Thursday, December 10, 2009

Foot Full Of Mistletoe

The trees in DC are leaveless but there is still no snow on the ground. For a very short bit it snowed last weekend but this week it has been pretty dry. This weekend it is supposed to snow again but who knows if it will stick. Some people love the changing of the seasons and some folks have such a dislike for winter (I fall into this category in many ways) that they would prefer if it didn't exist at all. But nature has a way of making us familiar with the seasons whether we prefer them or not. The tell-tales are there, whether they represent our favorite season or not.


This winter I have been around or a part of a new Christmas tradition. It was not started by me and I won't likely be the one to end it, but I find it fascinating nonetheless. Two different groups of people I know have initiated conversations about “not offending anyone who doesn't share your religious holiday celebration.” This is the “new tradition” that now seems to happen each year following Thanksgiving and just before Christmas. The fundamental question goes like this:


“Is it wrong / inappropriate / unthoughtful to publicly celebrate a holiday using religious overtones when people around you might not be a part of your religious affiliation?”


For one Christian friend, within the context of a larger conversation, he felt it was more respectful to honor the paradigm of other people who don't share your views by specifically not wishing people a “Merry Christmas.” In exchange he offered “Happy Holidays” as a generic alternative and was fine with joining ranks with the people who would rather do away with “Merry Christmas” and it's obvious religious affiliation.


After much discussion, he felt that it was safer to not offend, say, an observant Jew by wishing them a “Merry Christmas.”


A few days later (and with zero prompting whatsoever) I received an email from another friend. I am going to share just a small portion of that email:


I have to say that even as a non-christian, I still love the part of a Charlie brown Christmas where Linus stands on stage and tells what Christmas is all about. And I pity da fool who organizes some “high standards” group and tries to get that taken off the air, cause I’ll be kickin some butt with a foot full of missile toes.


Now this was the beginning of the email and 2/3rds of it, after which he celebrated one of his favorite TV Shows letting me (and other friends / email recipients) know that the cast of Scrubs did their own version of the Charlie Brown special. Very funny I might add.


I went on to ask him “I was curious, from a non-christian (and specifically Jewish) perspective, does the presence of iconography and terminology (“Merry Christmas”) offend you?” I found his response to be very interesting.


He told me that someone he knew ask him about what he was doing for Christmas and then the friend got all flustered and said “I mean, Chanukah! I'm sorry.” His response was that nobody needs to apologize for asking him about Christmas, or saying the word Merry, or wishing him a merry Christmas. In his reasonable mind he feels that “merry Christmas” doesn't mean “I am forcing my beliefs upon you, so why not convert already?” I can honestly say I have never said “merry Christmas” and meant it in such a manner, so I would be willing to agree that for most people, that is a pretty reasonable expectation of understanding.


As for iconography, he said he could respect the fact that Christmas trees are “pretty” but we both agreed that the Christmas tree tradition, while adopted by Christians, is really pagan and not Christian almost at all!


This prompted me to ask a specific set of questions about what, of the following list, feels imposing or insensitive. This is an excerpt from my email in reply:


Is there a difference between... celebrating some element of who you are (via iconography or conversation) and... imposing your beliefs, and what might be a good example of either? How would you qualify these items / activities:

1. A Christmas wreath on a door.

2. An old lady wearing a pin on her coat that says “Merry Christmas.”

3. A menorah or a Christmas tree in a window.

4. Someone singing Christmas carols.

5. Strangers talking about their holiday traditions (religious or otherwise) while in line at a grocery store.

6. A game of dradle being played on a piece of cardboard in an alley with people standing around it with cash in their hands.

7. A pamphlet handed to you by a “Jew for Jesus” explaining the Christian message about Jesus as it pertains to thankfulness while in New York City watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

8. A stranger asking you “Isn’t that a beautiful nativity scene over there?” and points to some display setup in the lawn outside a city hall building next to a life-sized depiction of a “Chanukah-remembrance of the Maccabean Revolt” and a sign staked down by a local agnostic fellowship that reads “There is no God and religion enslaves people.”

9. Someone forcing you to bow down at a nativity scene.


For my friend, the only offensive bit was option 10. But he also admits he feels a bit progressive in terms of both being able to “get over” being hung up on something someone said and fundamentally not preferring all-things-Jewish over, say, a good looking blonde who just walked into the room regardless of religious / cultural identification. I digress.


In conclusion I think that both friends have great hearts when it comes to wanting to treat people well. In both cases, I would likewise not want to offend anyone or adopt feeling offended unnecessarily. That would definitely be the upside to both of their personalities and thoughts. I would also add that I am not in favor of hedging all imagined bets to avoid offending everyone. The fact is that the potential to call so many things I don't agree with “offensive” but I have to choose to not be “offended” and coerce everyone around me into my beliefs.


Now, don't get me wrong. I would love for everyone to share my beliefs. That would make my life a whole lot easier. But forcing compliance with what I believe would simply make for a planet full of hypocrites. I do make an exception for common laws that do stuff like defend life or encourage safety or protect children. And many of my beliefs about the harmful nature of pornography or social appropriateness of entertainment media would also likely make the world a better place, but I would rather people come to an agreement with me rather than force their compliance (and I am willing in the mean time to advocate for the idea that people should agree with me and maybe somedays my reasonable thoughts will become laws agreed to be a good thing... but I will waitto write more on that until I decide to run for U.S. Senate.)


But I love the idea that my Jewish friend here is willing to kick someone's butt with a foot full of mistletoe if someone decided that celebrating Christmas were suddenly socially inappropriate!


(worthy of note: The friend who's emails from which I've been directly quoting has granted me permission to share his thoughts. Out of respect to him, his perspective is not a license to attempt to offend people with your word choice under the guise of "celebration" but rather just his reasoned perspective with regard to the freedom to celebrate in a way that is not actually imposing but that doesn't require completely hiding oneself from the public eye for fear of offending someone.

Might someone be offended by your word choice, even though you are being kind and not intending on offending or verbally confront people who wouldn't otherwise agree with you? Sure they might. But I feel that this is there problem to wrestle with and not your problem in this case.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

New Website In Production

In my last blog entry I wrote about learning Drupal (the web-content management system tool) and that I am rebuilding my website in it. Right now it only lives on my iMac at home but soon I will be relaunching enginpost.com and moving my blog over to that site. In the mean time, I am fairly happy with what I am able to do to build a very stylized gallery in Drupal.

These sample images show what the basic site will look like but I want to focus on the gallery.

Intuitive URLs

First, replace "localhost:8888/ep" right now (in your mind) with "enginpost.com" and check out the address to get to the gallery on my site:
The nice thing about clean URLs is that it makes content on your site quite memorable and less cryptic, which I prefer. So, once I go live, if a person wanted to check out all of the images in my gallery they would type in: http://enginpost.com/gallery


Here is a screen grab of the gallery page on the site will all five images I have uploaded (click the image to view a larger version.) I designed it to make each image look a bit like an old photo. No more than six images to a page and if there are more than six images then at the bottom of the images you get a "pager" which uses Ajax to move you through the images in groups of no more than six at a time.

Instant Sub Galleries Via Tagging (Taxonomy)


Next up, I like to take a lot of photos and currently I use flickr to manage all of that, but I am only allowed so many uploads per month. So, since I manage my own site (as well as pay for the space and bandwidth) I am going to start moving all of my images over to my new gallery. No more being spread across flickr and blogspot and enginpost.com for me. I will be all in one site.

The next important task in creating my image gallery is being able to easily tag the images and then find them again by searching through those tags (if you are not familiar with tagging, it is like labeling or indexing your images based on ad-hock categories. Said another way, imagine that you took a picture of a friend during Thanksgiving. Well, you might want to tag that picture of "frank" with the terms "Frank" and "Thanksgiving." Later you will want to search for and see all of you shots where you tagged "Thanksgiving" you should be able to pull up that image.)

Now, check out this URL. It is the same as above with the addition of "/scottish"

The idea here is that I can pull back only the images where I have tagged them with "scottish." In this case I tagged only 4 of the 5 images I uploaded (for testing) using that tag. So only those images come back!


Make note that the gallery title says "Gallery: (Scottish)" this time and not "Gallery: (All)" like it did in the earlier image (click the image above to view a larger version.) I am doing a couple of tricks. First, this is the same exact gallery page in Drupal. In fact it is the same basic core page for my entire web site but I have themed just the output of the images here so that they look like old photos. Second, Drupal is reading the URL to figure out if it needs to filter the results based on the tag term I put on the URL. When I themed the image content coming back I just did a little trick to be sure it capitalized "Scottish" even though it isn't capitalized in the URL. This way everything looks nice and consistent and professional.

Larger Image Versions Using Lightbox

Finally, just as I have been asking you to click these images to view a larger version, I wanted that same feature in my web site. I have noticed that people are using a technique these days which opens a larger version of the picture on top of the existing page rather than opening a different window, and I think that looks great. It is really the new standard for how site galleries operate so I went looking to see how that was done.

In the end I was able to pull this off quite easily in Drupal. In addition to that I was able to setup an image processing module that would take the huge images I was uploading and it created thumbnails and standardized large view sizes to make the gallery images incredibly consistent!


Notice in this image that you can also download the original image in it's even larger size once you have clicked to view the larger version. Beautiful! I also made it so that when you click one image to make it larger, it automagically starts a slideshow of any remaining images in the group. You can stop the slideshow at any time or manually advance the slideshow as well.

Drupal sure makes this stuff easy. If I had to do this sort of thing from scratch I don't have a clue how long it would take me to build out all of this functionality. In addition, the site design is completely mine (so one wouldn't necessarily assume this was a Drupal website by looking at it.) Beyond that the time I save now by allowing drupal to create thumbnail and standard larger views of my images more than makes up for the time it has taken me to learn how to do this stuff!

Very exciting geekery!

The Difference Between My Brain And A Web-CMS

That title is a joke. I am nothing like a web-content management system and so comparing my brain to the purpose of one is ridiculous. But I have been bashing my brain against one particular web-cms for a while now and while my head hurts from the steady rate of growth and discovery, I can say that the experience has been, well, glorious compare to the learning curve of other kinds of technology. I am talking about the web-cms Drupal.

I have learned a number of other languages over the years: Visual Basic, Cobal, Powerbuilder, Foxpro, C, Objective C, C#, .NET framework, Cold Fusion, PHP, ActionScript, JavaScript, Smalltalk and a few others (fhew!) The thing about most programming languages: it is a lot like riding a bike. There are many kinds of bikes out there, single gears, multiple gears, road bikes, trail bikes, and while they all ride differently, once you learn one the others implement the same basic expected functions (pedals, breaks, gear switching, turning, etc.) just not in the same way (rod-based gear changing, twist / crank gear changing, breaks on the handlebars, breaks on the pedals, etc.) With most languages the purpose remains the same, the tools to get you there are what change a bit.

Diving over into a web-cms is like tweaking a bike for a particular purpose. The seat, the handlebar grips, the shoes, did I mention the seat? A web-cms can implement many different approaches based on the technology (or programming language) beneath it. This means you need to know a bit about the programming language it is written in, but then you need to know how they used that language to put the whole thing together so you could snap it together in a custom manner: enter headache.

Drupal, the web-cms of my choosing, is really built on the best of the best. Allow me to throw out a few buzzwords: apache, MySQL, PHP, jQuery and Ajax. And Drupal sites tend to look amazing in old browsers as well as new browsers, index really well on sites like Google (sidenote: it is funny to think of a monolithic entity like Google as fundamentally a site) and plays really well with other technology. If Drupal were your kid, it would never disobey, would be infinitely creative and filled with potential, and you would never have to tell it to clean it's room.

Drupal is clearly the premier poster-child for Open-Source-Gone-Well. It nearly defines the phrase. Drupal is open source in that Drupal version 6 (the current version) included the participation of over 700 developers world-wide devoted to making this community product better.

And the magic of Drupal is in the contributed modules. These are little optional pieces of downloadable functionality, all open source, available for the purpose of adding functionality to the core web-cms that is Drupal. Do you want a site to run your personal blog? Core Drupal does that. Do you want to setup a community calendar and a photo gallery and manage document libraries with sign-in & sign-out capabilities? Go visit http://drupalmodules.com/ and you will find all of the Contrib. Modules you need to pull that off.

Learning Drupal is, however, just a bit sketchy, but not in the way you are anticipating. It isn't that Drupal information is difficult to find. On the contrary. There is too much information out there. And self-published experts range from goofy to golden-nuggets. The trick is getting good references from community members to find the right best sources of knowledge. In a sea of Drupal there are a few amazing stand-out sources that every wanna be Drupal user needs to find... but I am going to hord those references so you all don't benefit!!

That is joke. The first amazing source is IRC. That's right! I said it! Remember back in the day when AOL first came out and how cool it was to chat with people over the internet? Well, long before AOL pretended to BE the web, IRC was! IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, are these communities of like-minded folks who are chatting it up on various topics. In the Drupal IRC world, irc.freenode.net and #DRUPAL-SUPPORT are your bread and butter. I have received tips from everything from (1) great hosting services, to (2) how to enable features in my custom theme configuration, or (3) great book recommendations.

All in all, my career has taken a completely reborn turn in the last 3 years. I was completely invested in Microsoft a few years ago. If I were to explain my career in terms of technology I would have said: SharePoint, VB and C#, Ajax, CSS and SQL Server. These days, without a doubt I would now say: PhotoShop, Dreamweaver, Flash, ActionScript 3, Drupal, PHP, CSS, xHTML, XML and Design. In the world of tech, that is like agreeing to fight with the English and just before impaling William Wallace on your sword, shaking his hand and joining his team along with the other defecting Irish (not that I am Irish... I am Scottish!)

So I am geeked about the future of my career. I am 36 years young and feel like I am just getting started.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Scottish Christmas Parade

I am about to snuggle down and watch a Clint Eastwood movie with my brie and crackers with rosemary chicken and wild rice while I watch the first snowfall of the season out the living room window, but first I wanted to share just a couple photos from my morning in Alexandria.



These police on bikes lead the parade. It was cold and the rain just turned to snow.



This man walking away is wearing the tartan of Clan Donald (my Scottish heritage.) My photos really turned out great. Now I just need to take the time to go through them and post them. Be sure to click on the images to see the larger versions.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Letter From VA Congressman On Health Care Reform

First, here is the letter I just received in my email inbox (following this is my email reply):

Dear Mr. McDonald,

Thank you for contacting me with respect to the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962). I appreciate the opportunity to hear your views on this important legislation.


My approach to dealing with the issue of health care reform has been to listen to you, my constituents. Through town hall meetings, telephone town halls, e-mails, letters, phone calls, and even over lunch at neighborhood diners, I have heard from thousands of constituents. >From that interaction, I learned that Northern Virginia families and businesses want health care reform that lowers costs, increases choice, improves quality of care, and provides peace of mind.


H.R. 3962, while far from perfect, ultimately met those tests and that is why I supported it. Below, I have laid out some of its provisions.



Lower Costs

o Eliminates co-pays and deductibles for preventive care.

o Strengthens Medicare by closing the prescription drug donut hole for seniors.

o Provides tax credits to help small businesses provide insurance.

o Reduces the federal deficit by more than $100 billion.


Increased Choice

o If you like your current doctor, and your current insurance plan, you can keep them.

o A National Health Insurance Exchange, allowing you to choose from a menu of different private plans, with a public plan as one option.


Higher Quality

o You and your doctor make your health care choices - not insurance companies or the government.

o More doctors and nurses in the workforce to care for you.


Peace of Mind

o Caps catastrophic costs so families aren't forced to declare bankruptcy because of health care costs.


o No more insurance company coverage denials because of pre-existing conditions.

o No need to worry about changing jobs based on health care coverage.

You should also be aware of the impacts this bill would have on the 11th Congressional District specifically. It would provide tax credits to make insurance more affordable for 87,000 households, close the prescription drug donut hole for 3,800 seniors, allow 19,000 small businesses to offer health insurance for the first time, and protect up to 1,400 families from bankruptcy due to health care costs.


In particular, our seniors will benefit tremendously from the provisions of H.R. 3962. In addition to closing the prescription drug donut hole, saving thousands of dollars a year for affected seniors, it will eliminate all Medicare co-payments for preventive services like checkups. Furthermore, it will strengthen the solvency of Medicare, ensuring that this critical program is in place for years to come.


Finally, I was able to secure substantial changes in the final version of the bill that protect nearly all Northern Virginia families and small businesses from paying higher taxes to finance the plan.


As Congress continues to work on health care reform, I look forward to hearing your views. Once again, thank you for contacting me on this important issue. I encourage you to visit my website at http://connolly.house.gov to read H.R. 3962 and view numerous videos where I explain my position on health care reform in detail.


Sincerely,

g
Gerald E. Connolly
Member of Congress
11th District, Virginia
GC/PC


And here is my reply:

Thank you for you email ((you spammed me about your support of H.R. 3962.)

Please endure my thoughts for a moment as I analyze what you have said here
:

Provides tax credits:
This is fundamentally raising the cost and not saving the cost. We all know what a tax credit is and how you pay for it.

Eliminates co-pays and deductibles for preventative care:
I have that today. You efforts have accomplished nothing if you are pretending to give that to me. The market already manages well the competitiveness of these health related components.

Lowers Cost:
The Congressional Business Office disagrees with your analysis (and they are more qualified than you to analyze cost) so you need to be honest about this. If the CEO of a Health Insurance Company misrepresented the financial state of their entity in such a way as to ignore what that companies accountants were saying, that CEO would be crucified both socially and legally by investors. As a tax-payer I am your investor. As a Congress-person you would be an officer of the public health option included in this plan. Any inaccurate representation of the financial analysis and budget of this plan would constitute a breach of trust and you are now culpable in your dissemination of misinformation. Expect that the federal government will be rightly sued by any and all tax-payers as the officers of a public health insurance company would if you continue to misrepresent the reasonable analysis.

Let's talk about a few additional areas of concern which bring into question the current state of your “analysis” of H.R. 3962:

You and your doctor make your health care choices:
My doctor and I make those decisions today. You are inferring that the restrictive control of coverage by insurance companies will be tamped down by this bill, implying that my doctor and I can make decisions about my health care that we can't make today. This is completely deceptive. While you are taking the power of some “coverage” decisions away from insurance companies, you aren't handing that power to me and my doctor. The bill hands the lion's share of that power to the new “Health Choices Commissioner” essentially now putting me and my doctor in bed with both the insurance company as well as the federal government. Applying simple math you have essentially complicated who will be involved in choosing my coverage, and not simplified it to me and my doctor.

Protecting us from higher taxes:
Independent analysis of H.R.3962 has proven that there are many new taxation opportunities created if this bill passes. Maybe you are hiding behind the idea that you will not directly tax us at the federal or state level, but we are all paying attention. From new device and service taxes to small business taxes, to tax penalties if we prefer to not participate in purchasing insurance, you are raising our taxes. Your letter is intentionally worded to deceive.

In addition to these specific rebuttals, you are also proposing changes to medicare and medicaid which are both analyzed as either not helpful or specifically harmful. Now, I realize that an element of reform may mean that any programs numbers will change, but in the case of medicare you are making decisions with which America is not comfortable.

If I were to give you a letter grade with regard to your analysis, you get a “D” at best. More importantly you appear to have spent more time word-smithing the grammar and word selection in your sentences with a desire to deceive people about these various talking points, as opposed to just analyzing the bill. I recommend you go back and study it again.

So far Congress and the current presidential administration have done an absolutely horrible job at estimating, anticipating and analyzing our troubled economy. Independent news outlets like MSNBC have called your optimistic analysis of the economy flawed due to real-world outcomes in comparison to specific estimates. Now we are to believe in your analysis of the cost and value of H.R. 3962 over the analysis of the Congressional Budget Office or other independent analysis? Not unlike the Congressional arrogance in imagining that the 111
th Congress can solve or better manage a health care company, you have made the blunder again in imagining we will trust your defiantly optimistic analysis despite the real numbers.

In conclusion, if a public option continues to get pork-barreled onto health care reform legislation and you continue to support it, I along with a number of other Americans will do whatever I can in my circles of influence to remain vocal about ensuring that you do not remain in your Congressional seat.

If you really want to listen to the American people, then stop the spending spree and do a better job.

Sincerely,
Steve McDonald

P.S. I will be posting your letter and my response to my blog so other people can independently review the quality of your work. If you decide to recant and reconsider your analysis and go back to work for the American people, feel free to send me an email in reply and I will update the blog entry with your responsible political adjustments.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My First Comic In 20 Years!

I have truly been slacking. When I was a kid I used to draw all of the time. And while I do creative artistic work with regularity, i don't really spend any time drawing comics, at least not to any level of completion.

Well tonight as I was headed home I had this thought that I needed to put down on paper. A couple hours later after digitally coloring it and adding captions, here it is! (Clicking the comic will open a larger version)




Feel free to leave me your thoughts in the form of comments!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

American War Criminals

The Middle East was heating up. Muslim groups were fighting with other Muslim groups. Oil resources were being debated. World leaders were whispering about the impending threat of “weapons of mass destruction” being produced in Iraq despite various UN Security council resolutions to prohibit it.

Feeling pressure to unseat Saddam Hussein from his position of power, the President of the United States sought funding from the U.S. Congress to set into motion an effort to replace Saddam's regime with a democracy. Specifically the act put before Congress requested the use of United States Armed Forces to pull of this large and risky effort.

The President had few international friends. To gain a tactical advantage the U.S. hoped to use various Middle East countries to base their entry into Iraq, but those countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates initially denied the request. It seems that the U.S. would primarily have to count on the United Kingdom as it's near sole support, advocate, friend and military partner.

The act approved by Congress gave the President the means to drawdown defense articles and assign resources for the purpose of going into Iraq to fundamentally perform the goal of unseating a violent, hostile and non-compliant sanctioned Iraqi regime. Some saw risk in assigning that sort of power to a president while others saw it as a reasonable act in times of war.

The U.S. President's administration was actively engaged in ensuring people of the world knew what we were up against and what was at stake.

The weapons of mass destruction are the threat of the future. I think the president explained very clearly to the American people that this is the threat of the 21st century,” said the administration's Secretary of State.

A plan was in place. Congress had been briefed. The American people were informed. It was nearly time to go in. The known tactical targets: weapons research and development installations, air defense systems, weapon and supply depots, barracks and command headquarters of Saddam's elite Republican Guard, along with Saddam's lavish presidential palaces.

For a while then there were musings about the U.S. Military taking impending action in Iraq and despite the common objections to warmongering by certain elements of the American public as well as the world, it was time to go into Iraq.

In December of 1998 Operation Desert Fox was set into motion by then-President Bill Clinton.

Unless you were aware of this piece of recent world history, my guess is that you were thinking about a completely different U.S. President and war.

How long have you attributed military action in defiance of the UN and world opinion, warmongering, WMD threat and Congressional support for misinformed action in Iraq to President Bush only now to realize that President Clinton has more to do with the writing of this story than you would have ever imagined?

WMDs were a threat then according to the UN and various intelligence sources, even though Clinton's raid on Bagdad yielded no WMDs. Was President Clinton simply wrong about WMDs or should we run out and print “CLINTON LIED” bumper-stickers? It was rumored that U.S. Inspectors under Clinton sabotaged Iraqi relations and inspections to provoke the Bagdad bombing. Should we go back and talk about releasing those documents and prosecuting the Clinton Administration as war criminals?

As a direct result of the failed Bagdad bombing effort former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said, “We did not do, in my view, enough damage to degrade [Iraq's programs for weapons and mass destruction]... because in six months to a year they will be back to where they are and we cannot keep repeating these attacks. At the end of the day what will be decisive is what the situation in the Middle East will be in two or three years... If Saddam is still there, if he's rearming, if sanctions are lifted, we have lost, no matter what spin we put on it.

As a direct result of the President Clinton's Bagdad bombing, the Islamist group Vanguards of Conquest called for attacks on the US “for it's arrogance.”

The fact is, this is all very complicated stuff. Someone selling platitudes about “he lied” or “prosecute the war criminal administration” are simply evoking emotional ploys rather than discussing facts (or whatever we can glean from history that seems close enough to fact.)

I am not in a rush to condemn former President Bill Clinton, but I think people need to get down off their historically inaccurate high-horses and stop the very narrow propaganda that crucifies former President George W. Bush. I am not saying he didn't make mistakes. I am saying that you don't have to go back too many Presidents to find perfectly similar examples of admirable and embarrassing mistakes, liberal or conservative.

Note: My telling of this story comes from a retelling of the wikipedia article on Operation Desert Fox. You can fact-check the story starting there. Feel free to leave comments.

UPDATE:

After President Obama's Afghanistan address last night, I will watch public reaction closely. I fully anticipate a spectrum of responses from military families encouraged by support, to families fearfully anticipating deployment of their family members, from feeling confident in the President's explained approach in Afghanistan to seeing this as more of the same business-as-usual regardless of President Obama's campaign promises on war efforts in the Middle East.

Is President Obama's selected military option enough? Some say it is a move in the right direction but because it is not equal to the demands of the Afghan war-front it doesn't have a large chance for success. We can only hope that if they will send more people into the fray, it surely has a significant chance of working. In President Obama's own words, "As your Commander and Chief I owe you a mission that is clearly defined."

President Obama also said, "it is in our vital national interest to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan... I do not make this decision lightly... if I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow... I am convinced that our security is at stake... this is the epicenter... this is no idle danger, no hypothetical threat."

Now that President Obama is making these tough decisions, we will see how the polarized political response to the demands of national security, many of which got him elected because of his outspoken desire to bring the troops home, will either support him or begin to name President Obama and his administration as one of the American War Criminals.

Friday, November 27, 2009

climate scheming

As reported by the BBC, hackers target a lead climate research unit's server to capture files and private emails. They successfully downloaded a number of very damaging emails where scientists were discussing topics such as: ouster the scientists who don't agree with them, hiding climate study results that don't agree with their conclusions, altering data to support their perspectives, etc.

The University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) hacked email system included emails from a veritable "Who's who" of AGW climate scientists, so says the climategate web site. So this brings into question the work directly contributed to the IPCC report very much at the center of the AGW debate.

The site climate gate has also reported the story has been in contact with individuals who were included in the list of hacked emails willing to confirm that the emails matched emails they previously authored. At the same time both climate gate and the BBC have reported that the hacked group is willing to verify that they were hacked but were unwilling to address any specific questions about the contact of the emails or documents.

I think it is reasonable to demand more verification of the facts, and it is not reasonable for this group to simply be unwilling to face the accusation posed by their own hacked emails. At the same time I am not surprised that they are willing to simply not address those very disturbing emails. In one of the emails they are completely honest (privately with each other) about refusing to provide all of the supporting data and models associated with one of their "scientific" conclusions.

Four of the biggest posed cover-ups in those emails have everything to do with [1] screening comments on the supposedly neutral RealClimate.org website to ensure a pro-AGW message, [2] "fixing" data to make the historical record appear to consistently rise in temperature over the industrial revolution period, [3] altering land and ocean temperature difference data to hide the reasonable conclusion that the models do not take into account the amount of "urban island" warming heat measurement effect and [4] hiding the fact that measured temperature trends for the last entire decade breaks their trend and invalidates their trending models' conclusions. These three pieces of evidence, acknowledged by these AGW advocates who's science found the results and are now scheming to hide the evidence, would be a significant and reasonable breach in the armor of the AGW initiative.

What does that mean for average Americans?

It means that AGW as a factor in making political decisions is now reasonably in question and that AGW skeptical science results aren't just coming from skeptics but from the models of pro-AGW scientists. We can now put our carbon-tax checkbooks away and ask people like Al Gore to go sell crazy somewhere else.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

First Video With Letus

This is my first video with my new Letus 35mm Lens Adapter. I need to rerender it in letterbox since vimeo doesn't seem to be able to read the information that says it is widescreen, but I don't know that workflow yet. In the mean time, here is the video. Make note of the depth of field in some of the shots (stuff in focus while other stuff is out of focus.)

Everyday Super Heroes from Steve McDonald on Vimeo.



Equipment used:

Canon XH-A1 HD camcorder
Letus 35mm adapter
Canon 75-300mm/4 lens
Canon 85mm/1.8 lens
Rhode boom with Sure SM81 mic
Final Cut Express

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dreams Of War

I woke up this morning face down in my bed. My brain was fuzzy from the deep sleep I just had and I wasn't sure what was real and what was not.

Last nights dream had me sitting along a concrete wall with a crowd of people wearing jeans and jackets or military camouflage. I was still near home in the Arlington area, but along a road that seems to be on a hill. As I looked down the road the sky grew darker and there were flashes of colored lights and the sounds of explosions like faint thunder.

The soldiers around me seemed experienced and calm but also a little anxious. The scene began to make sense as it would seem that the civilian people in the crowd were joining the military in battle down the hill. It was an all-hands-on-deck moment where anyone who could fight was about to.

I was as cool as... ok, completely not true. When faced with the fact that I was in the masses about to go down the hill I started to think about the mortal possibilities. I said to myself, “I don't want to die.” The soldier to my right turned and said, “What? Did you say something?” I repeated my self only a little louder for sympathies sake. Everyone was going down the hill. There was no getting out of it and I was prepared to go. But I was also marking the moment, acknowledging that it could be my last on the planet.

There were soldiers and civilians walking around everywhere making preparations. Then people started going over and down the hill. I turned to the soldier on my left and smiled. She seemed experienced but also empathized with my cavalcade of emotions. People were moving forward now. I reached over for the soldier and for some reason we kissed. It was just simple human contact I think. The desire to connect with something positive and full of normalcy that I think caused that to happen. I don't know.

The hilarious thing to me is that I am the first guy in a movie that instinctively calls out “Come on! Do we have time for this?” in a theater when two characters kiss in the middle of an action sequence. Now, while my motivation didn't really parallel the passion that you see on the silver screen in a action-moment-kiss I think I could understand how if given the right amount of stress and time, such a thing could actually happen.

I woke up after that, my alarm calling me from my sleep.

I can say that this is likely a media dream. Between reading the book “flashforward” to watching the TV shows “V” and “Flashforward” and recently beating the video game “Modern Warefare 2” and all of the press talking about a Congress bankrupting the country, the idea of being engaged in a bunch of unsettling upheaval where regular citizens have to get involved or get plowed under seems to be at the front of my mind.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Save Money, Get Breast Cancer

The American Cancer Society is not recommending any changes to breast cancer screening, despite what a government task force says about self and mammogram breast cancer screening.

You might wonder why I would care about this issue. Am I just being political somehow? Yes and no. I lost my mother to cancer and I am hopeful that people will keep an eye on potentially political decisions on health care.

For the last 20 years the American Cancer Society has recommended that women start preventative exams at the age of 40 and recommends self exams regularly and mammograms once per year. At the same time the government committee called the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force claims that the costs associated with breast cancer screening and biopsy scares a lot of people unnecessarily and doesn't “substantially” improve the odds for survival.

I recall when my friend Gregg became sick with cancer. He and his wife did everything they possibly could to fight, fight, fight. I seriously doubt that they weighed the idea of not trying something because the odds weren't “substantial.”

In the case of my mother, every medical professional agreed: if her cancer had been caught earlier, it wouldn't have been fatal. In her case colon cancer became liver cancer which eventually spread until her body couldn't fight it any longer.

According to Dr. Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, “This is one screening test I recommend unequivocally, and would recommend to any woman 40 and over.” He went on to say that the committee is “essentially telling women that mammography at age 40 to 49 saves lives, just not enough of them.”

While Medicare and private insurance companies are currently not announcing any changes in coverage at this time, they admit that the U.S. Preventative Service Task Force reports do influence the coverage plans of those groups.

All of this to say, I believe we are looking at an in-kind example of government managed health care decision models that would change the rules for mandated insurance coverage and cost containment. If you haven't been paying attention, it would be likely true that a government run health option would decide rules like this and fine health insurance that didn't “competitively” conform to the types of service decided by new government managed health care rules.

What is even more disconcerting is the idea that these declarations are coming from a preventative task force. This is like your local Police deciding not to respond to all 911 calls because, statistically a certain number of crimes never get solved. At what point should efforts in prevention decide to stop passing along preventative advice and instead only pass along advice proportionate to the amount of potential benefit? I know the answer to that one. Never! Nobody wants to be a cancer statistic.

So with respect to statistics, and in conclusion, let's briefly review a few stats. According to cancer.gov, if you are woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer...

  • you are 1 in 233 if you are in your 30s
  • you are 1 in 69 if you are in your 40s
  • you are 1 in 38 if you are in your 50s
  • you are 1 in 27 if you are in your 60s

Which of those statistics do you want to become? If I could ask your families and friends that question, I know the answer would unanimously be, "You are 1 person fully worthy of not becoming a cancer statistic."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

TV Show V Tops All Shows

Well, the new TV show “V” is a hit. The typical top-of-the-list show has been “Grey's Anatomy” for a while now, but as of November sweeps, “V” topped it for over-all viewership and specifically within the 18-49 crowd (that's a large crowd!)



What I find fascinating about the show are the seemingly political analogy that underlies the program. From using “devotion” as a weapon, to marketing for favor via selling “universal health care” to a large demographic of youth getting involved in promoting the “visitors” doing what they call “spreading hope” the show seems to have taken it's plays straight out of the 2008 presidential election.

Some might say there is nothing new about those political ploys, but there is an interesting twist only more recently found in the 2008 presidential election: courting of the fan-boy press by the visitors to gain influence over the masses through “news” media.

People are very aware of the influence of the press. And, of course, as “news” in the 21st century has become a commodity like shampoo brands, people behind the news desk think about their careers more often than not. It is understandable as everyone who works likely thinks about their careers. But promoting someone at a news desk in “media” today is far different than merit-promotions of old. Look at the rise of previously unknowns like Katy Curric, who was formerly lost in small offices as a lowly pentagon reporter who “caught her break” during dessert storm in the early 1990s and was later promoted because of her demographicly-tested trustworthiness. Through the years weather forecasters have gone from scientists/climatologists to up-and-coming wanna be actors who said their first lines in front of green-screens reading scripts about the coming day's weather before heading to Hollywood. Every news job is a stepping stone today. And it isn't about telling the truth or breaking some news. It is about effective polling and degrees of perceived trustworthiness and influence.

I digress. Here is an exchange between two characters from “V.” In episode #2 a news reporter was asked to give an exclusive interview of the “V” high commander, when just before going on-air the “V” high commander instructed the reporter to not ask any questions that could portray the visitors in a bad light. When the reporter asked what she meant by that, the response was to appeal to the reporters rocketing career and the highly visible nature of the interview. Said another way, make us look good and we will do exclusives with you that rocket your career to the top. So, now in episode #3, the reporter is struggling with having sold out his conscience for an advancing career move:

Other news person, “Poll numbers. The country is split about the visitors.”

Lamenting reporter, “50 percent are still undecided.”

Other news person, “Yeah, I mean, people don't have enough info.”

Lamenting reporter, “That's my fault. I didn't ask any of the hard questions. I got played”


Before you think this is just pure entertainment fiction, check out this news article from the Orlando Sentinel:

http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/entertainment_tv_tvblog/2008/10/obama-campaign.html


When Barbara West asked a few tough questions that Joe Biden could have answered in a manner that laid such questions to rest, instead his response was “I don't know who's is writing your questions” and the Obama team canceled scheduled interviews and cut off that news outlet. In recent days the White House has given the same cold shoulder to any news group willing to continue to ask tough questions, attacking those news groups and questioning if they can even be qualified as news because they are thinking about questions that the White House would rather people not think about.


Spoiler alert:


The show “V” is a remake. In the original the alien “visitors” come to earth to consume humans as a food source. And how do they make their ulterior motives happen? They mislead and lie about their intentions attempting to persuade the masses to support them while they quietly work out their actual plan.


In general, the show is maintaining it's basic plot. What is different would be a modernization of tactics and efforts to fool people in order to gain their devotion and support. The makers of the show admit, they are drawing these modernizations from our contemporary life.


It is interesting how palatable the idea of people feeling undecided because they don't have enough questions is in a TV plot, or how obvious it is for the news reporter to claim the blame because he wasn't asking any hard questions. It is just interesting to me that TV shows can expose this problem in the form of allegory, but if a news outlets or common people call the press on such stuff then (in the 2008 presidential election) they are labeled “enemies of hope.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Busy Days

I've been busy lately with a number of new developments:

Video Work!

At work we have been talking about incorporating more video into our e-learning and marketing products. In some cases we are supplied content. In other cases we need to produce big content, so we will be outsourcing much of that for sake of scale, resources and quality. But there seems to be a number of opportunities to take on small to medium-sized video work.

About a year ago I investing in a nice Canon XH-A1 HD (1080i) 24f pro-sumer camcorder. I love it. The images from this piece of equipment are amazing. But, if I am going to use my camera for these projects, I have decided that getting the "film" look is important.

Recently I purchased a glidecam, which is an in-hand stabilizing device that makes your shots appear to have been taken from a dolly rig.

Secondly, I just purchased a Letus device which allows me to attach my Canon XT Digital SLR lens onto my XH-A1. This allows the camera to shoot with an extremely shallow depth of field (which means that your subject stays in focus while everything closely in front and behind the subject falls out of focus.)

A while back I had already invested in an XLR field condenser microphone and rode boom for the purpose of capturing higher quality audio while on the run.


Click the above image to check out a larger pic!

This next week is the first shoot. Unfortunately I do not have any light gear and investing in a basic low-quality 3-pointing kit (for film) costs around $2k!!! So, if anyone knows of some place with a better price, let me know, so I can get my boss to make the investment.

Updating My Resume!

Specifically, I've been thinking about revamping my website http://enginpost.com for the purpose of "simplification." The current site is quite busy and filled with a level of detail that is, well, distracting.

I am pondering taking on more side work in my free time, so revamping the site might be the way to go. Here is a shot of the new site.


You can checkout prototype (which does nothing yet) at:

http://enginpost.com/cs

Mobile Games!

Lastly, this one here is a completely new venture for me. At work we are talking about building playable games for mobile devices, but rather than learning proprietary languages for each device we are targeting, we have been looking into both browser-based javascript-driven games as well as flash CS5 mobile game development.

For my first javascript-browser-based game, I decided to attempt to reinvent a classic old-console game. I am not done yet, but so far I have been able to master animating a few bits using HTML, DHTML, CSS and JavaScript, and it works on my iPhone!


If you want to check this out in your browser (or on an iPhone) go to...

http://enginpost.com/bomber/bomber-drop.html

When I complete any games I will be sure and post them here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Health Insurance For Illegal Immigrants

Congress has made a lot of statements about Health Care Reform and specifically providing a public option. People who have read the bills proposed have shown serious concern about supporting a bill that funds a government run health insurance plan, especially a plan that can be utilized by people who are not here legally. Here is the idea...

In a nutshell, not everyone benefiting from the plan will be paying taxes. In fact, quite a few will not be paying taxes. So those who are paying taxes (that's you middle-class) will be financially backing this plan and so naturally you might prefer the the idea that IF you are going to pay then you would rather limit your financial investment to only paying for people who are currently citizens or who have undergone the complicated, lengthy and costly process of earning the right to be here legally. Now... I have lost most of your at this point! Most of you either don't want the public option (because it has almost nothing to do with reform in reality) or don't want a plan that pretends to save you money on health insurance only to crank the cost back up again through new taxes! I get you!!! But stay with me.

As a protective measure to at least mitigate some risk with regard to paying for illegal immigrant health care a number of senators have proposed passing an amendment to any health care bill that closes the illegal immigrant loophole. Well, as reasonable as that sounds, Dems won't have it.

"I would find it extremely difficult to vote for any measure that denies undocumented workers health care," said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat. He said undocumented workers should be allowed access to insurance coverage provided that they get no tax assistance.
This sneaky little health care quote above is from the Washington Times newspaper. Breaking his verbiage down, this is what he means:
  • I would find it extremely difficult to vote for any measure that denies undocumented workers health care: the missing word here is "coverage." Nobody is talking about denying health care. If someone gets sick in America and they are not FROM America, we do not refuse them health care. What we don't do is pay their bill... well, in some cases. To date, many hospitals have philanthropic arms that "forgive" medical bills for people. So, nobody is really talking about refusing health care to anyone. The Illinois Democrat is simply making an emotional appeal here. What he really means is that he WANTS to allow people who are living here illegally the ability to participate in the public health care insurance option.

  • He said undocumented workers should be allowed access to insurance coverage provided that they get no tax assistance : This means that the illegal immigrant CAN take part and sign up for a public option. What he doesn't want to allow is the Federal Government cutting that illegal immigrant a "tax credit" check that further subsidizes that public health care option provided by the Federally Funded Health Insurance Plan!!!

You see there are two moving parts in this plan. First, the whole plan will be funded through taxation (now basically admitted when Congress asked state Governors to sign a letter that committed states to help fund the Congressional Health Care Scam.. I mean Plan.) Secondly, in addition to the existence of a Federally run Health Insurance public option plan they want to cut checks to people (also paid by you in taxation) in the form of a "tax credit" to make the plan more affordable.

Note that this week Republicans are also going to present a plan to help control the rising cost of Health Care. This is a very limited plan with a number of reforms (many in the legal realm) that would likely lower the cost of health care due to reduced number of fraudulent lawsuits which would in return likely reduce the number of unnecessary butt-covering procedures that doctors have learned to employ to simply reduce their legal exposure but that do not help the person who is undergoing the procedure or bearing the cost of that procedure. Keep an eye out for that proposal and read up on it. It actually works to achieve the initial goal of Health Care reform!

Health Care Reform Passing The Bill

So in a revelation shared by the Washington Times newspaper Congress has asked state Democrat Governors to sign a letter to Congress promising to locally fund the medicare portion of the health care bill.

Basically, Congress can't find a way to make their health care plan affordable so they are hiding cost at the state level. What does this mean to us?

Well, first off it means that Congress can't balance the cost of this program. Secondly, it means that your local state politicians will have to raise money to pay for these programs. Said another way, Congress is looking to find a way to semantically claim they have an affordable plan while pushing program taxation down to a state decision so that they don't get blamed for it.

What is the outcome of this? Well in the case of a number of state governors they are either refusing to sign the letter or are getting vocal about the Fed not printing more funny money to pay for these programs we cannot afford.

So, let's add up the score so far. Dems in Congress can't balance the cost of the plan. A number of Dems have gotten vocal about refusing to support a plan with a public option. Other Dems don't think the cost is something American can wisely invest in right now. So Congress reaches down to the state level in search of more support and more than 25% of those politically aligned Governors are vocal about the fiscally irresponsible budget-busting nature of the Congressional plan. In my score book the American's are still loosing the Congressional Health Care Reform game!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Virginia And New Jersey Go Conservative


Sending a significant and critical message to Washington, both Virginia and New Jersey selected conservative leadership in their Gubernatorial elections. With a year-long Federal power grab led by the current Presidential Administration, selecting conservative governors (important for a state so strategically located next to DC and huge for a state as historically liberal as New Jersey) means defending states rights against an out of control and out of touch Congress and White House.

Just two days ago President Obama called incumbent liberal Governor Jon Corzine a "key component" in his ability to keep his campaign promises. according to the Associated Press. Tonight, according to CNN's political ticker White House aides claim that President Obama isn't even watching those same "key" election results roll in.

I guess that means President Obama can't keep those campaign promises?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fox News vs. The White House

Since mid-presidential election of 2008 I have heard plenty of debate about how Fox News is too conservatively-biased resulting in a not-so-"fair and balanced" presentation or how the White House shouldn't be afraid of the one news organization willing to ask the tough questions. No matter the perspective, it isn't new for a president to have a particular known view about a news outlet. What is interesting is that NPR is weighing in by asking people to voice their opinion in a poll asking the public who they are more likely to side with.

Before I show you the snapshot, two items worth mentioning:

First, it isn't a one-sided battle with Fox News picking on the silent suffering Obama Administration. The White House Communications Director recently said "let's not pretend they are a news network the way CNN is" when referring to Fox News. There are many regular news shows on Fox News, and they aren't all The O'Reilly Factor or The Glen Beck Show. I am certain we could list at least two non-conservative news commentary programs to compete.

Secondly, statistics might prove that the White House Communications Director is simply showing political bias and demonstrating he is out of touch with America when claiming Fox News isn't a real news network. The numbers show that Fox News trumps all other news networks when you consider basic viewership. In fact Fox News typically has as many viewers in a day as all of the other news networks combined (Daily: Fox News = 1,375,000 as compared to 1,392,000 = CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and HLN combined; at primetime, Fox News beats all other news networks combined by over 100,000 viewers.)

So, you might already be guessing where the results of this NPR poll are headed (as of 10am October 21st, 2009):




At the bottom of the poll there is disclaimer information about how the poll is not scientific and an appeal for more people to more regularly get involved in these web conversations. I think, even though the poll is not scientific, it is interesting that 2/3rds of the NPR voting public would side with Fox News rather than the White House. NPR has never been famous for attracting a conservative audience so I wonder what this poll really reflects about this little war between the Obama Administration and Fox News?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cash For Clunkers Is A Clunker

According to cnnMoney the cash for clunkers program numbers are in and those numbers don’t look too good.

In the article, a reputable automotive review site Edmunds.com shared analysis about the 2009 year end sales predictions and compared those figured with the actual number of sales that cashed in on the clunkers program. Here is what those numbers look like:

  • A total of 690,000 new cars were cash for clunkers deals.

  • Even in this economy 565,000 of those sales we previously predicted.

  • This leaves 125,000 auto sales that no one anticipated and that could be attributed to the program

In dollars what does this mean?

Well, if each deal cost the taxpayer $4,000 in rebate dollar to the purchaser, that means that the program cost $2,760,000,000. That's almost $3 billion! More importantly, if you remove the 565,000 auto sales that were already predicted, then divide nearly $3 billion across the remaining 125,000 new and previously unpredicted sales, the taxpayer paid around $20,000 per clunker (give or take a few thousand bucks.)

So what does $20,000 in taxpayer money buy us?

Here is a nice truck! Would you pay $20,000+ for this truck? Wait for it. You don't actually get the truck, though. You are simply buying the right to have the truck put down. Half of the Cash for Clunkers gimmick was about taking old gas-guzzlers off of the road. So once those heaps were purchased (with your taxpayer dollars), they were put out to pasture. That's right. Your $20,000 in taxpayer cash was used to buy and then crush this car. What a deal!

More offensive than the waste is the program managements response to that waste:

“It is unfortunate that Edmunds.com has had nothing but negative things to say about a wildly successful program that sold nearly 250,000 cars in its first four days alone," said Bill Adams, spokesman for the Department of Transportation.

Let's read through that government spin and re-interpret that quote...

“It's unfortunate TO OUR PROGRAM that Edmunds.com has NOT TAKEN THE TIME TO FIND A POSITIVE SPIN BUT RATHER FOCUSED ON THE OBVIOUS FINANCIAL FLAWS OF OUR PROGRAM AND EXPLAINING THEM TO THE PUBLIC DESPITE THE FACT THAT WE AT THE GOVERNMENT WOULD LIKE TO CONTINUE TO CONSIDER THIS A wildly successful program that sold 250,000 cars in it's first four days alone EVEN THOUGH ONLY HALF OF THOSE EARLY SALES CANNOT BE DIRECTLY ATTRIBUTED TO THE PROGRAM ITSELF.”

Isn't 125,000 sales still a big number and should we cut the program a break?

Shouldn't we just celebrate big numbers? Well, if they had sold 1 billion cars over the program period, then it would have been a success. You might be thinking “Steve... seriously!!! They would have to have sold 1 billion cars for it to be successful! Is that really reasonable? Was there even enough time in the program in a good economy to have sold 1 billion cars?

You are right. It isn't reasonable. In fact, 1,000,000,000 car sales isn't enough success by the numbers!

Let's run the numbers. 1 billion cars would have meant that half of those cars were attributable to the program, lowering the rebate per car cost to the taxpayer down to $5,500 per car. Technically, they would have needed to sell over a billion cars such that about 630,000 of those sales could be directly and reasonably attributed to the program to just get the per car number down to $4,500 (the maximum rebate.) Mind you, we as the taxpayer are still footing the bill to underwrite U.S. auto sales which almost makes no sense to me!! But at the minimum this should have been the target for success. If there wasn't enough time to hit a reasonable margin for financial success then WHY DO THE PROGRAM? At what point and by what measure does running a program that simply creates more debt at the expense of taxpayers become a good investment?

Calling 125,000 new auto sales a success just verifies that the government has no idea how to measure success.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

iPhone Game Project

My first iPhone game project is underway...



(click the image to make it larger)

Step one is learning all about basic physics and how to pull off physics in Flash. I have so far tackled basic velocity and trajectory along with some collision math (when two or more object bump into each other.)

In the above screen shot you can see an iPhone sized screen with 100 objects bouncing around the screen at random velocity, spinning at random rates, all random sizes and one of three random shapes. Next notice the colors. That is only helpful to me at the moment while I am programming but the color coding goes like this:

  • Green: the object recently bounces off of the west wall.
  • Yellow: the object recently bounced off of the north wall.
  • Orange: the object recently bounced off of the east wall.
  • Blue: the object recently bounced off of the south wall.
  • Red: Two or more objects recently collided with the object.
  • White: the object recently collided with another object but is currently not touching another object nor is it touching an outer wall.


Here is another screen shot with 400 objects all bouncing around the screen!


Almost nothing is anything other than red, meaning that flash is working hard to calculate a whole bunch of collisions. Technically, with 400 objects on the screen that means that Flash would potentially need to calculate 400 x 400 possible combinations of objects colliding. I recently learned a little trick about how to pull this off without demanding that amount of CPU power to collision detection. Basically, in short, I have divided the screen space into a grid and I am only testing for collision against objects that share reasonable proximity. This drastically cuts down on the number of tests. Next I can avoid testing similar converse cases meaning if I test if Object-A and Object-B are colliding then I don't have to test if Object-B and Object-A are colliding (that would be a valid test [permutation], but a redundant one.) That cuts the tests way back again. Finally, to keep track of objects I am sorting them into Vector (or data-type-based) Arrays which just cuts process time for lists of objects to test... in half!

Here is one more screen shot of the same view but with only 25 objects bouncing around...



You can see more colors at work depicting bounce-state in this example since there are fewer collision opportunities.

So, currently there are over 75,000 iPhone apps out there which means there are likely not many more opportunities falling into the "completely unique" category. Whatever game idea this evolves into, well... there will likely already be "an app for that." So I am not worried about competition. I am in search of killer cool ideas. My first game might be something simple like rounds of flying a spaceship through an asteriod field (like this game here) and each new screen would get increasingly more complicated. I have a few ideas for interesting ways to make the effort more challenging using multitouch and the accelerometer (when you tilt the iPhone) , but we will see.

Below is a tweaked version of this for the blog here (only 50 objects set into motion with object collision turned off):

Saturday, October 24, 2009

desktop wallpaper creation site

I thought I would share this interesting site where people can create a share wallpaper designs using the tools provided by the site. It's a fairly cool site with a number of interesting tools for layering these stamp-style illustrated graphics, sharing your designs and downloading them for use on your computer.

Here is a quick shot of my mac hard at work helping me create a desktop wallpaper:



You can click the image for a closer view.

The site is http://wallpapers.x3studios.com/

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Google Andriod Mobile OS Moves to #2


Phones running on the Google Android operating system just got a promotion in device domination, PC World reports. Just as looming is the news that by 2012 industry analysts are saying that the Apple iPhone will lose market share. Don't obviously cash in your Apple stock yet. The iPhone surely seems to be the trend setting device at the moment and I believe it's a safe guess that we will see more innovations over the next two years.

What is interesting is the proliferation of available mobile software development kits that allow mobile device software developers the ability to more easily build games and applications for these devices.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention the 2010 commitment of Adobe to put its final touches on the coming Flash 10.1 player. Flash 10.1 player will be the first majorly significant move by Adobe to unify the Flash player across desktop and mobile platforms. To the average person, this means, if your phone can see Flash then any Flash on a website you view from your desktop will be fully visible from your mobile device. No more stripped down version of Flash player (i.e. Flash Player Lite) for mobile devices. This also marks the first time Flash will show up on a number of Mobile Operating Systems.

What does this mean for Flash Developers? It means that it is time to get your creative hats on and be ready to invest in building your own mobile applications for sale. Apple has gotten the whole "there's an app for that" right from the beginning of their foray into phone devices. Now Adobe is following close behind with the development tool to end all mobile development tools... Flash CS5!

The web you hold in your hand is about to get a whole lot better!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Flash On The iPhone is (almost) Here!


My dream just arrived! Hot off the press, Adobe has announced that the next version of Flash, Flash Professional CS5, will compile ActionScript 3 Flash projects into iPhone applications distributable via the Apple Store!

Read the press release here:
http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/flashcs5/appsfor_iphone/



Before you jump to conclusions, there is still no Flash browser plugin for Safari in the iPhone. So all of the websites that display Flash are still not going to work on the iPhone (yet.)



So what does this mean for Flash Developers? Well, it simply means that we will be able to create ActionScript 3 projects that can run like iPhone applications. At the moment, we have no way of knowing how much of ActionScript 3 or what techniques outside of scripting will translate to the iPhone. For example, will timeline effects and tweens all translate? Do we have to do anything to optimize graphics for the iPhone? Are their new features that allow Flash for iPhone apps to save data to the iPhone? Can Flash for iPhone apps communicate with web services and retrieve external XML data? Can Flash for iPhone apps communicate with iPhone data and services (like GPS data, photos on the iPhone, the iPhones photo and video camera, phone lists, email, etc.) There are no answers yet. And even if there were, those answers would likely change since Flash CS5 isn't even in beta yet. But this is only going to get more fun.



Recently in the news, Adobe also made an announcement that the new HTC Hero Phone running the Google mobile operating system would have Flash built into it. According to Adobe, while that is only Flash Lite right now, they are throwing their weight behind getting a full Flash player for mobile devices this next year.



It seems that Adobe is completely poised to dominate as the development platform for cross OS mobile device development and that is great news for the many people who have invested in Flash for years. If you are simply someone who is geeked about your iPhone or interactive mobile device, just wait until the Flash development community has at it.



Now, we just need to see more people embrace cloud computing and the world will truly go mobile!



Note: For those of you who start spamming about where I found a picture a Flash for iPhone version of the all-powerful Adobe Kuler application, well... I didn't... it is a mock up I threw together assuming that would be one of the first apps that adobe will likely convert for use on the iPhone. Can you imagine it? Take a picture of something and launch the Kuler application so it can inspect it and create color schemes from the photo!?!?!?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Religulous is just another example of an anti-religion

I recently watched Bill Maher's docu-propaganda “Religulous” and while there are so many unbelievably trite biasing stereotypes in that film (I found myself mentally defending other religions against some of his over-the-top generalizations) that I couldn't begin nor do I want to address them. There were a few that I feel I would like to “set the record” straight with regard to.


The short list of “stuff I would like to address” would be (1) the parallel that he draws between the story of Jesus and the story of the Egyptian god Horus written nearly 600 years before Jesus shows up on the scene, and (2) his assertion that humanity is doomed if reasonable agnostics don't take a stand and say that religion needs to be done away with once and for all. I will address the second, first.


Religion blindly holds us in the past and if we don't give it up we are doomed.


Statements like this (not that exact one. This is a reasonable summary of his film's end-statement) are damning and conclusive. They are also partly true which makes them dangerous if we allow it to stereotype reality into an unreasonable conclusion.


I just had this discussion with a co-worker recently. It went something like this: The Jewish population broke new ground in culture with Abraham and Moses. You see, up until that moment in the cradle of civilization Egyptian-style world religions were busy reliving a pattern-cyclical view of life. Said another way, from calendars to religious holidays the world was stuck in an infinite loop of staring at the past, doomed by a lifestyle to repeat it or risk not appeasing the gods they served. There was truly nothing new under the sun and they preferred it that way as demanded by their cultic priests. Society wouldn't have it another way. Then along comes this nomadic tribe following after a God demanding that the old patterns be damned requiring them to break free of the bondage of thinking like the cultures around them.


With the Jews the proverbial circle was broken. God was off and running in a straight line beckoning these tribesmen to follow off into places they would never have ventured on their own. Being stuck blindly in the past a slave to a doomed unconscionable pattern was not the form or function of this relationship. Having said that ground rules were in fact laid down for the purpose of rebooting an entire group, breaking their ties to that compulsive culture from which they emerged. It doesn't honestly get any more cutting edge than that in that specific context.


The truth is that we continue to need the lessons taught to that tribe. We need to remember our past so we can remind ourselves of where we've been in hopes to affect where we are going and not for the purpose of repeating it. We need to remember how to relate to God. We need to employ a basic and reasonably responsible manner of relating to one another that is not selfish and that defies the more base-learned behaviors of a broken culture that surrounds us. Up until that point in history the world hadn't seen a view of God in relationship to man that moved in such a direction. We simply take that relationship for granted today (some of us are worse off than others in this area.)


Bill Maher evokes doom by shocking us with intense music and images of nuclear blasts and he describes the waring of religions around the world, as they blindly worship. What we, as the viewer might neglect to realize as we watch the movie, is that Bill is the wizard behind the curtain. He is the one who is deciding what images to splash in front of you, selectively leaving other images out completely. For example, even if every war that could ever be blamed on religion had never happened, the world would in fact not be war-free. Blaming all war and destruction on religion is completely ludicrous and anyone who might be willing to reflect on the last 100 years of world history can point to plenty of good and bad examples for why people get into intense conflict, many of which have no obvious correlation to religion. His stereotype is hugely revealing at this point to the degree that it derails any semblance of reality nor could he be accused of being reasoning or reasonable (the very thing that he claims to defend throughout the movie.)


Bill draws a parallel between the story of Jesus and the story of the Egyptian god Horus written nearly 600 years before Jesus shows up on the scene, claiming that the Jesus story is just a cheap alternative to a fairly well known (at that time) religious story.


The accusation goes something like this: 600 years before Jesus shows up the Egyptians write about Horus who...


  1. Was born of a virgin.

  2. Who was a god.

  3. Who healed people.

  4. Who walked on water.

  5. Raises someone (like Lazarus) from the dead.

  6. Who was born on the 25th of December.

  7. Who had 12 disciples.

  8. Was confronted in the wilderness.

  9. Was crucified and resurrected.


This is, at the minimum, unsettling, and Bill Maher is fairly rock solid on declaring that these are documented realities of that story. Clearly ignorant Christians are just not familiar with the fact that their religion was simply the retelling of an old mythological fairytale and are just dead wrong and their outspoken confidence in Jesus is sadly misguided...

or (as you may have guessed) Bill Maher just has it all wrong. Let's walk through these claims:


Was Horus born of a virgin?


There are multiple birth stories for Horus and absolutely none of them make his mother out to be a virgin. Anyone telling you otherwise is just making up facts. Horus mother was married to a god who was killed. As the mythology goes, she had him raised from the dead and which point she got pregnant from him so her child, Horus, could avenge his fathers death. The Egyptian gods and people in those stories were constantly having sex so there is no chance she, married to a Egyptian god, wasn't getting it on, nor does it imply that she was not having sex with the god to whom she was married.


Was Horus a god?


He eventually becomes one of a huge cast of Egyptian gods. In that sense one could argue that since Christians say Jesus was God that Horus and Jesus were similar stories. If that were the matching criteria, then Jesus story would be likenable to any of the stories of the Greek or Egyptian gods a weak association at best.


Could Horus heal people?


There is no such story. In Egypt there were these plaques that were used to evoke the name of an Egyptian god for all sorts of purposes, including healing. But there are no stories where Horus did in fact heal anyone. Bill has to make a fairly big jump to liken the stories of Jesus healing people with the Egyptian evoking plaques. My best guess would be that Bill is just regurgitating something someone told him and I would be giving him more credit than he is due in assuming he even knows about the evoking plaques.



Did Horus walk on water?


There is no story of Horus walking on water. Where does this stuff come from? It is interesting that people are willing to retell such thing and not point to a reference of such a thing. Christians can easily point to scripture that at least documents such a story about Jesus. Not so with Horus.


Did Horus raise someone from the dead the way Jesus raised Lazarus?


The fairytale Bill tells is this... Horus raises a character named Osiris from the dead and Osiris translated from Egyptian to Greek becomes Lazarus, so the Lazarus story is simply a rip-off! What Bill doesn't mention (or doesn't know) is that according to mythology Osiris is the dead father of Horus and Horus life goal is to avenge his fathers death, which he does. There is absolutely no story where Horus raises Osiris or anyone else from the dead.


Horus was born on the 25th of December, so Jesus birthday is a fabrication and parallel of Horus birth story!


Horus wasn't nor was it ever written that he was born on December 25th. He was written to have been born in the Winter Solstice which would have been October to November, and paralleled him to many other Egyptian gods and mythological figures.


The truth is that Jesus wasn't likely born on December 25th. There was a period of church history where the church was working hard at redeeming the calendar and would take goofy local or regional holidays and turn them into Christian celebrations. Unfortunately December 25th is one of those holidays. From what we know of history, the “nativity” was moved to December 25th around 350 A.D. So while we really don't know when Jesus was born, we do in fact know it wasn't December 25th which makes the likelihood of a parallel in the original story completely ridiculous.


The Jesus story stole the idea of 12 disciples from Horus who also had 12 disciples!


If Horus had any following, then the only record was of four lower-gods and some human followers (total head counts are not consistent but are guessed to be around 16 with lots of other soldiers who went to war along side Horus.) Nowhere is there any mention of 12 disciples associated with Horus. I even read about how the zodiac constellations were like his disciples based on his relationship to them, but it's a ridiculous stretch to imagine a parallel.


Horus was tempted in the wilderness and so Jesus wilderness temptation story is a rip-off?


This is the worst parallel of those I have researched so far. Jesus temptation in the wilderness follows a 40 day fast and is documented in Matthew 4 if you want to read it. Jesus is tempted to take an easy road and calmly remains steadfast in his resolve to do his sacrificial mission on earth.


Horus does a bit of fighting in his mythology and there is a story that is depicted as the wilderness parallel, but it is nothing like the Jesus temptation. The Horus story includes castration and competition for power via proving sexual domination over the other. It is so completely far fetched to imagine these two stories as any sort of parallel (I am really cleaning it up here: the real story is vulgar and more like two guys trying to prove their dominance by having evidence that they raped each other.) It seems the only parallel is the idea of simply being in the presence of a contentious individual and that is such a weak likening factor.


Horus was crucified and resurrected and is the savior of the world, making this the most convicting parallel levied against the Jesus story!


The idea that the Horus mythology contains all three of those facts is really trouble for the Jesus story. If Horus' story contains him being crucified, later being resurrected and perceived as the savior of the world, Christians have a real problem!


But... alas... they do not. None of that is in the Horus story. In fact, in Horus mythology, he does not die... at all. Which invalidates both the crucifixion as well as the resurrection claims about Horus. And the Horus story is not a story about saving anyone. It is about revenge.


So why does Bill Maher share this stuff if it is clearly all wrong?


Because he is the very thing that he claims he is rising up in “reason” against. He is a blind “believer” in an anti-religion, ill-informed and equally as confident and evangelical on behalf of his anti-gospel called “doubt.” And I don't have a problem with doubt, as long as someone is really searching for truth. And Bill claims this is who he is. But as you can see here, a few spare hours and a willingness to do some research can pull up more truth than the rantings of someone with deep pockets and a public persona like Bill Maher with an ill-informed agenda.


If you watched the movie and walked away absorbing his facts and doubts, just know that if one guy like me can take a couple hours and find a slew of failed facts and faulty logic, you might want to use the very brain that Bill Maher was so arrogantly worshiping and consider not investing trust in people like Bill who have the budget to market ideas but that don't really care enough to reasonably separate the facts from blind-anti-faith opinions that don't hold up under the scrutiny of a web designer / developer.



Final note:


I would expect the possible response to this might be “Well, Bill was misinformed about Horus, but there are many documented examples of how Christianity as a religion borrowed from Mithras mythology,” and those folks are wrong too. Here are some of those stories (as shared in Religulous):


Mithras was born of a virgin on December 25th as witnessed by Shepherds: Mithras was hewn from a rock (again in the Winter Solstice) and the early accounts say that happened before man was created. 100 years after the documenting of the Christian gospels, the Mithras mythology contained additional new story elements where shepherds helped Mithras emerge from rock where he was hewn.


Mithras was a teacher: There isn't a single story of Mithras walking around giving teachings or sermons.


Mithras had 12 disciples: Same as Horus, no 12 disciples. Again well after Jesus, people added an associated connection between Mithras and the zodiac's 12 signs (it was documented later than the time of Jesus.)


Mithras, the leader offering eternal life through shed blood: Nearly all gods talk about continuing life, but in the Mithras story the mention of blood isn't his own, but the blood shed because he killed something and nobody got eternal life via his killing. Not even close to the Jesus story really.


Mithras does miracles: All gods in all stories do god-like stuff, else why would they be gods? This isn't a silver bullet, but rather just part and parcel with god stories. The Bible itself contains stories of people worshiping false gods who claim to do miracles and the Biblical characters teaching those followers various lessons about their false gods.



Mithras is buried in a tomb, and after three days, rises: No such story. Far later in the tradition and new documentation and discussion of Mithras (after the time of Jesus) Mithras was said to travel souls to heaven or hell and some commentary imagine that ascending from hell might evoke images of resurrection, but those commentaries do not imply any comparison to the Jesus story, and even if it did, that commentary shows up after Jesus and not before. There is no tomb, or any 3 days. All of this is just extra-added silliness.


The most damning evidence against the whole idea that Christianity's Jesus is a copy of Mithras has everything to do with mistaken identity.


History tells us that the Persians told stories of a god named Mithras before Jesus showed up on the scene. But those stories, while predating the days of Jesus, are different from the Mithras religion that formed in Rome and became popular after Jesus. All of the stories that make Mithras like Jesus happened after Jesus, not in the Persian version of Mithras that predates Jesus.


So, Sorry Bill Maher... wrong again.