Saturday, December 18, 2010

Journal Times Up To Their Old Tricks Again

I read a story on the Journal Times site this morning about the Dino's Restaurant street camera: If you're a regular reader of Racine Uncovered, you already know about the camera. People there have had access to it for months. A few of the comments on the Journal Times story noted that fact and took the newspaper to task for not covering the "Miracle on 16th Street," the fundraiser organized by Racine Uncovered and Dino's to benefit the children of Racine.

When I returned to that Journal Times story later today, the comments referencing Racine Uncovered and/or the Miracle on 16th Street were gone. I checked Racine Uncovered, and sure enough, there is a story about it:

It brought back memories of how the JT Irregulars started in response to censorship at the Journal Times. Nothing that I saw in today's deleted comments was lewd or libelous. The Journal Times just took down the posts they didn't like. The people who did that are our city's representatives of the "Fourth Estate," our defenders of the First Amendment. How sad. They also represent Lee Enterprises, a large media conglomerate, while Racine Uncovered is run by one volunteer.

Merry Christmas, Journal Times and Lee Enterprises. May the blessings of the season somehow find your hearts.

Dear Madame Zoltar - Special Edition

Hello, my snowgentlemen and snowladies! How are you? In the comments on my blog Wednesday, Ms. DogAddicts wished for some pictures from downtown Racine's Winterfest snow sculpting contest on Monument Square this weekend. I'm always eager to please, so I set out at noon today and toured the event. It was lovely! I took pictures for Ms. DogAddicts and everyone else to enjoy. Please note, most of the sculptures were still works in progress when I photographed them. The event continues tomorrow with the finished sculptures.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift

Christmas songs we like for one reason or another

Last week I put four bags of groceries into the food bin at the grocery store. Whenever I have too much money I tend to buy food and give it to the Pantry. No other time of the year do I do it more than this time of year. My favorite song has a poignant message that I tend to embrace. I don't equate the message to Karma, but to the lightness of a persons Heart. I don't need or desire crowds of friends surrounding me, after all I'm a curmudgeonly hermit. I do try to do what I feel is right and somethings like giving make me happy. Knowing there are folks that couldn't make it without the help, eases and lightens my heart knowing I've done something positive. Please enjoy my favorite Xmas song.

They said there'll be snow at christmas
They said there'll be peace on earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the virgin's birth
I remember one christmas morning
A winters light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that christmas tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire

They sold me a dream of christmas
They sold me a silent night
And they told me a fairy story
'till I believed in the israelite
And I believed in father christmas
And I looked at the sky with excited eyes
'till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise

I wish you a hopeful christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there'll be snow at christmas
They said there'll be peace on earth
Hallelujah noel be it heaven or hell
The christmas you get you deserve


When we think of inertia, we think of a mass or object and the amount of force it takes to either stop it or start it in motion. Effort you might say. Inertia though takes many forms. The shortest day and longest night of the year falls on either the 21 or 22 of December depending ion the year. This is the day that gets the least amount of sunlight to the Northern latitudes. Sunlight/sun heat energy is the lowest of the year on that day.

I don't know about you, but I've always thought that when you have the least of something, it can only get better after that. Nope, in the case of Winter, Winter itself doesn't even start until the Winter Solstice occurs. This is all due to that darn pesky thing called inertia. Inertia you see can take on many forms and having winter happen after the days start getting longer is due to the cooling off cycle we have been in since mid Fall. Now that we've lost the heat we had stored in the Northern hemisphere (There are two distinctive weather patterns located on the Northern and Southern hemispheres.), it needs to build back up again. This is why it takes so long for Winter to give up it's cold embrace when our days get longer and sun energy increases from Solstice onward.

Inertia can take on many forms. From mass, to heat, to even politics and public opinion. We won't go there except to point out it was inertia in effect during the 60s, the McCarthy era, and even now. Rest assured the pendulum will eventually move the other way, but for a period we'll enter Winter or Summer (depending on your point of view). America is kind of like Wisconsin weather. If you don't like the weather, stick around. It's bound to change.

Disturbing Childen's Toys

I wouldn't believe this unless I found it on a respectable e-commerce site where you could buy it...the Playmobile Security Checkpoint.

Wrong, wrong, absolutely brimming over with wrongability!

Four for Fridays

Hello everyone! This week sure has flown rather quickly! Can you believe it's getting that much closer to Christmas? More Christmas questions this week...

1) Have you finished your Christmas shopping, yet?

2) What is your favorite Christmas treat?

3) What is your favorite Christmas song?

4) What was the most memorable Christmas for you?

Enjoy your weekend!

Open Blog - Weekend

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Yogi Bear...the Director's Cut

Here is the ending that is not being shown in the theaters...

How Do You Shop?

There was an article today in the Wall Street Journal about how smartphones are changing shopping patterns. For those of you that haven't used one, phones have a variety of apps that allow you to comparison shop while you are in the store. I have a few of these programs on my phone. They can search for products you find in a store and tell you where else nearby they are available and for how much (by using your phone's GPS and an internet search) or you an take a picture of the barcode to launch the search. You can look up reviews as well to see if you are getting a good product.

I have used these apps for over a year now. At first I felt a little funny taking pics of barcodes in stores, but the more money I saved, well, I got over it. It saves me running around a lot as well. If I find what I want, I have to go to at most two stores to find the best local price (the first one and the second) or I can bookmark it and order it online later. I have even had salespeople willing to deal when they see me using the cell phone, sweetening the pot to get me to buy there similar to what they mention in the story

So do any of you use smartphones to shop? What do you think of those of us who do? Are we simply leveling the playing field with powerful corporations or being total sleazebags taking advantage of our brick and mortar retailers and using them as a free showroom for Amazon?

Be Vewy, Vewy, Quiet...I'm Hunting Pwanets!

And you can too. Another citizen science project from my friends at the Zooniverse lets you join in the hunt for planets orbiting other stars by analyzing their light curves. Planet Hunters lets you look at data from the Kepler satellite launched in 2009. Kepler is monitoring the brightness of over 150,000 stars in a small chunk of the sky near the constellation of Cygnus. Whenever a planet passes in front of the star, the star will get a little bit dimmer as some of its light is blocked. By looking at a graph of the intensity of light versus time, you can see a series of dips when planets pass in front of the star. Sounds simple right?

In principle, yes. However these dips in light are VERY small, only fractions of a percent. At this level, there is a lot of noise in the data. Computers can pick out some of the obvious candidates, but for complex light curves, even a basically trained human eye is better. Here is a sample of a light curve to analyze.

The interface asks questions to lead you through the analysis. You can see some dips but also some peaks in this one. The dips could be a planet or this could be a variable star. By identifying the dips, you start building up a pattern. If the pattern continues, follow up observations will be scheduled to determine if this is a planet or something else is going on here (even if its not a planet, I wouldn't be surprised at all if a couple of new types of variable stars are discovered in this project!)

There is a short tutorial you can go through to practice before you start looking for planets. You don't need to worry about messing up too much since they show each light curve to many people, so any mistakes should get averaged out.

What if you find a planet? Well, you don't get to name it as there are conventions for that already. However, if you register with the site they will offer to make you a co-author on the discovery paper. Then you can lord it over your friends that you got published in a science research journal!

For teachers out there, this can be used in the classroom as well. When you log in, they keep track of all the stars you classify so it is easy to see if students have done their homework. You can even go back and look at interesting stars again, so if a student finds something unusual, it is easy to show others.

This project comes with the usual discussion forums where you can discuss interesting objects with other users.

If you can read this, you can discover an extrasolar planet!

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Census Data and Income

The New York Times has an interactive map showing income changes from 2000 to 2010 based on the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (I think this is the one that Stu was asked to participate in and refused). The map shows the change in median family income since 2000...tan is going up, blue is going down. Here is what it looks like around Racine (and based on the map, I can already imagine some of the comments!)

The interactive version allows you to look anywhere in the country. If you hover over any spot on the map, it tells you the median household income and the percent change. Remember, the median is different from the average. The median means that half the households make more and half make less which is regarded as a better indicator of income levels as it is not skewed by a few high income earners (after all, between me you and Bill Gates our average net worth is about $20 billion).

I of course was curious about where I used to live and where I live now. Both places I was a touch over the median household income. I know I have an advantage over most since my household size is smaller (one). If I was married and had a kid or two with my current income, my lifestyle would be a lot different and I know that is reality for a lot of people. I find it particulalry interesting to look at some of the nice areas near the U of A where I run. The median income is much lower than I would have thought based on the several hundred thousand dollar homes. Again, I have to remember there are lots of student apartments the keep the median down.

Anyway, it's an interesting map to click around. Enjoy!

UPDATE: I just went to the small town in Iowa where I grew data! Interesting.

More Misapplied Technology...

Although not quite as ominous as the Patriot App, now comes iGrill. iGrill is a thermometer you stick in the meat on the grill that will wirelessly send the data to your iPhone so you can grill without actually standing around the hot grill all the time. It even has "multiple probe support" so you can see which steak is rare and which one is being cooked medium-well (it will measure temperatures of food up to 400 degrees for those that want really well done steaks!)

I know it's winter now, but I am sure there will be a waiting list for these bad boys so you might want to order today.

Of course, some of us don't have iPhones and will have to use the fact that were are competent to get through life.

Dear Madame Zoltar

Hello, my frozen friendsicles! How are you? “Cold enough for ya?” They say it will warm up a little today, but I’ve been shivering since the snow stopped falling on Sunday. Who would have expected this after such a nice, warm autumn? Fickle, fickle Mother Nature sure can put us in a pickle. Even dear Ms. Beejay in Florida is cold. Oh my. I hope this doesn’t portend one of those bitterly cold winters. I’d ask Mom N., but you know how that goes. I never know what might set her off. If I innocently say the “wrong” thing, she might bury Racine in snow. Or ice. Or both.

What happened to our beloved and heroic Green Bay Packers this past Sunday? I was moved to tears by Aaron Rodger’s concussion. Oh dear, oh dear. It’s his second one this season. I predict that he will start in the game against the New England Patriots this coming Sunday night, but he will not play the entire game. Normally I would charge $25 for a prediction like that, but for my cherished Irregulars and regular readers of my blog, it is free. March on, o mighty Packers, forward to defeat your foes!

Although I complain about the cold and snow, one of the nice things about it is an event like this: the 2nd annual Winterfest on Monument Square in downtown Racine this weekend, December 17, 18, & 19. There will be a snow sculpting contest in which the public selects the winners (cash prizes). On Saturday, Santa and Mrs. Claus will be available for photo opportunities, along with live reindeer. You can read about it here: . Unfortunately, I will not have a booth on the square, or anywhere else downtown, because of the usual prejudice against those who ply my trade. Nonetheless, I urge everyone to attend the seasonal festivities in downtown Racine this weekend.

While you’re down there, you can also check out the Mitchell Wagon Factory Lofts annual Christmas Shoppe, held on the same dates. The resident artists offer a variety of items for sale, including baked goods. (Oh my, I have such a sweet tooth!) Read more about it here: .

Events like those and Christmas concerts help put me in a holiday mood. It’s wonderful to see people come together around a tradition based on peace and love. If only it could last all year. How many times have we heard or thought that? Growing up, I was foolish enough to believe that I could gain in my powers until some day I could effect “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” on the world, whether it liked it or not. Of course, I can’t. It’s too big a job for any one person. But I do kind of enjoy spreading the joy one person at a time. It makes me feel better to have brightened someone’s day with a pleasant word or a helping hand. I often commiserate with people who deal with the public. I know how difficult that can be. This time of year can be especially grueling. That is why I strive to be courteous when interacting with others. Manners are the grease that allows society to function smoothly. I always try to keep myself well-lubricated.

Here’s a treat, “Christmas 1950,” that shows how Christmas was celebrated around the world 60 years ago:

Thank you, thank you, my wonderful friends and family for reading my blog. By the way, “Merry Christmas!” I hope that the holidays smack you on the lips with a kiss of fellowship and joy.

Send your season’s greetings to:

Bundle up for the cold, my lovelies. Watch your step. ‘Tis the season to break your butt, so be careful. Allow yourselves more time to do everything. Sometimes slower is better. Therianthrope!

Open Blog - Wednesday

“You know the honeymoon is pretty much over when you start to go out with the boys on Wednesday nights, and so does she.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Want to Narc on Your Friends and Family? There's An App For That!

And in another misappropriation of the word, it is called the Patriot App. Encouraging us to turn in all those around us who might be engaging in nefarious activities. When I first heard about this, I was a little skeptical and thought urban legend. A quick trip to the iTunes store showed that it was all too real. Here's a screen shot from iTunes (just search for Patriot App if you want to find it yourself).

You can report directly to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. You can get pictures of the most wanted and spin the threat dial (although I am not sure what good that does. You too can be part of the surveillance state for the low low price of only $1.99!

The app only has a rating of 1.5 stars and lots of snarky reviews as you can imagine.

Be very afraid...and use your iPhone to report everything and everyone that makes you afraid!

"Naked postal worker takes customer service to nude level "

"A male postal worker was arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior after walking naked into an office to deliver mail in the 300 block of West Silver Spring Drive, Whitefish Bay, at 1:10 p.m. Dec. 4.

"According to a police report:

"The 52-year-old Fox Point man, who was arrested at the North Shore Post Office, 5600 Lydell Ave., on Dec. 9, admitted he had delivered the mail completely naked and that he was sorry and it was a stupid thing to do.

"The man said he told an employee in that office that he was going to come back naked to deliver mail because she seemed 'stressed out' and he wanted to cheer her up and 'make her laugh.'

"He said at that time she dared him to do it.

"The employee denied 'daring him or encouraging him' in any way but she also said she didn't think he intended to harm her."

Is that what they mean by Special Delivery?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Two Conjunctions and a Meteor Shower

Tonight is a great night to get outside and look up (assuming you are not in the cold party of the country!) The early show starts right after sunset. The first quarter Moon passes near Jupiter tonight (about six degrees away ballpark). Find the Moon...the bright thing near it, that's Jupiter. If you have binoculars or a telescope, Jupiter's moons are easily visible.

The real challenge occurs right after sunset. Mercury and Mars are VERY low in the southwest. You will need a good flat horizon, very clear skies and a sharp eye to catch them. They are only one degree apart (about the width of your pinky held at arms length). Here's a chart to help, but you have only about 30 minutes after sunset before they are gone!

For the late night owls, one of the best meteor showers of the year, the Geminids, peaks tonight. The Geminids are just as good if not better than the more famous Perseids in August. They are also much colder for most of the northern hemisphere! Although it is better to go out really late at night, due to Earth's tilt, Gemini rises by 10pm local time over most of the continental U.S. meaning you can get good meteor counts earlier than for most showers. Of course, you want to get rid of the light from that pesky Moon to get the best view. The first quarter Moon sets around midnight local time. The Geminids are fairly slow moving (as far as meteors go at least) and that makes them a little easier to observe.

The Geminids have a fairly broad distribution, so if you miss them tonight, there will still be quite a few around the next couple of nights as well.

So bundle up, get your hot chocolate on and check out the sky tonight.

Reprinted from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

Test Driving A Leaf

Yesterday at the Tucson 4th Avenue Art Fair, Nissan set up a booth where you could test drive a Nissan Leaf. The Leaf is the new all electric vehicle that you is about to go on sale. Being a bit of a tech geek, I took them up on their offer of a free test drive. Tucson is one of the first markets to get the Leaf and there are public charging stations already being built (and a few already operating) here. The GPS system will show you a map that plots the range of the car based on the current battery state.

They give you a short presentation about the car beforehand of course. They show the battery pack and some of the tech tools on the car that help you plot your driving route to be sure you don't run out of juice along the way. It's a very tech heavy car both under the hood and in the cockpit. You can start the AC or heater (whichever is needed) from your cell phone (the idea being that you do the initial cool down/warm up while the vehicle is still attached to a power outlet so you don't drain the battery for that). You can set the car to charge at certain times of the day or even send you a message if you forget to plug it in at night. I know they can't overcome all human forgetfullness, but they sure try.

The car is very comfortable on the inside. The version I drove is considered pre-production (one change they said had to be made is to add noise so pedestrians can hear it probably heard about this issue). I intentionally went a little heavy on the accelerator and it had passable pickup, but not sports car level! It has an eco mode to improve range. They turned it on for a little while and I could tell the acceleration was limited and it had a different feel. Operating in standard mode, the handling was nice and smooth.

Charging is can take 20 hours to get a full charge from 120V but only 8 if you have a 220V plug installed at your house. The quick charging stations give you and 80% charge in 30 minutes. Will do in a pinch, but if I am driving long distance across the country, I don't want to make that many half hour stops!

And it's pricey. Starting at $32k (more if you want the upgrades that include the quick charger) plus tax, title, etc. and you have to get the 220V charger at home if you want to use that. They make a big deal out of the tax credits of course ($7500 federal) but that might get it down to comparable to a similarly sized vehicle at best. They keep saying the price will come down in the future as battery production ramps up and economies of scale are realized (but even getting them to speculate how much is difficult...yeah, I am real fun to take on a test drive!)

I can't see this being the only car for a single person like me. Even a day trip to Phoenix would kill it and I would need to charge it somewhere (okay, probably two somewheres). For a two car family, it could be the second if one of the couple worked locally and they didn't both have to travel long distances for their jobs at the same time (this scenario probably applies to quite a few families...and it might be a good way to keep your teen from driving farther than they should!) Even at that, the price might make a compact car or a used car more appealing to many people.

As nice as it is, electric vehicles are still not an option for everybody. Many of you know I got a new car recently...I went with the Honda Fit and don't plan on trading it for an electric vehicle any time soon.

Open Blog - Monday

Here comes the sun.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Blizzard...

The winds are howling and blowing outside with so much force that I hear my back door rattling. A huge storm has bared down on the Great Lakes, leaving much of the Midwest crippled. We escaped disaster much due to the lake effect from the warm waters of Lake Michigan. However, the rest of Wisconsin wasn't so lucky. Although Racine only got about four inches of snow, much of the state got as much as 16 inches! Roads were shut down and businesses were closed.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, the roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis, MN collapsed under the weight of the snow. This unfortunate incident forced the postponement and the relocation of the Minnesota Viking vs. the New Giants game to tomorrow night at the Ford Stadium in Detroit, MI. That'll give the players another day of rest.

As the winds blow, the temperatures are expected to drop to the single digits with a wind chill to a minus zero readings. It's f@#&ing cold out there! Once the temperatures rises, it'll be snowing again. The cycle begins....As I'm heading off to bed, I'll be warmed up by layers of blankets and some warm bodies. I'll be dreaming of summer tonight....

Wooo hooo lens find

I've been looking for a f1:1.4 lens on ebay for doing some low light no flash pictures. I also want to do some artsy shots where the foreground and background are blurred. As much as I'd love an even faster rare 1.2 lens, the prices are just silly. The "f1:1.4" refers to how fast a lens is. Fast means how much light the lens will pass through to the camera body. Most SLR camera lenses have f2.0 or even f2.8. These work well enough, but the f1.4 and especially f1.2 will let you take night shots without a flash.

While looking through all the lenses listed and even old film cameras that might have a f1.4 as part of the package, I came across a 500mm f6 for peanuts! Lenses are also classified by focal length and the higher the number, the further it will see. Think long distance spy shots when you get over 300mm. While the 500mm lens wasn't what I've been currently looking for, it has been on a wish list for years. They usually run near a grand used, and well over for new. Lets just say I stole it.

I'll be all ready for Madam Zoltar next summer. Two years ago I saw her levitating at another party at Pets while the JTI picnic was going on. I wasn't so miffed about her snubbing us, but that levitating needs to be documented. Zoltar you understand two things. Bribes and blackmail. The bribes didn't work for Huck's Hussy search, so maybe blackmail will. Come next summer you better be looking over your shoulder. That reflection of sun light might just be me four blocks away. All I want is what you promised me. A knock on my door by a short haired brunette Barbi doll that says, "Hi, my name is Bambi, where's the kitchen? I feel like cooking!" That Chaty Cathy you left with the broken pull string doesn't count!

hmmmm 500mm with a 2x tele-converter. A 1,000 mm lens?

Can't get into your frozen car?

Gosh, DO NOT PRY ON THE DOORS OR WINDOWS! I see that way too often and it breaks windows, scratches paint, and even dents the body/door. There is an EASY way to get in your car with very little work and no damage at all. Fill up a gallon milk jug with hot water. You can use straight hot water from the tap. Slowly pour the water into the door seam where ice has formed and glued the door to the body. In just a few minutes the ice melts and the door opens right up.

Are your windows glazed with a thick coating of ice? Gosh, don't pound and chip, you can crack the glass. Car windows are tempered so you can use the same hot water trick with no problems. Pour the hot water on your windows and the ice melts right off. Very little work, and no frustration. Keep a gallon jug at work in your locker or by your desk and your coworkers will be amazed at how fast you are in and gone while they struggle away.