy. Greg, we forgive you.

Thanks to Flickr user Payton Chung who posted the only photo I could find of the great snow of Janary 20th, 2005.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cultural Literacy Requirement: The Curate's Egg

True_humility by bigleehimself
Bishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones."

Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"

This cartoon, by George du Maurier, from Punch November 9, 1895 provides such a useful metaphor for the phenomenon it describes that people still use the term that it inspired 116 years after its publication. The concept is similar to "damning with faint praise" except that the praise is not faint but is instead enthusiastic but excessively specific and often insincere.

Calling something a "curate's egg" (or a "parson's egg") is generally to be critical of it while, at the same time, suggesting that other, more positive descriptions were references to aspects deliberately selected in a polite effort to "say something nice."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

One and a Half Metaphors

You toss the Alpo on the seat
and turn to the pickup with the dog in the bed.
The dog watches you with calm, interested eyes.

The dog is friendly -- like your dog.
As a dog person you know the spot,
along the base of the skull and behind the ears,
where your fingers would go if you let them.

The dog might bite.
That doesn't worry you except
that it might be bad for the dog.
And it's not your dog.

You drive off with your dog food
and the dog can still smell you:
A strange man with just a bit
of another dog's poo stuck to his sole.

You stash the game under your seat
and pull your Honda 250 out into traffic.
A truck pulls up beside you
with a chain-link cage in the back.
The cat watches you with calm, interested eyes.

You've never been so close to an animal
that is beautiful beyond bearing.
The tiger rubs against the wire,
it's fur looks soft.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I Was Wrong...ish

In my previous post I described a method of using metameric color separation to produce 3D images using passive glasses. Further research reveals that

a) the technology I was describing is less common than I thought

b) it doesn't work quite as I described it.

The system I described is the one used by Dolby 3D cinema projection system, a technology which is not used for 3D televisions, as far as I can discover. Dolby 3D uses the glasses I described that block specific wavelengths of red, green and blue light but the projector doesn't use special phosphors to generate the six colors of light needed but, instead, uses a six-segment spinning color wheel to color the light. Dolby 3D's chief competitor -- RealD Cinema -- uses left-handed and right-handed circularly polarized light for its glasses. Some 3D televisions (the ones that use inexpensive glasses that don't need batteries) use the same technology as the RealD to present stereo images.

Dolby 3D had an initial advantage in the marketplace because its metameric color separation process works with ordinary projection screens while RealD circular polarized projectors require special screens that don't mess with the polarization of the light they reflect. But as more and more multiplexes are built, or refurbished, with all new stuff, including new screens, that advantage is fading and the cheaper, more durable glasses you can use with RealD have given that technology a boost and Dolby 3D seems to be fading.

This image (from the Wikipedia page on Dolby 3D) makes the technology fairly easy to understand.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Metamerism, Congress and Poo, Oh my!

Update 10 January 2012: Some of my descriptions of 3D television technology were, um, wrong-ish. I speculated a bit to fill in some gaps and in one or two points I was mistaken. (see my correction here.)

I'm afraid this will be another of my rambling posts, so let me apologize in advance if the narrative thread gets a bit lost in the exposition. This is intended to be -- and will eventually be -- a complaint about the intrusiveness of government. But before we can get to that there will be a lengthy Mr Wizard segment to establish some scientific background for my complaint. It is possible that you already know that stuff and can skip to the end. Here's a test question so you can decide: If a prism shows all the wavelengths of visible light -- red at one end, blue at the other -- then why does the color wheel wrap around in a circle? If you know the answer then hit the scroll wheel. If you are in the dark then...

Let There Be Light

When you heat matter it becomes agitated. If it is solid its atoms vibrate. In a liquid they squirm like drunks doing the Conga. In a gas they fly around bumping into things like minor characters trying to drive home after a conga party in a Jetsons cartoon.

Since the atoms contain electrically charged bits -- electrons and protons -- all of this random acceleration, deceleration and jiggling about makes them give off electromagnetic radiation. Not all of the atoms are equally excited. As the party heats up, more and more are out on the dance floor but there are always some chilling out by the punch bowl.

A statistical measure of the average level of excitement is called the "temperature" but among individual atoms there is a random distribution of levels of excitation. Some are more excited than the average, some less. The really excited, seven-Red-Bull atoms give off high-energy radiation which has shorter wavelength and is generally bluer, while the laid-back atoms give off lower-energy, longer-wavelength, redder radiation.

Light from thermal radiation is always a mixture of all the colors -- hotter objects have more shorter-wavelength (bluer) light in the mix but all the colors are there, just in different proportions depending on the temperature.

Here is a diagram from Wikipedia. It has three lines (the red, green and blue ones) that show the emission spectra of a hot body at three temperatures. It also has a black line labeled "Classical theory: (5000 K)" that I don't understand and request that you ignore.
500px-Black_body by bigleehimself
link: a Wikipedia image from "Black Body" entry (bigleehimself on Flickr).

We tend to think of sunlight as 'white', so a pretty good standard for white light would be light with the same mix of intensities at all wavelengths as sunlight. For sunlight at noon that would be approximately 5000K (the blue line above).

At low angles, just after sunrise or just before sunset, sunlight has to pass through more of the atmosphere than at noon. The blue light tends to scatter along the way leaving the light that reaches the ground redder and redder as the sun nears the horizon. When the sun sets on Manhattan the light appears red because the blue light has been scattered to make the sky blue over New Jersey.

Just before sunset the apparent color temperature of the sun is closer to 3000K which is also the approximate color temperature of ordinary incandescent light bulbs. Our brains adjust our color perception for the spectral changes in the light as the sun rises or sets. It can adjust to tungsten light bulbs and their light looks 'white' to us too.

Interestingly, while a mix of all the colors of visible light is a way to get light that looks white to us, it's not the only way. I'll get back to that later. It turns out we can't really see all the colors of light. Basically, we only see three. Humans with normal vision see the world as a mixture of three colors. People with color blindness may see two colors, or even just one. There is a very small percentage of the population that sees four colors but they are oddities and don't really change the argument.

Our retinas have three kinds of 'cone' cells, each of which is sensitive to a range of colors, approximately 'red', 'green' and 'blue'. They are represented in the diagram below in terms of the wavelength of light: (S)hort=blueish, (M)edium=greenish, (L)ong=reddish. It is probably squeamishness about the "-ish" parts that kept the Wikipedia entry on 'Color Vision' from labeling them simply as blue, green and red.
colorvision by bigleehimself
colorvision, a photo by bigleehimself on Flickr.

These cone cells that give us color vision are themselves color blind. An "L" type cell that responds to reddish light reports a single value to the optic nerve: how much total reddish light is present. It doesn't report how red the light is, just how much light there is, in total, in the frequency band to which it responds.

You can map that value to a scale of, say, zero to ten, where zero is no red light detected and ten is the brightest red light you can distinguish. If you write down the numbers for the L (reddish), M (greenish), and S (blue) cone cells at some point on your retina then you have a set of three numbers that tell exactly what color you see there.

rgb_spectrum_sunlight by bigleehimself
Sunlight in the simplified model.

For the rest of this discussion I will use a slightly oversimplified model of color vision. If you look at the diagram above you will notice that the spectral sensitivities of the L and M cone cells overlap over a broad range of wavelengths. Unless you are red-green colorblind your brain sorts out the overlap for you and you see red light as a very distinct color from green light despite the fact that both kinds of cone cells respond to red, orange, yellow and green light perfectly well, only in slightly different degrees. It is only in the very red red light at one end of the spectral band, or in the teal colored light at the other, where the difference in sensitivities between the L and M cone cells is large. Having noted the overlap I will, for the balance of this discussion, ignore it and speak of the three colors of light we see as Red, Green and Blue (in that order longer wavelengths first).

Color TV, 2D and 3D

rgb_spectrum_sunlight_on_tv by bigleehimself
Sunlight on TV

It is no coincidence that the three colors -- red, green and blue -- are the colors of the little dots on the screen of a color television. If your TV wants to show you something white it turns on all three colors -- red, green and blue -- each of which stimulates one of the three kinds of cone cells in your eye. Since TVs aren't really that bright compared to sunlight let's call the red intensity six, and the green and blue about seven on our one to ten scale. That gives us an R-G-B color number of 6-7-7 which looks the same to us as a piece of white paper viewed in sunlight at noon -- not quite as bright, but the same apparent color.

rgb_spectrum_grass_on_3d_tv by bigleehimself
Green grass on a 3D TV

But is it the same color? Actually, no. Each of those three types of colored spots on your TV gives off light at a single wavelength. The red dots are a very particular red, the green a particular wavelength of green light and the blue a very precise blue. Manufacturers of some 3D TVs use this single-wavelength property in their displays. Instead of a single red color they use two at slightly different wavelengths. Similarly there are two greens and two blues. The dorky-looking glasses you wear to watch the TV have different lenses for the left and right eye. The lens for your right eye blocks one of the red wavelengths of light, one of the green wavelengths and one of the blue. The lens for your left eye blocks the other wavelength in each R-G-B pair.

rgb_spectrum_grass_on_3d_tv_lr by bigleehimself
Left and right eye see the same color despite spectral differences.

The process is a bit more complicated than I am letting on (remember the Red/Green overlap) but the basic idea is that the TV can show your eyes two distinct spectral mixtures of light and, because they cause the same stimulation of the Red-, Green- and Blue-sensitive cone cells in in your eyes, you can't tell them apart. A spectroscope can tell you that they aren't the same color but your eye can't.

The Color Wheel Explained as a Triangle

Now that we know that we only see three colors I am prepared to answer a question that has puzzled me for half a century, one which I have only just figured out while I was working on this post: If the colors of visible light span a linear spectrum from shorter to longer wavelengths, why does a color wheel wrap around in a circle?

color_triangle by bigleehimself
Color Triangle

Look at the triangle I have drawn on the right. If you were to inflate it so the lines bulge outward you would have the usual color circle. Looking at lines 1 and 2 you will see all the colors of the rainbow in the usual spectral ordering -- Red, Yellow, Green, Teal, Blue. Line 1 represents all possible combinations of Red and Green light with no Blue. Line 2 has combinations of Green and Blue with no Red. Line 3 has combinations of Red and Blue with no Green. With the exception of the endpoints -- pure Red and pure Blue -- line 3 contains all the colors that aren't in the rainbow, most notably Purple. Rainbows don't have purple. Here's why:

A rainbow (or a prism) sorts out light according to wavelength. Each band is a particular single wavelength of light. There are bands for Red, Green and Blue, and between them fall bands of light with intermediate wavelengths. When our eyes receive light of a single wavelength that falls between the spectrally adjacent colors our cone cells can detect -- that is between red and green, or between green and blue -- then our eyes see that light as a mixture of the colors we can see -- orange/yellow/yellow-green for light between red and green and various shades of blue-green for light between green and blue. A 50/50 mixture of pure red light and pure green light looks yellow to us but so does light at a single wavelength half way between red and green. Both kinds of light produce the same stimulation in our cone cells. The same is true about wavelengths between green and blue, although there are some shades of blue-green light that we don't see particularly well.

But that is just for the spectrally-adjacent color ranges -- red/green and green/blue. The third side of our triangle -- red/blue -- mixes colors of light from both ends of the visible spectrum and our eyes don't see intermediate wavelengths of light as a mixture of those colors. A light at a single wavelength half way between red light and blue light is green light. So, when our eyes detect red light mixed with blue light, we see purple. There is no single wavelength of light that looks purple. Purple light is always a mixture of wavelengths. Since a rainbow sorts out light by wavelength and gives each spectral color its own band, there is no band for purple.


Colors that have the property that they are composed of different mixtures of wavelengths of light but cause the same stimulation of your cone cells and can't be distinguished are called metamers. When you look at a picture of an object -- a photograph, a video or even a painting -- and the colors look accurate to you, then those colors are almost certainly metamers of the colors of the objects being rendered. A real-life banana reflects yellow light as well as some red and some green (depending how ripe it is) but a banana on TV consists of a mix of red and green light because (most) TVs have no yellow dots.

rgb_spectrum_green_handbag by bigleehimself
Fetching Green Handbag

You don't have to be a couch potato to see metameric color matches. They happen all the time. The dyes and pigments we use to make objects the color we want them to be are chosen because they absorb light in particular wavelengths and reflect or transmit the rest (depending on whether the object is translucent or opaque.) On the right is a reflectance spectrum for a fetching green handbag tinted with pigments that absorb most wavelengths of red and blue light. It reflects a lot of green but there is other light there too. In sunlight its R-G-B number might be 2-5-2.

rgb_spectrum_green_shoes by bigleehimself
Matching Green Suede Shoes

Here are the matching green suede shoes. They were dyed with chemicals that absorb light in the middle of the green band but reflect more light in the yellow and blue-green ranges. Despite the differences in spectral composition your eye still sees the same amount of generally red, green and blue light -- 2-5-2 -- and the shoes appear the same color... in sunlight or incandescent light.

The Incandescent Light Bulb Ban

But as of January 1st, 2012 it will become illegal to manufacture and sell one-hundred watt incandescent light bulbs -- the type of incandescent used to light a room with a single bulb. You might have heard that Congress repealed the light-bulb ban but that isn't exactly true. Congress declined to provide any funds to enforce the new law -- in effect giving the 100 watt incandescent bulb a reprieve -- but the law remains on the books. Congress can easily restore funding at any time and the manufacturers know it.

Making incandescent light bulbs for the US market has become a risky economic decision. Companies will stop making them or scale back so they can't be caught with lots of unsellable inventory if funding for enforcement is restored. Prices of incandescent bulbs will go up. People will switch to compact fluorescent bulbs which are more efficient. They will spend less for electricity and can use that extra cash to buy antidepressants because the light in their living room suddenly reminds them of restrooms in bus stations. And that green handbag and those green suede shoes will never match again.

Why Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (still) Suck

Compact fluorescent bulbs don't emit thermal radiation. They aren't hot. They generate light in a cascade of several steps. The first step is that a stream of electrons passes through the gas inside the glass tube -- a mixture of argon and mercury vapor -- which causes the atoms to change energy states. The electrons in the mercury atom have several discrete energy states they can assume but the higher energy states are unstable.

When a mercury atom gets zapped with a passing electron it jumps to one of those unstable, higher-energy states. It will then cascade through successively lower energy states until it reaches a stable state. Each time it jumps from a one state to another it sheds energy in the form of a photon. Depending on the state transition involved (what the before and after energy states are) that photon will have some very-exact amount of energy -- a very specific color. The most frequent state transitions with mercury emit light that is either blue or ultra-violet.

The second light-producing step in a compact fluorescent bulb happens when that ultra-violet light hits the rare-earth phosphors coated on the inside of the glass. The high-energy ultraviolet photon excites those atoms in pretty much the same way as the electron did with the mercury. The atoms in the phosphors have their own particular energy state transitions and each of those transitions emits a photon with a very specific color. The phosphors are selected to add some reds and greens to the mercury blues to give a light that looks white.

In any discussion of compact fluorescent lights it would be ungrateful and wrong to ignore the hard work of the lighting scientists who have been beavering away for decades to improve their light. They have several tricks they do with the phosphors that let them fill in between the colors a bit but I didn't describe those tricks because I don't understand them. But the spectral peaks associated with the energy level transition still predominate in the light. The light from older and/or cheaper CFLs is appallingly horrible but the newer, fancier CFL bulbs produce light that is merely rather bad.

compared_spectra by bigleehimself
compared_spectra, a photo by bigleehimself on Flickr.

At right is an image that compares the spectra of several kinds of compact fluorescent light bulbs with a 60 watt incandescent bulb and with an unspecified light emitting diode-based bulb. The image is one I found somewhere on line. The page on which I found it neither claims nor references a copyright so I borrowed the image to use here. The comparison makes the Philips brand bulb look pretty good so it might have come from them.

There are a few oddities about the comparison image that strike me as peculiar. It may have gotten a bit dented in its travels on the Internet. In particular the yellow bands seem to have wandered off from where you would expect them. The incandescent spectrum has almost no yellow band and the spectra for the fluorescents show a second yellow band right in the middle of the reds. But it gives you the idea; fluorescent lighting tends to have lots of light at a few very specific colors and not much in between.

Here's a better image to show that phenomenon:
Fluorescent_lighting_spectrum_peaks_labelled by bigleehimself
Fluorescent lighting spectrum peaks labelled from Wikipedia

The numbers that label the peaks in the graph refer to a list of elements that fluoresce at that particular wavelength, generally Mercury, Europium and Terbium. If you click on the link in the caption it will take you to a Wikipedia page that has the list. There are several other spectra for various sorts of fluorescent lights on the Wikipedia page where I found the above. Among them is a spectrum for a Philips bulb which may be the one in the comparison image. It does show a somewhat better fill-in between the peaks but it doesn't label its Y axis and I am suspicious that they used a log transform to hammer down the peaks a bit. So I didn't use it here.

You may be wondering, if we only see three colors and (with the right rare-earth phosphors to balance the Mercury blue) the light from a fluorescent bulb stimulates all three types of cone cells in our eyes and looks white to us, then isn't the problem with fluorescent lights basically fixed? Actually, no. Remember the green shoes and handbag.

The shoes and handbag appear the same color in sunlight and under incandescent light because they are a metameric color match in that light. They reflect a different spectrum but we can't see the difference. Fluorescent lights have a big spike right in the middle of the greens. Our handbag reflects true greens strongly and is likely to show bright green under fluorescent light. The shoes, that make the same metameric green by straddling the wavelength, will appear duller, probably a bit brown.

You can simulate the experience of viewing things under compact fluorescent lighting as follows: First go to your neighborhood multiplex and watch the 3D movie of your choice. On your way out steal the glasses and wear them for the rest of the experiment. (You can return them later.) Next, find a room with an overhead fixture that takes three 60 watt light bulbs. Replace one of the bulbs with a black-light bulb that you buy at Spencer's gifts at the mall. Then take all the clothes from your closet, sit under the light wearing the glasses, and sort your clothes into piles that look good together. Finally, carry your piles out into the sunlight, take off your glasses and see what you think of your choices. I'll bet the result won't be pretty.

Light Emitting Diode Lighting

I won't say much about LED lighting except to say that LED bulbs seem to produce better light than CFLs but are very expensive, especially in the higher power ranges. Most LED light bulbs are 60 watt equivalents or lower although 100 watt replacement bulbs are entering the market now. They are very efficient -- better than CFLs and last pretty much forever. They cost 20 to 30 times as much as incandescents but because they are so efficient and last so long they can pay for themselves... sometimes.

If you replace the incandescent bulb on your porch light that burns all the time with a LED bulb it might pay for itself in saved electricity in a year or so. If you replace the light bulb in your guest room closet, where the bulb burns 20 minutes a day, six days a year, that bulb will pay for itself when pigs fly.

Unleashing the Forces of the Market

One theory about the light bulb ban states that with incandescent bulbs being illegal the increased demand for other, more efficient forms of lighting will cause manufacturers to focus on them for research and to compete with them on price. That is, the light bulb ban will make compact fluorescent lighting better and will make LED lighting cheaper. It could happen, I suppose. But at least one unsatisfactory precedent presents itself.

A Crappy Precident

In 1992 President George H. W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act. If mandated toilets that consume no more than 1.6 gallons per flush. It went into effect in Jan 1, 1994 for residential buildings and Jan 1, 1997 for commercial buildings. It offers a nice parallel with the light bulb ban. At the time the law went into effect there were low-flow conventional toilets but they weren't very satisfactory. They are the analog of CFLs in our simile. The role of LED lighting was played by pressurized-tank and other pressure-assisted flush toilets which worked quite well with 1.6 gallons but were much too expensive for most people to buy.

So, in 1994 the Energy Policy Act unleashed the full innovative and competitive powers of the US market to solve the problem of producing a cost-effective, reliable toilet that used no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. The question is, how long did it take for the market to provide a common, economical residential toilet that a grown man can use confidently without knowing where the plunger was located?

Let's see, the "working toilet ban" took effect in 1994. This is 2012. That's something like 18 years so far. But I live in hope.