Darth Vader returns!

My roommate Travis had a serious underbite, and he just had surgery to correct it. The procedure was called Upper Mandible something-or-other. I’d ask him what it was called but he wouldn’t be able to tell me anyway.

See, the thing about the upper mandible is that it’s attached to your head. Not just sort of attached, but really fused on there. Otherwise your upper teeth would move around, and we can’t have that. What happens if you wish to scoot your mandible forward a bit? You go to a doctor who starts by breaking your face.

Once you get your face good and broken, the doctor can scoot the ‘ol mandible around to his heart’s content. The next step in the chain of misery, however, is that once your choppers are correctly aligned, you want to nail down the mandible again so it goes back to its stodgy immobile old ways. This takes several weeks, during which time your mouth is wired completely shut.

Travis had his face broken Monday, and had to stay overnight in the hospital because he was bleeding too much and some of that was getting in his lungs. His pie hole is wired so tight he can barely even spit. When he got home yesterday his face was the size of a bowling ball and he had two tubes wedged into the sides of his mouth to help him breathe. He sounds like Darth Vader and looks kinda like him as well. You know, in the scene where he’s dying.

I believe the estimate for how long Travis will be eating through a little tube the he sticks back in the corner of his mouth is 6 weeks. Then, not only will his teeth line up like little pearly cheerleaders but I imagine he will be a new, trim version of Travis.

I’m not sure – I’m embarrassed to ask – but I think he got the surgery done on purpose.

The Other Rooms in Hell

But what are the other rooms in Hell, and what would they be like? Hell’s bathroom?

Hell’s bedroom is fertile ground for marriage jokes, but let’s face it, the potential for pain and humiliation is greater there than anywhere else. Hell’s foyer would, I think, be understated and tastefully decorated. Hell’s dining room, on the other hand, would have all sorts of fine china, but you have to eat with hammers..

I think I would like to visit Hell’s library. Taste the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Mmmm… magically delicious!

What about Hell’s laundry room? Hell’s garage?

Panicing

But I have to kick back sometime, right?

New category here at the blog!

Poems, everyone!

And a free commemorative slap on the back to the first person to identify that reference.

From the old days

From the old days

Now’s the time to do sleep,
Close the eyes, count the sheep,
And when cock’s crow makes chickens cluck
to roll over, mutter, “fuck”
And sleep some more.

A Note About Site Meter

I like it. I like it a little too much. Sometimes I reload the page to see if the number has gone up. As in golf, the rare success carries you over much disappointment.

I have it trained to not count me, which means it may not count other roadrunner customers either. So if you’re on roadrunner and you’ve hit the site fortyleven times in the last few days, My statistics are blown. Still, as of this writing, there are 24 confirmed visits to the blog by people who aren’t me.

The counter has a “traffic prediction” feature which I just know will come in handy. You know, so I can, uh, justify my advertising rates. Yeah, that’s it.

Interestingly, when you walk across the Internet, you are not walking in sand, your footprints to be washed away with the next tide. You are walking in plaster of paris; it’s soft and receptive but it doesn’t forget. I worry that this is going to be creepy for you guys, and if it is I’ll remove the counter, but for me it’s great fun. If you click on the number over there you will see the same statistics that I see. At least I think you will.

For instance, today someone who had his or her computer set to Western Australia Time dropped by because of a trackback link I left over at Haloscan. He looked at the main page, and didn’t click any links. Not that there was any reason for him to do so unless a category name caught his fancy.

The stats never show enough to pin down the exact person, but with a little knowledge (now, just who could it be at hearthnhome.com? And Bob, don’t you have better things to be doing while you’re at work?) you can make a pretty good guess.

So, like I said, if this bugs you I’ll stop, or if you don’t mind me seeing the stats but don’t want the whole damn world to know I can fix it that way as well. I just thought you would find it interesting to know just what THEY know about every page you load.

Damn! I didn’t want to end this on a paranoid angle. I like seeing who’s visited, and I have no current plans to use the information for nefarious purposes. But anyway, it’s you guy’s call.

Nostalgia Trip

I had the top down, and it was chilly out, but not cold. Traffic was light, making the four lanes seem very wide. Suddenly I was hit with the memory of the first time I had driven up that highway, when I was moving to San Diego.

It was a different convertible then, but the same chill air. I remember I had noticed how the wide, sprawling interchanges made such good use of the terrain to establish their different levels. I remember worrying that I had missed my exit, which was silly because I also noticed how much better-marked the exits are here compared with New Mexico.

Of course, once I got that feeling I started looking for the things that had changed in the last 17 years. I realized that almost every building I saw for the next few miles had not been there on my maiden trip; the first time through that canyon the freeway was all there was, and I have to admit I was quite taken with the bigness of it, the graceful sweep of the curves in the interchanges, and the way it fit into the canyon, occupying the space – consuming it – harmoniously. The road was a giant sculpture for driving on. Some environmentalist I turned out to be that night.

The road is now flanked by shopping centers, and condos crown the tops of the mesas. Miramar hasn’t changed visibly from the road – the military is the only organization in this town more powerful than the developers, and God Bless ’em for that. But the freeway isn’t as free any more; it’s very presence made the rest of the clutter inevitable. What was a graceful and thought-provoking rape of nature has now become part of just another meaningless urban jumble.

Part of the change is in me, as well. I no longer look at all the cars and wonder, “Where the hell are all those people going? Back then, when I was in a more sympathetic mood, especially late at night when, living near the freeway, I would stop and notice on those rare occasions when the noise had stopped – there was an actual gap in traffic leaving a silence so profound you had to comment on it, but not until the cars had started again – I would stop and think about what it meant to be on the road, to be going somewhere, with all the purpose of life that implies.

Now it’s just a big road with lots of cars, often too many, that I use when I have need. Maybe some time away from the big ribbon will restore my awe.

Hotel on the Moon

Let’s start by thinking about the reasons anyone would want to visit the moon:

1) It’s the moon!
2) Low-gravity sex – and, uh, other activities

Number 1 means that when someone looks out the window, they expect to see pristine lunar landscape, not the tracks left behind by the construction equipment. Brian’s offer to head up the lunarscaping crew notwithstanding, any marring of the terrain (lunain?) will be permanent.

So how does one create a structure without touching the surrounding land? My thought is to learn from the mushroom – pop up from underground overnight.

Man, I wish I had a napkin scanner now.

Anyway, the idea is to start by going underground. For health and safety you want most of the complex beneath a layer of rock anyway. Way deep you bury your reactor; it’s going to take a lot of energy to build the place. Then above that you put the living areas.

Here’s where it gets good. From a shaft in the ground you extend a giant umbrella, open it. Its reach extends far past all the destruction caused while digging the shaft. Set it down gently. Beyond that plastic bubble the moon is untouched, looking exactly the way it did when dudes were spitting painting onto cave walls. Good viewing!

The actual umbrella will probably have more than one layer, and some sort of optically-neutral gel between the layers to plug micrometeor hits well enough until a better patch can be applied. But I’ll leave those details to the engineers.

There would, of course, be a location where guests arrive and depart; that will likely not be as pretty. It would be out of sight of the main city, connected by tunnel or – Ooo! – by a graceful elevated rail to give spectacular views as guests arrive. Building that without ruining the surrounding countryside would be tricky, but probably worth it. In the low gravity you could build something that really defied imagination, something that our common sense would say must fall down. Definitely worth the effort.

As far as point 2 above, Brian V. already has dibs on the astro-jump concession.

Terrorism Preparedness: Is not! Was too! Nuh-uh! Yuh-huh!

What it all boils down to is that Osama would still be enjoying the protection of the Taliban in Afghanistan had he and his followers not attacked the US the way they did on 9/11.

For all the posturing by the current administration that they are tougher on terrorists, the United States would not have had the political will or sufficient support from Afghanistan’s neighbors to mount an invasion. Likely we would have continued to funnel support to enemies of the Taliban, and lob in the occasional cruise missile, but you would not have seen US ground troops in there. We would still be using incentives and threats to try to undermine support for Al-Qaida in nations like the United Arab Emirates. In short, we would be doing the same things we have been doing for a decade. When it comes to fighting terrorism, it doesn’t really matter much who the president is.

Iraq, on the other hand, is not about fighting terrorism. At first the Bush administration tried to frame it that way, but no one bought it. so he switched gears and began to rail about Weapons of Mass Destruction. Now that that argument seems to have been a mistake at best and an outright lie at worst, we are hearing about freedom for the Iraqi people. It’s harder to argue against that one, since they certainly were not free before and were suffering greatly, but it’s also the hardest promise to keep. I am skeptical that we will be able to let the Iraqis have complete control over their country without dissolving into civil war, and it will be a long, long time before that changes. I have hope for the Iraqi people, but I can’t help but be skeptical about our eventual success in fostering democracy in the region.

All that notwithstanding, would we have invaded Iraq without the false boogymen of terrorism and WMDs? Many of our allies in that fight have made it clear that they would not. Spain and Poland have both said they feel bamboozled. And what was the hurry? Iraq had been known to have WMDs long before, but suddenly the danger was so urgent that it was necessary to invade immediately. The reason was as simple as an approval rating of over 70% for the president. Strike while the polls are hot.

Which leaves Afghanistan incomplete and neglected. In Afghanistan the real terrorists are still hiding, and in some areas regrouping. Al-Qaida leadership continues to elude us. Pakistan, our so-called ally (you know, the one with weapons of mass destruction) has been shipping dangerous technology all over the place, while bin Laden hides within their borders. If they took some of the troops out of Kashmir, I bet they would have the resources to track him down.

Would a Democrat have invaded Afghanistan in response to 9/11? Hard to say for sure, but I think so. I doubt, however, that a Democrat or even a McCain or Powell-style Republican would have invaded Iraq. Iraq would still be a sore spot in the region, a constant source of frustration, but Americans would not be dying daily — the victims of terrorist acts. Indeed, rather than reduce the threat of terrorism, the invasion of Iraq has made terrorism so routine that it often goes unreported.

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Under Construction

Tweaking the appearance of the blog, so things will probably be ugly ugly ugly off and on today.

Well, not done tweaking yet, but I’m done for now. I think I need to improver the contrast of some parts.

I added a web counter to see how many people visit this blog. Not sure I’ll be able to take the disappointment.

More on the Robot Race Vehicle

John pointed out that one of the entries in this year’s race brazenly stole my idea for a self-stabilizing motorcycle. There’s even video of it wobbling around the campus. While it’s not a bad start, I think my design is better.

So here’s what I’ve got:

By making the gyroscope very large, it won’t have to spin as fast to get the same stability. The things steers by tilting over, controlled by the gyroscope. Raising the main gyro way up improves ground clearance. I have now dubbed my machine The Camel.

Putting the motors directly on the wheels like that implies electric, but I doubt that’s practical unless it was solar powered. Batteries would just weigh too much and be too bulky. Probably end up with little gasoline motors, but they’re harder to control. Fuel cells? Steam power? Mr. Fusion?

No napkin scanner, but this way I get color, too!

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Robot Race Vehicle

The race course is revealed to the teams the day before the competition. Well, there was no winner this year. In fact, the best any vehicle did was seven miles. Most of them were out after less than a mile. the prize is $1M, and it will probably cost quite a bit more than that to build a winning entry.

Which makes this excellent fodder for a get-poor-quick scheme indeed, although perhaps not on the same grand scale as a hotel on the moon.

Most, if not all, of the entries looked like dune buggies with junk attached all over them. I have a proposal for a radically different vehicle. I would build motorcycle with a big gyroscope that would stableize the vehicle and allow it to turn. it would even be able to pick itself up if if fell over. Both wheels wold be driven with independent motors, and a second gyroscope with a vertical axis would allow the motorcycle to lift its front or back wheel. With that configuration, the vehicle would be able to climb just about anything.

What few pictures of the race make the course look a lot tamer than what I had imagined, but many of the cars turned over or suffered mechanical failures, so perhaps the course was rough, just not where the cameras were. It does appear that the course was on a road the entire way. That would certainly reduce the need for climbing capabilities and perhaps give an edge to the 4-wheel vehicles which could carry more fuel and electronics.

Still, a self-stabilizing autonomous motorcycle would be pretty cool. Are there any mechanical engineers, AI guys, and remote sensing experts who want to win a million bucks with me?

This just in – John pointed out that there was an entry like that. I looked at their design and it required less custom mechanical engineering than mine would (gyroscope was a pre-packaged unit, but much smaller than the motorcycle needs if you’re going to stay upright.) I would use the gyroscope for steering as well, rather than try to steer with the front wheel. their bike suffered from a severe case of the wobblies.

About ready to hit the road

Except for the fact that I am completely unprepared for the move, I’m pretty excited about getting Jer’s Homeless Tour underway. I’ll try to put regular updates here, but I’m not going to put endless minutiae here just to hear myself talk. Or so I promise now.

I have instructions around here somewhere telling me how to add reader comments to iBlog, so at some point I’ll try to get that going, along with jerssoftwarehut.com/. Lots of work to do there as well.