Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Photo Du Jour

Christmas Cooter

Playing with the an old Canon "nifty fifty" (Model 1) that I bought at a local consignment place for $24. Shooting wide open at f/1.8, it has a very shallow depth of field, resulting in a lovely bokeh from the Christmas lights in the background.

In case you haven't figured it out, Cooter is the cat's name.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chicken Soup for Thinkers

Here's a link to bookmark and enjoy: a list of 51 nominated blog postings for Scientific American's Open Lab Anthology for 2011.

Some of the authors are familiar to me:
Resolution: read (or attempt) all of these posts.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Earth's All-Night Diner

A headline in a recent New Scientist article caught my eye: Let's build a beacon to tell aliens who we were.

It made me think of this Gahan Wilson cartoon from my youth (a long time ago):

Google images comes through again for me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fleur du Jour

Now here I thought that it was getting too late in the season for flowers...

This is a tiny flower, about the size of the nail on my pinkie. It's blooming now, as I write this, inside of a large pot on my front porch. The "real" flowers in the pot are all dead, and my wife claims this is a weed. At least she didn't plant it. Since it is in a pot, maybe it hitched a ride in the potting soil or with the geraniums that were planted in it.

The kind folks at the WVU Greenhouse have identified it as Lobelia erinus or one of its hybrids.

This photo marks a bit of an improvement in my technique. I used an Orbis light ring to provide the extra light that I needed to get more depth-of-field than I've been able to get in normal lighting situations -- particularly on a November evening.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fleur du Jour

It's getting a little nippy for flower pictures, so I thought I'd post something relatively recent (and appropriate).

Meet the Frost-weed aster (Aster pilosus), shot below the Morgantown Lock & Dam about a month ago.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Perchance to Dream

Mediterranean diet and exercise can reduce sleep apnea symptoms
Eating a Mediterranean diet combined with physical activity can help to improve some of the symptoms of sleep apnoea, according to new research.

The study, which is published online in the European Respiratory Journal, looked at the impact a Mediterranean diet can have on obese people with sleep apnoea, compared to those on a prudent diet.

Obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS) causes frequent pauses of breathing to occur during sleep, which disrupts a person's normal sleeping pattern. It is one of the most prevalent sleep-related breathing disorders with approximately 2-4% of the adult population experiencing the condition. This percentage increases up to 20-40% with obesity, and weight loss is often an essential part of the recommended treatment plan.

The researchers, from the University of Crete in Greece, examined 40 obese patients suffering from OSAS. Twenty patients were given a prudent diet to follow, while the other 20 followed a Mediterranean diet*. Both groups were also encouraged to increase their physical activity, mainly involving walking for at least 30 minutes each day.

In both groups, the patients also received continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy which involves wearing a mask that generates an air stream, keeping the upper airway open during sleep.

The researchers monitored the patients during a sleep study, known as polysomnography. This involved monitoring several markers for OSAS, including electrical activity in the brain, eye movements and snoring. The patients were examined at the start of the study and again 6 months later.

The results showed that people following the Mediterranean diet had a reduced number of disturbances, known as apnoeas, during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, which usually accounts for approximately 25% of total sleep during the night.

The findings also revealed that people following the Mediterranean diet also showed a greater adherence to the calorie restricted diet, an increase in physical activity and a greater decrease in abdominal fat.

  • Red meat (servings/wk) 3
  • Poultry (servings/wk) 3
  • Fish (servings/wk) 3, 1 of which is fatty fish
  • Dairy products, low fat (servings/d) 2
  • Fruit (servings/d) 4
  • Vegetables (servings/d) 5
  • Legumes (servings/wk) > 3
  • Potatoes (servings/wk) > 5
  • Non-refined cereals (servings/d) 6
  • Red wine (glasses/d) 1-2
  • Daily use of olive oil moderate

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Today's Stupid

Attacks on federal air pollution regulations dangerous to Americans' health
Efforts by some in Congress to dismantle clean air laws are a threat to public health, experts warn in a "Current Issues" article published online today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

New Scientist Science in America: Decline and Fall

Less than 2 per cent of its 535 members (of congress) have professional backgrounds in science. In contrast, there are 222 lawyers, whom one suspects largely avoided science classes in college. Lawyers are trained to win arguments, and as any trial lawyer will tell you, that means using facts selectively for the purposes of winning, not to establish the truth. No wonder ideology and rhetoric have come to dominate policy discussion, often bearing little relationship to factual reality.

Friday, October 28, 2011

I'm one of a kind (there are a million more like me)

On this BBC News World article,
7 billion people and you: What's your number? you can enter your date of birth and the web app will tell you where you fall (numerically) in the scheme of mankind.
When I was born, I was the 2,705,110,781st person in the world (living at that time).
That number -- 2,705,110,781 -- looked to possibly be a prime number. I was (not really) surprised to find there's an Excel function -- GCD -- which returns the greatest common divisor of the operand. It turns out that 2,705,110,781 can only be divided by one and 2,705,110,781, making it a prime number.
I'm not (quite) silly enough to think there's any cosmic significance with my 2,705,110,781st position in the population. After all, the web app didn't ask me what time I was born, or any of a number of other limiting factors.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mystery flower identified

On my bike ride on August 18, I came across a small but pretty little flower growing along the trail above the Hildebrand lock & dam. Until today, it was labeled in my files as "tiny flower."
Today, thanks to the help of Donna Ford-Werntz, herbarium curator at WVU, we now have a name.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Willowleaf lettuce (Lactuca saligna).
Unfortunately -- I say this without sincerity -- this is a non-native species, originally from Eurasia.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Bridge not too far (away)

Sunday drive took me to Grantsville, Md., site of this single-span arch on the old National Road. There's a guy fly fishing underneath to give you a sense of scale.

Beer is good for you

High fluid intake appears to reduce bladder cancer risk

BOSTON — Drinking plenty of fluids may provide men with some protection against bladder cancer, according to a study presented at the 10th AACR International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, held Oct. 22-25, 2011.

Facebook wall for earth's seven billionth person

You're on your own, kid. -- Ron Paul

Wait a second. Sorry, but you're just the 6,999,999,999th person. -- Joseph Kony, Lord's Resistance Army.

I'll want to see your birth certificate. -- Orly Taitz

My Dear Friend,
My name is Mr. Johnson Emmanuel, I am a senior partner (Attorney) in the firm of Emmanuel Consults Inc: Private Investigators, Security Consultants and Financial Managers. We are conducting a standard process investigation/Recommendation on behalf of African Development Bank (ADB), The African Continental Banking Conglomerate....

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Tale of Two States

It was the worst of times.

Granted, these aren't coming from the same state legislatures -- yet -- but they are brought to you by the same folks.
PIERRE, S.D. — The South Dakota Senate voted Wednesday to require women to wait 72 hours before they can have abortions and to submit to counseling about why they shouldn't go through with the procedures.
And this...
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign a bill that will make the state the first in the nation to prohibit doctors from asking patients if they own guns. The bill is aimed particularly at pediatricians, who routinely ask new parents if they have guns at home and if they're stored safely.
How do Republicans reconcile these two ideas without appearing insane?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Climate of Status Quo

Science writer Chris Mooney had a good article in Mother Jones yesterday. Titled The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science -- How our brains fool us on climate, creationism, and the vaccine-autism link, it looks at some of the factors that are involved with how certain people trust or distrust facts with which they are in disagreement.

According to some classic research, our attitudes can be based upon our classifications as "individualists" or "communitarians" in combination with either "hierarchical" or "egalitarian" outlooks. Conservative Republicans are typically "indiviualist-hierarchical" while liberal Democrats would be "communitarian-egalitarian."

Dan Kahan, the author of the study, sums it up nicely:

Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a d├ętente in what Kahan has called a "culture war of fact." In other words, paradoxically, you don't lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.
On a tangential note, I see that today's Rapture Index is the highest ever: 184. This is because category #38, Wild Weather, has been recently elevated. I think it's funny that the keeper of these categories sees no irony between category
43 Climate: Record cold temps put the freeze on global warming hype.
and categories #38 and #45:
38 Wild Weather: The US is hit by a historic tornado Outbreak.
45 Floods: Heavy flooding in South America and Europe.
What values would give these facts a fighting chance?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I Feel Fine

I had an amusing thought: what if the Rapture has already occurred? Everything is the same as it ever was -- nobody is missing. Nobody qualified. Not that it should come as any surprise.

According to the Rapture Ready web site, today's rapture index is 183, which on their scale translates to "fasten your seatbelts!" Scan the "Comments on Active Categories" section:

  • 04 Unemployment: Unemployment tops 10 percent.
  • 05 Inflation: Several commodities are at multi-year highs.
  • 06 Interest Rates: The yield on bond prices has reached a 9 month high.
  • 07 The Economy: The debt crisis in Europe is spreading around the world.
  • 08 Oil Supply/Price: The price of oil climbs higher.
  • 09 Debt and Trade: The mortgage bailout will add $1.2 trillion to the Federal debt.
  • 10 Financial unrest: The U.S. dollar is down sharply, and gold is at a new high.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? The Republicans are trying to bring on the apocalypse! They think that Obama is the Antichrist, and maybe this will finally expose him.

Some other wonks on the net are trying to rain on everyone's parade. They offer a list of years throughout the ages where the end of the world (TM) was forecast. Mark your calendar for May 21st.

Silly prognosticators! The Rapture has already occurred. The only things missing are a couple of socks, some pets in my neighborhood, and a hitherto undiscovered tribe in the Amazon. I hope they like harp music.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Endless Tweaking

Not being able to leave well enough alone (see previous post), I realized that the criticism about lack of shadows was valid. My hesitation to act on that criticism was partly because I was sick and tired of endlessly tweaking that work. The other reason was that I just didn't have the knowledge and experience with lighting effects in PhotoShop.

So, I rested and I learned (a little). Results are more pleasing:

Notice a couple of new eggs?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Putting my eggs into one basket

In a previous posting, I described how I made a basket using some simple tools in Adobe Illustrator. Here's the same basket loaded up:

This final composition was done in PhotoShop. Each of the eggs, as well as the basket, table cloth and candles, is an Illustrator drawing. If I try to put all of that together in Illustrator, I quickly run out of memory.

A person who I rely upon for PhotoShop advice offered the criticism that shadows were noticeably missing from this piece. Each egg should have a shadow..., etc.

Damn! No, wait. My picture is just well-lit. That's it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Illustrator Basketmaking 101

The Distort and Transform tool in Adobe Illustrator can really do some cool effects. This basket that I recently did was easy and involved just a few tools and techniques.

Here's how I did this.

I started with a small swatch that I made of short lines in various stroke weights and shades of brown/tan. I turned this into a pattern brush.

Once I had the pattern brush, I used the circle tool to create an oval that matches the lip of the basket. I applied the brush to the oval and tweaked the stroke some more until I was happy with the look.

The rest of the bowl was really simple: I used the Transform tool and started with an arbitrary 29 repetitions. I then tweaked the horizontal scale control down into the minus category (the Preview feature is really handy here). Then I tweaked the Move Vertical a bit into the minus category, watching the preview until I stopped seeing white space between the rings. Expand the Object, and that was all there is to the bowl of the basket. I added some extra body to the basket by copying the bowl layer, pasting it over the top of the original and shifting it horizontally and vertically several keyboard clicks. This worked to fill in the occasional blank space between coils.

The lip of the bowl was created from a fresh circle that I visually matched up with the top ring. Once again, I applied the pattern brush to that. To get that the cool windings, I used the Zig-Zag tool in the Distort and Transform tool set. You can see the dialog box for that below:

Like always, I turned Preview on, so I can see what I'm rendering. By setting Points to Smooth, I got a coiling effect instead of the basic zig-zag. Then I just pumped up the Ridges per segment slider until I got some tight coils. Voila!

Finally, the handle is the top half of a circle arc with the same wood brush applied. After thickening it up a little, I put another circle arc over that and applied the actual zig-zag transform to that.

Now I'm ready to put some Easter eggs in this basket!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Where's the Beef?!!

Somebody at work turned me on to this guy's blog page, Words From The Mountains. If you clicked on that link -- why didn't you? -- you'd see the July 22, 2010, entry titled "The Ghost of Woodburn Hall." It tells the story of a prank from more than a century ago, when some agricultural students led a cow up into Woodburn's bell tower.

Cows being -- well -- dumb, this one managed the climb up several flights, but it seemed unable to walk back down. Consequently, it was removed in much the same way that the dead horse in Animal House had to be removed from the dean's office, albeit before the days of chainsaws. Thus was born the legend of the Woodburn Hall Cow, whose ghost is still mooing in the night.

Now the reason for the story about the unfortunate cow is because I had done a vector drawing of Woodburn Hall, based upon a night-time Christmas lights photograph that I had taken. I was able to catch the night-time look of the building, but I was hesitant to attempt the lighting effect.

Something about my showing this Illustrator drawing to a coworker caused him to remark that my picture needed a cow, whereupon he told me of the legend. Lest you think that I keep strange company, this person is a director-level at the University.

It's funny how an idea grows.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stitching in Illustrator

Still on the subject of Ukrainian rushnyky, I thought I'd take on one of my mother's pillow embroideries (left).

She does these patterns free-style, with no design in mind when she starts. My interpretation used a single, uniform cross-stitch, whereas my mother's original features a variety of stitching styles.

I flipped the central portion and made it into a repeating brush pattern (right). It's funny how the eyedropper tool in Illustrator interpreted the orange-gold color -- it came across more bronze in Illustrator.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Illustrator stitches

Some time ago, I showed off a few faux cross-stitch patterns of traditional Ukrainian "Rushnyky," literally towels.

I doubt I could claim credit for applying the techniqe of using a cross-stitch "X" pattern to build an elaborate design in Adobe Illustrator, but I came up with the idea on my own and developed it through experimentation.

Here's an inset portion, showing a two-color stitch pattern:Once you have a few patterns, you can start to replicate them and lay them out into a larger work. Here is a completed rushnyk from a design I copied:

There's a really cool trick you can do in Illustrator, where you can take something you've designed and make it into a pattern brush. The pattern brush can then be applied to a vector shape like a line, rectangle or circle. The basic square of this pattern lends itself particularly to a rectangle, because you can designate a specific design to be a corner piece in your brush pattern.

To do this, I first stripped away the outer zig-zag border. Here's what the replicated squares would look like in a corner pattern:Once the pattern brush is complete, you can begin applying it. Here is a circle within a square with the rushnyk brush pattern applied:

Note that you can change the stroke. The circle is one-half the stroke of the square. The only problem with creating these elaborate designs is that you can run out of memory when you try something large based upon an elaborate design.

Friday, January 21, 2011

GOP's not-so-secret agenda

I read this morning that with health care reform now "repealed," the GOP congress is going after climate change. Just like health care, the GOP sees any attempt to regulate greenhouse gasses as being job-killing.

According to Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., "We will be active and aggressive using every tool in the toolbox to protect American jobs and our economy by rolling back the job-destroying (greenhouse gas) regulations." (I suppose the Republicans' filibuster against the auto industry bailout last year was also done out of concern for jobs.)

It just so happens that I've obtained a hither-to unknown wikileaks release on the GOP's agenda for this year:

  1. repeal health care reform
  2. rewrite the Clean Air Act
  3. repeal the 14th amendment
  4. repeal the 13th amendment (arguably a symbolic gesture)
  5. prohibit the teaching of evolution
  6. declare war against Poseidon

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Saving the Weasels

The GOP-controlled congress is living up to its promise of trying to roll back health care reform. HR 2 has been given the odd name of Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act. The words Repealing and Killing have negative connotations, however. If the GOP would take my advice -- they won't -- they should name the bill positively, say Save the Weasels Act.

Make no mistake about it -- since the current health care reform law has made it illegal to cancel an insurance policy because of a pre-existing condition, Insurance Policy Processing Clerks have been having a tough go of it. Many of these weasels, whose job it is to cancel insurance policies, have been out of work. You'd think that the GOP would have extended jobless benefits to these, their brethren. But they are looking at the big picture. If they help the insurance companies recover their enviable ability to cancel policies, then the weasels will have their jobs back. Brilliant!

Besides, weasels don't contribute much in the way of campaign donations.