And They’re Fluffy: an Ode to Modern Air Travel

Other than the airports; the TSA ding-dongs, dipshits, and assorted knuckle-draggers, wannabe-thugs; the doltingly stupid “security”-theater rules invented by bitter assholes who’ve nothing better to do all day than find even more pointless, inane ways to make people miserable; the noisy, milling mass of yabber yabbers polluting gate areas with their meaningless babble at full volume always full volume; the humanity, oh, the humanity; the FUCKING TVs that nobody ever actually watches and that have metastasized to every gate area and whose volume controls are now shielded from both generations of my TV-B-Gone TV volume zappers; the people who stand still on the left, on the right, and in the center of every moving walkway; the goddamned “caution! the walkway is ending!” bullshit that repetitively exists only in America, Land of Idiots (as if we needed yet more evidence that lawyers are evil); the shitty-smelling air on more airplanes than not, especially Alaska Airlines for some reason even though in every other respect Alaska Airlines is AWESOME; the wretch-inducing smell emanating from my seatmate’s smushed oozing pale vomitous lump that she sheepishly calls a sandwich which I can’t get mad about because she’s a nice person, one of the few pleasant persons on-board, and it’s the punishing absence of actual food on planes that forces her and everybody else to smuggle foodstuffs that roil with microbes—always odoriferous microbes—due to the unanticipated lines, waits, and delays, mostly from TSA pointlessness; having to dislocate hips and knees in order to fold my body into “seats” (that’s what they call them) that are uniformly shaped to cut off circulation from mid-thighs down no matter your height or contortions or body proportions, that cruelly prevent any form of sleep or rest, and that cause at least three herniated disks PER FLIGHT; the invariable blaring glaring walking shouting banal advertisements for birth control that are wholly incapable of instilling the slightest modicum of civility or reasonable behavior in the greasy monstrous creatures they call their children; middle seats (although middle seats get a worse rap than deserved, but, still: middle seats); the ever-present very large (and, nowadays, any not-actually-petite) person who didn’t have time for a shower that day spilling over the boundaries into MY SPACE, and even though they are more than fully aware of the situation and are nervous and sweating which makes them smell worse in a recursive ouroboros of miasmatic misery and are thus helplessly far more uncomfortable than I can possibly know, so I feel guilty for even thinking about it, and even though I know neither they nor anybody else can help it because the airline wanted to fit ONE MORE fucking seat across the cabin, I still get irritated; the piercing evil-eye launched from at least four pinched faces attached to people that are pissed that I raise my window shade (on those occasions that I do manage to snag a window seat, whose window is invariably scratched, frosting, and coated with hair gel (at least I think it’s hair gel)) so I can blissfully escape and gawk at the stunning views outside, about which they seem incapable of ever being curious much less experiencing the yūgen that contemplating our universe instills; the fucking little hearing-damaged shits with their cheap crappy earbuds that fail to dampen the cacophony of their crappy nerve-scraping “music” the least little bit, at least two of which are offensively within earshot at all times; the vile urchin from hell behind you that kicks your seat for four hours solid and whose mother hurls javelins of epic mondo stink-eye (do they practice in front of mirrors?) for even the most polite, deferential, soft-spoken, and diplomatic of intimations that her little spawn of Satan might want to stop kicking my seat or else suffer sudden involuntary decapitation (flight attendants frown on avoidable messes, so, really, nobody wants that); and—the ultimate, ever-present pièce de résistance—SCREAMING BABIES, EVERYWHERE; why, other than that, I love flying. The clouds are pretty.

·

When I am at my desk, preparing for tonight’s observing. And it is evening.

Notes to self, part 437.

  1. When I am at my desk, preparing for tonight’s observing.
    1. And it is evening.
  2. If an email arrives from the satellite tracking app, you could open it.
    1. Be aware that this alert is for tonight.
    2. You did bring clothing for the weather, right?
      1. Not that it matters. You don’t pay attention to these things.
      2. Maybe you should.
      3. Come to think of it, you do recall thinking, this morning, that you could get away with not paying attention today, since you figured you’d be inside anyway.
        1. Running late, you were in a hurry.
        2. And you are lazy, when possible: it makes life more efficient.
  3. You bring your digital camera with you to the Observatory, because you never know what will demand photos on any given day.
    1. Or night.
    2. Mountain weather dances, flits, pirouettes.
      1. Cloud formations tend to be awesome.
      2. Atmospheric effects abound.
      3. Evanescent.
      4. Most, even in such a wondrous, sky-dance land, never look up.
        1. Is the mundaneness of our daily routines so important? That we must concentrate our gaze, glazed, on the mud of our feet?
        2. This is a great sadness.
  4. According to the alert, the International Space Station is due to pass overhead.
    1. Tonight.
    2. It is an especially good pass:
      1. For once, its path will track straight overhead.
      2. For once, it will largely miss the Earth’s shadow.
        1. This means the ISS will be a bright beacon from nearly horizon to horizon.
        2. This means it must be nearly either a north-to-south or a south-to-north pass. Ah, spatial geometry.
      3. For once, this good fortune is not tied to a predawn pass.
        1. You do not function well in the predawn hours.
    3. To compensate, Murphy’s Law will demand its due.
      1. It always does.
        1. This is consistent with observation.
      2. You hypothesize that this is a conservation law.
      3. Murison’s Corollary: When fortuitous good things happen, the balance of the Universe must be restored.
        1. Count on it.
  5. Fire up the satellite ephemeris program you wrote.
    1. Fetch the latest orbital elements from space-track.org.
    2. Create plots of azimuth and height above the horizon.
    3. Check that your observing window matches the alert’s prediction.
  6. Glance at the outside temperature: +12°F.
    1. You are surprised.
    2. But then you remember this morning, and your decision to leave the coat, the scarf, the gloves, behind.
    3. Tell yourself: that’s okay, this should be quick, it’s not that cold.
  7. Grab the camera and head outside ten minutes early.
    1. Always start early. Things go wrong.
    2. Rats: you didn’t bring a tripod.
      1. Hand-held video recording it is, then.
      2. You are secretly a little relieved at not being able to try anything fancy.
        1. Even though nobody else is here, it feels like a secret.
        2. Can we really keep secrets from ourselves?
  8. The door locks behind you: click.
    1. Memory trigger.
    2. Check your pocket for keys. After it locks behind you.
    3. This strikes you as humorous.
  9. Find a good spot: the middle of the small parking lot.
    1. Unobstructed view north, west, and south.
    2. The main telescope dome, three stories high, with a halo of Flagstaff light pollution, swallows the eastern sky.
    3. The satellite is on a south-to-north path tonight.
    4. Yes, this is perfect.
  10. The southwest wind is brisk.
  11. Unpack and check your camera.
    1. Breathe. Go slow. Be methodical. Think.
    2. Everything functions as expected.
    3. You don’t expect this. What will be the yin to this yang?
  12. +12°F is cold.
  13. Bare hands in +12°F will quickly go numb.
    1. Forty-five seconds to a minute, tops.
    2. You will marvel at the pain, though you cannot feel anything.
    3. Configure and start your camera before this happens.
  14. Check your watch: seven minutes to go.
    1. This, too, is unexpected.
    2. Try not to think about your body heat rapidly fleeing with the wind, that thief.
      1. Your warm, warm, cozy, comfortable body heat.
      2. Via your hands, and neck, and head, and feet.
      3. When did these jeans become so thin?
    3. Seven minutes is an eternity.
      1. When there is nothing to do but not think about how uncomfortable it is.
      2. When standing exposed in the wind.
      3. When it is +12°F.
  15. Keep your eyes on the view through the camera.
    1. Is that it, there, low in the southwest?
    2. Look up, blink-flick distorting tears, and verify with your eyes: yes, there it is.
      1. Right on time.
      2. In the right place.
      3. Glorious.
  16. Follow it slowly up, and over, and down to the northeast, where it softly slips into shadow before reaching the treeline. The five-minute pass passes quickly.
    1. Now you cannot feel your feet.
  17. It is done.
    1. Note the satisfaction in your gut: good data acquired, it says.
    2. Bask in that warmth as you lean down to pack up.
    3. And then your circumstances impinge.
  18. Fifteen minutes is a surprisingly long time when it’s +12°F out.
    1. And you’re wearing only a t-shirt and light jacket.
    2. And Birkies.
  19. If you can’t feel anything with the stumps at the ends of your arms, there will be consequences.
    1. You won’t be able to turn off or stow your camera.
    2. It will be surprisingly hard, and hence take a surprisingly large number of tries, and hence take a surprisingly long time, to get your key into the door lock and scurry back inside, to your office.
    3. Where it is not +12°F.

 

Camera: Canon G3 X. Video processed using kdenlive.

Purpose

 

Eight cores, working hard:
orbits, orbits…
more orbits.

Suki is cold.
Laptop is warm.
Suki sits on keyboard.

Machine vexation,
reboot.
Sadness.

 

(click to embiggen)

Fun with Python

Draw your own conclusions:

Grammar vs. politics. Or, education vs. ideology.
Grammar vs. politics. Or, education vs. ideology. (click to embiggen)

The red points are data from a grammar.com analysis of nonnegative Facebook comments on the pages of these presidential candidates. The black curve is the most-optimal least-squares fit of a polynomial (fourth-order, in this case) that, among the polynomials tested (orders zero through eight), minimizes the information loss of that model representation of the data. This information loss minimization is called the Akaike Information Criterion.

 

A Bookmans Lament

One hundred nine dollars of credit on the ledger,

A hundred nine dollars of glee.

I look around.

The aisles, I walk down.

Twenty-seven dollars of credit for me…

Why I Use Python (part 1)

PHP needs a semicolon at the end of every statement. So does C. So does C++. So does Java. Why? So far as I can tell, for no other reason than laziness on the part of language designers.

(Note: stuffthathappens is no more.)

 

 

 

The Printer and I: A Tale of Spinning Fans, Diseased Hearts, and the Tragedy that is Life

psprinter-overview
[Click to embiggen.]

This (see photo) is how I spent my afternoon and evening, today. I have a conference to attend next week and must present a poster paper on some recent research results. Because I know by now that both Old Man Murphy and Loki the Trickster always lie in wait, snickering — I hear you, you bastards — I go to check the large-format printer. It is a Beast, and it turns electrons into poster papers. I flip the power switch, and it makes a horrible noise, won’t boot up, freezes, then whines plaintively, “call HP … call HP … please, won’t you call HP ….” Not very encouraging. Screw you, Loki — thou art a Puck.

As with all things computer that misbehave, I keep trying the same thing over and over, hoping for a different result, though I know full well that no different result will … um … result. Indeed, no dice. Run around the building and check with everybody: nobody knows what’s wrong or what happened. Yeah, sure.

What to do? Go find some screwdrivers, of course. The horrible noise emanates from somewhere around the power supply. Sort of. It’s buried in the guts of the Beast, so it’s hard to tell from the outside. It is a place to start, anyway. I roll up the sleeves of my robe, pick up a Holy Implement of Torx, and get to work …

Several hours later, I finally have figured out, cuss word by cuss word (proper ordering is important), how to get past all the barriers cleverly designed by Evil HP Engineers to make rational disassembly near-impossible. (Ever disassemble a laptop computer, down to the bare metal? This is harder, I kid you not.) Sixty screws later (I count them, twice), I get to the power supply fan. The heart of the Beast is diseased, despoiled. It is not turning quite right, and the motor shaft wiggles a little. It is not supposed to wiggle. Even a little. Culprit apprehended at last? Perhaps. Fortunately, it’s just a cheap $8 cooling fan you can pick up at any Radio Shack.

But Radio Shack does not exist anymore. When did that happen?

We have come round to this place again: what to do? Rummage around in the junk spare parts room, of course. It is a glorious room, beloved of tinkerers on staff. Bingo: six salvaged computer power supplies, just lying there on a shelf, calling to me. No, seven! But I am wise to their siren song. One after another, a closer look reveals frightening ugliness — mostly in the form of caked-on dust and dirt and grime. Their hearts spin, but they are Unclean and Decrepit. Sigh … last one: yay, Cleanliness! The Blessed One, Savior of the Beast, is found.

It believes it has been bestowed a new chance at life. I wish I could be happy for it. Little does it know its fate. Surely it deserves to be told of its pending doom? Yet that would crush its new-found hopes. You are perverse and cruel, you Fates! I do not have the heart to tell it.

True to my calling as Lord High Tinkerer, I pick up the Holy Implement of Torx and sacrifice the Blessed One upon the Ancient Altar of Gorthung (a fifty-year-old, government-issue desk, solid and heavy as a tank, with an ice-cold slate top). I flay its body and cut out its heart. I know no mercy.

Fan in bloody hand (a blood blister acquired some time during printer pieces-parts separation has popped), I trundle down the hill to the electronics lab. There, a colleague — the Wizard of Wire, Lord of Circuit — performs minor surgery. Lo, and behold! Upon application of the Lightning of Zoltar (a 12-volt power supply), the heart of the Blessed One lives again, spinning round and round in a most pleasing whir. Back up the hill.

That dreaded niggle squatting in the back of my mind finds a crack and blossoms. It dawns on me: now I have to put it all back together. Sixty screws. I realize I am tired. I’ll never remember where they all go. Come back tomorrow with freshly caffeinated veins? Pffft. Such is for wusses, unbecoming of a Tinkerer. So, since the operation of my memory — even on a good day — resembles most closely that of a sieve, I have little choice but to re-figure out how to take apart the Beast but in reverse. I am reminded of Ginger Rogers. I miss Ann Richards and her rapier wit. Today is not a good day.

Another hour passes by. I wave hi. We do that a lot, Time and I. My finger leaks on the table; I wipe it. And also on the housing of the reassembled printer power supply. I look at the smear, and I do not wipe it. I have left my mark upon this Beast, I think to myself. I shall not remove it. It will be buried amidst your guts; only you and I will ever know it is there. This token of my toil is enough, I decide. I move on.

At last, it is back together, despite all the King’s men staying home, watching TV. I do not want to plug it in. I’m sure you understand. Don’t you? Even so, I still roll the Beast back to its lair. I reattach its stiff black tail. I notice it is dirty, the cord, this conduit of the Lightning of Zoltar.

We have arrived at the moment of truth: I flip the switch. And wait. As with a pot of water that has yet to boil, it is best not to stare at a booting computer, especially one as slow and dumb as the Beast’s. I stare anyway. I wave hi to passing Time again, then it whirs with a pleasing sound. And dies. And tells me to call HP.

Naturally, I turn it off, wait ten seconds (capacitors can be slow to bleed, you know), and then turn it on again. Maybe something different will happen this time.