Friday, March 29, 2013

English Ivy . . . It Stays

My Darling Wife and I put in (count 'em) FOUR new planted beds at the house this past weekend.  Two for flowers, two for "let's get this dirt covered with something" plants that tolerate the shade better than the "grass" we are supposed to have.

She picked out some English Ivy and set it up in a patch of ground by a brick wall.  First I worried for the wall.  Now I wish we had more brick on the house.  Turns out, an 8" layer of leaves and sticks is pretty spiffing insulation and it doesn't damage intact brick structures.  News to me: Ivy sticks to bricks and whatever else it can get vertical on - it doesn't stick IN mortar, it sticks TO mortar.  When you pull it down, the roots will remain stuck, but it doesn't damage a good brick wall.

So says a three-year study at Oxford, where they have a good reason to know if English Ivy will damage brick walls.

Just don't try to sell the idea to anyone in Washington or Oregon.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Smart Move, Austin!

The City Council in Austin is all about bringing business to downtown.  No, not your business.  They want the business of people who walk and ride bicycles around the city.  You can go [deleted] right off.  Otherwise, how do you explain the unanimous vote to reduce the number of parking spaces in the city?

Yes, reduce.  Because go ride a bike, that's why.  Or their billion dollar train nobody rides.  Or the bus with the bums and freaks.

It's like a reality show you watch to make you feel better, to pay attention to Austin politics.  Except it's real life, and it makes you feel better about your own city.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That!

I could have sworn I wrote about it before, but checking through the old posts, I didn't!  I guess I must have got my ranting and raving done at work or something.  Anyway, in case you missed it in in 2012 when the story was thoroughly NOT reported by the dysfunctional press corps in the USA, a study has been done.

Professor Regenerus, of the University of Texas at Austin got in some serious hot water with those who disagreed with the result of his for-serious scientific study.  He called it his New Family Structures Study and wrote an article about it, "How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study" He found that if you grew up in a regular mom-and-dad home, you are way, WAY more likely to be a well-adjusted, non-drug-using, haven't-been-molested, identifies-as-heterosexual, non-multiple-sex-partner-having, stays-out-of-trouble-with-the-law type of person.  By a very wide margin, in some cases.

I, of course, being a racist/sexist/bigot/homophobe, was not surprised at these findings.  I went on and on about it at the time.  Just now I remembered to say something here because Borepatch linked to where Briggs reposted an article about the article about the study.  Thanks to Borepatch, Wm. Briggs, and especially Professor Mark Regenerus.

Beware the News Sources!

Compare these headlines:

DOT says Miles Driven increased 0.5% last month!!!zomG prosperity around the corner!

DOT says Miles Driven is still falling on a 7-year record of decline zOMG doomed, dOOmed!

You can't get your news from only one source - and you never could do - and get the whole picture.  Be careful out there, and remember: if the headline doesn't make sense, it might be misleading.

Just Don't Ask

There were some strange noises coming from across the room at work the other day.
???: (noises)
NP: What's going on over there?
VFD: Do you really want to know?
NP: That's a good point.
VFD: Generally speaking, consider what could be the worst-case answer.  If you don't want to know it was that, then don't ask.
This is why, when we greet each other, you ask me how I'm doing and I don't subsequently ask you.  I care.  I love you too, really I do.  But I don't want to hear about how your dog is dying of cancer and you have an infected hangnail, really I don't. 
P.S., my standard answer of "okay, tired and allergic" is 99% of the time the whole truth.  Say "Nice to see you" instead of a non-question, ok?  ok!

I've Started Painting

Here is my first still life painting! Please be honest with your criticism.  photo CDNTree_zpsd5673d7e.jpg
Well, maybe not so much. I was TRYING to get this tree photographed the other day as I left work second-to-last and the parking lot was empty. Turns out I left the camera on manual control and blew it all the way out. Overexposed FTL and then a little photomanipulation to erase the last car in the lot and the building, plus some surrounding vegetation. I like it, anyway.  Click the picture to see it larger, then right-click and View Image and hit the +magnifying glass to see it full-sized.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

. . . What a Wonderful Woild!

I see trees so green, a truck so white...

...and I think to my self . . .

"Gee, it's not as hazy out as it usually is!"   The only bad part about this scene is how the rising sun is trying to make the tree on the right into one big orange bloom in the lens.  Oh well.  The coincidence with the song is funny to me to post it up, anyway.

Keep It To Yourself!

Note to this guy and everybody like him: You don't want your nasty stanky smoke in your car, what makes you think I want it in my air? Roll up your window or stop smoking you nasty [deleted]!

 photo DontWant_zpsd72f88ef.jpg

And, to the guy in the nice new Mercedes in front of me on the way home: If you don't want your nasty butts in your ashtray, what makes you think I want them on my Texas?! Don't throw your trash on my ground, just  stop smoking already!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What's The Difference Between Snapshots and Photographs?

There is no difference*. Here is the difference.

A couple of days ago in my kitchen, this is what I saw when I went to go get breakfast at the crack of dawn. Notice: this looks pretty much exactly how it fell on my eyes, dim light and everything. I said to myself, "Oh, that's pretty..."

(click any photo to enlarge)
Automatic exposure, 50mm

Then I said, "But you know, if I just ..." and I started tweaking the setup and angles, and camera settings and such. Two minutes later, I came up with this:
 photo Flower1000x_zps87d4f4d4.jpg
Manual control, 50mm f/3.2 1/30sec handheld ISO400, white balance on "cloudy" 

*A snapshot is a photograph. But sometimes, when you take a little longer than is required for just a quick "snap," your photographs can come out much, much nicer.  These pictures came off the same camera with the same lens at the same time of day.  The only difference between them was operator activity.

For those so inclined (read: for me but I'll share if you want) here is a 1680x1050 pixel version, ready to be slapped up as a background image on your widescreen monitor. (click through to Photobucket to download)

 photo Flower1680x1050_zps14015e79.jpg
(One of the guys asked what kind of orchid this is.  It's some kind of Columbine.)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Well, [deleted] You Too, Yahoo!

Yahoo! mail is trying to get kicked out of my life.  First they switch to a suck-ass new layout/template/format thing despite howls of protest from users - on one account.  The other two accounts I have with them - still on the old template.

Then on this one account, they started bugging me to give them a phone number.  Sure, right they pinky-swear they won't spam the phone.  No. 

Now, after I correctly enter my password, they come up with s security question.  The reason for added security?  I'm logging in from an unrecognized device.  You know, the same one I used the last time I checked my email with this account?  Yeah, that one.  They don't recognize it. 

So I put in the right answer three different ways because god-only knows what the answer was that I put back in 2007 or whatever.

Unsuccessful Login: Account Locked Temporarily.
This account is temporarily locked for 12 hours because of security concerns. Please try signing in later or contact online Yahoo! Customer Care for further assistance.
Aaaand the Customer "Care" form requires more information about the account holder.  F if I know.  I made that information up on the spot when I signed up for the free email account.  If they don't let me in in 12 hours, I'll just tell my one contact that uses this particular account, to use another account.
Gee, wouldn't it be convenient if they had a phoooone they could text me a code to unlock the account?
This is passive-aggressive and I won't have it.  I only like yahoo! because they're free and I got to pick my user names.  If they want to become a free pain in my ass, I'll just kick them out of my life like I did to AT&T. 

Bank Holiday Extended to Thursday. ATMs Empty.

Monday they closed the banks so the banks could transfer Cypriots' savings to the EU.

The bank holiday was extended to Tuesday, and then Wednesday on well-founded fears that the fractional reserve lending system in Cyprus would be immediately destroyed.

Surprising probably no-one, the bank holiday has been extended to Thursday, and the ATMs in Cyprus are all empty of cash.

Also not surprising, there are official denials that the same sort of direct theft from savings accounts is being considered for Spain as well, which should set the smart people in Spain to emptying their accounts and the dumb ones will possibly be hammered within a year.  Oh, and the bondholders for these countries will NOT be getting a haircut as long as the game of musical chairs continues.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

You Were Expecting Someone Else, Perhaps?

A crescent moon that shines on the bottom half of the orb is referred to in our house as "The Cheshire Cat" after the character in Disney's Alice in Wonderland.

Well I was outside the other day and he showed up again.  He almost faded out completely before I could get a picture:
Click to enlarge 
The trees, telephone wires, and moon were left as they came off the camera.  The cat, you may guess, was a photomanipulation.  I particularly liked how his hand and feet lined up with local scenery just right.

Historical Fulcrum?

News out of Europe may be . . . interesting next week.  A "bailout" deal for Cyprus was approved.  It did not kill the speculative investors, and it only changes things by a few billions of Euros.  The interesting part is that they

taxed all Cypriot bank deposits at 10%

Yes, you lose 10% for keeping your money in a bank in Cyprus this week.  Because fuck you.

Expect bank runs if they let the banks re-open.  A bank holiday was declared until Tuesday and will possibly be extended indefinitely.  Cypriots with savings and a lick of sense will be emptying their bank accounts immediately.  Spaniards, Italians, and Greeks, Irish, Portuguese and probably French depositors had better get their money out while it is still available, and many of them will. European banks are bankrupt as it is but it is very hard to kick the can down the road when you suddenly have a NEGATIVE accounts balance!

So.  Look for either some fairly disastrous-sounding news out of Europe this week, or look for a scandal of any degree (none to huge) to be widely reported by the corrupt press in the USA to try to keep the Dow Jones average in record territory until (at least) 2014.

This is one of those rare times it actually DOES pay to be cash-poor.  Ouch.

P.S. for those who don't already know?  Michael Shedlock is about the only current economic analyst who consistently gets it right.  MSNBC is not the place to get economic news.  Mish is.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

This is Why You Spend $1500 on A Lens

My dad came by with his new tool.  He just got a Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM AF Telepohoto lens to go with his spiffing Canon DSLR.  It produces pretty cracking results

Here's a shot at 18mm showing what I saw all the way across the house where attended a party today.  The red arrow is pointing to a water bottle. Don't bother clicking to enlarge this one; you can't see the bottle at all at 18mm focal length.
This is the entire frame captured through the fancy-dancy 300mm.
Nothing new, right?  I mean, after all it is 300mm.  Of course it's zoomed in very close.  Your point-and-click can get you this frame.  But the $1300 difference between your camera and this lens (which rides on another $1000+ camera) is the details.  Go ahead and click this one to see it full size.  This is a 100% crop from the above zoomed-in shot.
That right there is crazy.  Most cameras can't even make a shot this crisp by getting right up on it in Macro mode, and this thing did it handheld with a flash all the way across a house!  This is about as detailed as my testing got, and it really wowed me.  If you shoot sports or flowers or whatever, this would be a really great addition to your (increasingly heavy) camera bag.

Because It's Pretty

Click to enlarge
Right click, choose View Image
Click the image when the + magnifying glass shows up

Fast New Glass!

When I started selling stuff to pay for my "new" camera, I found out it's not too hard.  I said "the next extra hundred dollars I have, I'm going to get myself one of these!" 

That was a year and change, and lots of groceries, eating-outs, and various bills later.  I went through a few thousand dollars and didn't get my lens.  Then a couple of weeks ago, I found an eBay seller with a pile of these refurbished by Nikon for just under $100 each.  My Darling Wife said "You really want it. Just get it."


...I did.  Thanks Jesus, I love it.  As BR said, "That's really, really fast!"  Indeed.  But the speed is only half the reason it's great.  The other half is that it meters exposure and autofocuses on my camera (unlike my red-headed stepchild lens).  The other, other half is that it's pretty sharp without trying hard at all.  Click the camera-shy dog to enlarge, then right-click and View Image, and hit the Plus magnifying glass.

The speed is a little hard to explain.  In conditions that well and truly NEED a flash with a kit lens, this thing just goes ahead and makes natural-color pictures without the flash.  It's magic.  If you have a Nikon and a hundred dollars, get one.


If you have a Nikon without a focusing motor in the body, or if you just gotta have instant manual focus override without turning a switch, get one of these instead, for an extra $100.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Have You Ever . . .

Have you ever been so not-awake as you walked around that blinking your eyes caused an auditory sensation?  Right after the bad part of a bad dream last night my Darling Wife woke me up and told me she thought one of the kids was crying.  I got up and walked to their room, and listened by the door.  Silence.  I went in and found only solid-sleepers.
On the way to their room, when I blinked as I was walking,there was a fuzzy noise with each blinking of my eyelids, I kid you not.  The noise I heard as I walked back to the Master Suite was an airplane.  An airplane with a strange engine noise that sounded like a child crying.

WHY Do People...

I sell stuff on eBay for walking-around money.  I sold three things in the last couple of weeks, worth around $400 total.  NONE of those winning bidders has paid.

  • You bid on an auction and click a dialog agreeing that this is a commitment to pay
  • You get an e-mail telling you you have won
  • You even got an invoice from the seller
  • And you don't pay?  


Monday, March 11, 2013

Piss In The Wind, Go Ahead

The system is broken.  Badly broken, and beyond repair.  I repeat my hunch that our society is headed for breakup in a big way.  The news I got today was just another reminder.

There's a video on Youtube showing people voting multiple times.  No, not average citizens casting a half-dozen election year vote-fraud votes.  These were legislators, casting ballots for other legislators who were absent at the time of the vote, making the laws that you and I live by.  In one case, a legislator who was PRESENT had someone else cast a vote for him . . . while he was casting a vote for someone else!

Nota bene: It was against their OWN rules they made for themselves for legislators to vote for each other on the voting machines.  This video shows them doing it.  No, it shows ALL of them doing it.  Either they do it or they let it happen.  The Speaker of the House was supposed to be punishing this sort of thing but it didn't happen.  The Speaker is supposed to make sure the rules are followed, but look how concerned they all are.

An extra kick in the stones is that you didn't hear about a wave of prosecutions after this video came out FOUR YEARS ago.  One more kick for those of us from Texas, because it's happening here.


Legislators jogging around to beat each other to empty desks to push buttons.
TWO examples of fat guys pushing their own button, then the button on the desk next door, then the on a desk behind, and then a fourth button on the desk behind/next door!.


Then either complain to the Speaker, or shut the hell up and watch our society fall apart.  I'm guessing the result is the same.  This was in 2008.  Who wants to bet there's a rule for ALL the legislatures in Texas forbidding this apparently-very-common multiple fraudulent voting activity?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A New Personal Record

This was the largest thing I ever erected, and it took longer than I have worked on anything since I converted the Hot Rod to a manual transaxle.  My Darling Wife and I put up a shed in the back yard today.  Well, yesterday and into the wee hours of today.  The shed is just a hair smaller than my room at my Dad's house when I was in high school.  It is about 200lbs of stamped sheet steel, and maybe that much again in lumber under the shed for a foundation.  Three trips to the store, total (one to buy it last week, two today for "hey I also need...") and we probably put 25 man-hours on it, total, and that's not counting the "help" from two- and four-year-old sons. 

The forecast was wind and rain.  I prayed and the rain held off until the roof was finished.  The wind was more of a breeze.  The really heavy rain held off until the doors were leaned up in place to keep it out.  Now at 01:00 the next day it's done except for the interior flooring, and my toenails hurt (?!) and it's bed time.  Thanks Jesus everyone is okay, #1 did a good job watching the rest of the Zoo, and DW and I only got a minor nick each on one hand.  If I hadn't worn gloves, the day would have been over almost before it started due to a trip to the emergency room, because one glove took a nasty gash to the palm.


Nobody Can Paint A Sky Like God

These are 1680x1050 pixels, for use as desktop backgrounds on increasingly-common 20-24" wide LCD displays (like mine).  Click to embiggen, before deciding not to try them out!  Right-click the bigger image that comes up and tell it "view image" then click the magnifying glass to see the detail in the trees (which Blogger blurs).

I took these locally last night. "Then I think to my self . . . what a wonderfuuuul woooorld."  Credits to our Lord, who does a pastel wash like nobody.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sweet Grille Bro

AusTex was working a wreck as I was on my morning commute.  This was taken from the sidewalk with no worry of a car spoiling the shot as all SIX lanes of Braker were shut down.  The perspective is great; it looks like you're about to be run over!  I love the way I got stars off both headlamps.  Click the picture to embiggen!

I guess I ought to list out the gory details from now on if I'm going to be posting pictures eh.
Nikon D70 18-70mm@25mm, f/6.3 1/160th sec. ISO200

VFD, First On The Scene!

Apparently I *barely* missed being tied up in traffic stopped for a mile this morning . . . so I went back and spent several minutes looking at the mess and taking pictures.
This was the scene at Braker and Parkfield in Austin earlier today.  Trust me when I tell you that by the time I had arrived (maybe 5 minutes after I decided to turn around) the line of cars was at least over the hill, probably all the way back to Lamar.
 photo BrakerCrash1_zps03012fda.jpg
A tanker truck driver missed his turn by a foot or two, and damaged his trailer as well as a utility pole.
 photo BrakerCrash2_zps81778963.jpg
The pole was well and truly embedded in the side of the tanker trailer
 photo BrakerCrash3_zpsdd559dcb.jpg
The trailer took heavy damage and appears to have only stopped when it hit the tank-supporting structure near the rear wheels of the trailer.  A hose on the side of the trailer was ripped in pieces, and the ladder was destroyed.  The dank obviously was badly dented/crushed where it touched the pole
 photo BrakerCrash4_zps1abb3815.jpg
This is usually a nice suburban neighborhood street.  Nothing much happens, till all traffic on a the busy thoroughfare is stopped by a random crazy situation.
 photo BrakerCrash5_zpsed23321e.jpg
Braker is full of cars in the morning.  This morning it was full of stopped cars as the Austin Police Department stopped traffic in both directions so AusTex Towing & Recovery could safely get this tanker disentagled from the pole.
 photo BrakerCrash6_zps53b9168b.jpg
The wrecker lifted the rear wheels of the trailer, and pulled the trailer away from the pole as a driver in the blue tractor slowly drove backwards onto Braker
 photo BrakerCrash7_zps8e62c28e.jpg
Blue police lights are reflected in the waves of crumpled steel in the side of the trailer. 
 photo BrakerCrash8_zps92c5ee71.jpg
Austin Energy was out in force.  Here their linemen are examining the pole struck by the truck.  It had a significant amount of wood rubbed off by the truck, here seen as long strips of wood laying around the base of the pole.  The pole was shivered all the way through, and will have to be replaced as soon as practicable.
 photo BrakerCrash9_zpsc303a838.jpg
My favorite shot of the morning is the beautiful front-end of the AusTex rig.  I like the way both headlights got stars, and the perspective is really great.  For this shot, I knelt down low on the sidewalk as the truck was stationary.  Don't forget: you can see these images bigger by clicking on them.
 photo BrakerCrash10_zps82b86172.jpg
Hiring divers?  Looks like maybe one needed a little more training, unfortunately.
 photo BrakerCrash11_zps405a934e.jpg
Something you don't see every day: The Austin Fire/Rescue Special Operations truck rolled out.
 photo BrakerCrash12_zpsa5ebe7d8.jpg

Cleaning this whole mess off of Braker took about 15 minutes after AusTex arrived and pulled out into the street.  Not too shabby, actually.  The driver of the truck

A Mistake You Can Only Make Once . . . ?

So North Korea is talking big talk about how they are going to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the US of A.  Excuse me while I tremble in my boots.  Even if they did manage to make a working nuclear bomb (which is not entirely a certainty), and even if they managed to decapitate our entire government by delivering it at the State of the Union address, I am pretty sure our military would know just perzactly whose ass to kick, and they would go about kicking it quite soundly.

On the other hand, if they only managed to get a dirty bomb to damage San Francisco's harbor a little bit, I wonder if the current set of limp wrists in Washington would have the stones to respond with force.

That we even have to ponder this threat makes me think we have been far too lenient with the NorKs to date.  We'll see what (if anything) happens next.  I don't think they'll be able to goad us into a shooting war, but it seems like they might be trying.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Frosty the Photo Bomber

A little known fact about Frosty the Snowman (and snowmen in general) is that he is starved for attention. Think about it: you build them and forget about 'em. Well, he somehow made it into my photography studio last week and we had a blast. He's a real cut-up, this one. The first I saw of him was a well-played photobomb.

He seemed friendly enough so the cameras and I let him hang out with us for a while. He even managed to get in a pretty convincing duckface once or twice.

Oh frosty, you silly goose!

...then, of course, he melted under the hot studio lighting. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. I just wish he'd had the courtesy to melt onto a paper towel at least....

Beware the Student Driver?

They just opened a new State office a few miles from my house.  This place is just for Drivers Licenses, and it's pretty big.  This is to supplement the REALLY big place they have in the Godless City to our immediate South. As we were driving home from church today, I made an amusing/alarming observation about this place.

Scattered around the region of Central Texas are various creeks and drainage ditches.  Where they cross under or pass near a road, there will be a steel roadside barrier, like so:

 These are usually a few dozen feet long, sometimes a hundred or more yards long.

Today, I noticed a damaged guard rail as we were driving along.  Then another one.  Then the drivers license office.  Then we turned the corner and went around a different side of the block where there is this new drivers license office.  And there was another dinged guard rail.

The area in question, thanks to Google Maps.  The red lines are the locations of the rails nearest the DL office.

All three of the guardrails closest to the Drivers License office where they give driving tests, are dented.  My wife and I LOL'd and I advised her to avoid the area during weekdays during normal business hours.