Alkahest my heroes have always died at the end

November 21, 2008

blog your type?

Filed under: Technical — cec @ 4:44 pm

This is neat.  Typealyzer claims to examine a blog (or presumably any webpage) in order to identify the Myers-Briggs type of the author.  It correctly identifies me as an INTP, but doesn’t seem to get etselec.

November 20, 2008

robert johnson

Filed under: Random — cec @ 2:57 pm


After buying the collected works of Robert Johnson, blues guitarist from the 1930s, the man who was reputed to have sold his soul to the devil to become the greatest blues guitarist ever, I really don’t think I want albums by Robert Johnson the 70s power pop musician.  I know they have the same name, but trust me, they aren’t the same person.


at home in the (technical) universe

Filed under: Personal,Technical — cec @ 10:11 am

Some recent (somewhat) technical notes:

  • A while back, I swapped the dead harddrive from my ipod with a compact flash card.  Unfortunately, at the time, the biggest (affordable) compact flash was 16 GB, so I lost about half the capacity from my ipod.  Not a huge problem, but it became more of one as I added more music.  Yesterday, a shiny new 32 GB compact flash arrived and now I’m back to the nominal amount of space on my ipod, except that it’s all solid state and cool.  From the technical standpoint, this was something of a PITA, since I didn’t have a windows or mac machine around to reinstall the firmware.  My ultimate solution:  1) back up /dev/sdb (boot record and partition table) and /dev/sdb1 (firmware) from the ipod using dd; 2) put the CF in my laptop and format it (a camera would work just as well), this just normalizes the card; 3) put the CF in the ipod (or in the laptop); 4) write the patition table using dd; 5) edit the partition table using fdisk, set the size of sdb2 to be 32 rather than 16 GB; 6) write out the firmware to sdb1; 7) format sdb2 using mkfs.vfat.  Voila – a 32 GB ipod CF
  • If you haven’t seen it already, check out  They’ve got a bunch of mathematically oriented programming problems online of varying difficulty.  Good solutions should all run in 1 minute or less and generally take 100 lines of code or so.  It’s a good way to get familiar with a new programming language and to exercise your brain.  So far, I’ve done the first 70 or so problems – they don’t take too long, maybe a half hour each on average.
  • Finally, I got the clutch in my car replaced yesterday.  The mechanic said that it was in pretty bad shape and that the (plastic?) bearing the clutch uses had worn completely away.  This probably explains why I’ve had no acceleration for the past year (or more?).  I had forgotten what it was like to drive a decent car 🙂

November 19, 2008

A real threat to marriage

Filed under: Social — cec @ 11:28 am

Two weeks ago as Obama won a resounding victory both in the country as a whole and even more decisively in California, Californians also passed Proposition 8.  Prop 8 was an amendment to the California constitution that defined marriage as an institution between one man and one woman.  With the passage of Prop 8, 18,000 couples had their legal marriages dissolved.

Supporters of Proposition 8 claim that the act was necessary to help defend the traditional institution of marriage.  Specifically, they looked to the Bible and its condemnation of homosexuality.  They claimed that recognizing homosexual marriage undermined the biblical concept of marriage.

Now, I’ve read a good chunk of the Bible over the years, and I’m pretty certain that what’s represented therein is not really what Prop 8 supporters had in mind.  Unless of course, they want to see the reinstatement of polygamy, at least for those that can afford it (hey, I could support two wives and it is traditional!), after all, Solomon had 700 wives and another 300 concubines.  As a side note, I can just imagine how that conversation would go with K:  honey, I think we can afford a concubine – how about it?  <smack>

So if Prop 8 doesn’t really do anything to promote the Biblical understanding of marriage, what about protecting heterosexual marriages?  I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve been married for over fifteen years now and I can’t see any way that the possibility of gay people, some of them friends, most of them that I’ve never met could possibly threaten my marriage.  I can’t even see how the possibility of gay marriage could threaten potential marriages (i.e., the institution of marriage).  What, Bristol Palin was going to get married to her baby’s father, but now because gay couples in Connecticut can get married, she won’t?

Marriage in the U.S. is essentially a legal contract between two consenting people.  That contract can optionally be sanctified (made holy) when blessed in a religious ceremony.  But the religious ceremony itself is truely optional.  It doesn’t matter which religion has sanctified your marriage, you can opt not to have it sanctified at all by having the contract witnessed and signed by a justice of the peace.  In our case, K and I were married by my grandfather, a (Lutheran?) minister, in a non-denominational church.  The wedding ceremony itself can be important in that it publicly recognizes the marriage and encourages the observers to assist the newlyweds as they start their lives together.  That community support can be important when trying to adjust to married life.

Again, none of this is threatened by gay marriage.  If anything, the institution of marriage is stronger for being more inclusive.

But here’s the thing.  We did just witness one new threat to the institution of marriage – Proposition 8 itself.  To my knowledge, this is the first time that marriages recognized by a state have been annulled by the state [1].  18,000 couples had legal marriage contracts, signed and recognized by the state of California.  Those 18,000 couples have now been unmarried. This establishes a precedent that should worry anyone who is married.

Imagine that we took the Bible’s admonishments about divorce or adultery seriously.  The Bible traditionally doesn’t recognize divorce (which leads to the Catholic church’s crazy annulment system) and calls for the stoning of adulterers.  What if those traditional concepts became enshrined in law or the California constitution?  Malachi 2:16 – “I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel.”  Matthew 19:6, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Under the marriage threatening precedent of Prop 8, it would be entirely reasonable to further defend marriage by excluding anyone who had previously been divorced from remarrying.  Moreover, we could go further and say that marriage is between one man and one woman, neither of whom has been previously married.  All of the sudden, several million marriages could be dissolved.

I suspect that such an amendment/law is unlikely, after all, there is a bigger constituency of divorced people than gay people.  But on the merits, a no-divorcee amendment isn’t any crazier than Prop 8 and should serve as a reminder for why religious views of marriage should not impinge upon the legal contract that is a marriage.

[1] The closest comparison I can come to would be the anti-polygamy laws aimed at the Mormon Church in the 19th century, but even there, I don’t think that the original polygamous marriages had been recognized by the states before the laws’ passage explicitly stated that they wouldn’t be recognized.  The comparison is also ironic in that it was the Mormon church that largely bankrolled the Yes on Prop 8 movement.

November 14, 2008

Thinking about camera equipment

Filed under: Photography — cec @ 2:54 pm

I started taking photography more seriously about ten years ago.  I put down my cheap point and shoot film camera and bought an SLR body, a few lenses and some slide film.  The great thing about shooting film (slide or print) is that you aren’t constrained by the quality of your camera.  My first SLR was a used Olympus OM-1n, circa  1975.  The OM-1n was fully manual – no auto-focus, no auto-exposure.  If you didn’t want to use the exposure meter then you didn’t even need a battery.  It was a beautiful piece of equipment, but it was also about as basic as you could get outside of a pinhole camera.  It was a dark box that held and advanced film with a mount to hold a lens open for a set period of time.  That’s it.

At the time I bought the camera, the basic advice was to buy a camera body with the minimum features that you needed and use the savings to buy better lenses.  It was the glass in front of the camera and the type of film in it that had the greatest affect on picture quality.  Two photographers using the same lens, one having a fully manual and one having a fully automated camera could each take similar quality images.  That’s not to say that auto-exposure doesn’t make it easier to get the right aperture settings or that auto-focus isn’t useful when your subject is moving.  Both of those things are true.  But at the end of the day, they just improved the odds of getting a good shot.  Your only real constraints were glass and film.

These days, I’m using a Nikon D80 digital camera body.  It’s also nice.  Definitely a lot more electronics – auto focus, auto exposure, various program modes etc.  You can still set it in a manual meter mode, but it’ll never be a manual camera.  If you take out the batteries, it’s just an inert hunk of silicon and rubber.

I was reminded of all of this when talking to Hunter a few days ago.  He’s interested in getting a new camera body.  I almost choked when I saw how much the body alone costs.  My first thought was the old advice I heard when I bought my first SLR: buy a cheap body and good glass, your photography will be better for it.  Then I realized that’s no longer always true.

One of the things that digital cameras have done is to turn the camera body into the equivalent of the camera body and the film.  It is as if I had bought my Olympus OM-1n and had to always use Fuji Provia 400.  Wait – what if I want a better film, say Velvia 50?  Too bad – you should buy a better camera.  Well, digital cameras are just like that.  Different camera bodies have different sensors of varying quality.  It’s not just a matter of megapixels, but also ISO equivalents and noise reduction.  We’ve just entered a world where the quality of your pictures is constrained by both the lenses you have and the camera body you own.  What’s worse is that the camera body itself will become obsolete.  Unlike my OM-1n, there will never be a market for 25 year old camera bodies.  Lenses, yes.  Camera bodies, no.

This isn’t all terrible I suppose.  The commoditization of the camera body is making better photographic equipment more affordable.  Right now, affordable digital camera gear can produce better pictures than can be had on print film.  High end cameras are better than slide film and in a few years, affordable cameras will also be better than slide film.  I just find it a shame that digital photography has locked us into a world where the amount of money you have will determine the quality of your pictures.

November 11, 2008

New guitar

Filed under: Guitar,Personal — cec @ 11:38 am

Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking about getting a new guitar.  I’ve been heading up to High Strung in Durham and have played with maybe a dozen different models, but the one I kept coming back to was a Blueridge BR-243.  It’s got a beautiful sound and it’s very comfortable for me to play.  The body size is “000” as opposed to the more common dreadnought size (like my first guitar) which means it’s easier to get my arms around and the shorter neck makes it easier to reach all of the chords.  The back and sides of the guitar are mahogany

Well, I’ve got a birthday coming up and Christmas is around the corner, so last Friday I went ahead and bought the BR-243 as a combo present.  Unfortunately, High Strung didn’t have the case which fits the guitar in stock, so they gave me a loaner while mine is being ordered.  I believe the case fits a dreadnought sized guitar, so that might give you some sense of the size.  I should also post a picture of my old guitar with the new one.

Anyway, I’ve been playing with the guitar for a few days now and I love it even more now than I did in the store.  I also finally went online to see what other people thought (I didn’t want to overly influence myself 🙂 ) and it got great reviews, particularly for the quality at its price point.  At this point, I think the only problem is that I’m not much in the mood to work – I would rather go home and practice the guitar 😀

November 6, 2008

Blue NC

Filed under: Social — cec @ 2:09 pm

Still not official from the Election Board, but the AP has canvased all of the counties and found that there aren’t enough provisional ballots for McCain to overcome Obama’s 13000+ vote lead.

November 5, 2008

President Obama and race

Filed under: Personal,Social — cec @ 10:17 am

My mother tells a story about my first day in first grade (and sadly, I’m more likely to remember stories of my childhood than the actual childhood).  I go off to school, probably all 70s style – plaid pants, mop haircut, etc., and when I come home she asks me about school.  In particular, how did I like my new teacher (Mrs. Smith?)?  I told my mom that she would like the teacher, that Mrs. Smith was just like her.

At a certain point, the first parent-teacher conferences occur and my mother goes in expecting to meet someone just like her: a blonde haired, blue eyed woman in her late twenties or early thirties.  So it’s a bit of a surprise when Mrs. Smith is a 50-ish black woman.

There are two morals to the story:

  1. I’m definitely a Myers-Briggs intuitive (N) type as opposed to sensing (S).  😉
  2. As a child, race didn’t even enter my mind.  A person’s race was so completely irrelevant that it’s not clear that I even noticed it.

Over the years, I’ve tried to live up to the example set by my five year old self.  I haven’t always succeeded, but I’ve always tried.

In spite of that, I never did expect that the U.S. would elect a black president – at least not this soon.  I didn’t think that we would be able to look past race until, at least, the baby boomer generation died off.  Not that the baby boomers are racists, they made enormous strides toward equality.  But at the same time, they grew up in a world where there were segregated lunch counters, segregated water fountains, segregated bathrooms and schools.  They grew up in a world where the lynching of a black man was considered acceptable to many people.  That’s a kind of ingrained experience that’s hard to grow out of.

But yet, Obama did win.  Sure, he didn’t win the majority of white voters, but he won more of them than did John Kerry four years ago.  The electorate looked past Obama’s race and voted for the man they thought would take the country in the right direction.

My inner five year old wouldn’t have thought a black president was that surprising, but with thirty-plus years of experience, I’m amazed and thrilled that there might be some part of that five year old in everyone.

November 4, 2008

President Obama

Filed under: Personal,Social — cec @ 11:13 pm

Polls just closed on the West coast.  With that, everyone calls Washington, Oregon and California for Obama – Obama wins!  And I’m heading to bed.  I would still like to see who wins NC.  It looks like it’ll be close, but we should know in the morning.  If I’m doing really good, I might stay up for a McCain concession.  We’ll see.

Go vote!

Filed under: Personal,Social — cec @ 11:56 am

I headed over to the polling place to vote this morning.  As of 8:30am or so, there were no lines at our precinct.  But then, that’s not too surprising for a small precinct in a non-populous county.  Chronological observations:

  • There were a fair number of cars parked at the polling place.  I took one of only about 4 or 5 free spots
  • The Obama people were prepared for the rain – they had decent sized open sided tents set up to stand under while handing out literature and talking to voters
  • There were about 10-15 people voting when I arrived
  • The elections officials were prepared for crowds.  Instead of the usual split of the alphabet into 3 or 4 lines, I think there were 6.  They also seemed to have extra help on hand, including some high school students.
  • The folks handing out the ballots mentioned that polling had been steady so far.
  • When I left around 8:45/8:50, I was only the 161st voter 🙂

I suspect that across NC, things will be similar.  We had such a huge number of people cast ballots early (some 35-40% of all registered voters) that I would imagine we won’t have too many problems with lines, etc.

Here’s hoping.

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